Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What is Love?

Love is a fairly hopeless word. It has such a wide array of meanings, perhaps we should drop it.

Love of parents, love of dogs, love of friends, love of frogs; love of sport, love of God, love of art, love of tarts (of whatever kind). The list goes on. In each love very different emotional syzygies occur between lover and the beloved; while in their wake, different behaviours and expectations ensue.

The elasticity and capaciousness of love's meaning is clear. Yet, despite this, even though we know this, if you say that you have 'found love', people will not infer that you have activated a greater esteem for your parents or discovered that you adore dogs. If you say you are 'looking for love', similarly, they won't suppose you really wished you could find football as engaging as your friends do, or that you seek to pierce the veils of maya and behold the irradiance of the uncreated one.

Rather, they will think that you have found, or are looking for, a romantic partner, or, as it might be said, a 'lover'.

This is all well and good. But what annoys me is the downgraded, second place status then accorded to the other types of love.

And given that romantic love is shot through with conditionality and frailty, that its tenure is never guaranteed, that its machinations, if negative and implosive, can rip out your heart and turn you into a vegetable, it is perhaps to be wondered whether this form of love deserves its exalted status.

I know what will be said – that without the sour you can not appreciate the sweet*, that the singular sweetness of romantic love means that this love surpasses all others.

Fair enough, the second of these points feels like it could be true (though try saying that to a mystic!). But I wonder: is this the case only because of the context romantic love occupies in the world? The public world of typical social interaction, after all, is evidently not an environment of love. From it we can get little, if any, love. This means that most, if not all, of our needs for love, for self-exposure, undefended vulnerability and mergence with the 'other', are placed upon the shoulders of romantic love. This gives it a tremendous significance as an oasis in a desert, a haven in the hailstorm of the world. So when it graces us, it feels like we have been enfolded by the arms, and into the breast, of God.

I am not, I hope, stupid enough not to recognise that I might only display this sceptical and cynical attitude towards romantic love because I haven't had an entirely happy time with it myself. I can admit that. But whether this, for that reason alone, invalidates my reflections about it, I'm not sure.

In any case, it seems to me that romantic love is the religion of the modern world; and the questioning of its overwhelming dominance in the world of 'love' a rare heresy indeed.

NB I should add - in case anyone's interested (though I can only presume they aren't) - that the above does not mean that I am not interested in the successful pursuit of romantic love; even less, that I am now 'celibate' in my stance. I say what I say, not more than it.

* Taken from 'Vanilla Sky' in the context of Brian's (Jason Lee's) assurance to David (Tom Cruise) that he would never experience the true value and sweetness of love unless he were first to suffer from it. Presumably, because, otherwise, in the absence of duality, he wouldn't know how to appreciate it.

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