When Love is Not
I’ve had occasion recently to ponder, not the concept, but the word “Love”, and how truly troublesome it can be especially if it is divorced† from the objective standard given us by God and seen in His character throughout scripture.
Lewis penned an entire book titled, “The Four Loves” to try to add some clarity to this carelessly used word by examining the Greek Language’s use of four different words to differentiate between unconditional unmerited love such as God pours out upon us, familial love; an almost obligatory and instinctual love we have little say in unless we are damaged or seek to suppress or corrupt it, brotherly love and affection, and erotic desire (born from some mixture of the other three, one hopes.)
It is to be hoped, nay expected, that when two people vow to inextricably tie their lives together that it is based strongly on the first three with delicious anticipation of the fourth, and that at the time of giving oneself to another that the concept, the definition, is one shared and understood by both. If this a priori is not true than all my following ponderings are so much rubbish, or at best only true a posteriori in select cases.
How is it if one or both come to alter their definition/conception away from that originating point, even into something they both might have assigned the term ‘hatred’ to if asked back at that genesis.
The problem arises from the same word being used to describe very different things with both members believing their description to be the true definition of ‘love’. How can two such people ever hope to communicate and understand one another? If one is stuck with their original conception of ‘love’ and ‘hatred’, how can any accord ever be reached with another whose concepts have altered?
What one sees as love, the other sees as the most egregious hatred. There can be no accord between them. The plea, “tell me that you believed I always loved you” is in reality a plea to, “please join me in acceptance of my new foreign definition and then realize that I have ‘believed, within that definition’ that I have always loved you.” I don’t think that can ever happen, even if one desires to love the wayward as God loves His waywards.
It’s like asking the person (or indeed, God) to please change the fundamental makeup of their nature without understanding that, even were that possible, that to make such a change would render them no longer the person they were and are, and therein lies the rub. There is the unresolvable paradox. If that person were to change thus, the wayward would come to feel towards them contempt and derision. Whatever remnants they still possessed of the original genesis of love would be turned to vapor, a noxious poisonous vapor.
The cliché is “Apples and Oranges” and though cliché, no less true. If one asks the other to give them an apple expecting to receive a eccentrically-shaped red-coloured fruit and they are instead given an orange-coloured nearly perfectly spherically-shaped fruit. The receiver will not believe they have received the requested apple, but something different and not desired. The giver however will believe that they have fulfilled the request for an apple and never understand why the receiver can not, will not appreciate their gifting. They will contest the definition of ‘Apple’ and in hurt and desperation will escalate their rhetoric to even greater levels of hurt given. One will lament that this simple expected thing cannot be given and the other lament that nothing they give the asker will satisfy unless it meets the asker’s (long since discarded by the giver) qualifications of ‘red-coloured’, ‘eccentrically shaped’, ‘core in the middle’. Both will experience great hurt.
I wanted to tie in a quote from the movie rendering of Neil Gaiman’s “Stardust”, in which the fallen star Yvaine pours out her heart to her beloved which a witch has bespelled to be a tiny adorable dormouse, thinking and believing that he can in no way understand her. It’s so well said and is simple and amusing honesty when she says that love‡ is, “unpredictable, unexpected, uncontrollable, unbearable and strangely easy to mistake for loathing”. Her final, “Nothing but knowing you loved me too. Just your heart, in exchange for mine.”, I think highlights best why “When Love is Not”, both are miserable beyond all reckoning.
You know when I said I knew little about love? That wasn’t true. I know a lot about love. I’ve seen it, centuries and centuries of it, and it was the only thing that made watching your world bearable. All those wars. Pain, lies, hate… It made me want to turn away and never look down again. But when I see the way that mankind loves… You could search to the furthest reaches of the universe and never find anything more beautiful. So yes, I know that love is unconditional. But I also know that it can be unpredictable, unexpected, uncontrollable, unbearable and strangely easy to mistake for loathing, and… What I’m trying to say, Tristan is… I think I love you. Is this love, Tristan? I never imagined I’d know it for myself. My heart… It feels like my chest can barely contain it. Like it’s trying to escape because it doesn’t belong to me any more. It belongs to you. And if you wanted it, I’d wish for nothing in exchange – no gifts. No goods. No demonstrations of devotion. Nothing but knowing you loved me too. Just your heart, in exchange for mine.
† this is equally true of the concept and definition of Marriage.
‡ I do not agree with Yvaine on a few crucial points. She seems to be echoing romantic Platoistic nonsense that suggests that there is a true love, a destiny, a thing for which one’s own choices and actions are largely meaningless. Love is -always- a choice in all its guises, even στοργή which may, by choice, be amplified or depressed.