Monday, July 30, 2012
Love is the most fundamental, powerful, and admirable of emotions…though humans cannot claim exclusivity on it, as anyone who has ever had a dog or a cat knows full well. There are concentric and frequently overlapping circles of love, radiating out from the core of our being—ourselves: parents, relatives, friends, country, interests, etc. Each circle is different; the love between parents and children is quite different than the love between friends, and that indescribably unique love we call romantic love between two people includes and transcends all the others.
Love in its various forms feeds us and sustains us, and without it our soul withers and dies. It is essential for our survival and our emotional development, and we seem able to store it up, like some animals store up body fat for use during periods of deprivation. Science has shown babies—human and animal—need to be touched and held and fondled as much as they need physical nourishment. Deprivation of love and attention warps the individual forever. (I have seen heartbreaking experiments conducted on baby monkeys denied any contact with their mothers, and it horrified and devastated me. Such experiments may further science, but their effect on the deprived individual is incomprehensible and unconscionable.)
There comes a time, as we age, when, our sources of love grow fewer. Our parents die as do, over the years, our partners and our friends, until those who live long enough find themselves like newborns once again, desperately needing love and attention and touch, and receiving less and less of it.
I am comfortable in my life. I am blessed with supportive, caring friends who provide emotional nourishment the human soul requires, and I try to reciprocate it, though I am far less adept at it than they. I still have some family left, and they remain my anchors to the past. I am fortunate, too, to have friends I’ve never met personally but who know and seem to appreciate me through my writing. Yet those my age and older are increasingly aware that our support systems are not what they once were.
But what I do not have, and miss with a true sense of longing, is a romantic-love partner with whom to share my life. I used to joke that the one thing that separates friends from lovers is sex and, at the risk of eliciting a scrinched-face “eeeeee-eeewwww!!” from those under 40, I can assure you that sex remains a strong factor even after one’s sexual appeal is totally lost on others. We may learn to live without it, but it leaves a gaping hole which cannot be closed.
There are those—too many—who think of love as a limited commodity and treat it selfishly, expecting it without feeling the necessity to give it. We all want it, need it, and even expect it as our due, but may too often be loath to give it when we should, perhaps fearing it, and we, may be dismissed as unworthy.
It's extremely rare to meet anyone who, believing themselves with or without justification to be unloved, can convincingly claim they are happy. And it is a tragic fact we seem to be living in an increasingly unkind and unloving world, with the result that far, far too many people are deprived of love, of affection, of kindness, of the even casual genuine touch on the arm from someone who cares about them.
It is nothing less than tragic that in our society has devolved to the point where even the most innocent and casual physical contact with a stranger or even an acquaintance is discouraged, and we are rapidly becoming a nation of paranoids. That teachers are forbidden to hug a troubled student for fear of official reprimand or dismissal is a sign of just how far down the path of dehumanization we have traveled. That a kind, well-intentioned stranger cannot reach out and casually touch a child without being suspected of being a child molester is infinitely sad.
But our capacity for love...for giving as well as receiving...is limitless and, as elemental as it sounds, the fact remains that the best way to get love on any level is to give it without really expecting it to be returned; the best way to make a friend is to be a friend. The best way to be loved is to love unconditionally.
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