Lately and perhaps not surprisingly with a newborn in my arms I have been pondering love again. This, in addition with a psychology class I sat in on last semester about the subject, and some other articles I read recently, has led me to feel like exploring my thoughts a little. Not too long ago I was conversing with a fellow blogger who posted some writings from a Buddhist about love that said something to the order of “true love can only exist in the present”. As I paused for thought, I appreciated the truth of those words in an ideal sense, but it struck me as not how love seems to
When I’ve fallen in love before, and others that I’ve talked to share similar experiences, thoughts of the future seem to go with it. I often described it as painting pictures in your mind. You fall in love, you start to see happy times, future celebrations, children, growing old together. These pictures seem extremely vivid. Like memories you’ve built on events yet to happen. From a biological sense this seems to make sense because that is how love should work. Love builds attachments, and attachments in this world give you strength. If love did not make us feel this way it seems like we would lose an important part of what love is really for; to give us companionship and togetherness, and increase our chances of survival in a world filled with uncertainty. Feelings of security and visions of the future seem so tangible to me, I wonder if it is true to others who have been in love. Nevertheless, if you could truly stay focused on the present, maybe this could take away much of the pain when a relationship ends. And I think sometimes this is why a relationship ends. You focus on the future that you take the other for granted in the present. And the loss of a relationship leaves you with vivid visions of events that will now no longer take place. Those events are in your memory and I’ve always felt that recovery from a relationship literally requires erasing those memories.
As I look at my son in my arms, I am filled up with love. Of course this also makes sense from a biological standpoint. I think the love of a parent in animals is somewhat proportional to how helpless they are when they are born. Human children are completely helpless such that any indifference on our part would lead to less care and more infant mortality. Some creatures have the ability to “hit the ground running” parents are protective to a certain degree, but especially if you are born prey, the kid has to kind of take care of himself a bit too and learn to run as fast as possible. Love comes in many forms and certainly the love for one’s child is different than romantic love, but I started to ask myself, what is that I love about my son? If asked the same question about my wife I could point to a large list of qualities in her, I could recount numerous wonderful memories and happy moments. There are of course physical attributes too as a basis for attraction. The love has a clear basis. No quality is perhaps unique in her, but all together she certainly is unique. The fact that I love her is not surprising, and the fact that there aren’t others out there who I might love or have loved her is not surprising either. But as I look at my son I wonder what is it based on other than a biological drive to love my child. I find him beautiful of course. Every parent finds their child beautiful. Once again if we didn’t, we might be less likely to want to take care of them. But he has no personality to speak of. He hasn’t been alive more than a month yet and we have few memories together at all. We have nothing in common except some DNA. We can’t really do a whole lot together. It is a purely one sided relationship. We give and he takes. If this were anybody else, friends would say,” you need to get out of that relationship.” Lol
I then read a story about someone having twins prematurely and losing one of them and of course I naturally thought about how I would feel if
my son were to die. Of course it would be grievously painful, but I thought to myself what would I be grieving about? If I lost my wife, the pain of numerous past memories and a deep sense of loss over qualities she possessed that I would no longer be privilege to would flood my mind for many years to come, in addition to the loss of the future I dreamed of us having together. It seems that if I did lose my son the majority of my grief would be grieving the loss of his future. For as someone in love with his child I see a future filled with vacations, camping trips, teaching him science, helping him with homework, going to graduations, seeing him grow and hit milestones in his life as we all do.
The future is truly uncertain and so loving only in the present seems wise in some respect, but I’m not sure it’s possible. I think the best we can do is try not to build those hopes and dreams so solidly that we allow them take different shapes. Nevertheless a part of me feels like the love I have right now for my child seems less solid somehow because it seems largely based on a feeling completely intangible and dreams of the future. However, I know that as he grows and I spend more time with him it will simply gets stronger and I know that as we do build more memories and I do get to know him as a person that I will be more and more in love with him. Given how much I love him already the thought of that fills me with nothing but pleasure. That is at least one vision of the future that I can hold on to without fear.
6 thoughts on “Love and the Future”
The picture of your wife and son said it all !!!!
Thank you MicheleElys! I have to say I instantly smile whenever I see that picture. 🙂
that picture is priceless and makes everyone smile!!!
Great post, and great photo. When my daughter was born, my wife was in love with her right away. It took me a little longer, which I think had to do with replacing an imagined future relationship with a real present one, which seems to match up with your experience so far. I agree with your Buddhist quote. Certainly, when you fall in love, you imagine a whole future with that person, but if the present doesn’t line up in some way with that imagined future, then what you love is an idea of that person and not the person him/herself.
They say when you lose someone you love, you will start to heal once your brain replaces the connections it made with them. Someone once told me that the fastest way to get over a breakup is to create new activities to fill in the time previously spent with that person. In many ways, love is simply our addiction to another person. That’s the unromantic part. But there’s another part, like what you talk about– where we have hopes, dreams, ideas, and nostalgia for someone.
The love we have for our children is an interesting study of the topic. Some parents feel connected with their child at birth, while others take more time. And, as you said– as time goes on, the connections become stronger and stronger. I think it depends on where our minds are during the pregnancy. Because during that time there is no real connection except for what thoughts we have.
A good example of how this works is by examining miscarriage. Parents have a wide range of reaction to a loss, always depending on how attached they were to the idea of having a child. Last year we had a miscarriage that I had expected. We had made no plans and had no attachment– and it was easy to move on from. On the other hand, a few years ago I had a miscarriage late in the second trimester and it was overwhelmingly difficult for us. We had become attached to the idea and had begun to make plans and re-arrange our lives. But did I love that child? I don’t think I did, really. I had fallen in love with the idea. And I think that is still something important.
So maybe we want to lump it all together and label it all love, when love is actually a separate thing from our ideas and hopes for those we love (or those we believe we could love). I think I saw this difference most clearly when we first learned about our daughter’s autism. She may never hold a conversation, and she will probably never be able to live on her own. The loss of our ideas for her future and how we saw our role as parents was devastating– our entire world changed. And yet, nothing changed. She was still the same child and our love for her was just as great. And as we adjusted our hopes for the future over time, everything fell back into place.
Parents going through an initial diagnosis all describe this experience; you feel as if you are losing your child, but you aren’t– you are only losing the idea you had about the future. Part of healing is the ability to see, for the first time, just how different those things are. When we truly love someone, our ideas and hopes for that person are irrelevant to our love for them. I guess that’s what we really mean when we talk about unconditional love. But then conditional love isn’t really love– it’s only an idea. It turns out that we carry a bit of both conditional and unconditional love for everyone we care about.
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Thank you so much for this thought provoking comment Jenny (assuming you didn’t write your blog piece for patheos under a pseudonym lol). I love when someone makes a comment that you know is going to alter how you view things. It always feels healthier. 🙂
Your perspective is, I think, a really good way of looking at it and I agree with you. Even if it was possible to detach love in the present with the love of the future, or building our love based on passed events with someone, I am not sure it would be a good idea, because all those things still have meaning if it isn’t technically love. But then again maybe it is love and it’s just another layer of complexity which makes it both more beautiful and also more heartbreaking when it ends. I guess what surprises me is how real those ideas of the future feel. How those dreams feel like memories, like they actually happened, and it leaves us with thoughts of events that never happened actually but which feel indistinguishable from memories. With effort you can erase them, but the same could be true with actual memories as well. Maybe those paintings of the future that love instills in us are just stored in the same part of the brain as memories and so when we access them it feels like memories even when it isn’t. It’s interesting, and I like exploring love and humanity.
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