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Out of all the things that have held my attention in these years of life, love remains at the forefront. In my quiet moments, I consider the nature of it, the effect it has, and should have and the many translations of it I have come across within this existence. A burning question that has plagued me since the end of what appears to be my imagined last great love is, “What is the difference between romantic love and platonic love?”
This question was born from the experience of my last relationship, where I fell out of love just as quickly as I had fallen into it. My chosen partner was exhibiting forms of behavior that I would have never accepted from my platonic partners, and it begged me to ask questions, questions like “Why is cruelty acceptable behavior in romantic conflicts when it could never be as such in a platonic conflict?”.
Why was my boyfriend allowed to be a dickhead to me when my friends knew to consider my sensitivity? Why was someone so privileged to be brought so close to me authorized to act in ways that could be seen as threatening to my sense of self? Why had my relationship turned into a tally of grievances and emotional backlash? And why was this the norm?
Why were pettiness and small-mindedness the acceptable stage for what could’ve been called love?
One of the things that truly struck me in my last love is how unused he was to displays of love; he had never been given a gift by a romantic partner, he had never heard of terms like “love language” and “conflict resolution”. I was a pioneer of feeling in his life, and that journey of discovery was burdensome for me. I grew tired of fighting to simply love or be loved; I grew tired of arguing for the sake of kindness and what I considered to be common loving sense. I didn’t understand how we could be in the same relationship and yet be flowing in two opposing directions and at the end of it all when I attempted to free the both of us from what was growing into an unbearable situation I was accused of enduring all of that emotional labor because it was apparently at the time “fashionable” to have a boyfriend.
That accusation still stings, it’s a wound that has not healed, and I can’t seem to forgive him for.
Why did no one prepare me for the reality of loving people who do not know how to be loved? Why did no one tell me how difficult and how fracturing it could be if you did not have strength enough for both of you? Why did no one tell me that the strength you possess could turn into resentment with an Amy Winehouse flavored “Stronger Than Me” quickness? Why did no one tell me about the patience required in the monumental task of loving someone who hasn’t experienced a love that could uplift and better their lives before?
And why was love so much easier and so much more uplifting in its practice when done platonically?
An ex from one of my more toxic and soul damaging relationships wrote the following to me this year;
“I just wanted to say I apologize for any trauma I caused you, I knew I was not emotionally stable/healthy enough to complete our relationship when I began courting you. I made that decision based on convenience.
You are a brilliant woman, and your conditioning brought me to focus on success that I wouldn’t have been aware of, let alone able to tap into and since the focus you directed has made me exponentially more successful. So much so it would be a crime not to acknowledge its derivative.
I’m sure you get these regularly but thank you.
And I’m sorry, I’m sorry I led you into something toxic knowingly, just to take and never give beyond the material and then to take the material so pettily.”
This passage runs through my mind a lot and is the source of great confusion. Everything he described me as is a result of my belief in love, and the relationship it self did a grevious injustice to my self esteem, to both my belief in myself and the worth of my love. Loving him as I tried so hard to, to put it succinctly, fucked me up.
I know I hold the power of refinement, and in the display and application of my affection, I naturally seek to better the lives of those around me, in any way that I can, because that is my nature.
Because that is my nature in love.
But how am I so capable of this understanding of a peaceful and advantageous love? Where did I get this example from? My first conception of romantic relationships came from Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters’ novels; it came from an imagination that modern love decries as unrealistic. I cannot say that I saw this love being applied in real life, but I knew that it was possible.
How can a love sourced from imagination be unrealistic when everything invented is born from imagination? Is it not just a question of practice?
Because it isn’t unrealistic, I know it fully lives in the realm of capability because I am able to love as such without a second thought, and anything other than that display of love appears to be corrupted to me and is averse to me.
Is love not soft and kind understanding? Is it not in the simplicity of seeking to make your partner smile? In the polishing of his existence and the contribution of his well being? And is the same not supposed to be returned to me?
But how can I receive what I so easily give when it appears the majority of the men I encounter have no conception of how to receive or give? I bought my ex-boyfriend a coffee maker for his birthday, and he cried as though he received a caseload of gold bars because he had never been given a gift before. It wasn’t about the material nature of the present; it was the simple act of being given a reward in itself.
How can I be safe within such an imbalance?
Loving is labor, but is that not compounded by the reality that people are not socialized to receive love as much as they are in demanding it? Does that not make this all a tiresome experience?
When conflict arises from petty and needless things when your partner lashes out because your consideration of him makes him uncomfortable, what are you to do there? Forge onward in clothes of self-sacrifice as you try to force a balance single-handedly?
I tried that, it was truly exhausting, and I was full of resentment at the end of it all, especially after being accused of enduring all of that emotional labor for something as banal as social media.
So what do I do? Do I take the stance to protect myself from hearts who don’t know how to receive love in healthy and accommodating ways? Do I practice constant divine patience in the application of loving a man who does not know how to be loved? Is there even a way to find the balance between both without feeling… neglected? Misunderstood? Taken for granted?
& dare I say it, unloved?
I believe that I am capable of the labor of love, but am I truly capable of the work of teaching another how to be loved and love in return? Am I capable of the sacrifice of self that requires? Am I capable of the neglect of my own heart and sensibilities that require?
What happens when you have to teach someone how to be held in love? Won’t your own need to be held, to be loved, to be understood as you do be abandoned for the sake of being a teacher?
How does one deal with the inevitable loneliness of this work?
How does one deal with being whole in a world full of fractions?