Mother love has always been seen as the original and illustrious blueprint for adult heterosexual love. But my own experiences of motherhood cannot be unique. When the first pains of the first labour struck at my back I felt, oddly, an imminent ser.se of doom. When pain ended I lay on one elbow and regarded my child. I felt nothing A vacuum of immense proportions had replaced the foetus. My bruised womb was distended with it. Numb, anaesthetized, I stared over vast distances at this small creature lying on my pillow. Day after day I searched, fumbling inside myself, to find a piece of love. And, not finding it, I felt so sad for him. I cried for him, the poor unlucky scrap.
I had my first three children before I was 25 and with a man I did not love. I could not pat myself aside in their interests because I had not yet found a self to put aside. Out there, beyond my door, the world shone and glinted, a great roundabout. The children caught at my skirts and tugged me back.Fury continually rose inside me, guilt forced it back. Love between us did not come easily.
How much less easily must it have come for my distaff ancestor, deprived of all my material comforts, for whom every day and every hour was a battle for survivaL My children threatened my mental security. Hers often threatened life itself.
My fourth and last child was born nine years after the first A lot had happened in those years.
I had left one husband, met another, suffered grief and joy, learned the hard comfort of work, the strains and satisfactions of growing independence. Now I could afford to stretch out a hand to my new infant.
People of my generation, like all generations before, have had little chance of success in love of any kind. Many of those who offer the longevity of their marriage as proof of enduring love are often only revealing their own endurance in the face of ravaging compromises and a resulting anesthesia that has left them half-way dead. They have not been true to themselves and therefore they are false to everyone else, including their children. The man has become and been allowed to become an autocrat, a tin-pot dictator in love’s police state. The woman has lowered herself to lick his jackboots. Two individuals who could have reached some stature have settled for being pygmies whose life work, now, is the similar distortion of their offspring.
Worst of all, we are given to believe that these dwarfish twosomes form the rock upon which all the rest of life is built, from the mental health of children to whole political systems. Love is all, they say. Love makes the world go round, they say. And you know it’s true love when two people remain together from youth to death. But you don’t and it doesn’t and you can’t
If love was sacrifice, we would be acknowledged geniuses of love, If it were anticipation and fulfillment of the loved one’s needs we would be love goddesses. If love meant fusion of the whole personality with the lover we would be Venus herself. But love is none of these things.
Inequality is the worry in the bud of love, the viper in all our bosoms. And a vital factor in an equal relationship is that each person within it must he able to function independently, without need of any basic kind for the other. When people talk of men and women being ‘complementary’ or being ‘two halves of a whole’ they are using pretty euphemisms for dependency. To call such a relationship love so debases the emotion that children who grow up within such a parental relationship of dependency can have no image of what love could actually be and therefore no aspirations towards it.
Take a typical couple I know. Both are intelligent, educated people, equals to all intents and purpose except in earning power. He is a geologist employed by a big oil company; she is an art historian. So what happens? Without a word being said he slowly becomes the more cosseted member of the family, deferred to by wife and children, let off domestic chores, allowed to take most of the decisions. He earns more and the winner takes all. And this couple is more equal than most.
It is a bitter irony for men that their insistence on woman’s inferiority, their refusal to grant her a place in the sun, has robbed them of the only chance they have to be loved properly. They cannot love women because they have made women unequal and forced them into all the unloving patterns of inequality. And women cannot love them because the inferior do not properly love their masters, they only prostrate themselves or live vicariously through them. Contrary to the old wives’ tales, the real joy of love lies in the knowledge that your lover could manage without you, that he or she has no need of you but simply feels a great deal happier that you are there.
With unequals you must always lie a little, if only to save them pain. Equals know that pain is part of growing and believe each other strong enough to stand what is necessary for growth. This applies as much to the minefield of outside sexual encounters as anything else. True love accepts that one person cannot provide everything for another indeed there is a kind of obscenity in the very notion. Besides, what have you gained if you force anything, even faithfulness, on another person? Their presence, perhaps, but who wants a body with a mind elsewhere? What is the point of trying to coerce what cannot be coerced? Love does not ‘allow’, permit’ or ‘forbid’ or it is not love.
Lifelong monogamy may be nice for the Church and useful for the tax collector but it has many drawbacks for the individual. Like snakes, we need occasionally to shed our old skins and often we cannot do that if we are tied by bonds of guilt to an outgrown love.
And it is becoming clear to many of us that the old stereotypes of male and female are increasingly a positive threat to the well-being of the race and the earth. Women, confined, to a domestic and biological cage, produce unwanted children to crowd an already over-populated world, while their own abilities wither on the hearth. Men, driven by out-dated standards of virility, continue to denude the planet and threaten each other with uncontemplatable war. Love between such men and such women serves only their artificial needs and seals them off in their folie a deux from the rest of the world instead of involving them more deeply as real love would do. As equality becomes commonplace between men and women they will change from stereotypes into ordinary human beings differentiated by their personalities rather than by their genitalia.
But equality is not a highly recommended method of attaining stability or stasis, either politically or in personal relationships. The drive for equality often presages chaos, disruption and unhappiness. But it is the only thing that offers creativity, growth and change the imperatives of evolution. And the macrocosm of the Outer world mirrors the microcosm of individual relationships you cannot fight for equality in the world and go home to defer to a husband or fight for equality in marriage and see nothing wrong with slavery. Equality does not guarantee happiness in love, but it is a gamble towards that happiness and not away from it.