9 June

What About Love? Does Anyone Know What It Really Means? I Know Now What It Means To Me.

by Jon Katz

There is an inevitable loneliness about love, whether you have it or not. Living without it can be cold and cruel; living with it can be just as bad or worse. I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum.

Love can grow strong,  rich, and powerful. It can also calcify and wither, often dying. It depends, at least, on what I wanted to get for love and what I could give in exchange. Love can make lives worth living. Chatter about love is epidemic. Meaning is rare.

For me, it was a long and bumpy trip. Love could only come if I loved another more than I loved myself and wanted the other’s happiness as much as I wished for mine. That only happened for a short time.

My emotional struggles for much of my life turned me inward; mainly, what I worried about was me. I wanted the pain to stop; it was an endless distraction. It has mostly stopped now, and love is the biggest reason.

To me, love is the most complex and mysterious emotion. Humans are the only creatures on earth who are believed to feel it.  Like so many people, I’ve learned a lot about the loneliness of love. Our culture tells us that love is the ultimate happy ending. I did not find that to be true. My happy ending comes from being happy; love can only be a step towards that.

One of the most important things I learned about love is that I always wanted more from the other person than I ever hoped to receive. And I accept that I would or always did give less than is needed and expected, even when I was sure I was offering everything I have. That is the nature of human beings and of me.

To truly love and be loved was a wall I had to climb, and it took me most of a lifetime.

My understanding of love has changed radically over the past few years, and only recently did I begin to understand what it means, how difficult it is to maintain, and how central it is to my life. Spirituality, which is all about love when all is said and done, helped me all along the way.

Nothing has asked me to change more in my life than love, and nothing has brought greater reward when I have done so.

Love has been practical and emotional for me, directly and indirectly. It has enabled me to live a life of peace and meaning and to try to do the same for others, especially the person I love the most, my wife.

(Photo above: Maria begins the skirting (cleaning) our wool.)

The term “love” has become such an exploited cliche that no one can explain or define it.

I’m on my own here; every writer in history has tackled the subject.

Love, says spiritual author Joan Chittister,  “functions in the loneliness that comes from expecting what no other person can give us – total satisfaction, presence, joy, and understanding. The love we find then, the more loneliness that comes with it. Wanting total absorption of another person defeats the gifts that real love alone can give – independence, confidence, and the courage to be ourselves.”

Chittister’s idea strikes home with me;  my concept of love has evolved radically in my life. Sometimes, it was about sex, about domination, sometimes about money and security, sometimes about age and marriage, sometimes about companionship, and sometimes all of the above, including sentimental muck.

Movies and authors have made a mess of trying to explain, portray, or profit from love. Love is portrayed as romantic when that is perhaps one of its least important aspects.

Most of my life was loveless. I wasn’t ever in love, and I couldn’t love others. I made a damaged partner. People my age were expected to get married, and many talented women were expected to throw their dreams away to have children and please their husbands. That was not love.

I had no idea what love was until I had a daughter and saw her born.

Then  I came to the country,  had my crackup, and met Maria. For me, love wasn’t about anything I saw in movies, read in magazines, or sappy TV shows and saw in my family and the families around me. I knew I was face to face with love; I didn’t know how to do it.

Maria and I were both broken down, needy, and confused. We are very similar and different—different ages, families, and cultures. We both wanted the same thing—to live our lives the way we always wanted to and to share the corrosive power of panic.

From the beginning, we embraced the challenge of helping the other heal while doing the same things for ourselves and preserving each other’s individuality and independence. That was what was different about us. We didn’t wish to change the other but to free the other, to light the spark that led to the fire that led to living the lives we wanted to live.

I learned that true love is a long journey that requires unyielding self-criticism as its foundation.  This is where meditation became so important; I had to look inside and face the truth about what I saw.

When Maria agreed to marry me, we undertook an intense journey without maps or guides.

I had to ask myself almost every day whether or not I cared for her, could step outside of myself and my troubles to ask if she was more important to me than I was to myself.

Was I listening to her? Did I hear her? Did she trust me enough to share her honest feelings, fears, and dreams? Was I trying to dominate her and diminish her independence and confidence in the way I saw so many men do with their wives or partners?

Was I trying to understand and prioritize what she needed from me right now, every day, and from that day on? Was I trying to move beyond myself and shed my ambitions for the sake of her? The answers varied as I learned the power of authenticity, the art of telling the truth to myself.

Some of what I saw about myself disturbed me and threatened my idea of love. Selflessness is the mother of love, and it was never my strength; my struggles dominated much of my life and made me selfish and unfeeling.

As Chittister put it in her book Between The Dark And The Daylight,  the second consciousness of love is that the world is not a world of one – me. True love makes room in the soul for the feelings, insights, and desires of another, for the opinions of another, for the sensitivity of another, for the emotions of the other, for the often separate goals of another.

Like me, Maria struggled to be herself, something other people in her life could not see or support. I understood that we both wanted to work hard to be ourselves as we defined ourselves. My job was to enable and support her in her search for her identity, not mine.

I remember it was easy for me to fall in love and maintain it in one form or another; the hard part was finding a partner whose steadiness, compassion, and love helped the other become the person they desired. I never see love defined that way; it is mainly described in sappy gibberish with many flowers.

For me, love was never a fusion that turned two people into one person, no matter how much they loved one another. Love is embracing the dream that enables us to be our best selves and live our best lives together.

I knew right away that Maria and I could never give back to each other or fill what we lacked in ourselves. We could not save one another; we could only respect, honor, and support each other’s desire to save ourselves. We helped when we could and whenever we were asked or needed.

She could never achieve this absolute fusion for me, and I could never achieve this for her. That was not love; it was something else, often selfish and dominant. Love is not about that, either.

The question for each of us has always been more or less the same question.

The purpose of our love for one another was not about sexuality, persuasion, physical appearance, money, or security. The purpose of our love was to believe in all sincerity and honesty we loved for the sake of the other and ourselves.

For me, love was the only thing that could stop the restless sleep that comes with loneliness. It was a lifesaver of a kind.

I want and need love, especially as I age, but even more so as I need to heal. I learned that love is defined by how I can encourage and support Maria’s powerful desire to be independent and live her life the way she wants to, and her love for me is defined in the same way.

That’s different from what I will ever see in the movies or hear from the gurus and pundits. It comes from the heart.

I sleep well now, and I am never lonely. I told Maria this week that if she died before me, her love would stay with me for the rest of my life and give me strength and meaning.

My wish is for her to feel the same way. She said she did.



  1. what a beautiful post Jon. Your life, and Maria’s……have grown so much…..both separately and together. I plan on keeping this post handy to remind me (when I need it) to be thankful and to work on what I really *need* to work on.
    Susan M

  2. Thank you Jon. Love is so much more encompassing, I found true love after a painful divorce. My marriage now is supportive, it gives me space to be my real. It is a safe place to fall, when things get overwhelmingly. We both have our own lives and hobbies independent of each other, yet we both offer encouragement and freedom for the other to be fulfilled.
    Good relationships take time to mature, once the immediate passion subsides a deeper emotion takes its place. Trust is the key to all of this. We feel we are lucky to have found each other,

  3. Beautiful sentiment, I’m going to remember and jot down the last few lines of your above post.

    1. Thanks Edwin, it’s a challenge to write about love, there’s so much said about it, but there is little real meaning..

  4. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed one of your posts as much as this one. It was so honest and clear.
    I didn’t get married until I was 52, and it’s been almost 22 years now. We both had a lot to work through, but we never gave up. Our love for each other and the importance of our spiritual lives helped to grow our marriage into something better than I could have imagined.
    Your love and respect for each other inspires me.

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