When Love Fails

Like most holidays, Valentine's Day brings out both our best and worst. For those in love, it is a celebration of that love. For those who are missing out on that joy, it is a painful reminder. In

Feb 8, 2001 at 2:06 pm

Like most holidays, Valentine's Day brings out both our best and worst. For those in love, it is a celebration of that love. For those who are missing out on that joy, it is a painful reminder.

In itself, love is an extremely simple thing: the unconditional acceptance of one being by another. It is the common weave which holds the separate strands of social fabric together, whether among humans or other social animals. It is the vital force behind peace and unity in the world. Those who doubt the existence of the divine are those who have never experienced love, for it is the element whose ignition makes the experience of living complete, providing the missing answers to the thorniest of philosophical debates and calming the ragged soul of the individual with the protection and comfort of universal purpose. Even the greatest obstacles of cruelty and injustice are overcome by an alliance forged in love.

And yet, all too often, it fails. And when it fails, it does so in spectacular fashion.

Always trying to improve upon nature, to master her, to re-define her, to condition her and bend her to our will, we try to perfect to our own tastes that which is already perfect in itself, and we end up ruining our carefully crafted composition of love by insisting on many an irrelevant detail, as a too-fussy painter will turn a canvass to mud. The details seem complementary to the whole picture as we conceive them, but their imposition into what had been a wholly organic process soon clutters the scene, rendering the work at hand meaningless and contrived.

In dictating the conditions of our love, we forget that, like the artist who must engage in a dialogue with the work at hand and channel the creative force to achieve an indeterminable end, we must give up a certain amount of control and surrender our will to wherever the spirit may move us.

But we instead try to move the spirit, insisting upon particulars. We lay down conditions of type, income, likes and dislikes, age, pastimes, culture and a million other hoops we insist our love must jump through. If we would only relax into the joy we have found, all such differences would show themselves as a source for expanding our love, instead of chopping it down to fit our preconceived limitations.

The art of love is the art of knowing when to give in and accept the role provided. Sometimes we may be the senior partner, guiding our loved one through the experience and taking on the responsibility of accommodating his or her variable whims. Other times we may find ourselves as the junior partner, eager to experience all that we can, intoxicated by the novelty, but not really knowing exactly what we're letting ourselves in for.

In either role, the key element is trust. First, we must trust ourselves and know that our feelings are real; only then can we surrender our will to them. If we wait to trust our loved one first, before we trust ourselves, then our own self-doubt will destroy that love before it even has a chance to bloom. We cannot really trust our partner with our feelings if we are unwilling to risk giving them freely. Ideally, of course, both lovers will arrive at this destination simultaneously. It is the rare individual who has the courage to confess his love first and wait patiently for his lover to reciprocate. Ill timing is perhaps the most common characteristic of loves that fail. Ironically, this is a standard fixture of nearly all great romances.

The signs of impending love are easily recognized: the constant companionship, the friendship that is more than friendship, the obliviousness of lovers to those around them, the spontaneous and impulsive acts of kindness and generosity, the late-night phone confessions, the all-night pillow talks, the intimate utterances in the throws of passion, the hand which slides into your own on an afternoon drive.

The signs of love's impending doom may be sudden, and without omen: a strange coldness where before there was only warmth, a blathering conversation about anything except the matter at hand, the anxiety of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

And when the axe falls, the lover's previous generosity is replaced by a prevailing instinct for self-preservation. The walls that had earlier given way are suddenly rebuilt overnight, reinforced with suspicion and topped with the barbed wire of cynicism. All that was precious suffers a sudden devaluation, and instead of counting the charms, the former lovers dig to unearth each other's faults and weaknesses, to sooth their own discomfort.

So it is not love that is to blame, but the demands and stresses that lovers subject it to. But when love is allowed to just be love, you can always settle for happiness.

contact Michael Blankenship: [email protected]