Love is in the bear

templeofcats.com

A kitty and his teddy bear.

I’ve written before about some of the disasters in my early attempts at dating. In some ways those disasters seemed worse than usual because most of them happened in my late twenties and early thirties. I didn’t date much in high school, and what dating I did do was with the gender I wasn’t actually attracted to, and while some things about navigating relationships are universal, there is a big difference between the awkwardness of trying to learn how to make things click with someone you’re attracted to, rather than the awkwardness of trying to make yourself feel desire for someone when there wasn’t any underlying physical attraction at all.

For a while I thought things were going so badly simply because I was playing catch-up. Other people had made these kinds of mistakes as teenagers, whereas I hadn’t. Other times I wondered if maybe the cliches about most gay men not wanting commitment had a grain or more of truth (this despite the fact that I was also hanging out with gay couples who had been together for many years). I wondered if I’d just had bad luck and kept meeting guys who only wanted a fling.

And then, eventually, I had to admit the truth: that the only thing all the failed relationships had in common was me, and I needed to figure out what I was doing wrong…

Which isn’t to say that every failed date was entirely and exclusively my fault. It was more of a recognition of the fact that we can’t control other people, but we can change ourselves.

I realized that among the issues contributing to my problems was that I had bought into several myths about relationships, love, and dating. And I had failed to apply lessons from other parts of life to the issue.

The biggest of those myths is that love is some sort of magic feeling that comes over you when you meet your soulmate. That is it certain. That it is unmistakeable. And that it’s like a force of nature. Sometimes we do have feelings like that, but it’s much more likely to be a combination of hormones, propinquity, and enabling circumstances than to be love.

Just as damaging is the myth that physical attraction and compatibility are totally unimportant in the face of love. You hear it all the time in various forms: if you are not sexually compatible with someone, that isn’t as important as love. Love should be able to conquer any such “minor” problems as imbalance of libidos and so forth.

Which is complete nonsense.

While people’s sex drives vary, there are many good reasons that biologists call it a sex drive. It is just as important as any other biological imperative. Just as you become unhappy and eventually unhealthy if you are deprived of a nutrient your body craves (and while we all need certain vitamins and minerals in our diet, how much of each us need varies from person to person), you become miserable to an extent that will effect more than just your mental health, if you aren’t getting those needs met.

The two myths: love is always like a burst of fireworks, and love is completely separate from lust, are contradictory, but because the latter myth is deeply entangled with an even more pervasive series of myths that sex is immoral and so forth, we don’t realize that. We kid ourselves that a sudden intense attraction to someone we just met isn’t about something as dirty, crude, and unrefined as physical arousal. Sexual desire isn’t the only thing going on when we find someone attractive, but it is part of the equation.

Both of those myths caused me trouble during those awkward attempts at dating. Sometimes I would mistake an intense attraction, specifically a mutual intense attraction, for love. So I would be shocked that the other person wasn’t ready for a more serious relationship. Other times, I thought that a more intellectual compatibility should automatically lead to physical attraction, and was disappointed when it didn’t.

Ultimately, I realized that I had to remember that dating is about getting to know yourself as much as it is about getting to know each other. And contrary to certain cultural expectations, it doesn’t have to go in any particular order. You can have a “slutty” one-night stand with someone with absolutely no expectation that this is anything serious, and realize afterward that you both have more in common, wind up dating, moving in together, having a commitment ceremony, and the whole nine yards.

That’s how Ray and I met. It was just supposed to be a one-time hookup. We were both in relationships that were falling apart at the time, and in very messy places. We both knew that it was a very, very bad idea to be looking for something serious because of those messily dissolving relationships, and thus neither of us was looking for a relationship. Some people would say the hook-up under such circumstances, while understandable, was a very bad idea at the least. Certainly seeing each other again was crazy.

But a couple years later, after we’d been living together for a while, we had that ceremony. He promised to love me for the rest of his life, and we were happily together until he died.

Other times, you’ll spend time getting to know someone with no expectation of it ever turning into a dating situation, and then one day, quite by surprise, you find yourself really wanting to kiss a friend that you had always thought of as just a friend—a very good friend, but just a friend.

Fortunately for me, he was feeling the same thing. Which is how, 16 years ago last week, Michael and I went on our first date. And also fortunately for both of us, things were more than just mentally compatible. We had to wait 14 years for the legislature (and a majority of the citizens in the follow-up vote) to enact marriage equality so we could get legally married, but that’s another story for another day.

Finding love isn’t easy. One reason it’s not easy is that we are reluctant to accept that part of love is desire. Desire can be messy, hormonal, and more than a little lewd. There is nothing wrong with feeling desire, and nothing wrong with acting on desire (as long as you’re not harming, deceiving, or taking advantage of someone or allowing those things to happen to yourself). There’s nothing wrong with wanting love that involves romantic walks, discussions of favorite books, and nice wholesome cuddling. But there is something wrong with condemning, in yourself or others, the truth that sometimes we want something a bit less “wholesome” with the person we love.

Because love is like a bear. Sometimes it’s soft and comforting, and sometimes it’s a bit more intense or untamed.

As a tribute to this idea, I’m going to close with this not-safe-for-work music video that was banned by both MTV and the BBC when it was released. The song shot to number one on the UK charts 30 years ago today, just a few weeks after the BBC banned the song for radio and TV. The song went on to be the best selling single of the entire year (and is the seventh best selling single of all time in Britain). It only went as high as 10 on U.S. charts (which is nothing to sneeze at!). Neither the video nor lyrics are any more overtly sexual than many other pop songs of the 80s, and it has often been argued that the filming of the video at a gay bar, with pictures implying same-sex activity on the original single release is what really prompted the bans. Anyway, here’s “Relax,” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood:

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About fontfolly

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. I write fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and nonfiction. I publish an anthropomorphic sci-fi/space opera literary fanzine. I attend and work on the staff for several anthropormorphics, anime, and science fiction conventions. I live in Seattle with my wonderful husband, still completely amazed that he puts up with me at all.

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