By Tova Kardonne
Oh, what a feeling. It’s the ultimate excuse, the unverifiable cause, the one self-interested pursuit that no one can critique. Heinous crimes are explained with love. Massive power imbalances rendered ostensibly harmless by authority’s love. An inner state, known only to its subject, it has no predictable appearance to its object. It’s also capricious and ineffable, transforming or disappearing for no apparent reason. And because it cannot be described, it’s not reliably distinguishable from other states; like say, for instance, hatred.
“One day you’ll understand that I do these things out of love.”
At least half-yes. None of that is untrue. But there’s another side to this-here grammatical clause. “To love” is a transitive verb. Some of its meaning is defined by the lover; but some of the meaning is known only to the beloved.
To receive love; what is that? The love one receives can be seen and heard. It can be recognized and anticipated. A beloved one seems to fear less, to seek their best self, to be powerful in the face of that challenge, and to know that mistakes will be corrected and forgiven. Being loved is obvious; well-loved people are easy to get along with. They need little and can concede much, because, being full of love, they feel generous. Friends, lovers, grammarians, we find ourselves in a well-frayed knot.
“Are you my one true love?”
Love as feeling; love as action. Love as mystery; love as practical. Love as responsible to itself alone; love as responsible to the entire world.
In walks Feminism. (“Long time no see!”) Feminism, here’s your old dance partner, Gender Roles. (“Oh- you again.”)
Gender Roles likes to assign these pairs of opposites to the sexes. Feeling, mystery, subjectivity; these are Feminine attributes, so they say. Action, responsibility, objectivity; these are the domain of Man. And yet… doesn’t it seem, in our world of domestic violence and tribal loyalty, that it’s the patriarchy that has relied most heavily on the “feminine” side of love? Isn’t it the abuser’s best defense that feelings cannot be measured by mere actions, nor undermined by them? All lovers, says Shakespeare, are mad. Lovers make no sense because of love’s magnitude, not despite. To demand that love act, and act well, in the eyes of more than just the beloved, these are the ‘masculine’ values of action, responsibility, and objectivity that refute the more sinister claims of love. Yet the confused love-cravings that the human race supposedly has no deliverance
from—these are the favourite talking points of leaders, worldly and spiritual, for whom Feminism is an unwelcome shaking-up of the established order—and for whom Gender Roles provide the normalcy upon which abusive love relies.
Want me to prove it? Do ya? Do ya?
“For love of King and Country.”
But we’re all adults here, right? If Beloved over here and Lover over there disagree so completely as to what love means, they are free to part and never again to meet. They are each free, as we are each free, to be alone. But anyone who cannot choose to be alone has a greater stake in reconciling the two sides of love. Children, those beings so crucially dependent on love, constitute one of a handful of groups who can’t walk away from
such a difference of opinions. The elderly are another, as are those with mental illness that require relationship for survival. Can more be demanded of one who loves them?
Or less? The law endows some love-relationships with extra obligations—but curiously, exempts them from others. Spouses are exempt from the obligation to testify against each other. Lovers are, at the very least, less obligated to govern their urges. But while love can stand as a defense for a crime of passion, in the case of neglect, it’s only the assumed relationship of love that renders the act a crime.
Without a coherent understanding of love, without being able to say, this is love, and that is not, we are adrift in a sea of usages, fictions, conventions and scripts. Maybe it’s not the root of all evil, but you don’t know what love is. None of us do.