In 2017, I was coming to the middling end of some Heavy-Duty Marriage Crap and as things gradually steadied themselves – or we steadied ourselves within it – I spent some time writing and exploring love. This was fuelled by an exchange at the beginning of the HDMC when my partner told me ‘I don’t know what love is’.
It was a significant thing to have said and to have heard. Though as the beginning of the HDMC moved past the lowest points and towards a sense of repair, I realised I didn’t know what love is either. So I did some reading and some writing, but mainly some thinking. The exercise didn’t reveal an absolute codification and yet leaning into this beautiful thing, I suppose I earned a little more about myself and what it can mean to tell someone else that you love them.
Partly in acknowledgment of Valentine’s Day (for which I did not receive a card, flowers or a gift – not bitter or anything…) and partly because I happened to pick The Symposium up again this week, I was reminded of this brief exploration from a horrible time in my life. It might be of interest to anyone else who’s heard something unpalatable – once we’ve finished throwing things, screaming or stopping in dead cold shock, being quiet could help.
What is Love?
I don’t think there is a universal understanding of love but still I believe it is the single thing worth having in life. My mind which has been harangued and tired for too long became stimulated by this question in a way that it hasn’t been in a long time and I hope – I plan – to indulge my time writing, immersing myself and living in love. It’s very easy to live amongst its other: the conflicts, the territory, the weakness, shame, disappointment and regret.
There are two truths that I accept to be true and that I need to live by: 1. God is love; 2. you cannot love until you love yourself. These are my starting points – the early framework within which I intend to write, learn and interpret love. Perhaps this appeals now because I feel so unloved (by myself, my partner, the world) that now is the time to engage with what I consider the most significant and powerful factor of being human. I wish to live more, I wish to love more and I believe both will come into better focus as I study them.
Why should I run away from love and deny myself of it at its first point – which is in myself? It’s fruitless to aim to love until I once more adequately and love the person I am.
I Love You
I first said these words to him 7 years ago. He’d said them the night before and the next morning I woke in a bubble that felt softer and calmer than the fun we’d been having so far. When I went to say the words to him they wouldn’t at first come up. I remember he told me, ‘It’s difficult to say.’ I had to swallow the words a few times before I said them out loud.
Because I didn’t know what love was. Not this type of love. I’d known the love of family and friendship my whole life; I’d known the love from faith a few years by then and with that, a type of love I only acknowledged as it dissipated: a love for myself.
This romantic type of love was a mystery to me. I’d heard about it of course – grown up narked by its absence and taunted by its presentation of a full stop, as though all of life is to be spent searching not only for love, but a lover in agreement to deliver it.
In the Order of Ceremony for our wedding, on the inside of the front page in very light pink, I’d typed the following passage from The Symposium:
Since their original nature had been cut in two, each one longed for its own other half and stayed with it…that’s how, long ago, the innate desire of human beings for each other started. It draws the two halves of our original nature back together and tries to make one of two and heal the wound in human nature. Each of us is a matching half of a human being.’
There’s a giddiness to this idea, especially as one approaches their wedding with absolute certainty that they’re exactly where they’re supposed to be, The caution lay in the giddiness for despite the absolute giddy certainty, there was a the same time a subconscious blinds to the joy at the mythical ‘full stop.’
I’ve jumped from ‘I love you’ to marriage very quickly, possibly because on led fairly directly to the next, with 2.5 years in between. Because in that, I identify my own surrender to the ‘full stop’ of love. As though another’s exhibition and participation in Eros is an end, rather than beginning – or perhaps more appropriately – a junction at which two pathways convene and agree to following the single path created at that junction.
There’s a decision, a process, that I underestimated all those years ago as I choked on air until my body allowed my mind to formulate the words aloud:
‘I love you too.’
What I discard now is the sentimentality of those words to search for what I meant by them. I can’t help but see it as an agreement to be in love. To propel further the regard we’d already developed for each other, to commit to each other as someone more significant than the others in our lives; to make an effort to please this person, to learn more about them, to bear them in our primary thoughts and plans.
The art of sacrifice is, for me, inseparable from a state of love (whether romantic or other love). Sacrifice is the least comprehensible facet of love and its most visible outlay of the feeling of love that belies absolute definition. When we said, or agreed, our love for each other, we agreed to the reshaping of our minds to allow for two where there had only previously been one.