I am not much different from you. I, like you, say things like: All I want is love. Love is the most prized virtue in this world.
But it has come to my attention that I may be asking for something that doesn’t even exist. Really, I spend so many nights talking about it, but: Do I have any real, concrete idea as to what I am really saying, for those that are trying to hear me? Up on my soapbox, do I have any real idea what love is?
In all my nighttime, seemingly productive dialogues, it is demarcation alone which is probably the solvent by which we c/should sink all of our wonderment into, to retain a clear, undiluted answer. To begin a real dialogue about love’s presence in our lives, we must explore love’s corollaries. Love’s veins: eros, amor, agape, phileo. Especially when the question is this abstract. Especially when the question is: What is love?
I am away from my intoxicated nights of conversation. Now I am standing in front of the mirror and I ask this question once again: What is love?
When I boil it down, in my patchwork world, love is a polysemic word which represents the amalgamation of all the real, or apparent, forms of love: eros, amor, agape, phileo. To clarify in this mirror of words: Under most red lights, when I am talking about love at all, I am referring to romantic love, or amor.
I believe that we all fundamentally understand these faces of love: Eros is erotic love. Agape is unconditional love. Phileo is brotherly love. But it is amor, or romantic love, which baffles all of us and causes these strange language circles of conversation which reach no real, concrete end – either out and in the world, or in our hearts.
Amor, this most mysterious brand of love, is sharp. It is a blade, which cuts. A fire, which burns. A slippery cell that squirms and wriggles and oftentimes feels foreign to our human grasp. More often than not, romantic love is violently difficult to hold onto, once grasped at all. Truly, romantic love is the ultimate gamble. For at every turn, the possibility of falling from one of love’s cliffs is a real, and mostly, probable expectation.
In the end, it may be simply because of this gamble – why I have always been so fascinated with romantic love.
Love is like a ghost. It can haunt you. It often appears in the strangest of places, without explanation – only to recede into the dust of night without notice. Love can strike fear into you. It can scream at you. It can amplify your infirmities. And in all honesty: it does. Afterall, the most prized virtue in the universe should have this kind of roaring power to: strike fear, scream, amplify every vulnerability you own.
But like a ghost, love too is mostly misunderstood. Like a ghost, most of us have seen the apparition. Felt it. Welcomed it into our lives. Been haunted by it.
Still, sitting in this chair, talking over cocktails with those eager lips around me and I begin to emerge at the idea that: I am being uncritical in all of this. I am not even sure that like most ghosts I’ve ever known: I’m not sure if love, romantic love, exists.
Pause. Breathe. Exhale.
In reality, what we call romantic love may be nothing more than ardor: That fiery, fleeting initial burst of fire and disfigurement. In the end, this may be the ultimate goal. Or at least, it always has been for me.
In trying to refocus my needs and desires and patterns within my previous relationships – I have noticed that when this initial fire does recede, my interest wanes. For after this fleeting burst of energy – the real questions come to the fore. Or, if not the questions, the stark, real answers.
It is here, where I believe the other forms of love begin to waddle-in and meld with amor, or romantic love. Especially initially, there is a sense of phileo, or brotherly love. Ultimately, the goal is to reach agape, or unconditional love.
Where my final, profound discontents within my romantic relationships may have found their ultimate doom is the earliest of stages within my relationships, within this face of erotic love: eros. For I believe that, like so many others, we often confuse amor with eros, or erotic love.
In the end, that fleeting fire of ardor may be predicated on a heavy lot of eros as opposed to romantic love. In the beginning, eros is the reality, amor is the goal. In total: Amor is the actualization of all the basic forms of love.
Certainly, like the ghosts of the night, wrapping your hands completely around amor is a tricky one. For most of the time, you cannot see its limbs, its veins. Phileo, eros, agape. In all, the amalgamation of love may not, nay – does not – always exist. To have all parts working and in-line as a unified whole is obviously difficult. To sustain this machine’s motion for any length of time – nearly impossible.
Simply writing about the work of fulfilled romantic love brings me back to my beginning – back to where I always begin in my relationships: to the ardor, the struggle of the explosive beginnings. I am brought back to that place where my love affairs have constantly found their swift demise.
Having, at long last, defined love I am still left wondering: can only unfulfilled love truly be romantic?
We say that we “love” many things: I love the color blue. I love my car. My house. In the same linguistic manner, we say so much is romantic. In the contemporary lexicon something seen as romantic is something which is unrealistic, ideal, impractical. Romance is about the glorification, especially when it comes to love. In the end, I am of the belief that our idea of romance is also about tragedy (see my article, “Romance as Tragedy” in the Denver syntax).
Our idea of romance may be about the fire of love. The blade of love. The ultimate gamble. The quick gamble. The most painful and destructive gamble.
Even agape love is a gamble and full of pain bodies and bloody blades. If even the most asexual form of love is that dangerous then I will propose that even romance itself is quite romantic. Romance may just be the most sharpest of blades, the hottest of fires. For it is about a moment, a forest fire, ablaze in a small forest. Quickly it dies. And, whether short or extended in time, we all know what fires leave behind: devastated endings and destroyed beginnings.
A charcoal forest, once vibrant with life; with love stories living and even composing the whole forest all together – that is romantic. It is, alas, love that is unfulfilled. It is love, with its corollary veins and arms dangling from its own cliffs, striving and seeking its complicated, whole self. And yes, struggle is also quite romantic – for it exemplifies virtues that otherwise aren’t in daily life.
Like anything else, the conception of love is a fluid one. In our grayscale, liquid world so much is once present, then recedes. Eros comes, agape leaves. They exist at the same place for a small moment, when one washes away – only to return moments later.
If this is natural love, romantic love, then it is a truism: love is the building block of our human world. It is where everything, organic and composed – both begins and ends: in a blackened forest after the fire has died. Love is the weeks and months and years of life that begins and grows in that forest. Love is also that fire itself.
And so it is: love exists. However it exists in a grayscale world full of complications and misunderstandings. But, dear reader, more than that, I am left feeling stronger for having struggled with this question at all and my final conclusion breathes: Love is the most prized virtue in the universe.