The Arithmetic of Love

The Arithmetic of Love.jpg

As you may have guessed by now, I am a bulimic reader. I binge read individual authors and then I spew forth my thoughts about said writer onto the pages of these blogs. Probably a remnant of my disordered eating days, but a lot less messy, not to mention way healthier. But I digress before I've even gotten started. Oh, well. Back to the subject at hand, or rather to begin the subject at hand, I'm coming to the end of my Jessica Sims binge. And I'm lovin' it!  But that's not the subject, either. The subject, my friends, is the arithmetic of love. Does love expand as we add to it or is love a zero sum game?

This particular contemplation was inspired by Jessica Sims' novella, Vixen, about a were-fox whose animal nature inclines her toward polyamory. In other words (and, in fact, in another language all together) ménage a trois, oo la la! Now, I'm a huge fan of Laurell K. Hamilton, and, therefore, I know a thing or three about polyamory, the love of many, for those of you who enjoy Greek etymology.  I've been riveted to my Kindle reading sex scenes featuring more than four hands and feet and more than two mouths, etc.  I must say, however, that even in fantasy, that's not how I roll. Sounds fairly confusing and overwhelming to my limited imagination, I guess. Either that or I'm just not enough woman to handle more than one man.

Having said that, however, there are clearly many out there who enjoy this sort of thing and to them I say, more power to you--which you seem to have already, given that the power is being generated by multiple sources, if you get my meaning, so good on you--wait, you seem to have that covered as well. So, maybe, bon chance! Enjoy!

But what about the rest of us?  Does the arithmetic of love apply in any way to those of us who prefer to love in single file rather than using the buddy system?  I think it does, actually. Because the issue that polyamory brings up (albeit in a more broad-minded sort of way) is whether there is room for more than one in our hearts and our lives.

This is really more than a theoretical question. In my own life, for example, my mother was definitely a zero sum love kind of person. My brother and I used to joke (not that it was really funny) about who was the favored child at any given time, as my mother seemed incapable of loving both her children simultaneously. We took turns being the object of her love (a dubious distinction, at best), and suffered the consequences of a parent whose heart could not expand along with her family. Tragic, for sure.

But not uncommon. Don't we all know people whose marriages fall apart after the first baby arrives because the father grew to resent the necessary shift of attention of the mother to the child?  Or, less drastic but still hurtful, how many of us have experienced friendships that waste away, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly when a friend finds a new boyfriend/girlfriend and the non-prefixed friends fall by the wayside?  Or, more disturbing still, when we are replaced in the hearts of a loved one by a time consuming hobby (golf widow, anyone?) or a new, demanding job?

When one person's gain is another's loss, the arithmetic of love is seriously screwed up. Give that math test a big fat F, for fallacy. Love is never zero sum, except in the minds of the tragically misinformed. As the Grinch taught us (is anyone vaguely disturbed that I make frequent reference to Dr. Seuss in a blog about reading smut, by the way?  No?  Cool, me either), our hearts expand the more love we stuff inside.

Love is most assuredly not a zero sum game and I have a special place of sadness in my heart for those who feel otherwise. There is room for romantic love, love for our children (more than one at a time, even), our friends, our pets, our passions, and, underneath it all, love for ourselves and the infinite.

Love is generative, in reality, meaning it creates--in the most literal sense that making love creates life, but, also, more analogically, love creates space in our lives for joy and new experiences and new feelings and a fullness that never ends. Love is the magic Volkswagen that never runs out of clowns.

Sometimes it seems that love is about the finite nature of time, so that we incorrectly believe that we cannot love expansively because there are just not enough hours in the day. And while my time obeys the same laws of physics as everyone else's, love is not bound by time, in fact. We can love widely, but focus selectively over time. So, it is true that a new baby demands time that used to be available to a romantic partner. And a new lover usually does take time away from existing friendships. But what demands our time should not be confused with what commands our love. Love is infinite, while time is zero sum.

Does this mean that it isn't exceptionally difficult to juggle the multiple expressions of love in our lives? No, it does not. The cosmic balancing game we must all play is really, really hard, and the rules change all the time making it even harder to play effectively. But that is what we are called to do and that is the work of a lifetime to manage. Time ebbs and flows and how we spend it so that we can attend to the multiplicity of love is a dance. And sometimes, or even often, we have two left feet and our clumsiness may hurt those we care about. But it's not a lack of love that causes our missteps in this dance, at least in theory, and this is why it is important to continually evaluate whether we are spending our time in a manner consistent with our love. And the fallacy of love as a zero sum game is the result of confusing the finite with the infinite, something we humans do altogether too often, unfortunately.

But, in the end, let’s give Paul McCartney an A for accurate, and recognize that he was mostly right--the love we get is equal to the love we give. And then some.