Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Veteran of the Love Wars

“There’s a fine, fine line
between a lover, and a friend.
There’s a fine, fine line
between reality and pretend;
And you never know ‘til you reach the top
if it was worth the uphill climb.

There’s a fine, fine line
Between love,
and a waste of time.”
- Avenue Q

In a few days, I’ll be reading at a friend’s wedding. It’s his second time around, and a considerably smaller affair than the first one, which is good.
The couple hasn’t told me exactly which Bible passage I’ll be reading. Most likely it’ll be 1 Corinthians 13, the standard boilerplate for matrimony: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
Yadda, yadda, yadda.
I suggested to him that I read Revelations 17 – you know, the stuff about the Whore of Babylon and the beast with ten horns. He didn’t think that was a good idea.
What is it about love, that greatest of mysteries and most sublime of emotions? I could go the high road and write that love is the only power that matters, how people need love for nourishment, how love rocks the foundations of the world and all that crap.
Or I could be honest and say that I really don’t know what all the fuss is about.
If anything, I’m the last guy on Earth who should read anything about love at a wedding. It’s sort of hypocritical or a sad, twisted joke that I get up in front of a bunch of strangers and proclaim the wonder and glory of love for ever and ever.
This is because I’m largely apathetic about love. I’ve been let down by people who say they loved me. Now I’m jaded or bored or just don’t care about romance or any of that flowery bullshit.
When I was younger and dumber, I actually believed the Hallmark card crap and poetical odes and songs about it.
Now, I don’t really care. I’ve been to the Ground Zero of Heartbreaks and just see it as a complete waste of time.
Ambrose Bierce wrote that love was “a temporary insanity, curable by marriage.”
W. Somerset Maugham wrote that “Love is a dirty trick played on us to achieve continuation of the species.”
Then we have Plato’s theory on love, which had nothing to do with marriage or breeding. It was all about remaining friends with no sex whatsoever. Love became a higher ideal, a mutual regarding of each other as soulmates without the New Agey feel to it.
Throughout history, people have wondered exactly what love is. Troubadors sang about it, Shakespeare wrote sonnets about it, and people have killed for it. Yet leave it to the enlightened minds of the information age to reduce love to a nagging pestilence.
Leave it to science to shatter our youthful zest for love.
Brain scans of infatuated people show that love causes changes in the brain similar to mental illness or drug addiction. That’s right: when you’re in love, your brain waves resemble that of a psychopath or junkie.
That’s not the worst part. When you’re in a relationship and time passes, your giddy romantic feelings give way to attachment. You lull yourself into a state of complacency. This is why many couples are looking to spice up things in the bedroom with lingerie, handcuffs or rubber jumpsuits.
So back to my friend’s dilemma: choosing me to read at his wedding. I hope it’s not Corinthians. I pray he’ll ask me to read something else, anything else. The screenplay to Amityville Horror would be better.
It’s just that with love, you’re vulnerable. You expose your rawest feelings, your innermost you to another human. That’s a pretty strange thing, dropping your defenses. It’s usually when you’re comfortable like that, she comes along and rips your heart out like an Aztec priest on the Sun Pyramid.
But yet we fall in love like the retarded lemmings we all are, each taking nosedives off the cliff of uncertainty, hoping the next relationship we’re in won’t go as wrong as our previous ones.
As far as relationships go, I’m not even going to comment. For me, it’s one disastrous train wreck after another. See, it all comes down to luck. Relationships, marriages, love…it’s all a crap shoot. It’s all random whether they succeed or fail. The age old wisdom is communication is vitally important, as is spending time with each other. But what if the conversation is uncomfortable or you simply can’t stand the other person after a while?
The only love I’ve experienced is unrequited love. That’s that warm feeling when you love somebody and they don’t love you back.
The most depressing story about unrequited love comes from the Middle East – you know, the place we’re bombing the shit out of now. This is a story about a Bedouin poet named Qays ibn al-Mulawwah ibn Muzahim who fell in love with Layla bint Mahdi ibn Sa’d, a woman from his tribe. Qays was nuts over this girl and composed beautiful love poems for her. Layla’s father wasn't nuts about Qays and rejected Qays’ offer to marry Layla. Qays was crushed at the rejection. He became devastated when Layla married another man. Qays wandered away from the tribal camp and lived in the wilderness, too heartbroken. Layla and her husband moved to Iraq and she grew ill and died. Qays was found dead near an unknown woman’s grave. Before he died, he carved poetry on a nearby rock to his beloved.
Because he couldn’t have the woman he loved, he went insane and ceased to live. This happened in 688. If that happened now, someone would tell Qays that there are plenty of other fish in the sea and to get over this Layla chick. Maybe his friends would take him to a strip club. I don’t know. What I do know is, you never see bittersweet love stories like this anymore.
What you see now is frustration and angst.
I’ve sunk time, money and energy into women who just didn’t love me. But they were supposed to love me. I’m a nice guy. I’m not a bully or blowhard. I don’t terrorize villages or threaten countries with chemical weapons. I'm intelligent and kind. I should be rolling in women, right?
Well, no.
I realized what women don't care about intelligent or nice. They don't even care if you're a hunchback with halitosis. What women really care about and want is a guy with money.
It doesn’t matter if you’re the biggest asshole in the neighborhood or saint in the church choir, if you don’t have money, you don’t have love.
Scientists – ruining our illusions once again – studied several cultures, from primitive to modern, and found that females preferred males with money or possessions. Those who had stuff won the affection of the females. This is because a man with a job or with cash or with a hut can best support children. So on a basic level, it’s all about breeding and reproduction. So maybe W. Somerset Maugham does have the right idea.
Love is a driving force, compelling people to unite. It might be a temporary infatuation or attraction, but what causes the attraction? Is it physical or can it be deeper, on an almost Platonic level, where the soul is the object of desire?
I used to be a romantic poet, but after falling in love and losing it, I really don’t want any more pain. The need for avoiding pain is a healthy human desire, unless you’re a masochist and enjoy that sort of thing.
But love can’t be distilled and reduced to scientific absolutes. It’s just too goofy an emotion to put under a microscope and dissect. You could find yourself madly in love and wake up one morning and never want to see that person again. This is called “falling out of love” or in my case, what happens to every woman who’s with me.
People change and so do their needs. Yet the removal and absence of such a powerful emotion causes heartbreak. Why do we want love to stick around? What are we getting out of it, besides the free sex and companionship?
Once again, the ancient Greeks had the answer.
Sophocles wrote, “One word frees us of all the weight and pain in life. That word is love.”
So besides togetherness and nookie, we receive through love someone who knows us and who can share our burdens and tribulations. This is indeed a rare thing; a companion who’ll be there when the shit hits the fan and lend us a shoulder to cry on.
Maybe in spite of all the lunatics I’ve been with, this is the one thing about love that’s worth having. Maybe comfort from the storm is better than romance and roses.

1 comment:

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