Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Love, The English Language, And Not Completely Pretending

In my off-phone life, I have a male lover who shares my views on love. When he launched into what he called his  "Love Speech", I thought it was a practical joke, that somehow he had heard my "Love and the English Language" rant and was making fun of me. No, we just have pretty much identical views on love. Here's how our rants go, when combined:

There is an Eskimo language with twelve words for snow, yet the English language has only one word for love, which is clearly grossly inadequate. We use it to describe how we feel about ice cream, lovers, our parents, our children, our pets, a life partner, or a pair of shoes. When someone says, "I love you" in English, it is almost meaningless without further explanation.

Greek has 4 words for love, which is a little better: one for erotic love (eros); one for the love of family or close friends or a close family-like community (philia); one for the type of naturally protective affection that healthy parents have for their children (storge); and one catch-all love that conveys a pure, selfless, honoring type of love, as in religious adoration, but could also be used to describe one's feelings for a fantastic meal where you would not expect the meal to give anything back to you other than just being itself (agape).

The religious tradition of my upbringing had a movement when I was in elementary school, with the theme of "Love is not a feeling." Love, I was taught, should not describe how you feel about someone, but instead, how you act towards them. If you are willing to put forth effort to be helpful to someone else, that is being loving, showing love, having love. Love could happen anywhere you were willing to create it.

As a young adult in therapy, I refined that for myself a bit, although I continued to embrace the basic idea. My definition of love is approximately: I love you if I am willing to take action (a) that will not harm me and (b) that I believe will result in good for you. If I'm willing to harm myself for you, I'm martyring myself for you, which is almost never a good idea. If I'm acting in ways that I believe will harm you, I'm not being loving in that moment. And if I theoretically want the best for you but am unwilling to put forth any effort on your behalf, it's just affection, but that's not love.

I grew up with an ever-changing array of step-family members (between 3 and 12, my parents divorced, my mom remarried once, and my dad remarried twice). So "family" was transitory, and divorces did not necessarily cancel out the feeling of having been family (I'm still in touch with ex-step-siblings). I didn't love my existing cousins less because I got new cousins, or my existing Mom less because I got new ones.

I understood on a deep level that love is not a pie: when you use some, there isn't less for everyone else. Love is more like a wellspring, or a river, or an ocean: if you use some, just as much remains.

It's not surprising to me, then, that I'm not a monogamous person. The character of Angela on the TV show "Bones" was once told, "You've just never met the love of your life" and she responded earnestly, "Yes, I have, dozens of times." Exactly, you gorgeous sexy hunk of woman, you. Exactly.

I shared a fantasy this morning with a caller, we'll call him "Doc Cupid", who is not dominant in his life, but likes being dominant during sex. Our role plays have always involved him pushing, directing, punishing for "mistakes", and making me earn favors. He's never let me kiss him before.

But Doc was exhausted this morning, and just wanted something quick, simple, and... well... romantic by comparison. He wrapped me up against him and fucked me slowly and deeply, and said in a husky voice so soft I could barely make it out, "You can tell me you love me this time. Just this once." So I did, whispered against his lips, afraid he'd change his mind and punish me for it. He didn't.

It has stuck with me. Of course, it's not a traditional, societally acceptable form of love. Of course not. We're not making plans to meet in person. I'm not leaving my husband for him. He could choose to never communicate with me again, and, although I would wonder how he is from time to time when I reviewed old notes, I would survive unscathed.

But this morning, I heard the exhaustion in his voice, and I chose to meet him there, and I wanted to comfort him, and I chose to act on his behalf in a way that did not harm me one bit, in a way that I hoped would help him, and it felt, for a moment, like love. It wasn't a lie.

"Gravely Moon" has been falling asleep to the sound of my voice lately. He's told me that he knows that I'm "not completely real." And yet, when he ends our calls, he says, "Good night, love." It feels the same, that's it's not a lie, and that it's not completely pretend. Maybe tonight, after writing this and mulling about it, if he calls, I'll finally say it back to him.

I wonder if I'll ever stop being fascinated by this job.


  1. I hope not. It really does bring out the best in you on so many levels.

  2. Thank you, geekmojo. That means the world to me. Fabulous profile pic, by the way.