Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Language of Love

Some of my readers may question how a non-practising heterosexual like myself has the nerve to go out in public and write about love. However, that's the beauty of a blog: no qualifications necessary. No filter between brain and web. We bloggers get to make fools of ourselves with all the non-deniability of a google cache.

To those hypothetical readers who think I'm unqualified, I might counter that the topic of love is sorely lacking objectivity. I once had a philosophy prof who wrote a book about love. When he gave us a lecture on the topic he broke down in tears and was unable to finish. I mean, c'mon, that kind of attitude has to be skewing our thinking a little.

(Romantic sentimentalists take up part of the current conversation. At the other end of the scale are the cynics, the embittered and frustrated: man-haters, woman-haters - people who write misogynist jokes and hurtin' Country songs and all those great Blues lyrics."Sometimes I feel... like I've been tied... to a whippppin' post" - fabulous song and all, but you have to get it that that guy has pissed off a bunch of women.)

So here I am, a disinterested observer, watching all this love stuff going on everywhere, and my first thought is the unoriginal one that a single concept is used to describe too many things: romantic love, love for a child, love for a supreme being, love for objects... you get the idea. They aren't at all the same. At the least, each type of love has a distinct type of expression; and it's more complicated than this, but as a start is something like: romantic love has desire, love for a child has nurturing, religious love has obedience, love for objects has possessiveness.

In the romantic context the word "love" is too loaded with baggage to make much sense. If someone tells you "I love you" and you reply "I respect your mind" or "I admire your butt", you have made a gargantuan faux pas even though it may be a really nice thing to say and far more meaningful than "I love you." But love, ill-defined though it is, is the sine qua non of romantic relationships and, worse, a justification for the lack of other things in the relationship - a joint necessary/sufficient condition. It's everything and nothing, which isn't rational.

Now for a little digression. There's a rock & roll guitarist I used to go see in bars a lot: he spent his adult life on the road, became an alcholic, saw virtually nothing of his wife and children. He also made amazing music*. When his daughter was a teenager she decided to follow in her old man's footsteps. I heard her interviewed once and she said he said to her: you don't become a musician because you love it or because you think you'll be successful. It's a hard hard life and the only sound reason for doing it is because you can't not do it: because you need to do it.

This got me thinking that the same might be true of marriage. It must be really difficult to spend so much time with the same person: all people are, at least sometimes, sloppy and insensitive and boorish and bitchy and stinky and generally annoying. The only way I can see that anyone stands being married is if they need to be married to that other person; and I mean need in a really strong, visceral sense: a compulsion.

So in the romantic context, if we replace the word "love" with "need", then a lot of the obfuscation of the concept goes away. "Need" is a narrower term and more insightful. You can need someone without liking them, or respecting them, or desiring them. Our inability to comprehend why an abused woman stays with her abuser becomes a little clearer. And so on.

I think there's probably a lot more to be said about the nature of need but I am, after all, not interested enough in the topic to take it much further. ;-)

*David Wilcox.

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