When I'm at my best, I like to think I am infusing love into all of my relationships -- those that are platonic and those that are a little more.
This means providing the people in your life with the same space and attention that you would give to a significant other.
As author bell hooks said in her book All About Love, society isn't set up to create connections. Viewing romantic love as the only kind of love out there is isolating and limiting. You can practice love and not have it be just about desire and passion.
While I think hooks probably has it all figured out, I'm nowhere near her level of wisdom. Even though I believe that love has a place practically everywhere, and that society would be a lot better off if we gave and received love more readily, I still fall head over heels into the infatuated, passionate, all-consuming kind.
No matter how much care and attention I give the people I am seeing, no matter how genuinely fond of them I may be, I feel differently about people when I love but am not in love with them. Here are some of my perceptions:
1. What You See Is What You Get
When you love somebody but aren't in love with them, it's easy to spend extended periods of time together, just the two of you. Heck, I've even invited a girl I had started seeing to come on vacation with me because I was fond of her and knew we'd have fun.
Unlike when I am deeply, passionately, infatuated-ly in love with someone, I didn't intend this gesture to stand for anything more than an invitation. I wasn't seeing it as a first step toward commitment or anything more than a week at the beach.
When I'm in love, every offer is made with a deep intention behind it. I even put playlists together with a hidden love code. That gift I gave you? Yeah, I made up a little movie imagining your reaction before handing it over.
I can't help it; I love the fantasy. Maybe that's an intense way to live, but what can I say? It's how I roll right now.
2. You're Afraid Of Disappointing Them
I consider care to be a form of love. I think that you can be kind, thoughtful, and considerate in your actions and have that be an expression of love, whether or not you are actually in love with someone.
The downside to that, though, is that often, when I show my appreciation and care for someone I am casually seeing, I worry that they'll think it's more than that.
Even though I'm not deeply in love with the person, hurting them would definitely still hurt me. That's what happens when you care about somebody.
In some ways, I guess treating a casual fling lovingly can come with as many potential land mines as being deeply in love. It's just you don't hear about it as much.
3. You're Still Guilty That You Don't Feel More
Have you ever experienced your head telling you that you ought to be super into somebody? If somebody is great, kind, considerate, and funny, and I don't feel the fireworks, then it's like a tiny, internal judge starts banging his gavel away somewhere in my head, pointing his finger at me.
"What's wrong with you?" he wants to know. "Have you forgotten how to feel?"
He reminds me of that time that I was head over heels for a punk who put on a podcast in the middle of having sex with me and was preparing to move into his van. How could I fall for that and not this?
Wait, no, I remind myself. There was nothing wrong with that guy. The podcast happened to be really great.
The reality is that nobody is obligated to your feelings at all, and you can feel as much or as little as you feel. It's easy to judge and police your own emotions, though, especially when society has taught you that you ought to be seeking a committed, deeply passionate relationship at all times.
That isn't how it really goes, though.
4. You Don't Plan For The Future
The nice thing about being in a loving arrangement with someone without being infatuated? It's easier to enjoy the time you're spending together, rather than thinking about what might happen next.
In my experience, there's often anxiety around deep, deep passion. When you're that deeply in love with somebody, then you feel like you have something to lose.
It's like love is the statue David. When I'm in love, I'm constantly worrying about an earthquake making him fall and shatter into a million pieces. When I love someone without being in love, then I can just sit back, sip a spritzer, relax, and look at Italy.
5. You Want Them To Meet Someone Great
To me, loving somebody without being in love with them means that you don't care whom they end up with, as long as their future partner treats them well. In a way, this is much more liberating than the kind of passionate romance where you want to be the person's one and only.
Some of the deepest loves in my life have been for my friends. While I know that we'll probably stay in close touch for the rest of our lives, I definitely don't expect that I'll be their primary relationship.
Sure, if we are very close, I imagine I'll probably rank them as one of the greats and vice versa. I know that nothing will replace what we have. But that doesn't mean that I would fill the same role as a love interest. It's not that I'm more or less, or that the love we have for each other is any less worthy than the kind that comes with sex. It's just different.
When you're in love with someone, though, the stakes get raised a little higher. While you might be happy for them if they meet somebody else down the road, it will definitely come with more than a tinge of pain. Unless you've moved out of being in love and just into the plain, old love zone, it might be impossible to stay friends with them, too -- self preservation and all of that.
You know, reading this list over makes me think it's better to love than be in love completely. What do you think? Let me know in the comments!