The Fear of Love


It doesn't sound personal. 

But it is. 

The title of my book this week was Loneliness: The Fear of Love, written by Ira J. Tanner, published by Perennial in 1973. I found this book while roaming my grandmother's bookshelves one day this past winter. My grandmother has always told me, "take what you want, please! Get them off my hands!", and for some reason I believed that this particular book wouldn't be missed; a slip of paper with a few random notes on it had been stuck somewhere in the middle--so I knew it had not gone unread--but the pages were yellowing, and that comforted me. I'd take it, and I would keep it secret. 

Having now had the guts to finally read it, I find the whole thing pretty relevant. Despite it's dramatic, soap-opera-looking cover, and its somewhat outdated vocabulary, ("man" stands in for men and women), what the author says about loneliness rings true. (At least for as much as I have felt, myself). 

Things resonated. Things like:

". . . we are separated from good friends, loved ones, and familiar places. Many times this separation brings about an unexpected. . . and bewildering sense of aloneness." (61)

Maybe it seems obvious. But am I wrong to say that it doesn't feel obvious? Loneliness somehow feels full and empty, both at once. It hurts--in a numb, anti-hurting sort of way. 

But. . .

Loneliness is always related to the way in which we respond to people and to events.

In stress, I think I respond by shrinking into myself, hiding and going numb and isolating myself. I isolate, then I write. Then I dwell. (NOTE: This is not an altogether healthy approach.)

Over the years I've gathered notes and scrawlings in over (give or take) twenty notebooks. I filled many of them at what I know to be my favorite place in the world: an island in northern Michigan where I felt my first rush of what I understood as freedom. I've never lost the soul of that place. It's just in me--and I'll beg you not to argue. 

Reading this book brought clarification to the nostalgia I believe I often feel for that place. Through my reading I gathered that I/we may, perhaps, cling to that which makes me/us feel understood. In my "special" place, I have always felt deeply understood. That's where, as a child, I felt fully alive. I'm always missing it. I always feel the separation. 

We want to feel alive, right? Feel understood. Feel loved. I imagine this is often the catalyst for marriage (civil or religious, or even a marriage unrecognized by anyone else). 

But, then: separation. It happens. How do we, I, you, deal with it? For there will always be separation. 

Bear with me here. Try and take this in. 

"The sanctity of a memorable moment or relationship is preserved only to the extent that we do not attempt to recapture it with another person in the present. [...] Dwelling on the past is not a good thing, but when memories come flooding in, it is sensible to allow ourselves the luxury of accepting them. [...] Sometimes when we have loved deeply there is a resolve never to go through a similar pain of separation. All love eventually ends in suffering.

Hence--and this makes sense, doesn't it?--The Fear of Love. 

The concept of "loneliness"--I thought I understood this pretty well. But the rest of the title, "The Fear of Love," scared me and kept me from reading this book until, well: now. 

I'm beginning to accept that my life is an open road and I have no earthly idea where I'm headed. Truly. Even if I plan, or guide my feet in one direction, I'll likely end up setting off in another. It's human nature--my changing desires--to not stick to one single course. Perhaps, perhaps, it's a fear of love, (and a fear of rejection!), and of responsibility, which is intricately tied into this direction-changing pattern. I do grant that it's easier to run from people than it is to stay and be accountable.

Ugh. That's the truth.  Accountability is hard. Loving people is hard. 

Loneliness is always related to the way we respond to people and to events. Sometimes it is with irritation, fear, guilt, sadness, and hurt; at other times it is with laughter and joy. [...] It is not always understood that the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. (21)

Understanding that loneliness is not something I can run from--or that anyone can run from--helps me quite a bit in my goal to find greater joy in living every day, in each hour. Knowing that I am alone (a fact that begins at birth), somehow makes loneliness more tolerable. Alone is constant. Loneliness is temporary, and very human. Loneliness is also something I can begin to be aware of. 

Noticing how I respond to people and events will help me take responsibility for my actions. Acknowledging how I feel and acknowledging my outward response will help me move beyond the feeling and head toward understanding--with the person, or the event at hand. 

So, loneliness isn't a choice. It's not something I can get rid of. "The person who says 'I am never lonely' either does not understand the meaning of the word or is fooling himself" (3). 

It's real. And I've admitted to you just now that yes, I am often lonely. Something tells me I'm not the only one. 

Whatever your thoughts, whatever the makeup of your home, your family, your friends and your acquaintances, I invite your responses, your irritations and your realizations. I am still making them, myself. Thanks for letting me be honest. I hope you find the courage to be honest with someone, anyone, yourself. 

cheers, everyone.

next week's book: Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist