Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Small Blue Notebook

Nothing in all of human history has been analyzed, discussed, and fantasized about more than love. It is the subject of countless poems, songs, stories, and novels. In a Google search, love returns 8,310,000,000 results. In comparison, “sex,” “war,” and “drugs” return barely as many results combined. Humanity is obsessed. The world doesn’t need another twenty-year-old single white guy giving his thoughts and opinions on love. If you agree with that, stop reading now.

This blog is the second journal I’ve kept in my life. My first and only pen and paper journal was a small blue notebook I started in junior high. I wrote exactly one entry per year and the subject was almost always my thoughts on love (or early on, the person I “liked.”) I would make an entry and then tuck the journal away until I would find it again months later. If a year or so had passed I would make a new entry. I did this routinely for four or five years. Then I forgot entirely about the journal until I rediscovered it in 2010 (I think). I made one final entry in it which mostly concerned how utterly foolish I’d been when I’d written the earlier entries. I then tucked the journal into a faux leather pouch and safely stowed it where I wouldn’t lose it.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve lost it. So this post is mostly written for my future self. Unlike when I wrote in my little blue journal I now feel comfortable enough to discuss this kind of thing publicly (however public a blog with 4 readers is). I want to be able to look back years from now and see exactly what I thought about love. This is less about specific people and more about love in general.

You know what’s great about the topic of love? It is both immeasurably daunting and exceedingly natural to talk about. Everybody has a valid opinion on love because it’s part of being human. You know what else is great? Because everyone has been pondering and writing about love for so long there are no shortage of wonderfully composed thoughts I can use that express my own thoughts far more eloquently than I ever could. So, as a heads up, there will be a LOT of quotes in this post. Most are by John Green because he is a genius but their sources range from bad zombie apocalypse novellas to sweeping fantasy epics to good friends who are more important than they know and whom I, yes, love.

“Using words to talk of words is like using a pencil to draw a picture of itself, on itself. Impossible. Confusing. Frustrating … but there are other ways to understanding”(Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind.)

The best and only way to understand love is to love.

Love, like most emotions, cannot be narrowly defined because its causes are not narrowly defined. We can define a physiological reaction like thirst quite easily because we know it is caused by a lack of water. Love is not nearly so simple, and yet it is nearly as essential as the water we so easily define. Love is not simple. “The truth resists simplicity” (John Green) “That is what keeps poets scribbling endlessly away. If one could pin it to the paper all complete, the others would lay down their pens.” (Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear)

Just because love is difficult to define doesn’t mean it hasn’t been tried. Philosophically, love is often broken into three parts; Eros, philia and agape.  Generally these are defined as romance, friendship, and unconditional love respectively. Those are broad definitions, but if you really want the in-depth descriptions you can go look it up on Wikipedia.

I don’t want to talk about love defined by dusty old philosophers. I want to talk about love defined by people I can relate to. A good friend of mine recently used the quote-distribution-machine that is Facebook to post a quote from Dave Matthews which reads

“A guy and a girl can be just friends, but at one point or another they will fall for each other. Maybe temporarily. Maybe at the wrong time. Maybe too late or maybe forever.”

I thought about this for a while and I decided that it was correct, but not in the way it was intended. The quote says that friends will eventually “fall for each other.” I believe that this is true because being friends with someone is a way of falling for them. If you are good friends with someone, you love them.

This is a fact I have often forgotten in my life. Facebook and other social media have cheapened the word “friend” to mean anyone you interact with and can tolerate enough to have a civil conversation. But that isn’t friendship it’s acquaintanceship. Several summers ago I began to understand how friendship is love when a fellow camp counselor said those famous three words to me.

“I love you.”

I cannot impart the inflection in those words other than by saying they were sincere. I was taken aback because I wasn’t dating her or even flirting with her. It had been my understanding that those words were only uttered between family and romantically involved couples. I had heard them said in other contexts, but never with such sincerity and conviction. I responded in kind reflexively, the way you say “you’re welcome” when someone thanks you.

That night I felt confused and conflicted. Was she suddenly romantically interested in me? How could that be? Was she just joking? Had I suddenly become irresistible? (A kid can dream.)

I realized that it was none of those things. She was my friend and she loved me. I cannot thank her enough for the wisdom in that. It seems obvious now because I have many friends (including her) that I love and I don’t have any trouble telling them that I do. But at the time it was a groundbreaking thought for me.

So friends may “fall for each other” but in truth they have already fallen for each other. It comes as no surprise that so many slip into a romantic relationship after being “just friends”. Friendship is realizing that 

“…there is nothing romantic or supernatural about loving someone: Love is the privilege of being responsible for another.” (John Green, Zombicorns)

I’ve had two romantic relationships in my life, both of which ultimately ended with me doing the breaking up. I never thought I’d be more of a dumper than a dumpee, but there it is. Both relationships started well, they had their ups and downs like all relationships, but over time they developed cracks. I think that’s the best way to describe it. I had different concepts of love at the beginning and end of each relationship. Once the difference was great enough it became hard to continue in a relationship I didn’t believe in. I had grown, changed, and discovered that what I once thought was fine, wasn’t. I’m not going to get into detail here, that is one thing I’ll save for when I find the blue journal. Relationships are complex things and even in hindsight not easy to comprehend.

“There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness” says Nietzsche. I have to give credit to the dusty old philosophers; sometimes they have some good quotes. People do not necessarily decide what or who they love, but they do make reason-based decisions while they are in love. They have to. This creates a conflict between irrational love and rational thought. “Should I base my decisions on the feelings that I feel or base my feelings on decisions and pretend the feeling's real?” (Meltdown, by Carbon Leaf) I have been accused of being a bit emotionless, of basing my feelings on decisions rather than the other way around. It is a fine line I have to walk because while I do believe that love is an important and necessary component of decision-making, I also hold rationality in equal regard.

Sometimes people let their love get a bit out of hand and put the subject of their affection up on a pedestal where they believe them to be perfect or believe they can do no wrong. They imagine the person they love to be more than they actually are.

“What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.” – (John Green, Paper Towns)

Despite being very unhealthy, this is reinforced by many traditional romance stories by the idea of soul mates. I’m very cynical of this concept. I believe it cheapens the idea of love because it takes away the power of choice. Someone who shares my cynical view of everlasting love is Tim Minchin, who performed a most excellent song about love at an Amnesty International fundraiser in 2008. Watch the whole thing, and don’t judge it too quickly, it’s meant to fool you twice. Then come back and keep reading.

You may be thinking that Tim Minchin is a horribly mean person. After all, he just told his wife that "someone else would do" and that he doesn’t need her specifically. It sounds awful initially, but Tim isn't actually being mean. He isn't saying he wants to be with someone else, just that he could be. The fact that he could love someone else doesn’t make his relationship with wife any less special. Tim is saying he is with her by choice, not by fate. If his wife was the only option because she’s his soul mate and they were destined by fate to be together forever where’s the romance in that? Everyone knows that they could love someone else (if they don't they are deluding themselves). They don't want to love someone else because they already have a connection with the one they love. Tim isn't going to leave his wife.

I actually take comfort in the fact that people can “have somebody else” because if I was the only way for my “soul mate” to be happy EVER I would feel an immense burden of responsibility and fear. I could never leave for fear of dooming them to eternal unhappiness. I wish that fate on nobody. Knowing that they can in fact be happy without me is a relief. One of the best lines in the song is “love is made more powerful by the ongoing drama of shared experience and the synergy of a kind of symbiotic empathy, or something.”

This is saying that the connection you build with a person is just as, if not more, important than the person themselves. You can find another person who is similar to the one you had been with. However, you can never recreate the connection you build with one person with someone else. When you break up with someone you miss them but what is really yearned for is the connection you had with them. How you met, what you did, the conversations you had. People are fairly unique (You’re special, just like everyone else) and so the connection between two unique people is so impossibly complex that it can never be repeated. So the other person is important because you can’t have the connection without the person.

I have tried my best to explain my thoughts on love but it has been very frustrating trying to put some of my ideas into words. I haven’t covered every aspect I would’ve liked to either. Love of family and love of the self I didn’t even really mention. Love is too massive a subject to put down in one post, but I think I’ve gotten it out of my system for now. Some of my thoughts aren’t fully fleshed out, but I am only twenty years old. I hope that in the future I will be able to fill in some of the blanks as I grow to understand and experience love more. I hope I know enough now to not screw it up in the future and to always recognize love when I find it, but my track record isn’t stellar.

I have quoted others enough and so I will leave you with a quote of my own. I believe love is the complex and innumerable connections between people that bind our existences together. Love is the recognition of oneself in someone else. You don’t love someone just because of who they are you love someone mostly because of who you are.

P.S. (I highly recommend reading any and all of the books I’ve quoted from here, they are all fantastic! I own most of them so let me know if you’d like to borrow one!)

P.P.S.   .....or a banana