Friday, August 31, 2012

The Foundation of Love

Per usual, I'm going to show my hand here in the beginning and let you know I'm not a professional on such matters, nor do I intend to portray myself as a knower of all things.

"Sure, you can be a romantic today if you so choose, but it is a little like being a virgin in a whorehouse. It just doesn't fit with the temper of the times and gets no support in the current atmosphere." Bloom, Love and Friendship 

In recent times, it's popular for teens and the "old folks" alike to say, "I'm in a relationship." I was a teen once (I actually enjoyed high school because I stayed away from "long-term relationships"- instead I had many friendships and avoided all the pain and parenthood others experienced from teenage sex), so I remember hearing, "We are talking," or "We are in a relationship - nothing serious though." I would ask what nothing serious meant and the common answer was something like: two people are engaged in some kind of sexual activity (some "all the way" while others "everything, but..."), however the two were not an "official" couple or anything "serious." (both words are considered possessive and too exclusive to their ears - think I'm just an old man screaming from his porch? I wish it were so, but recent studies confirm my high school and college experience that men and women have no idea what courtship/dating is, but have a lot of uncommitted experience sexually with each other) Few people know what an actual date is, but they know a great deal about sex. It seems love has been reduced to sex as well. A casual overview of "romance" novels (50 shaded of gray anyone?) will give you an idea of what love is supposed to be according to authors from the last century or more. What is it? Sex. Not just sex though, but meaningless, cheap, one-night-only, no-strings-attached, gotta-have-you-know sex that is completely void of the rich, romantic essence and philosophical depth of love and not worthy of the human capacity. You wonder if the "romance" authors within the last 100 years have read any of the classical literature on love. Paul? Lewis? Rousseau? Plato? Stendahl? Austen? Shakespeare? Tolstoy? Flaubert? One doesn't even have to be a professional on the works by these authors to learn what real love is from them.

This cheap understanding of love not only damages the individual, it also damages society. Think of the "relationships" you see on a situation comedy show (yes, yes, I know it's a comedy, but there is a high chance a person builds his worldview from such shows). Casual sex with no commitment is common. This kind of thinking and activity is shown to us from all sorts of shows and, like it or not, it does affect people and through time eases a person into that view on love and sex. Now, I'm not saying "Destroy your TV! It's a portal for the devil!" Please understand I'm not advocating such action, but I think it's a interesting thing to think about. If a person doesn't have a strong foundation on love and sex built from the classical understanding, then a person is easily influenced by what he watches on television/internet and what he reads in cheap literature. If one has a strong foundation then she can shrug of the cheap sexual content of the show and enjoy the other elements.

What is love? Put broadly it's a longing for completion. It's not a physical act, instead it's an of the soul as I understand it. For example, a love of wisdom or love of a beloved. In the "Problem of Pain" Lewis wrote, "Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness." Elsewhere, Lewis wrote that love is not a mere feeling, but instead it's a deep unity maintained by the will and strengthened by habit and that, Lewis thought, is the engine running a good marriage. He said that the explosion of the feelings from being "in love" started the engine and the deep unity and will keeps it going. Aristotle wrote that love is a single soul dwelling in two bodies. Plato had this idea that the "madness" of love is one of the greatest blessings sent from the heavens. In the Symposium he wrote, "And the true order of going, or being led by another, to the things of love, is to begin from the beauties of earth and mount upwards for the sake of that other beauty, using these steps only, and from one going on to two, and from two to all fair forms to fair practices, and from fair practices to fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute beauty, and at last knows what the essence of beauty is."

So we can see this idea of "longing" and "completion" of love, that drives you to pursue it. Is it a temporary pursuit? No. It's a committed pursuit. As Austen wrote in Northanger Abbey, "The mere habit of learning to love is the thing." I think this is the problem. It's not that people aren't interested in love and what all of that means; it's the compass, the direction, how they are pursuing love and friendship which is the problem. The longing is there, but it's managed poorly and destructively by postmodern interpretations of the classics and Freudian ideas on love, reducing it to mere biological function and statistics. Understanding the materialistic function of what people "in love" do is easy to understand and document, but that function can be executed by two strangers. Describing the physical action of two people in love does not give us a clear understanding of the processes behind that physical action, which is where the most interesting, penetrating, and captivating part of love is; what's even more interesting is that the deep things of love aren't even stored in that physical action. You see, people are inadvertently told that the physical action is love and so they pursue it. There are great pleasures in that action, of course, but it's fleeting and will not give you what you're pursuing. When the person(s) realizes this there is much remorse. Maybe not that he has committed a sin or that he is thinks he took advantage of her, but maybe it's because he didn't find what he was looking for. He had sex with her and that was it. The senses were on a thrill ride never experienced before. There was a carnival of sensations and it was amazing, maybe the most explosive thing he had ever experienced and then it was over. He saw this girl, wanted to have her, thinking if he could just "have" her then his longing would be complete and he would know what it was like to be "in love." He didn't find it. He could care less about her now that it's over. Did he enjoy the physical action? Yeah, but he's not interested anymore. He might be interested when he wants to "do it" again, but as far as taking her out, buying things for her, doing things for, and most important of all, getting to know her, he doesn't have an interest in any of those things.

What is missed in recent writings and ideas in romance is the friendship of two people. Every good, lasting, passionate romance begins with friendship. I like what Lewis wrote on friendship in the Four Loves, "Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival," and "Friendship arises out of mere companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, "What? You too? I thought I was the only one." Lewis captures it beautifully. Aristotle, in his Ethics, wrote "Without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods." An interesting thing about Aristotle's Ethics is how his writing flowed in the book. When he writes on pleasures he begins writing on the topic then moves to friendship and then finishes writing on pleasure, so friendship is sandwiched by pleasure. I think that is very interesting and very telling of what friendship really is: pleasure. Not a fleeting, cheap, perverse pleasure either, but a good, enjoyable, pure pleasure. In the old order, friendship was the highest point that virtue could reach. The Biblical writers spent much time on friendship in their letters writing on unity, companionship, peace with each other and so on. One of the most important friendships was the friendship, clearly seen, between Paul and Timothy. How many times is Timothy mentioned in the letters of Paul? Often. In Paul's letters he often reminds his readers to pursue unity and enjoy each other's company, loving life and seeing good days. Do you think friendship might be important in the life of a human being? I think so. That is what is missing from today's field of romance. The foundation for romantic love is a good friendship. Without that foundation, I think romance will fail between individuals. I don't want to imply that romance is supposed to be boring because I don't. I think romance when ripe will be fun, exciting, and be, as Lewis wrote, the explosion that starts the engine of romance, but we can't forget what keeps the engine running, what the foundation of love is: friendship. The author Jane Austen develops this idea of the good marriage in her books (Pride and Prejudice and Emma come to mind), where she marries the classical Aristotelian virtuous friendship and romanticism making marriage the highest friendship. In Austen's novels the message is not the sentimental (non-reason) message that oozy love conquers all and it's not the dry (reason only) thinking of reason enslaving love. It's a unity where marriage is the culmination of the search for truth and love (completion). 

Love and friendship are very interesting human experiences. I know very little about it so I plan to further my knowledge by reading the classics. It may be that true love and friendship have always been rare, that this problem is nothing new. Maybe the love and friendship exhibited in the public arena today has plagued humanity for ages. Could it be that real love is a lost world? I don't know, but I want to find out. 

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