This is a book about a myth and a taboo.
THE MYTH: In order to be complete and fulfilled, you must find one "significant other" to love. This significant other must consider you his or her significant other and love you back with equal devotion till death do you part.
THE TABOO: It is somehow unwholesome to love yourself.
In LOVE 101 I'll be challenging both the myth and the taboo. If you're not ready to have these challenged, it would be best if you stop reading now--this book will only upset you.
If, on the other hand, you have been gradually coming to the seemingly forbidden conclusion that before we can truly love another, or allow another to properly love us, we must first learn to love ourselves--then this book is for you.
The taboo that we shouldn't love ourselves is one of the silliest in modern culture. Who else is more qualified to love you than you? Who else knows what you want, precisely when you want it, and is always around to supply it?
Who do you go to bed with, sleep with, dream with, shower with, eat with, work with, play with, pray with, go to the movies with, and watch TV with?
Who else knows where it itches, and just how hard to scratch it?
Who are you reading this book with?
Who have you always lived with, and whom will you eventually die with?
And, who will be the only person to accompany you on that ultimate adventure (just think of death as a theme park with a high admission cost), while all your other loved ones are consoling each other by saying how happy you must be with God and how natural you look?
Spiritually, who is the only person who can join you in your relationship with God, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Moses, Mother Nature, The Force, Creative Intelligence, or whomever or whatever you consider to be the moving force of existence?
And, who has been there every time you've had sex?anything pleasurable we see, feel, hear, touch, or taste: without our senses nothing "out there"--from movies to pepperoni pizza--would be in the least enjoyable.
So, from the sacred to the profane (and all points in between), your ideal lover is you.
Then why is loving ourselves such a taboo? Why is the notion that we need another to love (who will love us back) such an enormous myth?
In a word, control.
The self-contained, emotionally autonomous, intellectually free individual is the greatest threat to the institutions that want to control us. Those of us who refuse to act like sheep--who question authority and want genuine answers, not just knee-jerk clichs--are a pain in the gluteus maximus (and regions nearby) to those who want to rule by power rather than by providing leadership.
We see attempts to manipulate almost everywhere--in politics, religion, advertising, entertainment.
When we are programmed to "fall" for the hunk or the honey of a certain aesthetic type, and to believe that these images of sex and beauty mean "true love," then these images can be used to sell us anything from cigarettes to movie tickets. And they are, they are.
Further, when the only "moral" outcome of a romantic relationship is a till-death-do-us-part, state-licensed, church-blessed marriage, we see the fundamental forces of conformity at work. If we're all the same, we are much easier to serve--also sell to, also control.
If we're all the same--and marriage is one of the best homogenizers around--then we only need one religion, one political party: the Family Values Party. In fact, why not combine religion and government in one?
That's been the history of the world--church and state hand-in-hand, slavish conformity, and those troublemakers (ungodly and unpatriotic) who fail to shape up . . . well, there have always been ways of dealing with them.
But this book is not a political diatribe. It's a book about personal freedom--the freedom to choose the life you want, even though the powers that be think you should not do so. They know best.
Except they don't. More than half the people in this country live outside the "traditional" mama-papa-children household. It hasn't worked.
Please understand that I am not against family, marriage, children, or even romance. I am merely against the idea that we should all be herded into that mode of relating when there are viable, satisfying alternatives (which we'll explore later in this book).
There will always be people who want to get married and raise children. More power to them. The trouble arises when people who want to do something else (write, pray, save the dolphins) get married and have children because they think they should, not because they want to.
This clutters up the marriage market with unqualified players--those who would rather be training for a decathlon just don't have the same commitment to child-rearing. So, they drop out of the marriage--emotionally or entirely--and the other partner, who still wants a marriage, wonders, "What happened?"
What happened is what happens every time we are all programmed to do the same thing--those who don't really want to be there muck it up for those who do.
If a group of people were all taken to an opera one night, a rock concert the second night, the latest Woody Allen movie the third night, and an Englebert Humperdink concert the fourth, chances are that on at least one of those nights, some of the audience would be, to paraphrase S.J. Pearlman, if not disgruntled, certainly not fully gruntled.
If, on the other hand, each individual in the group had a choice to go to any, all, or none of the four, then self-selection would lead to far more gruntled audiences at all the events.
This book is about you getting more gruntled in all your relationships--especially your relationship with yourself.
You'll note I've only talked about the failure of marriage. Imagine how much more unsuccessful romance is. There are two million divorces in the United States each year. Is it fair to estimate that for every divorce there are at least ten break-ups between nonmarried romantics? If so, there are, counting the newly divorced, twenty-two million broken hearts littering the emotional landscape. There are also twenty-two million (the ones who did the dumping) who are proclaiming "Free at last!"
And yet the majority of those millions, who now have already had first-hand experience that a romantic relationship doesn't necessarily lead to a lifelong happy marriage, will again be jumping into the next acceptable pair of eyes, or thighs, that come along. "The person was the problem," they tell themselves. "If only I find the right person." Maybe it's the type of relationship that's not working. Maybe.
What does it cost us to fall for this myth that we must find another to love, and must (in the same person) find someone to love us? It costs us the loving, laughing, emotionally stable, intellectually stimulating, and physically satisfying relationship with the person perfectly qualified to be our best friend in this lifetime--ourselves.
We trade the ongoing, here-and-now, potentially vibrant, fun-filled, nurturing relationship with ourselves for some future promise of Prince Charming or Cinderella riding in on a white charger or a refurbished pumpkin, transforming our lives with True Love. That's like not eating your home-cooked food because you have been convinced that any day now (real soon), a gourmet (not just any gourmet, mind you, but your own personal star-crossed gourmet) will appear---pots, pans, leeks, and all. Am I saying you should turn the gourmet away? Not at all. Being with others, sharing with others, supporting and being supported by others are among the most fulfilling activities we can enjoy. I'm simply saying that loving oneself while loving others makes all interactions more enjoyable. Some even say that loving oneself is a prerequisite to loving others. I won't take it quite that far, but I do know loving oneself is an important part of loving others (and allowing others to love you).
When we are already loving and loved by ourselves, our desire to love and be loved by others is just that--a desire. We no longer have the burning, aching need to love and be loved. Back in my desperately seeking-another-to-love-who-will-love-me-back days, I wrote a poem:
My needs destroy the paths through which those needs could be fulfilled.
I had on my wall in letters a foot tall, the needy proclamation taken from Peter Townsend's Tommy:
Talk about an intimidating message to present to the newly met. At seventeen, my muse gave me the answer. I was sitting in a coffee shop as the sun was coming up and wrote on a paper napkin (as all poets do from time to time):
I must conquer my loneliness alone.
I must be happy with myself or I have nothing to offer.
Two halves have little choice but to join, and yes, they do make a whole.
But two wholes, when they coincide . . . that is beauty.
That is love.
It took me some time--with any number of false starts, dead ends, and dashed hopesThe Lemon Cookbook.--to get the wisdom of this edict off the napkin and into my life.
LOVE 101 is what I learned along the way. You may have a different way with different learnings, but I pray that some of my musings you'll find useful, inspiring, or amusing.
I wrote this book for myself--a collection of what I have learned about self-loving so that if I fall into a pit of self-loathing (an inevitability--what lovers don't have quarrels?), I will have these reminders to help me de-pit myself.
I hope you'll read along in my "manual on loving me" and make as much of it your own as you care to.