“I am grateful to have been loved and to be loved now and to be able to love, because that liberates. Love liberates. It doesn’t just hold—that’s ego. Love liberates. It doesn’t bind. Love says, ‘I love you. I love you if you’re in China. I love you if you’re across town. I love you if you’re in Harlem. I love you. I would like to be near you. I’d like to have your arms around me. I’d like to hear your voice in my ear. But that’s not possible now, so I love you. Go.’”
In the interview, Dr. Maya Angelou was speaking of the love between her mother and her but due to the context in which I heard the interview, I immediately connected it to my past romantic relationship and may have even been in that relationship at the time when I first saw it. Since then, I've had to explore what it means to love someone once they've moved on in many dimensions: geographically, emotionally, sexually, spiritually, textually, etc. I can't fathom the speed with which my most recent partner moved on. It is surreal and I am hurt and it has been well over a year. A few things are at play here for me with this:
Why can't I just be happy for her?
It was clear that we both weren't compatible long before we broke up and we were working to reconcile this incompatibility through to exhaustion. We gave it our all - in my opinion - so why am I not just happy that she isn't lost in limbo trying to regain a sense of self and has moved on with someone who she dreamed of being with while we were together? If she'd gotten with someone who I didn't feel was better than me, would I feel similar pain or is this strictly pain from my ego? What is that pain? What is being threatened for me?
I think it is that my success is at stake. When I think about masculinity and I really dig into what is at the core of public masculine performance in the U.S., one thing is certainly success. Success in a pretty defined way, too: fame and/or fortune. The person she chose has both - successful acting career and was closing in on purchasing a home when she was beginning to talk to him. I'm definitely a failed actor and I'm saving up every penny to buy a small 1-bedroom co-op unit. And that is me now, should have seen me last year - I'd just quit my job at Princeton and was unemployed when this all went down. When I think about fame and fortune, I certainly was/am no match.
I don't own her.
I took to the unfriend/unfollow button this past holiday season with her family members because I saw a picture with this new guy and her family. A few hours later, I really regretted breaking all of those connections, not because we wouldn't be able to stay in touch or because I was concerned about how they'd feel seeing that we were disconnected but because I realized - for the millionth time - that I don't own her. I never wanted to own her. I never want to own her. And I don't own her.
Only this type of intense rage and sadness comes from someone who feels they have the right or license to be in a particular place in someone's life or family. I've seen many people who I have big crushes on with people who are far more famous and fortunate (having fortune/money) than I but I don't react that way. So it must be that I feel that something that was mine was taken away from me. What if I didn't feel that she was mine? What if she was hers and she made her own decision to be with someone else? I have to sit with that now. And what do I do with that?
I love her.
I want to be able to love her today, a year into her new relationship with someone who I'm completely jealous of and I've been trying - really hard.
It seems to me that our culture functions this way: two people say they love each other until person A decides that they don't love person C and then person A is expected to stop expressing love and eventually stop feeling love, too. (1) I don't think love ended as abruptly for person A in all cases as they'd like to admit it did and (2) there is no way that love can stop for person C so abruptly. My question is how can love continue for person C? Should it? Why wouldn't it? Why does that feel like such a bad thing - is it due to the cultural norm?
I think the most important thing that I've grappled with is my responsibility to myself to continue to love her in such a way that doesn't hinder my ability to move on to love someone just as much, if not more. I want to love the next person to my complete potential - I don't know if that can ever be reached but I want to be sure that I am not stunted by any of my previous experiences. In that, I imagine that my love for her shouldn't have to be halted in order for me to commit to loving someone else wholly.
I also want to investigate what I mean when I say I love someone. If it is a commitment that I'm making then I want to ensure I'm not falling short - for myself. I need to know why and how I love people and what that looks like so I can be sure to not put my future partners and my family through some of the trauma that I may have put women in my past relationships through.
What does liberating love look like?
This is where I begin to build off of Dr. Maya Angelou's gift of wisdom that is shared above.
I am grateful to have been loved by you and to be loved by many people around me and to be able to love them back and to love others who may come into my life, because that liberates. Love liberates. Love doesn't just hold, I am so urged to hold onto something that existed well over a year ago - but that is my ego working overtime. That is my socialization under this system to impose ownership over you trying to keep me in check. Love doesn't impose ownership, it doesn't bind. Love, instead, liberates, which is what I was trying to do when I was encouraging and accepting our break up. Now that we've broken up and I've encouraged healthy mingling and moving on and you've indeed moved on, my love needs to say, 'I love you. I love you if you're in Toronto. I love you if you're across the country in LA. I love you if you're back in Queensbridge, regardless of who you bring back with you or who you are with, I love you. I sincerely would like to be nearby, I really would. I would like to have your arms around my neck and my waist and to hear your voice in one ear and the shuffle of your feet in another ear but that is completely impossible and unreasonable right now. You are building a life with someone who you told me you were crushing on while we were together when I wasn't able to give you what you need since you thought he was just a dream and you got him. You are literally living your dream right now and my wish to be proximate is not possible now, so I love you. Go.