“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.”
– Excerpt from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116
Literature has a variety of distinct categories to describe an epoch love story. I’ve experienced my own types of love stories: like saying goodbye at the airport, being held and spun around in the rain, oh and the unrequited kind, the modern love kind (like half a dozen different online sites over the years kind), the nice guy at church type and so on, but never did I think Greek tragedy would come to describe a chapter of my love life. Once upon a time, in my late thirties, it did indeed, in pretty much every facet – murder, exile, visions, omens, passion, betrayal, irony and finale. I wish I was exaggerating. I never thought I’d ever be tangled up in such a surreal story. I realized afterwards how desperation to be married made me overlook the obvious. But I can embrace the reality on this side of the tragic tale that it made me a better person to experience that chaos. It gave me more clarity about what true love really is.
As a little girl, I wore the curtains on my head in an attempt to look like a bride. As a teenager, I daydreamed ad nauseum what it would be like to be in-love, – to love someone (the one?) with all my heart. How would I know I met “the one”? Surely, I would “just know”. Dare I confess, I believed in soul mates back then…mine was out there somewhere. I’ve joked over the years, “my Wesley will come for me”, quoting a famed line from Princess Bride. Now a days, I feel special when a guy simply calls or texts me back. I never ever EVER thought I’d be in my forties, single and still looking for a life partner. Yep, life partner is my preferred term at this stage. The term ‘soul mate’ seems too reductive. As if my soul is only meant to be paired with one other soul of the opposite sex to bring my life fulfillment, meaning and purpose. C.S. Lewis (who was nearly sixty when he first married) wrote a succinct expose on defining Love, entitled The Four Loves. These were not his own categories but derivatives from the four different types of Greek words used in the Bible to describe love relationships: affection love, friendship love, romantic love and divine love. Back in college, I listened to Lewis’ book on tape, read by C. S. Lewis himself. It opened the door for me to enter into a vaster experience of what it means to love and be loved. Lewis notes how a relationship established first in erotic love can be doomed to remain limited in becoming a healthy and sustainable connection. However, friendship permits a more expansive potential to exist through thick and thin. Lewis wrote:
“Those who cannot conceive Friendship as a substantive love but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros betray the fact that they have never had a Friend. The rest of us know that though we can have erotic love and friendship for the same person yet in some ways nothing is less like a Friendship than a love-affair. Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest. Above all, Eros (while it lasts) is necessarily between two only. But two, far from being the necessary number for Friendship, is not even the best. And the reason for this is important.
… In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets… Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend. They can then say, as the blessed souls say in Dante, ‘Here comes one who will augment our loves.’ For in this love ‘to divide is not to take away.”
Sex, otherwise referred to as erotic love, has its place in allowing two people to ‘connect’ but then what? My tale of Greek tragedy had its moment of passionate enthusiasm but it fell short of any intimate connection that promised to weather the storm. A partnership that merges in marriage seems to beg for more than just orgasms and odes to this or that. At the beginning of this year, I emerged from the dust of that romantic rubble with a new resolve. I went back online to explore new opportunities for the next chapter of my love life. As I posted my profile and the hits started coming in, I was more than disappointed and discouraged at the result. I quickly could feel myself becoming defeated and cynical. I met seemingly good guys but that notion soon dissolved into the same bad themes. For starters, they insisted sex was required to figure out if they wanted to marry me or not. I’m so tired of sex needing to be the cause of a so-called good relationship rather than the effect. I told one guy that I’ll happily have lots of sex, but he better “put a ring on it” first. Next, more than one man bluntly said they did not want to date me because I have a vision impairment. Ouch. I heard lines like “no sex is easier to deal with than no driving” and “I’m not equipped to deal with disabled people”. I listened to men talk about how God’s grace saved them from themselves and they couldn’t live without it; but they, on the other hand, were not willing to extend any such grace to me. Oh well.
This past spring, a dear friend and I were reflecting on my ridiculous roller coaster history of love. I referred to my last relationship as a Greek tragedy and we laughed unabashedly. Then I paused and looked at her and said, “Is it too much to ask for a Jane Austen story?” I immediately envisioned a favorite scene from Sense and Sensibility. I wanted to pray for such a scene to happen to me, but it felt so silly. But as Lewis describe divine love, it is not silly to pray for such things. God is all about ridiculously loving us. That is how the Gospel of Jesus is best summed up, right? So, I prayed. Months later, I found myself in an Austenian moment. This summer, I was on a date with a gentle spirited, attentive and, in fact, a good guy. We sat by a river enjoying good conversation and a beautiful day. My eye kept tearing up from allergies. I kept wiping away a lingering tear and felt self-conscious. I apologized for my repetitive gesture. He asked if I needed a tissue. I initially declined but he asked again. I then agreed and began to reach into my purse for a tissue. As I did so, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief. I hesitated but he kindly insisted I use it and keep it. I dabbed my eyes and then tucked the hanky in my purse. I wasn’t fully aware of what had just happened until a few days later. Sure, how often these days does a handsome fellow hand you a handkerchief without an ulterior motive, except to be kind– you know, someone who is not eighty years old? But more than that, how often does God take notice of details to prove that He loves us and cares for us in ways we could never imagine but can experience? That date was a true gift. And that is a good thing. I had my Jane Austen moment and it is something I will cherish and never forget. I have the hanky to prove it!
A phrase I’ve come to share with many who feel hopeless is “the story is not over”. Likewise, to those who are isolated in lovey dovey bliss, I feel like saying, “the story is not over”. I have no clue how my story will continue to be told, except to say that it is not over. My heart still hopes for a ‘life partner’; but I am not without true companions to live this life. I am surrounded by a great many kindred souls near and far that cheer me on to be steady in any circumstance I encounter while also being intentional to not settle for the status quo. This is true love. I am truly loved and I strive to truly love those who journey with me. Sometimes I lose sight of this fact; but divine love exists to keep bringing it back into focus. Amen.
- Lady in Waiting; photo of Jamie Wasson by Kamyee Ladas 1998
- Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare
- The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis
- Shadowlands by C. S. Lewis
- Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
- Single Ladies; Beyonce