“What are we gonna do?” laughs Nick, “sit around all night and talk about love?”
In a word: Yes. Because it’s f*cking important.
Lately, I’ve been reading a number of observations on love, solitude and loneliness, with the hope of reconciling the unwanted feelings I am currently experiencing with wise words and simple truths. Put plainly: can I become happier in myself to assuage the sense of incompletion I feel, due to an absence of love and intimacy?
Unfortunately, this reading seems to be in vain.
In his essay ‘On Solitude’, Michel de Montaigne quotes a beautiful line by the Latin poet Tibullus:
in lonely places, be a crowd unto yourself
Everyone counsels against finding validation, worth and purposefulness in others. And of course they’re right. But it seems to me that such a position really is far easier expressed than it is attained. And for what it’s worth, in defence of any others aboard this desolate ship, it’s not as simple as merely finding that triumvirate in the arms of another soul.
So, what is love?
“Love”, Jess asks Nick, “is never what you think it’s going to be, is it?”
Nick agrees, and so do I. Nothing is ever what we think it’s going to be. But that doesn’t stop us harbouring notions and expectations. Most of us will be familiar with its extremities.
how do you turn
a forest fire like me
so soft i turn into
– Rupi Kaur
To me, in one sense, love is a mosaic of tableaux; and each tableaux is a moment, a memory, behind which lies a story and a smile.
It is these tableaux which I believe the lonely long for. The scene is as important as the cast, whilst the script – long ago put to memory – is eagerly awaiting delivery, because those with time on their hands cannot help but spend it glancing again and again at the vacant pillow beside them.
Somewhere snowy. I want to share a kiss with my love (whoever that turns out to be) in a lodge atop a mountain with a beautiful snowy landscape in the background.
I have many such moments in mind, which I could reel off like a proud academic lecturing on his or her favourite topic. Am I the only one with such tidbits of dreams so readily to hand?
I suspect that lovers have as many dreams as the unloved; it is the immediacy, and burden of their absence, which sets them apart. This week’s weather, meanwhile, is fitting for this couplet by Kate Chapman, found in her ‘Autumn Thoughts‘:
Frost-tipped, wood-smoke, and cosy days,
Snuggled up in a warming haze.
God, I want that. So badly. Is that really so wrong?
I captured many tableaux in poems to a past love. They set her heart ablaze. Unfortunately, they weren’t enough, and she fell out of love. I confess that I myself fall in love too easily; and I now wonder if I am forever destined to get hurt on account of trusting with too much, too soon. Rupi Kaur:
into this mess
i always let him
tell me i am beautiful
and half believe it
i always jump thinking
he will catch me
at the fall
i am hopelessly
a lover and
a dreamer and
that will be the
death of me
The truth is, some scenes I painted purely out of love, believing that they would let her know how strong were my feelings, and the beauty she inspired me to see in the world around me. Certain songs are now tainted. One in particular, ‘Late in the Evening‘ by Paul Simon, I imagined dancing to at our wedding. I still enjoy that song.
This leads us to a slight irony: those who have been burned do not feel Want’s flame extinguish. And make no mistake – broken hearts are acutely aware of their own vulnerability and fragmentation. Consider again the words Rupi Kaur.
the good thing about
feeling in extremes
is when i love
i give them wings
such a good thing
cause they always
tend to leave and
you should see me
when my heart is broken
i don’t grieve
Let us follow this up with the pain of one of Hemingway’s characters:
You wouldn’t marry me in the church and it broke my poor mother’s heart as you well know. I was so sentimental about you I’d break anyone’s heart for you. My, I was a damned fool. I broke my own heart, too. It’s broken and gone. Everything I believed in and everything I cared about I left for you because you were so wonderful and you loved me so much that love was all that mattered. Love was the greatest thing, wasn’t it? Love was what we had that no one else had or could ever have? And you were a genius and I was your whole life. I was your partner and your little black flower. Slop. Love is just another dirty lie.
In a 2003 essay, ‘On Love’, Leonard Michaels opens with stanzas from what he describes as a ‘sad’, ‘chilling’, ‘scary little poem about love’, by William Blake (‘Never Pain to Tell Thy Love’).
Never seek to tell thy love
Love that told can never be;
For the gentle wind does move
I told my love, I told my love,
I told her all my heart,
Trembling, cold, in ghastly fears-
Ah, she doth depart.
It is better to have loved and lost, they say. Perhaps. But the thought of those one has lost loving another in the way that one is no longer loved is as crushing as that which one may never have known.
‘I can write the saddest verses tonight,’ Pablo Neruda confessed to us.
To think that I don’t have her. To feel that I have lost her.
To hear the immense night, more immense without her.
On nights like this I held her in my arms.
I kissed her so many times beneath the infinite sky.
Another’s. She will be another’s. As before my kisses.
Her voice, her bright body. Her infinite eyes.
My soul is not at peace with having lost her.
Bertrand Russell believed that those who ‘feel themselves unloved sink into a timid despair.’ It is with much regret, and a heavy heart, that I must admit to agreeing with Russell. ‘As a rule’, he went on, ‘the lives of such people become extremely self-centred, and the absence of affection gives them a sense of insecurity from which they instinctively seek to escape by allowing habit to dominate their lives utterly and completely.’
It is doubtless with this in mind that Montaigne advises that we ‘love this or that, but marry nothing but ourselves. That is to say, let the rest be ours, but not so glued and joined to us that it cannot be pulled off without tearing away a piece of ourselves, the skin and all.’ Of course, he is not suggesting that one never marry she or he who one wishes to grow old with; rather, he is cautioning against growing too attached to person, place or particular; the loss of which would feel as if we were losing part of ourselves.
No matter the detriment a longing can cause; a desire for love is at once understandable, and its rewards undeniable.
For Russell, ‘In the best kind of affection a man [or woman] hopes for a new happiness rather than for escape from an old unhappiness. The best type of affection,’ he adds, ‘is reciprocally life-giving; each receives with joy and gives without effort’.
Let us end with yet more beautiful words from Rupi Kaur.
love will come
and when love comes
love will hold you
love will call your name
and you will melt
love will hurt you but
love will never mean to
love will play no games
cause love knows life
has been hard enough already
Ernest Hemingway, To Have and Have Not (London: Arrow Books, 2004 ), p. 129.
Rupi Kaur, Milk and Honey (Kansas City: Andrew McMeel Publishing, 2015), pp. 65, 81, 109, 60.
Leonard Michaels, ‘On Love’ (2003) in The Essays of Leonard Michaels, ed. Katharine Ogden Michaels (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009), p. 29.
Michel de Montaigne, ‘On Solitude’ (trans. M. A. Screech) in On Solitude (London: Penguin, 2009), pp. 8, 9-10.
Pablo Neruda (1924) ‘I Can Write the Saddest Verses’ (trans. Mark Eisner) in The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems, ed. Mark Eisner (Northumberland: Bloodaxe Books, 2011), pp. 9, 11.
Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness (London & New York: Routledge, 2010 ), pp. 123, 127.