Love Life (Sept)
Freedom, in Scotland and elsewhere, isn’t something that is given by governments or other authorities. It’s something that’s practiced. And not just in social movements or halls of power. It’s part of everyday life. It’s in our bodies, in our relationships with ourselves and each other. ‘Love Life’ is Bella’s Agony Aunt column because the personal is political and the ‘state we’re in’ is complicated. Jamie Heckert (your host) writes: “Want to ask about ethics, erotics or ecology? Or perhaps anarchy, autonomy, or anatomy? I don’t know if I’ll be able to answer every letter, but I’ll certainly do what I can. And maybe, even if I can’t answer each one, just writing a letter down will help.”
Email him at: [email protected]
A guy recently contacted me through a dating site, who I find extremely attractive physically (physical “desire”? – that’s another whole topic!) and he appears a very nice guy. We have now seen each other a few times, and I now realise he has some kind of psychological health issues. I have met a good friend of his who has known him most of his life, and he describes [this guy] as “having the mind of a child” (he’s 41). He is also diagnosed as being bi-polar and is attending a psychotherapist. He also has asthma, diabetes, dyslexia…….and is a Seventh Day Adventist!
He also has “flexible” relationship to the truth as he told me he had been married and has a son, which his friend says is not true.
I have had my own psychological health issues, some form of “depressive/anxiety”, which started when I suddenly found myself becoming quite isolated after leaving my first partner in Jamaica ( 1984 ), who died soon after, my father dying suddenly, friends starting to die with AIDS, [an activist group I was involved in] having folded, entrenchment of Thatcherism and defeat of miners strike ending much political optimism I had.
I think it was around that time of I became dependent on a need to be in a relationship – which up until then I had not been.
I’ve been attending NHS psychodynamic group therapy, which I find quite limited as the general views can be quite “conservative”.
Even though I can understand the concept of compulsory monogamy in principle ……….. in practice , I can feel almost psychologically “entrapped” by a “compulsion” to be in a stable/committed intimate relationship, though not necessarily exclusively monogamous.
I feel very unsure how to proceed with myself and [this guy], he is also quite unreliable in keeping to agreed arrangements to meet etc……..A few friends I have spoke to have suggested taking it slowly and see how it develops – which I don’t disagree with………..but, the more we see each other, the more we may be getting attached to each other, and the more difficult to “dis-entangle” later, if need be.
Thank you for taking the time to write and share your experiences! I’m sure a lot of people can relate to what you’ve described. It sounds like you’ve been experiencing quite an intensity of emotion and that you would really appreciate some loving attention.
Could you be your own lover?
I don’t mean in that crass way of being someone who “loves himself” by going to gym a lot, looking in the mirror and believing that he is more beautiful than other people. No, not that.
I mean, can you give yourself (some of) those things you are wanting out of a good, honest, loving relationship? When you feel anxiety, loneliness, sadness or anger, can you listen to that without having to change it or distract yourself from it? A lover doesn’t only love you when you’re happy. They don’t need you to change who you are, to live up to some sort of expectation. Can you do that for yourself?
Can you take yourself on dates, doing what you really love? Can you set aside time for yourself for what you need to feel really alive and well? That could be cooking nice food or going out for a walk in a park or forest. It might mean a meditation practice to calm the mind and to see more clearly. Or how about time for a really good session of self-loving in the sexual/sensual sense, without porn or too much attention to fantasies, but really attending to your body and the sensations it’s experiencing?
In individualistic cultures, we are taught to imagine that we are separate from each other, that we either have to be selfish or to put up with things that aren’t good for us.
My own experience is that learning to listen to myself, to thoughts and desires, to emotions and bodily sensations is part of the larger process of learning to listen with love to others. Fundamentally, we are all part of the same body — the Earth. Listening and loving, being listened to and being loved, need not be narrowed to that idealised and so often compulsive search for a romantic significant other. They can flow in any moment, in every moment, in our relationships with ourselves, each other and the land.
Experiencing love in this way, you might find your anxious compulsions decrease. You might be able to hear inside yourself more clearly what your relationship is with this guy and whether or not it is good for you (or for him). You might want to explore how you relate to him and to yourself. Maybe you want to tell him how you feel when he promises to meet you and then doesn’t. A desire for reliability might be easy to understand.
I also wouldn’t give too much attention to labels or other people’s stories about this guy. Listen to your own heart. How do you feel when you’re with him? Do you savour his company? Or is it more that his sexiness is a distraction from loneliness or other pain?
I’m not asking these questions because I need the answers, but because asking them of yourself may give you some really helpful feedback.
The founder of the yoga tradition I practice, Satchidananada, says something interesting about depression. Happiness, he says, is our true nature, our basic state of being. And when we have a desire, it is like a stone on the calmness of the mind — its weight creates a depression. When the desire is met, the weight is lifted. We learn to fill these depressions of desire with things.
We might learn to imagine that we will be happy once we have this book or that bit of chocolate. Or we’ll be happy when our partner/parent/neighbours/co-workers really shares our politics. Or after the revolution when everyone is treated as a free equal. Or when we’ve found the perfect partner/job/project/home. Or when the weekend comes, or the holiday comes, or once we’ve come.
What if we don’t give too much attention to the desire/depression in the first place? Then there is no rush to fulfil it. We might realise that we are already happy.
Learning to be joyful in the present, without needing anything to change, that is a wonderful thing! It’s the main reason I practice yoga. There are many, many ways to experience this. Yoga is only one of many paths. I invite you to find one that suits you. Because if you can notice desires without having to fulfil them, if you can witness your emotions without having to change them or avoid them, if you can live with yourself and the world just as it is, your heart will be open to loving, nurturing relationship(s) with others. You may feel more appreciation for the friends, places and other loved ones already in your life. I’m not saying you have to be perfect at these things, but simply that practising them might help. Don’t take my word for it. Experiment. Listen to the authority of your own experience.
Finally, in saying that there is something wonderful in accepting everything just as it is, I don’t mean be lazy or lethargic. Take it easy and also do what you can to help yourself and others to live and to live well. What exactly that means for you will be yours to discover. What are the gifts you have to give?