I’ve written several times about the inadequacy of the English language to define love. This is not to say that poets and playwrites and screenwriters and musicians haven’t beaten us to death with the flowery language of initial romantic love. By the time I was 21 I knew 40 different ways to tell my girlfriend that I loved her, 100 different ways to show her (thank you Jeffrey Osbourne), and 50 ways to leave my lover (thank you Paul Simon). Still, I didn’t know what love is beyond being an emotional experience. What they didn’t tell me is that multiple loves of different types will cause conflict. What they didn’t tell me is that my loves could hate each other. What they didn’t impart was that love can hurt love, love can silence love and love can kill love. If that last sentence didn’t make sense, don’t worry it just means that you haven’t experienced it…yet. For your sake I hope that you don’t, but one thing I can tell you is that what art didn’t teach me about love, life did.
Because the English word ‘love’ is so inadequate to the what I’m about to discuss, I am going to use some other words (all similar, but fundamentally different in kind).
Love of Self (mind, body, spirit, personality) – Self-Esteem
Love of a Lover – Desire
Love of a Committed Parner – Commitment
Love of a Friend (not an Acquaintance) – Intimacy
Love of a Parent, Guardian, or other Adult Family – Ascendant Love
Loving your Child(ren) – Descendant Love
Loving your Lifestyle (life choices, activities, career, hobbies/pursuits, passion) – Contentment
Love of Having a Safety Net – Security
Loving the Deity of your Beliefs – Worship
In the English language all of these feelings and relationships would fall under the header of Love and to leave it in such simple terms is to do these very real and very important parts of our lives a serious injustice, bordering on the criminal. But beyond what we might do to our love, what might our various loves do to our other loves?
Let’s take an example, I talked with a friend of mine who is divorced and has two children with his ex-wife. We’ve talked about his former marriage and divorce several times but recently he said something that really got me thinking. He said, “I was not about to let my love for my children (Descendant Love) by trampled by my lack of Lover, Friend & Committed Partner love (Desire, Intimacy & Commitment) with my wife.” As a Father and a Husband, he made a decision that his Descendant Love trumped the Commitment that was fighting a losing battle to resolve the lack of Intimacy and Desire in his marriage which he felt was damaging his Descendant Love, and that was just not acceptable.
There were times when I would argue against that point but that was before he explained it that way, then I understood him fully. As a footnote, for the cynical people out there, I can say that this man loves his children more than anything else. Descendant Love is clearly the dominant love in his life and his continuing to be a great father to his children demonstrates that his decision to divorce was a prioritized opt-out rather than a cop-out.
Another example might be the woman who changes her entire life to marry and have children and be a stay-at-home mom. Let’s say before marriage and parenthood, she was a confident (Self Esteem) professional who enjoyed her work with a physical, social and spiritual life that she also enjoyed (Contentment). Having met and loved a partner who made her feel wanted (Desire), cared for (Committed) and understood (Intimacy), she decided to take the plunge and get married. As she wanted to have children and be a good mother (Descendant Love), it wasn’t long before she and her partner were fortunate enough to get pregnant. Having desires of her own to go with familial practices (Ascendant Love) and beliefs of her faith (Worship), she made the choice to forego work to stay home with the child, just until they get to school-age. Now she is at home with the child as a new parent and her family’s lifestyle has changed dramatically (two-income to one-income; three members of the family instead of two; erratic hours with newborn; additional concerns and responsibilities).
This is fairly standard stuff but…What happens when that same woman finds that her single, non-parent friends don’t want to hang around for time with the baby (Intimacy)? What happens when her social activites dramatically slow down due to time, finances and energy (Contentment)? What happens when her friendship with her spouse changes because they now have very different day-to-day lives (Intimacy) and the distribution of responsibility for the baby is very heavily weighted against her (Contentment)? What happens when the rigors of pregnancy, delivery and parenthood win out over sexual desire, time and again (Desire)? What happens when the finances of single-income family now teeters solely on her husband’s performance at work (Security)? What happens in the quiet moments between…diaper changes, infant crying fits and trips to the store for more baby stuff…when she remembers the the woman she used to be (Self-Esteem, Contentment)?
In this not-so-hypothetical scenario, it could be said that Ascendant Love, Descendant Love, Worship and Commitment lead her and her spouse to make life-changing decisions that now war with Intimacy, Contentment, Security, Desire and possibly Self-Esteem. There are quite a few ways that this scenario can be different but given current conditions, this scenario is probably playing itself out in families all over the world. I won’t get into the argument about which set of loves is more worthy or which set of loves should ultimately win out, but I think the number of divorces and single-parents (excluding widows) in the world suggests that battles like this go on in many families and some are never resolved. Love of others and love of self will usually war with each other. Loving one set of others versus another set (Your Wife vs Your Mother; Your Child vs Your Husband; God versus Anyone else; Your Parents vs. Your Children) will also cause some very nasty in-fighting. Any love demands vigilance and attention, for itself first and foremost. Putting all loves together into one life is a complicated warren of push and pull.
As a rule, I try not to argue with dead people, it’s just too one-sided. I will make an exception in this case. Contrary to the famous line from Whitney Houston’s song “Greatest Love of All”, I believe the greatest love is finding a balance across your different loves that allows you to be fully alive and at peace. Just learning to love yourself isn’t enough. You have to learn to love others while still loving yourself. You have to love yourself while loving your life, at whatever stage you are in. You must love your family and your spouse and your children all while loving yourself. Short of that, you are likely to commit many love on love crimes…but don’t worry, it’s all in the name of love.