Tough Love

It’s difficult to write about love today.

There are several reasons for this, and the biggest one is because I’m not sure quite how comfortable I am with bringing up some very personal issues – even in comfortably abstract terms – in a very public place.

I’m also not sure how comfortable you will be reading it. Neither the people who I know, or those who I don’t.

At the same time, the blog is supposed to be authentic, or why bother? So I couldn’t just pull up some generic subject, not today.

Love Linger

I’m writing this on a plane heading literally across the country. I’m heading from Seattle to Vermont to facilitate an unconference there, which is nothing unusual. What comes after that, though, is the first part of what makes writing about love today difficult.

I will be heading to Pittsburgh for about a week, prior to facilitating yet another unconference. It’s the town where my ex-lover lives, the town that I tried to make my home. I still have many friends there, I still love the town, and I am looking forward to the unconference.

At the same time, there is an undercurrent of unrest and unease surrounding the whole event. The relationship did not end for any of the dramatic or romantic reasons that often make it easy to sublimate love into hate or resentment. No, we ended because our lives couldn’t be lived happily together.

There are certainly a lot of emotions around that. Sorrow, grief, the constant nagging “if only’s” and “why didn’t’s” and even the occasional irrational bout of resentement combined with guilt. Quite the mishmash of feelings, but none of them replace the love. They just get sort of layered on. I’ve noticed when I’ve tried to get rid of the love, to banish it from my soul, it just kind of hunkers down, sinking its claws in deeper and simply refusing to move.

It can be layered over, slowly buried with the sediment of time and experiences apart.
But it’s always there. And with that proximity of the town, the lover, and the memories looming in my future…it’s difficult to write about love.

Love Long

At the same time, there are people in my life who deserve my love more than anyone else. Mainly I think of my daughters and my grandsons, living so far away. I am an uneasy empty-nester, an absentee grandfather seeing my family members at most a few times a year, or via the occasional Facebook update or text message.

Does this make me a bad man? I don’t think so. My daughters are in the midst of their own adventure, and there are plenty of meddlesome grandparents living near or even with them in Madison. By living far away, in a strange way I am more accessible to them in ways that their close-by relatives aren’s. I’m the voice in the distance they can talk to, without having to worry about me suddenly jumping in with judgement or (even worse) my own solution to their problems.

At least, that’s what I tell myself.

I’ve got amazingly resilient children. I also know that they want me to be doing the things that are important to me, to be living my life, not theirs. There are small ways that I help – cel phone plans, a car left in Madison for them to use occasionally for essential tasks taking little Harvey Gray to preschool (far too soon!).

So no, I don’t think I’m a bad man for living where I want to live rather than where my biological nurturing imperative says I should live.

But sometimes I feel that way. And that makes it difficult, sometimes, to write about love.

Love Looms

I’m about as far from anti-social as a person can get. I have many friends in Seattle, both from before I moved there and who I’ve met since. I also maintain many friendships from other places I’ve lived or visited, ranging from best-friends-with-benefits to unexpected-deep-connection-crush to the occasional date with someone who doesn’t live hundreds of miles away.

Yet I feel myself holding back. I find myself reluctant to invest myself, to let down the walls I’ve built. I’ve examined the reasons, and I know that it’s part laziness and part fear. I know how much work relationships can take, and I’m loathe to start working that hard again. There’s a level of residual guilt there, as well – If you’re willing to work on a new relationship, why weren’t you willing to work harder on the last one? Ah, those tricky, tricky voices in my head.

I’ve talked before about the unfortunate metaphor of love being the dream house you spend all your time building only to have it crumble and decay around your ears.

Lately a new metaphor, along the same lines, has been occupying my brain. I still feel like I’ve built house after house, some grand and sheltering many, some simple and cozy, some downright weird in a Frank-Lloyd-Wright kind of way. But as each crumbled, as each proved to be less than structurally sound under the wind and rain and storms of reality, I think I finally just decided to invest in a nice tent. A perfectly good tent, and it’s been fine to keep the elements out without needing to worry about if it blows away. Tents are cheap, they’re made to be movable, so why worry if it’s time to pull up stakes, right?

Except now I’m sitting and looking at this beautiful plot of land. The seat I’m resting on is a nice stack of finely-seasoned lumber, shiny nails, power tools oiled and humming and ready to go the minute I reach out a hand and grasp them.

I know how to build this house. I know, from past experience, how to at least avoide the mistakes of the past (Yay! I can make nice shiny new mistakes!).

But I sit. I look at the land, the materials, and I am still weary and wary. I am still tired of building, and scared of what this new house may look like, and most of all reluctant to risk it all falling apart again.

Besides, I’ve got this perfectly good tent right here! Who needs houses? It’s not like it’s going to rain any time soon.

I’m not sure if that metaphor really conveyed anything. I’m not sure if I took it too far, or if it’s too opaque, or too self indulgent.

That’s because, today, I’m finding it difficult to write about love.

4 thoughts on “Tough Love”

  1. Re Love Looms: What about inviting some of those friends over to help you build from time to time?

    When one of my extrovert partners needs to do something big and intimidating, she occasionally invites me over just to keep her company and cheer her on. Before I get there, she’s convinced the task is too big and probably pointless since it’ll just get messed up again anyway. When I arrive I agree she’s probably right (see: permission to fail) but maybe we could just mess around with this interesting bit in the corner since I’m here anyway. We crack jokes and talk about unrelated things and have more snacks than strictly necessary. By the time I’m heading home, the original task might not be entirely complete, but she has built up some project momentum and probably done much more than that interesting bit in the corner.

    The people you ask to keep you company while you build don’t need live in the house with you afterward. They simply need to care about you and want to see you succeed by your own heart’s standards (some solid experience with the tools and materials doesn’t hurt either). Sort-of like the grand tales of barn raising from the last century. Though some days it might just look like dropping by with a hot beverage and an extra rain fly for your tent.

  2. You like your tent, but would you adore the house?
    You want to be lazy, but what happens when someone else isn’t? How will you feel when someone else builds the house you dreamed of because you were too lazy to try?
    Life is filled with fears; isn’t the thought of never creating the house you want, the house you dream of, just as scary?
    Are you fulling living your authentic life if you deny yourself what you truly desire?

    Doc, in our last session, talked about how we have two drivers in our brain; one avoids pain while the other seeks pleasure. It just so happens the part that avoids pain is stronger. And, unfortunately, it often reinforces old pains in its persuit to avoid new ones.

    Aren’t you causing yourself pain by avoiding the struggle of work on a new home?

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