I had something of an epiphany recently. I was thinking about love, something I do surprisingly often considering I denounce it at every opportunity. But I was driving and certainly listening to the radio which inevitably was a song about love--goodness knows no one seems to write about anything but.
Regardless of the trigger, I was thinking about love. And I realized as I thought and drove that I sort of feel about love how I felt about god around age 11.
As a kid I believed in god in that vague sort of way children do when they don't bother to really think about what they're believing in. I used to pray at night like most kids, which is roughly like writing a letter to Santa. "Please God, bring me a Barbie Dreamhouse, bring me breasts, bring me some pancakes in the morning, and by the way bless Mom and Dad." I believed someone was listening and that if I prayed often enough or hard enough that I would get what I wanted.
I remember that slipping away. It wasn't one big shocker like my house burning down and my entire family dying and being left on the street to live in a box and crying that there couldn't possibly be a god because no god would let such a thing happen. It was more gradual, a series of nights of praying when I actually began to think about what I was doing and who I thought I was really talking to.
I don't think my belief completely went away for another year or two as I continued thinking about it. I mean, what was the likelihood of there being some guy up in the sky who had magical powers (though they were never called or considered that--I actually might have believed more if someone told me that God was a mutant like the X-Men) and created the world in 7 days, or wait, it was 6, right?, and he rested on the last one which is why the Sunday paper is so big so he had something to keep him busy, is that it?
Anyway, I'd learned enough about fossils and the age of the world and evolution and, well, science in general, that the whole god thing just seemed increasingly unlikely. I even explored the other options, reading about Greek gods and Roman gods and Buddhism and talked to Catholic friends and Mormon friends and Jewish friends (well, the one Jewish girl in my school) and everything I learned just seemed equally unlikely.
Then there was Jesus. Man, he was a good story, I have to admit. But also the hardest one to swallow. I mean, this chick is suddenly pregnant and says it's God's son but she's never had sex (good cover by the way, of course no one would believe it these days). Then the kid's born, he's somehow (again) magical and heals people and changes water to wine. Then he's killed "for our sins" which I still don't really get after all these years. Then he magically rises back up. Then there's the hooker with the heart of gold he loves (very Julia Roberts) thrown in for added sensationalism and the incredibly gory way he dies--quite the blockbuster book. If someone wrote it today it might be a bestseller. But I don't think a third of the world's population would join a religion based on its tales.
Once the faith left me for good--I was maybe 13 or so--I used to have conversations and occasional arguments with friends about religion, specifically with a Catholic friend I had when I was 16. We would talk for hours about religion, arguing all its points, with neither of us technically coming out the winner. His arguments always came down to faith. There's just really no fact that you can argue when it comes to religion. You believe or you don't. And I didn't. It sometimes made me sad. I saw the strength he had from his faith. I wished things could be easier for me, that I could look to a book or a priest to tell me where to stand on moral issues. But I just didn't have it. I dug down, looking for it, wondering if there was some residue of faith left. It was gone.
It never came back. I'm 32 now and haven't felt that faith in God again and I'm no longer sad about it. I'm happy with myself and my moral center--even when it occasionally tips a bit. I've gotten by ok without killing anyone or committing most of the deadly sins or 10 Commandments or whatever. I even dated a Catholic and wasn't struck down. Though I occasionally wished he would be.
But that absence of faith in God, that feeling that there was something I didn't have that the majority of people did, has always been a little odd to me. I wouldn't call it an emptiness because that suggests I'm somehow incomplete. It's just as if I'm constantly walking around without underwear when everyone else in the world is wearing it. It's not that I miss the underwear but I'm aware that I don't have it on. And there's a small part of me that wonders if there's something wrong with me because I'm not wearing underwear and that it doesn't really bother me that I'm not wearing it.
So as I drove, literally if not metaphorically wearing underwear as it happens, and listening to the radio and the love song, I thought about how my feelings about love have changed drastically in the last couple of years. I used to be a true believer. It was probably the one thing that I had the most faith in. I never doubted, from the date of my first romantic feeling, that love was real and I would have it. In fact, there was probably a time when my God faith and love faith overlapped and I prayed to God for love.
And I've had love. I've had it verifiably twice. And I feel that I worshipped at its altar dutifully. I embraced it fully. I offered it sacrifices. Too many sacrifices really. And even when love let me down, I still believed in it. I didn't blame the church, I blamed the parishioners.
Since the last time I was in love, ostensibly 2 years ago, honestly probably a year or two longer than that, I've thought a lot about love. I would lie in bed imagining love and the future, and I started to think about what I was doing and who I was imagining. I'd always taken love on faith, that it would come in time, when the right person and place and time intersected. And it had happened twice, so I assumed it would happen again. There was a time when I believed everyone had only one real love in their life but I'd long outgrown that--so I thought it would come.
I've lived alone for the last year and a half, enjoying being single. After 5 years of very little time to myself, of sharing a bed, of having to discuss with someone my plans for every day, of negotiating which TV shows to watch and what music to listen to; I embraced the freedom. I slowly began to expand--that's the way it felt. I'd been constricted, rubber bands of relationship around every part of me and my life. The bands broke more slowly than the relationship, waiting for me to realize they didn't belong on me anymore, waiting for me to snip them off or simply expand beyond their breaking point.
I expanded into my life. I went out often, to movies alone or with friends, to bars or clubs sometimes with friends, to restaurants by myself, to the ocean, shopping, wherever. I would decide where to go in the morning when I woke up then go there. There was no middleman--no one saying he'd rather go for a hike, no one saying you can't see that movie--I wanted to see it with you, no one saying anything but me. I didn't miss what had been--I didn't miss being in a relationship--I didn't miss being in love.
Time passed and I wasn't solo the whole time. But I didn't feel love. I haven't felt love in a long time--not romantic love. I love my family, I love my friends, I love my cat, I love my apartment (though I hate my landlord). There's plenty of love in my life. But not the big L, the big Love. And I always thought I would miss it.
Over time I've analyzed it--Love--and thought about it in the same way I deconstructed God. It's this thing that seemingly everyone in the world wants, longs for, looks for, embraces. People worship it--it's the most important thing in so many peoples' lives. Most music is about it, possibly most of the movies are about it, thousands of books about it--not to mention specifically how to get it; then the dating websites, dating phone lines, newspaper personals... It's absolutely everywhere--everyone wants to get Love.
But why do we want it? Because it's what we've been taught since birth--like religion. We're supposed to believe, we're supposed to know deep down that it's the most important thing and we're supposed to find it, believe in it, embrace it, worship it, and get married. Everything else should be secondary. Even, arguably, God--though really they should co-exist, thus the marriage ceremony in a church.
A friend of mine tried to argue that it's biological--that Love is part of our genetic make-up, to make us reproduce and ensure the continuation of the species. That doesn't track, since Love may often lead to reproducing but it doesn't necessarily work the other direction. You can reproduce without Love; sex doesn't have to involve Love at all. We may have a biological need for sex, but I don't think Love has anything to do with our genes.
I think we look for it because it's what we've been taught to want. And when we find it, or even when we think or hope we've found it, it feels good--like a drug. It makes us want more. So that even if it goes away, we start looking for it again.
I stopped looking. I tossed aside my youthful learning and decided, good as it sometimes feels, that Love isn't the most important thing. That in fact I seem to be a lot happier without it. I've lost the desire to find it and it doesn't really bother me.
But now here I am without underwear again. People ask me if I'm dating anyone and if I simply say no, I see sadness even sometimes pity on their faces. Everyone around me is in a relationship and I'm the freak or sadsack for being single. I have to explain how happy I am, how much I enjoy my freedom, how I don't need a man to feel complete. But they believe, they're members of the cult, and I don't think they ever really buy it.
And I wonder if I really buy it, too. I certainly feel it--that I'd be happy being single for the rest of my life. I don't long for a partner to walk with me through life--I'm happy to walk alone. And then, of course, I'm not really alone. I have my friends who are more fun and less work than the Love relationships I've had. I have my family who loves me no matter what. But I remember the good moments of being in Love. And there were times I enjoyed being in a couple. And just because I'm happy the way things are, does that mean I wouldn't be happy if they were different? I don't think I want it. But what if I did? I wonder if I should be wearing underwear and if there's something wrong with me for not wanting to.
So driving along, listening to the radio, I realized that my absence of faith in God felt a lot like my absence of interest in Love. But the difference, it turns out, is that I haven't lost my faith in Love. I've just lost my desire to believe. The possibility of Love still lurks in me somewhere, but I've pushed it down where it waits in case my faith returns. I'm a lapsed Lovecatholic.
The same friend who postulated love as a biological urge asked me if I thought I'd ever get married. My usual response--I never rule anything out. I know it's possible to have a non-rubberband relationship. I know it's possible to be free and in love. I know in theory that it's possible to have it all. But I haven't seen it yet. And it's hard to believe in something you can't see.
Gloria Steinem, who denounced marriage for most of her life, got married a couple of years ago at the age of 66. I would have pegged her as a Love atheist. It turned out she was a Love agnostic--she didn't believe until she saw it for herself. If she can get married, then I wouldn't rule it out for anyone. I suppose where there's still an ounce of faith, you can always come back to the fold.
I don't go to church anymore. I don't look for signs. I don't expect a miracle. And I still feel like I'm walking around without underwear. But I've got some in my drawer. And I may put them on some day.