I talked with last_highlander about this around the same time you [Christen] and he were talking about it. Sorry I didn’t respond until now. I wanted time to really think about it. When he and I talked about it, I asked him, “Assuming it’s possible to be ‘in love’ with someone, is it possible to be ‘in hate’?” We got into defining the different kinds of love, and I don’t really remember why I was even asking, but I want to think about your question now.
I believe two things about love, and neither cast it in a very good light. (I’ve discovered I have interesting beliefs about other ideas like Hope and Friendship, so you can ask me about them, too, if you want.) The first is that love is a contract with grief. The second is that it’s a form of temporary insanity that sometimes isn’t so temporary.
Love to me is heartache. It’s getting a puppy from the pound and knowing that, no matter how old that dog lives to be, it will still die before you do. True love is a contract with grief. It’s saying, “Okay, I’m allowing myself to be hurt. Maybe not today, maybe not even ten years from today. But someday, yes, I’m going to be hurt.” Sometimes you’re not hurt, and that’s when you get a happy ending, but most times, you are hurt, and that’s just life.
When I’ve fallen in love, I’ve always fallen fast and without reservation, and for a while, it’s amazing. But the higher you fly, the harder you fall. And I fall hard. When the love is over, I can’t just let it go. My last serious relationship ended in July 2007 and it took me almost a year—to the day—to get over it. I wasn’t better in a week, or a month, or even in six months time. I still think about it.
I believe that when you love someone—truly love them, I mean—they get inside you and even after it ends, a little piece of them is still there, like a splinter you can’t get rid of. And maybe you don’t want to get rid of them; I don’t know. But they’re there, whether you want them or not, and they’ll shape who you are from that point forward, whether or not they’re actually in your life anymore.
People use the word love to define a plethora of feelings: “I love that coat” or “I just loved your chocolate cake” or the ever-dangerous “I love you”… It’s completely clichéd to say, “I love you, but I’m not in love with you” but there is some truth to it, heart-wrenching as it is to hear. We love our pets, but generally speaking, we’re not in love with them. Same goes for our parents, our siblings, and our children. (There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but that could be an entirely different discussion.) It’s a different kind of love—just as strong, surely, or maybe even stronger, sometimes—but still not in love. To be in love with someone basically means that you love them the same way you love your brother or sister or dog—that is, you want to cherish and care for them—but you also want to sleep with them. That is, know them… biblically. “In love” means romantic, intimate, sexual love.
Still, in love is also a contract with grief. Romantic love is usually more fleeting than any other kind and after it’s over, we question whether we really felt it at all. It’s difficult to qualify, impossible to study objectively, and often mistaken for obsession (and visa versa). People in love look at the world and say, “What? Are you all crazy? Can’t you see we’re in love?” The world looks at people in love and says, “Are you guys insane? You’re sure as hell acting insane.” That is, it’s insanity to be in love; it goes against all our biological imperatives and social mores and forces us to take less-than-sane actions, sometimes for the good… sometimes not. And then, after it’s ended, we look back and say, “Yeah, that was pretty idiotic for me/her/us to have done.”
All that said—grief and craziness aside—I also believe it’s necessary to love another being for a human to be whole. “To have loved and lost,” as Shakespeare said, “is better than to have never loved at all.” I know that’s also a cliché, but clichés are such because they’re generally true. Loving oneself is difficult, but that—in our world today, at least—is the ultimate goal, so loving someone else can help us learn to love ourselves. And having someone return your love is an act o faith in itself—you have to believe that person when they tell you they love you; if you don’t believe it, they might as well not even say it. And they might not ever say it, but if you believe it, it’s as good as if they tell you every day.
I guess I don’t have a very romantic or idealistic idea about Love itself, but I do think it’s a practically necessary emotion for us to employ to grow as humans. When I reread some other responses, I’ll admit it sounds mercenary the way I think about it, but either way, love is in our lives. I’m glad that the love in your life doesn’t seem to be comprised of heartache or insanity, the way mine has been.