Too Much Love

The Red Roofs by Camille Pissaro (1877)

Many published posts about LOVE around Valentine’s Day.  Love is always important. It’s also possible to have too much to handle.

Men do want love, you know.  And women also want sex.  Not always both at the same time but still, the old adages are wrong.  When I was young I wanted both in large doses.  Young men can’t help it.  Like other young men I was a prisoner of testosterone, a powerful hormone.  All desires were amplified.

History and culture have current, like the tides, like all life.  In the 1970s there were looser definitions of what was or was not acceptable in relationships.  It was a period of intensity in America, one with more heat than light.  The senseless, pointless Vietnam War was over.  Nixon had taped himself “cheating”, and like celebrity sex tapes today, it hastened the end of his relationship with the public.  I was married.  I was in love with my wife.

The difference between loving and being in love is the degree of need.  I have friends that I love.  I would do anything for them.  I would donate a kidney if one asked.  But I might not see them for years at a time.  When we do get together, we laugh, cry and share secrets.  I want these friendships to last my whole life, but I don’t need to be with them every day.  It’s different when you’re in love with someone.  If you can’t be with them it hurts!

I was volunteering at a crisis intervention center.  Crisis centers were still a new approach then.  We trained under the supervision of a psychologist, role-playing alternatively as counselors or as a person in need.  We took calls in teams.  One person would listen and talk.  The other was there to help the counselor with emotional or informational support.  There were no personal computers.  If you needed information to help someone it would be in files, reference books or a phone call away.

Life’s problems don’t change.  They just put on different clothes.  We’ve been trying to solve loneliness, poverty, anger and alienation for thousands of years.  Families broke up and siblings fought over inheritance before the pyramids were built.  We tried to help in the ancient way, by listening and offering sympathy and information.

Talking with depressed persons who are contemplating self-harm or suicide is absorbing and intimate.  You develop a deep bond with your teammate, your silent partner.  Most counselors and most crisis intervention clients are women.  Men have the same problems, but women are less hesitant to share them and seek help.  Most of my teammates were women, including my wife.

There are a lot of things people will only admit to anonymous strangers.  Telephone counselors hear things people can’t say to their therapists.  The therapist is in the room.  It’s too hard to reveal.  As counselors, we had to try and make sense of it.  It’s not so hard when the call is in progress.  You focus on the specifics of the problem as presented.  Husband beating you?  Here’s the address and phone number of the shelter.  Encourage them to call back if they need more support.  But afterward, the big questions remain.  Solving the chronic and systemic problems of people with too many needs and too few resources isn’t easy.  We cared about our callers.  They had real problems.  Some went to prison.  Some went to rehab.  Some died.  In most cases we never knew what happened after the phone call.

Suicide calls must be taken seriously, though most who follow through on that never call a crisis line.  It’s actually a hopeful sign if someone calls you in that state of confusion, depression and pain.  Counselors can’t give answers to the big questions.  You answer the ones you can, like where to get assistance.  It’s information and referral, with psychotherapy happening under the radar.  Something about modern life makes things too distant.  People feel they aren’t being listened to.  If you can make them feel heard, they usually feel better no matter what the problem is.

Over the months I developed an exceptionally good rhythm with one particular female teammate.  If she was taking the call I could anticipate her informational needs from the conversation, and she could do the same for me.  It made things smoother.  After hard calls, we would talk them over while awaiting the next one.  We were on opposite sides of a desk.  We never touched.  But when you bare your soul to someone over and over, big things sometimes happen.  We fell in love.

This was a huge dilemma.  I was no less in love with my wife than before.  My counseling partner was also married.  My wife considered her a close friend and loved her too.  Of course I told my wife about my feelings.  She was my best friend.  I would never have lied to her about it.  What hurts most when partners cheat isn’t the fact that there’s another love.  It’s that you’ve been lied to.

We didn’t work together after that.  I did go to her house once after we knew.  I expected it would hurt, but when you are in love, you are in need.  It was sunny and beautiful on the patio.  Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (Prelude to the afternoon of a faun) was playing. She was working on a puzzle, a village landscape with red roofs.  I saw the piece she was looking for under the table.  As I offered it to her, our fingers touched.  Agony.  Electricity.  Longing.  Impossibility.  She smiled.

I got drunk with a Medicine Man, trying to get over her.  He told me to close my eyes and give him my hand.  He placed a small, smooth object in my palm and closed my fingers around it.  He asked me to direct my pain into the object.  I did.  Then he told me to open my hand and look.  It was a small stone that looked like volcanic glass.  When light hit it, it looked black, but when you held it up, you could see through.  “Apache tear”, he said.  “Things look black now.  In time you will see them from another direction.”

I saw the puzzle unexpectedly on a table.  It all came back to me.  A single Apache tear rolled down my cheek.  It had hidden in the corner of my eye for thirty-five years.  Mary asked, “What’s wrong?”  “Nothing”, I said.


Filed under Communications, Emotions, Ethics and Morality, Music, symbolism

25 responses to “Too Much Love

  1. I’m certain that many of us have had this kind of experience to some degree or another. Mine was as a 19 year old and my second boyfriend was an alcoholic and he tried to change because he really loved me. In fact he hid it so well, it took a while for me in my innocence to realise he actually had such a big problem.

    His friends admitted later that he almost succeeded, that they were amazed at the massive effort he made and for how long it lasted, but whilst he was resisting his demons he did nothing to confront the violent family background that they sprang from.
    He came apart after we were at a party where he was to be the designated driver, I found him drunk and in my disappointment drank far more than I was used to and passed out. Waking up in hospital after he had crashed the car and killed two other equally drunk friends was the last straw, although everyone denied it, someone put a seatbelt on me and it saved my life.

    He survived too, but we split and he died when his car failed to take a bend 10 months later, blood alcohol levels were off the scale and it couldn’t be clearly ascertained if he was dead before he hit the rocky outcrop or after. Sober, he was the love of my life, even now happily married 15+ years a few isolated situations bring back memories and I wonder what might have been had our relationship not included the third party of alcohol.

    Those moments are but fleeting… some things just aren’t meant to be, you move on. People make choices and one of them is to love in spite of temptations that aren’t good for us. The grass usually isn’t greener on the other side of the fence, the dreamy “imagination of what might have been” often has no real connection to the reality of how things probably *would* have been once the shine had worn off.
    Would you always be wondering of she was again eying someone new?
    Knowing you can trust your partner is worth more than gold, knowing that they love you as you love them is worth more than all the gold in the world.
    Treasure isn’t always something you aspire to finding to make you rich,
    …sometimes you already have it, and have had all along.

  2. I agree with everything you’re saying, KD, and your response is very moving. I found it interesting that I had so much repressed feeling, that’s all. I understood at the time that it was unworkable. When you’re in love you aren’t easily able to see things clearly – but you CAN still see them. I don’t accept it when people justify unethical behavior by saying things like “One thing lead to another.” Things don’t lead. We FOLLOW things from one place to another. Sometimes it takes time to make the correct choice. Strong feelings can clarify a situation or confuse it. It’s hard to predict which will happen.

  3. dpeddy

    what a gorgeous memory of a beautiful, vulnerable time.
    i envy your grace and serenity in recalling the time without regret or
    “if only” thoughts.
    I endeavor to take more of my quiet, peak moments from my past and hold them close sans regret or intentional distortion.
    Thank you for the inspiration to move in that direction

    • You’re welcome. I’m flattered of course, but much of it seems to be a natural side effect of growing older. If you do nothing besides continuing to be alive, you’ll move in that direction because love has the most resonance in memory. Past resentments and slights fall away, and deeper, more meaningful moments resurface. I’m enjoying it.

      • dpeddy

        I am so glad you are enjoying this place at which you’ve arrived.
        Would love to see your truth be mine too.

        I’ve been thinking that that another thread and sound track for this
        post would be “sisters of mercy”
        and it won’t make me jealous if i learn that she’s sweetened your night…
        we weren’t lovers like that and besides it would still be all right.
        btw-happy natal day,

  4. I think I’m in love with someone, but it might just be admiration. But I get sad when I think about it.

    When I was in high school, there was this 19 year-old who monoxided himself over his girlfriend messing around on him and becoming pregnant. He was a senior and had his whole life before him. You don’t think of guys that age being that much in love, but alas. I’m sure he had other problems, though he always seemed happy. It’s a shame.

    Very thought-provoking post, very nice!

    • Thanks, Lisa. Being in love can be confusing. I reckon if you continue to examine the reasons for your feelings you’ll know if it’s the real deal, even if you can’t act upon it. I knew some young ones who suicided over unrequited love too. So sad.

  5. Oh, Michael! What a beautiful post. Exposing your vulnerability like this, so openly, honestly and publicly is something I can really relate to. Thank you! You inspire me. More than you know.

    • You certainly ought to relate to it, dear fox. You’ve been helping me all along by demonstrating how to do that with your own posts. I just have to filter it through my own brain and writing style. It’s a wonderful thing, the way years of pain and obstacle can deepen our compassion and clarify what’s important in life.

      • One of my Facebook friends wrote the following: “Love never dies, it gets transformed, transported and transmuted, but it’s always there. Past love, long gone, still lives. It finds expression in different ways, in different people. Like a river, it’s ever flowing, stopping now and again to let you take a break on the banks, to only come back again, to dance, to flow, to love, eternally.”

        It made me think of you.

  6. What a beautifully written post. I love your honesty and openness. It has reminded me how closed I can be at times. Thank you for inspiring me. Emma

  7. Pingback: Tweets that mention Too Much Love | Invisible Mikey --

  8. The pinguin offer gratitude to the pingers :::bowing:::

  9. Thank you for the gift basket….. much appreciated

  10. Nice post. Takes a BIG heart to do what you do. Thanks for sharing. And thank you for stopping by my blog and commenting!

    • Thanks, and you’re welcome. I’m interested in producing longer work, so I’m reading others attempts to do so.

      (The word laavventura is made up. She wanted to call her blog L’aventura, Italian for The Adventure, but someone beat her to it. I enjoy word invention myself. This way it evokes not only adventure but also words meaning washing and laundry, a nice yin-yang. She’s working up her courage to produce a novella.)

  11. I’d come to comply with you on this. Which is not something I usually do! I really like reading a post that will make people think. Also, thanks for allowing me to comment!

  12. Pingback: The Best of Mikey (so far) | Invisible Mikey

  13. wildacademicwoman

    Hi there–just found your blog. This post was beautiful, and it was really hard for me to read. My ex-husband, whom I had met when I was just 18 years old and married when I was 24, acted selfishly on his desires. Looking back, the worst part was the lying. You’re right. It wasn’t that he fell in love with others–it was that he kept it from me. He also didn’t tell me about his struggles with bipolar disorder, and it was getting harder to control. I was young, and I didn’t know. I loved him for all that he was, and yet he was still keeping something from me. Years later, I’m still crying about it, even though we’ve both moved on in a sense. Thank you for sharing.

    • You’re quite welcome, WAW. Even though I write stories about events in my own past, I try to choose ones readers can relate to. Temptations are so common for the young, and the learning curve for ethical behavior can be a painful learning process. I hope you’ll have a really good cry and move further toward forgiving him, and yourself, for mistakes made when neither of you knew better. Regrets are part of a wise person’s moral compass.

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