I love you Keanu Reeves. This may seem like the hyperbole of a fan who is a little too into a celebrity, and had I said this two years ago, it would have been true. But I love you in the same way I love Alan Watts (who, funnily enough has made me feel the loss of never knowing my father in a way that my biological father never was able to). It is the same way I love my chosen family, regardless of whether we share blood or not. It notin the same way that I love my husband, who is the person who helped me realize what love really is. It’s not the same way because love can have many expansions that make us experience it differently. Love is a force that manifests in so many different ways depending on which expansion we experience it with. Some expansions are better, some are worse. Sometimes the expansions that some people enjoy are completely impossible to grasp for others. Some expansions lead us to do horrible, horrible things in the name of love. Some expansions turn love to hate. But at the core of each expression of love, regardless of expansion, whether it’s for a romantic partner, a mother, a brother, a sister, a friend so close you consider them family regardless of whether they are human or not, a love for telling stories, going on adventures, your favorite book or song or movie or artwork – at the core of each such experience a is a pure, unconditional love that transcends time and space. I know that it transcends time and space, because of Oliver Sacks. I love him too. I never had the opportunity to tell him like I tell you, because I didn’t know of him until Radiolab dedicated an episode to him after his death. Yet in the stories of his life, which he shared generously and kindIy, I found a comfort and guidance in a way only a truly kind and wise person can provide. He has been an important mentor for me and although we’ve never met, my love for him transcends time (and therefore space, since earth hurls through space at a staggering 621 miles per second towards the Great Attractor, which means that both you and I have travelled at least 1863 miles just since this story started).
What is love? I’m sorry if I gave you an earworm, but I believe that Haddaway actually answered his own question in that 90’s song. At least partially. It’s in the chorus: “what is love? baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more”. You see, “no more” implies that Haddaway has been hurt before, perhaps even by the same person he is asking the question of, yet Haddaway asking the question implies that he is ready to trust the person not to hurt him again. And trust is an expansion that makes love that much more accessible. Trust is a scaffolding on which love grows, and once you experience enough love, it becomes a scaffolding on which trust can grow, if you just let it. Passion is a scaffolding for love too, but in my experience, unless you add some other expansion, it tends to fade and the love that was spiring on it fades with it.
I learned this from my husband and our open relationship. It may seem controversial, the notion that an open relationship can strengthen the love, and perhaps it is. Perhaps it didn’t strengthen our love for each other, perhaps it just allowed us to experience more of it. Passion was the scaffolding on which our love grew. It took about twenty minutes from us shaking hands in a bar until we were making out, and not much longer until we sat in a cab on the way back to my place. The passion was strong enough for us to quit our jobs and find new ones on another continent, which in turn implicitly added the expansion of trust, which let even more love grow. Then, one day, we had an awkward discussion about trying an open relationship. We agreed that we wanted to try. It wasn’t as much adding trust, as testing the scaffolding of love and trust that we had built so far. Would it hold this additional expansion, or would it implode into a black hole that not even love could escape? It seemed to hold, but I was afraid at looking at it too closely, as if examining it would be like observing the state of a quantum wave, which is changed by simply the action of observing it. But although love may well be a quantum phenomenon, it does not seem to behave like a quantum particle in this specific regard. I didn’t dare look, afraid that I the inspection would reveal an expiry date on our love. But on our fifth anniversary I realized that it wasn’t just my imagination, my love for Mike really grew more and more each year. It was a phenomenon that I’ve seen in movies and read about in books, where love between romantic partners just grows as time goes on, but I wasn’t sure I would ever experience it. This made my curiosity stronger than my fear, and when I looked at the core of our love, I saw us. Me and him. Even though we could enjoy the expansions “passion”, “physical attraction” and “horniness” with others, after every experience we returned to each other. I returned because he is who he is, not because he forced me to. He returned to me out of his own free will, although he had the freedom not to. If I returned to him because I saw something that a great body and a gorgeous face cannot replace, that meant that he saw that same ineffable thing in me. The thing that made me worthy of loving in a way that transcends a very profound physical expression of love (profound at least to our species and our current culture). When I realized that he saw that ineffable thing in me, I saw it in myself too. I realized that I had started to discover it about three years before we met, but just like a sailor that sees the tip of an iceberg for the first time, I didn’t realize how much more there was to it.
In order for me to get closer to love, I had to take off some of the burden we put on our romantic partners today: they’re supposed be your best friend, your best lover, the best parent, your safety and comfort and emotional support, but we want danger and excitement too! Most of us want monopoly on some of these things, and some of us on all of them. But in many relationships, you can’t fulfill all the sexual needs of your partner, just like a single song – no matter how beautiful and amazing – can fulfill all musical needs.
There’s a name for the different types of sex you have with a stranger (adrenaline sex) and with someone you love and know (oxytocin sex). One entails the thrill of exploring something new, of trusting a potential stranger with your body and your desires, of not knowing exactly what will happen – or even if it will happen, of fulfilling sexual fantasies that in their very nature require strangers. The other is a vitalizing and deepening of a bond, a deeper exploration of a territory you know and love, of discovering and appreciating the changes of that territory, perhaps even discovering areas neither of you knew were there. In my experience, most people have need for both, some have more need for either, and some have need for neither.
One of the first quotes that I can remember hearing as a kid, that stuck with me to this day is “if you love somebody, set them free”. It turned out to be true for me, because looking at our love without the need to own any aspect of Mike allowed me to see that he didn’t need a cage, however golden it was, to stay by my side. This made me realize that I love him unconditionally. Even if he broke up with me today, I would not be angry. I would be heartbroken, but I know that he is capable of knowing what makes him happiest, and this is where love and happiness can be expressed in simple math: his happiness is just as important to me as mine. If he doesn’t want to stay with me, there would be no happiness in the relationship for either of us. Better that one of us is happy, than that both are miserable. Realizing that if-you-love-somebody-set-them-free-love is the same as unconditional love, I realize that my concept of love had been incomplete all my life.
We never talked about love at home. There was so much love, but the words “I love you” were never uttered, and so I never connected that feeling to my conscious concept of love. I built most of my concept of love through pop culture. But love is ineffable, it cannot be explained, only experienced. This is what the Oracle meant when she told Neo “No one can tell you your’re in love, you just know it. Through and through. Balls to bones.”. Love is at its core ineffable, but different expansions make it more tangible. The expansion “lust” is arguably the most common one in pop culture. It is so common, that scenes of romance and lust have become a shorthand for makers of movies and tv-series when they want to show just how much love two characters feel for each other. Who can blame them? Passion and lust can be powerful manifestations of love. This is why many major religions try to control them. They require celibacy from their clergy, and shame everyone else by calling “lust” and “passion” sins in all cases except in monogamous relationships sanctioned by said religion. Even if we call ourselves secular, we still suffer the effects of it: marriage is still the gold standard of relationships and therefore of love (perhaps only surpassed by the love between a child and a parent). Marriages trump friendship. When someone asks “are you guys dating?” about you and a friend, chances are you’ll say “no, we’re just friends”. Imagine answering “no, we’re just married” when someone asks if you and your spouse are friends.
Creating hierarchies of relationships based on love also creates the illusion that love is finite, that we each have a fixed amount of love to give. “I love you with all my heart” is an symptom of that. If I love you with all my heart, how can I possibly love someone else? It is an illusion, but illusions are real if enough people believe in it. Look at gold. It has few practical applications outside electronics and medicine, yet it is expensive because people believe it is valuable. It is valuable because it is finite. Most things get less valuable the more of them there are, and perhaps this is what lies at the heart of the illusion of love being finite: if I feel as much love for you as I do for Mike, then either I’m a liar, a delusional fan who doesn’t love my husband with “all my heart” or I have devalued love. But love is not finite, it is not a zero-sum game.
Love is like a campfire, its warmth and light is not diminished by someone joining you by it. But unlike a campfire, which has limited room around it, each person who truly loves becomes a campfire themselves, and now we have two campfires with room for even more people, who in turn can expand the light and warmth to even more people.
We all have a deep, profound, unlimited capability of feeling love for ourselves, for each other, for our planet and for our universe, but in our current society, where it’s manly to suppress your feelings, to be alpha-as-fuck and replace love with fear or terror, where emotions are considered to be feminine and therefore less valuable, we are taught not to practice love, unless it’s for ourselves or our immediate families. The less we practice it, the weaker our link to it gets, leaving a void that we try to fill with money, trinkets and things. But things cannot fill that void, because the void is infinite and things aren’t. It takes something infinite in itself, like love, to fill an infinite void. But how can something that is so abundant have such high value? Because of spacetime. We have limited time, and therefore we can only give so much of our infinite love in a lifetime. Space and time separate us, and love is togetherness. Love is oneness.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
Love is ineffable. We can only express it through our words and actions, and kindness and generosity are actions of love. Fame and riches are trials for kindness and generosity, and therefore for love, and there are countless examples of people whose love, generosity and kindness were crushed under the burden of fame and riches. Perhaps this is why you are such a beacon of hope, because your kindness and generosity of spirit seem to have survived both tragedies, fame and riches. There are so many examples of you acting kindly to people, of being generous that it has inspired a whole subreddit called Keanu Being Awesome, where 131 000 other people find kindness in the universe, and inspire each other to be more kind, generous and awesome through memes of you. I know, because I am one of those people. Actions are contagious, and your actions have inspired me to be more kind. You are like that campfire that has fueled thousands of other campfires, including mine. So even if we’re separated by spacetime, and even if we never meet, I love you Keanu Reeves. I don’t know if you smoke weed, and I don’t have a bucket list, but if I had one, smoking a joint with you would be high on that list.
And you, friend, who has listened to this declaration of love, I love you too. I hope your dreams are filled with love. Sleep well, until you wake up.