Some Further Reflections on Love

I recently served as a host for the Carnival of Aros and chose the theme “Love” (here is the round-up post). I’ve been pondering the submissions, and thus, I now have some further reflections on love.

A theme in many of the submissions is that love (especially but not just romantic love) is given an unduly exalted position in our culture. A few quotes in this vein:

“Love has such an inflated meaning / That it’s become meaningless to me;” from “Love Is Just a Feeling” by Magni

“Multiple people express a desire to not cheapen love. Allow me express an opposite desire: love should be cheap enough that I feel comfortable ever claiming it.” from “Those Magic Words” by Siggy

“Call me a faker, call me a fraud / But I think you’re all mistaking romance for god” from “Obsessed With Love” by Chara C.

“Even those who decry one species covert others, romantic traded for platonic, the flower pot placed on a pedestal just the same.” from “Love is a Flower” by Briar

I recommend that you remember the idea behind these quotes – that the value of love is overblown in our culture – because I’m going to reference it in the conclusion to this post.

Then there is the submission from Soulriser which compiles some of their favorite quotes about love. The first quote is about the distinction between ‘attachment’ and ‘oneness’. I agree that this distinction is meaningful and useful. However, it is clear from both SoulRiser’s commentary and the other quotes that they choose that they only consider ‘oneness’ to be real love, and that ‘attachment’ is not real love.

This is where I ask ‘why’? Why is ‘oneness’ ~real~ love? Why doesn’t ‘attachment’ also count as love?

It seems clear that Soulriser considers ‘oneness’ to be good and ‘attachment’ to be bad based on comments such as “This is a table comparing Attachment (the kind of stuff most “love” songs seem to be about, ewww) to Oneness (actual real unconditional love, far more interesting).” Soulriser is certainly entitled to their opinion. And in some situations, I would agree that ‘attachment’ is bad (such as in Othello) and that ‘oneness’ is good. However, I’m not convinced that ‘attachment’ is always bad or that ‘oneness’ is always good.

Take those love songs, for example. I think we can all agree that the vast majority of love songs ever composed are bad, per Sturgeon’s Revelation. But the finest, most sublime love songs? (granted, what you think is a sublime love song may not be the same as what I think is a sublime love song, which is okay) They are amazing works of art. And yes, some of them really are based on attachment, not oneness. I still think they are a Good Thing.

And sometimes, I think insecurity and, consequently attachment are the best responses to a situation. If you are travelling in a place without buildings or caves that can be used as shelters, and the temperatures at night are lower than 0°C/32°F, or even 10°C/50°F, you need either insulation and/or a heat source (such as fire) to stay alive. Needing insulation (such as a sleeping bag) or a heat source (such as supplies for maintaining and sustaining a fire) to feel secure under such circumstances, and feeling insecure if you have any doubts about your insulation and/or heat source, will help you stay alive. Is purely rational thought sufficient to know what you need to fend off hypothermia? Sure. But in practice, purely rational thought does not provide enough motivation if it is not combined with a more emotional force. It is a case where ‘I need this sleeping bag to survive below-freezing nights’ (attachment) is a more helpful attitude than ‘I can make my own body heat, I can grow hair to insulate myself, and I also love this sleeping bag.’

So why do I also question whether ‘oneness’ is always a good thing. First of all, I think it sets a very high bar which may not even be attainable, and setting difficult-to-impossible expectations may encourage people to blame others or themselves if they fail to reach that lofty ideal. Now I’m sure that blaming someone (including oneself) for failing to acheive ‘oneness’ love is incompatible with experiencing ~real~ ‘oneness’ love, but in practice, it is very, very difficult for people to apply that distinction. It is so difficult that, I think it is impossible to set an ideal of ‘oneness’ love without also doing some collateral damage in terms of people casting blame for not reaching such a difficult goal.

For some examples of the harms idealizing ‘oneness’ love can do in real life, I suggest “Thirteen things I wish I’d learned before choosing non-monogamy”, specifically points “1. Every negative feeling you have isn’t jealousy”, “2. Confidence can look like compassion”, “5. Compersion isn’t compulsory”, “9. No human is an island”, and “11. Insecurity is not the same as self-hate”.

Let’s say we are talking about ‘oneness’ love as an existing thing, not some ideal for people to compare themselves or others to. Can it be bad? I think it is a little bit like asking whether or not real unicorns can be bad. Granted, I think ‘oneness’ love probably does exist, until horses who naturally grow just one horn. But is very difficult to confirm that any specific example is really ‘oneness’ love, as opposed to a manipulator skilfully mimicking ‘oneness’ love. And I have the feeling that, as soon as a real example of ‘oneness’ love perpetuating some kind of harm, some people are going to say that it can’t be ~real~ ‘oneness’ love, and since it is so hard to confirm whether something is ‘oneness’ love, it would be nearly impossible refute them.

Soulriser also features the Krishnamurti quote “A mind that is seeking is not a passionate mind and to come upon love without seeking it is the only way to find it – to come upon it unknowingly and not as the result of any effort or experience.” I’ll take this quote seriously … and conclude that since it impossible to reach (what I assume is ‘oneless’) love by seeking it or putting effort towards it, there is no point in trying to attain (oneness) love. If I’m lucky, it will happen to me by accident; if I’m unlucky, I’ll never experience ‘oneness’ love I’ll still get on with my life (until I die).

I also cannot resist contrasting this quote from Soulriser’s collection of quotes…

I think anyone who feels a lot of love doesn’t feel the need for much control or power. I think the person who feels a lot of love wants others to be free and doesn’t want them to feel controlled.

with a quote from techno’s submission

Ultimately, when people say “we need more love,” what they are telling oppressed people is that they need to love the person that’s killing them. And what do they have to gain from that? A clear conscience? Some promise that in the afterlife, after they’ve been murdered by the people taking resources from them, that they’ll go to heaven because they have warmth in their hearts? It [goes back to] what we were talking about earlier with “Quarrel” — someone can love you and still be oppressing you, still not listen to your voice.

I don’t completely agree with either of these quotes, but I think these are both points of view to take into consideration.

But the last sentence of that last quote “someone can love you and still be oppressing you, still not listen to your voice” is a way to slide into my next point.

I don’t assume that love is a universally good thing. I have no attachment to ‘love’ being good or bad. Therefore, when someone points out an instance of love being harmful, I don’t need to respond ‘since it is harmful, it can’t be real love’.

And it seems to me that claiming that ‘attachment’ is not ~real~ love whereas ‘oneness’ love is the TRUE form of love, is a way to hold onto the ideal that love is intrinsically good, even in the face of evidence that it sometimes causes harm. By making ‘oneness’ such a difficult-to-impossible ideal to achieve, it insulates the notion of love from criticism.

So yes, I find myself sharing the sentiments of the first quotes in this post – from the people who think that love is unfairly placed on a pedestal in our culture, and we would be better off if we brought love back to earth, just as open to questioning as feelings such as ‘anger’. Yet, even when it is open to questioning, and grounded (as opposed to lofty), it is still okay to celebrate love.

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