What is love?

“Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

It’s not often I post about love, and I can’t remember ever observing a Valentine’s Day theme before this year – but I’ve been mulling over a conversation I had a couple months ago and the timing seems right for writing about it here.

At Kyla’s in December we had a solstice party that ended with a small group of us drinking around the fire in her backyard. It was the usual crew of folks, most of whom I know from my punk rock past, trading stories about screwy pickups in our early twenties. From laughing about some of the weirder situations we had found ourselves in (including one person’s story of waking up in a field at Beacon Hill park wondering how he had ended up there when he clearly remembered going to a woman’s house the night before) the conversation turned to relationships, or crushes. I can’t remember who said it first, but there was a comment thrown out there about how much it sucked to fall in love with someone who wasn’t in love with you. The typical unrequited thing we all know.

Thinking back to Greg, I said yeah, that’s the worst. Nothing makes you feel more pathetic than being with someone who doesn’t reciprocate the strong feelings that you have. Not just pathetic either, but soul-crushed, despondent, and self-hating – but I kept those remarks to myself since I didn’t feel like opening up right then.

General commiserating all around except for Gabe who then said, “What are you talking about? Love isn’t something you have by yourself.” (Side note: I enjoy Gabe dearly but beyond some fun drinking times he is about the last person who I expect to find myself in a philosophical discussion about love with). “Of course you can,” I replied, “You know when every part of you wants someone but they aren’t all that interested in you – or they enjoy you but clearly aren’t going to fall in love? You haven’t been there?”

“Yeah, of course I’ve been there,” he said, “but that’s not love, that’s something else.”

Okay, I shrugged and he went on to explain that from his perspective love was something that two people created together. One-sided attraction was something more akin to lust, want, desire – but not love – no matter how long it went on for. The way he talked about it made me think about the love being a third separate thing created in between the two parties as opposed to emotion contained within the individual to be met by another individual. Perhaps like a plant that springs up with the desire to be tended and nurtured. Perhaps like a delicate ball of crystal that needs to be jointly held and protected.

I’d never really considered that before. But I took the conversation with me , and have thought about it over the past couple of months as my new relationship has developed. Can there be love that is not answered? Or is it like Gabe said, a reciprocal emotion incapable of existing in a single entity? When I examine unrequited “love” in my past it is characterized by yearning, jealousy, and needs unmet that burn my own self-image more than anything else. Not at all the same as being met by another who appreciates you as much you appreciate them. Nothing like feeling the great responsiblity of mutual nurture and kindness. And the contentedness. The calmness of being seen whole by a person as recognizable as your own image in the mirror.

These can’t possibly be the same emotion can they? The symptoms so incredibly far apart from one another – and yet I have mistaken one for the other more than once in my life. I suspect a lot of people do as my perusal of advice columns would suggest.

There really can be no definitive to something as ephermeral as an emotion or a state of being, but the perspective I gained from that conversation has helped me to sort through some of my feelings about both my past relationship and present one. It’s a way of visualizing that emotional space with an eye to maintaining it and the need for both parties involved to keep the focus on that third presence rather than experience it solitude. And while I don’t believe in fate or destiny, I do know that when you are holding that same precious thing between you, in this world it is the closest one ever gets to magic.

One Comment on “What is love?

  1. A beautiful post Meg. I kind of hate you right now. Until reading this I had managed to avoid all thoughts of love despite the day’s theme. The rampant commercialism makes it easy to sidestep genuine consideration of the heart. But this speaks too much of what I know love to be.

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