By Niamh Collins
‘There is only one happiness in this life - to love and be loved.’ - George Sand.
I wasn't quite sure how to begin this blog post, after trailing through the offerings of those who try and transfer their romantic feelings onto paper, I have deduced two general observations.
Number one: Love and the sun seem to share remarkable similarities - many have written their other half resembles this large boiling ball of gas which we circulate once a year, keeping our distance so not to be burnt alive (I do love metaphors) Though disregarding all humour I believe it safe to assume this is a symbolic evaluation of romantic love bringing ‘light’ into their lives.
Number 2: Love is undermined in many evaluations which portray it, in quite frankly, relatively a one- sided manner.
If I have not been controversial enough already I feel it necessary to deal one more blow to the romantics before I indulge you all with a justification for my preconceptions.
Although a huge fan of Shakespeare for… well… so many things (that’s another blog article in itself) and as much as I appreciate Romeo and Juliet for it’s challenge of family relationships and love blossoming out of war, distrust and aggression it does irritate me when this is modelled to be our strongest example of ‘love’, or at least romantically sacrificial love in literature. As although this play with it’s suggestion of living without ones partner is not worth living at all, it does explore the complexities of love itself, but with a major focus on the complexities love causes in a hostile environment.
I wish to be careful not to discredit romance as a fickle, unnecessary thing but too often is the word ‘love’ brandished about between people, an excuse (as I’m sure we’ll all play witness to on the 14th) to the lavish indulgent display of let’s ‘prove’ our commitment to the world with over-priced roses, chocolates (great for the rest of us though who target the supermarkets at 21:00 and receive 75% off sugary confectionary) firework displays, diamonds and love letters of such a length it makes the Treaty of Versailles look like light reading. Like all feelings, the grasp of commercialism has taken hold and undermined (for many of us) our primary reason for living - I would even go as far to say it takes advantage of romantic insecurities and vanities. I’m sure there a very few that are not familiar with ‘that old chestnut’ of a wedding poem ‘Love is patient, love is kind, love is not jealous.’ For me personally love is quiet. Romance is loud. Romance is an exterior circumstance that is stimulated by many motives (one of which may be love) but has a variety of causes.
In my mind such displays are not love (even if they do stem from this so called ‘place’) it is on rather a superficial level. I’m not of any great eloquence or intelligence to provide my own substitution for a description of love but if we are interpreting a bouquet of (I’m sure) very beautiful flowers as an indication of ‘love’ we are very much mistaken and we need to re-evaluate our thinking. (Though I did smile when Judi Dench revealed in an interview that her husband Michael Williams bought her a rose every Friday.) Love comes in many forms and every sentence I write in attempt to condense it I can find 100 challenges and a million other examples. For example, love is effort… but when no effort is made on Person A’s behalf to protect Person B’s current happiness I would suggest we are not therefore correct to doubt Person A’s love… is it demonstrated as much stronger for being above their own desire? Questions, questions.
What one comes to realise is that this emotion we label love is completely person specific and in most cases, without intrusion, love is left to the individuals that partake in it, feel it and ultimately are the ones living it. However, I will forever always denounce the need for vulgar displays of affection as ‘proof’ of love, if they are needed then that indicates other underlying problems. I could purchase a bouquet at any florist around the globe at any time. I could not spend everyday by the side, embrace all irritations, make compromises, live with, and as many of us, rather morbidly - hope we will die alongside - just anyone.
It is long - enduring and not always ‘beautiful’, like so many films and love struck folk write and play and suggest it is. I would even argue love is at least 30% ugly: Frustrating, demeaning, isolating (especially if one-sided or not equal in its intensity.)
I would challenge Shakespeare in Romeo & Juliet’s suggestion that to die for the one you love is the highest proof of such a feeling. I am more inclined to suggest ‘to live’ for or with the person you love is a much higher compliment. You cannot, however, experience love entirely genuinely until you love yourself (and that is certainly not in a vain manner). We accept the love we assume we deserve and our own value must be self - recognised and nurtured, it is then we are able to accept a love that is both healthy, and of benefit to ourselves rather than the destructive type we so often witness in various media forms (often television) where sexually aggressive love often features more prominently than what we would consider an ‘average love’ (whatever that means…) I suppose this is mainly for entertainment purposes, though there is always great dramatic potential in the mundane, that is so often overlooked.
I always feel in mass media we do not portray love in a very broad manner. Personally, I find the most pangs on my heart strings usually come from viewing an older couple who have viewed each other age, scream, blossom, excel, ruin and rebuild doing something as mundane as supermarket shopping and still smiling. For me that is love, and please feel free to disagree with me on this. The ultimate ideal of love; growing older with someone, having them most likely anger you as much as they make you happy, whilst sharing regrets and passions, memories and packets of chocolate buttons (or not sharing them - as the case may be!).
I am still of the opinion that as a singular being you can live your life to any degree of happiness you so wish, and terms such as ‘old maid’ and ‘spinster’ (women are so often the targets of such terms) are hideously undermining of people’s life’s choices and journeys.
I do however, wish for everybody the ability to love and be loved in some form throughout their life (It is better to love and lost than to never loved at all - isn't that the saying?) But let us not restrict this love into a category, let it not be expressed through conglomerations and cheesy greetings cards, let us find our own L-O-V-E in many forms -
So on February the 14th while others may be weeping over love they do not yet feel and many drool in restaurants charging central Paris prices for the dehydrated soup of the day, let us remember the true showings of love - sometimes as strongly displayed in ‘I’ll see you in the morning’ as an ornate bunch of hand-picked roses.
Some of the most beautiful expressions of love throughout history… that will make you reach for tissues rather than buckets:
(Virginia Woolf’s letter to her husband Leonard Woolf before she committed suicide) “If anybody could have saved me it would have been you.” “I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been.”
‘We’ll stroll all night by the delicate light/ of a well placed asterisk.” (From Lines to a Lady with an Unsplit Infinitive)
“What was it, Spence? I meant to ask you. Did you know what it was? What did you say? I can’t hear you…” (Katharine Hepburn writing to Spencer Tracey her secret partner of 26 years. 18 years after his death she wrote him a letter.)
“I love you so that you stand in my way of loving anybody else - but I want you to stand there. You dead are so much better than anyone else alive.” (Physicist Richard Feynman writing to his wife Arline who had died two years previously. He sealed his letter in an envelope and it remained unopened until his death almost 50 years later. He finished his letter with the concluding line ‘PS, please excuse me for not mailing this - but I don’t know your new address.”)