On Love

Everyone wants to know what is meant by the word love. Curiosity is a part of human nature. It is an insatiable urge buried deep within the very marrow of our bones. Nobody is born knowing how to love. Most people discover their own definition of love by first learning what it is not. Curiosity about love usually comes from a place of lack and is taken for granted the most where it exists in abundance.

The risk involved with knowing what is love and what it is to love is to understand when what you are receiving is not love. To love is a choice and not an easy one to make. Too much attention is given on how to be loved. It is attached as a caveat after “how to love” each time. Self-interest doesn’t play a role in love. Love is selfless; love is other-oriented. Thought of as a gift, love is an act of kindness, intentional, not random.

Contemporary conversations about love use the word to mean “don’t judge.” Self-love is becoming more about embracing flaws and shortcomings, instead of encouraging growth. Coupled with self-care, ideas about love keep the emphasis on the self with dreaded phrases like “me” time cropping up.

The subject of love cannot be continued without first understanding what is meant when that word is used. Love has become entangled in so many other contradictory notions, it now lives on the fringes of collective consciousness in esoteric obscurity, in danger of being lost forever if not revived, and in some cases, revised.

The word love has been displaced by seemingly near synonyms that fail to capture the essence and nature of love: happiness, contentment, fulfillment, satisfaction. Love is treated as a commodity, a means to an end. Love, like medicine, is a practice, as much religion as it is philosophy, and in rare cases, an absolute miracle.

The truth is that love is a delicate subject. The word itself has lost its vigor and potency the way it is used so casually and so carelessly. When love is brought up, it’s attached to relationships, marriage, sex, or politics. For some reason, love always comes with strings attached.

Examining love in isolation, detached from context, and cutting those strings, which have so far held together a working definition of love, is what makes the subject so incredibly complicated, yet still worthy of contemplation. Maybe even more so.

Love, if mentioned at all, is talked about in whispers and conveyed through hushed tones reserved for church corridors. It is borderline taboo, another forbidding aspect which makes the subject endlessly fascinating. It is no wonder, then, that love is found in proximity beside destructiveness. The desire to love and the desire to destroy are equally strong in human nature. Taboos imply silence, and if not broken, compliance. To bring up the subject of love is to destroy the barriers of silence surrounding it, to transgress against the taboo, while others still remain inhibited by how to talk about love.

Love is growth, it never destroys. Hatred is fueled by anger; love is fueled by desire: a desire to love without expectation of receiving anything back. Love, like religion, is best when not forced on anyone. The message of religion should never be conversion. Love exists as an intangible structure, an invisible framework for living. Love is also life. It is the opposite of death and decay.

This is a departure from the idea that humanity’s deepest desire is to love and be loved in return. There is never a guarantee you’ll be loved, or even liked, no matter what you do, even if you conform in the strictest sense of the word. Love as a mindset promises renewed satisfaction, not a permanent state. It must be reached over and over again.

Love is not only about the capacity, the will and desire to love, but also the ability to express that love as a need, meaning more than to gain a sense of belonging, and then to do whatever it takes to continue satisfying that need. Love this deep touches closely with fanaticism and cultivating a life of love is tantamount to obsession, addiction. It is love detached from feeling, as a mindset and a way of life singularly-focused on a continuously renewing process, an end in and of itself.

It is love for love’s sake.

Precious

I already love in you your beauty, but I am only beginning to love in you that which is eternal and ever precious- your heart, your soul. Beauty one could get to know and fall in love with in one hour and cease to love it as speedily; but the soul one must learn to know. Believe me, nothing on Earth is given without labor, even love, the most beautiful and natural the feelings.

Leo Tolstoy

02 November 1856

Bluebeard

Once upon a time, a beautiful maiden was walking through the forest when out of nowhere, a king stepped out of his golden coach and proposed to her. Frightened by his beard, which was totally blue, the maiden objected to marrying her suitor. Her father couldn’t believe his good luck, and after nagging his daughter relentlessly, she finally consented. However, the beard was so blue, it made one shudder somewhat to look at it, and so the maiden went to her brothers for some help.

“Dear brothers,” she cried, “if you hear me scream, drop everything at once and come to my aid immediately.” The brothers promised to do this, and said, “Farewell, dear sister. If we hear your voice, we will jump on our horses and be there as soon as possible.”

Then, the maiden hopped into the coach with Bluebeard and off he went with his new queen to a splendid castle, which was now also hers and would have made both of them very happy were it not for the king’s blue beard that, no matter how hard she tried, frightened her beyond belief.

One day, he had to go on a long journey and gave all the keys to the entire castle to the queen under one condition: she could go into every room and look at everything with the exception of one particular room, which was forbidden to her.

“If you open it,” he threatened her, “you will pay for it with your life.” The queen promised to do as he asked.

As soon as he left, she wasted no time opening every door one right after the other and saw many treasures that must have been gathered from around the world. Soon there were no more doors to open, except for the forbidden room. It was the only thing left on her mind. Curiosity gnawed at her as she turned the golden key over in her hand, wondering what was behind the last door. The queen would have willingly given up looking behind all the other doors if she could have just seen what was worth hiding in the last room. Since the key was made out of gold, she believed that something precious must be inside.

There was nothing precious inside. Instead, blood rushed towards the queen and she saw only carnage. The skeletons of dead women were hanging from the walls. Some still even had flesh on their body. Horrified by the ghastly scene, she slammed the door shut, accidentally dropping the key into a puddle of blood.Terrified that Bluebeard might discover what she had done, the queen tried to wipe away the blood, but to no avail; the bloodstains could not be erased. Out of desperation, she thrust the key into a pile of hay, thinking it would absorb the blood left on the key, but it was hopeless.

The next day, Bluebeard returned to the castle and asked for his keys back first thing. Heart pounding, the queen brought the bunch of keys back to the king as he requested, hoping he wouldn’t notice the golden key was missing. However, after counting all the keys, he looked straight into her eyes and said, “Where’s the key to the secret room?”

His queen blushed red as the blood she had seen. “It’s upstairs,” she stammered, “I misplaced it. I shall go and look for it tomorrow.”

“You’d better go now, dear wife. I need it. Today.”

“Oh, I might as well tell you. I lost it in the hay. I’ll have to go and search for it first.” Bluebeard was angry.

“You haven’t lost it,” he said. “Now you’ll enter the room whether you want to or not because you did not listen to me.”

The queen brought the key, still stained with blood, back to Bluebeard.

“Prepare yourself for your own death,” he told her, “because you shall die today.” Bluebeard grabbed a knife and started to sharpen it on the bottom step.

“Before I die, let me say my prayers,” the queen asked, and ran upstairs. As soon as she got to the window, she yelled to her brothers for help as loud as she could. Finally, she saw her three brothers riding as fast as they could towards her rescue just before her head was suddenly jerked backwards as Bluebeard grabbed her by the hair. He was just about to plunge his knife into her heart when her three brothers tore their sister from his hands. 

Once their sister was safe, the brothers went back to cut down Bluebeard with their swords. Afterwards, they hung him up next to the women he killed, and took their sister home with them.

Then, all the treasure that was once Bluebeard’s became hers.

The End

Wonderfullest of All

I have a thousand images of you in an hour; all different and all coming back to the same… And we love. And we’ve got the most amazing secrets and understandings. Noel, whom I love, who is so beautiful and wonderful. I think of you eating omlette on the ground. I think of you once against a sky line: and on the hill that Sunday morning.

And that night was wonderfullest of all. The light and the shadow and quietness and the rain and the wood. And you. You are so beautiful and wonderful that I daren’t write to you… And kinder than God.


Your arms and lips and hair and shoulders and voice – you.

Rupert Brooke

2 October 1911

True Love

My dearest,
When two souls, which have sought each other for, however long in the throng, have finally found each other …a union, fiery and pure as they themselves are… begins on earth and continues forever in heaven.

This union is love, true love, a religion, which deifies the loved one, whose life comes from devotion and passion, and for which the greatest sacrifices are the sweetest delights.

This is the love which you inspire in me… Your soul is made to love with the purity and passion of angels; but perhaps it can only love another angel, in which case I must tremble with apprehension.

Yours forever,

Victor Hugo

1821

Dying

But let me have this letter, containing nothing but your love; and tell me that you give me your lips, your hair, all that face that I have possessed, and tell me that we embrace – you and I!

O God, O God, when I think of it, my throat closes, my sight is troubled; my knees fail, ah, it is horrible to die, it is also horrible to love like this! What longing, what longing I have for you!

I beg you to let me have the letter I ask. I am dying.

Farewell.

Alfred de Musset

01 September 1834

Love by Another Name

Two people you love are hanging off the side of a cliff. Who do you save?

Easy: I let go.

Not Clamence! This man is close enough to see the “cool and damp” neck of a woman dressed all in black staring at the river, hears the sound of a body striking water, and keeps walking.

It’s a metaphor for love, of course; it’s remarkable how often love and death coincide. I’m reading The Fall by Albert Camus and he’s drawing the boundaries around a definition of love from his perspective and experience.

Nobody is born knowing how to love. Growing up, my parents showed love by feeding me, clothing me, and keeping a roof over my head. When my ex-fiance kicked me out and I showed up at their door, they closed it in my face. I was forced to rearrange my own definition of love and face a truth I wasn’t ready to accept.

While heartbreak is universal, not all love is created equal. Camus (as Clamence) says:

“Some cry: ‘Love me!’ Others: ‘Don’t love me!’ But a certain genus, the worst and most unhappy, cries: ‘Don’t love me and be faithful to me!’ Except that the proof is never definitive, after all; one has to begin again with each new person. As a result of beginning over and over again, one gets in the habit. Soon the speech comes without thinking and the reflex follows; and one day you find yourself taking without really desiring…not taking what one doesn’t desire is the hardest thing in the world.”

Love is an ever-evolving concept. The only way I’ve learned how to show love is the same way as my parents showed me: feeding, clothing, and keeping a roof over somebody else’s head. It’s no mystery how three of my own relationships have collapsed. My concept of love dissolved the day a door closed in my face when I needed nothing more than life’s bare minimum to survive.

The only thing I’ve learned about starting over and over again is more about the way I desire myself to be loved, the only kind I’ve read about in books, and not the kind I can give myself. Self-love, for me, is empty and unreciprocated: it is a one-way street, a dead end.

Clamence is a “judge-penitent,” someone who has known love, but only in retrospect. Death is the deepest form of separation to express and properly convey the level of remorse he feels about whatever happened. The details are hardly relevant, not that he did, in fact, check the papers to see if the woman is still alive.

What he attempts to convey is the sense of an irreversible loss, something a better person would learn how to do the next time they are beginning over with someone new. He overcomes the false belief that a “woman who had once been mine could ever belong to another” and learns what belonging really means, that the love he received was taken for granted, not cherished as it should have been.

Now it’s too late because the woman is dead: she will never belong to anyone else ever again.

There’s a tendency to conquer heartbreak by loving the next person harder, instead of differently. Communicating love is an individual act. Heartbreak can become an all-consuming fire in life destroying everything in its path, or it can be a catalyst to do better the next time.

In other words, remorse. Love by another name. As a woman, a series of relationships is a mark against her. For a man, it’s experience. Without starting over, how does anyone learn?

Shakespeare says that a woman may fall when there is no strength in men. Camus shows what strength looks like through his character Clamence by looking back at the life he lived and returning as a judge-penitent, leaving a shining example for someone else to follow.

If there is one thing I’ve never had from a relationship, it’s closure, a definitive reason for why things went wrong. Now the answer to that question is clear as day: they simply don’t know how.

Too Much

Do you know, when you have told me to think of you, I have been feeling ashamed of thinking of you so much, of thinking of only you–which is too much, perhaps.

Shall I tell you?

It seems to me, to myself, that no man was ever before to any woman what you are to me–the fullness must be in proportion, you know, to the vacancy…and only I know what was behind–the long wilderness without the blossoming rose…and the capacity for happiness, like a black gaping hole, before this silver flooding.

Is it wonderful that I should stand as in a ream, and disbelieve–not you–but my own fate?

Was ever any one taken suddenly from a lampless dungeon and placed upon the pinnacle of a mountain, without the head turning round and the heart turning faint, as mine do?

And you love me more, you say? Shall I thank you or God? Both,–indeed–and there is no possible return from me to either of you! I thank you as the unworthy may…and as we all thank God. How shall I ever prove what my heart is to you?

How will you ever see it as I feel it? I ask myself in vain. Have so much faith in me, my only beloved, as to use me simply for your own advantage and happiness, and to your own ends without a thought of any others–that is all I could ask without any disquiet as to the granting of it

May God bless you!

Your B.A.

Robert Browning

10 January 1846

A Real Cinderella

To Josephine,

I love you no longer; on the contrary, I detest you. You are a wretch, truly perverse, truly stupid, a real Cinderella. You never write to me at all, you do not love your husband; you know the pleasure that your letters give him yet you cannot even manage to write him half a dozen lines, dashed off in a moment!

What then do you do all day, Madame? What business is so vital that it robs you of the time to write to your faithful lover? What attachment can be stifling and pushing aside the love, the tender and constant love which you promised him? Who can this wonderful new lover be who takes up your every moment, rules your days and prevents you from devoting your attention to your husband? Beware, Josephine; one fine night the doors will be broken down and there I shall be.

In truth, I am worried, my love, to have no news from you; write me a four page letter instantly made up from those delightful words which fill my heart with emotion and joy.

I hope to hold you in my arms before long, when I shall lavish upon you a million kisses, burning as the equatorial sun.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Spring 1797