Love the One You're With - Revisited

I was clueless in the seventies. I thought all that love stuff in pop culture was really about love. After all Joni Mitchell was on the radio singing, "Come on people now smile on our brother..." That was about real love. So why not Crosby, Stills and their crew? Remember their harmonious voices singing:

If you can't be with the one you love, then love the one you're with.
To me it was a little parable. It meant when you find yourself far away from the little neighborhood where you felt safe and comfortable, where you quite naturally love and feel loved, then you should look right in front of you and see that whoever is there is your neighbor and value them as such. It was a tonic for Dylan's depressing taunt: "How does it feel? To be all alone ... with no direction home." CSNY were to me a breath of fresh air. They reminded me I could carry my "heart's home" with me anywhere.
Does that make sense? Can you see how a bright-eyed youth could read that meaning into a lyric from a popular tune.
For me, at that point in my life I was uprooted. I went away to college and found a strange culture there. At home we were in a different place as well—in a new town with a new school and a new church. I had lived there only about five months before graduating high school. In my heart were memories of people and places that I couldn't get back to.
So, to me, the song expressed a wonderful truth. It was telling me to see the new people as neighbors and friends and start building relationships again. I think it helped me not to want to pine for the beloved past while avoiding the reality of present company. It was like a little reminder every time I heard it. And I got comfort from it because I knew it was right.
Then years later my friends told me the song was about free sex.
I'm glad I didn't know that then.

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