In my last post, I pointed out that loving turns a spotlight on us.
My marriage to TFP was a desert, emotionally. Sometimes I would try to contort myself into odd configurations to try to get his attention and make him take me seriously. Sometimes I just fought him. All the things I was told a Christian marriage was supposed to be simply were not there for us, and I was resentful of his scorn and derision of those ideals, as well as of me.
When I was dating my second husband, a bad alcoholic and probably an undiagnosed bipolar, there were a lot of good things going on. What TFP had criticized and ridiculed about me, H2 found cheerful and welcoming and enjoyable. When I cooked a meal, H2 appreciated it and told me so (and he ate with a hearty appetite). When I re-arranged the furniture, he said it looked nice — not, “Why did you do that?” There was a neglected, wounded domestic side to my nature, and H2 seemed to enjoy the fruits of my efforts in that direction, which flattered my feminine ego. The rest of my personality. . . I was convinced (by TFP, in part) that my complexity was at least partially to blame for my inability to be happy; I was ready to narrow my life down, I thought, in order not to be alone.
But human nature won’t be narrowed down. H2 and I weren’t “equally yoked.” H2 was straight, he thought I was bright and funny, he told me I was beautiful and he made me laugh and we had a lot of fun together — fishing, camping, and so on. But I was better educated than he was, and after we were married, the flattery changed to complaining about the “junk” that marked some of the things I like best about myself: my books, music, art. He had bragged on how smart I was, before we were married, but afterward he found that threatening — he resented the clutter of my library and writing, in a temper would talk about backing a truck up to the back door and hauling off “all that junk.” He decided he disliked my friends, even my blue-collar friends like himself, friends I’d had since high school; he only wanted to socialize with his family and friends. He was very demanding in that regard, and I lost touch with people whose company I had enjoyed, before. We had different religious and political values — again, revealed only after we were married.
So — you see, although I had a sort of love for H2, it wasn’t a mature or healthy sort of love for marriage. It was more along the lines of what C.S. Lewis, in The Four Loves, refers to as storge — an affection given to one’s family, or to a dependent or inferior. It is, he said, the sort of affection a dog might have for the cat doing figure-8s around its legs, “although no self-respecting dog would ever confess to it.” — or something along those lines; I don’t have the book in front of me. It’s not at all the sort of respect-based love a woman ought to have for her husband.
Which brings me back to loving, and to what loving DF has taught me about the nature of love — and about myself. Love devoid of respect and esteem might do in some passing and mediocre, inessential relationships, but not in our most intimate, our deepest friendships. Let the romantic element of love be unrequited or unfelt in life’s various challenges; the respect and esteem can still stand strong and vigorous and healthy in the face of all things.
This is important. After the demoralizing experience of having been married to a man who couldn’t appreciate our femininity, who scorned us for being women — after trying to adapt to the impossible in hopes of becoming lovable in his sight — we need the experience of loving, and even more than of being loved, in order to be healed. Loving wakes us up. It makes us whole. It reveals to us what is real and important about ourselves. It shows us our dignity, our strength, our beauty, and our worth. It affirms our authenticity while leaving us free to discover just who we are.
After the destructiveness of past self-denial, loving gives us back to ourselves.