What is love?
Baby don’t hurt me.
Before one can form their own opinions on the nebulous societal construct we name “love” the sentient being is assaulted on all fronts by others’ opinions. What I’m referring to is conditioning. Before we, as a writer-audience duality, can understand what love is as a form and concept, we must first understand what tends to prevent understanding at a higher level:
We are conditioned to think of love as an object. It has a cause and effect, as we are told. You feel affection for someone or something, and if the arbitrary level of affection is enough, it’s love. It’s advantageous to love them, they have a good job or other attractive qualities about them. The love is time-bound, both in the future tense and past; having loved someone for a long time makes it more meaningful (you’ve invested resources and economics dictates that you made this decision to occlude yourself from the other lovers rationally and with a purpose). You are invested for the future because no one wants to die alone and everyone knows it’s easier to pay for a house with two salaries. Your combined resources and talents will raise a good child, carrying on your genes and giving your life meaning in an evolutionary sense.
But is love an object? We use a faulty medium to describe an ethereal and esoteric notion. Language in a Lacanian sense resides in the symbolic realm, and while a much more complex notion, is best described as the cave wall which the forms’ shadows are painted on by light in the allegory of the cave. To elucidate, there are forms – the features of true existence. We can only be privy to the forms through interpretation and separation: we separate sectors of reality based on properties for the purpose of description and common understanding. This is language. We commonly understand that one piece of reality is a chair based on common properties that separate it from other forms. It has four legs, but is not wide like a couch. Therein lies both the use and shortfall of language.
We as humans are programmed to view things as objects, as symbols – in the interest of the whole, it’s advantageous to be able to communicate clear and concise meanings rather than ambiguous and nebulous notions. It quickens communication between people when the things being discussed require no elucidation as to their meanings. It is the death of connotational ambiguity, and while this is expedient when discussing matters scientific, it spells disaster for more amorphous topics like emotion.
Truly understanding why this shortfall exists requires (while undermining the point I’m trying to make) exploration through metaphor. Love is foremost an experience one has on one’s own. It exists in the head, not on paper or as a product of society. Fuzzy feelings arise through physical and chemical aspects intrinsic to the brain. Were the brain in a vat, love is inside the vat, not the outside in the world (the implication of which being that love is not a thing exterior to oneself perfectly described with symbols but a form in and of itself).
The basis for language is separation. Distinctions of things from other things brings about understanding. Common impressions from the five senses lend meaning to words meant to describe the distinctions. Language gives lucid meaning to things exterior to oneself because for the majority of humanity, the sensory impressions are similar to a broad spectrum of people.
Language is kneecapped, however, when we attempt to describe intrinsic properties of the mind that are not clearly and similarly experienced by the rest of humanity. While we have a vague understanding of what love is and can narrow it down by adding adjectives, this is not useful in language’s express purpose: ease of understanding. Add to this that love has been merchandised, qualified, sold, and forced upon people and now no one knows what love exactly is.
People fall short in love for one major reason: love is intrinsic. In trying to describe it to other people they look for adjectives and qualifiers, thinking that to adequately describe what they’re feeling, they must explain its causation, correlation, implication, past, present, and future. They must quantify it, exemplify it, and prove it. People think without evidence of love it is impossible to be sure of its existence, and losing sight of love’s elemental nature, they spew it forth from the intimate and constitutive place it has in the human psyche into the realm of the symbolic. Symbolic love cannot be felt. It is cold and dead. Easily quantifiable, you can find evidence of it everywhere in people’s houses, it has clearly defined boundaries (it must: how would language describe it without difference?). This is when love is seen but not felt; observed, as with a microscope.
What I’m getting at is that people become so caught up in trying to describe love and make sure that it exists that they completely kill its purpose. Love isn’t things, money, and time spent – it’s something you feel. Describing and quantifying love and saying, “Is this real?” Is like riding a rollercoaster, stepping outside oneself, and saying, “Well, am I really having fun? What makes this ride fun?” Missing the point completely, people get caught up in description rather than experience. The way of the world is to live in the present. I’ll take listening to a song over a description of a song any day.
It’s a hard hole to get out of. Most people need this mutual evidence to really confirm what’s going on. “Do you love me?” But the mutualistic nature of symbolic love is to feed off evidence available to both parties. The symbolic mind thinks, “These things are present. The necessary items are here to qualify that, yes, this is love.” When the evidence is gone, then so too is the symbolic love dead. Real love died long before it though, when it was made symbolic.
The reliance on evidence stems from language’s use. Mutual understanding of a symbol is based on spoken or unspoken aspects agreed upon by the interlocutors. Symbolic love needs mutual evidence, and in its fragility, two partakers in symbolic love strive for adequate sustenance to maintain the time-bound item. The need for reciprocal love can stem from many things (read: personality defects), but above all reciprocation is needed for the maintenance of linguistic symbolism by way of a separate observer. Reciprocation confirms its existence and health. Lack of reciprocation means it does not exist or has died.
The way to truly enjoy love is to return it to the mind. It exists in your head. Don’t try to quantify it. You don’t need to show evidence of it to others. Sheltering it in the mind grants it a sort of indominitableness beyond a symbol. Experience it, live it, and enjoy the time you spend with what you love rather than creating a symbol and missing the point entirely.