That thing called love


Quick Links

1995, 1996, 1997

1998, 1999, 2000

2001, 2002, 2003

2004, 2005, 2006

2007, 2008, 2009

2010, 2011

Category: Women Date: 11 Nov 99

“Do you want me to tell you something really subversive? Love is everything it’s cracked up to be. That’s why people are so cynical about it. ...It really is worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything for. And the trouble is, if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.” Erica Jong


The perennially elusive and puzzling talk of romantic love was going round in whirlpools as usual on our island as it is everywhere in the world, as it always has been since the beginning of time, in pubs, on hot isolated roads, behind closed doors, in porches, on phones and across tables, between partners, illicit and legal, between women who helped one another pick up the broken pieces, and men who joked about it.


What is it? Where does it come from? Why does mischievous Cupid strike so suddenly and randomly at times, and sneak up on you when its already too late to jump out of the way? Why do people fall in love? Why do they fall out of it? Are men and women different in the way they deal with it?


Poets and peasants from time immemorial have mulled over it and theories abound. One may say love is a choice, another calls it destiny; this one says it’s about passion and sex; this one says it’s an intensity which, because it is unsustainable, invariably has a short life span; another says it’s about the meeting of souls, a coming together of kindred spirits; still others say what you risk is a measure of how much you love.


Our views mutate according to our experiences. If we have been hurt we stop believing in it, call it at best a biological need to procreate, at worst a function of human profanity. If we are smote flat - impaled with Cupid’s arrows, blinded by its dust, and if we are standing on our heads or walking on all fours like monkeys, we call it by sacred names - invoke heaven on earth.


I’m not talking about the comfortable sort of love that seeps into your skin after years of marriage or living together, not about fondness, affection, companionship, not about the accumulated sum of shared depths and heights; nor the laughter and unexpected sparks which make the low fever of domesticity worthwhile.


I’m talking about that initial lethal arrow. That potent, stomach-churning, visceral, fire and hormone shot, heart-stopping, hand-gnawing, blinding, alternately despairing and exultant feeling which we have all been able to identify as that mad, dust-in-your-face state of being in love when anything seems possible. And the equally infuriating way Cupid has of withdrawing the arrow, clearing the dust, leaving one with the humiliating clear hindsight realisation that you did indeed behave like a frenetic blind monkey when you were in that state.


For the purposes of this column, I did a quick telephone survey of how people felt when they were in love. Here are some:

“If you asked me a year ago, I could have told you. I can’t remember anymore.”

“Can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t work, my life hangs on the thread of that phone call.”

“The problem is you’re usually in lust first and discover you are in love too late.”

And how is lust different from being in love?

“It’s a lot more painful than being in lust.”

“I’m in a daze - don’t know coffee from tea.”

“It vanishes as mysteriously as it arrives, leaving behind a trail of destruction.”

It was obvious by about the sixth phone call that I was wasting my time so then I rang up the wise woman.

“What,” I asked her at an unacceptably late hour, “does it mean to be in love?” Without missing a beat the sagacious one gave me the answer:

“It’s like a Polaroid photograph of someone you love stuck on the wall with blue tack. In approximately 18 months time the blue tack loses its stickiness and you hear phrases like ‘He’s changed’ or ‘She’s not the woman I fell in love with anymore.’ Neither he nor she has changed. You begin to see the real person behind the photograph.

“But falling in love is not about the other person. It’s often a projection of your own inner need, a need to fill up the gaps in yourself which only you can develop. If there is a rejection by the person on whom they are projecting the needy partner can feel as if they are literally going mad, being ripped in two.

“The feeling of being physically ripped apart comes because they have projected a part of themselves into that photograph and brought it to life, and when the real person emerges and does not live up to their expectations they feel part of themselves dying.

“The intensity of romantic love happens in a devastating black and white way when we are undeveloped ourselves, when we don’t tap into our own potential. Only when we begin to honour ourselves as human beings are we able to love in a detached, unconditional way.”

“Where did you get all this stuff from?” I asked her.

The wise one says she drew her theory out of Jong and her own real life experiences of love, which are considerable. She has fought for, taken risks for, been brave for love. She has great authority to comment on it. “Tell me more,” I said.

“I’ve felt the mind-whitening panic and had my face rubbed in the mud for a phone call I shouldn’t have made or expected. I now recognise that happened because something was missing in me. And the irony is that somebody else, the one to whom you project that love, could never fill that need. They are worthwhile in their own way, but it is ridiculous to ask them to fill a space that nobody but you can do for yourself.”

She got better, so good, I had trouble keeping up with her:

“We are all made up of a ball of male and female energy. Put this ball in water. It floats until part of it is out of the water and part of it is submerged. The part that is out of the water is your flesh. The part that is submerged is your subconscious. Even the most religious of us are trained to see that spirituality is outside of us so we go looking for someone else’s subconscious instead of looking inside our own. Women go looking in men for their male sides. Men look to women to fulfil their female sides. But the most primordial drive is returning to the spirit. Our own.”

“OK,” I said, not quite comprehending, “what does this mean?” She put it simply:

“Once you are complete in yourself, dig deep to fulfil your entire potential, it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t remember your birthday and you can laugh it off. Before that, you love only if you get the right response, otherwise it’s anger and fury and can turn into hate. That’s not love, that’s going through the hoops of finding yourself but sadly it has been given the name love.”


As it’s a day for wise women, I’ll end with a quote from another one who ties up love into a way of living your life. Digging deeply, living fully. The writer Dorothy Fisher wrote:

“There are two ways to meet life. You may refuse to care until indifference becomes a habit, a defensive armour, or you love greatly and live greatly till life breaks you on the wheel.”

But oh wise women, what are we to do when Cupid’s blinding dust hits our eyes, blinds us? Continue to make asses of ourselves I suppose? Love. But monkeys or jackasses, we are more alive when we are in love than at any other time of our lives. Better to be broken racing on that wheel than to never get on it.

horizontal rule



All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur