What Aphrodite Failed To Mention

I have an odd habit of watching Wedding Crashers in celebration of particularly successful senior bar nights. Owen Wilson defines true love as “the soul’s recognition of its counterpoint in another.” Okay, Owen. I’ll bite. But how does one NOT starring in a giggle-inducing comedy define love?

So I began secretly interviewing people all week on how they define love and how it differs from fondness or liking.

Response #1: From a friend who, on the way home from purchasing massive quantities of dark chocolate, gave me her own insights on the meaning of love. She told me that love happens when “you consider his or her interests, needs and desires as often and with as much significance as your own.” The idea being, that because humans are (in least in America) so self-interested, true love means a rejection of the natural order, surpassing individual desires to incorporate another human being into a psychical routine.

Response #2: From a friend admittedly walking on the cautionary cynicism side of things. He told me that love is inherently destined for catastrophe and in order to avoid misery we have to withdraw at a certain point of closeness, kind of like emotional coitus interruptus. He also compared love with being high- the implication, I guess, being that there is a euphoric peak and an inevitable, soul-crushing low. Love is, according to him, the crystal meth of human existence. On the bathroom stall of Rao’s coffeehouse, incidentally, is a Bob Marley quote which reads “truth is, everyone will hurt you. You just have to find the ones worth suffering for.”

Response #3: From my perpetually optimistic other half, who had what I consider to be a combination of Response 1 and Response 2. She told me that the love that already exists between friends and family is actually ideal in its most pure and selfless form and that our search for something more is a function of society’s need to obtain perfection. This love, lasting love, is defined by both the ability and desire to understand another human being and the willingness to prioritize his or her well being on a level beyond our own. Complex love, or torturous love (and by implication love synthesized with sex or sexual tension) happens when love crosses the power-laced threshold of hate and in so doing, validates the presence of love through the existence of pain.

All of these definitions are intertwined with pain or some form of sacrifice. Regardless of the absence or presence of love, we seem addicted to the idea that agony is a necessary component of love otherwise it must not be real, or at the very least, an acceptable love. Is that really love? Or is it, because so many of our love lives end in pain and misery, simply a projection of that frustration? Is love really painful or do we just want it to be to make ourselves feel better about the potential aftermath of love?

When men or women say “women suck” or when women or men say “men suck” it’s because their personal experiences have confused agony with reality. To make ourselves feel better about their heartbreak we then blame the whole of either gender to justify our anger. The same is true when recoiling from love.

Little did my interviewees know that they were only partially debriefed. The most important variable in this social experiment was the readiness with which each participant set out to define love. Can something that clearly has so many different definitions and interpretations even be defined in the first place? It’s worth asking, then, whether the pain we assume to be a fixture of love has nothing something to do with love itself or in the inability to give it shape. It is our obsession with definitions and explanations for things that might not have answers after all that will eventually lead to our collective hermitude and inability to ultimately reach ourselves through knowing and experiencing others.

Love happens when you’re overcome with the physical need (comparable to vomiting or coughing) to say it. And maybe that’s a helpful starting point. Love for Person #1 may be different from Person #2 or #3 but each perspective is still wholly valid in their mere existence. There are no wrong answers, only right ones. That said, a lot can be learned in the absorption of as many interpretations of love as possible in the hopes of openness to it as a gateway to self-introspection.

The beauty, and therefore, power in love is the very inability to define it. Love can be, and perhaps should be, a lot simpler than its current state. It is universally transient, dependent on time, person, and space. And while for some that may be scary, it’s also pretty freaking cool.