When we think about love, there are different concepts that come up in each of our heads. There is the kind of love shown in movies where there is an undeniable connection between two people that overpowers them and is begging to be explored. There is the love at first sight, which is often attraction combined with mystique creating quite a potent concoction. There are also non-romantic kinds of love which are in the form of mother and child, father and daughter and can also extend to other family members, special relations and friends. Love can also be the kind that mother Teresa showed everyone in her compassion to serve mankind. It is seemingly only when we think of love that we realize how diverse our definitions and conceptions of love can be.
But where there is love, there is this potentiality for the loss of love. What gives us a feeling of being loved also carries with it this tiny potential for anxiety that it could be gone someday. What can be given can also be taken away. Where is the justice in this? If love was eternal should it not stay with us once we have found it? Maybe, maybe not. In our society, which seeks security in a large portion of our lives, love comes into this fray as something that should be secure. Looking at it from an evolutionary standpoint, ‘loving’ partnerships that produced children had a higher chance of raising those children if both partners stuck around to help with raising it. There is an evolutionary and survival benefit for choosing partners that won’t run away or desert us. But I feel that nowadays, love has transcended the arrangement of partnerships for parenthood. We don’t fall in love to couple up and raise children. In some traditional societies today, there are still arranged marriages and these are solely to provide a stable partnership environment for a child to grow in. The idea is to further the tribe or community or culture through its next generation and this stable arrangement is crucial to the existence of the tribe.
But where do we go from here. In the modern world, love has become digital. It has become a distraction. It has become a need, something that can take us out of our solace and solitude. It has become an avenue for self-understanding. That our lover may understand us fully and deeply is something we all cherish and wish for. To varying degrees we might even get it and then we might have a moment where our lover surprises us and we are shocked at their actions. “I thought you understood me.” We say, “If you really understood me, you wouldn’t have done what you did.” Is the statement that symbolizes our hurt. But this hurt had the incorrect expectation that the partner would be able to understand us totally. Total understanding, especially cognitively, is highly impossible. The contents of our brains cannot be poured out to another so that they may understand. We each have our own lives and our own lives can take on quite some intensity. Even if we love someone it is not always easy or possible to be there for someone when there is a need to be there for ourselves. The height of our exasperation in love is when we realize our expectation of the other was ill-founded, inaccurate at best. Our lover cannot be there for us in the way we thought nor to the extent we desired.
Since our modern world is so highly digitized, it also creates fascinating possibilities for us. Online shopping, online meetings and online weddings, we have had it all. Our ability to sit on our asses and still survive has never been higher in the history of humanity. But this comes at a dire price. A price we don’t realize we are paying daily. Loneliness has been skyrocketing surprisingly in countries that are more developed. The digital nature of our society and our embrace of technology has eased many things in our lives but it has made us physically disconnected from other human beings. During the Covid lockdowns, people quickly realized that they needed some sort of social interaction otherwise they would go crazy. It’s one thing to save yourself from the risk of infection from a contagious virus, but it’s another to be locked in your own premises for months on end without seeing anyone. Physical loneliness has physical symptoms. Researchers believe that your body physically feels unsafe and being lonely for too long can put your body on hyper-alert because it feels it is under attack due to the lack of ability to interact with other people. This hyper-vigilance lowers our immune system and counter-intuitively makes it easier for us to get infected. It can cause difficulty sleeping, headaches, a runny nose and even weight gain.
I mention loneliness here because it is the hidden pandemic we face. And where it ties into with love is that we seek love as a cure for our loneliness. But from an evolutionary standpoint this is a fallacy. The cure for loneliness is to foster connections with one’s tribe. To find people that you connect with or feel like you have something in common with. These are the basis of forming a common-ity or community. A connection to a community is the collective aspect of the individual and the health of a community directly affects the health of the individual. Love, in a partnership form, had the primary aim for procreation. Even in times of hunter-gatherers, partners who were raising a family together would often travel to seek other communities and share their catch or harvest with them and spend a night around the fire and under the stars, listening to stories and getting updates about the known world. It is in our modern times that in the glorification of technology, we sometimes forget the importance of community.
It seems quite natural to choose someone to be with when you are alone. It makes one feel less alone. But if we choose to satiate our hunger for company with romantic encounters, we are brewing trouble. A large portion, but not all, romantic encounters don’t stay as free, easy and simple. It may start out like that but the drink gets soured by the need for security, exclusiveness, availability and possession. Where love is a drug, we want our drug dealer to be attentive to our needs, supply us without us needing to ask, be there when we need it (or better yet, before we know we need it) and should exclusively supply us their best stuff. It surprises me to put it like this but this happens regularly, everywhere and without us knowing about it. Love becomes a negotiation and then it loses that quality that drew us to it in the first place. Couples and long-term relationships form and the love that once drew them together becomes a memory that drives the relationship forward. Very few are able to carry the spark of love that brought them together into the latter stages of relationships.
Where that is one approach, another approach which is more popular in eastern countries is to put two people, who seem like they are compatible in personalities and long-term desires, together as a marriage union without any necessity for love being present beforehand. There is, by this method, space created for the ability of love to develop naturally and foster among the two people. This method has worked for generations of people and from the evolutionary standpoint of survival– high success rate.
But where is the love in all this? That spark that jolts the heart out of its slumber. That inescapable feeling in the stomach that makes us dizzy to the point where we surrender into the feeling and enjoy the moment of letting go. Love is that ephemeral thing that can exist between two (or more) people which is unnamed, unseen and ungraspable but yet very much felt and undeniable. Where does this feeling come from? Why does it feel so unique and personal but yet is totally relatable and felt in different degrees by a lot of people? Maybe this love, as we think of it, hides behind a lock in our hearts. Our purest love is always within us, waiting to be let out but only for one special person. The key to that lock. Because each person carries a key and has their own lock but only one person’s key will fit our lock and we hope that our key will fit theirs. People walk around looking for that person who will unlock their own potential to love. And once it does happen, we get attached to the key-holder. Needing them and only them to open our lock each time. Once they are gone from our lives, the lock feels heavier than ever and we despair at the fact that we may never love again.
But isn’t this all a bit silly? What are we doing imagining a lock on our hearts? There is no lock. And there is no one key-holder. In some ways, each person we meet opens our hearts in different ways. And at the same time, the potential for the heart to close also exists. The choice lies with us. The open heart is love and the closed heart is fear.
Love is all there is. And fear, is all there isn’t. Love is like the presence of light in the room and fear is the darkness. It is in between these polarities that our lives oscillate. The lives of our parents are simply models of what love can look like. Love cannot be institutionalized in such social institutions as marriage nor can it be possessed like an object in a relationship. Love is that free flowing juice that makes the nectar of life taste sweet. It is the river flowing from the source of all life. And fear is simply us turning away from the river, believing it does not exist. Eventually we cannot find love anywhere but within ourselves. And paradoxically so, once we do find it within ourselves it seems to appear everywhere and, in all things and persons. Maybe love is a frequency that we all can tune into. Maybe love is the natural state of being, something we long to return to. Or maybe love is just an idea or a remembered memory from childhood that we think we want but we already have. Maybe it is not searching of love we should attempt, but the recognition of it all around us. In small things and big, in events, people, places and moments – love is the fabric on which they are displayed. Love is not something to possess, for in possession it ceases to be what it is. Love will always be our greatest mystery in the same way that it is darkest under the lamp, but it will also forever be the closest thing to who we truly are.