Sunday, March 10, 2013

When it alteration finds

"Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved."
- Sonnet 116, William Shakespeare

So tell me William S., what is love that ends?

I love this poem - and I have for many years. Since I wrote a paper on it in my senior year English Literature class and recited it in front of my class. And since I later found out that one of my best friends here at college had done the same thing at her high school. This poem links me to my peers, but it also links me to my heart. It is an ever-fixed mark.

In that English Literature class, I was the go-to kid for interpretations of Shakespeare. While we were reading Hamlet, I had a side-by-side translation, but I rarely if ever looked at the American English understanding of the text. I could read through that entire play without questioning the dialogue for a moment. I think it came about as a result of many many viewings of Pride & Prejudice. I've become so use to the eccentricities and twisted linguistic styles of British English speaking styles past that Shakespeare stopped confusing me. Plus, I love trying to understand metaphor. I love constructing metaphor myself. It's too much fun to let go of that interpretive spirit that I would never read a direct literal translation.

So when I read this poem, I took it incredibly seriously. Especially after spending so many hours with it writing a paper deconstructing its text. Line by line, I took it apart. "True minds" meaning those who have similar hearts and temperaments. "Love is not love which alters when it alterations finds" meaning that if you purport to love someone then it is not something that can change on a whim. "O no! it is an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken," meaning that love lasts forever and isn't enticed away by the lure of another person or what that person might offer.

Shakespeare writes in such pretty verse and he says such beautiful things.

But is he right? That I can't be so sure of.

How much love these days "alters when it alteration finds" and "bends with the remover to remove"? How many divorces take place? How many annulments? How many people say "I love you" to a boyfriend or girlfriend and then a moment later tell them that they can't say those things any longer?

I can't imagine a time when these things weren't true. Even in the days before divorce, when marriage was expected to last a lifetime and spouses were essentially stuck together regardless of how they felt, how could the word "love" be tossed around with such definitives?

That sounds incredibly cynical of me. But I think it's because I know that I have the capacity to love "to the edge of doom." This is not because I've loved for any infinite amount of time in my life, but because in my heart I know that I can love that way. And that if I say that I love that way, it means that I do.

I am careful with my words. I try not to make rash decisions when I choose to date. If I have, it becomes exceedingly obvious because I turn stand-offish in the matter of a few moments. I may perpetuate things if they're comfortable, but I will not throw myself into romance wholeheartedly unless I know that it is exactly that - wholehearted.

It is dangerous being in "like." Saying the word "love" is a completely different ball game.

When you fall in "like," you put your heart on the line. You ask someone whether or not they accept you as a potential companion, even for the short term. And that is an overwhelming and nerve-wracking thing. It is hard enough admitting you have a crush on someone, but proclaiming that you would spend a great deal of time getting to know them (as indicated by the word "like") is a commitment.

When you fall in "love," it is not just an elevation of "like." It is not just how you feel when you've surpassed those feelings of interest and entered some nebulous unexplained realm of wordlessness. It means strength of belief - of commitment despite anxiety, fear or difficulty. It's not just commitment to get to know someone, it's commitment to get to know them and care for them under harsh circumstances. It means putting in effort even when it's difficult because that person means enough to try despite hardship.

That's what I mean when I use the word "love."

Whether or not Shakespeare meant the same thing remains to be seen, but I feel that he may have. And I feel that society's notion of love these days is a completely different concept.

I remember being in middle school and seeing the abbreviation "ily" (short for "I love you") on my "friend's" MySpace comment sections. What the heck does "ily" mean?, I thought to myself. Even now, the phrasing confounds me. These were 13 year olds throwing around words that for centuries have indicated something powerful and unbreakable. But now they use it to refer to a short-term commitment to a boy or girl whom they will inevitably pass over for the next eligible pre-teen whom they find semi-interesting.

Well I thought that sort of immaturity ended in middle school, but as I've grown up I've seen nothing but sameness. In high school I didn't date, and thank goodness because things were just as silly then. Bring on college and I expected to be surrounded by literate nerds with minds and hearts. Well, I guess I wasn't totally off. We do have quite a few bookish dorks here.

Maybe there aren't any more "ily"s being thrown around willy nilly, but when I consider how often I hear the word "love" and how little it means to the world now, I lament as I look back at Shakespeare and consider how beautifully and eloquently he addressed the stalwart nature of the four-letter word.

It's probably immature of me in this day and age to still think that "love alters not with his brief hours and weeks," especially considering that so many of my relationships have ended in just a matter of weeks.

But try to convince a girl who has lived so much of her life drowning in Disney films and Victorian literature, and you're bound to encounter some stubbornness. The incongruities are visible to me, but I refuse to accept them.

At the moment, I'm not open to the word "love" because I know how much it can hurt when it's found to be false. As strongly as I feel about the fact that it does exist, how to decipher its authenticity is lost on me and I fear being fooled. So I'm resisting it.

But don't think for a minute that I'm not looking, and I'm not dreaming and I'm not hoping. I will never stop being the wistful girl that I've always been - the one who thinks that Mr. Darcy is not so much a fantasy, but a reality hidden somewhere in this terrifying and often disappointing universe.

I don't think everyone is looking for love. In fact, at the moment I don't think most people are looking for anything even closely resembling "love" by the true meaning of the word, which is this: "a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person." Keyword: profound. "Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds" because it is more than just a word we use to mean we care about something deeply. It is profound, meaning it has an inconceivably enormous impact - one we can't merely escape, avoid or ignore. It just sits there, profound and awe-inspiring. It stupefies us, it confounds us, it empowers us.

If we all wanted love for what it really means then we would use the word with a lot more haste. And until it becomes less a part of our everyday vocabulary and more a part of our special set of words put aside for important occasions, it will continue to lose the meaning it once harbored. From that I will learn, but never stop feeling sorrow.

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