What is love?
Everyone has an answer, some less fruity than others. I have considered the cynics and the romantics. Our material culture is saturated with a desperate emptiness, singing of an answer called Love. I have heard the songs, I have watched the films, promising utopias of Happily Ever After. And then, occasionally, I have plunged into the moment and the madness too, and often come away, stung, with a whole lot of lessons to learn, when “sorry” can no longer bridge the silence; when silence is no longer the bridge between two new strangers becoming strangers again.
“Love” takes many forms, enwraps and envelopes and encompasses many things.
Initially, I wanted to talk merely about the love between two individuals, but today, revisiting a painful, recent memory I would rather forget, I thought that life can offer us many metaphors about many things. Not for the first time it struck me that old religious adage that resonates across so many faiths – that all things are one.
And perhaps, so it is with love.
As I type this, there is a particular heaviness in my heart. The painful recent memory I am talking about is the undergraduate thesis which tanked, which I have been chattering on and on about on this site for a bit, perhaps too insufferably and too hubristically. It is never an easy experience to have the fruits of a many-weeked, many-monthed effort critiqued and methodically taken apart like that. It leaves one feeling washed out, washed up; as if the joy and euphoria of the past weeks were a cheap sham borne aloft only by showmanship.
Although the truth is that I did enjoy writing my thesis, although deep in my heart I do know that it is the journey that ultimately matters in the end, disappointment is never easy to swallow, is perhaps necessarily a bitter pill that we all have to imbibe sooner or later, in more or less regular doses. Today, I revisited my thesis – a thing once of joy, which has now become an awkward thing, a shame-thing that I have no idea how to look at anymore. All these words, all these ideas, all the research which I loved doing – was it all for naught? Dare I try again?
What is Love?
I’m not too sure. But I think I know what it is not, having sampled some of the societally proffered answers myself. Love isn’t the saccharine quickening in the heart. Nor the endless texts you may have sent, the letters you may have crafted. Not a rose. Not a bouquet, because flowers wilt, and die, and are returned rotting to the earth. Not the lock you put on some unnamed bridge and take a photo with. Not the fireworks. Not the romance not the songs. It is not the word irresponsibly whispered on an alien bed. Not the obsessive, destructive craving that only a privileged few of us have experienced and encountered.
The older ones amongst us know this. There is a response to these fireworks and these irresponsible declarations. Love is in the small things, they say. And there are many ways to say “I love you”: in the little gestures, in the waiting-after-work, in the quiet companionship of an afternoon spent doing nothing but reading, or listening. The days that pass, that turn into weeks and months. The thought shared unexpectedly. The expansive moon gleaming with twinkling stars, instead of the shouting sun in his jealous sky. The fingers brushing against each other; the mundane everyday that is the warp and weft and woof of a life lived together. And to these, I have no strident argument. To paraphrase Catherine of Wuthering Heights, these are things of little visible delight, but necessary.
Postscripts and Epilogues
But no, this isn’t what I want to speak about today. Love has many facets, perhaps as many as there are lovers. There is another facet glimmering in my head today, the one that perhaps undergirds all the quiet moments in the paragraph above.
What is love?
What I want to ask is: what and where is love, after love – After we have been gashed once, or thrice, or too many times to count? What happens after the credits roll away in the sad movie. Past the epilogue, past the final page?
What I want to ask is: What is love after you have heard things crack and splinter too many times? After you have tasted the sickening brine-sweetness of betrayal? The bright, acrid bitterness of realization? What is love after one has witnessed the double-vision of two universes finally coming untethered, unglued, with glacial inevitability?
I puzzle over my/our complicated selves. Why do we seek such strange agonies, despite knowing what likely lies ahead? Are we such sadists? Or are we intoxicated with the heady promises of capitalist bliss, beamed through Bridget Jones and broadcast by James Blunt? What is love anyway, and why do we keep putting our hands into fires? How do we live with the promise of ecstasy and the terror of its almost-inevitable passing? What hubris deludes us into thinking that the union of complicated beings can endure for long; for ever?
What is love?
I can give you no answers. Like God (or even quantum physics these days, if my nonexistent grasp of popular science articles can be trusted), I believe that something like love is intensely personal and subjective, depending on whom you ask, depending on when and where you ask the question.
Perhaps love is simply a dangerous curiosity. Perhaps it is a poignant hope. Or the sheer madness of the underdog. Perhaps we are simply all stupid, inveterate gamblers.
But perhaps love is trust: not just blind trust. But trust in spite of having been hurt, having been gashed countlessly, numerously. Why do we do it?
I think it is trust – but a trust made greater, more sacred and deeper by the fact that it has been broken before. And so my answer this evening is simple: love is trust. Love is trying again, because you believe, whether madly, rationally or otherwise, in the face of all reason or with the heft of all emotion, that it is worth trying again. You trust. You trust that whatever or whoever you are giving yourself to will hold you, will carry you through (And perhaps that is why they say love is madness too).
Does it hurt? Always. Are we stupid for trying and trying again? I suppose.
Was/is it worth it? Maybe.
What is love? Who knows, and everyone knows.
And therein lies one of the greatest questions (and thus, adventures) of life.
What is love? Love is coming back to my thesis again, terrified, at the advice and encouragement of a mentor, to confront my failings, to start all over again.
“So therefore I dedicate myself, to my art, my sleep, my dreams, my labors, my suffrances, my loneliness, my unique madness, my endless absorption and hunger because I cannot dedicate myself to any fellow being.” | Jack Kerouac