All our Ideas about Love
The midterm elections are upon us and I’m tempted get your attention by talking about rape culture and how feminists and especially lesbians in the ‘70s and ‘80s were the first to expose forms of sexual abuse like incest and harassment and to name them as crimes and how the whole culture changed as a result (though obviously not enough). It would be a great way to lead in to my memoir In Search of Pure Lust which appeared in June and is on one level a chronicle of the lesbian movement of the 70s and 80s. But right now, as furious as I am about the violence against women being sanctioned by this administration, I’d rather talk about another layer of the book—the love part, or more accurately the failed love part—because 1) it’s actually the heart of the book and 2) though it’s been really really gratifying to hear from readers that the book helped them remember a time that was so important to them and to the world, nothing ever felt as good as this response that just came in:
After finishing the book I took a long walk and found that the muscles behind my heart were more open and flexible than usual, and that the colors and textures of the plants along the sidewalk seemed more vibrant and alive. I listened to LP’s ‘Lost on You’ while I walked and it seemed to shake the intelligence of my cells alive. Felt like your book gave me the permission to remember what I know-I-know and feel-I-feel about Love, self and world. This is where all my writing, creativity and power comes from. Thank you!
“Gave me permission to remember what I know-I-know and feel-I-feel about Love, self and world.” YES! This was exactly what I wanted readers to come away with, without ever having really known it. Because for about fifty years I wandered around feeling like a total misfit, like I had no idea how to do what seemed so fucking easy for everyone else: to love. This didn’t matter so much when I was trying to love men. But women! I was a feminist and a lesbian—not being able to love the women I was lovers with, not in any lasting way, not in a way that inspired trust, felt like the worst kind of hypocrisy, like a black mark on my soul. And in my book I tried to track these failures in love, which, after I came out at age 25, lasted for a good fifteen years. I kept falling and staying in love with women who were either not interested, or mean, or straight (“I’m just not a lesbian”) and falling out of love with the ones who were kind and interested (imagined writing a book called Two’s a Crowd). “Get a life” I once said to a lover when we were on vacation and she felt like just hanging with me and I felt like just reading. I could see how it hurt her. I felt sick sick sick.
Astrologers and psychics were helpful, they said I didn’t have a chart for those kinds of relationships, for intimacy, or that wasn’t my main mission in this lifetime, which at least helped me to stop blaming myself. But damn I wanted to love and be loved and I craved intimacy… what was I to do?
I started spending long hours sitting on a cushion in a Zen center. I spent many hours in therapy. I took a good hard look at myself. I got to know more about my own needs and desires—and I stopped judging them. I began to see that when it comes to love most of us are ruled by a bunch of myths and constructs that often have little to do with our lived experience, “the perfect fit” being one of them (a heterorelational legacy of tab A fitting into slot B?). And that sometimes it’s enough to overthrow those constructs to remove the onus of failure. As I write in the last chapter of my book: All our ideas about love. What it looks like, feels like. After a lifetime of doubt to discover: there are infinite versions.
To make peace with my own.
And to find someone to love! In my case, that someone was an astrologer—no coincidence there. It took some time, but she grew to accept me as I am. And I her. We don’t celebrate anniversaries but if we did we would have just celebrated twenty-five years—of partial togetherness and a blessed, if very imperfect, union.
Lise’s memoir In Search of Pure Lust was released in June in both the U.S. and Canada. She is founding editor of the online journal Dark Matter: Women Witnessing and teaches in the Goddard Graduate Institute. Born in Chicago, she moved to Montreal in 1990. You can find out more about her at http://www.liseweil.com