If It Isn't Love (it must be Tainted Love)

princess-of-cups.jpgIt was New Year’s Eve, and I was pretty much standing around minding my own business, when this woman walked up to me and shoved a deck of cards in front of me. I had seen her doing the same thing to people all night, and without seeming obvious, I was trying to avoid her. But when she said to me, “Pick a card,” I decided to play along, and drew from the deck of tarot cards she held in her hands.

I closed my eyes, and ran my hands along the cards. Call it one of my weird habits—like not being the first to reach for the fortune cookie when the waitress leaves them on the table—but by closing my eyes, it made me feel like I was leaving my selection up to destiny. It’s silly—much like the thing with the fortune cookies—but this way it makes me feel like the cookie, or in this case the tarot card, is the one meant for me. And so fate, or destiny, or God, or the gods, or blind happenstance led my hands over all the cards in the deck, until my fingers stopped on one that did not feel any different than the others, yet for whatever reason was the card that I was meant to choose. So, I pulled out the card and turned it over to see what the New Year had in store for me.

“The Princess of Cups,” said the woman holding the rest of the deck.

“Yeah? And what does that represent?” I asked.

“It means that there will be a major development in your love life. There are going to be a lot of lessons dealing with love and what it really means,” she told me.

I stared at the card as she told me about these lessons dealing with love, and though I tried not to be dismissive, arrogant or just a plain old asshole, I realized I was not doing a very good job when I said to her, “Lessons about love, huh? And will I be teaching or learning?”

Even I could hear the tone in my voice that seemed to say, “Get away from me with this bullshit,” which was not really my intention—at least not consciously.

“Oh, you’ll be learning,” she said with a confidence that was absolute. “You have a lot to learn.”

I tried to keep my cool, because…you know…there ain’t a fucking thing anyone can teach me about love. If the Princess of Cups is coming into my life in 2008 with lessons dealing with love, I’m the one that will be doing the schooling. Her cups will runneth over with my love.

Still, there was something about what Ms Tarot Cards said, and how she said it—“Oh, you’ll be learning. You have a lot to learn”—that didn’t so much rub me the wrong way, as it simply hit a raw nerve. Here we were, barely an hour into the New Year, and I was facing the prospect of learning about love. At 39 years-old I don’t claim to know everything about love, and equally as important, I’d like to think I’ve had my share of lessons—especially in 2007, which was particularly difficult in terms of love and relationships—but apparently school is still in session.

The rest of the night, and all day the next day, I thought about the Princess of Cups and the lessons dealing with love that await me this year. Much of 2007 was spent dealing with matters of love—a series of difficult situations that had me feeling like I had actually figured something out. It only took two failed relationships—both epic in scope of emotional turmoil and devastating disappointment—for me to finally begin to really understand what love is.

For years, my perception of love could pretty much be summed up by the New Edition song, “If It Isn’t Love.” If it isn’t love/why do I feel this way/why does she stay on my mind? And if it isn’t love/why does it hurt so bad/make me feel so sad inside?

But this adolescent notion of love—and all the other silly notions of love fueled by too many movies, too much pop music, and too many episodes of Love Boat—was part of what has fucked me and so many other people up over the years. In film and television people fall in love within minutes, and work out all the bullshit of their damaged psyches in even less time, guaranteeing a life of “happily ever after.” But we all know it doesn’t work that way in real life, because love in real life is something completely different than a song by Marvin Gaye or When Harry Met Sally. Love in real life is more like “Tainted Love,” the classic Gloria Jones song made famous by both Soft Cell and Marylin Manson.

Like so many other sad souls who have sat confused and angry, trying to make sense of a senseless statement, I have had to listen to someone when they tell me, “I love you, but I’m not in love with you.” I’ve heard it more times than I care to admit, and while I understand the basic fundamentals of the statement, I’ve never fully grasped how the formula works. I’ve asked for clarity, “How can you love someone, but not be in love with them?”

Standard response: “You know. It’s like the way you love your mom, or your grandparents. That’s loving someone. Being in love with someone is being in love with someone.”

It took years of hearing this catchphrase—love but not in love—and years of using the term love in the wrong context before I really began to question what it was all about. I’ve always been a person who was hesitant to say “I love you” to any of the women that I have been involved with. In my mind, I could not figure out the differences between loving my mom, loving my three-disc Dawn of the Dead box set, and loving the woman I was sleeping with, even though the differences were clearly there. Part of the problem was that I was almost always uncertain if I was in love, and therefore hesitant to make that claim. And those few times I was sure I was in love, when something went wrong, I got over it pretty quickly. So quickly, in fact, that I now wonder if I was ever really in love or not.

In 2007 I had the distinct pleasure of having relationships fall apart with two of the most incredible women I have ever know—“Nina” and “Belle.” I was questioning whether or not I was in love with Nina pretty much after our first date in 2006. But by the time it was all over in January, the feelings that I thought were love had passed, and I was just eager to get on with my life. By contrast, my feelings for Belle didn’t happen overnight. It was a steady (though a bit fast) emotional progression that had me wondering if I loved Belle. But now, as our “relationship” exists in a limbo that is so poorly defined it doesn’t seem real, I am once again forced to ask the questions, “In love? With her? What was I thinking?”

Maybe I’m deluding myself, and maybe the Princess of Cups really does have some valuable lessons I need to learn, but I think I finally have figured out what love is, and what it means to love someone, but not be in love with them. The most important thing to know is that there is love—as in the love you have for your parents and your best friends—and then there is the love you have for the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. And the difference between these two types of love is none. That’s to say, there is no difference at all.

Now, some of you may be thinking, “You can’t love your parents the same way you love the person you’re humping. That’s some nasty-ass incestuous bullshit.” But the reality is that it is the same love. The difference is lust. You have lust—or desire, or passion, or whatever you want to call it—for the person you are dating/screwing/married to. Lust is the key ingredient that separates love from being in love. And lust is a tricky beast.

Of all the emotions, lust is one of the most powerful, in part because it is part of the biological imperative that exists in all developmentally “normal” human beings, which is the need to mate and propagate the species. Lust drives people to kill, and to make drunken booty calls at three in the morning. And because lust often leads to sex, which is associated with love, the two emotions are often confused. But the truth is you can lust after someone, and not even really like them. Hell, you can have sex with someone you hate, and the sex can still be good. But if you have lust for someone you like, as opposed to love, the lust can intensify the feelings of “like,” and make it feel more like “love.” So, when someone says, I love you, but I’m not in love with you,” what they are really saying is, “I don’t have lust for you.” And that, or course, is just another way of saying, “I don’t want to have sex with you because I’m not physically attracted to you.”

Figuring out that the difference between loving and being in love is a question of lust is not some major revelation. Other people have figured it out in their own way and time. But that still does not explain what love is, and what makes us love a person. (And for the record, loving anything other than a person is a bullshit example of poorly chosen words to describe appreciation. Sure, I say that I love my three-disc Dawn of the Dead box set, but that’s not how I really feel.)

My wanting to know what love is springs from my feelings for Nina and Belle, both of whom I felt that I loved. The feelings for Nina have long since passed, but with Belle things are far more complicated. Both of these women were forces of nature, with Nina being an earthquake that caught me completely off-guard, and leveled me. Belle, by comparison, was a tropical storm that I saw building on the horizon, and mistakenly thought I was prepared for. But by the time she touched down on shore, Tropical Storm Belle was a full-blown hurricane, which proved to be too much for me. And while I thought I loved both of these women, and was willing to do whatever love dictated, it was almost unsettling how quickly those feelings passed. Don’t get me wrong, I still have feelings for Belle, who is so clueless as to how amazing she is it almost makes me cry. But the fact of the matter is that even if I really did feel love for either Nina of Belle, it wasn’t enough to make a difference.

In trying to make sense of my feelings for these women, and the others that came before them, I had to figure out what it was that changed. There were women that I thought I loved, who it turned out I did not, but I still lusted after them; so lust was not part of the equation. As I thought about it, I finally realized that the one common factor with all the women I thought I loved, only to discover I was really wrong, was that I no longer trusted them. The reasons were all different—some lied, some cheated, some were crazy and one pulled a knife on me—but they all left me with the feeling I could not trust them. And that’s how I came to realize that trust is one of key components in love. You can like a person, you can lust after a person, you can even like and lust after a person, but if you don’t trust them, you can’t love them, period. The same can be said for someone you’re not in love with, like your parents—if you don’t trust them, you can’t love them.

Defining trust, and determining who can be trusted seems like a very subjective, personal sort of thing. But when push comes to shove, it is pretty easy to figure out. Simply ask yourself, “Would I ever do to this person what they are doing (or have done) to me?” If the answer to that question is “no,” and deep in your heart and soul it is reasonable to believe you never would do this thing to another person, then you can’t trust them. In some cases, it is things like lying or cheating. In other cases, it can be more complex. But what it all comes down to is that the other person is not treating you in a way that you consider to be right or appropriate.

Maybe I’m slow on the uptake, and that’s why it’s taken so long to figure these things out. But then I look around at people, and there are so many that appear to know even less than me; then my own stupidity doesn’t seem nearly as criminal. And some people never figure any of this shit out. They just keep making the same dumb mistakes and repeating the same stupid patterns. I pride myself on at the very least my ability to make a fool of myself in new and different ways—especially when it comes to matters of the heart. Now, however, it seems that I still have more lessons to learn (at least according to the Princess of Cups). I can’t say that I’m excited at the prospects of these new lessons, especially if they bring the sort of head and heart aches that the last few trips to the classroom of love brought about. But the only other option is being alone, and while I have yet to meet anyone that amuses me quite as much as I amuse myself, Jimi Hendrix said it best—“Loneliness is such a drag.”

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2 Responses to “If It Isn't Love (it must be Tainted Love)”

  1. mikimonster Says:

    I find it curious to listen to my friends who love and hurt so often. Am I lucky, I ask, that I hold myself so close to the vest that for the most part, I am protected, or am I missing out by not losing myself so easily and experiencing something that humans embrace so well? I have had my heart broken, yes. Once, I would say, it felt so bad that my heart literally hurt , and it was no heart attack.
    But I would say that those times are few and even then, I was always asking myself quite matter of factly, how did I screw up, how did they screw up, and let’s not do that again if we can, moving on now.

    If anything I think I have learned to be supremely cautious and in many ways, detached. The skill behind that is probably another story. But, I often look upon people such as you, as I read your blog, and several of my other friends as crazy, for falling in love so fast so often. But are you? I am perhaps only on the extreme other end and no better. In fact, I have become, or rather, am a person that doesn’t even quite understand why people so desperately need to find their mates. I don’t often bring that idea up since I figure people will look at me funny. More than they do already.

    As you know, I am in a relationship right now, and I appreciate it for all that it gives me and hope it will last forever, but I know full well that I can live without it. Even my boyfriend is aware that I am more reserved when it comes to “love”, than he is. We actually balance each other nicely in a way because of our opposite tendencies towards certain emotions. But sometimes, I feel bad for not being able to give more of myself. And I don’t think it’s a matter of him being “the one” or not.

    Well, not quite sure if I had a point really. More thinking out loud. Whatever our cases may be, I wish you nothing but the best lessons from the Princess of Cups. If she delivers bad things, I am more than willing to kick her ass for you.

    Oh oh oh, just one last thought. I do think it is wonderful that you have at least experienced women that have caught you off guard with whatever talent or traits that they may have had. I always thought that was a neat, for lack of a better word, experience from each relationship I have had. There is usually a reason you fall for someone, and that piece is usually really really cool. The relationship itself may not last for various reasons, but it gives you another piece of the puzzle to look for in the next relationship. And it makes you realize that you never really have it all down pat as to what you should look for in a person. People still surprise from time to time. I love that. Like finding unexpected treasure. Cheers.

  2. mikimonster Says:

    Okay okay, I thought of something else that I know you must be dying to hear. Another oh so sage insight into myself and relationships. I would have to say that in most of my relationships, I did not like who I became when I was in it. A great reason to avoid it altogether. As should anyone. (Sigh) I must have thought about all this shit at some point in my life eh? :p Sorry for all the words.

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