Friday, June 27, 2008

What is love...

A recent quiz posted by Yun has given me a lot of food for thought over the last few days... perhaps far more than the quiz maker ever intended. (For those who want to try the quiz, please read no further now and click on Yun's post instead).

The quiz is in the form of a tale, retold by Yun and reproduced below in its entirety:

A man (M) and a lady (L) who are very much in love, and devoted to one another are separated by a river with no way of getting across to the other side. On L’s side of the river, there is a boatman (B) who is able to take her over to the other side of the river but refuses to do so unless she pays him a price of $100, twice his normal fare. L has no money. Another man (S) then tells L that he will giver her $100 if she sleeps with him. L agrees to do so and on receiving the $100, pays B who takes her over to the other side of the river.She is reunited with M and they are very happy together. However, a friend of M (F) finds out what L did with S and immediately tells M. On learning the news, M finds L and ends things with her, stating that he wants nothing more to do with her.

Your task:
Rank these five people, M, L, B, S, and F, from best to worst. i.e. best person to worst person. (And why?)

My initial response was as follows:

I'm between two minds in this. Either:

L M F B S

Or: L B S F M

I have difficulties deciding whether it was worse to take advantage of somebody just because you can (B and S); or that it was actually worse to not be able to forgive someone you love and who you know loves you (M). And the question of the friend (F) - as the story says that he "immediately" told M when he found out, so chances are he just blurts something out without thinking through the consequences, and in that sense he's more forgiveable than M. But then F should also realise that anything of this nature must wreck his friend's happiness, and causing his friend to lose the love of his life, even if inadvertently and without malice, must be worse than M being put in that position by his so-called friend. The story ends with M wanting to ends things with L, which is understandable as an immediate reaction, but I think M would redeem himself if he has more time to think over. The person I'm most sympathetic to is L, who was forced to make a Faustian bargain by virtue of the circumstances she found herself in. Indeed, if M is able to afford the boatman in the first place, the whole dilemma wouldn't have arisen. However, who knows, maybe that was precisely what M was saving up to do? So if L has at least talked it over with M (like in the movie Indecent Proposal?), then the villain would have been plainly S.

Anyway, I can't believe I'm going back and forth over this little simple test!!

And my indecision on this probably says more about me than the actual test itself. Oh well.

And it turns out the letters stand for the following:

B-Business (I'd have preferred the term Career)
F-Friends
L-Love
M-Morality
S-Sex
And that the order in which you placed them from Best to Worst reflects the order of importance of each of these concepts in your life.

After finding out what the letters stand for, and looking back at my answer, there are quite a number of things that I disagree with regarding the interpretation of the quiz answers, such as the internal validity of the character indicator for Friendship, and that classic psychometric reliability problem: different respondents adhering to different subjective interpretations when evaluating what constitutes best and worst. (see a snippet of my rant here).

However, what is most intriguing for me, when I reflect back on my original answer, was to note that in both cases, I placed Love to be the first. This is quite surprising for me, not least because I am currently single and yet feeling curiously content about my singular status. I have been a witness to the recent love drama of a dear friend who may soon be leaving the country altogether until the situation with her partner is resolved, and I do not envy her her dilemma even though I have also witnessed how happy she was when she was with him. So to me at this piont in my life, being told that Love takes centre stage where I am concerned is rather unexpected.

This led me to seriously give thought to what exactly do I mean by this thing called Love? Reflecting on my rationale to rank the character L above the others led me to realise that there are several axioms about Love that I tacitly hold to be true, at least where my own matters of the heart are concerned. These reckonings about the most cliched of concepts struck me like a lightning bolt, and became like engravings of the mind, which I feel an utmost imperative to record here...

So what is Love? To me?

First of all: drop. the. cap. like e.e. cummings. there is no need to aggrandize love. the greatest love story of mankind is the kind told by elderly couples quietly holding hands.

love is not a grandiose thing, filled with heroics, drama and hubris. love is humble and mundane, filled with unspoken sacrifices and indeed, compromises. love is day-to-day, surviving the rough and tumble of the living, together.

Second of all: love is a constant that expresses itself as a variable. there is no such thing as an unchanging, pure love. love that doesn't include drama stagnates and dies; but love that can't survive drama is ultimately not love.

love is being emotionally close to someone and appreciating their point of view even if, and especially if, the person is being irrational or unreasonable. to love is to understand. to understand is to forgive.

to love is therefore to forgive. or, to quote Erich Segal (glib as this may sound): "love means never having to say you're sorry".

but love is no martyrdom.

Third of all: "true love" is a state of relationship, not a person. contrary to Haruki Murakami who laments that he might not have recognised his one. true. love. - his "100% girl" - true love to me is something that needs to be nurtured over time, like caring for a plant, and doesn't come in a ready-made package in the form of this or that particular person. the trick is to find someone with whom you are both willing and able to turn passion and romance into true love.

but precisely because true love is arrived at through the action of both parties, there are no guarantees in love, for actions carry both intended and unintended consequences.

Fourth of all: like happiness, true love can only be pursued. the minute you stop pursuing and start taking love for granted, the minute love starts to atrophy.

love is nothing without action. yearning is not an action, and a crush is not love. to quote a Chinese saying: 敢愛敢恨 ["dare love dare hate" (could someone who understands what i mean please help me type out the Chinese phrase, pretty please? Update: thanks LCL for the tip!) ]

to love takes guts. but this is not empty bravado, not about hanging on to someone through sheer force of will. at the most basic level, to love requires the guts to weather disappointment, to pick yourself up after failing, and to move on.

Fifth of all: best summed up by another quote from Desiderata, a prose poem from Max Ehrmann which has been a crucial source of spiritual sustenance to me at times of need since I first came across it when I was twelve:

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

The above axioms of love have been haunting me in my sleep over the last couple of days. They appeared in bold type in my dreams, not unlike the scene from Rose Tremain's Music and Silence, when the Danish king sought to protect his feverish friend by inciting his name in bold calligraphy in his imagination to ward off evil. I am relieved I can finally record them here.

Please do understand that I do not intend to preach the above as some kind of universal declaration of human love. Everyone have their own axioms of love that they hold dear. Just please don't attack me for mine.

Finally, let me end this post with a favourite song by a much loved singer in my formative years - I ain't movin' by Des'ree:

Love is my passion
Love is my friend
Love is universal
Love never ends
Then why am I faced with so much anger so much pain?
Why should I hide?
Why should I be ashamed?
Time is much too short to be livin' somebody else's life
I walk with dignity, I step with pride

(chorus) Cause I ain't moving from my face,
from my race, from my history
I ain't movin' from my love, my peaceful dove,
it means too much to me
Loving self can be so hard
Honesty can be demanding
Learn to love yourself, it's a great, great feeling

When you're down baby, I will set you free
I will be your remedy, I will be your tree
A wise man is clever, seldom ever speaks a word
A foolish man keeps talking, never is he heard
Time's much too short to be livin' somebody else's life
I walk with dignity, I step with pride

(chorus)

Time's too lonely, too lonely without words
Future voices need to be heard
Eyebrows are always older than the beards
Momma said be brave, you've nothing to fear, darling

(chorus)

I ain't movin, I've been here long before
I ain't movin cause I want more
I ain't movin, got my feet on the ground
As far as I'm concerned,
love should win the rounds.

Update: the "I will be your tree" motif above somehow reminds me of a similar image from one of Faye Wong's songs, again a favourite, and also about self-love:



Update again: and although I couldn't locate an actual video for "I ain't movin'" on Youtube (I really can't believe that nowhere on the web has it), "You Gotta Be" by Des'ree is just as good:



Update again: and to complete the trifecta of music videos that reflect the spirit of this post, below is "how to save a life" from The Fray (note what's listed under number 1):

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7 Comments:

At Fri Jun 27, 02:28:00 p.m. IST, Blogger laichungleung said...

Try http://translate.google.com, type in whatever English and pick Chinese, and you'll get it.

 
At Fri Jun 27, 03:19:00 p.m. IST, Blogger Snowdrops said...

Thanks a mil' LCL for the tip! Just updated my post now :D

 
At Fri Jun 27, 11:49:00 p.m. IST, Blogger Yun said...

Although you are content with your single life and that you aren't actively looking for "love." But I guess when it comes, you will value it above all. :)

The thing is, I don't even think of "what is love" that much. I think when it comes then I know. It doesn't help me to think what it is about. I do think I'm the rare type that not too crazy about "falling in love" or "love stories". (OMG, how I hate romance novels and films.) I rarely see a couple that I actually admire. I think most people are miserable in their relationships. Wahaha!! Marriage is love? Don't kid me. :P

Ultimately, I do want to find someone whom I love and can live it. But for me that's more for pragmatic reasons... umm, I would like to have someone by my side when I grow old... Haha... Yea, I'm weird. :P

 
At Sat Jun 28, 05:10:00 a.m. IST, Anonymous serene said...

mine was MLFBS coz i tot M because he didnt do anything wrong at all and it's just not right for his woman to sleep with another man; L did all these in the name of love but she shouldnt sleep with another man to be with M; F was right to tell M about what happened (but i think it will be very difficult nevertheless); B was MEAN! to charge twice the normal fare - L prolly wouldnt have to do such awful things if B didnt charge so high in the first place; and S was the worst of the lot to ask L to sleep with him and pay her money for that.

 
At Sat Jun 28, 09:46:00 a.m. IST, Blogger Snowdrops said...

Hi Yun, thanks for your comment (and for accommodating our debate over on your blog!)

You wrote: "But I guess when it comes, you will value it above all. :)... I don't even think of "what is love" that much. I think when it comes then I know."

I don't think I'd call love an "it" that comes and goes by itself - that's anthropomorphising a state of relationship. As I have written, to me love is something that needs to be worked on gradually by both parties. At the moment I don't see anybody with whom I'm yet prepared to do the real hard work of turning mere romance into true love... perhaps when I finally got rid of my PhD, then I'd have the energy to pursue true love... As it is, even our little debate over on your blog is already way too exhausting for me ;)

You wrote: "I do think I'm the rare type that not too crazy about "falling in love" or "love stories". (OMG, how I hate romance novels and films.) I rarely see a couple that I actually admire."

Agreed! (Finally there's something we agree on!) I'm not crazy about romance novels at all, and chick lit stuff are the thing that I generally stay well away from. But again, as I said, I think there is a real need to distinguish true love from romantic love. The two are not the same.

You wrote: "I think most people are miserable in their relationships. Wahaha!! Marriage is love? Don't kid me. :P"

I'm not sure if "miserable" or "happy" can be applied as a blanket descriptor where a relationship is concerned. As I said, to me love is variable in its manifestation. Yesterday the two of you might be really happy, and the next day the two of you might have an almighty row. Like friendship really, you may share some good times and some bad times, but what's more important is whether you value that person and vice versa.

Anyway, I wouldn't judge whether people are miserable or not in their relationships *in general* and then to use this conclusion to determine whether I personally would like to be involved in a *particular* relationship with a particular person. But I absolutely agree that the institution of marriage should not be confused with love at all.

You wrote: "umm, I would like to have someone by my side when I grow old... Haha... Yea, I'm weird. :P"

No you're not weird at all :) When I think about love I'm reminded of the old couples that I met as part of my doctoral research. There was one couple in particular that's really touching to me - the husband takes care of the wife with a heart condition 24/7, who has brittle bones and can barely walk, yet he doesn't mind it in the least and all the while the wife is feeling guilty that he had to take care of her, and worry about silly things like whether she might be getting fat and looking less appealing in her husband's eyes... (and she must be such a beauty when she was young, as she is still graceful and naturally beautiful even when she's in her 60's). She had no idea that, just by being herself and being with him, she is giving joy to her husband.

This is the kind of love that I do aspire to, but I'm not certain if I'd be able to find someone to develop that kind of relationship with. But thankfully also, I don't feel guilty or lacking in this way just because I'm not with someone. (I agree with the view that the last thing you need is to cling to someone just for the sake of being with someone).

Who knows, maybe I could develop true love when I'm in my 60's or 70's? (If I'm lucky enough and to have the stamina to live that long). I don't think that's such a bad thing at all :)

 
At Sat Jun 28, 10:05:00 a.m. IST, Blogger Snowdrops said...

Hi Ser, thanks a mil' for contributing your thoughts on the quiz too (and you might be interested in the almighty debate that Yun and I were having over at her blog!).

You wrote: "mine was MLFBS coz i tot M because he didnt do anything wrong at all and it's just not right for his woman to sleep with another man; L did all these in the name of love but she shouldnt sleep with another man to be with M"

Originally I too saw M as somebody who didn't do anything and is only reacting to things that happened to him. And I would totally understand his initial reactions.

But then when I remember that what L did was prostitution rather than fooling around with another man. I think she should be forgiven because all she betrayed was her own body and not M per se.

M's decision to not try to understand why L did what she did and forgive her basically shows to me that he doesn't really love her. Obviously nobody would prefer that someone they loved have once been a prostitute, but I think true love should be able to get past that moral condemnation. I think if I for example, really care about my boyfriend, and discovered that he consented to be a rent boy once in order to be united with me, then I would forgive him.

You wrote: "F was right to tell M about what happened (but i think it will be very difficult nevertheless)"

I agree with your comment above on further reflection, especially the difficulty part. I think when I read the story I had this image of F as a fratboy type guy friend who just blurted out things without regard to his friend's feelings. If F is instead being very considerate and concerned when he talks to M, then I would agree he was being a good friend.

I guess HOW somebody does something is to me as important as WHAT was actually being done.

You wrote: "B was MEAN! to charge twice the normal fare - L prolly wouldnt have to do such awful things if B didnt charge so high in the first place;"

Oh I absolutely hands-down agree with you on this!! B's price-hiking just because he could is really mean, and I know this may sound like a stretch, but somehow B's business ethics (or lack thereof), and the consequences on L, somehow is like a parable for how greedy multinationals exploited third world citizens so that they cannot survive without having women (and children in some cases) being forced into prostitution just to supplement their income.

You wrote: "and S was the worst of the lot to ask L to sleep with him and pay her money for that."

Agree also with that. Again if one wants to go the conspiracy theory route, S could even have been colluding with B so that S could get what he wanted from L when L saw no alternative to being able to pay B his exorbitant fare.

Again, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this even though we may not absolutely agree on everything! :)

 
At Sat Jun 28, 10:33:00 a.m. IST, Blogger Snowdrops said...

Oh, and let me just clarify, although Erich Segal's "Love Story" sounds like the quinessential romance story, the actual story itself is not about the romance but rather about what it means to really love someone, and encompasses both love between a couple, love between friends and the love between estranged parent/sons. The brave Jennifer in the story who challenged her boyfriend on his assumptions about life and work and his relationship with his father, and forgave him his crassness and stubbornness, is what is really touching about the story. It's not at all a guy-meets-gal-and-happy-ending formula of a romcoms; nor was it the tired old damsel-in-distress-saved-by-knight-in-shining-armour chicklit story. So I'd highly recommend it!

 

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