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February 15, 2012
(Disclaimer: The following article may contain too much ‘cheese’ for your taste and the author bears no responsibility nor owes you an apology if you go, “Cheesus Christ!” Cross-posted from ToS, and written before that letter where I promised the cheese. If you find any contradictions between this post and that letter, they arise from the vagueness that goes with the word ‘love’.)

‘Love’s a one-way street. Love, like respect, isn’t something you get; it’s something you give.’


In matters of subjective experience it is hard to arrive at a common basis on which they may be founded or deliberated upon. The problem is a hard one, more so in the case of that “much maligned” word, ‘love’. It is a word that is often exalted, sometimes maligned, but rarely defined. It permeates art, music, and culture — even the Internet — like nothing else does. As of this writing, a Google search for ‘love’ throws up some 8.92 billion results, the first one being the Wikipedia page on ‘Love’ (of course!). Curiously, a Google search for ‘life’ throws up a mere 1.17 billion results, and for ‘god’ 1.96 billion results. And for the record, ‘rajinikanth’ throws up a paltry 2.46 million results. Clearly, the Internet ranks ‘love’, ‘god’, ‘life’, and ‘rajinikanth’ in that order. I’m a little disappointed, for I’d personally go for ‘Life’ and ‘Love’ in that order. Life is what enables love, after all. Stones do not fall in love. Love is, if you will, a necessary side-effect of life. I recommend the wiki page on ‘Love’ if you want to look at the big picture. I shall not attempt anything that comprehensive here. Instead, I shall just share what I have known love to be. These deliberations are founded on personal experience and some received wisdom.*

When confronted with the question, ‘What is love?’, friends tell me more or less similar things — usually about this ‘pure’, ‘sublime’ feeling of affection towards someone. That is also pretty much the dictionary definition. And it’s also what I feel when I think of folks I love. But feeling is a difficult thing to be precise about, and much as we might try it, language can bridge the gap between the feeling and the meaning only partially. Indeed, the whole purpose of Art is to allow for an expression of ourselves that Language cannot afford us. Language is a rather advanced mode of expression when it comes to precision of meaning. On the other hand, primitive modes of expression — we doodled on caves even before we could speak or write — allow for something pristine inside of us to express itself, one which is all the more beautiful and mysterious in its inexactitude. Love is probably one of those pristine things, one that language can only hope to approximate, and art can seek to emulate. Perhaps there is an ‘irreducible vagueness’ that accompanies any answer to the question of what love is. Even so, I’ll do what I can, with words.

A void that you can’t avoid

It begins with a void, as all things do. We carry it within us all our lives, this void. We look for various ways to fulfil this void — make a career, make friends, look for love and life and new experiences and adventures and emotions; we indulge in coffee, conversations and crosswords; we soak in new ideas, read books, listen to music, and we sweat it out on the cricket pitch. Some of us fill this void with a ‘cause’ that we dedicate our lives to. In other words, everything we do (and which we aren’t necessarily ‘required’ to do) is an attempt to seek an elusive fulfillment, a way to fill that void. And how we do it is what shapes the course of our life. Love is an attempt to fill this void, to make sense of life, and to find meaning in it. This void is a constant companion — one that might go into hiding every once in a while, but resurfaces whenever you run out of things to keep you busy, happy, or occupied — and it is what motivates you to do something new. In all its emptiness, this void is your most precious possession — for as long as it exists, you have reason enough to reach out for the new and the unknown. This is where our need to love, and be loved, comes from. Or maybe not. It’s just a guess.

Falling in love

Falling in love is natural and easy. It is usually how the process begins. The process of rising to love, I mean. It is hard and not many make it that far. A lot of us keep ‘falling’ again and again, from one ‘relationship’ to the next, or (for those who run away from that scary word) from one crush to the next. That’s a good thing if one learns from it and a terrible waste of time if one doesn’t. Love that makes you mean, and jealous, and obsessive, and possessive — so much in fact that you forget to recognize your beloved’s need for her own space, or your own for yours — is what I mean when I refer to ‘falling in love’. It’s an involuntary process, it just happens. We change in the process, and we are way too intoxicated with love to even notice it.

Love is an occasion, rise to it

I’ve often wondered if ‘love’ is merely a catch-all, a vague, imprecise notion that is an easy scapegoat for the things we claim we feel but can never quite comprehend or explain. Given my need to formalize my intuitions about what love is (or should really be) about, I suggest the following criteria on which love may be founded:

Friendship: If you can’t be friends, you can’t be anything more. So friendship is a prerequisite, necessary but not sufficient.

Faith: in each other, and in your capacity to contribute meaningfully to each other’s life so that you can become more than you could be without each other.

Freedom: A recognition of the each other’s individuality, of the fact that the other person is more than just you two put together, so that the ‘you’ and ‘me’ is not lost or obfuscated by the ‘we’, important though the ‘we’ maybe. Love is a choice you make after the euphoria of ‘falling in love’ is over.

Fun: Why be together if it’s not even fun?

There may be more things that go into it, but which escape me as I write this. These four, however, are necessary (if not sufficient) if love is to be more than a frivolous indulgence, or just another meaningless word.

And, of course, love can only be given, never taken.

*It goes without saying that my opinions are subject to evolve in the light of new knowledge or experience.

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