Love: Getting It Right the First, Second or Even Third Time

In Columns, Features, Pieces to Peter's Puzzling World by Peter Webster

Out in front, I want to say, I love dogs. We don’t have one, but our neighbor has a Vizla named Hunter. Hunter is a wuss. He’s scared of cats, he hates water, loud noises, and he definitely hates cold weather. He comes to visit us several times a day. He scratches on the door and we let him in. He detours around whichever cat is present and tries to sneak some of their food. When we tell him no cat food he comes and sits by us for petting. He’s the perfect dog, actually.

But, because he intensely dislikes cold, when he has to poop, he doesn’t go far. He pooped, last night, right by the passenger door of Beth’s car. I stepped in it, but since the night was quite cold, the product was frozen, somewhat. I could have murdered that dog once I got in the house and realized what I’d tracked in. That’s one aspect of love.

I’ve been reading a Thomas McGuane novel and one of the characters said “Life is a road and the potholes in the road are love.” I’m not that cynical, but I understand the sentiment.

Love is hard work. Like all struggles, it’s rewarding, difficult, wonderful, exhausting, and sometimes… Well, sometimes it’s a bad deal. Depends on where the love is placed and how you define it.

I’ve “fallen in love” a few times, intense passionate experiences that are like being high and just about obsessed. That’s romantic love. My mom told me that we have only one big love in our lives and it comes from those romantic feelings of passion and lust.

That may have been true for her, but it wasn’t for me. I was madly in love with my son’s mom; when we separated I was shattered. It was the emotional equivalent of multiple fractures. I was miserable for a long time.

But I fell in love again, a few years later—and, it ended. The ending came without the hurricane of hurt feelings. My ego held up better; there was sadness but the breakup felt inevitable. Still, the ending was not fun.

And another affair, after that. And another down the line. None of them ended happily—at the time. The endings were hard and hurtful. The thing was that eventually, the endings turned out for the best. But the endings were painful. They were lessons, though, and I’m a slow learner.

Each time there was an ending and then another beginning, I learned a little more (although at times it felt like I was taking a step backward for each one forward—which I did more than once).

“Peter, your picker is broke,” someone told me. For a long time, I picked the wrong people. Of course I did: I learned about “love” in my family. It was like learning to drive in a destruction derby. Before she died in her late thirties, my sister Sharon married seven times. She got divorced every time the infatuation, the rush of love, wore off.

My other sister seems solidly wed to her third husband. Bad marriages are a family tradition.

My “picker” finally seems to have worked right. I’m not sure how it got fixed, but Beth and I have known each other for sixteen years, and been together for eight years. That’s the longest for either one of us.

We’ve learned to depend on and support each other. No illusions about who the other person is: she has her problems and tweaks and quirks, and I have mine. Perfection is an ideal, not reality.

“Love,” as presented as an emotional situation, is pretty recent in the history of people. Romantic love started, as far as anyone can figure out, back in the Middle Ages—500-600 years ago.

Before then, people became infatuated with each other, but marriage was more like a contract between people. This is still true in places such as India and Pakistan, where families arrange marriages between their offspring. The dowery is known as the “bride price:” the woman is bought like a camel or a cow or a car.

History books say that romantic love grew out of the cult of the Virgin Mary, combined with concept of chivalry.

The old stories about knights in armor emphasize the passion knights would have for fair maids, rescuing them from evil, or even for married women they had to love chastely. Of course, it didn’t work that way in real life.

The knights of old were generally not very nice people: they killed the lower classes without second thoughts, they seduced or raped whenever possible, and they betrayed each other. Prisoners who weren’t killed were held for ransom. The Crusades were blood baths; infidels counted only as bodies.

Innumerable peasant rebellions and wayward local dukes and princes were ruthlessly crushed. It wasn’t a good era to begin a cult of love.

In the west, even after romantic love was recognized and became popular, marriages were still arranged. It’s within our lifetimes that marriages among the royalties have involved commoners. In some upper-class families, the background of the betrotheds still matters to the point of absurdity.

I don’t know what the “experts” would say about all this. I may not be living up to the standards of, say, Dr Phil. James Dobson probably wouldn’t approve. I’m not here to meet the expectations of anybody except myself. There are too many people out there telling us the way things “should” be and not enough encouraging us to be who we are.

Remember: when someone is described as an expert, an “ex” is a has-been, and a “spurt” is a drip under pressure.