The Illusion of Love

I find it hard to say “I love you” to most people for whom I feel that emotion (or something like it). The church I joined a couple of years ago, after being not only churchless but actively anti-church and anti-religion for virtually all of my life, encourages us to love everyone. And I try. But rarely can I bring myself to say it when I do. I could blame my upbringing, but the real blame resides within me. I could have abandoned my hesitation years and years ago, but I didn’t. It resides in me still. And even though I know it and it bothers me and I think I should change, I feel like there’s something stopping me from changing my behavior. I think it’s fear. Fear that the recipients of my expression of that emotion will find it awkward. Fear that they will find it odd and unseemly. Fear that they will view that emotional honesty as a disgusting display they can’t quite get their heads around.

And my own selfish fear, of course. Fear of rejection. Fear of being branded as an outsider; even though I’ve always branded myself as one, despite evidence to the contrary. There’s the fear in recipients, too, that an expression of love is dangerous. As if it is deviant and, therefore, suspect. That’s an enormous obstacle, I think.

Maybe the problem is this: the Western (mostly) idea that love is restricted to one person. Romantic love, especially, is essentially restricted by laws and regulations. One cannot be “in love” with more than one person as a time; it’s immoral, illegal, and contrary to all the laws of man and nature. It’s just wrong.  Ach! In my view, that’s utter madness! We are who we are. Our individual foibles do not constitute sin. Crap! I do get worked up over such stuff, even when it has no bearing on me, personally.

Last night, while I was attempting to encourage my body to feel sufficiently tired to go to sleep, I thought about monogamy and polygamy and life without companions and the fantasy that there is, somewhere, an end to loneliness, if there is such a thing. It bothered me. Not only for myself, a sole character who loves solitude but who desperately wants companionship, but for everyone else whose needs might be slightly different than mine; or exactly the same. None of us, the collective “we,” should be left alone. Even those whose needs are radically different from mine. We all should seek out the lonely among us and we should shower one another with love and acceptance and support. I might just as well call on humanity to actively wish for all elephants to change colors. Magical thinking will accomplish nothing. But what will?

Love is impossible to adequately define. It is an emotional attachment, yet it can manifest itself in separation. Maybe our belief that we love or are “in love” is a delusion. Perhaps a belief in love is like a belief in God; many people wish love exists, too. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, a day I label a profit-motivated commercial manipulation of a strong emotion. But what if love doesn’t really exist? Then Valentine’s Day would be like today’s version of Halloween, an opportunity to infuse children with sugar and delusions while draining their parents’ bank accounts. Jeeze, it seems I’m a cynic; I don’t want to be one.

Perhaps there’s only the illusion of love. Or maybe love exists, but it’s rare; other emotions we’ve called love but in reality are unique and as-yet unnamed are more common. It’s possible we simply haven’t examined emotions as deeply as would be required to differentiate between love and those other emotions that masquerade as love. Lust sometimes does that, but we recognize it for what it is. Infatuation, too, seems to mimic love in many ways. Assuming, of course, we really understand and can recognize love. I could make up words for those impostors; we really can’t understand the world around us unless we have words for the elements of that world. Wouldn’t that be a hoot; I would be the only person in the world who understands those love-like emotions because I have a word for it and nobody else does.

I think I’m going off the rails again. Time to stop. I have to go to my early appointment with the pulmonologist. Then, later today, my wife and I go to Little Rock for an appointment with her primary care doctor. Too damn many medical visits between the two of us. I don’t love that.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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