Let’s talk about love. And I mean really — no cutesy metaphors, no sickly sweet proverbs or rose-colored imagery. Let’s have a frank discussion about love, what we assume it to be, and the implications of those assumptions. Perhaps the best way to crack open this subject is to examine the language and practices with which we approach it, to take apart what we say and do about love in order to get to the heart of the matter. Sorry for the heart pun. It will be the last, I promise.
Consider the flower. From prom proposals to Valentine’s Days to I-don’t-know-what-I-did-but-I-guess-I-should-smooth-it-over apologies, we love using flowers. We give them out like so many love coupons. It is a kind gesture implying tenderness, beauty and perfume.
But what is a bouquet but a bunch of dead flowers?
Flowers are bloom and perfume and life while they are in the ground, but the moment we clip them from their roots they begin to decay. Take a moment to think about this: we give each other plant corpses as gifts, as symbols of love.
What does this say about the way we see love?
Now consider chocolate, the flower’s companion in any decent Valentine’s package. Chocolate, the rich dark sugar of love. Chocolate, a confection smooth, sweet, and undeniably unhealthy.
(Notice the connection to those hackneyed pet names, including but not limited to sweetie, sugar, honey, cupcake, the like. All endlessly sugary, all ready to be devoured.)
We worship that which is transitorily sweet. We smell the fresh-cut flower and pay no mind to its imminent decay. We swallow the candy and ignore the way it poisons our veins and hearts. We focus our lives around the acquisition of honeymoon moments — the first kiss, the first dance, the candy melting softly on the tongue — and we are so surprised and disappointed when the perfection doesn’t last.
This is not love. This is selfish indulgence in the decadent present.
This is not love. This short-lived infatuation, a crush.
This is not love. This is not even close.
We have surrounded ourselves with this fiction, pumping ourselves full of petals and sugar in order to convince ourselves that it’ll all be worth it when we meet that much-discussed one. The pain, the stress, the monotony of the everyday will melt away when the one arrives to save us.
Let me be clear — this is nonsense. This is a futile, water-soluble wish. But this is not what love is or has to be.
Love is the earth giving color and oxygen to the rose. Love is the bird picking thorns from the alligator’s teeth. Love is bruise-kissing, hand-holding pride and surety. It is not exclusive to Coupledom, to Marriage or to Your Mother’s Need for Grandchildren. It surpasses every cliché and expectation. It is so much weirder and better than any of those.
Love: weird and good. I rather like that.