Love is Not Love
"Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved."
Shakespeare's 116th Sonnet
My friend Katelyn once told me that I am "the least romantic person" she has ever met. In her defense, when she said that I had just recently experienced one of the most disheartening romantic experiences of my life and was therefore speaking of romantic love quite disrespectfully. She has been with the same guy since the 8th grade, so we were on opposite ends of the spectrum. Honestly though, I am inclined to agree with her observation. I don't hold romantic love in very high regard, or at least not the romantic love that my contemporaries speak so highly of. I have spent my entire life watching movies, reading books and talking to people that portray romantic love as something worth sacrificing and dying for. Yet, they will constantly disrespect it by being unfaithful to a partner or by believing the lie that monotony is synonymous with commitment and that commitment is synonymous, with "love." I just don't buy it.
I have heard Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet heralded as one of the greatest love stories ever written, when in reality it's about the destruction that blind infatuation and hatred can cause. If the Montegues and Capulets had taken even a second to consider reconciliation, their children would still be alive. If Romeo and Juliet considered for a second that there may be more important things than the burning in their loins, they may have survived. It is definitely a tragedy, but by far the most self-imposed one ever written.
So many of our modern romances are based off of this misinterpretation of love. The basis of almost every romantic film made in the last fifty years is that everyone is just searching for that one person who will fulfill every hole in their heart, every space in their mind and every void in their life. The truth is that this person does not exist and if you find them, it is only because you have created them in your mind.
I am just a person. I can no sooner fix the holes in your heart, fill the spaces in your mind or fill the voids in your life than I could sprout wings and fly to the moon, but YOU can most certainly create a version of me in your mind that makes you believe (for however long your perpetuate the illusion) that I have completed you. That I have given you everything you had always been missing. But is that really what we want? Is that really the ultimate, the end all be all? Is that seriously the love everyone speaks so highly of and sacrifices their life for?
Psychologist Robert Sternberg's triangular theory of love says that there are three components to consummate (complete) love: intimacy, passion and commitment. If you only have passion, you are "infatuated." If you only have intimacy, you simply "like" the person. If you only have commitment, you have "empty love." All three of these can be combined in different ways to create different types of love, but it is not until you have all three, that you have truly "complete" romantic love.
So many people only desire a part of love. They will live, breathe and die for a single side or a single corner of the triangle. I think this is because if you relegate yourself to a single corner, you never have to face the fact that love is difficult and something you must work to maintain. A single corner requires minimal maintenance. If you are only having sex with a person (passion), you never have to worry about emotional upkeep (intimacy). If you only ever share a fleeting emotional connection with a person (intimacy) you will never have to worry about their day-to-day, their future or anything besides their immediate emotional needs (no commitment). But if you engage in a relationship in which you accept responsibility for the upkeep of the mutual passion, intimacy and commitment between you and another human being, that's a big freaking job. To be honest, most of us aren't ready for it, even if we want it.
I had always thought that love was something that chose you, but now I know that love is very much your choice. Infatuation, maybe not. Sexual attraction, definitely not. But when you say, "I choose you and your mind and your body and your life everyday for the rest of my life," you awaken something that is near impossible to put back to sleep.
Romeo and Juliet knew they were infatuated with each other. They knew they liked each others' bodies and that they wanted to try to be together for as long as possible. But I see nothing in Shakespeare's story that indicates Juliet wouldn't have just become another one of Romeo's conquests if they had lived long enough to actually face everyday life together.
Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, comments on our modern romantic dilemma in Either/Or: A Fragment of Life, "For this precisely is the pernicious, the unwholesome feature of such works, that they end where they ought to begin." He says, that the problem with romantic love is that we've wrapped ourselves up in the wrong half of the story. We put all of our focus, time and energy into falling in love and not nearly enough into loving. Too many of our love stories start with the process of falling in love, and end with the wedding (and sometimes not even that anymore), as if the wedding is the completion of love. Not nearly enough explore the joy of choosing someone every day, regardless of circumstances, simply because all of the little pieces and corners of the triangle have added up to the fact that you know that even when the triangle seems broken, that you will choose to work on fixing it together. Kierkegaard says of complete love that in this you can, "make the instant of enjoyment a little eternity."
In reality, I'm actually quite the romantic. Sure, I may not hold passion or infatuation in very high regard. But I respect consummate love so much that I refuse to disrespect it by confusing it with something as shallow as infatuation and something as fleeting as passion.
It's to the point where I won't even watch TV shows like Scandal (a drama that follows a former white house press secretary as she assists the current administration with their seedier crises and cover-ups. The main character, Olivia Pope, engages in an affair with the show's current sitting president). I love Shonda Rhimes, but I cannot bring myself to be entertained by this show because I find the romanticizing of affairs with the president to be absolutely repulsive. Olivia, you're going to put the Commander-in-Chief of our entire country in jeopardy, and justify it with the logic of a 14-year old Shakespearean character? On the flipside, the freaking leader of the free world can't keep it in his pants long enough to finish his term!!??? I believe most things are more important than infatuation, and that love, if it really is consummate love, will still remain even if you have to deny it for a time in order to protect your partner. People have died for the sake of love (and not a Romeo and Juliet kind of death, like a straight up executed kind of death). I think you can control yourselves long enough to wait until your presidential term is over, FITZ.
It is not that I don't hold romantic love in high regard. It is not even that I despise passion or infatuation or empty commitment, it is that I truly believe with all of my heart that when you talk about the greatest piece Shakespeare ever wrote about love, that you better be talking about these few lines from his 116th Sonnet: