So last year I made a post on Valentines day that happened to be about love.
I wasn’t happy about that, as I’ve got a strong iconoclastic element in my personality. And writing about love on Valentines day is just… it just feels so fucking Hallmark.
But something happened a couple days ago, and it’s been spinning in my head ever since. When that happens, I have to tell a story about it, because that’s just how I’m wired.
So. I’m writing about love again, not because it’s Valentines day, but despite that.
I just want to make it clear this isn’t going to be a yearly thing. Okay? Okay.
* * *
A couple days ago, my baby boy smiled at me. A little crooked smile, a smirk.
(The onesie was a gift from a fan. Honest.)
A few days before that, I got my first smile. Today I got several. He also said, “goo” a couple times. I’m not even kidding. It’s amazingly cute.
Here’s the thing. He also smiled at the ceiling fan. He *really* likes the ceiling fan. Given the choice between the ceiling fan and me, the fan will win 3 times out of 4.
But you know what’s strange? I don’t mind. I really don’t.
I don’t mind that he smiles and coos at his mom more than me. It doesn’t make me sad that the ceiling fan takes second place, and that almost any window with a sunlight behind it is a close third.
I’m fine being fourth in line for smiles. I’m just happy to be on the list.
Standing there, holding my new baby, I had a strange sort of revelation. I was feeling a type of love that was in no way jealous.
I think this might be the purest type of love.
* * *
Here’s the thing, I’m not a fan of LOVE as a singular concept. It’s a ridiculously broad term that can be applied to pets, sex partners, or Oreos. When a word accretes that many definitions, it becomes virtually nonsensical.
If you’re hunting for more specific words for love, Greek is a good language to start with. They have Eros, Philos, and Agape. Those three do a pretty good job of breaking the great multifarious monolith of LOVE into slightly more manageable pieces.
I’m assuming you know about them, but just for reference:
- Philos is friend love. Family love.
- Eros is “I want to bone you” love.
- Agape is… tricky. Some people call it “unconditional love.” I’ve heard it referred to as “True love” “God Love” or “That love which instils worth.”
There’s also lesser-known storge: “Kindness love.” Which is the sort of love you feel for something that’s dependent on you. Like an infant or a dog.
So. I’m standing there, looking at my sweet baby, and he’s smiling at the ceiling fan. And I realize I don’t mind. I’m just happy that he’s happy. I’m just happy that sometimes he smiles at me. I’m just happy he’s around.
This is a strange and wonderful sensation. This is, I feel, a different type of love.
Now it might seem like I’m talking about agape-style love here. Or storge. But I’m not. This is something different.
What I’m talking about here is love-without-expectation.
* * *
We need to stop for a moment and make a word.
If I’m going to spend some time trying to describe a largely unfamiliar concept, I need a name for it. Love-without-expectation-or-desire isn’t going to work. It’s not elegant. A newish concept needs a newish name. It needs its own space to grow. You grok?
Plus I just like making words. It’s kind of a thing that I do.
From what I gather the Hebrew concept of “חסד” is pretty close to what I’m looking for here. And it’s one of the Sephira, which gives it extra gravitas. Unfortunately, it’s not going to work because when you transliterate it, it’s spelled “chesed” and that looks too much like “cheesed” to me.
Fuck it. I know it’s not linguistically sound, but I’m going to call it Eleutheria.
* * *
Remember where we were? Me. My baby. Ceiling fan.
(In his defense, it’s a really nice fan.)
I simply love him, and I expect nothing in return. This is strangely, delightfully freeing. I don’t feel bad that if he pays more attention to his mom. I don’t mind that he smiles at the fan or his big brother.
I don’t mind if he falls asleep. I don’t mind if he throws up on me.
Elutheria – Love which demands nothing. The love that expects nothing.
This is an odd concept for me. Because I am a creature composed almost entirely of expectations.
This isn’t entirely a bad thing. The ability to anticipate, desire, and plan is important. It gives us control of our lives. It gives us the ability to see forward in time a little. It gives us the ability to steer our destiny a little so we can avoid wrecking our lives against the rocks.
Not always, of course, sometimes your ship is going to wreck no matter your best efforts. Shit happens. But if you’re able to anticipate the future, you can at least brace for impact. That’s better than nothing.
Without the ability to predict and therefore exert control on the future, we are helpless. Subject to the constant random battering of a largely entropic universe.
The ability to predict and anticipate isn’t bad. The desire for control isn’t bad. If you put those things together with a love for language and a vague compulsion for storytelling, you get The Name of the Wind.
If you combine these characteristics with a love of charity and a desire to make the world a better place, you get Worldbuilders.
If you combine them with a relationship… it’s not so good.
Because trying to control the people you love isn’t good.
For one thing, people don’t like it. (For the most part.) But also because controlling someone means hanging expectations on them. And if people don’t live up to your expectations, you’re disappointed. And disappointment leads to frustration and anger. This spiral continues down to the dark side of the force.
How much nicer would it be to simply love someone? If you expected nothing from your beloved, you could never be disappointed. Nothing could jeopardize that love. It would be unassailable.
This would be Elutheria, the love that expects nothing.
* * *
What I’m talking about here, is the diametrical opposite of selfish love.
Selfish love demands things. It demands attention. Most of all, selfish love demands love in return. Typically it usually demands ALL the love in return. It demands primacy. Exclusivity. Ownership. Control.
What I’m talking about here is what’s commonly called “Romantic Love.”
Romantic love is championed as being awesome in our culture. It’s the sort of love you’ve seen a thousand times in movies and literature. You’ve seen it the lives of your friends and family members. You’ve probably experienced some version of it yourselves.
It’s the sort of love where you where you fall for someone, and they don’t love you back, and then you kill yourself. (Actual results may vary.)
It’s the sort of love where you see you girl talking to another guy and you feel jealous.
It’s the sort of love where you see your guy looking at another girl and you feel angry.
It’s the sort of love that makes you think it’s okay to consider someone “your girl” or “your guy.” As if you owned them. As if they were under your control. As if your affection made them somehow beholden to you.
And as I stand there, smiling at my baby, (who is smiling at our ceiling fan) I am perfectly happy. And I wonder to my self, “At what point did loving someone become an excuse to be a greedy asshole?”
* * *
I bounced my idea off a couple people over the last week or so. Love without expectation. I explained about my baby and the ceiling fan. I talked about the chains of desire….
“Well,” someone said. “It sounds nice, but I don’t think that’s something that could exist in an adult relationship.”
Several people said this, or something very close to it. These comments came up almost compulsively, in a knee-jerk way.
I think people have this automatic response for two reasons.
First, I think they feel attacked. As if I’m telling them they’re loving wrong.
I’m not. That’s not what this is about. When I talk about how much I’d like a Tesla, it doesn’t mean I think you’re a dick for driving a Prius. I’m not trying to start a fight here. I’m looking to discuss an idea.
Second, I think people react badly because Elutheria a profoundly unfamiliar concept. We all grew up reading stories about Lancelot and Guenevere (or permutations thereof.)
The Arthurian legend is one of our mythic cornerstones. It echoes through the last 1000 years of our art and literature. Well… 800 years, if we’re talking about Lancelot. You see, he wasn’t in the original story. The French added him in the 1200’s.
(Yeah. I know that’s not Lance and Gwen. I just really love Waterhouse.)
And you know what? It’s a better story with Lancelot in it. More drama. More tension. More universal appeal.
The downside? Lancelot and Guenevere are generally held up to be the villains of the whole Arthurian schtick. They ruined Camelot. Their dirty, dirty lust wrecked the golden age.
But the truth is, if Arthur hadn’t been such a douche about the whole thing, there wouldn’t have been any problem. If Arthur had just gotten over himself and admitted that Lance was pretty hunky, it could have been cool. If he’d just wanted Gwen to be happy, he should have just stepped aside. Or at least turned a blind eye.
Either that or jumped into the sack with both of them. Because… y’know… hunky.
Imagine the glorious world we’d be living in if *that* was one of our mythic cornerstones, folks. Imagine a world where slash fiction didn’t exist because we were, all of us, constantly living the dream.
Okay, back on track here.
Generally speaking, everyone agrees that Arthur overreacted. But Lance and Gwen? They’re traitors. It’s their *fault*. Traitors deserve the lowest, darkest circle of hell.
Arthur was a little hot headed, sure. But it was justified, right? Lance and Gwen, their actions were a betrayal.
What were they betraying?
* * *
Those of you who have studied any Buddhism are probably nodding along by this point. Believe me, I’m very aware that the more I roll the concept of Elutheria around, the more similar it seems to the four noble truths that lead to the eightfold path.
For those of you who haven’t studied Buddhism, here it is in a nutshell:
- There is suffering.
- Suffering comes from thwarted desire.
- Therefore, if you eliminate desire, you eliminate suffering.
There is an unassailable simplicity here. There’s a reason I’m fond of Buddhism.
* * *
I wish I had a strong closer for you, but I’m not really making an argument here. I’m not heading for a conclusion. I’m merely working out my thoughts in text. Writing things down helps me understand them better. It helps me knock the rough corners off my new ideas. (It’s my attempt at “Right Understanding,” the first step of the eightfold path.)
But is Elutheria something a person can realistically achieve?
With my baby, the answer seems to be yes.
But then things become more complicated. You see, I have responsibilities.
My older son is four. And while it would be pleasant to simply love him and let the chips fall where they may, if I were to do that, I would be failing him as a parent. I need to provide guidance and discipline. I need to control his base monkey instincts with the hope that he may eventually rise above them and become a fully-formed human being.
There’s that word again: Control. It’s my job to control him. It’s my job to have expectations.
Still, I think discarding Elutheria entirely would be like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There are certain expectations that are essential. I expect him to be polite. I expect him to be honest. I expect him to be mindful and kind.
Those are the requirements for being a good human being. It’s my job to guide and coach him until he gets there.
Any expectations beyond that, I should be wary of. I shouldn’t expect him to be all those things *all* the time. I shouldn’t expect him to be tidy. Or quiet when I’m trying to work.
I shouldn’t expect him to be straight, or a democrat, or a painter. I shouldn’t expect him to love books.
Expectation is a trap, you see. There’s nothing to be gained from it. I don’t feel *more* joy seeing him read because I hoped for it. I only leave myself open to disappointment if he doesn’t.
Similarly, my relationship with Sarah consists of more than simple love. We are engaged in the partnership. We maintain a household and the purpose of that household is to raise children that are physically and emotionally healthy.
Her cooperation in these things is essential. I expect it.
But other things? Should I expect her never ogle the pretty college boys on the track team who jog around town every spring? No. Foolishness. Should I expect her to want to organize the kitchen the way I would? To want the same color paint in the dining room? To have dinner cooked and ready for me when I come home from work?
Should I expect her to always love me best, and most, and only?
No. I think not. I think that would be selfish and self-centered.
The more of these expectations I can let go of, the happier I will be.
But it’s hard. Oh it’s hard. It goes against a lifetime full of training. It goes against my obsessive desire to control. It goes against my meticulous nature. It goes against what so many stories told me was true.