Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about evolution and transformation, the ways in which time alone serves to modify just about everything. Children grow and their clothes need replacement. Snow blankets sidewalks, making walking the dog treacherous, then rain melts the remains and washes away the residue. Garbage collects, and the container requires a new liner. The soles of my shoes wear thin and the lack of tread threatens balance. There is an impermanence in the universe that forces transformation, a reincarnation or renovation of that which constantly shifts form, according to context.
Love is a constant, whose essence is eternal, even as expressions of it evolve. It is a force, an energy that radiates both inward and outward, not unlike what Paul Tillich called “the ground of being”. Lately, much attention has been devoted to describing the chemistry and physics of love — Helen Fisher’s “biological anthropology” embellishing Art Aron’s and Debra Mashek’s recent experiments come to mind, while Stephanie Cacciopo dives deeply into the neuroscience of loving. At the same time, love continues to be described in the language of psychology — thoughts, feelings and behaviors or impulses towards them — or of social psychology, the dynamics of what happens between one who loves and the recipient of the affection. Because love occurs in a context, it is always dependent on culture, both that of a generation and that of a location, and thus must be interpreted through those lenses. Western religions as well as Eastern philosophies claim divinity in love, a spiritual essence, most easily appreciated in a sacred stillness.
I wrote about love from this seven-level perspective in 22 Benefits of Sex After 50. Personally, I believe that the more levels involved in a relationship, the stronger the bonds. Let’s address romantic love for a moment. When natural evolution forces change, one can adapt by strengthening one language while updating another. Does frequent passionate love-making need modification because of physical changes of aging? Or do work commitments create geographical distance forcing change? Have behaviors become ritualistic, requiring revision? Does current status make a glamorous celebration wildly impractical, calling instead for an adaptation to something like a homemade candlelit dinner with exotic smells permeating spaces and filling the senses with pleasures?
With all these options and possible choices, where does Valentine’s Day fit in? How are we to express our loving feelings — devotion or passion or attachment or appreciation — in ways that are meaningful to us and the recipient? After writing more than fifty posts describing ways to show love throughout 2017, I ended the series not because my imagination was exhausted, but rather because the ways are so infinite. Their efficacy as messages depends on the one sending the message and the one receiving it; they can be evaluated only by the dyad. The impact of what is expressed and how it is expressed are filtered through our connections to each other, necessarily embedded in generation (cohort) and location (culture).
One generation may tell us that “likes’ on social media are equivalent to the paper valentines once collected in handmade folders of elementary school children, leaving some of them feeling treasured and others left out. But how valid was or is that response? Does the number of electronic “likes” or paper valentines reflect any real indication of one’s lovability? Can love truly be measured by social popularity, so subject to instrumental manipulation? What else is advertising but an attempt to build “loyalty” to “brand” in order to sell something, to the ultimate benefit of the seller? The goal is seduction. In this context, “meaning” is measured in some sort of numerical feedback that supposedly results in economic advantage to the one sending the message.
Love is not like that. Love is not transactional. It is not given with an intention to receive in return. It is given freely to benefit the loved one, or to express the overflow of feeling within the sender. Power is not the motive for giving. Instead, the ultimate intention may be to provide pleasure, delight, warmth, support, whatever might be valuable to the one who receives at any given moment. Or to offer what one has to give in a spirit of open-hearted generosity.
Back up for a minute. Ask what would bring pleasure to the one you love. Do you — and does your loved one — find joy in excitement or stillness? Indulgence or provocation? Discovery or safety? External measures or internal resonance?
Yesterday I encountered a young man, married last summer, who was carrying a magnificent bouquet of flowers for his beloved bride. He instinctively knew that the calories in chocolates would only burden her with conflict and potential guilt, the gift of tickets to a concert overwhelm her with felt obligation when her new job had left her exhausted and in need of quiet evenings at home. He understood that the flowers were the perfect note at this moment for his brand-new wife.
My own husband, knowing that I am of a generation who believed in the paper Valentines, arranged to have one delivered to the apartment where we are staying, 3000 miles from home. He knows that I will appreciate every moment of thought that went into his selection and the words that accompany it. He also knew that I needed the silence and psychic space to quiet my mind and allow words to form in my heart — the solitude in which I could write an article to share some thoughts that might be helpful to others who appreciate the blessings of being able to love. My own valentines to him are in taking care of myself, letting him know that his love has helped me appreciate the need to do so, and accompanying him through the many discoveries that can allow us to learn and grow and share the wonders in our life together.
A few years ago, I actually stopped sending paper valentines to the grandkids. They all know that we love them. They know it through the ways we show them that they are each unique, with individual needs and yearnings and pleasures. We cannot do it all — but we do what we can and the messages come through. They feel the warmth when we provide a ride to a lesson or rehearsal, show up at a performance or a game, prepare their favorite dessert or provide a new book by a favorite author. We know that the eyes of one will light up with discovery, another with reassurance, a third with beauty, a fourth with opportunities to investigate, a fifth with support, and the sixth with novelty. The perfect valentines for each of them vary, but with a bit of thought, we find solutions. And they need not occur on February 14th. When you love, every day is Valentine’s Day, a period filled with opportunities to show “I love you”.
Source: David Griff, used with permission
May you honor the gifts in and from your heart, allowing yourself the joys of giving and the delights of receiving. And may every day be a celebration of love.