Contributing Writer

“Oh ye that would have the cocoanut wrong side outwards.”

Linguistic relativity proposes that the properties of a culture’s language — its syntax, semantics and vernacular — shape how we perceive reality. Generally this involves linguistic idiosyncrasies: the absence of egocentric directions leads to the use of cardinal directions, an expanded vocabulary of colors results in improved color identification, and so on. I believe the linguistics of English have resulted in a profound blunder.

Generally, we treat mental conditions as metaphysical associations: I do not “have” hunger or sleepiness, I am them, etc. We tacitly admit these are uncontrollable and, though resultant from biological processes, separate and in some ways more powerful than our consciousness. Conversely, we treat love not as an action or metaphysical association between two persons, but as a metaphysical (or worse, tangible) object. We have extended our vernacular from I love, to I need love, I want love, I crave, fight for, win, have, sold, lost, found, bought, died for, and have fallen in love.

With such an impoverished view of love, I am astounded we praise it so. Our love is not rare or precious. We talk of finding love at first sight or an effortless love, imagining that it ought to be simple.

Even worse, we talk of winning another’s love by persistence or devotion — would that it were so easy! Love is not the spoils of a successful campaign, but the neverending crusade. More terrifying yet: because love is emergent and does not have some abstract existence, to conquer love is to conquer yourself. While love does not require monetary affluence, it demands a superfluity of internal wealth. Love kindles in us godliness, and should be pursued as we pursue divinity: not with the expectation of success, but with that of failure. Not congruent with happiness or contentment, but with apotheosis: “Love expands and grows before us to eternity, until it becomes all that is lovely and we become all that can love.” Indeed we should demand from ourselves and our beloved not happiness but perfection;
“The love that takes us as it finds us degrades us.”

I do not propose that we expect from ourselves and our partners flawlessness, but that we expect perfect flaws. In conceiving of and adoring their perfection one ought to abhor the blemishes which stain it as they abhor those which stain themselves in the sight of their beloved. We ought to aspire to and expect from ourselves nothing less than a person worthy of the caliber of love which we experience and be ashamed when we falter, not for fear of being judged, but for want to succeed the ideals of our beloved.

I have, in my life, met few who love and fewer still who understand its majesty. Instead we labor with an approximation of our potential greatness. From ignorance or fear we have created a system of language and thought which degrades our intimate relationships. We have settled for a plebeian version of this singularly noble human endeavor, and wonder why our discontentment grows. We are trying to satisfy a natural human drive with an approximation of its intended object; it is as if we lived in perpetual hunger, but our humanity, not our bodies wasted.

Quotes by Henry David Thoreau: Love, Friendship, Marriage (1910)

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