Love is complicated. If it wasn’t, would we have so many thousands of books about how to find love, how to keep love, how to get over love so we can find it again, ad infinitum? Whether you’re for or against love, there is no denying it’s got enough twists and turns and flavors and causes and expressions to keep anyone busy for several lifetimes. Hell, that’s the basis of more than a few major religions.
Culturally, though, we wish it wasn’t complicated. Disney, Harlequin, Nora Ephron, they all sell us the fantasy that real love is simple. It isn’t complicated at all, they like to imply, and in fact spend a lot of time talking about how you simply have to strip the extraneous things away and “just love” each other. You hear things like “…when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible,” (When Harry Met Sally) which, while true, completely ignores the actual complications of life, of trying to make that particular “rest of your life” happen.
Of course, in the social networking era, the declaration of love comes through your status on whatever network you feel like participating in. In American high schools it was promise rings and letter jackets and pictures in lockers that declared your romantic entanglements. On networks like Facebook, you have many options: Single. In a relationship. Engaged to.
And, of course, the realistic one: It’s complicated.
Quite a few of my friends (mostly female ones) consider this a code word for I’m cheating. I think that’s unfortunate, because it may just be honest. It may be a code word for I’m still getting over a messy divorce and I have a friend who I spend a lot of time with so it might look like we’re dating but really I just get lonely when I can’t see my kids and I think you’re interesting but I’m not sure what to do about that.
That doesn’t fit really well on a twitter feed, unfortunately.
It also doesn’t have to be so negative: I’m divorced but my ex and I want to take care of the kids together and I have a friend-with-benefits who I dance tango with but I would really enjoy seeing someone like you for a romantic hang gliding/karaoke weekend.
Also not really compact, and undeniably a bit complicated. But that’s what our lives are like, in an age when we live longer, communicate further, and take on more responsibilities.
If Mark Zuckerberg were going to put me in charge, though, I’d add one more status option. Both of the examples above have something in common: many moving parts. Kids, exes, hobbies, friends, and that most precious resource, time. The difference is that in the first one, the moving parts don’t necessarily work very well together. Grief gets in the way of jealousy inspiring waves of guilt compounding stress exacerbating loneliness.
What’s the answer? I know! Add something else to the mix! A new person, a new hobby, a new spiritual practice, anything that will distract from the real issue.
What’s that? The only way out is through? Yeah, yeah, I know that, but maybe if we just get a puppy we’ll stop fighting. Maybe if I do more yoga I’ll find peace. Maybe if I eat this pint of ice cream I’ll stop thinking about how much I miss my Dad.
You know how well that works. Not very. Kind of like having a car that is working poorly, so… you install a washing machine.
Some people see the answer in minimalism. I certainly have found it tempting more often than not; the idea of stripping down possessions, social obligations, emotional entanglements. But I’m not sure that’s necessarily the only answer.What if your life has a lot of moving parts that you like? What if you do like playing guitar, ultimate frisbee, and World of Warcraft along with your volunteer time at the shelter petting cats and your mentoring your child’s drama club? What if you are both a great ER nurse during the day and also a relationship coach on the weekends? What if you happen to like your ex, even though they can’t stand your best friend, and at the same time want to get to know this cool person you met at a workshop a month ago? None of that can really be called simple; in fact, it’s likely you’ll need the full power of Google to schedule things adequately.
You’ll need to develop your “calendar-fu,” as a friend of mine calls it. In fact, her nickname is Calendatrix, and it’s pretty awe inspiring to watch her move through her various social and work obligations like Morpheous walking down a street in the Matrix. She’s polyamorous, which means she enjoys sustaining multiple committed romantic relationships at the same time, and she does it with a grace and confidence that resembles a beautiful dance.
I would never call her life complicated. If she were to put up her status accurately, I believe I would say it is complex. That is, many moving parts, many things that she loves, all working well together.
What Do You Want?
So do you want simplicity? There’s nothing wrong with it; there are many people who find great security in a single person, or a smaller social group, situations that they can feel comfortable in, without the uncertainty of high-speed changes. Note that’s not to say there aren’t changes; you can’t stop that. But you can try to slow down the changes to the point where it’s barely noticeable, and that kind of stability can be a beautiful thing. In the same way you can have a wondrous afternoon with nothing more than your two feet taking you on a stroll through a pretty neighborhood.
But perhaps there are so many different things you love that you can’t bear to give them up. It can be exhausting, frustrating, and lead you to despair that you can’t give anything the attention that you’d like or that they deserve. In that case maybe you need to take a look at what’s complicated and see if you can make it complex instead. Rather than adding on parts, maybe try taking a look at what parts need a tune-up, a bit of polish, a bit of lube. A BMW 30i, for example, is a very complex machine but, let me tell you, it is a joy to drive.
In fact, just to take the metaphor a tiny bit further than it should possibly go…that BMW can drive you to places where you can park it, kick off your shoes, and go for a stroll through a whole new world, until you choose to get back in, fire up that amazing piece of engineering genius, and continue your journey.