Can You Be in Love with More Than One Person at a Time?

love-aloneThe other day I read a fascinating article about love, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It challenges not only the way we think about love, but also unveils the idea that it’s perfectly normal to fall in love with multiple people in a variety of different ways.

Just to be clear, the article isn’t about talking about polygamy. It’s not challenging the institution of marriage. Rather, it’s about the way we view and acknowledge love.

I should note up front that I’m not going to do the article justice here. I’ll focus on a few key points, but to really understand it, you have to read the article. It’ll make a lot more sense then.

There are a few reasons I can relate to this article. First, I’ve fallen in love SO many times. Sometimes it’s just for a few minutes, like when a pretty girl smiles at me in the grocery store or holds the door open for an old lady. I’ve fallen in love with women who have a sexual aura so powerful that it’s almost tangible. I’ve fallen in love with women who always seem to know the perfect moment to pass me the soccer ball or frisbee. I’ve fallen in love with people I’ve never met and women I’ve dated for months or years. I’ve fallen in love with the sound of someone’s laughter or their lingering smell after they’ve walked past me. It really, truly happens all the time.

In the past, I’ve overanalyzed and compartmentalized those various loves. Oh, that’s just puppy love. Oh, that’s just infatuation. Oh, that’s just friendship love. Just. Why should love ever be denigrated? Why can’t it just be love?

That’s the first part. The second part is about what a broader, more receptive view of love can do. The author points out two things that I’ve experienced countless times:

1. Someone loves me (or has feelings for me) and I don’t have those same feelings. I’m sure we’ve all experienced this in some form. It’s uncomfortable when someone likes us more than we like them. I can’t express this discomfort better than the author of the article did, so I’m going to quote her below:

So uncomfortable, in fact, that many of us would rather act like callous, cold-hearted assholes than be in the same room as the person who loves us. We panic, we get distant, we deny any interest or care for the other person, we stop returning their texts. But that’s not an aversion to love, or to the lover; it’s the attachment and expectation being hurled in our direction with such intensity. If love was casual, we could take it as a high compliment, say “thanks!”, and feel some warm fuzzies. We might also begin to feel some compassion for our lover (who, after all, has a stomach full of butterflies and can’t eat or sleep very well), which might allow us to make better and kinder decisions about how to respond.

2. I love someone (or have feelings for her) and she doesn’t feel the same way. I’ve experienced this with a variety of different types of love. My takeaway from the article is that it’s perfectly fine to fall in love with someone, if you stop thinking about love the way movies want us to think about it. Here’s the author again at her finest:

As long as love is theoretically reserved for people whom you want to date and possibly marry, falling in love will be confusing and dramatic. If we interpret this particular set of feelings and thoughts as an epic, life-changing event, we’ll have no choice but to get really, really attached to our beloved. We’ll throw a lot of expectations at them (“Love me back! Love me only! Love me forever!”), and feel hurt and resentful if the feeling is not mutual.

The author ends the article with an analogy so brilliant that I have to share it here (again, please, read the whole article). For some reason this reminds me of a conversation I had with my last long-term girlfriend. We were driving home from dinner when I noticed she was being really quiet, and I asked what was up.

She turned to me and said, “Do you promise you’ll love me forever?”

I honestly didn’t know how to answer. Well, in a way I did: Obviously that’s not something anyone can ever promise anyone else. You can promise to be committed or loyal or to always wear the same cologne, but you can’t promise a feeling. That’s not how feelings work.

But I distinctly remember feeling entrapped by that question. I realized in that moment that I wasn’t comfortable with the version of love that girlfriend was offering me. It was a deeply conditional love, one coached by years of romantic comedies and insecurities. It was an attack, not a gift. It was love, sure, but not the type I could reciprocate.

Here’s the analogy from the author that made me think of that conversation:

If love was casual, perhaps it wouldn’t collide into our sense of identity or our plans for the future at such high velocity. It wouldn’t feel so personal. If it’s not mutual, so what? If it doesn’t turn into a relationship, so what? I have feelings and desires all the time that go unsatisfied. Sometimes (okay, a lot of times), late at night, I want Chef’s Perfect Chocolate ice cream, but Creole Creamery closes at 10pm. Do I panic? Do I call Creole Creamery and leave a series of desperate messages? Do I curl into a ball and lament that without Chef’s Perfect Chocolate, I am a broken person who is not worthy of ice cream? No. I deal. I feel my feelings, whine a little if I need to, and go without.

What do you think about the concepts expressed in this article?