[This article is based on my reading of Essays in Love by Alain de Botton]
There are fewer more cliched topics than love. Despite being deeply rooted in popular culture, it still remains rather amorphous. Finding the distilled true meaning of love takes one down a lonely road into a philosophical problem on language and society. Love as a term has been a consolidation of a wide spectrum of human emotions, and therein lies its absurd contradictions. Therefore it often seems to be a predecessor of hate than it’s opposite. Language is usually a middleman between two people. Very accurate at conveying information but excellent at misappropriating the meaning behind the feelings between them. Like an incompetent translator, two people claiming to be madly in love can have wildly different explanations of the situation.
Some people would never have fallen in love if they had never heard of love.
In a society that is flooded with bold proclamations of love from religion to the mainstream media which has specific genres of lovesongs and romance films, it comes as no surprise with all this bombardment there is a cultural obsession about love. Most societies with foundations on the nuclear family condition its inhabitants to join pair-bonded monogamy to maintain the status quo that has worked even though not perfectly. The structures that maintain the capitalist system needs unconsciously willing participants.
The longing for a destiny is nowhere stronger than in our romatic love.
Is it in love where even the most sceptical find superstitious faith that we can find someone who is meant to complete us and fulfil our yearnings? At every romantic encounter, we always find someone to refer to as the love of our lives when in fact we usually have a longer period of our lives still waiting to be uncovered. Perhaps only in our deathbeds can we be able to proclaim who our life’s love was. in between is one mean revolving door. With the path well beaten, love stories and epiphanies analysed, there eventually occurs a pattern in love. A set of interconnecting dots that I’ll call the Love Life Cycle.
…simply because both of us felt we had never spoken like this to anyone before, that all the rest had been compromise and self-deception
When love starts after you’ve met that person it often seems miraculous. The lingering thought that your stars may have finally aligned takes centre stage and everything slowly fits this narrative. Regardless of how reserved you’ve been all along, you find someone with whom you’d want to talk to all day and night. In their physical absence, one resorts to endless phone conversations and text messages often long into the night. Late night conversations strangely feel more sincere and authentic. Forfeiting sleep so as to learn just a little bit more about someone and their idiosyncrasies always has the pungent smell of genuine desire. With everyone else before you were afraid to speak your whole truth and often ended up feeling compromised and disingenuous, but now you’ve found the one with whom you call lay bare all your flaws and fears. You finally have found the person whom you have been clumsily looking for, all your missteps have finally brought you to the “one”.
It couldn’t all have been a coincidence. Certainly, it was meant to be? We now obsess into looking for the stories of how the trajectories of two different lives had led to them being in the same place at the same time. Pulling out the calculator and you equate an infinite probability of finding each other. You’d have to be at the right place at the right time each and every day until the day you finally meet. The feeling that it was meant to makes us overlook the idea that we could have very well started loving another had a few events changed in the scheme of things. Maybe love is what is inevitable, the one loved could be anyone.
When getting into love, strangers you are attracted become too familiar. The similarities are often overwhelming, suddenly a random person you’ve met (even on the internet where the options are infinite) has a similar taste in humour, music, memes or cinema. It is right to be skeptical about instant fusion because it is magnitudes easier to find reason in similarities than to carefully interrogate the differences. Perhaps learning too much about a love interest usually has an opposite effect, love is born out of ignorance and familiarity breeds contempt.
Love begins with Idealization
What is so frightening is the extent to which we may idealize others when we have such trouble tolerating ourselves… We locate inside another a perfection that eludes us within ourselves, and through our union with the beloved, hope to maintain (against the evidence of all self-knowledge) a precarious faith in our species.
Human nature is usually very critical and cynical of everyone around us. Do we fall in love to find a reason to believe in others? Unsurprisingly we end up exaggerating the qualities of our beloved and often believe in them more than we believe in and tolerate ourselves. Knowing ourselves all too well, we seek perfection in others impossible to find in ourselves. Maybe we seek love to fight against nature and our nature, to get the reassurance that the universe in its own way is working for our happiness. Being drunk in love, one finally finds the feeling of emptiness inside is no more. Overnight one finds a new craving, an addiction of being with someone. The mundane experiences of your day have to be shared with someone. It is easy to suddenly turn into an intrepid photographer, any meal, curious flower, sunset and slight oddity one encounters are the seeds for a budding conversation. In retrospect, you’ll end up attracted to someone whom at that time you barely knew.
Yet we can perhaps only ever fall in love without knowing quite who we have fallen in love with. The initial convulsion is necessarily founded on ignorance.
The mating game oscillates between flirtation and seduction. Whether or not one is truly desired fills one with great doubt, unreplied texts with each hour slowly turns into torture. One often avoids facial expressions, smiles, hand-holding and letting someone pick up the tab often in the fear that one may be reading into dreamt up affection. When most people say they are sceptical about love, maybe it is a defence mechanism from their actual desires. Commitment and hesitation though opposites come hand in hand, being unsure about how the other truly feels about us, we are forced to make many great small strides. This is because nothing but pain happens one is looking for real love while the other is just hooking up. There are fewer greater turn-offs than an overt declaration of love. Sadly, the simple rule of flirtation is that its easiest to seduce the subject of your least interest.
Desire had turned me into a relentless hunter for clues, a romantic paranoiac, reading meaning into everything. But whatever my impatience with the rituals of seduction, I was aware that the enigma lent Chloe a distinctive appeal. The most attractive are not those who allow us to kiss them at once (we soon feel ungrateful) or those who never allow us to kiss them (we soon forget them), but those who know how carefully to administer varied doses of hope and despair.
Why Love Me?
No sooner does someone love you back does love start fading. Surely they must have bad taste. Loving is usually easier than being loved maybe because one doesn’t have to bear the burden of wondering whether it is deserved. Undeserved honours sting from the inside, Marx said it best. He’d never want to join a club that would accept him as a member. Why base your emotional life and dream up many plans of the future on a degenerate breezing through life, someone whose entire world can change at any point. If there is anything we know about ourselves with certainty is how deeply flawed we are and when we first love someone we learn the unsettling lesson that they too are stuck in the same quicksand. Instead of finding that elusive silver bullet to our emotional failings, we get a different version of the same problem.
Wondering if you’ll really match up to the person who the other desires leads many to camouflage into new beings. An inferiority complex inside us and an idealized lover makes one change to best fit the impression one believes the other one has for us. When learning about and meeting your lover’s family there is always a lingering thought those are the only permanent relationship in their lives. All manner of affairs and flings may come and go but their families, despite all their differences, are the unchanging constant. It’s quite unsettling expecting to be the title of the novel but you’re just a chapter sandwiched between the more interesting parts of the plot. Nothing makes this more clear than offhand references to past lovers, complete indifference towards them shows the absurd cruelty of relationships.
Just like a steady stream of water wears down rocks, it is the small differences in taste and peculiarities that matter the most and not obvious ones like race, religion and ideologies. These pet peeves stick out like sore thumbs and offer one a solid reason to request or even demand a change in behaviour. A person whom months ago could be forgiven for anything now has a trait you can’t stand. It comes as no surprise that love fades the more one tries to mould someone into their ideal partner. However, fewer differences can’t be laughed at, it the ones with the least sense of humour that finds it hardest to look away from petty squabbles. Despite the desire for independence, habits also start leaking between the partners. Recipes, bedtimes, hobbies and vocabulary are not spared. This new being is ripe for a nickname, from the run-off the mill “pumpkin” and “sweetheart” to carefully crafted pet-names imbued with a special reference to an important event in the relationship. Both, however, are corny and stale despite their best intentions.
Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. Out of the multitudes of faces, the one that brings about happiness or its perception is the one that is beautiful. Seeking perfection is a vain struggle, akin to a dog chasing its own tail. Love also tends to be a lonely pursuit. Whatever the reason for your infatuation, hardly anyone will truly understand its true depth. Even friends you’ve lived your whole life with will have a hard time comprehending your desire to be with that someone.
Does beauty give birth to love or does love give birth to beauty? Did I love Chloe because she was beautiful or was she beautiful because I loved her?… As Proust once said, classically beautiful women should be left to men without imagination.
On the other hand, we prefer to be loved not because of our looks, wealth or celebrity no matter their extents because these may fail us. We want to be loved by the intangibles with the hope they’ll still be there when shit hits the fan.
Delusions and Story-telling
Caution must be observed because “truth is always superior to illusion.” Much easier it is to question to nature of the universe than it is to probe the authenticity of love. Delusions are alright when there are two people living in the same bubble but once it bursts the entire facade comes crashing down.
Love seemed indispensably connected to stories.
Key to the experience of love is to able to concoct a love story. A two-month-long one-night stand from a drunken party is carefully woven into a James Bond pub scene, where method is carefully crafted from the madness. What follows is a rat race in search of experiences not limited to romantic dinners, parties, road trips, camping or basically anything else other than the routine.
We, unfortunately, develop the need for being with the company of someone who knows us as good as or better than we know ourselves. Someone else ends up uncovering the character traits that we never cared to bother with. These are never explicitly stated hence as with all matters of deduction, coming into the wrong conclusions are prevalent. Eventually, we find ourselves unable to be fully understood and incapable of completely understanding the other.
Perhaps it is true that we do not really exist until there is someone there to see us existing, we cannot properly speak until there is someone there who can understand what we are saying, in essence, we are not wholly alive until we are loved
[Link to Love Life Cycle: Part 2]