Commusings: Love, Part 2 by Jeff KrasnoFeb 06, 2021
A couple of weeks ago in my article Another Street, I opined on the nature of true love. I wrote, “love is an effusive state of being that emerges from an absence of need.” A number of folks wrote in asking what the devil I meant by that. With the commemoration of St. Valentine fast approaching, I continue my audit on “capital L” Love.
This quasi-holiday of chocolate and roses holds some personal meaning as twenty-six years ago, on Valentine’s Day, I trepidatiously proposed to Schuyler. She accepted – sort of. Here I share that story and other lessons about love I have managed to extract from a thirty three-year career in monogamy.
I’m here at [email protected].
In love, include me,
It was 1994. Bill Clinton was president, Schindler’s List won best film, Amazon was founded, and Schuyler and I were living in a matchbox apartment on West End in Manhattan. I was holding down a job making Classical Music for Dummies and Schuyler was auditioning for theater roles. She got plucked up to lead in a play that would run in Los Angeles for three months. Off she went to warmer climes, as pitiful old me was left behind to brave yet another frosty New York winter – alone.
Her absence tugged at my heart. As January trudged into February, I slowly summoned the will to ask for her betrothal. Even though we’d already orbited the sun seven times together, a successful outcome was hardly guaranteed. A devout iconoclast, Schuyler never fancied marriage, frolicking children, or a two-car garage. She descended from a long lineage of pant-wearing, bread-winning, unwedded women on one side and Libertarian hippie ranchwomen on the other. This combination resulted in a high cheek-boned sort of freewheeling independence that often made me feel more like a beloved pet then a mate.
When I first tumbled into love with Schuyler, I was a boy, flailing in the exhilarating darkness of adolescence. My mother had long left the scene. My boiling testosterone levels were dampened only through incessant bong tooting. I noodled away on my banjo for hours on end, day-dreaming of being the urbane heir to Earl Scruggs. You can throw a bit of Marx, Kerouac, and Huxley in the mix for good measure. In other words, I was bloody lost.
I was sitting on my customary stoop when she floated by in an aerosol of grapefruit dust – all talc-y from her hip-hop class at Steps. I stammered something unintelligible in Highnese. As she glided away down the street, I conjured the image of Tom Cruise tearfully baring his soul to Renee Zellweger in the rom com Jerry Maguire. Schuyler, this sapient ethereal demi-goddess, would “complete me.”
To study the long courtship I waged would be like memorizing the DMV driver’s manual – dotted lines, jagged lines, double-solid lines, red lights, yellow lights, green lights, off-ramps, on-ramps – such is the serrated nature of long-term relationship. I sought in Schuyler a veritable Applebees’ buffet of personae – nurturing mother, hot-blooded lover, stoner buddy, intellectual fencing partner, intermittent sugar mama, and occasional nurse. Schuyler, always the consummate yogini, shape-shifted as required to meet my myriad and fluctuating needs.
Plotting nuptials gave my life a certain purpose. I steeled myself to ask Ellsworth, Schuyler’s pipe-smoking Yankee grandfather, for her reticent hand. He was surprisingly pleased to hear me speak English since he thought I might be mute. After securing his assent, I schemed an alternative jewelry strategy. Schuyler was too radical for the traditional engagement ring. She cared more for carrots than carats.
I toured the vintage shops of the West Village until I found what I was confident would seal the deal. I purchased a 1920’s art deco locket that hinged open at the middle. I applied a sepia graininess to photographs of our respective countenances and slipped them into either side of the locket such that, when you opened it, you beheld the timeless adoration of star-crossed lovers who, inevitably, would fold back in on each other. This $125 outlay drained my bank account but I reckoned it was worth it. I would lock it with a locket.
I made the fretful middle-seat journey to Los Angeles, where Schuyler was shacked up in a small guest house in Los Feliz. On the morning of February 14, I furtively extracted the locket. Schuyler lay asleep dappled by the gauzy sunlight coming through the warped window pane. I roused her gently and dangled my offering pendulously above her. She took it tenderly, cupping it in her palm, unfastening it dexterously. The edges of her mouth serenely curved up as the corners of her eyes sloped down. I know this look of unchosen vulnerability so well now.
Buoyed by her reaction, I calmly but resolutely asked, “Schuyler, will you marry me?”
A micro-expression of shock momentarily hardened her face before it softened again in surrender. And with her characteristically crisp diction, she said, “Yes, I will. But where is the fucking ring?”
With the luxury of time, I now reflect on our puerile love and recognize how needy I was. I needed Schuyler’s affection. I needed her to help me manage bureaucracy, to find a bloody doctor and a dentist. I needed her to tell me I was intelligent, handsome, sexy, hirable, good enough, lovable – worthy.
I’ll stop picking on myself for a moment and zoom out. The fundamental problem not just of my life, but of all human existence, is our perceived separateness. We tend to plod through our lives under the spell that we are all separate individuals living in a separate external universe. While this notion of the separate self may be ultimately illusory, our five senses – the tools that frame our experience of the world – reinforce this notion of the individuated self. We generally believe there is a locus of individual consciousness crouching behind our eyes looking out at an external landscape filled with other blokes scurrying about. This conviction proves flimsy upon greater inspection. Our brains can be cleaved in two through a corpus callosotomy surgery, creating two parallel and separate senses of identity. If consciousness exists inside me somewhere, with a split brain, which one is me? We also tend to associate our identities with our physical bodies even though we are 50% bacteria and fungi and our proprioception can be easily deceived. Still, we are all generally convinced that our body-minds, the beings sitting here reading, are the thinker of our thoughts, moated from the balance of humanity.
Our culture also contributes to our atomization. We live in a box, drive to work in a box, work in a box, stare at a box, and then drive home to our box in a box and watch another box. Our identities are too often defined by what other people think of us, our resume, our accomplishments, our position in society.
This separateness fosters a profound sense of aloneness and insignificance and it explains the incessant human desire to connect with something bigger than ourselves.
Many people quell their feelings of isolation in religion. The ultimate destination of Buddhism is nirvana, the realization of non-self. In Hinduism, particularly in schools like Advaita Vedanta, one seeks to be one with Brahman, to connect with the Universal Self that flows everywhere and through everyone. Here, love may be used synonymously with God. Love or God is the realization that we are connected by a power greater than us.
Another strategy for alleviating our existential loneliness is the search for romantic love. In partnership, we lose the sense of our perceived isolation. The pursuit of enduring relationship can feel so essential to our sense of wholeness that we go to great, if sometimes absurd, lengths to improve our lovability. From stomach crunches to white lies about our wealth or the books we’ve read, we attempt to improve our share price on what Erich Fromm dubbed “the personality marketplace.” In this sense, love is commodified. Partners enter a mutually beneficial transaction in which each partner appeases the insecurities and weaknesses of the other. And within this compact, one can enjoy the rush of endorphins that relationship provides.
However, the thrusting of the requirements of one’s ego onto someone else is not a good long-term strategy for relationship. If you need someone else to tell you that you’re good enough, then the chances are high that person will inevitably disappoint. One can simply witness the frequency of failed relationships as proof. This is not to say partners shouldn’t be there to support each other in times of grief or hardship. Life provides unexpected challenges, which may produce a seesawing between the roles of lover and beloved. But, in the end, Jerry Maguire had to “complete” himself.
Ironically, the real solution to escape the feeling of being alone is to learn how to be alone. In the quietude of meditative self-reflection, one may cultivate compassion and forgiveness for and of oneself. In the fostering of self-love, one emerges as worthy, as enough. One belongs fully to oneself just by the mere existence of one’s own humanity, without the need of anyone’s approbation.
In this absence of need, love transmutes from something taken to something given. The focus of love shifts from the self to the world. In romantic relationship, love’s ultimate aspiration becomes the happiness, growth, and freedom of its object. In this way, love is not a transitory emotion arising and subsiding in consciousness moment by moment. It is an effusive state of being which can and, inevitably should, be directed toward any and all people.
Writing about love can sometimes feel like trying to describe the experience of eating ice cream, particularly chocolate peanut butter. The prose will never be as delicious as the lived experience. But we’ve all felt that warm glow in the wake of doing something selfless. If you’ve ever volunteered at a homeless shelter and viscerally felt the gratitude people have for your service then you have likely experienced the sensation of this mature love. It is no coincidence that philanthropy – which is often conflated with charitable action – literally means “love of man.”
When I was a just a rube with a locket, I prayed that love would happen to me, filling the chasms of my inadequacies. But, after years of reflection and cautious self-acceptance, I have eschewed my role as love’s mistress. In completing ourselves, we assume the power to live from love, and in so doing, rewrite the story of separation.
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