Zeus on Love
“According to Greek mythology, humans were originally created with 4 arms, 4 legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend the rest of their lives looking for their other half.”
Plato said that, in his Symposium. I’d first read it as an idealistic teenager who thought “true love” came with a spark that ordinary life couldn’t kill. When I first read the quote as a high schooler, my definition of a husband was, basically, a knight. One that would automatically understand everything there is to know about me, and without my having to explain it. I thought that one magical day, I’d be minding my own business when, suddenly, God Himself would part the heavens and say “Him!” after which my eyes would fall on a beautifully made creature who thought I was worth the world and beautiful too. Sparks would ignite, my childhood would be forgotten and I’d have the perfect specimen upon which to base my fictional heroes. I short, I thought the men in the romance books I fancied existed. Naturally, then, I saw the quote as a lovely, romantic thing I’d probably incorporate into my future wedding.
I don’t know why but I thought of that quote tonight and instead of getting stars in my eyes, my heart beat with pain–and sadness. I thought of the very few men I’ve trusted, and tears filled my eyes. You see, the truth is, the men in those romance novels are indestructible–they are rough, strong and endowed with enough perception to scare the wits out of any fortune teller. Their only need is to be loved. That’s it. Nothing else.
Naturally, that is what we’re all ultimately seeking: unconditional live. But we are human too. I’m thirty one now, far removed from my teenage years, and I understand now that Superman doesn’t really exist. What does exist is man. And in human form. Yes, they think differently than I do.. But they need more than to be a hero. They need affection, affirmation, something tangible in which they can take pride; they need support through friendship, they need food too. They need money, and, just like me, they come with complicated pasts full of broken hearts and disappointments. In other words, while they are indeed strong, they are also vulnerable and my emotional needs are no more significant than theirs.
You see, tonight, as I thought of the old quote, I realized something precious. Zeus was scared of the power the four legged, four armed, two faced human possessed. He was right to be scared. The Bible says that when two or more are gathered in His name, extra strength exists. I thought of that tonight, and wondered why. Then I thought again of the men I have known, and of my own broken past and sentimental self. As I did so, tenderness filled my heart. The 4 armed, 4 legged human possesses double the complexity, double “baggage,” but it also possesses double compassion, double gentleness, double acceptance and double the commitment; when these things exist, strength also is doubled. I lean on him, but when he’s had a sucky day, he can count on me to find the smile and it’s in that unspoken compassion that love and devotion grow.
Zeus thought that by separating the two, he’d be diffusing strength. He also thought that he was “condemning” them each to a life of torture, a life void of their “other half.” I find this fascinating. You see, for the longest time, I hated the idea of being anybody’s “other half.” I am a strong and capable woman, I don’t need a man by my side for anything. I am quite whole all by myself, thank you. The idea of depending on another human being for half of my happiness did not sound romantic, it sounded creepy. I don’t want to be anyone’s reason for living, or for being happy either: that’s far too much responsibility to place on anyone. I am responsible for my own joy, and you are for yours. That was my ultra-feminist thoughts on
one’s “other half.”
I still believe all that too–except that now I also understand that life is hard. The weight of responsibility and jobs and parenting and unexpected crisis that threaten to tip over one’s entire world is heavy. Loneliness pushes me further and further into the ground until it is hard to care. When faced alone, the ordinary bad, car-died-kids-are-sick-mortgage is due-electricity went out for the umpteenth time kind of day leaves one absolutely exhausted. Sure, I can do it. I can stare the roughest storm Satan has on the calendar in the face. Of course I can. As I used to tell myself all the time when confronted with a disheartening situation: “this is nothing to what I’ve already overcome. I’ve got this.” Of course.
But, whether I like to admit it or not, it’s hard, and it chips away the reserve of strength I’ve got. I have my daughters and they have been the ones to replenish the supply of motivation and strength for quite awhile now. I am lucky. But it’s still not the same as having another adult who understands what I feel. No matter how much I want to believe otherwise, there is no substitute for the physical feeling of safety and support that only a friend who knows your weaknesses and loves you anyway can offer. It weakens one, being alone. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it is harder. I think that’s partly why we search all our lives for “the one.” Friends can love us, family can support us… But the sheer level of intimacy required for a healthy intimate relationship secures an extra dose of confidence, of support, of compassion, of tenderness that no other form of relationship can offer.
I’ve known the feeling of undeniable sparks flying between two people, I’ve experienced the kind of love that made Zeus afraid. There’s a difference in companionship and love. There’s a difference between infatuation and genuine admiration. But, when it’s real, the power of love is inescapable. When it’s real, the strength of love catches you when you fall, emboldens you with a glance and holds you when your hurting.
My pastor teaches that one of the reasons church is important is because it gives believers strength to be surrounded by other believers. There’s an instant connection between me and the other folks sitting in my pew. We don’t know each other but, if I fell during service, they’d not only call me an ambulance–they’d also pray for me. I know it because I know that our core beliefs in how to treat another person are the same. There’s encouragement and strength to be gained from that. Likewise, two people who are really connected at the heart, who truly love each other, can know with nothing but a glance that something wonderful or catastrophic has happened. Without a word, one knows when the other needs a break, or a hug, or a stern lecture. There’s a saying that love can move mountains, that nothing is impossible with love. That’s because when I love someone, I want to comfort and lavish attention on him more than I want the attention myself. I’m working hard to support and care for him because his smile makes me happy, and he’s doing the same for me, and through that devotion, we meet in the middle. We laugh, we cry, we hug. Obstacles melt under the knowledge that nothing is as important as our relationship. I imagine that, for true lovers, inventing ways to remind each other of that first spark helps lighten the load of a hard day.
Plato said that Zeus condemned the humans to a life of searching for the missing half. But I say that, for those lucky enough to find each other, the search–and the heartbreaks along the way–is probably worth it.