Illustration: The Kiss by Gustav Klimpt

What Is Love?
By Kathy Garner

I'LL NEVER FALL in love again—or did I ever in the first place?

I was asked recently if I had loved my husband (we’ve been apart now 3 1/2 years). I said yes—I did this and that and the other thing…all for him. I certainly thought that was love. I didn’t like him all that much though. How can that be? Isn’t like a part of love?

When my husband and I met I was going through a strange popularity spree that had me confused and anxious. I was twenty-five. Never dated in high school. Rarely dated at all. There were several men interested in me. "Why couldn’t I just enjoy it", I remember asking myself? There was one man in particular I found intriguing. I admired him. And he had time for only friendship—not for love. I could have had that with a few men not just one. I could have had friendship. I took love, that lacked like.

We were in bed, in the heat of passion and he asked me "Should friends be doing this?" My husband hadn’t been particularly romantic (though he did propose on one knee after a year and a half of cohabiting) and I wasn’t that way with him either (I replied: "Are you kidding?").

But the question I pose to myself is this: did I love him or did I just enjoy his interest in me?

I was a late bloomer. I didn’t date in high school and I just sort of hung out with a few guys here and there in my 20s. There were times I thought I was in love but it was always in response to the guy being interested in me. I had a few crushes in Jr. High, but that was it. Crushes disappeared after that. I’ve always been on the "defense"—the receiving end in love. And I’ve not always known how to respond to it.

Back in my 20s I’d fall in love for a few months with guys. It’d be hot and fun and then something would happen. There was one man/boy in particular I was crazy about. ! He was one of the goofiest looking guys I’ve ever seen. He was tall and lanky. He wore glasses, which magnified his liquid turquoise eyes. Sometimes I’d lose myself in his eyes. He projected himself into my mind. We’d stay up late all the time working on environmental projects or eating pizza. I was often exhausted from these platonic late nights and I’d fall asleep on the bus dreaming of him calling me only to arrive home to receive his messages.

This thought-connection drew me to him even more. I’d never had sex with my environmental friend, but he did kiss me once (it was a great kiss!) and I still remember him coming up behind me as I stood in a kitchen making a tuna sandwich. He stood behind me and he hugged me with his incredibly long arms. It was heaven. I was heartbroken when he met another women/girl and slept with her. He stopped calling me. I didn’t stay up and work to save whales or the air anymore. I didn’t go out for pizza in the middle of the night. I cried and smoked pot and listened to sad songs instead. I went out and got drunk.

Superficial relationships just never got to be long enough to develop any depth. In my 14-year marriage I had the experience of living with a man. Although we had kids and a home and many shared experiences we didn’t trust one another. Perhaps we just had a sick sense of loyalty. Not even love can be used as an excuse for that long partnership. Without like love disappears.

I think my relationships were the way they were because had anyone wanted to really stick around and explore love with me I would have been terrified. I grew up without it Please no sniffles, no hankies—I’ve lived a few decades on this planet—have worked with lots of people of all ages. It’s not an unusual thing—to grow up without love. I suspect it is unusual to grow up with it. Can you imagine parents who love their children so much that they nurture the person they helped bring into the world rather than use that person as their own personal piece of clay? Can you imagine parents who help their children learn how to fly and then let the soar off into their own life? Sometime’s the actions of parents can even become twisted. They act out, and withhold. Parents can even become jealous towards our children. There can be abuse. I experienced a form of verbal abuse, which came in the form of massive criticism. When I finally married I made sure to find a man to keep that coming.

Last year on Valentine’s Day I sat and cried at the faculty’s outdoor lunch table in front of a bunch of male high school teachers who all knew I was a divorcee. It was really sad. Pathetic. The married and the single male teachers consoled me. I just kept crying. Just a month or so later I met a man who was wildly romantic and fun and made me believe in romance. It was the best romance I think I’ve ever had.

I loved having of kissing in my life again. "I love you" , so sweet were the ones I heard and the ones I said. I loved that I could say them over and over again. We were both middle-aged divorcees, who’ve made it through divorce and came out with nothing except the opportunity to meet each other.

We made out everywhere and camped and roller bladed in the evenings by the ocean. On my birthday, after making out in the entryway of a rather posh Santa Monica deli, we sat down and ate and I told him "I don’t know what the perfect relationship would be like," and he said, "it’d be just like this." It doesn’t get much better than that. The ride home from that dinner was just as wonderful too. We took the bus home because we’d walked to the deli. The Bus driver cracked jokes the whole way home and we giggled just like the kids we’d become.

Still I wonder. Did I love that critical husband? He gave me what I knew how to give. I gave him what I knew too. I knew how to be loyal. Is that love? Did I love my blue eyed environmentalist whose attentions turned on and then off like a faucet? Did I love last year’s springtime love?

I’ll let you know a secret. There’s a very small kitchen in my tiny home—barely room for two to stand. I remember being in the kitchen together. Making a salad, talking. He cut the bread just so and fanned it out on our plates. And he came and stood behind me and held me. We were happy. We were friends. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.++

Kathy Garner was the first subscriber to the Planet Waves Weekly newsletter.

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