Love: I do not think it means what you think it means

February 14, 2008 at 3:47 pm 5 comments

This is the first of a three-part essay about semantics and a quote from The Princess Bride. I’ve been sitting on it for a month because I want it to be perrrrfect. But, of course, dissemination of information is never perfect. That’s why we have semantic professors and “information technology” professionals who pull in ridonculous amounts of money trying to figure out what a hammer is. Meanwhile, the people who swing the hammers may or may not have access to adequate health care.

But I digress.

There are three words I use that do not mean what you think they mean. They are: love, fuck, and god.

Love
Love is universal, god is love, love is all you need. People pay lip service to agape, a word from the Greek that connotes the way a community can come together for a shared experience like a rock concert (or a Greek tragedy). Agape love is by necessity unpossessive. Yet powerful. What happened in NYC after 9-11 was an expression of agape. Shopkeepers handing out food to people on the street. Folks talking to strangers on the way home (the only people who talk to strangers in the Northeast are tourists and the mentally ill.)

While we pay lip service to agape, we don’t celebrate it. The underlying message is that agape not quite as good as eros: the love between two people, especially the kind of love between two people that involves one man kissing one woman, a few shots of some indeterminate flesh, swirling sheets, and then a cut to a commercial.

The words “I love you” have been co-opted by this idealized, mass-media-ized notion of what love is. Any other love is not real love. It’s just practice rounds. The live ammo is what you see at the end of every romantic comedy: schmaltzy music, kiss, church bells, white wedding dress, house in the suburbs, mortgage, lawn-mowing, perfunctory sex when the kids are asleep.

Because of the constant, constant repetition of this message in music, movies, books, and perfume ads, “I love you,” no longer means just “I love you.” It means “I want to own you. I want to spend every Friday night on the couch with you, watching DVDs and eating takeout.” It means “I want to make a claim on you. I want to tell you who you can sleep with (not anyone besides me), how you will spend your vacations (with me and my family), where you will live (with me), and what you will eat (whatever we can both agree on).”

“I love you,” co-opted as it has been by these dumb-ass messages, has come to mean loss of freedom. It means no more lazy mornings alone in your apartment, writing in your journal, catching up with friends, watching bad TV. It means no more spontaneous weekend trips to the ocean. It means that you now have to factor in another human being’s wants and needs and desires into just about any decision you make about how you spend your money and your time. It means, in short, loss of autonomy.

But I don’t mean that when I say “I love you.”

Every morning I call my AA sponsor, an older gay man. Given the configurations of gender and sexuality, the possibility of erotic love is completely impossible. That’s why I love my gay sober men, actually: they’re the one kind of person I never have uncomfortable sexual energy with. My sponsor is not a romantic partner, nor is he related to me. But the love we feel for each other is deep and abiding, a love that’s different than the love I have for my family, whom I didn’t choose, different than the love I’ve had for my boyfriends and girlfriends, but which in 99% of cases ends in complete loss of contact.

Every morning, my sponsor and I say “I love you” to each other. I say it to a great number of my friends, too. Another gay friend of mine, not in AA, often starts his voice mail messages with “I called to tell you I love you.” And he does. I tell him too. It’s so easy to discount this kind of love in our society, which tells us over and over again that the only kind of love worth telling stories about is the kind that results in dead teenagers or a happy wedding with frilly dresses, or a house with a picket fence and a bunch of rug rats running around in the yard. But it’s the love of my friends and my family that has proved the most constant and sustaining.

I don’t think I will ever really have that Hollywood kind of love—not in this lifetime. I say that not in an angsty, self-pitying way because really, I’ve tried and I find that kind of love to be stifling and binding (and not in a hot, sexy way either). When I try to fit my sexuality and my heart into that little box of monogamy I stop being able to tell the truth. I abandon a part of myself in order to prove to myself and everyone else that I’m a nice girl, a good girl, a productive member of society who can get married and have babies and live in the suburbs like everybody else. I cut off my feet or my head to fit myself into that Procrustean bed. And often, I stop wanting to have sex, to write, even to live.

Sometimes I fall in love with strangers. Sometimes I love someone for a week and then never want to see them again. Sometimes I confuse sex with love, but love is still love even if it’s confused.

Carson McCullers wrote a short story about this kind of love. In it, a man walks up to a perfect stranger and tells him “I love you.” Of course that gets the usual crazy-person reaction. But the man begins telling him about the habit of loving he has been cultivating. Starting with a rock, a tree, a cloud. This is the kind of love that fills me up and feeds me the most.

Don’t get me wrong. I still get possessive. Sometimes I want to be special. Sometimes I want to be the only one. Sometimes I want to feel like I own someone. But I usually only feel like for the amount of time it takes to give a man a good spanking and fuck him up the ass. Or for the amount of time it takes to push a woman down on the bed and drive her crazy with my tongues and my hands. Maybe sometimes it lasts an afternoon, a day, a weekend. But no matter how much I love someone, I still want to be able to get up at 5:00 am and have the entire apartment to myself. So I can write essays like these.

Entry filed under: love, memoir, monogamy, polyamory. Tags: , , , , , , .

I am not your femdom whore, or service subs and why that’s hot Fuck: I do not think it means what you think it means

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. q  |  February 15, 2008 at 1:59 am

    the only kind of love worth telling stories about is the kind that results in dead teenagers or babies and a picket fence.

    The noun phrase “dead teenagers” primed me to have a different image for the subsequent “or babies and a picket fence” than I think you meant. 🙂

  • 2. omnivoresdilemma  |  February 15, 2008 at 3:36 am

    This is good feedback. The draft is much rougher than I would have wished.

  • […] This is the second of a three-part essay about semantics and a quote from The Princess Bride. Read the first part here. The third part is […]

  • […] my house make me hot, spankings trackback I’ve been working on that godawful third part of my clever little essay for frickin’ […]

  • 5. Forget everything I said before « Omnivore’s Dilemma  |  August 29, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    […] 29, 2008 So a while back I wrote this really pretentious essay all about how Our Society has a really fucked up idea of what love means. And I made this case for […]

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