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Snake on: Keeping Love Alive

Intimacy is a skill that takes a lifetime to master, says our columnist ahead of April's Zoomcast.

Schedule Saturday 24 April in your diary for our Zoomcast ‘Keeping Love Alive’ at 4pm. All welcome: click here to register and receive the Zoom call link.

Love’s habitat is enormous and spans the broad expanse of an entire lifetime. Feeding a creature that continually changes shape makes keeping love alive a challenge. Few predators threaten love: yet it’s wise to keep an eye out for bitterness, resentment and fear.

Throughout history, philosophers have endeavoured to define love. Their efforts have been largely an exercise in futility; simply because love thrives in a free-range environment and suffers in captivity. Love prefers the taste of the human heart above all else and remains the most tender, yet ferocious, creature known to man or woman.

A common reductionist view is to singularly envision romance when love is mentioned. And there’s no question that, arriving at the intersection of attraction, desire and novelty, romance can trigger a chemical brainstorm of epic proportion. All the pleasure drugs found in the brain assemble for duty. Flooded with dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins, our bodies become so eager to conspire, it’s nearly impossible to resist the pull.

An invigorating experience, the initial heat of romance has a short lifespan and perhaps it’s for the best. A merciful process, in that to live full-time at the intersection of attraction, desire and novelty is not only unrealistic, but attempting to sustain this high level of intensity is certain to burn out all our circuits.

Romance wanders into our lives a cute fluffy puppy, and rapidly grows into a rather large rangy dog. Nurtured, fed and maintained romance continues long after the flames die down. But make no mistake, romance will evolve as novelty becomes familiarity.

There’s little need to panic or throw your hands up in despair. Romance and passion survive if nurtured. One of many gateways into the landscape of love, romance remains a delightful place to visit but not a final destination. When brain chemistry stabilises and the hazy fog of romance begins to clear, the ‘chop wood, carry water’ aspect of life comes back into focus.

Daily responsibilities and the realities of work, food and shelter place demands on fresh love, and refuse to be ignored or neglected. Grieve the puppy if you must, then take the adult dog for a walk.

Within a primary relationship we discover the motivation to keep love alive. Safety and security become a shared endeavour and no longer a solitary action. Commitments begin to intertwine and we grow interdependent. Love requires sacrifice, generosity and negotiation, yet needn’t be a slog through the mud.

‘Familiarity breeds contempt.’ This unfortunate although often true statement is a challenge many relationships confront. But contempt is a choice.

Loving relationships are rarely equal so it’s meaningless to keep a ledger. The most enduring relationships are reciprocal. With effort love softens the loss of novelty and replaces it with intimacy.

Familiarity also breeds security, comfort. It feeds the human desire for connection. Best navigated with emotional generosity, intimacy promises love an opportunity to flex its muscles. The give-and-take quality required of intimacy remains a feature of love with a reach greater than simple compatibility.

Consider the following…

Are you free to communicate honestly and feel understood?
Are you accepted in the present as you are?
Are you at ease sharing insecurities and dreams?
Are you genuinely seen, understood and appreciated?
Are you independent yet not alone or disconnected?
Are you able to respect differences and learn from them?
Are you willing to freely offer encouragement and support growth?
Are you accountable and willing to hold others accountable with compassion?
Are you vulnerable and reliable?

As intimacy evolves we increase our capacity to give and receive love. Certainly within a primary relationship, yet if we peer deeper all relationships promise fertile ground for growth.

Love provides endless opportunities. In addition to primary relationships and friendships we lavish love on children, literature, sailing, sports and an endless variety of passionate interests. A close friend is passionate about feeding people he cares for. He loves to cook and feeding others is a delicious expression of his love. I visit often… seems the least I can do.

Love is never all unicorns and rainbows. Hard times challenge and test our capacity for love as well as our individual appetite for anger, resentment and contempt. Alone or within a relationship, aimed at another human or fuelling an external passion, love may be humbled yet rarely defeated. In skinny times love even has the mysterious ability to sustain itself and thrive on the gristle and bone of loss, grief and heartbreak.

There exists a master’s class in the care and feeding of love. When we stepped into love’s habitat we unwittingly enrolled. The curriculum includes the heat of romance, the maturing of intimacy and meagre meals provided by loss or heartbreak.

The master’s class builds on the external expression of love by transforming it into an internal expression. Go figure, we feed this shape-shifting creature called love and unexpectedly come to realise we’ve gained the raw skills to also nurture, accept and love ourselves.

I’m of the belief the effort invested in keeping love alive gives birth to an internal and external maturing process. Either coincidental or by design the process is interdependent and informed by experience. If I edit my previous list slightly, the internal process of intimacy can be examined:

I accept myself in the present.
I freely communicate honestly and feel understood.
I share insecurities and dreams.
I am seen, understood and appreciated.
I am independent yet not alone or disconnected.
I willing offer encouragement and support growth.
I am accountable and hold others accountable with compassion.
I respect differences and learn from them.
I am vulnerable and reliable.

When we discover the confidence to speak both lists with authority and integrity, we can be assured keeping love alive, internal and external is well underway. Over the course of a lifetime we strive to approach our friends and lovers with kindness and a generous heart. We learn to love ourselves in the process.

The master’s class never ends. Keeping love alive remains the journey of a lifetime.

26th April 2021

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