Love is what we all seek in life, what every living creature needs to flourish, even to survive, and I don’t mean to shit on anyone’s interpretation of love. We all know what love feels like when we are loved, virtually every one of us has been blessed to feel this and remembers it gratefully. I’m going to try to analyze how thwarted, frustrated or imperfect love can lead to anger, violence, lifelong hatreds and other terrible things. Not thwarted in the sense of a hope for love that is rebuffed, most of us know how bad that kind of romantic strike-out feels, but love that is not given in a way the loved one can derive real support from.
I have to be fair. Not everyone is always good at expressing their deep feelings for others. I’m not. We are all creatures of our upbringing, our genetic predispositions, society’s often unrealistic and harmful myths . I’ve only recently made a habit of returning Sekhnet’s regular “I love you” greetings, and I’m glad I have, but it was something I had to learn. My father, as he was dying, lamented that he had had no idea how to express love, never having seen it done in the miserable home he grew up in. Made me feel great tenderness for the poor devil and even sadder about his last-hours’ struggle to make peace with a representative of the people he’d hurt by his disabilities. It really was not his fault, in a certain very real way, as I finally came to see.
I woke up today an hour or two before I was done sleeping and couldn’t get back to sleep. I woke up thinking about fairness, what it feels like to be the victim of unfairness. A regular theme, of course, but as I was recently shrieked at by an outraged old friend who keeps a close watch on his emotions, I woke up wondering if I’d been unfair. Was it really fair of me to ask for things this old friend was clearly incapable of giving? Clearly he didn’t think so, nor would he admit he is incapable of anything– he’d always given me his best version of philia and agape (two crucial kinds of love that don’t involve romance) and I’d ungratefully, maliciously taken a greasy, prissy dump on it. Incoherently demanding yet more of him, after all he’s struggled to give, over more than half a century, an intolerable demand that was irrational and fundamentally unfair.
I thought of a phone call I had a year or two ago. The wife of another childhood friend I could finally not continue to negotiate the terms of a frayed adult friendship with. She informed me that I had to remain friends with him, and her, and their two sons, because they loved me. “We love you!” she told me, and I know she was telling me the truth, the deepest truth she knew, an undeniable truth. I knew it myself, they clearly did love me. Then she gave me the ultimatum: forgive him immediately, I’m giving you this one chance, out of love, but if you don’t — you’re dead. I told her what had become unbearably clear to me: “forgiving” a person who can’t see he’s constantly hurting you, no matter how many times you try to make it clear, is kind of impossible. We came to a kind of understanding, out of mutual love — I am a dead man writing today.
I don’t think I need to give the details of that situation beyond this restatement of what I was being asked to accept: love is what we feel toward you, not how we may sometimes act toward you. My husband and I, now long-since estranged and living apart, practiced our best version of love for years, fighting, making up, storing grievances, yelling at each other, hating each other, making up, storing grievances, etc. We loved you the same way. It was the best we could fucking do, and we fought with you MUCH LESS than we fought with each other, you judgmental fucking asshole!
I am not trying to sound morally superior to anyone (he said, unconvincingly). It’s pointless to judge people on the basis of what they’re unable to do, just as it’s important to get away from them if it has a bad effect on you. I guess I draw the line where someone demands the right, out of love, to treat me in a way I can’t tolerate. It’s a bottom line for everyone, I suppose, not accepting being treated badly, unfairly by people who claim to love you. It may take a long time to get to that bottom line, but in the end, somebody you feel is treating you unkindly will not be able to convince you that they are treating you well. Or that the treatment is the best you deserve.
Again, not to knock anyone’s life choices, many people come to accept that what they get from those closest to them is the best they deserve. More power to them if they are comfortable in that belief. My parents had a lot of personal demons, both of them had been ruthlessly subjugated by very angry mothers from the time they could sit up and look at the world. In the end, I felt loved by both of my parents, nonetheless. We fought constantly and at times I felt I hated them, but I know I was loved. Funny how those things can all be true. One thing I emerged from childhood convinced of: I did not want to replicate the unhappy lives of either of my parents.
There is a subjective element of love, for sure. When we are full of love for somebody we truly want only the best for them. It is not always possible for us to give it, but we always intend to give it and we hope our intention outweighs our mistakes or failures. We all have our limitations and our needs. We have design flaws. We can’t help being angry when someone we try to always show love and patience to is ungrateful for our best efforts. None of this is hard to understand.
The hard part, it would appear, is not letting our disappointment show in a way that infuriates somebody who loves us, no matter how imperfect that love might feel to us. A secret to avoiding their fury, I would guess, is never to expect more than the person who loves us is able to give.
 One example: you must always forgive every hurtful thing that is ever done to you, it is primarily for yourself that you must forgive, to free yourself from the pain of what was done to you. This sensible sounding idea is repeated in many forms, by many of our subcultures. To forgive is divine, even if the ability to easily hurt is human. Jeanne Safer brilliantly lays out the destructive fallacy of this A Good Person Always Forgives dictum in her book Forgiving & Not Forgiving: A New Approach to Resolving Intimate Betrayal.
Look, it should be clear enough: you have no moral obligation to forgive the unrepentant serial rapist uncle who has only fond memories of raping you and keeps insisting you just have an irresistible ass, LOL! Is it necessary to resolve things within yourself to close off the pain the evildoer caused, absolutely, but to forgive? That’s some pretty divine ability to forgive right there. Fuck that puto. Forgive him right after you forgive Hitler, or whoever else might have murdered your family in the name of bettering the world…