So, what is this thing called love, anyway?

I read a book once when I was an adolescent, called "The Blanket Word." I can't remember exactly what the book was about -- it seems to be out of print -- but I do remember that the "blanket word" itself, was "love". One of the points of the story, the thing I never forgot, was how people use this word to cover a multitude of feelings, or as an excuse for things. And how very different these things can be.

There must be a hundred thousand poems, a million songs, countless essays, plays, movies and books all asking this same question (though I think Billie Holiday asks it the best). Obviously, people have been wondering about it since the beginning of time. I'm sure I can't add anything new. It's almost stupid to wonder, I know. But I do wonder.

I wonder because I'm 42 and single, and while I don't miss all the work that goes into a relationship, and all of the drama, I kind of miss the companionship.

I've been in love several times. When I was younger I believed in that "one true love" thing, but as time goes on I’ve come to think its bullshit. The concept of a "soulmate" though, I'm still debating. Maybe cuz I've never found mine. I've found people who I thought were my soulmate, and who I loved deeply, but obviously if I'm still single, they weren't. But on the other hand, I've found people in surprising places, who I love deeply and rely on. And I've seen people find their soulmates so I'm pretty sure it exists. But I wonder if a soulmate exists for everyone.

The first guy I kissed, I wasn't in love with. The first guy I ever had sex with, even, I wasn't in love with. It was sort of a dare to myself, an experiment. When the sex was over I was done with him, poor thing.

The first time I fell in love though, I thought I'd always be with him. So did the rest of the world. I still remember him fondly, still run into him from time to time and always remember the way I loved him then, though I don't anymore. He wasn't adventurous enough. If he'd been able to roam the world with me and explore, I'd probably still be with him because I'm definitely a one-rider horse, if you know what I mean. A one-trick pony. I don't like sharing or being shared.

After we broke up (totally my fault) there was a guy that there was amazing sex with, but he was dumb as a post and anyway, he was in love with someone else. Obsessed, actually. Despite the amazing sex, I didn't love him either, and so it would amuse me when he'd drone on and on about the girl he loved, and how wonderful she was. He'd go hang around outside her window like a man possessed... and she in turn would completely ignore him because *she* was in love with someone else. I think she called the police on him because he was stalking her.

Even though I didn't love him he pissed me off because he didn't choose me, so I went out with his friend, who I ended up marrying. (What can I say? I was young.) That was a big mistake because it turned out that while we were great friends and had many great, long, conversations, worked well together, and the sex was pretty good, he was psycho and I was stupid and that was a bad combination. I might have loved him but it ended so badly that I've blocked out how I felt about him altogether. The marriage itself barely lasted six months. A month after what would have been our first anniversary, we were already divorced.

I had a couple of lovers after that; one had a kick-ass body and a sweet personality but the sex was just awful, another thought he was "the man" and that he was a wonderful lover, but it was just OK. That one was much older than me and also thought that he could boss me around. After awhile that started to get on my nerves but he was useful in other ways. He paid my Amex bill. A third was in the Navy and was sort of convenient because whenever he came in from sea --well it had been a while for him and that made it fun, and he was nice looking and had manners. And that uniform was sexy as hell... as was the big ship he lived on. But he freaked me out one day by saying he had fantasies about me living with him. So the next time he came into town I refused to see him. I still feel bad about that, actually. Really bad. At that point in my life though, I had kind of sworn off of love. It was probably the last time I was in control of my lovelife, cuz I didn't care deeply about any body enough to be hurt by them. I found myself daring myself to see how much I could get without giving anything of myself, but after awhile I didn't like feeling that empty inside.

Then there was Jersey Boy. He was so different from what I was used to. I fell hard. When I look back I think it was probably the last time I ever trusted any man implicitly. Which is really ironic because no one but me thought it would last. I was completely blindsided when I found out he had fallen in love with someone else. I wrote it about elsewhere and it got posted onto some online journal so I won't rewrite the story again. But it hurt for a long long time, and I drank an awful lot because of it. I also didn't date anyone for two years, though I did have a massive crush on the local bartender. But nothing ever came of that. He was in love with some one else. Someone who subsequently treated him like crap and milked him for all he was worth. She was constantly in love with whoever she wasn't with.

And then there was IFKALP, my Sun's dad. Since there are court proceedings currently happening I won't go into details but I will say that while I don't think I was ever "in love", I loved him very much. My Sun wouldn't be here if I didn't. But there was so much pain and hurt in that relationship that I learned how to shut myself in. I could literally hear gates clanging shut. I got good at fighting dirty, at giving as good as I got. I could go toe to toe with the man and hold my own. But he was relentless, and after awhile he wore my heart down so badly that I almost lost myself.

But at the same time, I gave birth to my Sun and discovered the purest love there is; a mother and child. I know that sounds incredibly corny. I know a few people who don't have children, and have some of the best relationships I know and who always said they never felt the need for children, and probably resent me saying that the love of a mother and child is the purest, and I completely respect that. Heck, I never felt the need for children, though I always intended to have at least one.

But my Sun gave me a whole new kind of love, something I had never had. My Sun was a "surprise". His father and I never married (thank the Lord) and when my Sun first made his existence known--a small grey line in a pregnancy test--my first thought was "I can't have a baby". But as the weeks wore on, the thought of that little life bubbling inside consumed me. My breasts got bigger, my belly rounded and my heart grew. I spent a great portion of my pregnancy alone, and I would rub my belly and talk to it. I played music for it and ate--or didn't eat-- the things it dictated (gallons of orange juice, and watercress salad with tomatoes). My life belonged to my belly. One night in a dream I saw my future Sun; all hair and teeth and that's just what he ended up looking like. He’s eight now, and tells me that he'll always love me. That I'm the best mom he ever had, and that I'm beautiful. He touches my face and smiles at me exactly the way his father used to.

The morning he was born I looked at his little face with it's dark eyes staring back at me and kept saying "Oh, look at that! Look at that!” My life has never been the same. He gave me unconditional love and I in turn loved him more every day; more than I ever thought possible. I could endure anything, take on anyone, go anywhere for him. He inspired me to change my life, to change my outlook, to change how I loved. I learned that love is not just physical. I learned to truly listen, and listen with your whole being. I nursed him for two and a half years and dedicated my entire life to him.

In the meantime my relationship with his father deteriorated rapidly. On 9/11, when the towers came down and it seemed like the world was ending, I watched his father cry and realized that whatever love there had been was so pummeled that I doubted it would ever recover. There was no love in me to to want to comfort him, to take his pain away. That's a cold feeling; to watch someone cry in pain and not feel to comfort them.

Other than a brief but intense fling with someone who tried hard to break me, IFKALP was the last person I attempted any sort of a relationship with. We broke up officially somewhere in ’02 and since then the only people I have “let in” have been a few special girlfriends. That's a whole other kind of love, equally powerful. And I rediscovered my love of family, of my sister in particular. Other than that, I’ve been on my own.

Occasionally, I’d wonder about finding a companion but then I’d hear about some horror-story of a relationship, and it would strengthen my resolve to stay single. Just me and the Sun, and the Cat. I don't need anyone to take care of me or my Sun financially; despite my relationship with his dad, the Sun has a fairly good one with him and isn't in need of a dad. I don't need much, and so the cost of having a relationship seems a little high.

Till recently. Recently I met someone who had most of the good things I miss in a companion. I thought he was a free-agent… I didn’t even get in close until I felt he was "fair game" but it turns out he’s still owned. It was way too early to even think of love but it got to me to thinking… what is this thing anyhow? What is it about one person—over other people—that gets you to drop your guard? I’m real annoyed with myself that I dropped my guard, annoyed that I let someone in under the armor I’ve learned to put up. Hurt he’d rather deal with the devil he knows than give us a chance. It's rare to find someone who overthinks things as much as I do. But on the other hand, I was there once, where he is now. Still trying to make love work, for the sake of a family. I only hope that he doesn’t end up later where I am now…wondering, and doubtful, but still wanting to believe.


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