Someone to love
We all love to be loved. How we demonstrate that very real need and what we regard as showing love varies from one person to another and in different ways at different times. Some want physical help to cope with life, others want intimacy, yet again others, affection. Some want help with their thinking, others with their praying, many with their financing (handling it as much as subsidising it), more than we think with their relationships, most with their fears. To be able to spot what kind of love is needed and how it is best expressed takes a lifetime’s learning.
Blessed indeed are those who can read the need; more blessed still are those who know how to give it; how ultimately blessed are those who know how to receive it.
In his book of definitions my father said love was “the gift of self”. I think it is a brilliant description but perhaps a bit weighted towards the discipline of giving love, as might be expected of someone living in post-Victorian Britain, rather than towards the concept itself. Love is both given and received and being able to receive it is as important a practice as knowing how to express it. Indeed, observation over many years suggests to me that, much as we want and need love for ourselves, we all have an innate desire to give love to another. It may be even stronger than the wish to be the recipient. The passion for pets is but one sign of this.
If we accept the principle of the need to both give and receive love we have an interesting question to answer. Are lasting partnerships – they used to be called marriages but the terminology matters not – best between two people both of whom want to receive love more than to give it, or best the other way round, when one wants to give and the other to receive? It goes further than that. Is a wish to give affectionate love more than to be loved an inhibition to someone whose need is to remain self-contained and demonstrate very real love in thoroughly practical ways? An aunt who was the nearest I had to a substitute for my dead mother was full of practical help and thoroughly useful, generous behaviour. It surprised me when my uncle died that she referred to his death as “the ultimate heartbreak”. I had never thought of her like that.
Love is so complex that you could think and write about it forever. Indeed, many writers do little else. Jane Austen’s sharp perceptions were so gently expressed that it was difficult to see the barbed intent behind them. The crass outpourings of a pornographer may well mask the very real need to stir a response in others, even if doing so involves shocking them painfully. Cruelty is an admission of personal inadequacy far more telling than self-deprecation. Excessive pride, an admission of anticipated failure more potent than self-destruction. ‘Pride comes before a fall’ was never a comment on stumbling. It told of the surplus of summer harvest before the autumn. A surplus of love often predicts a paucity of generosity.
So in giving love we are generous. We may need to be just as generous in receiving it. We can only decide whether that is the case when we look at the world from the other person’s point of view. Survival, competition, personal rights and the form of capitalism we have created all operate more in favour of the individual than of society. Elements of all of them are both necessary and desirable. Excess of any of them is destructive.
We need to be loved. We love to be loved.
More than that – we need someone to love.
Any thoughts on the complexity of love and its implications for a world of war? I’d love to hear them. Do write to me.
27 September 2022