Radical Love

by Eren Cervantes-Altamirano

“How lucky they are, the normal ones, those peculiar creatures:
The ones who didn’t have a crazy mother, a drunk for a father, a delinquent son,
A house nowhere at all, an unknown disease,
The ones not eaten at by a corrosive love…”
Roberto Fernández Retamar in How Lucky They Are, the Normal Ones.

“You are unsure about how you feel investing your feelings on me…” he told me in a conversation. The phrase shook me a little, I must admit. He was right. I had been on the fence on this issue for a few months now. I joked about it with my girlfriends, who curiously interrogated me every time I saw him. That is how the relationship got labelled “the whatevership” by my best friend, who constantly lectures me about the art of “relationshipping.”

I have always liked to think that I know who I am and what I want. But I am also very careful and pragmatic about how I go about these things; I am very Virgo that way. Yet, what my usual horoscope sites do not tell me, is how to balance my Virgo-ness with my brokenness. Losing a partner and seeing all my plans falling through was an experience that I will never forget, and that I continue to evoke constantly.

Feelings have been invested in this relationship, however, whether I like to admit it or not. Several months after our first meeting, I still get the butterflies and behave like an excited toddler when he sends a text or we get together. But I also wonder about the future. And as the pragmatic and analytical being that I would like to be, I am often embarrassed to say that my feelings are taking over… primarily because the feelings scare me.

**

He and I have this little routine, where we go for breakfast together. We get “white people’s food” (meaning pancakes and eggs, with no bacon, of course) and make jokes about it… It is a humour exercise. What else do you have when you are a racialized person and white people keep asking you if all you eat is butter chicken or tacos? Or when they just take it upon themselves to appropriate? Thus, by now we mostly browse the first part of the menu looking through the pancake options. Blueberry? Peanut butter? Banana and pecans?

Sometimes when he is not looking I observe him. I have great admiration for him, he is perhaps one of the most brilliant and talented people I have ever met. Yet, he is quite unaware, or perhaps it is one of the many demons that follow him. And even though he has a playful, almost mischievous, side to him, that does not erase the aura of nostalgia surrounding his presence.

He does not know it, but meeting him is one of the most transformative experiences I have had in the last little while. I came into the relationship while still picking up the pieces of the previous year. And aside from the tragedy that triggered my self-discovery and healing processes, I went through tons of experiences that were new to me.

In a span of six months, I had been on dates with men who exotified me, who did not believe in sexism and racism and who were “fiscally conservative, but socially liberal” (ugh!). I somehow also ended up having coffee with men who believe all Muslims are terrorists, all Mexicans are illegal immigrants and all Indigenous peoples are drunks. And in between, where those who wanted to “get married, have kids and live in the suburbs by next year,” who wanted serious relationships that upon being described sounded like a mothering job, or who simply did not know what they wanted.

However, as incredibly disheartening as this process was (and believe me, I have stories to tell), it was this very route that somehow led me to meet him. And, as Jorge Luis Borges says, “all inadvertence is deliberate, every casual encounter is an engagement made beforehand.”[1] I believe that… I believe that everything happens for a reason.

Thus, for months, I speculated about the higher purpose of this random encounter, but what this man has taught me, without realizing, is that the kind of love I yearn for, given who I am and what I have been through, is nothing short of radical. Radical love is not only unconventional, in my mind, but it is a form of resistance.

Love is not free from the structures of power that are so familiar to those who experience racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, violence, etc. And as an Indigenous woman, an immigrant, someone raised in the Third World and a Muslim, I cannot have conventional relationships, like the ones in white-mainstream pop culture, without losing an essential part of myself to various structures of power. Hence, radical love is for those who have been reminded of their otherness and those for whom their otherness has been made obvious in their personal relationships.

**

As for our “whatevership,” we have reached that point, where we somehow need to make sense of our fears and insecurities, and we need to be open about the emotional investment. Are we willing to invest? Is it doable? Is it radical enough? Radical love is unattainable without that self-awareness and the vow to purge from all the demons that instigate fear.

And if there is something that I have learned from him, something he has inadvertently offered to me, is the importance of authenticity, that commitment to who you are and to what is around you. When he speaks I know he has been to hell and back… I can hear the cues of indescribable pain. And having been there myself, under different circumstances, I appreciate the search for something other than mere emotional survival. I respect the yearning for something greater than the margins because it is those who are followed by their own demons, the broken, the marginalized, the struggling and the oppressed who have the keys to radical love.

[1] In Deutsches Requiem by Jorge Luis Borges

About the Author:

Eren Cervantes-Altamirano is a Binnizá-Mexican convert to Islam. She is trying really hard to finish the MA dissertation focusing on policies addressing sexual violence in development programming in the Third World. Eren’s blog Identity Crisis focuses on her multiple identities and her attempts to reconcile them when they are at odds with each other. She currently also blogs at Muslimah Media Watch and Love InshAllah. When she is not writing, Eren can be found baking, traveling, chilling with her cat, Sugar, and trying to figure out dating, love and relationships. Follow her at @ErenArruna.