An Interesting Reflection on Casual Love

Everyone seems to have their own opinion on love, a word so loaded with meaning and interpretation that it’s no wonder that it continues to elicit so much confusion and emotion across history and society. But every so often I come across a fairly engaging and insightful musing on the subject, such as the one expressed by indie jazz musician Carsie Blanton on her blog. It’s a somewhat long and interesting read that I highly recommend, but the following is the crux of her point:

There are advantages to separating the wacky, butterflies-in-the-gut, unpredictable feeling of “love” from the ideally rational, cool-headed decisions and agreements of “commitment”. For one: love is just not a good enough reason to commit to somebody (trust me, I’ve tried). You need a few other ingredients: mutuality, compatibility, and availability, for starters.
The big advantage for the lover is that falling in love will feel less scary, life-threatening, and crazy-making. As long as love is theoretically reserved for people whom you want to date and possibly marry, falling in love will be confusing and dramatic. If we interpret this particular set of feelings and thoughts as an epic, life-changing event, we’ll have no choice but to get really, really attached to our beloved. We’ll throw a lot of expectations at them (“Love me back! Love me only! Love me forever!”), and feel hurt and resentful if the feeling is not mutual. We’ll imprint upon them like baby ducks, and resolve to stick with them through thick and thin, through hell or high water, through abuse and neglect and lies and bickering and frustration and mutually-assured destruction, whether or not it brings us (or anyone else) any kind of joy.
The big advantage for the beloved is that being loved will feel less like an attack, and more like a gift. The little-discussed fact is that it’s super uncomfortable to be loved when the feeling is not mutual (see my song Please). So uncomfortable, in fact, that many of us would rather act like callous, cold-hearted assholes than be in the same room as the person who loves us. We panic, we get distant, we deny any interest or care for the other person, we stop returning their texts. But that’s not an aversion to love, or to the lover; it’s the attachment and expectation being hurled in our direction with such intensity. If love was casual, we could take it as a high compliment, say “thanks!”, and feel some warm fuzzies. We might also begin to feel some compassion for our lover (who, after all, has a stomach full of butterflies and can’t eat or sleep very well), which might allow us to make better and kinder decisions about how to respond.
If love was casual, perhaps it wouldn’t collide into our sense of identity or our plans for the future at such high velocity. It wouldn’t feel so personal. If it’s not mutual, so what? If it doesn’t turn into a relationship, so what? I have feelings and desires all the time that go unsatisfied. Sometimes (okay, a lot of times), late at night, I want Chef’s Perfect Chocolate ice cream, but Creole Creamery closes at 10pm. Do I panic? Do I call Creole Creamery and leave a series of desperate messages? Do I curl into a ball and lament that without Chef’s Perfect Chocolate, I am a broken person who is not worthy of ice cream? No. I deal. I feel my feelings, whine a little if I need to, and go without. Like a grown-ass woman.
And here’s my favorite part: if love is casual — not something rare and dramatic and potentially painful, but something common and easy and mutually enjoyable — we all get to feel more love, and share more love.
As usual of late, I sadly don’t have the time to weigh in much further, although I will say that I’ve felt very enriched to have large and diverse individuals that I would consider loved ones. There’s a certain taboo about using the word love so loosely and broadly, and I can understand how it might seem odd or even cheapening of the concept.
But in a world where we encounter and interact with more and more people than every before, I feel it’s untenable to restrict your platonic and romantic aspirations to just one or a few people for life. So many more individuals come and go and we find ourselves making unexpected connections with someone new regularly — whether online or in person — that try as we might, we still find ourselves changing up and/or expanding our existing circle of loved ones.
Obviously, we can only have so many people to love — due to lack of time, emotional investment, etc — but as Blanton notes, the wider we expand our circle of compassion to include baseline kindness and consideration, the easier it will be to deal with the inevitable changes and losses in our relationships that occur throughout our lives. It’s chaotic, stressful, unpredictable, and at times maddening, but it’s also quite a lot of fun and education along the way.
I’m not sure if I’m making any sense — that’s love for you — but as always, please give your two cents.
Hat tip to my friend Miri for first sharing this article.