[Nyerges is the author of such books as “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” and “Extreme Simplicity.” He teaches at Pasadena City College and through the School of Self-Reliance. He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]
NOTE: This article will appear in Awareness magazine, and has been published in the Sierra Madre Mountain News. It is part of an unpublished book by Nyerges.
One day I went to the Coffee Gallery in Altadena and started talking with my friend 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 deep 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 seems to be the exception, not the rule. One woman at a time, period. That works and other arrangements do not. Even when people try to have “open” arrangements, they all seem to fail in the long run.
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. 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 occasionally brought up the principles in the “Art of Loving” book by Eric Fromme.
I liked chatting with Michael because he was not dogmatic, and listened in a conversation as much as he talked. It was clear that when we talked, he was seeking answers as much as he was telling me his opinions.
We tried to clarify the difference between “love” and sex in a relationship, and how they are actually very different things. Michael brought up the case of a man who divorced his wife because he learned she’d had plastic surgery, and was therefore not as naturally beautiful as he’d assumed.
“The man was in love with the woman’s body,” said Michael with a bit of anger in his voice. “He wasn’t in love with the person – just her body.” Unfortunately, we both agreed that most people are hopelessly confused about this, often falling in love with a body and never really getting to know the person inside. “I mean,” said Michael, “ a meaningful relationship can’t be built on just good looks and sex. You’ve got to have a lot more going for you than that!” I agreed.
We tried to define those traits that make a good relationship. It wasn’t hard. We identified many traits that are desirable, and many that were not. We both started shouting out the traits as I tried to write them down. “You’ve gotta really like the other person,” said Michael. “And you absolutely must have some common interests, whether it’s religions, or TV shows, or exercise, or academics. Something! And I still don’t know what love is,” laughed Michael, “but I think even more than love is basic respect. You’ve got to have mutual respect.” A few people from the next table were listening, and begin to add to our lists.
Here’s what we came up with:
Things you want in a relationship:
Affinity to one other, for whatever reason.
Communication. We both agreed that men and women can barely communicate with each other because they see the world so differently. But at least – if you want a good relationship – you have to work at communication, and continue to resolve issues whenever they come up.
Caring about the relationship, per se, and working on it.
Clarification about how you deal with money.
Religion and politics: Some relationships work when there are diverse religious and political beliefs, but it is a strain. Stick to those who share your core beliefs.
Someone who shares your core beliefs about life, hygiene, use of time, etc.
Things you don’t want in a relationship:
Extreme focus on outward appearances.
Incompatability with money.
Each person always trying to be the Alpha dog.
Lack of cleanliness. Yes, we agreed that no one wants to live with a slob.
After a while, we realized that neither of us brought up that nebulous word “love,” nor did we include sex in our list. We both agreed that mutual respect is at the top of the list to cultivate, and that jealousy and possessiveness will kill any relationship.
[This essay is part of an unpublished book written by Nyerges, about growing up in Pasadena. He plans to publish it in the next few years.]