The Endurance of Love
Many months ago, sitting in the bistro that I frequent, I overheard a woman declaring
Love never dies! Now, I really don’t know the context, and she may have been elliptically expressing some thought with which I would agree, but certainly love does sometimes die. I thought about how and why it dies.
There’s something often mistaken for love, that virtually always dies. That’s the romantic bliss that many people feel each in response to some other person. Given human variability, there is probably some small number of people who feel that bliss about some person, without cessation, for many decades and until these blissful people die. But it rarely persists for more than a very few years, if even that. People who mistake it for love involve themselves in ways that they should not. People who mistake it for love sometimes leave when they should not; the bliss evaporates and they think themselves no longer in love, or they do not feel the bliss in the first place and think that they never loved, because they do not recognize the love that they feel for the other person. As for me, I’ve never felt that bliss at all; I only know of it from reports; but I certainly have personal experience of loving someone.
Real love is the distinctive, fundamental emotional response to finding a person whom one believes exemplifies one’s values. And when one believes that the other person complements one’s self, the love has a romantic aspect, a desire to build a shared life with that person. Those beliefs are usually unconscious. The typical person, when not in love, can make a list of what he or she would want in another person, only to find him- or herself later in love with someone who seems quite different from what was imagined. But, in all things, our actual values come-out in the course of felt desire, of choice made at cost, of action. In any case, that emotional response lasts for as long as one holds those values, believes that the other person manifests those values, and sees that person as one’s complement.
It takes rather a lot for that response to die, because there is so much to be undone. Some highly personal values of the lover must change, or the person loved must come to appear to be very different, in a negative way, from what was believed. I’m inclined to say that love doesn’t die unless it is killed. Sometimes it staggers along for rather a long while even when obviously mortally wounded. If no one kills love, then it lasts for the lifetime of the one who loves, and thus can abide beyond the lifetime of the one who was loved.
I think that many or most of us have seen love killed. I’ve more than once seen one person who felt but did not recognize love kill the love that the other person felt for him or for her, and then struggle to live with an unrequited love, perhaps never seen for what it were.
I certainly won’t claim that it is better to have loved and then experienced the killing of that love than never to have loved at all. But there is a self-awareness that can be salvaged from the wreckage. One doesn’t know whom one will love before one loves; but, after all, one emerges from a failed love with the experience of having loved, and thus of having one’s actual values expressed. Perhaps the other person wasn’t whom one thought, but it should be possible consciously to identify some of the attributes that one imputed to that other person which caused one to love him or her; a contrast with the discovered makes the imagined easier to see. Thus, one may have a more clear idea of what one may call one’s
personal destiny, though this is a destiny that may not be reälized and might even be absurd.
Love that doesn’t die but that is unrequited or effectively unrequited is a different matter. One might still clarify one’s values, even without a contrast between the one’s earlier beliefs about a person and what one discovers about him or about her. But there may be no application of this knowledge; so long as one is in love, there is no next person to seek.
 Early in my relationship with my most recent girl-friend, she was deeply hurt to learn that I wasn’t joyful. She didn’t explain why she was hurt, and I did not understand during the course of that relationship why she had been hurt (and perhaps remained hurt). Now I infer that she mistakenly felt unloved.