'Live and Let Love': Stories about Finding It, Keeping It and Appreciating It

PHOTO: A book cover of Live and Let Love: Notes from Extraordinary Women on the Layers, the Laughter, and the Litter of Love. Edited and with an introduction by Andrea Buchanan.PlayHandout
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Author Andrea Buchanan compiled honest and compelling stories about love from a soldier's wife, an award-winning actress and a college student.

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Live and Let Love

There is nothing more universal than love. It's what we desire to feel, adore to bestow, fight to achieve, and grieve when it's gone. Some would say love is the reason we are here . . . to give and receive it.

Since the dawn of humankind, love has been studied, pondered, pontificated and written about by scholars and sages of antiquity. From Aristotle to Austen to Ephron, love unadorned and unrequited has been in style. The Holy Bible is one of the oldest texts to talk about love and can likely be credited with starting the infinite fad: love is essential to living a faithful life. One passage I find particularly striking in its definition of love and its meaning was written by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians:13.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I can remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. I first started to understand that passage when I was fourteen years old. Saint Paul imparted to me that even with exalted powers, and surrounded by gifts, without love everything else is meaningless. I grew up in Texas and I had "found God" in a small, nondenominational Bible church. No one else in my family went to church but me. I was in search of meaning and had deep questions about faith, but I also had a crush on a boy, who would become my high school sweetheart. He was fifteen, had a car, and I was allowed to ride in it with him as long as I went to church and came straight home. So I did, religiously, to every Sunday service (morning and night) and Wednesday evenings for Bible Study. I would hold Ben's hand on our car rides, and during the Sunday youth group pizza parties. Early on in this phase, I memorized I Corinthians: 13, and would recite it to myself. I was falling in love for the first time and I felt that the words in Corinthians had been written just for me. It was a magical time and I can still recall the way I felt when I was around Ben like it was yesterday. It was so new, so innocent and pure. Whether we were driving with the windows down on a hot Texas summer night, or enjoying a first kiss under the bleachers after a Friday night football game, or discovering one another under the blankets on a van ride to Colorado, falling in love for the first time was a religious experience.

Six years and a couple of painful breakups later, Ben and I had moved on to different colleges and other relationships. God, as defined by the Church, became less important to me. Love, on the other hand, was still a supremely high priority.

Live and Let Love

During this time, I embarked upon what would become a protracted journey through bridesmaid's hell, where love hides, usually under yards upon yards of taffeta. Participating in the first wedding where I had to buy my own dress and matching shoes, I took my place next to the other eight best friends and bridesmaids, and I had an unexpected pang of beautiful memories and love lost when the preacher read from Corinthians. He also took the opportunity to invite anyone who had not been saved in his captive audience to come up and accept Jesus Christ as their saviour before the groom kissed the bride. I like a good "two for one" sale, but even I thought it was a bit cheap. About that time, I saw my father, who is a striking six foot one and easily agitated, stand up and walk out of the church to go have a smoke, while my beautiful mother stayed patiently in her seat. He was an agnostic, bordering on atheist, and unsavable, and she would never leave before the curtain call. After a few lost souls found their salvation as I did some knee bends to keep from fainting, the groom kissed the bride, the preacher read the famous verse, and I quietly wept, mourning the passing of my youthful first love, and wishing that one day I might have a wedding, without taffeta, but certainly with Corinthians. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

While I no longer consider myself a practicing Christian, I consider biblical teachings along with philosophical texts from antiquity's timeless studies of love as more of an open-ended question than an absolute fact, and I highly value them as I attempt to understand love's layers and complexities. With love there is no absolute. There are some very smart people out there who have studied this topic extensively. I'm certainly not a scholar of love, with minimal courses in philosophy at the University of North Texas under my belt. My understanding of love comes from the school of hard knocks. I speak from my own experiences of my heart opening and shattering from love fulfilled and unrequited, as do my fellow storytellers in this book.

However, for a moment I'll put my scholarly shortcomings aside to offer a quick refresher. The English etymology of the word "love" derives from the Germanic form of the Sanskrit lubh—which means desire. And while desire certainly has something to do with feelings that seem like love, desire alone is not love. As we all know, there are so many more forms of love than just all-out-crazy-for-you lust. But lust can be a lot of fun—and sometimes dangerous, which can just add to the rush. Case in point: my college crush, who I'll call John. We were both sophomores when we met. He was a Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brother and I was an honorary little sister to the fraternity. He and I loved to dance, and somehow our grooves fit. Every time a song from the band New Order would come on at a party, we would find one another and clear the floor. Our connection was rhythmically deep, and I was madly in lust. John was a dangerous bad boy with a lot of hard edges, and an incredibly soft spirit. He was Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing, and I wanted to be his "Baby." He rode a motorcycle, every other word out of his mouth was of the four-letter variety, and when we weren't getting our groove on at fraternity parties we would travel the forty miles into downtown Dallas and dance until the clubs closed.

Live and Let Love

There was always an element of danger when I was with John, and yet I always felt safe, because he had that Alpha male, badass thing going on. There was an abandoned warehouse in downtown Dallas that he knew about that graffiti artists used as a canvas. We would break into it and leave our artistic imprint with a spray can, smoke some weed, and make out. It was in an undesirable and somewhat dangerous part of the city, and a far cry from my church days, but I loved the thrill of it. We were never officially boyfriend and girlfriend, but that was okay, I knew what we had was special, even if jail time was a possible consequence. I was hot for him and his Alpha nature. Philosophy invokes this kind of love as Eros—the part of love constituting sexual desire and passion. Erotic love is fun, it's sometimes dangerous, and I believe it's necessary, for without it none of us would exist. I'm pretty sure John would agree.

The passionate relationship that John and I shared, over time turned into more of a fondness and friendship. Aristotle was obsessed with this kind of love, which he called Philia—a fondness of one's family, friends, political community, job, or discipline. Loving family and friends comes pretty easily to most people. Loving a job is a different story. I realize that in today's world, where so many people are unemployed, the idea that you love what you do is often a foreign concept. In a perfect world, we would all love our work, but life certainly isn't perfect and loving what you do is a luxury that not everyone can afford. I've been fortunate in the work department and found something I love to do, but it wasn't always the case.

As a longtime producer of television in Hollywood, I had begun to feel dissatisfied with the kinds of projects I was involved with. So in 2004, an election year, I decided to make a documentary film with some friends about the March for Women's Lives in Washington, D.C. While the gig didn't pay well, it was thrilling to be at the helm of a project that I found meaningful. My political activist side was lit up and I knew that for me, finding meaning in my work life was no longer a luxury, it was an absolute necessity. After that project ended and I found myself in a black hole of filming reality television shows, I longed for something more. I longed to be in love with my work. Like some of the contributors who share their stories in the pages to come, I think falling in love with what you do can absolutely result in a healthy, satisfying relationship that offers plenty of sustainment, in addition to the belief that finding love in another person will come.

Live and Let Love

The final kind of love as defined by the Greek philosophers is beyond the earthly pleasures of lust, family, and work. It is the all-encompassing Agape, which, appropriated by Christian theology, is the paternal love of God for man and man for God. However, I would argue that Agape is the purest form of love for each other. The concept that love is peace and mutual respect, if truly practiced and adopted, might end all war. Imagine that! John Lennon certainly did, and along with the other fab three put that idea into words, giving us some of the best love songs ever written. "All you need is Love"—the Beatles abridged Corinthians!

A primer on how great thinkers define love wouldn't be complete if I didn't include the man who wrote arguably the most powerful works on the subject: the Bard himself. Anyone who has ever fallen hard can identify with Shakespeare's plays— particularly if they pick up one of his tragedies in the aftermath of getting dumped, since Shakespeare's idea of love unfulfilled was tragic. You either love or you die, in the case of Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet and Ophelia.

When Ben, my first love, let go of my hand and broke up with me, I felt like Juliet and Ophelia one hundred times over. I stopped eating. I cried all day, every day. I cried before school; during math, history, and English classes; and after school working as a checkout girl at the Tom Thumb grocery store. The bags under my eyes were so big I could have packed them and gone on vacation. I literally begged Ben to take me back, in between sobs, sitting in his banana yellow Cutlass Supreme, where our hand-holding began. I told him I couldn't live without him, and I meant it. He was very sweet when he told me he was sorry, it was over. And to top it off, my tragedy played out the same week of cheerleading tryouts, which in Texas is tantamount to the Olympic Trials with pom-poms. To add salt to the already open wound, I didn't make the cheerleading team. It was Rejection with a capital R. Fortunately, no one in my Shakespearean tragedy died. But it felt like death at the time.

Eventually, I replaced the Shakespearean tragedy with a Hollywood movie, "love at first sight" moment that I sometimes, even to this day, find hard to believe. Sixteen years ago I met my husband, Jason, in a smoky, dimly lit bar thanks to an introduction by Paul Rudd, who was just starting his acting career. Jason had just returned from a summer at Oxford University where he studied classical theater with the Juilliard School, and Jason and Paul became close friends. Paul convinced Jason to make the move from New York to Los Angeles to pursue acting and he had been in Los Angeles exactly two weeks the night I met him. Jason was a brooding artist, handsome, and he was fluent in French. I thought he was out of my league, not just because of the sexy foreign language thing, not to mention the Oxford thing, but because I didn't believe at the time that I might actually fall in love with someone who would not only love me back but catch me when I fell and give me a hand so that I could get up.

Live and Let Love

Up until meeting Jason, I kept trying to engage in love to please the other person. After a particularly one-sided romance with a much older man who gave me a jar of Dijon mustard for my twenty-third birthday, and the period of celibacy and selfsearching that ensued, by my twenty-fifth birthday I was ready to be in a relationship again. My dear friend and roommate, Jill, and I did an improvised "rain dance" in our kitchen, only we wanted it to rain boyfriends for each of us. We were very specific with our wishes: the guys had to be romantic, generous, enlightened, mature, smart, respectful, and nice. Which, at the time, seemed like a tall order, considering that my last boyfriend, the Dijon-giver, broke up with me on Valentine's Day. Within a week after that dance, I walked into that smoky bar with a sense of peace and joy, and the proverbial lightning strike happened the moment I met Jason. I remember saying to Jill, "I'm going to marry that guy," like it was yesterday. The words flew out of my mouth as easy as "I'll have another drink." I didn't intellectualize the thought, I just felt it, and then I declared it. It was a feeling that was born out of a primal instinct, a knowledge that the potential for love was in the room and with my potential life partner.

Jason and I didn't rush into a wedding, by any stretch. It took us about eight years, and a lot of back-and-forth, to finally make that commitment. By that point, all my years as a brides- maid, standing in taffeta, dreaming of the day where I would hear Corinthians, felt like someone else's life rather than my own. That girl was long gone, and this new L.A. woman, who had looked for love in all the wrong places, was independent, somewhat confident, and certainly didn't feel like she needed a marriage license to be loved. The truth was, I was terrified to commit on that level, on a government level, on a level that if I ever wanted to get out, I would need a lawyer, not just some cash in the bank and my car.

But the big day arrived, and I have a picture from it that I adore. The image is of my father walking behind me holding my gorgeous Vera Wang gown that my sister, Cindy, so generously bought for me, so that it wouldn't drag in the dirt. It was an outdoor wedding, at a friend's estate in the Hollywood Hills, and the aisle consisted of a dirt path surrounded by ominous, large, prehistoric cacti. In the photograph it looks as though I am running and my dad is pushing me down the makeshift aisle, because if I take my time, I might change my mind. My mouth is making an O shape, and the caption, if there was one, would read: "Oh shit, I can't believe I'm doing this." It's definitely not your typical serene, hopeful, smiling bride photo-op, but more along the lines of Calamity Jane meets Runaway Bride. As we stood in the middle of a big circle of our friends with a Sikh guru and beloved friend as our officiant and minister, we included Jewish prayers, Native American rituals, and the Beatles' "In My Life" played on an aluminum cello bellowing across the canyon. I framed that picture of me and my dad, and it sits on my nightstand to remind me of how far I've come; that my fear of losing my freedom or my identity was ultimately just a feeling, and that I would have never married Jason if losing either one was going to be part of the deal. The truth is I feel more liberated in this partnership than I did out of it. It was a beautiful day, and while we didn't read from Corinthians, it was absolutely divine.

Live and Let Love

Four years after our wedding day, I codirected and wrote a short film about love and longevity in a marriage. In the script, Kris Kristofferson, who plays the husband, is caring for his dying wife in an E.R. When asked by a young nurse played by Robin Wright what the secret to love was, he says, "Stay in the room," which accounts for the theme of the film and speaks to the idea of not leaving when things get really difficult and when things don't come easy. That life lesson was imparted to me from a beloved therapist to many of my friends, and in turn to me through them, and we have used it throughout the years whether we are talking about our friendships or our romantic relationships. By staying in the room there won't always be lightning strikes, although those still happen, but more like small fires that continue to burn if they are stoked.

My life with Jason is the warm glowing fire that can peak with vibrant flames—and we have stayed in the room together when the oxygen was thin and breathing was difficult. We've managed to emerge stronger through it all, build a home, rescue and raise dogs, go through midlife crises, travel the world, and laugh until our cheeks hurt. And it's in this relationship and the laughter and the litter that I have learned more about love than anything else in my life. And the most profound selflove lesson that I have learned is that I am enough.

When I set out to collect stories about love, I was narrowly focused on the Eros brand of love stories; the romance, the passion, the humor, and the redemptions. Not the Shakespearean kind per se, more the Sex and the City kind. However, along the way the collection became so much richer and deeper, thanks to the contributors' willingness and courage to look the topic in the face and then look within themselves to find their strongest examples of it. Each woman in this book has her own love story that is up close and personal. The essays are reflections of joy and suffering from love, and within those layers, there are gems of wisdom and precious self-realizations that need to be shared. They are pictures of vulnerability, wickedly funny, and one hundred percent raw, and they have added to the long narrative of love. In short, the women in this book are truly awe-inspiring. I love each and every one of them.

My journey has taken me from the Bible to the Beatles, Eros to happily ever after, and while I still have a lot to learn on the topic of love, I do know this: It is messy, it is heartbreaking, and God, is it worth it. It is my wish that if you allow the layers, the laughter, and the litter of love to envelop you, then you will not only have loved but you will have truly and fully lived.

APB September 13, 2010

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