Thursday, August 5, 2010

True Love

Not too long ago I shared some of my thoughts about love here. I talked about how, for me, love is never ending, about how I love easily. And that I wondered if there are different types of love, or if love is just, love.

I’ve been thinking a lot about love again lately.

A couple of weeks ago, my cousin, Pam, was in town with her wife, Kate. I had been planning for ages to photograph Pam. She needed headshots for her work on her blog and speaking engagements and news appearances. And I enjoy taking pictures of people and have gotten good at it. Then I decided to try making a living at it, and she was coming to town, so the time was right to shoot her. It would help us both - help me build my portfolio, and get her the shots she needed. Plus it was her birthday, and I’m broke, so I figured it would be a great birthday present. And in addition to shooting her, I would take pictures of her an Kate as well.

It turns out that shooting Pam and Kate together, was my favorite part of the day. And editing and retouching those photos delighted me more than any of the other pictures I’ve ever worked with. It was capturing their love and dedication to each other that made it so wonderfully perfect.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about them, and how amazing their relationship is. Especially in comparison to every other relationship I’ve ever known or been a part of.

My own parents were separated before I can remember. I have no recollection of them together at all. In fact their personalities are SO dissimilar and they have always shown so much contempt for one another, that it is difficult for me to imagine how they ever managed to be attracted to each other and wanted to be close long enough to conceive me.

I grew up with no real knowledge, no example of how two people can really love one another and value that love enough to make things work through the hard times, to navigate the little annoyances and inconveniences enough to live with one another day to day.

For much of my childhood, my father was single. I remember him dating women, but it wasn’t until he met my stepmother when I was 10 or 11 that I really saw him have a relationship. My mother had relationships, but they always seemed to be volatile, passionate, and had little to do with building a connection through love.

By the time I was an adult, I had decided that if I ever married, it would be for life - no matter what. That there was no point in marrying unless it was a real commitment. And I would never live with a man without marriage. I’d watched my mother do that over and over and it never lasted more than a few of years.

By my late twenties I’d had a couple of relationships, and they’d seemed to mirror my mother’s - volatile, passionate and short-lived. I chose men who disregarded me easily, seemed to love me for one thing or another, but didn’t value all of who I was. Or they were simply so caught up in their own turmoil, that they had little of themselves left to give to me.

Then I met a man who was different. He loved me as completely as anyone has ever loved me. He loved me heart, mind and soul. He cherished me totally and he gave all of himself he had to give. When he asked me to live with him I told him that I would never live with a man I wasn’t married to, and he replied that he wanted to marry me…and so we married. And I thought it would be for life.

Unfortunately, I didn’t know then that there are things that can make it impossible for people to stay together, no matter how hard they try, no matter how much love is between them. Like many of the men I’d been with before, he had issues. His issues were didn’t keep him from giving himself to me. In fact, just the opposite, they caused him to give too much of himself, to rely on me for too much. And my own turmoil made me take on his problems, to try to make them my own.

We became locked in a classic co-dependent relationship and eventually I came to see that we could only heal ourselves if we were apart. Together we spiraled down, out of control and I saw myself changing into someone I didn’t want to be, a mean, violent, angry woman who alternately babied and lashed out at him. Eventually it became clear that the most loving thing I could do for him was to leave him, and so we parted.

I was divorced. The one thing I had vowed never to do, I had done, and it shook me to my core. Every innocent and idealistic thought I’d had about relationships and marriage were torn from me and I was left with a level of cynicism about love and marriage that has shadowed all my future relationships. I made a new vow. To never marry again.

I spent the next few years engaging in mostly dead-end relationships. Tossing men aside when they didn’t meet some ideal or another. I saw no point in working through things with any man. I’d done everything in my power to work things out with my husband and in the end, it did no good. I figured that if a man wasn’t all I wanted in the beginning, it was better to move on quickly than to get caught up in something that would eventually end in pain anyway.

Then another man came into my life. He wasn’t all I wanted. He frequently showed me that he would never be all I wanted. But he wouldn’t go away. Over and over again I tried to toss him aside, to move on, but he always came back. And I always took him back because, for reasons I still don’t understand, he seemed to belong there at the time.

Eventually we moved in together - and I became pregnant. Over and over again he asked me to marry him, but I still couldn’t believe in marriage. I still believed that there was no point in doing something that is supposed to be permanent if it’s really only going to be temporary. We had a beautiful daughter and then another and we struggled through years and years of hard times.

It was clear, when our first child was young, that we would never be right for one another. Like the men I dated early in my adulthood, he loved a part of me, but not the whole me and I could never be happy while part of me was being disregarded on a daily basis. In fact, that disregard ate away at my self-confidence, my belief and love in myself, my soul. But I had a new ideal in place by then, a new cause that kept us together.

I wanted to give our children what we never had - an example of two people working through the daily frustrations of life with someone they loved to make a family. I thought if I’d had that as a child, if I had seen that, maybe I would have made better choices, had better relationships, a better life. I decided my happiness was worth the sacrifice of giving my children the chance for something I didn’t think I could ever have.

Over the years I’ve watched other couples struggle in similar ways. Watched them come together, go through turmoil, struggle, not be able to work things through and go their separate ways or stay together because they were afraid to part, but sink into unhappiness and despair over their relationships. I’ve seen them fight and look for small bits of happiness and satisfaction in other ways.

Sometimes they throw themselves into work, or caring for their homes or kids or they splurge on big vacations or houses or cars, or they drink or do drugs or cheat to fill the spaces that their mediocre relationships leave within them. And that cynicism I developed when my marriage ended has grown larger and larger - leaving me feeling that it just never really works. That even when it seems to, even when a couple looks perfect from the outside, they are dying on the inside. That long term relationships, marriage, are a farce, a hoax that people have bought into that’s killing their souls.

I looked at my single friends, longing for love, for a relationship, for marriage and I laughed at them. They had the perfect lives and they didn’t know it - couldn’t appreciate it. If only they could just enjoy what they had instead of striving for this thing that, if they got it, would eventually make them die a little inside.

And yet, despite all this cynical thinking, somehow my heart remained open to love. I tried to adopt the attitude that I could fulfill some of the needs that lead people to relationships without actually engaging in one and letting myself get caught up in emotions. I thought all the cynicism, all the cold hard gazing I had done at relationships had closed and hardened my heart.

I was wrong. I discovered that despite everything my head told me about the nature of relationships, that my heart persisted in beating and feeling and caring and loving.
I was confused and hurt by this and at a loss for what this could possibly mean for the rest of my life. I believed I was doomed to constantly love and continually witness that love being inadequate against the natural course that relationships must take to eat our souls up and spit them out, dry and brittle and used up.

Then Pam and Kate came to town and I pointed my camera at them and I saw something else. Something I had almost forgotten I ever believed existed. I can’t quite explain what it was like. The closest I can think of is it was like seeing the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny or Santa Claus standing in front of me.


There it was - right there in front of my eyes. A unicorn standing in the middle of the Socrates Sculpture Park where I was shooting them couldn’t have surprised and delighted me more.
The look in their eyes, the way that they touched, the playfulness and caring, the selflessness and passion, the understanding, the bond. Everything I had ever dreamed and planned for love to be when I was young - yet never witnessed for myself, was right in front of me and I was capturing it in my camera for all to see.

Every day since that day I have thought about Pam and Kate. Thought about their love for one another. Thought about the struggles they’ve gone through, continue to go through, and how with such amazing love and caring and humor and grace - they do it together.

Shortly after Pam and Kate got married they came to New York and I insisted that the family have a party, a kind of informal reception to celebrate their marriage. At the time my older daughter, Sugar, was about 5 and the younger one hadn’t been born yet. To me Pam and Kate being married was as normal and natural as any other couple getting married, but I didn’t know if it would be confusing to Sugar. All the married couples she knew were comprised of a man and a woman, and most of the talk she had been exposed to was of two gender couples.

It’s funny how the language we use, the jokes we make, the attitudes we express on a daily basis can be so biased without even noticing it. I realized that in our daily world there was little, if any, reference made to two people of the same gender loving and caring for each other. I was delighted that Pam and Kate would give me the opportunity to introduce this concept to my child, and a little disappointed in myself that I hadn’t made sure we moved in circles where it was more a part of our lives.

I told Sugar that we were having a party for Pam and Kate. She asked if it was a birthday party and I told her that, no, we weren’t celebrating a birthday, we were honoring Pam’s and Kate’s love for each other. We were celebrating the fact that they got married. I explained to her that when two people love each other so much that they want to be a family that one way they can do that - become a family - is to get married.

I’ve been thinking lately about that explanation I gave to Sugar, and about how much Pam and Kate embody that idea. They are each others family in the truest sense. They are there for each other through everything, they hold and support each other through the hard times and laugh and share in each others delight through the good. There is a permanence to their love and commitment that only happens in a family. A deep and unfading understanding that no matter what happens, they have each other, and share a bond that can’t be broken.

It astounds and shocks me that there are people who think that this amazing and oh so elusive love that exists between Pam and Kate is not as valid, not as worthy of honor and recognition as the love between any man and any woman. That somehow any of the flawed, imperfect, often unhealthy and always temporary relationships I’ve had (or have seen between other men and women) could, with a few dollars and a few minutes in any City Hall in the country, be made legally binding and recognized as such anywhere we wanted to go. How could those mediocre travesties of love be more worthy of respect than

True Love.

A love so complete, so binding, so eternal that it turns strangers into family. That’s what Pam and Kate have. It’s not a myth, a fairy tale, a child’s fantasy to dissipate with experience and knowledge. It’s real, it’s tangible, it’s true. It lives in these two people together. It makes me re-think everything I’ve come to believe in the last 16 years. It gives me hope.

The sight of their love, the very existence of it shakes me to my core as surely as the ending of my marriage did. Is it possible? Could it be that maybe if it exists for them, it could exist for everyone? Even me?

I don’t know. Maybe it’s so rare that it only comes to a very few. All I know is that when it does happen the gender of its recipients is irrelevant and it should be held up as a shining beacon so all can see it’s possible and it’s real.

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