Love is hard. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something, a liar, or living a double life where they tell a variety of people they love them, only to go home to a different person and say the same damn thing. Ok that may have been a gross overstatement, may have been a bit harsh, but still, I stand by the opening line in this Signal Fire. Love is hard. LovING can be easy, the verb of the thing can be effortless and beautiful and smooth sailing on calm seas. It can be, sure, but love, the noun of it, I’ll be damned if it’s not work, if it’s not a challenge, if it’s not something that stretches the confines of your little heart, the borders of your patience, the capabilities of your empathy. I realized, after writing my essay last week about Autism, and what it’s like from my perspective living as a person who is autistic, that while I’ve written dozens of poems on it, and probably a few of these Signal Fire newsletters, it’s been a long time since I just said the obvious: Loving ME, the verb of the thing, is probably really hard at times. Love, three times now I say this, is hard.
Why, dear Tyler, why do you say love is hard? First, it just is, so don’t argue with me. Second, and on an actual and serious note, I say that love is hard for a very simple and specific reason. Loving someone, and therefore love in general, is simple when said seas are all smooth and the sailing is easy, when they are beautiful and new and fresh and the little wrinkles, the little cracks in their veneer haven’t started to show. Loving someone at the start of all things is a torrent, a strange whirlpool blending of lust and infatuation, of adoration and what can only be described as a teenage-like crush. We see those we find and that feel good that they are perfect, devoid of all defect, that they are custom made by the heavens above to fit into the precise spaces we’ve found lacking in ourselves. Time, the great equalizer, proves otherwise, and we begin to see that they too are human beings just as we are, that they struggle with things we struggle with, and more, with things we haven’t even imagined as issues. They have problems with trust, with intimacy, with freedom, with feeling tied down, just as we do. They have baggage they’ve been carrying all Their lives too, filled up and sat on to get the zipper closed by everyone they’ve ever let inside the tiny hotel they call a heart. They do because we do, we do because they do, and the truth of the matter is, we’re all broken and bent and damaged in some way, the truth is, we won’t always be our shiniest selves, we won’t always be joyful and carefree and easy to love. This, is where the truth I opened comes in…love is hard, because the need to love those we love becomes hardest, and also the most vital, when they least deserve it. In short, when they are hardest To love.
As my haiku I’ll close out this essay with says, love begins at the bottom. Here, at this bottom, beyond anything that could reasonably be called reasonable at all, here, where we’re tested and the word “goodbye” is already bringing our lips forward and our throat up to whisper out the guttural G sound, is where love begins, because it’s precisely here, where it either becomes love, or it shows itself as the transitory and ephemeral something else, that it always was. Perhaps lust, perhaps infatuation, perhaps the therapeutic clinging to someone else that feels like the opposite of all we’ve been feeling up to that point. Whatever the case may be, it’s at the bottom, just beyond what’s reasonable, that it begins to shape itself, begins to announce itself like fancy guest to fancy ball, some long scroll in the hands of some wigged announcer, declaring us fit to enter the festivity.
Should it say in voice proud and loud, LOVE, should it say it without wavering or shaking, oof, then the work truly begins. A note, as I venture deeper into this pit I’m digging: When I speak of love as hard, I hope it’s absurdly obvious that the fact that it’s hard in no way, shape, or form, speaks to its worthiness of being difficult, or of whether or not we should still pursue it. Now that I’ve said that, and made it obvious that I still, after all this time, believe that Love is the reason for all things, it’s the reason we’re here, the reason we fight, the reason we toil, the reason we get up each day. When broken down and reduced, Love is the center of all things, and as such, deserves every ounce of its difficulty, of the work it requires. Love is the fickle green plant that needs just the right amount of water, sunlight, and care, to keep growing. Love is the thing we have to work to not kill off and dump in the bin when it becomes too much. Burns our throat when we say it, freezes our brains like popsicle on summer day when we devour it as we do, but good gravy, it’s worth the ice cream headache.
Before long, when we allow love in like late night knocker on a once silent door, it’ll show itself for what it is. Love will put its feet up on the desk, forget the coaster when it sets its drinks down on your coffee table, it’ll drink out of the carton, take the last slice of pizza, and blast music at 3:32am. Love will let the dog out with the fence unlatched, it’ll kiss your sister and then lie about it, it’ll poop in your shoe then blame it on the dog it lost. Love is exhausting, it’s blistering in its heat and honesty, it’s that houseplant we had no idea would require as much TLC, it’s the dog we got when the pandemic started that can’t quite stop being a puppy, if in behavior only. Trouble is, we know, the entire time we’re falling into it, the entire time we’re surrounded by it, that it’s positively worth it. Trouble is, we’re built for love, for loving, and no matter how hard it gets, when it’s right, we’ve no choice but to do the work.
Love, true love, lives there, at the bottom when those we love have pushed every button and tested every patience. The challenging truth of life is that when we commit to loving someone, the need to love them with the most fervor and intensity is at its most vital at the exact moment they make us want to cut ties and vanish into the long dark night. Anywhere but here, we tell ourselves. I urge you, any who have been there, to look at those you love, and ask yourself if you’re capable of that, for them, of support when it’s the hardest choice you can make.
Sometimes, when we do cut those cords and say goodbye, casting them off to sail their own rough seas on their own, time again the great equalizer, shows us that perhaps it wasn’t really love, at all. I am a firm believer that those who come into and out of our lives do so at the moments they were always supposed to, that we’re given people of all different levels of our own capacity for intimacy and caring, and that everyone has a different role to play. Some are worth the fight, for us, some, are not. For those that are, this is why I say, and will always say, Love is hard, because love is supposed to be hard. It’s the fight, the constant fight to keep that flame steady, to keep those green leaves growing, that show us not what love is made up of, but what we are.
Here, at the bottom, just beyond what’s reasonable, we’re asked to love. Whether or not we answer that call speaks to who we are, speaks to the connection we share with who it’s calling for, and is one of the defining reasons we are here. I know loving me is tough, I know it’s work, and I know it’s worth it. For those that keep it up, loving me hardest when I least deserve it, I can only offer a simple promise:
I will always do the same.
Here at the bottom
beyond what’s reasonable,
is where love begins.