Sunday, June 7, 2009

What's Love Got to Do?

There's a tacit assumption in our modern life that romantic interest must not be allowed to influence much outside its own sphere. Falling for someone at work is almost taboo, though it happens all the time. It is frowned on to put a relationship at the forefront of making any major decision - after all, the relationship could always go south. Of course, so could a job, but no one likes to consider that possibility. Even with current divorce rates and short-lived romances, a relationship stands a pretty good chance of outliving a job.

Lives are so compartmentalized, and even the desire to be significantly close to another person is downplayed, until there is no place for attachment to occur; the result is a lot of lonely people with no idea how to relate to someone within the very narrow context that has been allotted. Individual career and pursuits rule, but every day on and Yahoo!, there are articles on why being alone doesn't mean there's something wrong with you, what to eat or what not to eat on a first date, how to find someone with whom to go on a first date. There is no time, and certainly no energy left in which to find or to maintain relationship. We are reduced to an impotent longing that manifests itself in endless, inapplicable advice on what to do with your relationship, in a vacuum where the relationship cannot exist. We might as well write articles on how to enjoy the retirements that most of us will never be able to afford, without making major changes.

We work and work out, nurture the kids with whatever we have left, and take notes on how to act if we were ever to spend time with someone we will never actually meet because so many of us aren't even present in our own lives. In other words, "In a modern setting where even the satire is satirized, love becomes weakness, tears become a punch line, real laughter a vulnerability, marriage a surrender." (, a review of the Avett Brothers CD Emotionalism).

There is, of course, the other extreme, still very present among the species, of looking for one's soulmate around every corner and behind every latte counter. Expectations of a smoothly running relationship, perpetual bliss, perfect sex and perfect agreement make connection impossible, just as much as reducing relationship to an item on the chore list (equal to taking out the trash or cleaning the fridge). Still, the perfect romance is sought by many. Recently it was noted (, under Money) that the romance novel industry is booming in this economy. It's an escape, just like drinking and pornography. Love, some think, will make everything better.

"L'amour! These ladies come and dance and excite themselves and want love and think it is happiness. And they tell me about their sorrows - me - and they have no sorrows at all, only that they are silly and selfish and lazy. Their husbands are unfaithful and their lovers run away and what do they say? Do they say, I have two hands, two feet, all my faculties, I will make a life for myself? No, they say, Give me the cocaine, give me the cocktail, give me the thrill, give me my gigolo, give me l'amo-o-our. Like a mouton bleating in a field." --Antoine the gigolo in Have His Carcase, by Dorothy L. Sayers, 1932.

That passage can be haunting. We can use it, and certainly other statements like it, to dissuade ourselves from ever looking for a valid connection with another human being. We can say that romantic love is not important, which was not my intent. The need for love is real, as is hunger and the need for a purpose to one's work. Good meals don't answer for all the other needs in a fulfilled life; love alone can't do it either.

"But understand me, " said Antoine, who, like most Frenchmen, was fundamentally serious and domestic, "I do not say that love is not important." -- Ibid.

So, where is all this going? This semi-detached musing on looking for love, or avoiding love, or finding the difference between love that is important and love that is unimportant takes wing whenever I observe the inconsistency in current thinking. Go the eHarmony or! Find your perfect match! No, don't do that, you don't have time, and half of all marriages end in divorce, anyway.

It's no wonder we're confused. So far, the truest observation I think I've heard, is that important love often shows up when you're not looking for it. Even then, it may be impossible to work out, so it may not be the answer one sought. One might conclude, in the words of Ghalib, "No, I wasn't meant to love and be loved." Maybe it is easier to abandon hope. Or, take your two hands and two feet, and your faculties and make a life for yourself, and see what happens.

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