Love. The most elusive and misunderstood emotion. And the one thing that everyone searches for. But, to quote 80s pop star Howard Jones, what is love anyway? We know its a many splendored thing, but what does that even mean? What else are you splendoring these days? Love permeates every cell and pore of our culture, whether its the promise of love that will come with a set of abs and swollen biceps, the subtext of a commercial for expensive perfume, or the glossy, unbelievable cinematic depictions of romance.
In music, love and its foibles are written about more than any other subject. There are over 3.400 songs with the word love in the title. On my iPod alone, there are 78 of them, and this doesn’t even include the songs that are about love. Love is a word for any emotions that connect to strong affection. For example, I love my dog, I love Stephen Amell, I love sushi, I love my family and friends and I’m madly in love with my boyfriend.
These are all valid examples of love but they are all wildly different. The diversity of these meanings combined with the intricate workings of the emotions involved makes love nearly impossible to define. We use the word love so loosely when speaking that it’s focus and power becomes diluted. Saying that you love this season of Mad Men and saying that you love your mom are two completely different things, right? But the word is still the same. For the sake of this column, however, we are going to deal strictly with the simplest example: romantic love.
Love has its defenders and its detractors, and people’s attitude toward it usually comes from their own experience. Someone suffering from a broken heart will tell you that love is a monster with fangs and claws that, as Def Leppard so succinctly put it, bites. Someone who is in the throes of new love will tell a different story: how the sky is bluer, the grass is greener, the birds are singing and the whole world seems to be perfectly in sync. Some believe it’s merely a chemical reaction in the body so that the human race will procreate, but that doesn’t explain why two men or two women fall in love then does it?
Some believe it’s merely a plot device, used by writers to connect two people onscreen as the Thompson Twins’ If You Were Here plays in the background. Some even believe it’s merely a way to sell more flowers and candy come February’ 14th. The bad thing about the hard sell of Valentine’s Day, however, is that if you don’t have someone to celebrate it with, it makes it all the more miserable. Maybe that’s what led to the infamous massacre.
I believe all of these things are true, because just like the definition of love, its effect is amorphous. We all remember the first time we fell in love, how it felt to finally define this feeling that had enveloped us; the feeling that made our heart pound, our hands shake, our mouths dry and our sense of self vanish completely. We also remember the first time love turned on us with razor-sharp teeth and tore us open, the joy bleeding from us in a pool of sorrow and tears.
They say it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, but for someone who has the fresh wounds of a break-up, that statement is debatable. I can think of many times when I wished I had never met someone and never let my heart succumb to the weakness of love. I vowed that I would never be that stupid again, that I would avoid the velvet touch of love at all costs, and merely satisfy my physical desires without becoming attached to anyone. Yeah, that didn’t last.
Love is like a ninja sometimes, sneaking up and attacking in the dark of night when you least expect it. But how do you know when it’s love? The simple fact is love has stages; steps that you have to go through before you truly are in love. In the beginning, there is lust. Now lust is something we all can identify with. And like love, its different for everyone. We lust after different things regardless of who we are; a broad chest, green eyes, muscular legs, long hair, full lips — whatever it is, it kick starts the process.
Lust, unlike love, can encompass a wide array of people, depending on your desire at the moment. Then comes attraction, where the lust you have for one person simmers into a slow burn and you focus totally on that individual and how they make you feel — and not just sexually either. The wav they make you laugh, the heat of their body while you sleep, the sound of their voice on the other end of the telephone, the way your heart beats when they are walking toward you — all the minutiae that add up and make this individual stand out from the rest. These things layer upon the lust and form the basis for the third stage: attachment.
Attachment is the foundation for a deeper love that supports a long relationship; the kind of love that makes you ache when they are not around, makes you love someone more than yourself, and allows sacrifice without resentment. So now that we know what love is, how do you know when to say it?
This question is always met with a different answer. Some people believe a certain amount of time has to pass, say three months. But what if in that three months you only see each other a couple times a week? Wouldn’t that be different from someone you see ever>’ day for a month and a half? Then there’s the mysterious topic that I’ve already discussed in this column: love at first sight. Do you know anyone that has told someone they loved them the first night they met? And meant it? There are plenty of people who feel an instant connection to someone, but love is not the word to use after a week of non-stop sex.
Someone also told me they wait for the other person to say it first. But what if that person is waiting for the same thing? Since love is one of our deepest felt and primitive emotions, I honestly think that you know it when you feel it, and when you do, you need to say it. It doesn’t matter if you are at the license branch or a demolition derby or trapped under an awning during a sudden downpour, the words will be there, rising from your heart like a cluster of red balloons, and you can bite them back or you can say them out loud.
Sure there is a risk that they won’t be repeated back to you, but there is also a chance that they will. Remember the words have to be definite. Don’t say: “I love hanging out with you,” because that’s not the same thing. Trust me on that one. Love is too strong a word to say too early, but it’s too beautiful to waste by saying it too late.
So when you finally do say you are in love, then comes the question: who will you love? How many people will you love in your lifetime? I’m talking about dizzy, stupid, giddy, weak-in-the-knees, hearing their name in every heartbeat love. Fairy tales tell us only one prince per customer, but I can honestly say I have been in love more than once in my life. Have you? What are the odds that there is only one person for each of us in our lifetime? Pretty slim, I would think, but it happens. And sometimes you love others until you find the one that you will be with for the rest of your days, but that doesn’t mean the ones who came before were not true love.
So in the end, what is love?
Love is joy. Love is pain. Love is surrender. Love is ecstasy. Love is a stranger. Love is a battlefield. Love will keep us together. Loves don’t cost a thing. Love stinks. Love comes quickly, and whatever you do you can’t stop falling. There’s endless love, bleeding love, tainted love, strange love, fast love, forbidden love and love like Winter You can’t hurry love because that’s the way love goes. The Beatles said that all you need is love. That eternal poet William Shakespeare said that love sought is good, but given unsought is better.
Millions of words have been written about love, including the 84 in this column, and it will be written about until the end of time. My favorite words about love come from Nat King Cole’s Nature Boy which was revived in the film Moulin Rouge: “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love, and be loved in return.” We all come with an endless supply of love in our hearts and we can use it whenever we wish. Love wildly and without fear. Love often and with abandon. Every time you love someone, no matter what the outcome, it means something significant. Just remember this: the only time love means nothing is when you’re playing tennis.