Saturday, February 18, 2012

What's Love Got to Do With It?

Valentine’s Day has just passed. Chris took me out for vegetarian sushi, and I forgot to do anything for him because my brain has been eaten by my thesis. Poor Chris. I’m going to do something for him this week.

At dinner, we were talking, and he mentioned how being without a partner on Valentine’s Day can be a sad, painful thing. Well, yes, obviously is can be, but for me it never was. I think maybe because I never treated being a girlfriend or a wife as part of my idealized identity. I’ve felt down when I wasn’t where I thought I should be professionally, but with romance there has been no should. I didn’t grow up daydreaming of my wedding day. I never aspired to be a wife for the sake of being a wife, even though I did want to get married eventually.

Wife. To be honest, that word still doesn’t quite sound like me, but when Chris says it about me I giggle.

I shall not ask you what you and your mate did on Valentine’s Day. I hope you were together, though, and that it was lovely.

But perhaps you hold with those who consider Valentine’s Day nothing more than a plot to sell greeting cards and chocolates? I don’t deny that such a plot exists, but I think the holiday is more than that as long as the people who celebrate it think there is. Sure, it’s an arbitrary day to celebrate love, but what’s wrong with that?

I think a lot about love, in a broad sense. That is, I’ve come to believe that underneath fundamental differences between different kinds of relationships—friendship, partnership, parental love, etc.—love is one particular thing. I don’t think it is a feeling; I suspect that what neglectful, or even abusive people feel towards their victims can sometimes be exactly the same as what people who love feel, but I can’t see my way to saying abusers love their victims. Conversely, I’ve known people to treat others so well that I would call it love, even if no particular emotion is present. I think love is an action, that it is difficult, and that it must be learned.

I think about things in this way. I am, as you know, a conceptual learner primarily. I have a hard time doing something if I don’t have an abstract understanding of what I’m doing and why. And it is important to me to learn to love well. You’ve described me as a good person and a good friend; that’s not accidental, or even necessarily natural on my part. It’s one of the things I have worked very hard to become, and I am not where I want to be yet.

My mini-lecture here might seem strange to you, for I know you are more procedure-oriented. Where I start with principles and derive procedures, you tend to start with the details of “how?” and let the mysteries of principle bubble up from between. You may think I’m overthinking all of this.

Chris is, like you, more detail-oriented. He has little use for love in theory, and little need for it. He simply gets up in the middle of the night to help the sick or dying, then gets up on time to make his appointments after only four hours of sleep—and still makes me soup for breakfast. He has comforted refugee children, taken in rescued cats and dogs, and cracked jokes when I’m feeling really bad. He gives the dogs baths as needed, with cheerful disregard of the fact that they hate it, because what they need is not always what they want. He brings me water and reminds me to go to sleep.

And he puts up with me when my thesis eats my brain.

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