Falling in love is easy, if mysterious. It can be as simple as a chemistry-laden kiss. It can be as complex as seeing a girl in an orange silk dress across a crowded room and knowing that my world is about to be turned inside-out. However, growing a love that is sustainable, with healthy boundaries and joy, is the work of a lifetime. My life is a love story, and the Red Goddess is my co-author.
Love stories get a bad rap, and for good reason! Courtly tales of romance from the Middle Ages, centered around grail quests and knights and their ladies, and modern rom-coms and romance novels, seem to focus on a singular type of love and experience. Romantic love is prized above all other aspects of relationship, focuses on one person and one person only (the ever elusive One), and lasts forever. Only one other person can be our ‘missing puzzle piece.’ We are not complete humans until we’ve found our ‘other half.’ There are very clear heteronormative patterns and qualities that we must embrace in order to find True Love.
I tried to live by those tropes, but they never worked out for me. See, it turns out that I tend to be the more ‘masculine’ one in my relationships. I am the knight in shining armor. I will swoop in, love you up, and be your rock. I almost never cry, but often end up in relationship with people who do. I am a problem solver. I am bold, aggressive, firm, and enthusiastic. This can be very overwhelming for people. Especially people who are more invested in women being flighty, passive, all about gentle feelings, and in need of saving. Only once have I been swept off my feet – and it was by a teenaged baby dyke, who in the end tended more toward passivity, thus confounding our gender dynamics even more.
The gender dynamics of loving and being loved definitely confuse things. I’m married to a strong male, who the overculture insists is the knight, but all the while prefers to be the princess. Complicating this, he is the ‘pretty girl,’ the one who never thinks she’s pretty enough. I am married to a princess who wants nothing more than to be swept off her feet, but every time I try she refuses, because she thinks she’s not pretty enough. I can’t just show up in my suit of armour, I also need to be riding a unicorn, not a mere thoroughbred.
I have compassion for my husband. I have hardly any experience being the princess myself. I don’t feel safe as the princess (too many thinly veiled rape narratives in all those fairy tales, thank you very much). More importantly neither do I believe that anyone wants me as their princess. I love others as I want to be loved, and I expect little in return. I will admit this is not the healthiest dynamic.
Love is quiet, painful, intimate, tender – vulnerable. I am terrible at being vulnerable. Blogging has been one act of challenging this. I like being the one in control. I like being the knight, rather than the princess. Loving demands that I allow myself to let others see me and love me in return. It requires small acts of passivity and release, a different type of risk. That terrifies me to my core. I know that learning to let myself be loved, not just to love, is something I need to do for my continued growth. Choosing is important, but so is being chosen, by friends, by lovers, and even by the gods. These are things the Red Goddess is teaching me.
As I embrace the Red Goddess in my life, I see that She has been singing me a siren’s song. I always assumed that to honor an indiscriminate slut would mean that I would have to be one too, so I gave Her the side-eye and backed away slowly. But as I see my own story and the choices I’ve made more clearly and honestly, I realize that my life is about love, a pouring out that is in keeping with Her desire. All of my passions, spiritual, musical and academic, have been pieces of a hunger for connection and relationship. Relationship means everything to me, and the more I understand this about myself, the more I see that this isn’t something to shy away from, but something to embrace. Loving is heroic, full of daring, bravery and action.
And love is limitless. So what happens if I fall in love with more than one person at the same time? There isn’t any model for that in medieval or modern romance tropes. When it happened to me I had to walk away from the standard map and become my own cartographer. More love means more conflict, especially when my partner is invested in the standard knight/princess motif. Envy, jealousy, scarcity of love and time – all these demons reared their ugly heads. I had to dig deep and face these demons. I also had to accept the consequences of loving someone who was unprepared to be given everything they said they wanted. I had to accept the reality of losing them. More love means the possibility of more loss. Every parent knows this fear.
There is no perfect lover, no saving Love. I don’t believe in being completed or perfected by The One, nor can I save anyone else. I am already complete. Each important relationship is a part of my own perfection and continual unfolding. My life has been a series of romances that have honed me. I haven’t been single since I was 20. I am often hard on myself about this, wondering if I am afraid to be alone.
I have realized that I need not diminish myself for the comfort of others. I don’t need to love people less intensely simply because they fear the strength of my love. I am the knight in shining armor, that is the way I love. I am writing my life like a love story. Imagine Romeo and Juliet if Romeo doesn’t climb the balcony. What if Bilbo says no to Gandalf and never leaves the Shire? Any good story is full of risks, a love story even more so. Loving is an heroic act; each time I’ve taken a risk I’ve been rewarded with adventure, love, and wisdom. I am the heroine and the knight, the lover and the beloved, of my own story.
Both Kali and the Red Goddess have shown me just how big my heart is, how full of love, how black and how bold it can be; I’m still terrified. But when I am on my deathbed and I look back on my life, I will never regret having loved. I will have written the story I wanted to read.