Liddick: Love in the time of Hallmark
As the pleasant chocolate-and-roses-induced euphoria of St. Valentine’s Day recedes into the mist of memory, why don’t we take time out to consider the curious question of love?
As a social phenomenon, love ” sometimes given even more potency by the addition of adjectives, hence “true love” is a powerful presence in our lives. It motivates us to commit ourselves, and to commit follies; couples are moved to marry by it, and some are later rent asunder by it.
Love underlies many aspects of our society, including our commerce: consider any television advertisement for diamonds you have ever seen. It powers much of our literature and our contemporary mythology. Arguably, Hollywood couldn’t live without it. And in its present guise, it is very much a modern invention.
Before the 20th century, love as we understand it didn’t really exist. Marriages were a product of negotiation between families, akin to a business merger. If the parents were particularly forward-thinking, perhaps the intended would be consulted; usually they weren’t. Love, in the sense of a feeling between spouses, would develop over time ” or not. It wasn’t regarded as important to the transaction.
Consider the great and familiar love stories of Western literature: Romeo and Juliet, Heloise and Abelard, Tristan and Isolde, even Jason and Medea; they are all tragedies. Their authors reflected the common sentiment about “love”: It was the emotion that drove men (and women) mad. Nothing good came of pursuing it. It was dangerous, violent and destructive, a real threat to the social compact. Cupid and his arrows played the role of a menacing anarchist, not a gentle go-between for smitten lovers.
Attitudes began to change as women gained more breathing room in society, and started to become fully realized individuals. As the concept of the “femme covert” ” the woman who was seen as an extension or aspect of her husband ” waned, so the ability of both sexes to relate to one another as something other than an asset of their respective families grew. Relationships between the sexes grew more and more personal and emotional, until we arrived at the age of Hallmark.
Overall, this has been a beneficial development. The liberation of half of humanity from the crabbed and confining principles which held them to be little better than children freed us all in ways we are still striving to appreciate. But there has been a price.
Today, we covet our individuality and its personal manifestations. “Self-realization” is a mantra of the age, and the modern shibboleths of “finding yourself” and “doing your own thing” are ingrained in us as admirable goals. The effects of this ego-centered existence show up in many aspects of modern life, none of them very admirable. One-half of American marriages end in divorce.
So in considering the modern character of love we find that it is remarkably complex: enticing and exciting, yes; comforting, fulfilling and uplifting, yes; also frustrating and sometimes bittersweet. But would we, could we, live without it? Life would be a desert without this delicious emotion.
Real love unfolds over time; this is what distinguishes it from a momentary infatuation, and gives it true depth and meaning. It opens like flowers in the sun, slowly revealing different aspects of itself to those who make the effort to cultivate and care for it.
Because love makes demands on us. It requires care and feeding, and needs tending, as does anything worthwhile. Perhaps this is one reason that love-induced marriages fail in our age of the individual: We tend to ascribe magical powers to love, and find it unreasonable and tedious that any effort is required to maintain a relationship sparked by the emotion, especially effort that takes away from the importance of “me.” Ego, the center of modern life, is in many ways the enemy of love.
The good news is the work of growing love is light, and the rewards are great. Small tendernesses and daily attentions are its food and drink; and unexpected expressions of love and affection are more potent than any flowers, chocolate ” or even absinthe.
So this day, a day like any other, take some time to attend to your beloved. An insignificant act, a tender word, a glance, caress or kiss; any or all of these can nourish love, this most mysterious, confounding and modern of emotions. Yes, I know ” it’s another thing on the “to do” list, but … the returns may be surprising.
Love. It’s not just for St. Valentine’s Day anymore.
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