Just be in love

Sometimes all you can do is just be in love. This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. For months I’ve wanted to write an essay about platonic love and the devaluation of friendship. Our society is obsessed with romantic and sexual love to the point where we come up with asinine terms like “friendzone” to describe a relationship that is unsatisfactory based solely on the condition that there isn’t sex and romance present. I’ve never understood the concept of the friendzone. What is bad about someone wanting to be friends with you? I find it objectifying to discard someone just because they don’t fulfil a desire you have. If you’re in love with this person, there’s a connection, right? Why would you dispose of a connection just because your ego can’t handle not fulfilling its craving for more?

Let’s get one thing clear, I am writing this as someone who has had romantic feelings for a friend who didn’t return those feelings, so I’m not flying in the dark here. I know that it’s hard. That unfulfilled desire can be painful as hell. But, when you strip love down, the sum of its parts is a desire to know and experience someone.

I’ve been practicing meditation avidly for years, and I can detect when my ego is throwing a tantrum, which doesn’t always mean I can stop it, but the feeling of “I’m not getting what I want, so fuck this, I’m out of here” is a pretty universal human feeling. It’s understandable. Being rejected can feel humiliating and neuropsychological studies show it lights up the same receptors in our brain as physical pain. Of course we want to run as far away from that as possible! 

It may sound silly but sometimes I like to actually treat my ego like a toddler and take five minutes to breathe, listen to its demands and allow it to pound its sticky little fists on the ground until it realizes that want and need are not the same thing. Until I remember that it’s the grasping and resisting that exacerbates the suffering. Clinging to an outcome is always going to disappoint you. Staying the course and watching things unfold is scary as fuck, but that is the most rewarding path because it’s the most genuine. As humans we are wired to want to control the unknown. But we actually can’t. The moment we try and force something to fit what we want it to be, we begin to destroy it.

I think it’s my love of the ocean and birds that have taught me this even more than my meditation practice. Birds fly away and return, the tide recedes and crawls back again. But if we depend on birds not taking flight, or the tide not going out, suddenly our relationship to birds and the sea become fraught with distress. If we try to make either of them behave as anything but what they are, they wouldn’t be what we love. Control is the antithesis of love. 

Love is transient, it’s not a fixed and moveable object. We become attached to outcomes like romantic love and sexual love because we are trying to fulfil the feeling we have with sensate pleasure so we can vent, compartmentalize and therefore understand something that is intense, scary and indescribable. Humans are attached to associations; it’s a relief to be able to put a label on something. Love without a label is just love and what the fuck even is that? And if we can’t label and control it, we can’t anticipate how it might hurt us, right? That’s terrifying, but we can never anticipate how something could hurt us, we can only ever have an illusion of certainty. 

I was initially prompted to write this by a conversation I had with a friend some months ago who told me that she didn’t want to be friends with a guy because he wasn’t in love with her and she couldn’t handle the rejection. That’s valid. It hurts. My advice to her was to let it hurt. She fell in love with this guy, not with the promise of satisfaction, but with him. She said it was really uncomfortable for a while but now he is one of her best friends and she messaged me the other day to thank me for stopping her from walking away from what became one of the best relationships of her life. Really beautiful things can come out of discomfort if we let go of control. 

Allow the yearning, allow the desire, respect the autonomy of the person you’re in love with. That love came from you, not them. No one deposits little packages of love into us. The most they can do is tap into a reservoir of love that has already existed in us before we met them. It’s so special and incredible when someone is able to tap into that part of us. How lucky we are to meet people like that!

For friendship to exist, it doesn’t depend on the absence of romantic or sexual love, but rather the presence of platonic love, gratitude, respect and appreciation. Plato’s theory of love states that love without romance and sex is the highest form of love because it’s not dampened by fleeting pleasure and it’s not attached to a fixed outcome. Anyone who has been in a successful long term relationship can tell you that it’s their ability to be friends with their partner that sustains their relationship, not constant fucking and Shakesperean level declarations of love. 

If we love someone and they don’t love us back in the way we love them, the best and kindest thing we can do for ourselves is to just be in love and let it teach us, let it bring us home to ourselves, even when it hurts. Love is both a mirror and a thread. It connects us to everything around us and back to ourselves. Love is a soft yet somehow unyielding force that moves and changes the world in the most remarkable ways. Unrequited love can teach us to fall in love with ourselves, and with the world. It isn’t love with nowhere to go, it’s love that is asking us to simply feel it. It’s an opportunity to deepen our connection with ourselves. And what are friends if not people who make our world bigger, who make us better, who enrich our lives? Why would friendship ever be a punishment?

I am grateful for the birds, and the tide that is never the same and for my friends who I love who are changing all the time. I am grateful to watch the people I love become new people all the time and to learn new ways of relating to the world. I am grateful for this reservoir of love that exists in me and I am grateful to go on knowing anyone who is able to awaken it, even if they don’t love me back, it’s enough to just be in love.

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