Thursday, February 14, 2008

Against Love, Or At Least The Idea Of It

(Happy Valentine's Day.)

Most people who have met me for even a minute or who have corresponded with me beyond two instances will wonder at this post. I am, as they would say, an unabashed, uncloseted (or rather poorly closeted) romantic. I am like a Tina Turner song in her post Ike years, knowing what it means to love hard and deep. I am like an '80s power ballad that is actually sincere. I am pre/post-ironic love, starting back when I was 17 with the intense (stupid ) rush of Rebel Without A Cause without the fakery of John Hughes and skipping over the twee Ethan Hawke movies of the '90s like "Before Sunrise" and "Reality Bites" to somewhere around, I dunno, something not cloying? My generation sucks at making romantic movies. And I hate Ethan Hawke almost as much as I can love someone. I am here to tell you, girls, it is possible to find that. It is possible to hate Ethan Hawke that much.

That said, I really hate the modern conception of love as articulated in most pop songs and romantic comedies. Not that I don't watch a few of them--I have two sisters ands many female friends and am not averse to the whole genre, only what Kate Hudson, Jennifer Lopez, and Meg Ryan have done with it.

No, my favorite stories of love are not about "impossible love" or "annoying but cute" love. And I don't believe in love at first sight (although I like the Kylie Minogue song). Coup d' foudre? It is French. Distrust that. The idea of love is chimerical and, well, seductive. It is better to prepare yourself for the reality of love. The act of loving.

What do I believe in? I don't know. I'm still figuring that out. Now that I'm no longer a stupid teenager, I know a lot more about what I don't believe in: love at first sight, that love is unconditional, that love can always survive distance, in opposites attracting, that you can be "just friends" after you've really, really been in love. Dude, basically I have repudiated all of '80s soft rock. Richard Marx, Phil Collins, and Air Supply, I reject you.

I tend to believe in "growing to love" and "loving in spite of" as much as "because of." That it is better to fall quietly in love with little fanfare or drama (no drama, please!) rather than "madly in love." I believe that committed love is a daily choice, and a difficult one to make day in and day out. I believe that long-term love is full of sacrifice and commitment, so it's not to be jumped into lightly, unless you are one of those weird selfless martyr types or otherwise have no sense of self such that you so easily self-abnegate. I am not one of those types, but to each their own.

I do have one optimistic streak, and this is perhaps borne out of experiences with my highly dramatic, slightly psycho immigrant family: while "impossible" love is by definition "impossible" if it entails a fundamental incompatibility between the two people involved, "difficult" love is not easily managed, but it may be managed if the difficulties are external in origin rather than intrinsic in the relationship. If the commitment to one another is strong enough and otherwise the two people get along, then in general the crappiness of situational factors (differences in families, backgrounds, etc.) can be managed. Romeo and Juliet weren't doomed, per se. They seemed to really like each other. They should have just probably waited until they were at the age of majority, ran away after saving up some money and declared independence from their fucked up families.

This is not very romantic. I suppose I could be a "chick" and say that "love will conquer all."


This is my blog and I am trying to pound this out before returning to an article about sexual harassment and a lot of statistics reading. And I should return to my post on deconstructionism.

So, because a philosophy of love is best expressed by stealing other people's art, a list of easily digestible things that best express what I believe that love can and should be.


1. The Archivist by Martha Cooley. Love does not survive madness, but it was still there and still remains, in some form. Unconditional love is a myth, but love can take a lot of hits and always comes out fighting. But sometimes it is defeated, against everyone's wishes.

2. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. Love is often never confessed or spoken, and that's the biggest tragedy in a small man's life. But again, it existed. Love need not be spoken in order to exist, but it lives but a half life.

3. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. Young love is ill-considered (David and Dora, and Dora says "perhaps we should have loved each other as boy and girl and left it at that!" or something to that effect, my photo-recall is not what it used to be) but mature love (David and Agnes) is quiet and deep.

4. About Alice by Calvin Trillin. Reading this, one believes that a young woman wrote Trillin saying that she looked at her boyfriend and wondered, "but will he love me like Calvin loved Alice?"

5. Without by Donald Hall, a collection of poems about taking care of his wife, poet Jane Kenyon, after she gets terminal cancer, and how that is the best love of his life. In the caring, and the ending. Not just the beginning. That is love.


1. She Tells Her Love by Robert Graves.

2. The Rain by Robert Creeley.

3. A Valediction Forbidding Mourning by John Donne.

4. somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond by e.e. cummings.

5. Portrait of a Lady by T.S. Eliot.


1. Alison by Elvis Costello

2. I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You by Tom Waits. I vote for this over The River by Bruce Springsteen, but it's a close call, since The River is closer in spirit to Waits' Martha.

3. This Year's Love by David Gray.

4. The Pain of Loving You by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt. (augh, not available)

5. For The Love Of You by The Isley Brothers.

This American Life Episodes:

1. Cringe, Act I, "Cringe Love." Enough said. Impossible love is stupid.

2. Valentine's Day '98, Act I, Richard Bausch reads his story "Letter to the Lady of the House", a story of love at the end of love:

[W]hat came to me as I thought about Louise and Charles on that day so long ago, when they were young and so obviously in glad of each of each other, and I looked and them and I knew it and was happy--what came to me was that even the harsh things that happened to them, even the years of anger and silence, even the disappoitment and the bitterness and the wanting not to be in the same room anymore, even all that must have been worth it for such loveliness. At least I am here, at seventy years old, hoping so...Because what I wanted finally to say was that I remember well our own sweet times, our own old loveliness, and I would like to think that even if at the very beginning of our lives together I had somehow been shown that we would end up here, with this longing to be away from each other, this feeling of being trapped together, of being tied to each other in a way that makes us wish for other times, some other place--I would have known enough to accept it all freely for the chance at that love. And if I could, I would do it all again, Marie.

3. Last Words, Act I. The story of Page and Eloise Smith and when actions are more eloquent than words, and how true it is that "it is a fearful thing to love that which death can touch."

4. Sissies, Act I. The story of Saber, Margie, and Mubarak. Love isn't enough.

5. Get Over It!, Act I. Ira Glass tries to be "just friends."


1. The End of the Affair. Different ending than the book. It kind of works. Love is jealousy too. Not usually in good ways, which is why trust is best, if there is an agreed-to default rule of monogamy. My preference is to be alone rather than to live with infidelity, if fidelity is what I demand. By the way, does Ralph Fiennes always play the same character?

2. Rebel Without a Cause. That scene where Natalie Wood expresses wonderment about finding herself in love with someone, and that it feels bigger than her. This is first love. It is kind of stupid.

3. Guess Who's Coming To Dinner--the love between an aged Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, particularly that last scene in which he is declaring that he does remember what it was like to be young and in love and Hepburn looks at him with tears in her eyes. This was Tracy's last movie.

4. The Way We Were. Your girl is lovely, Hubble. This is difficult bordering on impossible love.

5. High Fidelity. Always, this movie. It's the movie I watch at the end, although it could conceivably be an argument for a beginning too, with lots of lessons in between. Nice.