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.

thefourloves-cslewisLewis 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.

tristandormouseI 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.

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