tip my hat to all those in love, and as for Romance, I tell you: it
took a while for me to temper my own distrust of Eros. I can say that
there are committed unions, whether couples or triples, whose devotion
to each other would be foolish to deny and dangerous to interfere with.
We need not look to storybooks to see this, for there are many examples
in the historical record, from Maria Oktabyrskaya, who joined a tank
brigade in revenge for the death of her husband, or the policy of the
U.S. military to keep married soldiers together in the same unit.
I can also say that what we make of Romance these days, I have feared
because we laud the Teenage variety far too much -- inafuation valorized
into obsession, nervousness valorized into a complete lack of
communication, grand gestures made without consulting the subject
beforehand, all of it leading to disaster...
Such behavior is not
all of why I ran from the matter, but it has kept me away. For I have
seen in such behavior an incompatability with stable relationships, a
refusal to consider the un-romantic and boring parts of a relationship
that are necessary for stability. Teenagers can devote themselves to
Romance because their food is provided (hopefully), their housing
secured (hopefully), their schedules certain, their transportation taken
care of...and fall into their version of Romance because, with their
lives ordered by others and being transported by others, sometimes it is
impossible to actually communicate with one's object of affections on a
consistent basis! So the Storybook lessons take over and we laud the
Grand Gestures, though they may be done out of a selfish obsession,
having admitted to one's mind no concept of what the other party feels,
or worse, they may be completed in a wild charge right over their
objections -- as if that was the basis of a stable relationship!
Not to mention that the very idea of romance being more important than
friendships, such that one would let friendships of years lapse for the
sake of devoting time to Bae, is a tragedy I see play out far too often.
The part of The Lion King where Timon thinks Simba's new relationship
with Nala will be the end of their friendship, I never questioned even
if I should have -- surely their trio does not have to be down to two
after all? Surely Nala can herself be a friend, and three can become
four? Surely a romantic partner who is not compatible with one's friends
is a bad choice for the long term?
I will admit that, as most
adults are lusty and I am not, I fail to consider certain aspects of
romantic relationships that have great influence. Perhaps it is that
many people think a sexual relationship should not be integrated with
one's frienships. Or, perhaps, the same people are so in lust that they
forget about their friends. Or it is simply that we all laud sexual
romantic relationships so highly that it would be impossible to put
friendship on the same plane -- certainly I have seen people mistaking
the deepest bonds of friendship between two people as some manner of
sexual romance, because, after all, how could a mere friendship be as
deep as Romance?
(I've made that mistake a few times.)
The storybooks imply that a romantic partner is supposed to someone's
One True Everything, as if such a thing would be healthy even if it were
true. Too much to put upon one person! Too many eggs to put in one
basket, and see them all shatter when a romance falls apart! And so we
say Love Hurts as if it is inevitable, and we say Love is Cruel -- as if
love were not the opposite of cruelty?
I will admit that the
love admits a certain vulnerability, as that is a primary part of its
function, and by this means it is much easier to suffer pain when
someone you love disappoints you than when a stranger does. In such a
light it is easy to call love cruel. Yet were I to do so I would call
humanity itself cruel, for Paul of Tarsus said about
love, that it without it one is nothing.
Hard to imagine,
sometimes, when all we hear of someone's deeds from far away is the
terribly stupid and hasty things they have done -- of course that is
what news we hear of them, precisely because it is unusual and striking.
What affections they have, what relationships they have, these are most
often left for biographies, not for the newspaper, and we would have it
so unless accepting the idea that every newspaper must be a snooping
tabloid. Some people say the whole world is awful, and yet do not treat
the people around them poorly as a matter of course, because of course
that would be rude, because surely if they are not being rude
themselves, they do not deserve harm -- as we expect to be treated with
respect so we treat strangers with respect in turn, and effectively
uphold a basic grudging respect as a birthright -- I call that a kind of
love, though some would call that banality, on the assumption that such
is done for fear of retaliation alone.
And yet -- were you to be drowning before
someone's eyes, would you assume that they will do nothing? I would
assume they would throw you a rope, and I think you would assume the
same thing. How many times these days the sites of great disasters
become fairly flooded with aid sent from afar! Condemn people as we will
on the basis of disagreements over politics and faith, somehow we still
can't stand to see them die before our eyes, especially when it comes
to the moments terrible accidents, where politics has no place. This is
also love. Only the worst of all people in this world would see someone
drowning in front of them and let it happen. Such people exist, you have
heard of them, but they are very rare indeed.
Yet Paul himself
does not extend the idea of love as far or loosely as I have. He had his
definitions. As he tells it, love is a kindness that is supremely
patient, not marred by anger nor lack of humility -- oh, goodness. He
tells it better than I can paraphrase. You might as well ask him. The
point is that between faith, hope, and love, love is the greatest of
(In fourth place is cheese dip.)
I could not see a
great worth in humanity were I to let my thoughts of love be limited to
the idea of infatuated romance. As I see it, love is a matter of caring
about someone else, and in its best form it is about caring for their
well-being and their freedom for their sake, being humble enough to put
this care before your own designs -- and in a good relationship they do
the same for you! "Gift of the Magi" and all that. Makes you wonder what
the point is, if the same things could have been achieved were each
person alone. Then again, if the man in that story had been alone, and
the woman alone, neither would have thought to buy the things they did
in the first place, eh? Sometimes certain things only happen BETWEEN
More to the point, if you let someone into your heart and
they treat it right, it's a strong affirmation of trust, and we all
need that, don't we? Especially in the times when we're told that
everyone around is is untrustworthy. If a large group of people have
that between each other it's much harder to pick them off one by one --
therein lies the key to how love resists the banality of evil. Ah, but
that's politics. On a more personal level, having someone in your life
who you can really trust makes it easier to feel safe and reassured
against the trials of the world and the uncertainty of the future. It's
hard for us to endure those fears when we feel alone. I've been there.
This happens between family members, between friends, between lovers --
I think the reason the fourth kind of love is hardest to achieve is
because loving humanity on the whole doesn't allow for an intimate bond
of trust, so it always feels like you're taking a chance. How good it
feels to have that gamble rewarded! And so many people who make the same
gamble on a more personal scale refuse to believe that the odds are
good enough to break well again, and when a relationship breaks it is
hard for them to take a chance with anyone else, not for a while,
perhaps never again.
Sometimes you meet someone who feels like
they Get you better than anyone else in the world, so why bother with
anyone else on that level? And sometimes that's true. I can see how
romance happens in that way. Maybe that's also why we talk about
friendships as if they are always more shallow than romance.
for me, I love my friends, and I have what I need, for I know at last that I am not alone. As for romance...it's
still too easy for me to make fun of the whole thing on the basis of
the childish notions and selfish obsessions we've built up around it,
yet were I to deny its existence or its truth, I would be a fool. As
much I would be a fool to deny that a spark can set a great flame
alight. All I ask is that you distinguish between romance and love, so
that, if you find yourself in a relationship that begins with such
passion, you are willing to let such passions dwindle from flames to
embers, because you know that love will be there after romance goes.
Because, after all, if it is a loving relationship of any sort, and a
lasting one, it is founded not on passion, but on the marriage of true
minds, such that in times of gifts, all gifts are selected with the recipients wants and needs in mind, and are not generic boxes of chocolates or bunches of flowers, but are affirmations of mutual understanding -- such that needs and desires in general are met or anticipated, so that one does not need to waste energy on reminders -- such that goals are shared, joys are shared, work is shared, griefs are shared without fear of scorn or mockery -- this is the marriage of true minds. And let me admit no impediments to that!
As Shakespeare says.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
Oh, no! It is an ever-fixed mark,
Which looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come.
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error, and upon me prove,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Maybe Shakespeare is talking about romance there. But I think it's true for all the sorts of love we know.