Love is not Loving
“This is crazy,” she says. It’s something the two of us say quite often these days. Whatever it is we’ve been doing for the last three months, it’s been irrational, wild, exciting, and, yes, insane. I feel lucky as often as confused; I am well used to the latter, but not the former.
To back up a bit, my wife fell in love a year or two ago with my good friend and my life gradually smashed apart. I moved out, lived on the band futon for months, kept my things in my car, and went through a great deal of suffering while trying to finish my dissertation and maintain a semi-normal life. I’ll spare the ugly details, but sometime last summer, the most amazing thing happened: I found that underneath the anger and sadness, I had a resilient love of the world and joy at being in it. So, like a landlord renting an apartment to all sorts of different characters, that was the one I chose to listen to, and everything improved from that moment onward.
But, still, it felt entirely too early to meet Monella*, right after I had finally achieved a sort of joyful exuberance that I hadn’t experienced in years. I was downright buoyant. Naturally, I was attracting women like never before and this would have been an ideal time to stay celibate or, failing that, have a brief “transitional relationship” with someone I like, but don’t love, in order to work some things out of my system and testicles. Last Tango in Ontario. Instead, I wandered into the path of a hilarious, passionate, radiantly funny Italian sommelier and restaurateur who loves antique books, La Strada, Johnny Thunders, Baudelaire, rock’n’roll, cheese-making, poetry, and thinks I am just absolutely wonderful. I couldn’t make her up if I tried. Every night, without fail, we stay up until 4:30 or so talking, either on the phone or together, and we ask ourselves constantly “what is this?” Infatuation? Very intense lust? The start of a close friendship? Or, is it…? Could it be? Now?! Well, that’s just crazy!
Love is a noun and a verb, an emotional state of being and an action directed at an object. To back up quite a bit, having a love symposium makes a great deal of sense because our model for symposiums comes from Plato’s account of a 416 BC symposium on the theme of love. One of the points Socrates makes there is that love is always love of something, it always has an object. We advance through objects, lower to higher, like steps on a ladder on the way to love of Beauty as a divine and eternal form. I think it helps, therefore, to think of concupiscent lust not as disordered or misdirected love, but as a starting point towards the divine. Socrates’s love of beautiful boys, like Rumi’s, leads him higher. Lust can lead lower, of course, but the problem I have with the Western tradition in general is the tendency to see lust as innately corrupting or sinful. Often it leads us towards our highest impulses as human beings. To love well is the noblest calling we have, whether it is written on the heart or the loins or both.
It also seems not to care when or where it calls us. Like death, love cares nothing for scheduling. It is not nice or patient or orderly. Love is messy and chaotic and paradoxically it directs us both towards and away from domesticity and a normal existence. We desire freedom and spontaneity and commitment and stability at the same time; perhaps this is why love so often has an expiration date. It’s a need that can’t fully be satisfied. It is deranging and insane and terrifying, at least until the beloved dances us through the panic and we’re gathered safely in.
So, is this thing Monella and I are experiencing love, or lust, or infatuation? I ask myself this daily and I keep coming back to the same answer: who gives a damn?
*Not her name, although it has some of the same vowels or consonants.