In the final instalment of her column about her adventures in online dating, Alie Benge ponders a world that isn’t afraid of love.
I’m obsessed with love. All forms are fascinating. Familial love, aromantic love, queer love, desire, friendship. But my interest has come from a position of anthropological curiosity. In my own life, I’ve been reasonably love-averse. I’m not into romantic gestures. I don’t have a secret wedding Pinterest board. The only time I’ve tested my name against someone else’s was when talking to someone on Hinge whose last name was Smellie, and I realised I could marry him for lols and become Alie Smellie. I think I’m afraid of love. Maybe in the same way I’m scared of any extreme thing, like huge bodies of water, or driving too fast, like it’s too bright or too loud.
I’ve always felt that loving someone means giving them a certain power over you, so I’ve held myself back from it. My ability to move on from each relationship has depended on how much power I gave away, and how much I got back at the end. By this I mean, how much did I let my feelings show, and was I able to take all that affection back and pretend I never cared.
Then I listened to a podcast which featured a line from a Yeats poem: “If equal affection cannot be, let the more loving one be me.” I had to pause the podcast and sit down. What a thing; to consciously choose to love more; to actively seek it. It’s so bloody lovely. This would look like not worrying about texting first, or replying too quickly. It would mean letting someone know you like them, rather than pretending you don’t have strong opinions on whether you see them again. I looked at the world, and the relationships I’d been in or witnessed and thought, how different would the world be if we were in competition to love each other more? To meet the love we receive and give it back 10 fold. “What if next time,” I thought, “I just gave all my power away and loved openly and affectionately? What if I let someone fully in?”
This was some time in January. The last days of the beforetime. I was about to meet the ghoster and begin my dating rampage, and if you’ve followed this series, you already know what happened. I went all in, and I got my heart broken, more than once. Of course I did. It was always going to happen, because this isn’t some prosperity gospel where you get out what you put in. But I didn’t do it to get anything from being the more loving one, but because it was the kind of person I wanted to be: someone who loves freely, without insecurity or tit-for-tat power plays. I didn’t want to give love to get love. I wanted to give it without expecting anything in return. Even so, a few months ago, well into this practice, I was out with Sia and Abby, waiting for a long overdue text back. Sia said, “Why don’t you just message and see if he’s out?” Abby and I stopped, food halfway to our mouths. If I’d been wearing pearls I’d have clutched them. I couldn’t give away so much power, or make myself so available! I couldn’t possibly let someone know I was thinking of them and wanted to see them.
Today I stood next to the ghoster at the traffic lights, neither of us acknowledging each other, and I knew I’d rather have been the more loving one in that situation, because being a loving person means I could never do what he did. I’d rather be heartbroken myself than make anyone feel that way. No question. Let me love you more, if only so I know I’m able to love; that I can pour it out; that if needed, I can absorb heartbreak into myself and end it there, rather than lashing out or getting my own back.
When I started writing this series I was single AF. And here I am, writing the final one in Tall Liam’s living room while he’s at work. We’ve met each other’s families. I keep a toothbrush and a packet of hair ties at his house. And now, having written this diatribe, I’m realising how wrong I’ve been. Love shouldn’t be bound up with power. Relationships shouldn’t feel like a competition. So maybe instead of looking for someone to love more, look for someone you can’t outdo. If it’s too easy to be the more loving one, then what a waste of your love.
For the past week and a half, I’ve been constantly seeking affirmation from him because we’re at a point in our relationship that terrifies me. It’s that last moment in the trust fall where you can stop yourself tipping over. I could expose my soft underbelly at the moment of most vulnerability, or I could snap closed. I want to be someone who can go into this without holding anything back and protecting myself, but sometimes I feel like an exposed nerve. It’s so hard. It’s so hard.
I don’t want either myself or Tall Liam to be the more loving one. I want only to know that I’m capable of love. That I can give and receive it without insecurity. I thought I should be able to give love without expecting anything back, but I was wrong. We all just want to be loved, right? It’s why we’re scrolling through apps, putting ourselves through this. It’s OK to want to be loved. It’s OK to be hurt sometimes. You won’t die. I promise. Give love anyway. Put more of it in circulation. Ask for some back.
Read the whole series here.