All about love…?

One of the oldest age-old debates – the tug-of-war wrangle between love and sex.

Love/Sex tug-of-war

E started talking all about sex (not literally).

And now it’s time to yank at the other end of the rope.

The thing about love is… What is love?

(I would like to briefly apologise for the perpetual questioning in my writing these few weeks.)

It got me thinking about how maybe it all boils down to the problem of the lingo and its deficiencies in how inadequate words are in expressing precisely the complex of one’s thoughts to another.

Sometimes the root of all trouble is simply miscommunication.

You don’t understand.

Miscommunication is more common than we think it would be.

You’d think most of us must be very communicatively competent and capable of avoiding miscommunication after going through nearly two decades of formal schooling where we learn how to use ancient systems of sounds and symbols to convey our sophisticatedly modern ideas.

But there remain many things in life that defy the capture of precise expressions.

It’s the cliches that cause the trouble. A precise emotion seeks a precise expression. If what I feel is not precise then should I call it love?
– Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body

Sometimes I think this is what some people do. They think what they are feeling is love when it is in fact not. Do you still remember the warnings they dole out during those BGR talks towards the end of primary school – about how, despite the commonly heady sense of exhilaration pulsating through one’s vulnerable human mind, there are significant differences between a crush, an infatuation and the god forsaken true love? (My god, now I realise how formal indoctrination actually began way earlier than I’d thought.)

And that was important, because when one is young and just starting out in this world, one is naturally stupid by reason of a lack of knowledge and uninformed ignorance. And that, coupled with the exuberant surges of teenage hormones that predispose one to being restless and reckless, is reason enough for formal educational intervention.

Maybe this is what is lacking for us all. After we get past the teenage years and into the serious phase of young adulthood, most people assume that they have gotten it all figured out and many lose sight of the importance of introspection and what it means to redefine things in the new contexts of their older selves. That the ideals of love that our teenage selves would easily yield to might no longer work for our older selves who are concerned with different needs and demands.

Yet another bewildering aspect of the concept of love is that it is boggled down by many accompanying convoluted concepts like self-respect, human relations, sex, individuality, intimacy, freedom, family…it does not end. Basically it is everything and it is nothing. Like Susan Sontag said, it is a goddamn mystery.


There seems to be an entire world lying in between the two ends of the love/sex tug-of-war – an entire world of societal expectations, communal and peer pressure, cultural ambivalence and stereotypes – all resulting in cultivating this sense of expectancy in us to look forward to that one final point in life to get to where everything will make sense, where finding love will make everything make sense.

We ask everything of love. We ask it to be anarchic. We ask it to be the glue that holds the family together, that allows society to be orderly and allows all kinds of material processes to be transmitted from one generation to another. But I think that the connection between love and sex is very mysterious. Part of the modern ideology of love is to assume that love and sex always go together. They can, I suppose, but I think rather to the detriment of either one or the other. And probably the greatest problem for human beings is that they just don’t. And why do people want to be in love? That’s really interesting. Partly, they want to be in love the way you want to go on a roller coaster again — even knowing you’re going to have your heart broken. What fascinates me about love is what it has to do with all the cultural expectations and the values that have been put into it. I’ve always been amazed by the people who say, “I fell in love, I was madly, passionately in love, and I had this affair.” And then a lot of stuff is described and you ask, “How long did it last?” And the person will say, “A week, I just couldn’t stand him or her.”

– Susan Sontag, quoted in Love, Sex and The World Between, from Susan Sontag: The Complete Rolling Stone Interview

But, why?

Why is it that people, even those who might have been the most levelheaded, are so enamoured with getting that one love?

Our ideas of love are terribly bound up in our ambivalence about these two conditions — the positive and negative valuations of childhood, the positive and negative valuations of adulthood. And I think that, for many people, love signifies a return to values that are represented by childhood and that seem censored by the dried-up, mechanized, adult kinds of coercions of work and rules and responsibilities and impersonality. I mean, love is sensuality and play and irresponsibility and hedonism and being silly, and it gets to be thought of in terms of dependence and becoming weaker and getting into some kind of emotional slavery and treating the loved one as some kind of parent figure or sibling. You reproduce a part of what you were as a child when you weren’t free and were completely dependent on your parents, particularly your mother.

– Susan Sontag, quoted in Love, Sex and The World Between, from Susan Sontag: The Complete Rolling Stone Interview

Sometimes I think some people continue to idealise love long after their heady and blissfully ignorant teenage years are over, except that they don’t get told and forewarned anymore. Through the misty eyes of idealisation, it is easy to indulge in selectively believing only the pleasant bits of reality that one desire and blocking out the ugly scraps, by making excuses for their partners and making excuses for themselves. Perhaps this is why some people are capable of doing terrible things to get love and doing horrible things in the name of love.

It is very interesting how Susan Sontag explores one of the different varieties of love:

 I have loved people passionately whom I wouldn’t have slept with for anything, but I think that’s something else. That’s friendship — love, which can be a tremendously passionate emotion, and it can be tender and involve a desire to hug or whatever. But it certainly doesn’t mean you want to take off your clothes with that person. But certain friendships can be erotic. Oh, I think friendship is very erotic, but it isn’t necessarily sexual. I think all my relationships are erotic: I can’t imagine being fond of somebody I don’t want to touch or hug, so therefore there’s always an erotic aspect to some extent.

Maybe we are all confused about the different gradations of intimacy.

Maybe sometimes some people fall victim to self-fulfilling prophecies and end up sleeping with people they hadn’t meant to, because they confused physical, emotional and sexual intimacy.

How do we pool all these things together and sort them through to put together and feel what love is?

Because unlike other human emotions, love cannot be felt simply. It has to be processed by our ingenious brain. There are many emotions that are associated with love, which are felt, but love itself cannot be felt. It has to be thought about. This is perhaps why people have to literally think about who they truly love. The whole listen to your heart business requires thinking and thoughts that one’s heart literally cannot conceive.

So can finding that love really be everything?

Maybe for some people, it can be. They can accept whatever is lacking in their love and their everything, and be content with knowing that all the accompanying misery and happiness go hand in hand.

For some other people, though, finding that love is nothing compared to everything they would have to give up for. To them, life is really not all about the love.


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