Wednesday, April 16, 2014

We Rarely Love People


We fall in love with lots of things, but rarely people.
We fall in love with our ideas of people, but loving a person in their entirety, with all their flaws, weaknesses, insecurities and baggage… that’s incredibly hard to do. It’s also perhaps the most important thing we can do. Because we need it ourselves. And we’re the only ones who can provide it.
The language we use to talk about love is clearly oversimplistic. It sort of needs an update. We use the word love so often, so easily, in so many circumstances that it loses its meaning. It loses its usefulness as a descriptor. “She loved him” - what does that mean? What does that tell us about her, about him, about any relationship they might have had? Next to nothing, actually. So much more context is required. Who’s saying it, why, and what do they really mean?
The problem with a question like “What is love?” isn’t that love is too mysterious, too complex, too indescipherable. I get very frustrated by people who make that claim. They frustrate me because I feel like they prevent us from having the important discussions we need to be having about what it means to nurture and sustain relationships. Love can be mystical and whimsical, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t scrutinize it and reflect upon it.
We “fall” in love, and we fall “heads over heels”. While there are a few thinkers, philosophers, authors and artists who really dig deep into it, it often feels like the vast majority of us obsess with a juvenile, adolescent interpretation of love, and just use it to describe too many different things. We venerate infatuation for its urgency, but we downplay the deeper fundamental beauty of communication, of presence, of mutual support, of grace. What happens is that lots of us spend a lot of time not really thinking about human connection, and we go through our lives anxious, scared and lonely.
The confusion that arises in the discussion of love, in my opinion, has to do with our laziness. Our collective laziness in evaluating our own emotional states and our internal worlds. Thinking and reflecting about our feelings and motivations and perspectives is hard work. But it can’t be as impossibly complex as we make it out to be. Immensely complex, sure. Impossibly complex? I doubt it. Impossible is what we label something that we’re afraid to fail at. “Maths is impossible,” we say, “I’ll never be good at it.” Sure you will, if you practice hard and fail often.
Can we know ourselves, and love ourselves? I believe we can. Put it this way – even if we can never know ourselves perfectly, what pursuit could possibly be more important? If we can spend time scrolling through Facebook and Tumblr, surely we can spend time in silence, scrolling through our own minds. “Hello,” have you asked yourself lately, “Are you there?”
Breathe. All we have is this moment.
I read a quote that went something like “I rarely love the entirety of a person.” It struck me as something profoundly true, and it reminded me of many long conversations I’ve had with friends about mistaking the map for the territory. We often, if not always, love our idea of a person more than the person herself. We often don’t even bother to really get to know the person properly. We rarely listen. We seek to confirm our hypotheses rather than disconfirm them. “I knew it,” we like to say. How do we always know so much, and then get things so, so wrong?
This is a cognitive bias and we can’t hate ourselves for it – it is what it is, we’ve inherited it from our ancestors and it served them well. To be human is to grapple with the limitations of our minds, and our minds are still juvenile. We’re excited by the scandalous and the flirty and the glitzy and the urgent. That’s okay. That’s a part of who we are, and we have to accept that.
I find dancers, athletes and musicians attractive. But we can’t reduce people to their pursuits, can we? That’s a kind of objectification. Every human being is different. That said, we can’t escape the law of large numbers and people do fall within some sort of statistical distribution. There’s a certain magic and sparkle about these people. There’s something intrinsically poetic about the body of an athlete or dancer or anybody who’s invested so much of their time and energy into a craft that it’s literally changed the way their bodies look. Their internal will is reflected outwardly, and there’s something very powerful and seductive about that.
Part of this could be a biological response – people who are fit are strong, reliable, ideal for mating and child-rearing, dependable. They’ve got your back. I remember being attracted to a girl who had a muscular back (I believe from playing netball). Allison Stokke. Michelle Jenneke. Samantha Wright. Hundreds of male football players, rugby players, basketballers.
I think it goes beyond the physical. There’s something about physical fitness that alludes to psychological fitness, emotional fitness. Perhaps it’s a false correlation quickly and lazily assumed by the subconscious mind, but I think there’s some useful morsel of maybe-truth in there. A person who has the will to persist at something – they’re something special, aren’t they? Or are they not? Why isn’t everybody working really hard at something amazing? (Or are they already? Heh.)
Sure,  if you really broaden your mind, we’re all participating in something amazing. Life is amazing. Language is amazing, and we all participate in it and contribute to it. But not all contributions are equal, are they?  Not everybody is Shakespeare, inventing words that become common usage. There’s always some sort of statistical distribution. As Tim Minchin would say, you fall within a bell curve.
But practically everybody has their burdens, worries and woes. Even “ahead of the curve” people – models, athletes, professional writers. I sometimes wonder if President Obama has to see a therapist, given the traumatic decisions he has to make on a daily basis. Everybody hurts. When you really ruminate upon this fact, and your realize that life is so limited, so fleeting, and such a gift, you just want to run in the streets and hug everyone you see.
We all love things but rarely people.


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