Monday, August 27, 2012

As weary-hearted as that hollow moon

"I had a thought for no one's but your ears:
That you were beautiful, and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we'd grown
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon."
"Adam's Curse" by William Butler Yeats

A sketch of W.B. Yeats.
There was something in those words that really got to me. I'd been referred to the poem by a friend who, after hearing I was in love with the poet John Keats, decided to suggest I read some Yeats. I've always thought it was just the last four letters of a surname that these two poets shared, but after reading "Adam's Curse" it occurred to me that there's something that more intricately binds the two writers: they understood that labor has no place in passion.

Keats once said "If poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all." And though that quote has little to do with love in the romantic sense, it does still have quite a bit to do with love in the sense of passion.

While Keats proselytized poetry only when it comes naturally and simply, Yeats suggested that romantic entanglements be settled in the same way. That we not force ourselves to feel a certain way because it is what is "right" or "expected," but because it is absolutely imperative. We cannot imagine it any other way, and it does nothing but bring us happiness.

It's the way I feel about my family and my closest friends. That these figures in my life, however much wrong they could do me, would never become nuisances, never be unworthy of holding onto for eternity. They are, to quote Shakespeare, "an ever-fixed mark" upon my soul. I am unable to extricate myself from them.

Yesterday I was thinking about all the kinds of love I feel. This is a weird thing to contemplate, I realize, but it was just a random thought that I couldn't shake. I was trying to fall asleep and it kept building in my mind. Like some sort of TED Talks lecture with thoughts compounding on other thoughts until I felt compelled to write about them.

So there are several different types of love I feel: object love, familial love, friendly love and romantic love. For the sake of expediency, I will only briefly describe object love and focus rather on those loves which are expended on humans.

Object Love

The majority of people don't feel too strongly about whatever inanimate or intangible objects they possess. A little jewelry box or a blanket or the like that was owned by a relative may serve some use as an object of posterity, but besides that there's no reason to feel too much for something that doesn't have the capacity to feel back. The same goes for television programs or movies or art objects. These are things that may mean a lot to us, but they don't have much of an effect on our psyche outside of an interest or obsession.

So that is one type of love, one that I do feel quite often. But that's not what we're dealing with here, because it doesn't have much to do with people. I'm here to talk about people.

Familial Love

Here's where my real argument starts. Because this isn't just about defining the types of love I feel, but explaining why certain kinds of love form and exist, and what foundation they're founded upon.

While, for me, object love is about casually enjoying something, familial love is about enjoying someone. It's the kind of relationship built on the basis of moral and emotional understanding.

First, I must say, though it may seem counter-intuitive to place familial love at a less complicated stage than friendly love, it is put in this place due to one factor that is not present in the love between friends: obligation. I certainly have love for all of my relatives, but the description I'm about to give does not necessarily apply to my relationships with each of them, because naturally I am bound to them by blood and even when they do not meet my criteria, I still love them.

Now here's where we get into the distinctions. Familial love has only two of the four categories of mutual understanding that I feel are present for me in loving relationships. The four in all are moral, emotional, intellectual and physical understanding. The only two that are fulfilled by a basic familial relationship are moral and emotional. Moral because families often shape our morals and guide us toward our spiritual choices. Emotional because a good family member can appreciate and handle their relatives' emotional conditions - however complex they are.

Some of my distant relatives don't cover either of these categories with me. And on the other hand, my closest relatives cover even more than this. But the important thing to take away is that all that is required from a family for real honest love from me is that we respect each other's morals and feelings.

Friendly Love

Friendly love, on the other hand, is about finding someone who connects with me on a moral level (i.e. I don't smoke, drink or do drugs, I don't party and my straight-laced tendencies often govern my life; therefore I like to find friends with similar realities), an emotional level (i.e. friends with whom I can cry and laugh; who understand my emotional tendencies and who accept and appreciate my feelings and complexities) and an intellectual level (i.e. people who are comparable with me in terms of intelligence, wit, interests, etc.).

While there is no expectation for physical understanding, in terms of friends, I only associate with those who fit a higher standard than what is necessary for familial love (since there isn't obligation as there is in familial relationships). I begin to love a friend when I realize that I can trust them with my faith, my heart and my mind. If any of those fall out of line, then it probably won't work out.

And unlike with family, the distinction is much stricter. When you're obligated to love someone, you might give them leeway to treat you badly. To hurt your feelings or have different values than you. But when you're friends with someone, you expect a certain kind of respect.

But not half as much as with someone for whom you feel romantically.

Romantic Love

It took me a while to figure this one out. The thing about romantic love is that it is the most difficult to achieve of any of the loves - as many know and many will find out (and as W.B. Yeats explains in "Adam's Curse").

For so long I believed that it wasn't necessary to fill all four of my criteria of "understanding." Maybe I could scoot a suitor by who was only emotionally and physically compatible with me. If we don't share enough common interests or we're not of the same IQ level or we lack the same moral values, then those are differences that can be overlooked, maybe even overcome.

In past dating experiences, my pairings have usually been dominated by two factors: intellectual and physical. If I've liked a boy and seen that we had the same taste in movies, then I'd be happy to date him. Is that not enough?

I think in time I've learned that it absolutely isn't.

In a romantic relationship, none of these fundamental criteria are expendable. Without moral understanding, you lose the ability to respect each other for your values and choices. Without emotional understanding, you will never be able to care enough for each other to make things work in the long term. Without intellectual understanding, you may grow bored of each other. And without physical understanding, you'll likely never feel a strong enough attraction to move past friendship.

I'm not willing to sacrifice any of these criteria. They are the very bare basics of getting along with someone and feeling romantically interested in them to the point of dating and possibly staying together long term.

I think this is why relationships fall apart so often and so easily. We go into new romances looking for "love," but instead of searching for individuals who fit all four criteria, we're happy to settle for those who are only compatible with two or three. Often, it's physical attraction that gets to be the biggest distraction.

This makes me wonder, quite often in fact, whether there even is anyone in the world who fits all four of my expectations. Or is life really like that College Triangle Diagram where you are given three options - good grades, enough sleep and a social life - and you can only choose two? The issue is that unlike the expendable corner of the triangle (a vibrant social life, in my case), I'm not willing to give anything up when searching for a "partner."

Looking back at the section from the poem above, I think a lot about what it means to be in love. How it's so easy to "seem happy," when problems are festering underneath only to surface later when reality kicks in. Honeymoon periods cause blindness, and when our vision returns we realize we haven't got what we bargained for when we agreed to go on that first date.

While compartmentalizing your love works to remind you how much love you feel, it can also poke at you until you're unable to ignore the one type of love that you may never find.

Unlike with Keats, I haven't read up much on the life of Yeats. I've thought many many times how lucky Keats was to have found whom he believed was the love of his life, but did Yeats ever find the same romantic passion? Maybe it's the pessimism and unwillingness to compromise that keep people like us away from the opportunity of true love.

Or maybe we just refuse to be "as weary-hearted as that hollow moon."

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