I’ve just spent a very enjoyable week with 20 students on the OSBS/HEC Coaching and Consulting for Change masters programme in Paris. It was the final module of the course, at which they presented and defended their theses. One of them used the term Web 3.0 as a metaphor to represent the new and emerging forms of organisation required in a V.U.C.A. world. [*] It caught my imagination and, tangentially, I began to think about love, specifically about what Love 3.0, Love 2.0, and Love 1.0 might be.
A lot has been written about Love 1.0 which, depending on whether we are straight or gay, we might also call first love, young love, or marriage and babies love. There’s an optimism and innocence about Love 1.0 that many of us experience at least once in our lives. It’s often powerfully sexual and it’s also the stuff of most love stories and rom-coms, bringing with it the romantic hope of “living happily ever after.” Sara and I married when we were 23 and had four children. We were together for nearly 25 years as we made our way in the world and raised a family.
But as many of us have learned the hard way, “happily ever after” doesn’t necessarily last forever. Sara and I divorced in 1998, and in my 50s I discovered Love 2.0. I don’t just mean a rehash of Love 1.0 with someone new, but a second and more conscious kind of love between two mature people who have “been around the block” and whose relationship holds the hope and intention of their mutual and individual growth. If the mantra of Love 1.0 is “to be completed by our other half” then the mantra of Love 2.0 is “to support each other in the journey to greater wholeness.”
Without a doubt, Chris and I enjoyed this kind of relationship, which was strong enough and deep enough to sustain us both, when she became ill and ultimately died. It’s a more knowing kind of love, passionate but less naive, more realistic and more able to tolerate, even to enjoy, our imperfections.
What of Love 3.0? The truth is I don’t have much idea about love in the third age. In the past, I thought it would involve growing old together; enjoying simpler pleasures; a comfortable intimacy; staying creative whilst reaping the rewards of past efforts; caring for and looking after each other; and spending more time with friends and family. All of which and much more, I could imagine when Chris was alive.
Some people are fortunate enough to experience fully all the ages and stages of love with the same partner, growing up, growing together and growing old side by side. I have friends who have been securely and happily married for 40 and more years. One of them said to me recently that when she looks at her husband she sees him at every age at the same time. How beautiful it must be to have your youth recognised by your partner in the lines etched into your ageing face.
That hasn’t been my fate. Chris was 17 years younger than me and only 48 when she died, leaving me on the threshold of elderhood. Newly-widowed, I contemplate what the future might hold and experience tidal surges of emotion: wild infatuations; impossible longings; lascivious imaginings; sudden depressions. If I try to anticipate the qualities of a new lover or shape of a new relationship, I realise that I crave intimacy and solitude; freedom and commitment; novelty and familiarity; intelligence and playfulness; a juicy playmate and a wise soul. Preferably all at once!
Mmmm. No change there then.
It looks like Love 3.0 is going to be every bit as complicated and confusing as any other kind of love. Of course, I know it’s ridiculously simplistic to talk about there being three versions of love. The technically minded among us will rightly demand a much more comprehensive and systematic taxonomy. I mean, how can we hope to understand Love 3.0 if we haven’t mastered Love 1.3.7 and Love 2.6.4?
But on reflection, I’m not sure how helpful it is to try to understand love at all, let alone divide it into categories like so many different versions of computer software. If you do find it helpful then maybe don’t mention it to your beloved (unless they are equally nerdy) otherwise you might quickly discover that he/she has decided that your operating systems are totally incompatible.
As for me, I’ve decided to let go of all attempts at categorisation and to embrace the mystery of love in all its infinite possibilities, as once expressed to me in three succinct words by that great philosopher, artful inquirer, and rambunctious lover of life, Chris Seeley:
“Flesh is flesh”
[*] A trendy acronym borrowed from the US Military, standing for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous.