13 February

Okay, What Is Love?

by Jon Katz
What Is Love? Soap in the shower

I went to take a shower this morning, and I found this heart-shaped bar of soap that Maria had left me before she left for India, the message was understood and very much appreciated. Yesterday, Julie, who lives in a small town in Alabama, wrote me to ask if I would mind defining love for her, she is puzzled about what it means and struggling to understand it.

I don’t blame her, there are few useful places to look when it comes to understanding love. Juiie said she wished writers wrote more about the reality of life, not the fantasy of love.

I said love was not really the focus of my writing, I wondered if she had the wrong writer in mind, but she said I did write about love, especially in regards to my relationship with Maria.

Would I mind giving it a try? It was a creative challenge, and love is an important subject for me, I have written about it often, directly and indirectly. So here’s my try. Love is on my mind today, as Maria left for India, I felt it’s importance in my life.

I found genuine love late in my life, I honestly didn’t know what it was or how it worked. In many countries, love doesn’t enter into marriage or long relationships, marriage is practical thing, often about money, land, ambition, family politics, animals or security.

In our country, the culture – movies, books, magazines, the media – emphasizes the idea of true love, passionate and all-encompassing. Other kinds of love are rarely mentioned.

Julie, I think love is complex and evolving. I feel a great passion for Maria, personal and sexual, but that is not what makes love meaning for me, and I think, for her. Love is a long-lasting thing when it works, it matures and deepens, or should. Passion ebbs and flows, it is wonderful, but not, for me,  what matters the most.

In my other relationships, I was selfish and disconnected, I hid from problems, i did not confront them, I did not do the hard work of love, and the people I love let me run and hide until I was too far gone to love. It was too late.

First, I would say, love is about trust. You can be yourself, be accepted for yourself, you can depend on the person you love to support you and be present for you. You must, in return, accept the person you love and not assume you can or should change them to fit your tastes or needs.That is selfish love. Real love is selfless.

Love is about acceptance and respect and encouragement, love is not just about what you want, but what the other wants. Love is about making your partner bigger and stronger, not smaller and weaker. Love is about embracing independence, not dependence.

it is about standing in your truth. Maria and I have had some hard moments of truth with one another, she often tells me things I do not wish to hear, I do the same for her. Love is not about protecting someone from the truth, it is about the truth itself. Even when we are angry, we never doubt our love for one another. We always see past the anger, and into the love. These conflicts can be cleansing and nourishing.

They seem necessary.

True love is about compromise.

You must be able to say, “I am sorry,” or “I was wrong,” or “I hear you.” True love is about listening, and the occasional subjugation of pride. Listening is not about replying, or agreeing, listening is about understanding. When problems arise – and over the long haul, they always arise – passion does not resolve them, neither does making love.

Cultural representations of love are always simple-minded and shallow, they almost never reflect the depth and complexity of a true relationship.

What resolves issues is the deep investment two people make in loving and caring for one another. My partner’s happiness is my happiness, my partner’s success is my success, her pain is my pain. Love is a manifestation of the term we, it asks for patience, tolerance, and empathy.

It also demands boundaries. I can empathize, but not take my lover’s problems from them, I cannot make myself bigger by trying to solve them for her, I can help her but I cannot save her. Only she can do that. Sometimes, love asks us to let go. Love is nourishment, it grows strength.

Three years ago, I had pain in my chest and shortness of breath, and I went to the doctor and ended up in an ambulance going to the hospital to have emergency open heart surgery.

There are no mirrors in ICU, no one wants the patients to see themselves after that surgery. I happened to pass a glass wall, and saw myself after the surgery. No one wants to look. I was horrified at the tubes and drains and catheters and monitors protruding from my body, I looked, to myself, like a monster in a horror film.

A few moments, Maria and my daughter appeared to see me, and neither could mask the look of genuine shock and fear on their faces. In a few days, the tubes and bandages and needles were gone, and I went home. I felt uglier and more repulsive than ever before in my life.I could not imagine returning to normal.

Maria crawled next to me in my bed and touched my wounds and kissed one of them. She told me I was a handsome and sexy man, she said she was so lucky to have me as a husband, it was wonderful to talk with me and be with me. I’ve been waiting for you my whole life, she said.

The surprising thing to me was that she was telling the truth.  Nothing could have been healthier for me to hear.

She couldn’t fake a thing like that, I would have seen right through it.

She made me understand that whatever my body looked like, what she loved was my soul.  She made me feel whole again.

And surgery had nothing to do with the love of soul. I had the greatest motivation to recover.  We have often traded that role for one another, we have each had or troubles and disappointments, but it is our souls that are connected, and for me, that is what love is.

Love transcends life, it never denies it. I found real love when I was 61, and while I do not tell other people what to do, I do often urge people not to give up on love.

As I entered my sixth decade, I have given up on love, and on sex. I was living in a guarded moat, emotionally and literally. Love broke down the gates to the castle, and opened me to life.

Julie, love is not what you see in the movies or on TV. It is no always, pretty or sexy or simple. But it may be the most wonderful thing on the earth.

Email SignupEmail Signup