As Robin pointed out in yesterday’s comments, when it comes to need, what most of us hunger for is relationship. We have a deep drive for intimate bonding with other humans, and without that we feel adrift. Perhaps at the heart of our obsession with things is a belief that owning the right things will turn us into attractive potential mates for others. Let’s face it, that’s the subtext in most advertising.
If hooking up was the answer, the world would be a much simpler place. But it isn’t. It may be the greatest need we have is for love, but answering that need is one of the hardest things to do. Even in a relationship it is entirely possible to feel lonely, miserable and unsatisfied, if the other cannot supply us with what we want. It takes more than ‘I love you’ to convince most people they are loved. In the shallows of romantic gestures, we don’t really find soul satisfaction.
I think some people get round this by turning to God. Once you style your deity as unconditional love personified, then so long as you can hold that belief, you have all the love you need for as long as you need it, and no call to fret over those difficult human interactions. God isn’t messy, won’t stain the sheets or abandon you for a friend. But at the same time, God will not lie next to you in the small hours and stroke your hair. There’s nothing physical about divine love. The religions of the book sidestep this by denigrating all things physical elevating the spiritual. Thus love of God is better. I guess if you can hold that belief, it may keep you going. I can’t and don’t. It’s the messy, complicated, sheet stained human reactions I’ve always hankered after. Which is one of the reasons I’m a pagan.
But if there’s one thing to be said for people, it’s that you can’t trust them. They can’t always be there when you need them, they don’t magically know how to fix everything. Sometimes they stop loving you back. Sometimes they die. Loving people is a risky sort of activity, a constant courting of betrayal and disappointment. And still we do it, and still we long for it above all else.
On the whole we’re under a lot of cultural pressure to pair-bond with one other human, and stick with that. A single, obsessive love that lasts us all our lives and fulfils our every need. Up until recently, that would have been specifically a heterosexual love as well. Can any one person be all things to another? Almost certainly not. Should we ask that of anyone? Hell no. It’s too much, a crippling degree of need and responsibility.
It’s in some ways easier to love another human deeply, and fearlessly, if we aren’t trying to make them ‘everything’. Some people get round this by being polyamorous. But for those who crave monogamy, there are still ways. We need to place our love for each other in the context of a wider care. The more openly, broadly and completely we love, the less fearful we need to be. What matters is the love that we feel, not what is returned to us. When you let go of seeking the return it all becomes a lot easier. Having my heart broken by other humans, I learned to love the sky and the land, the wind, sun and shifting seasons. I came to love the rhythm of my own feet upon the earth, and the deep darkness of night. Non-human loves, are a bit like divine love in that they don’t go away. They give back to us as we love them. They are not a substitute for human love, but they put it in a different, more manageable context.
People are flawed, unreliable, fickle, perplexing creatures. We seldom make much sense to each other. Accepting that, with patience and compassion, loving the essence of humanity whilst recognising the failings, we can be more peaceful with each other. That terrible, ravening hunger that demands you be all things to me, is lessened. We find acceptance. Learning to love people as they are, embracing the things I struggled with, and seeking nothing in return, got me through some very hard times. And then if you find someone who can do the same thing for you, whole new possibilities open up. While you’re looking, don’t drown voluntarily in the noise of modernity or bury yourself in gadgets, learn to love the stars, and the sound of your own heartbeat. Trust me, it helps.