Tuesday, July 17, 2007

On Types of Love

New mommy Aspazia from Mad Melancholic Feminista has a wonderful post up today about her first days with her new little one.

What a task to write a melancholy Monday blog today; I couldn't be more euphoric as a newly minted mother. I have been falling deeply and madly in love for the past 72 hours. I catch myself just staring at my daughter's face, stroking her cheek, rubbing her back and kissing her all over. While everyone tells you that you will feel love at first sight or a love you never knew possible, the descriptions never do justice to the unbelievable emotional changes that occur upon seeing your child.
Not being one to say I told you so (I told you so), it leads to interesting questions about types of love. You hear it over and over again when you are expecting and yes, you know "your life will be different" and you know "you will love your child so much," but you don't really grasp it until you are there.

We know there are different sorts of love. We know the love we have for our parents is different than the love we have for dear friends is different than the love we have for our partner. We figure that one of these will be the right template, the model for this new sort of love. But they're different.

The love for a parent exists before you do. You love your parent before the person you will become has a chance to come into being. It is a love in which the care is entwined with admiration on the one hand and an innate desire for separation on the other. Indeed, the process of creating yourself necessarily involves alienating yourself from this loving relationship and renegotiating it. I have deeply conflicted emotions when my older child, upon doing something creative or intellectual that earns her praise, has taken to responding, "well, I am the daughter of a philosopher." On the one hand, I am glad that she is internalizing our family's love of things cerebral, artistic, and clever and proud that (at least for now) she's not completely embarassed by me. But, at the same time, I don't want her to be a mini-me, I want her to be who she will become.

The love of a lover is also one that requires space. One is tempted at the onset to lose oneself in the loving relationship, but you realize that for yourself and your beloved, the love requires maintaining yourself as an individual. This is both because your life is more than your love and it would be unfair to you to be asked to lose your self for the sake of the relationship, but also because caring for your beloved requires providing him or her with someone to love. To lose yourself for the love, in this case, is to betray the love. You love while being separate from the love. The whole is more than the parts, but the parts must remain.

But with a child, neither of these is the same sort of love. The transformation you undergo as a parent as a result of the love is much more radical. Yes, you need to exist as someone whom the adoration of your child will hopefully lead to healthy physical and psychological development, but especially with young children, the love is not from you but becomes you. The way they sleep, the looks on their faces, there is something that resonates so deeply inside at the most mundane thing that you know your being is changed, you are different from the love.

Aspazia writes,
Now I am almost mourning the precious moments I am spending right now with this magical being--moments that seem so fragile, that are passing too fast for me to hold onto. I am already missing my baby and I have barely begun tending to her.
Gosh, I hope The Wife doesn't read this because she frequently says the same sort of thing and then gives me that look like "Maybe one more?" But what Spaz doesn't yet realize is that while each one of these magical moments are indeed fleeting, each one is followed by another that brings with it something that is simultaneously developmentally necessary and expected and also shockingly novel.

Watching the physical, psychological, intellectual, and personal growth of the child each day is breathtaking. No one can teach Locke's notion of being born a blank slate seriously after having kids. They wake up doing things they couldn't have done when they went to bed and you know you didn't teach that to them overnight. Suddenly, "dada" goes to "daddy," in an instant, never to go back. And when you see it, when they laugh, when they figure something out, when they are sly or funny, there is a welling up inside that is unlike any other sort of love out there.

I don't know if this changes once the children become adults, when they are now their own people and the relationship is different, but it is truly a love unlike any other. It is a wonderful thing and frankly a lot of fun to watch a dear friend and fellow philosopher experience it and come to terms with it. Enjoy it Spaz, and as my Dad always tells me "It just gets better and better."