Is love a lie? Great question! We like to joke about it, because nihilism is one (1) free and legal coping mechanism that’s available to us all at any given time of the day and night, but what do we really think? Today we’re attempting to find an answer, once and for all, for the record and for the good of the people. On which side of this proverbial and eternal fence will we land? Keep reading to find out!
Here at Autostraddle, I am often asked to give advice. I love this part of my job! As an opinionated Capricorn and a queer writer with deep love for community, this is literally my dream. One thing I have noticed over the years of answering advice questions from our readers, though, is how the word “love” is used as a stand-in for other things: people write in and say they want love but what they are really looking for is hot sex, or a life partner, or someone to co-parent with, or a person to listen to all their stories, or a hand to hold with your fingers intertwined, or a travel buddy, or, or, or, or, or.
I am 32 and I currently have a boyfriend but I have also been single and I don’t assume I will always be partnered. If you’ve read my advice columns with any regularity you know friendship is my favorite answer. Yes, dear reader, you think you are looking for a life partner but you are actually looking for a friend. You think you want to get married but have you considered growing old with your pals. You tell me you are miserable but romance won’t cure you — you are responsible for your own happiness, and have you considered friendship. Sometimes readers comment and essentially tell me I’m full of shit (usually in a nice way!). They respond to the person asking the original question: Sure, Vanessa is right, you can build stronger friendships, but everyone who is single knows that’s not the same as having a girlfriend. I have puzzled over these responses, because I want to get the answer right. It’s not useful to give a person advice that doesn’t help them. Of course a friend isn’t the same as a girlfriend. But my whole point is I don’t think they are asking for a girlfriend. I think they are asking for love. That’s what I’m trying to help them find. And I have always most reliably found love from my friends.
It’s a joke when we say “love is a lie,” of course. It’s part of The Autostraddle Brand, in the same way we title gossip Vapid Fluff and certain insidery posts Personality Cult. I know it’s Not That Deep… but it does make me sad, to be honest, when we casually talk about love being a lie, because the world is already so sad and shitty. Love is one of the only good things. Why make the health of romantic relationships the arbiter of love being real or not?
Do I think that most celeb couples end up breaking up? Yes! Do I think that most couples in general end up breaking up? Yes!!! Do I think that love is real? Y E S !!!!! These things have nothing to do with each other! I’m not trying to be full of shit, I’m trying to be specific. Breaking up can be real and love can also be real! A broken heart doesn’t dismiss love; it honors it.
These days, I rarely respond to my texts. My dad died on January 1 of this year and I am no longer myself. I have always thought of myself as the supportive friend, the active listener, the fun girl, the person who is fine. I show up. I bake. I remember birthdays. I ghost write break up texts. I go out dancing. I make out. I buy flowers for you just because. I’m not saying these are the only ways to be a good friend; this is not prescriptive. But I’m telling you that in my life, prioritizing friendship is a big deal. I’m telling you I have spent more than ten years building connections with people I call family and friend interchangeably. And I’m telling you that since my dad’s death, everything I know to be true about myself is different. I cannot show up to love the people I love in the same way. I am not okay.
But my friends are still here.
Sometimes they just show up at my doorstep with soup. They ring the doorbell and if I don’t answer they leave the food and go. They call me and leave voicemails when I don’t pick up, they DM me silly memes, they write you don’t have to respond every time they reach out. My friend who hates cooking buys me a lot of snacks. Two of my best friends send my mom pink roses, her favorites, and one of them also sends her a rose quartz necklace to promote healing of her heart. They send me poems. They send me petty tweets. They text my boyfriend to ask what I need.
I cannot emphasize how literally I have taken their assurances that I don’t have to respond.
On a day when I feel especially guilty for not being able to reciprocate the love my friends have shown me during the past few weeks, I apologize to my best friend. She laughs at me kindly. You’re the one who always writes about the magic of friendship, babe. Did you think my love was conditional?
It’s not that I thought my friends were only my friends because I’m fun. But maybe, in spite of constantly telling Autostraddle readers that romantic partnership wasn’t the only way to achieve love, a part of me thought I was full of shit, too.
When I’ve written about friendship in the past, it is always with an eye to the sunny, the glorious, the magical. I write about dance parties, about gay gossip, about sex and dating, about growing old together in the hypothetical. I spend a lot of time thinking about family structures, about what it means to build a life with someone or many people, about what we owe the people we love. I think about what it means to create a new story, to reconstruct the narrative that stable loving structures can only be created through the nuclear family — but I have never had a chance to put it into practice before.
It doesn’t make sense to tie the truth of love to a single queer couple, or a single queer breakup, or even one hundred queer couples, or one hundred queer breakups, because it turns out I’ve been right all along: love is bigger than all that.
Have you ever driven someone to the airport at 4am so they could make a flight to attend a funeral? Have you ever had a puppy look up at you with huge trusting eyes before you fill up his food bowl and call him a good boy? Have you ever seen a baby gay at your local library and given them the tiniest nod of recognition and watched their whole face light up with relief? Have you ever called a friend late at night and listened to her cry, then stayed on the line until her sobs turned to hiccups turned to slow breathing and then once you were very certain she was asleep, you let yourself drift off too, but you didn’t hang up, you just kept the line open all night? Have you ever let someone eat the last cookie even though you really wanted it? Have you ever read a novel so real you had to go lie on the cool tile of the bathroom floor because you couldn’t believe another human on this earth understood your brain so entirely? Have you ever leaped into an ice cold lake on the very first day of summer? Have you ever visited Autostraddle dot com and read an article posted here and smiled a little bit to yourself because you’re not alone, because we’re all weirdos who found each other in this little corner of the internet, because queer community is a lifeline that y’all help create just by being here?
That’s love, babe. How could it possibly be a lie? I am not full of shit. It’s just that I believe with my whole damn heart that we are all we have. And I want us to love each other, and I want us to acknowledge that love is real. Because honestly, I think it’s all we’ve got. Love is not a lie; in fact, it’s the only truth.
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This post is everything
Thank you Vanessa <3
Every piece I’ve read from you since your dad died has made me cry. I’m very glad you’re being loved so well. Thank you for gifting us your wisdom and your words. I fully agree that love is so much bigger than any break-up. Love is all around us. In the sun, the wind, and the trees, as well.
Vanessa, this is perfect.
Holy shit, this may be my new favourite Autostraddle article! <3
wow I love this so much, thank you for sharing Vanessa!!
You are awesome Vanessa.
And Friendship really is the bestest best thing.
This is so lovely.
love is reading this article
“Love is not a lie; in fact, it’s the only truth.”
“I am no longer myself…since my dad’s death, everything I know to be true about myself is different.” In four days it will be twenty years since my dad died. The After You will never be quite the same as the Before You, but the After You will find new ways to be ok and even to thrive. I’m glad you have so many friends loving you through this. Thank you for sharing your perspective with us. You have a good heart.
One of the most beautiful things I have ever read. Thank you, Vanessa.
“I know it’s Not That Deep… but it does make me sad, to be honest, when we casually talk about love being a lie, because the world is already so sad and shitty. Love is one of the only good things. Why make the health of romantic relationships the arbiter of love being real or not?”
Thank you, thank you, thank you Vanessa. For the whole beautiful piece, but especially for this part.
This piece touched my heart and reminded me emotionally as well as textually of the reality of love. Thank you.
Oh my goodness thank you for this.
“the only truth” ! a beautiful way to put it. thank you, vanessa.
I love this and all of your articles about friendship. I hate how society defines passionate/romantic love as the most important kind.
I am glad your friends are there for you.
This is going to be one of those posts that I save deep down in my soul for when I need stars to help me re-find my navigation again. This is what I want to build towards.
Vanessa, thank you for this beautiful, and loving, and generous reflection.
This is my first time commenting, but I just lost my father, too, and reading this was the first thing that has helped. I am so sorry for your loss, and so grateful to you for helping me to grapple with my own!
<3 I read this a few days ago and bits and pieces keep popping back into my mind and my heart. There are so many kinds of love that have such meaning.
I also found the questions about what people are wanting when they’re “looking for love” to be quite helpful to ask myself. I am grateful to have so much love in my life!