Posts Tagged ‘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.
A thousand miles is a measure of special symbolism in the poetry of hearts longing or wounded. A more accurate figure in my case might be 1061 miles. Or, if one reckoned driving distance, something like 1254 miles. But exactitude does me little good; were she hundreds of miles closer, she still might as well be a thousand miles away.
The following advice has become rather common-place:
If you love someone, set them free. If they come back, they’re yours; if they don’t, they never were.
I want to note something about the logick of this formula.
To return is to have gone; implicit in the words
come back is that distance develops, whether actively or passively. And, indeed, if neither of two people makes an effort to stay connected, that is what one expects to happen.
If two people each apply the rule of setting the other free and of then awaiting the return of the other, it will not be love but chance-coïncidence or a conspiracy of others or perhaps some action of the collective unconscious that brings them back together — if anything does at all. The formula as popularly given strikes me as potentially very destructive to the purposes of love.
Now, that doesn’t mean that each of two people in love should do entirely the opposite, and attempt to constrain the other person by threats or by impairments. Rather, one wants to empower the other person, yet hope that he or she stays, so that there is no coming back. And, typically, that hope should be expressed to the other person.
But, sometimes, one watches one’s love go away, and prays for a return.
Various unhappy things have occurred in my life since my last entry here. The worst of these was the death of the beloved cat of the Woman of Interest.
Some years before she and I had ever had any contact, the Woman of Interest was passing by a dumpster, and heard a cry as if from a tomcat trapped in it. So she went to free the creature. What she found, to her surprise, was not an adult, but a truly tiny little black kitten, with preternaturally beautiful green eyes. He had been closed in a box with a toy, put in the dumpster, and left for death. (We can only speculate about this combination of apparent affection and ruthlessness.)
He was far too young to be properly weened and separated from his mother — the Woman of Interest was horrified when a veterinarian estimated his age — but she became the best possible substitute for that mother. He grew to be a cat with an rather large frame (though she took care not to let him become obese, and put him on a diet when he became a bit pudgy).
Actually, though, he really never ceased to be a kitten, and a pretty rambunctious one at that. And, as far as he was concerned, she was always his Best Mommy. When he and I would be alone in her apartment, he would spend a fair amount of time laying where he could watch the door, waiting for her return; I’d not before seen an adult cat do that. (My family had a cat, and I had a cat of my own, so I’m not without prior experience.)
He was a talkative cat, who usually made something more like the sound of a duck quack than a typical
meow; and, if he were awake and she were at home, then he’d usually be vocalizing at her — I think that usually what he was saying could be translated as
Mom! — though sometimes he’d just roam-about, engaged in apparent commentary to himself. I’d be especially amused when I’d hear him trying to tell her something after she‘d fallen asleep while on the phone with me.
He and I got along quite well. I was looking forward to spending years hanging-out with him. Without conscious categorization, I thought of us as buddies.
I won’t here rehash the details of how he was lost. Not long before he died, tests established that he had developed diabetes; this was caught much sooner than is typical in house cats (because the Woman of Interest was very mindful of his health), and she began treating it as per the veterinarian’s instructions. But what was also discovered at the same time was that he had a common heart condition. Neither, by itself, would have proved fatal. But, jointly, they were too much. She found him dead on the morning of the fourth.
I’m not writing here to grieve (though I sometimes still cry about him), but because I observe something qua social scientist.
My relationship with the Woman of Interest wasn’t well-bounded by just the two of us. Her cat played a significant rôle in our relationship, and it was the relationship more of another person than of an impersonal thing. A relationship that I would have categorized as between two persons was actually somewhat rather like one amongst three persons. With his death, the relationship of the three of us took a terrible hit, and the relationship of the two of us is henceforth informed by that injury. He did not mean — and could not have meant — the same thing to each of us individually, but he meant something shared in the relationship as such; and, even if the loss to the relationship could be fully decomposed into our losses as individuals (an issue that I don’t propose here to labor), still it is important to recognize it as a sort of loss to the relationship, albeït not one to cause us to love each other less or to become more distant.
(Many years ago, I lost my dog while I was in a relationship, but the nature of that relationship was different. For my part, I knew that, without radical and unlikely change, I needed to be freed of that wretched woman; and, for her part, she had already been preparing to discard as much of her responsibilities as she might, including any that were had for the dog. He died before she left us, but she was going to leave him too. So I didn’t observe then anything analogous to what I observe now.)
Yester-day, I finished reading The Pig Did It, by Joseph Caldwell. Although it has some genuinely amusing movements and clever notions, it was on the whole a disappointment.
The book rests upon the author’s recognition of how an obsessive desire to be loved by some particular person is often mistaken for romantic love of that person, but really is no such thing. However, the author, in turn, appears to have confused that recognition for a positive understanding of love, whereäs he displays no such thing, in a book which is about love.
In an interview, Caldwell said
Stories really reveal… people. I mean, even if you’re telling a tale, uh, what you do is that it tells about people, and people can identify with other people. Y’know, they can sayOh yes, I have feelings like that,Oh yes, I’m capable of that,Oh yes, I’ve done that,orOh yes, I wish I’d done that,and that’s what, uh, keeps somebody reading, because they’re… when we read, we’re really reading about ourselves. …to a great degree. …if it’s any good at all. Because we recognize, in the characters, aspects of ourselves that are set down, possibly, or one hopes, with a, uh, perhaps a clarity or with an interest that hadn’t occurred to the reader about himself, before that.
I think that he’s at the least largely correct here. Well, the central character is, by-and-large, an ineffectual ninny. It’s a bit of a stretch to imagine the reader saying
Oh yes, I wish I’d done that!, and those who are saying
Oh yes, I’m capable of that! or
Oh yes, I’ve done that! either imagine themselves to be ineffectual ninnies or lack even the efficacy to recognize a ninny.
Returning to the matter of love, another character ultimately falls in love with this protagonist, but there’s no explanation as to why. He does a poor job of most of the tasks to which he has been appointed, literally stinks most or all of the time that he is in her presence, and treats her system of values as bizarre (which, indeed, it seems to be).
For his part, he has been falling for her, even as he wrestles with concern that she might have committed a homicide, which homicide might have been some act of jealous rage. A moral of the story seems to be that when one gives one’s heart to another — to any other — one accepts a risk that this other person might in fact be a murderer. Well, true; but ordinarily that giving of one’s heart is based on so firm a presumption that the other person is not some wanton killer that the presumption, like that of the ground not swallowing one up, isn’t even conscious; and without that presumption one wouldn’t fall in love.
Love indeed isn’t the same thing as a desire to be loved; but it also isn’t some intrinsically mysterious attraction. It’s nearly tautological that love is about personal attributes that one values, though one may not recognize oneself holding those values and imputing those attributes to an object of one’s affections, and though one may be terribly mistaken in that imputation.