Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places?

"I was lookin' for love in all the wrong places,
Lookin' for love in too many faces,
Searchin' their eyes and lookin' for traces of what I'm dreamin' of.
Hopin' to find a friend…"
–Johnny Lee

Johnny Lee’s song expresses the longing for a soulful connection that eluded him in his active search for a lover. People with multiple sclerosis who long for a similar spark with someone who not only listens well with sympathy and an open mind, but empathizes with and understands them, too, face an even more frustrating search. It made me want to write a thought piece about the challenges of finding an intimate emotional/psychological connection.

Searching for that "thing"

Lee’s repeating chorus describes in a literal sense — searching people’s eyes for that "thing:" a soft, steady open gaze, guard down and absent of defensiveness — that I can relate to in a very personal way. I felt instant identification with Lee’s literal, searching gaze. There is no symbolism in this. It’s closer to the feeling of a Pat Boone teenage going-steady song: no irony, no double meanings, just artless bare emotion, need and longing. Some people might chide me for wanting and reaching out for that kind of raw, direct connection, dismissing it as neediness or a plea for pity. You should seek out a therapist for that kind of validation, some have said. You’re looking for love in all the wrong places. I’ve tried the counseling route a few times and found a disturbing lack of love and support in those offices. Psychology clinics can number among those wrong places, too.

Words matter to me

Still others find human connection futile and prefer to seek refuge in pet relationships. While I can see the comforting aspects of such bonds I would still yearn for a companion that can give verbal feedback and nurturing. Perhaps because I’m a writer. Words matter to me very, very much. They can blow my mind in a good way, opening it up to new thoughts and personal growth. Words can also leave deep bite marks. If delivered chronically in a relationship, they can drain my blood in a symbiotic, vampire-like way, weakening my body, mind, and spirit. Is it a futile fantasy to want — but also expect to find — consistent, selfless compassion in others?

The challenge of involvement

Looking for and finding traces of what I’m dreaming of should come with a warning: Let the buyer beware. For example, I’ve learned that keeping a certain amount of distance between me and the compassionate person is necessary. Maintaining emotional awareness and respect is a two-way street. Discretion is key. I’ve met two people whose hearts are so big and whose verbal support and understanding are so freely, beautifully given that I felt immediate connection and instantaneous repair. I met them on the internet and we will likely never meet face-to-face. Distance, in these cases, is easily maintained. But it is my experience that it’s more of a challenge to be involved with someone with such qualities face-to-face, find the same open-hearted empathy and still maintain a respectful distance and mutual awareness.

Complex inner landscapes

Everyone has a burden to bear, grievances from the past, issues that will never be resolved, and a changing list of preferences and boundaries. I have at times stepped over the line without knowing it and been shut down. Other times, those close to me have overstepped my own line in the sand and I felt temporarily wounded and grossly misunderstood, wondering if I’d misjudged our connection. But I soon realized that the connection was real — and so was this person’s own complex inner landscape.

Looking for love

It seems we are all on different paths to a discrete kind of love only we can know and recognize. What makes each of us feel loved is as variable as height, eye color, and sense of humor.

Johnny Lee’s song is very focused on what he knows he wants, and he single-mindedly pursues it. His naked need echoes my own and his newfound hope is infectious. A dream that has come true might be, in the end, too good to be really true. But it hardly matters.

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