Friday, December 13, 2013

The Nature of Love and its Many Counterfeits

Christopher Nyerges

[From a book-in-progress about Nyerges’s childhood experiences. Nyerges is the author of many books, including “Enter the Forest” and “Self-Sufficient Home.”  He can be reached at or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]

One day in July of 2008, I went to the Coffee Gallery in Altadena and started talking with Michael, who was reading a book about love. Love, one of the few topics you can study your entire life and never really “get it.”

“The problem,” I told Michael, as if I knew what I was talking about, “is that we think about this way too much, whereas the animals – at least some animals – don’t think about it. They just act.  The basic fundamentals of what most of us mean by love – protection, providing food for the young, some training – are simply done without all the considering and evaluating and vacillation that humans are so famous for.”

Michael nodded.  He didn’t talk a lot but he listened, and when he spoke, he asked a question or he had a pithy comment.

We agreed upon certain things that every human should know about “love” and its many facets and tangents.  A man cannot have more than one woman at a time, whether wife or girlfriend. OK,  some try and seem to get away with it, and some are even involved in consentual polygamy.  But that is the exception, not the rule.  One woman at a time, period.  That works and other arrangements do not.  We agreed that the Masai men in Africa might have four wives there and “get away with it,” because that is the social norm.  It is done in plain view with everyone knowing that’s what’s happening.  But it won’t work here.

Don’t have sex if you’re not prepared for children.  “Hoping that she doesn’t get pregnant” is not a good protective measure.  Don’t have children until you’re ready to devote the next 15 or so years to them, as a child without involved parents is part of the formula called “How to make a criminal.”

Michael and I agreed on some of these basics, and we barely brought up the principles in the “Art of Loving” book by Eric Fromme.

I realized that much of what my parents “taught” me about this subject was due to the fact that I knew I should not follow the path that they took.  Though there was rarely a show of affection between my mother and father, at least I had a roof over my head, we didn’t move around all the time, and we were all given a good education.  My father always worked, and my mother sometimes worked as a nurse.  There seemed to be little of what we would call “romantic love” there, but at least we had the essentials handled, in a more or less stable relationship.  In other words, my brothers and I received at least as good a home life as is given to their children by the most protective of animals.  Which is more than I could say for many of our friends and their parents.

Michael and I continued to discuss why he was reading a book about “love” in the first place, and it continued to invoke memories from my childhood.  Where, for example, did I get my idea of what love is, or should be?  What did I learn from my own home?  More precisely, what didn’t I learn from home that I should have learned?

I was aware of sexual feelings and desires, though I didn’t see a solid connection between that and what I believed was some ideal of the male-female relationship, something perhaps hinted at in movies such as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and “Leave it to Beaver.”  I assumed that these examples were actually lived out somewhere in the world.

By at least age 10, I was aware that most of my older brothers hid Playboy magazines under their mattresses, or somewhere else.  These were obvious objectifications of beautiful but beyond-the-norm women, and I did not see these women in these pages as objects to be loved, only objects to be lusted after.   Though I did not actually clarify this in my mind at that time, I felt that the higher ideal of love was not the same as the emotion that my brothers felt when they were “reading” these magazines.

There were other forms of love also. In movies, I saw soldiers who died for their country.  It was a form of love – love of country so great that you would die for your country to protect your beloved homeland from foes, internal and external. 

And there was the love of the parent for the child, where you might even die to protect your helpless child from an oncoming car, for example. Clearly that was love, but not the same love that we would describe between a man and woman.

That most adults still have great confusion about the complex thing called “love” is understandable, especially if their childhood experience was anything like mine.

I do remember one Friday night when we were watching TV in the living room – I was maybe in first or second grade – and somehow the very loose and bantering conversation got around to whether or not I knew “where babies came from.”  I was the  youngest, so obviously was the last to know everything.  Gilbert seemed to have a snicker on his face, like he was part of some inside joke.  Tom laughed a little.  OK, what was the joke?  I didn’t respond.

But they kept it up for reasons unclear to me, and after 30 or 40 minutes, my mother asked me to come over into the dining room.  My brothers chuckled. What was so funny?  I already knew where babies came from – from their mothers, right?  So what was the big joke?

In retrospect, my mother was probably trying to find a way to inform me about the details of sexual intercourse, prodded on by my brothers.  But, rather, she simply showed me some medical pictures in a medical book, which showed pregnant women with swollen bellies. She spoke about how pregnancy took nine months, and what happens when the baby actually comes out.  It all sounded very messy, and after it was clear that I was sufficiently bored, she let me go back and watch the Alfred Hitchcock hour, without ever even hinting at that thing that the man and woman do intimately in the bedroom which starts the whole ball rolling.

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