All my life, I felt like there were invisible rules about life. These were rules I could not quite make out, and that I was afraid of breaking. If I broke them, knowingly or not, bad things would happen. I would fail at life. I would be seen as socially inept. People would find me or my behavior unattractive. In short, there would be major consequences for breaking the invisible rules.
Lately, I've been questioning the invisible rules. The one I've been thinking most about is the rules of love.
As an English major, I've read a lot about love. I've read about dark, possessive, selfish love, like that of Othello or Heathcliff. I've read Lord Byron's poetry, where he puts the woman who walks in beauty on a pedestal; she is untouchable. I've seen teenagers go gaga about the love between Katniss and Peeta in The Hunger Games. I've seen films and TV shows with love scenes that touch me and thrill me. And what I've always done is compared myself to all of it.
Love, I thought, should be a violent, all-encompassing feeling that leaves me wounded and wanting more. It needs to be a love for the ages, a love that devils my mind. It needs to be a love to match all the love scenes in all the books I've ever read. It needs to be a love that sparkles and rages- a love filled with fire, that encompasses the color of desire and that will hold me up if I fall. It needs to be unbreakable and impossible. It needs to grab me by the neck and almost choke me.
If it's not love like that, I thought dismissively, it isn't love. It isn't worthwhile.
So I went searching for that love. I went looking for the violent, feverish, impossible, thrilling love. I wanted the love where I felt bound so tightly that I could never break away.
And I found it. Or at least, I found pieces of it. It colored me, cut me up and spun me out. I was left as fragile as shattered glass in a mirror, spiderwebs of silver pieces that one touch can dislodge.
I looked for love that moved me and I found it. In the way a child looks at its protector. In a person who does a completely selfless act. In people who want to help others grow. That love touched me, but it was like honey spreading through me, slow. It was golden; it was warm. It wasn't the love I wanted; the love I thought I should want.
When I married, I tied myself to a golden love, not a raging love. I found a love that was playful, kind, nurturing and growth-oriented. It was honeyed. And it was frightening. It wasn't what the invisible rules, as I understood them, said I should look for. I was afraid it wouldn't be right, or that I would miss the raging love too much and it would get in my way. I was also afraid that other people on the outside looking in would see me, my marriage and my life and judge it. I was concerned about their perspective.
Sometimes, I'm still afraid. But more often, I realize there are no shoulds. I do not need to live searching for the love I should want, but rather, for the love that works for me. Who I am as a wife and a person need be bound by no shoulds other than the ones my husband and I create. And when I stop a moment and look at my life through another's eyes, I realize some illuminating things.
For one, people see my husband as very romantic. They see our engagement, with his focus on my love for Belle and books, as being the pinnacle of romance. The way my husband celebrates my anniversary and birthday are also, through other people's eyes, very romantic. Some have even used the word 'fairytale' to describe our story. So if I am concerned about other people's perspectives, I need not be.
For another, the only person who could help me grow properly would be a person who understands my many needs: for quiet spaces at times, for time to write, my love of books, my love of children. My husband knows all my loves and encourages them. He also knows the difference between a need and a preference, so he does not need to be afraid to voice his own.
Also, marriages take work. Love is not stagnant. It does not just come and stay; it needs to be built, maintained, recreated at times.
All these things come to my mind when a friend of mine tells me, "The only thing I want is to marry someone who I am really in love with."
What does that mean? I wonder. What does it mean to be really in love with someone? Per my own rules, it only refers to the raging love, in which case, I would not have qualified. Perhaps part of what at least some of us need to work on is discovering the many meanings of love, meanings beyond the conventional, beyond the typical. Meanings that refer, not to society's idea of the femme fatale, the glamorous woman in stilettos and sexy dresses, but to secret, honey love that tucks blankets around the hidden corners of your soul.
Perhaps I'm becoming a bit Nietzschean - or I'm referring to Plato's Forms. All I know is that the words we have, and the images we associate with them, are not enough. There are no shoulds. There are rarely definitions. And we need to create our own meanings for these words, meanings that go beyond those that our culture or society offer us.