In the 1970s there was an awful song "Caught Between Two Lovers" about a love triangle. More commonly there is a triangle, or many sided figure of loves that encompass the complex of feelings, thoughts, words and deeds between two people in a romantic couple.
From the time in which I genuinely believed that babies appeared miraculously when mommies and daddies loved (or felt gooey feelings toward) each other, I developed a view of love that was traditional among the celibate men and women who were my role models.
Love, as I came to conceive of it in my monastic and overeducated way, was the enmeshment of the physicality of sex into the gospel's agape of Teilhard de Chardin's Cosmic Omega.* It was a pseudo-trinitarian thing, in which the love of two persons was so real that it became an actual third person.
Hence procreation, meaning the human collaboration in the continuing divine act of creation, that is, the making of something from nothing. The carnal partnership in creation was always directed to a kind of love that had a moral and other-oriented dimension: an aspect of that oh, so difficult "love your neighbor as yourself."
One loved to see the other person happy on their own terms. If you truly loved someone else, you were happy for that person's happiness even if it came with someone other than you.
I only began to grasp what loving another as much as, or even more than, oneself was about when I had children, the first human beings for whom I would have given my life without question or hesitation. The human beings to whom I gave a sizable portion of my life and what I earned, without question or conditions, until I knew they could take care of themselves and lead their lives without giving much thought to Old Dad. The human beings who despite all I have given truly owe me nothing.
I haven't really loved that way in any other context. If I had, I might have done more for many others. Given more of myself and my belongings, and so forth.
When I fell in love there was always the dimension of caring and responsibility, of giving. I did not fool myself that I loved every woman to whom I was ever attracted; nor did I fool myself that I was the most unselfish of lovers in the real love. There was lust, pure and simple; even in marriage, especially in marriage up to the late 19th century, there has always been a measure of social pressure plus convenience mixed in with the dash of romantic, other-caring love.
All these get mixed up. Toward the end in Hermann Hesse's novel "Narcissus and Goldmund," two childhood friends are reunited after having spent, on one hand a life of prayer and total giving, and on the other one of pleasure-seeking wanderlust. The monk does not shrink back when he recognizes that his friend has carved a statue of the Virgin Mary in the likeness of the first girl with whom the wanderer fell in passionate love.
In the world outside the monastery it is different.
Absent gods or a moral structure from above, knowledge or trust in anything or anyone but myself, I am an animal seeking to survive. Sex is good: it makes the heart race, the circulation improve, the attitude rise, the species continue. I have been hungry for it from every flower that offered it to me.
Wandering this world one lives are amoral little animals to whom everything is possible if it feels good. Indeed, if it feels good, it must be love. Or perhaps love is a potion to draw spouses who fit shopping lists, so that they satisfy all wants and all self-seeking.
People have an entrenched love of coupling. They have second, third and fourth spouses if they live long enough or are rich enough. Yet perhaps there is a different kind of love possible.
One that goes through lust and glückenfreude into a kind of cinematic love that is carnal yet kind, polite, educated and capable of uniting reciprocally two little bubbles into one. A love that has its element of selfishness in its survival seeking with someone who at core grasps me, my sense of being lost, of not belonging anywhere, of wanting desperately someone to clutch and witness my life and pleasure and despair.
That's very fine and good, but it is not the love conceived of in the monastery. It can't be. Love dreamed of in Hollywood is mostly makeup and sets and special effects — such as fadeouts.
After the credit rolls and the score is reprised, real life begins in the full glare of sunlight, where love is so elusive you will be forgiven for thinking it doesn't exist at all.
* Google it.