I remember laying in my childhood bed, which means I was at least under the age of nine, imagining the day where I would wait, eagerly, while the woman who decides to pin her name to mine floats down aisle like that of a butterfly. I can’t recall any of the details, just the feeling that sat at the pit of my stomach. Why, or how could a nine-year-old imagine such an abstract and far away ideal?
We are force fed this concept of love from the youngest of ages. Inundated with broadcasts of happy ever after, stories of princess and frogs, ideas of how to achieve it. Love is everywhere in our world. It is the underlying theme in every TV show, cartoon, movie, song, and every aspect of life. It lies under the floorboards of every house, within the veins of every person, in every strum of the guitar. Love, or lack thereof, is the motive behind every decision. But what is love?
We hold this idea so close to our chests for so long that we never seem to ask, what is love? It is either the highest of achievements one can accomplish, or the lowest of lows one can endure. It is the end goal of every walk down the high school halfway, every swipe right, and one more at last call. Is it the beauty, or the beast? Is love the rise or the fall? Is it truly better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all?
Anyone who has ever felt an inkling of this worldwide emotion can attest to its saving grace. The same way that anyone who has ever breathed the air after love has vacated can plead for its disaster producing effects. This concept seems to surround us. Living in a country where the divorce rate is 40-50%, it is impossible not to see the negative effects of what is called love. It is impossible not to have your ears filled with accounts of gut-wrenching regret, not to see songs preaching the emptiness skyrocket up the top charts.
It is this end where Linkin Park begs the world for a retry. “All I want to do this trade this life for something new, I’m holding on to what I haven’t got.” This cloak of darkness that spurred pain-induced ballots from Adele and Sam Smith insists a similar rage in all of us. Like blinders, a loss of love produces a pain filled response where ego takes hold, and all we see is the world from our own, heartbroken eyes.
Is love an empty investment, where you either, “Marry them or lose your best friend?” The Social Exchange theory of communication states that we weigh relationships based on a risk-benefit ratio, and then make decisions. Using this to categorize love, are there any benefits in, “Cutting off the most important parts of yourself and putting them inside hands that shake, that tremble, that crack like a Haitian sidewalk?” (Rudy Francisco-Scars)
Is love just loss?
There is no standardized format, no check the box system on a “Have You Been In Love?” questionnaire. Therefore, it is up to us to know, and I think that love is one of those things that, if you know, you know. I spent the first 16 years of my life believing that love is the key to escape the cage I was encapsulated in, and the next four trying to purge my soul of the lingering effects. I used paintbrushes dipped in pain, anger, and guilt to color my masterpiece of self-indulgence into the minds of anyone who would listen. I spewed hatred so loud that it sounded like sobs ricocheting off the inside of the toilet, and back into the house of sleeping occupants, waking my father. I thought I knew the ins and outs, and complexity of love, and how this bargain with the devil would always play out.
As much as I thought I knew, as positive as I sounded to anyone who would lend me an ear, I didn’t, and still don’t know what love is. Is it some type of chemical imbalance that elicits hormones, thus creating a sense of need in another? Maybe it is something that is true, something that holds us all hostage like a treat that taunts the dog, but is never revealed. We can search the everglades for metaphors, and help, and we can run ourselves into the ground in search of this…experience. I think that is what love is, an experience. And who are we to judge experiences good or bad? Who are we to say what is right or wrong in the world?
I was wrong, humbly so. And anyone who has used pens to spell out the doom that befalls couples was wrong too. To degrade love to just an emotion or a chemical imbalance is a wild understatement. Ask any parent holding their child, any groom as the bride walks down the aisle, any grandparent sitting at the head of the table, looking back on generations of their life, and hear this truth. To categorize love in the fit-all box of emotions is a tragedy, second to this idea that there is any loss in love.
One who feels love, has never truly lost. As Napoleon Hill states, in a quote that was seemingly written directly to a grieving, younger-aged me:
“If you believe yourself to be unfortunate because you have loved and lost, perish the thought. One who is truly loved can never lose entirely… Dismiss also the thought that love never comes but once, it may come and go without number… All love experiences are beneficial, except to the person who becomes resentful and cynical. There should be no disappointment over love, love is spiritual. No experience that touches the human heart with the spiritual force can be harmful, except through ignorance and jealousy. Love is, without question, Life’s greatest experience.”
Love is, without question, life’s greatest experience. Everything else is separate. Love is not anger, jealousy, guilt, or regret. No, love is the tears as you wave goodbye at the airport, the lump in your chest as you drive way, and the eagerness for reunitement.
“Love is the most important thing in the world… It is only important to love the world, not to despise it, not for us to hate each other, but to be able to regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love and admiration, and respect.” (Hermann Hesse)
So, do not tread cautiously, do not let fear, of past pain hold you back, dive in! “Of all the cautions, caution in love is the most fatal of true happiness,” James Stockdale, the fighter pilot who was shot down and held prisoner for eight years in Hanoi tells us.
If a prisoner of war, held in the same camp as US Senator John McCain, can come back from eight years in the darkness and tell us that caution in love is the most fatal, then we must grasp the importance.
Like all experiences in life, love is used there to assist in us living life to its fullest, and in becoming a better person. The same way we feel remorse when leaving a good friend, when boarding the plane to return home from vacation, or when losing a loved one, the pain that we feel is just an indication of the pleasantness of the past experience. The pain is a direct correlation of how much we enjoyed the experience.
Some of us wept at our last sports game, of walking at a graduation, or leaving a job. This weeping does not signify the evil of the situation, but in fact it signifies that exact opposite. We cry because we loved them, because it was great to feel free on vacation, because we enjoyed every second of it.
Love is no different. The pain we feel at the end is just a representation of the pleasure we felt during. If we can just focus on the experience, on what we gained, on how we changed for the better, instead of focusing on the end, on what we “lost”, there would be no sorrow, there would be no loss in love.