Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.

The last twelve months of my life have been extraordinary. I can’t begin to describe how intensely good and bad my experiences in that time were, nor do I want to. I have, however, learned what love is.

And by that I don’t mean what love is to everyone out there. This is a very personal view on love. I will not claim that adopting this view will work for everyone. I will not claim that this view will or even should sound pleasant to everybody. But it seems this is what I am built to experience, and I no longer want to fight that.

Instead of telling all the anecdotes of the past year that have led me to discover (or re-discover) this love, I want to give you a simpler breakdown of it, and get straight to the lessons learned.

Although it’s a bit back-to-front, the best way to start explaining this is to start by saying that friendship and love is much the same thing to me. I feel incredible, overwhelming, unfettered and uncompromising love for my friends. And that statement alone is rather dangerously misleading if it’s not qualified a little:

  • My love for my friends is not unconditional. There is no such thing as unconditional love, or love without any strings attached. I place conditions upon my friends: they must treat me with roughly as much caring as I treat them, for example. Unconditional love is, in my eyes, a childishly selfish thing to expect.
  • I do not love all of my friends with the same intensity; there are some I love more than others. This isn’t so much a statement about the qualities or worth of each particular friend as it is a statement about my feelings towards them. Some of the friends I love best are those I share time with least, for example.
  • Some friends I fell in love with the moment I saw them, others the love grew over time. Again, this does not say much about how well I love each friend.
  • Lastly, I do not love everyone I call a friend. Social conventions being what they are, it’s sometimes easiest to refer to someone as a friend when I mean something of a pleasant acquaintance. The “friend” term is synonymous to “close friend” to me.

That last point might need more explanation: I do not make friends very easily. That does not mean I am not very social or friendly, but rather that a certain threshold of love needs to be exceeded before I call someone a friend in my head.

In this day and age, with the way the term “love” is used nowadays, the above may still be confusing to people. No, when I speak of loving my friends, this does in no way imply that I want to have sex with them. In most cases, that is in fact not true.

So let’s talk about sex. Umm… baby. You and me and all that.1

Sex complicates things, right? Right? No, it really doesn’t.

Sex is very simple. It’s just two adults spending enjoyable time together. This statement does not refer to the act of sexual intercourse, nor to sexual practices that do not include intercourse2, but rather to the activity of having sex. In that sense, sex is like sports or playing a game, with the major difference that there are serious responsibilities attached to it because sex can result in transmitted infections or babies. Dire consequences, either way.

If having to take responsibility for one’s actions is what differentiates sex fundamentally from other activities adults might enjoy together, then sex requires a certain amount of trust that other activities do not. Once we talk about trust, we talk about implicit expectations participants have for each other – and this is where things get complicated – because expectations both form and require relationships.

And just to be clear, I don’t refer to the boyfriend/girlfriend model of a romantic relationship here. I refer to a much simpler model of person A having specific expectations of person B and vice versa. That’s the essence of what a relationship is. In a satisfying relationship, each person is aware of the other’s expectations and happy to fulfil them. In order to reach such a satisfying relationship, some form of communications is required by which these expectations are exchanged.

The whole dating dance, the “getting to know each other”, it’s all about establishing some form of mutual expectations. And wouldn’t it be nice if that was easy… but it’s not, because we also all carry some form of fear, doubt or insecurity within us that makes being open about our expectations difficult. Specifically it’s the fear that our expectations are rejected that is making things rather tricky.

But sex itself? It’s not complicated. It’s the relationships to do with sex that can be, because expressing expectations can be scary and carries the potential for getting hurt.

There’s a point to all this. Several, actually. But let’s start with the simplest and most straightforward one: it depends on the type of expectations concerning a sexual relationship you carry whether or not sex is complicated for you; in the second instance it also depends on how easily you communicate your expectations.

The longer I live, the more it’s become clear to me that my own expectations here are really very simple, yet fiendishly complex in consequence: I expect that neither my own, nor my partner’s expectations are disappointed. In other words, I expect that we communicate our expectations well. What sounds simple in theory fails in practice at the hurdle that not all that many people can do this very well.

And that brings me back to love. What is love? Baby don’t hurt me…3

  1. Yeah, I grew up in the 90s, forgive me. []
  2. Think Bill Clinton. []
  3. Again, sorry, the 90s left their mark. []