The Shape of “Heartless” Love

For a long time I’ve been trying to figure out just why the way I feel love doesn’t fit in to the usual social ideas of love. Ace Admiral had a post that got me thinking about this again, and mentioned being interested in people talking about the shapes their love takes, so I figured I’d try to explain. Part of my disconnection with the usual cultural narratives about love is polyamory related- I don’t feel jealousy, and don’t seem to get the possessive aspect of love. But I think it’s worth elaborating on that.

This is partly related to empathy or compersion. My experience with love has been the opposite of the usual models. Typically love is presented as a finite resource- you have a set amount and you run out. I’m the opposite. The more I love any one person, the more I love every person. This creates weird situations where, after I have a moment where I realize I really enjoy someone’s company, I’ll want to tell every person I know how awesome I think they are (I’d even tell them all how much I love them, if it wasn’t weird to use the term love in that way). Likewise, when I find myself disliking a person- I end up disliking everyone more.

Instead, I find love is something that is practiced and built up. You learn to love a person here and there, and try and do that more and more often, and eventually you find yourself strong enough to love the entire world.

Add to this that I tend not to have specific needs that I need fulfilled by specific people, and it starts to create a much more loose form of love.*

But the problem is, this isn’t how things look in the cultural context I live in. Instead, people see my lack of needs from potential partners, and the lack of jealousy that goes with it, as a sign that I don’t care. And to some degree that’s true- I don’t care if a potential partner is a romantic partner, a friend, or so on. But that’s not out of coldness or a lack of caring. It’s because I want them to go do whatever good thing it is they do, and I want them to do it well.

Likewise, when someone tries to push me towards only feeling close connections with one (or a limited) number of people, that also ends up toxic to me. If I try to love one person, I end up loving no one. But the fact I don’t want to limit love is also seen as a sign that I don’t really care, and is yet another way I find that the usual cultural narratives portray the way I feel love as being cold and heartless.

Generally the only time I see this kind of love represented positively, it tends to be in religious contexts. And that doesn’t help- because it is put on a pedestal (and possibly even seen as arrogance to suggest that it’s how you feel)**. Otherwise, the closest I’ve found to discourse that allows for more loose and broad notions of love have been within the polyamorous and occasionally the asexual communities.

*I do have specific needs, and I like specific people, I just don’t have the feeling where I need those to line up in some way.

**Also, I’m an atheist. So that doesn’t help either.

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6 thoughts on “The Shape of “Heartless” Love

  1. I’m an atheist too haha and I know some of the Christian songs about God’s love work well for parental love toward children, but I’m still a little confused by what exactly you’re referencing when you say,

    Generally the only time I see this kind of love represented positively, it tends to be in religious contexts. And that doesn’t help- because it is put on a pedestal (and possibly even seen as arrogance to suggest that it’s how you feel).

    Could you maybe expand that thought a little more? I’m curious by what you mean.

    And um…

    I’m not sure what it says about me or my emotional state right now, but I was tearing up, in a good/happy way, reading these words of yours above:

    I don’t care if a potential partner is a romantic partner, a friend, or so on. But that’s not out of coldness or a lack of caring. It’s because I want them to go do whatever good thing it is they do, and I want them to do it well.

    It’s just like… yes. That’s such a… idk, “romantic” way to experience love. I mean that in a broad way that can apply to friendships, family, and all sorts of non-romantic relationship contexts too. But it’s like… a fictional story where the love for a person means wanting them to be happy, whatever that means for them? That tends to be one of the most “heartwarming” types of sappy little tales ever. 😛 And in general, I relate to all of this on a visceral level, I think. I feel like I’m aromantic, but it took me a long time to get to this label, because it’s not like I don’t feel positive, loving, emotions toward people. It’s confusing and I’m in that wtfromantic and gray-romantic spectrum space partially because I relate very strongly to a lot of the types of way romantic love seems to be described in some polyamorous or even asexual spaces, and there’s more to it than that, and I still feel like my aromanticsm is so much more fuzzy than my asexuality… but thank you for writing this. I really appreciated reading this.

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    1. So re: the religion thing:
      The representations I’m thinking of tend to be the sort of “Jesus loves everyone” idea, or the sort of seeing people in a charitable light kind of love (think about when Christianity focuses on poverty and helping people, or also on forgiveness). Admittedly, that doesn’t seem to show in modern mainstream American Christianity, but the idea is still there. It’s bad though, because it being put on a pedestal makes it normative- and it becomes a contest of “is my love more moral than yours?”. And I want to try and avoid moralizing the way people experience love, but I already find it nearly impossible because love is such a morally loaded concept (maybe because of Christianity). And then you get in to the perverse situations where Christians sometimes think it’s arrogant to try and love “like God”, because they think I’m making a moral statement/boast in describing myself (due to the fact it’s hard to talk about love in morally neutral language).

      And yeah, part of my goal with writing this was to try and actually say “Hey, you know what, my concept of love is perfectly legitimate and does count!”. This is at odds with not wanting to moralize love, however, since I need to sort of reclaim my own feelings and part of that is trying to counter-act the fact that I think my idea of love is usually devalued. I think one of the reason I used to identify as aromantic and then switched to not identifying as anything is because I felt like my love doesn’t “count”.

      But I want to be able to actually express and explore how I feel, and love seems like the closest thing to that? It’s just I feel like I’ve been surrounded by a lot of people who I can’t seem to communicate that idea to, so to them, I seem heartless. Part of it is stereotypes and roles I feel like I get pushed in to (i.e., if you are a poly guy you must just be some player only interested in sex, if you are asexual, you must be a misanthrope who hates everyone, the only consistent thing between those roles is that I don’t feel love), and part of it is that I’m out of practice on setting up concepts.

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      1. Yeah that explanation of the religion/Christianity stuff and how it makes love a contest of whose love is more moral does make sense to me. And I was thinking for a second when I read your original post here that maybe you meant by “the only time I see this kind of love represented positively, it tends to be in religious contexts.” that you thought of Jesus himself loving people in such a… free and non-exclusive way, and that’s why it’d be “possibly even seen as arrogance to suggest that it’s how you feel”.

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      2. But yeah, I get it, and I wish you luck in pushing back against society’s harmful messages about poly guys, asexuals, and all of it. It is so difficult, of course, but it seems to me you’re doing a good job right now in figuring yourself out and realizing your feelings are valid and not immoral or anything else, and I am really glad about that.

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