In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"

First and Lasting Love

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Social Science Says Lasting Relationships Come Down to 2 Basic Traits, one of today’s The Mind Unleashed selections gave me a warm feel-good flicker of recognition in resonating truth, though so simple and time-worn as to appear trite. The article”s review of a study on long-term marriages concludes:

In most marriages, levels of satisfaction drop dramatically within the first few years together. But among couples who not only endure, but live happily together for years and years, the spirit of kindness and generosity guides them forward.

Sure, kindness and generosity make the world go round, so this makes sense. Now, I cannot say that I have always remembered this prescript in my own lengthy marriage, but the daily practice is important to better the odds of not forgetting.

If I were to give my daughters advice on choosing a life partner, I would tell them to love someone kind and generous–to them as well as others. Hopefully, my daughters won’t need such advice in earnest for a while, though they inch along nearing that precipice of desire.

My soon-to-be-19 year old daughter is falling in love, probably for the first time. I assume both in light of her uncharacteristic giddiness over today’s “date” and the missing catalyst to such annoying behavior previously. Unlike her mother, she is starting out on her love life journey later. She is probably better off for that.

The challenge for me, for any mother, is what to say when. Does today’s second date provide the opportunity to donate wisdom, the benefit of my years? Unsolicited, yes, but shouldn’t a mother do that for her charges, give without being asked or even being appreciated for the offering? So many hats a mother wears, teacher is certainly one of them. A teacher instructs and shares, gracing her students with the benefit of her education, training and life experience, whether the course is English or Accounting and whether the education is received and utilized.

I took the chance, risked rebuff and spoke. An “in” presented itself after a simple line of questioning of plans and whereabouts.
She answered, “I told him I like surprises, so he is picking me up and taking me somewhere. He hasn’t said where.”
“So, he seems interested in you, since he paid attention to what you said you liked.”
“Yeah, I can’t figure out why he does,” she shrugged with a cynical but glowing smile.

I bristled at her statement and wondered why it had to be this way for young women, skepticism and self-doubt, insecurity. Was she being coy or humble? Considering her audience, she didn’t need to make a showing of such virtues or strategies. The mother bear in me overreacted immediately.

“Don’t say that. It’s demeaning to someone I love.”

But then, backing off, I monologued a bit, and she was gracious to listen. I pondered before her attentive eyes: Is it possible for us to develop a healthy love at all with what we are fed by our parents, our culture? I explained to her what my mother told me about sex: Don’t do it until you’re married, boys are only after one thing, and your life will be ruined if you get pregnant. Did I communicate that same defensive posture to her?

I told her the early impression of sex I inherited, one I wrote about on this blog before: women are fortresses and men the invading armies. While the aim of it–precaution–is sensible, especially to young girls of little reference or information from ages 10 to 17, the attitude engendered is one of suspicion and so sex and love are regarded as dangerous.

“The trick is somehow to balance self-preservation and good sense with wonder and openness to some of the best of what life offers. That takes believing in your own worth and risking hurt in exchange for an opportunity to experience euphoric connection with another.”

That was the best I could offer. Fortunately, she is a solidly emerging woman, smart and selective. She has often chosen to be alone rather than be with others who add too little to her life or too much, those toxic relations. But this is new territory, one that tests the mettle of anyone’s constitution to keep one’s head and heart in proper alignment. Generally it takes the burns and bruises of time to calibrate the right give and take, how much and what to sacrifice in exchange for what is gained: the typical cost-benefit analysis applied to almost everything.

She is embarking on this heart adventure much older than I entered the love arena. I was always ready to jump into love and sensuality often and early. My first kiss was in first grade by Artie with the big ears, and even then I felt special. By fourth grade, I developed breasts and the teasing attention of boys. By sixth grade, I longed for the attention of the popular girls who had boys’ silly antics surrounding them and landed my first kiss with a spin the bottle birthday party.

The melt into soft fleshy lips and the scent of another’s closeness, was all it was cracked up to be in my imagination infused with popular lore and far too many books.

By 7th grade, I was going steady with a French kisser and it wasn’t long after that sex entered my life–as both war and weapon. A painful void of information with which to frame a comfortable sexual identity invaded my vision of love up to that time, one concocted from my parents, television, books, songs and neighbors, and fractured it.

Desire and the lure of divinely natural impulses battled fear of heartbreak, exploitation and pregnancy. Sex and love became divorced. And I think it stayed that way for far too many years until I navigated enough relationships to negotiate a re-integration–refashioned and reformulated.

I found that sex and love could be a continuum and an extension of one another. But, ultimately, all winds back to me, my understanding of self in conjunction with others. And not just self-love=ability to love others. That formula glosses over the details, the delicate balance of a hundred or more moving parts, only a few of the major ones being acceptance of humans as largely immutable, education through books and life experience to understand the human condition through behaviors and underlying motivations, and a brave belief in and awe of mystery.

With that in mind, I gave her my best advice–leap, but look both ways before doing so and keep your eyes and ears open. Whether that means something to her or not, I may never know. I still think, however, she has a leg up on me in having waited longer, farther down the life timeline for more brain, body and heart growth. She will have had a longer time living with herself and so a better sense to deal with inevitable disappointment and hurt.

But today will be about exploring and the exhilaration of learning about another–and herself. There will be assessments, inventory taking, chuckling, maybe hard laughs, anxiety and curiosity. There will be self-doubt toying with confidence. The heart will burn apace in the heat of desire and the speed of wonder. And possibly the deep surrender to the womb of the unknown.

It makes me hold my breath and bite my nails for the possibility of the story’s unfolding. I know for certain I will be there for the fallout, great or small. Such is a mother’s love of a daughter, which is nothing if not a devoted practice of kindness and generosity.

6 thoughts on “First and Lasting Love

  1. Found myself holding my breath and biting my nails reading this.

  2. Great post! Love is a difficult, confusing thing. How to explain it? How to reckon with something that drives so many of our actions and that the majority of us crave as a basic part of being human? I too have read that article on The Mind Unleashed and thought in the same fashion. If you want a happy, lasting relationship, it all comes back to that openness to your partner. It can be too easy to fall out of the practice but it’s worth the effort to keep the person you love happy.

  3. Love is all you have lost when your lover slips away.

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