|Love: Gloriously Unpleasant
by Sarah Vizena
Love is frequently portrayed as romantic, desirable, and exciting. Movies make it look sexy. Magazines make it look flawless. Music makes it sound romantic. Is it any wonder that people are becoming more and more disillusioned with the real thing? The unglamorous demands of everyday life cannot possibly compete with choreographed lovemaking, airbrushed women, and sentimental songs. But what about real love? What about the unpleasant, difficult aspects that no one wants to talk about? Many qualities of love are simply not pretty or romantic. Instead they are uncomfortable, even messy. Love in its purest form requires varying degrees of discomfort. After all, love is nothing if not vulnerable, ever-changing and demanding. It requires intense honesty, the ability to adapt and adjust, and a commitment to the hard work required to keep it alive.
When one chooses to love, one opens oneself to criticism, emotional pain, and loss. The very essence of love is this vulnerability. The decision to open oneself to the experience of love is a risky one. It can mean being susceptible to emotional pain. In the poem “My Mistress’s Eyes”, William Shakespeare speaks openly of the imperfections he finds in his significant other: “Coral is far more red than her lips’ red / If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun” (2-3). In this poem, Shakespeare is not intentionally insulting his mate. In fact, he attempts to portray the opposite: that he adores her in spite of her flaws. However, this still implies that he did, in fact, notice her imperfection – which is a precarious position for his lover. She is standing naked (figuratively), open to his assessment of her. When it comes to love, it is not uncommon to feel inadequate, as though one somehow falls short of what the other person desires.
The decision to invest in the love of another person means exposing oneself fully, with all of the deepest of fears and emotions laid on the table. In discussing love with my significant other, I have a phrase I use to describe the deepest, inside-parts of me that I consider precious: I call these my “warm squishies.” These are my vulnerabilities. I have often told him that when I chose to love him, he became privy to all of my “warm squishies.” However lacking in eloquence the phrase may be, it still accurately portrays the importance of complete honesty and openness in in a relationship. This is the proverbial “wearing your heart on your sleeve.” No matter how strong the bond with a loved one, and no matter how long the relationship has lasted, this kind of vulnerability is for the duration. The word vulnerable comes from the Latin word vulnerare, “to wound.” To be vulnerable does put one at risk to be wounded, but I believe it is necessary. There can be no hiding when it comes to love.
People speak a great deal about love being “constant” and “unwavering.” I am not saying this is untrue, since many types of love can be steadfast. However, rarely does anyone address the fact that love can and does change. In fact, love has a very sneaky way of beginning its life in one form, only to morph into another. An individual’s definition of love can change to suit the current demands. The longer a person is in a relationship, the more potential there is for change. For example, when people are young, individuals are primarily drawn by physical attraction. Even if an individual is searching for a real love-relationship and not just sex, this surface-level love still draws primarily on human biology. Unfortunately, this kind of love is only as reliable as the chemicals the brain can pump out. Once the hormone-cocktail has subsided and the passion dies down, the needs of the relationship can shift. Over time, love can move from a “passionate” state to a “companionate” state, satisfying the human need for companionship and affection. As people age and gain experience, companionship and compatibility move to the forefront of importance. While passion may still frequently come into play, it ceases to be the driving force.
In the poem, “Let Me Not to the Marriage of True Minds,” William Shakespeare writes: “Love is not love / Which alters when alteration finds / Or bends with the remover to remove” (2-4). Some may translate this to say that love does not change or “alter” during conflict – but this is not what I hear. What I believe Shakespeare is indicating here is that when love does “alteration find” – as it inevitably does – love still endures. If one partner or “remover” does remove the love, love does not end as a result; it simply changes. It adapts to accommodate. When, in my own relationship, my marriage dissolved after many years, I questioned whether our love had ever been real. I felt my husband had “removed” his love from me. However, I now believe the new relationship we have chosen to forge, as friends raising healthy children together, is evidence that although our love is not the same as what it once was, it is no less real. This may seem like a stretch for the use of the word “love,” since our relationship does not match the commonly accepted definition of what love is. This new relationship is not romantic or physical. Instead, it is a selfless love that exists to give and not receive. We love one another and our children enough to put our hurt aside and find peace in this ever-changing situation by allowing love to become something new. Sometimes these adaptations are extremely uncomfortable; but then again, discomfort is frequently a symptom of change.
Love is an exhausting endeavor. A love-relationship of any kind, whether it is between parent/child, husband/wife, or even between two close friends, takes an investment of time, energy, and emotion. In short, love takes a lot of work. Relationships do not simply sit in limbo, waiting for one contributor or the other to decide whether to put forth effort. The effort must be continuous. In her poem, “Living in Sin” Adrienne Rich writes this revealing line of poetry: “She had thought the studio would keep itself / no dust upon the furniture of love” (1-2). This is exactly how society views love, believing that love should naturally “keep itself.” I have to admit, I once thought this to be true, because if one has to force something, then is it really meant to be? But there are many things an individual must invest in if they want to see results.
An education or degree does not just happen on its own. It takes years of work and effort. If a graduate took that framed degree and sat on it, it would not be worth the paper it was printed on. Moreover, a baby is not born on its own. It requires hours of blood, sweat and tears before the mother finally sees the results of her delivery. If one were to subsequently place said baby in a bassinette and walk away, how long would the child survive? In much the same way, we often put great efforts into the beginning “fun” part of romantic relationships, only to later become busy and distracted. We wander away and lay the relationship down, expecting that it will stay alive until we get back. In this same poem, the author alludes to the fact that love requires constant maintenance when she states: “(She) pulled back the sheets and made the bed and found / a towel to dust the table-top / and let the coffee-pot boil over on the stove” (20-22). The dedication it takes to keep love alive is an everyday, uphill battle. Even as one makes the bed and dusts the table, the coffee pot is boiling over and making yet another mess. Each need and mess must be addressed and cleaned up continually. No studio “keep[s] itself” nor does a relationship flourish magically on its own.
At first glance, each of the aspects of love I have highlighted in this essay appear to have a negative connotation. After all, no one wants to feel vulnerable, and even the mere idea of change is enough to make most people cringe. Also, the concept of love qualifying as “work” makes it sound unappealing. But in spite of the discomfort these attributes may bring, consider the following: As frightening as it sounds, a certain degree of vulnerability can, with the right person, be a truly magnificent state of being. If one person can still love another after plainly viewing the other person’s flaws, this indicates a level of acceptance that would not carry nearly as much weight if one partner blindly fantasized that the other was perfect. And what about change? Is it always negative? I would say no, it is not. I am certainly not the person today that I was yesterday, or a year ago, or 10 years ago. If love did not modify its definition in order to shift and change with me, I would be a stagnant individual holding onto something gone, unable to move forward. Change can be a very good thing.
As for the never-ending task of maintaining love day-in and day-out, there is great satisfaction in knowing one has put the work into a relationship and contributed to its success. Like many other achievements, it is gratifying to take pride in the fruits of one’s labor where love is concerned. As a wise man once said, “Nothing worth having comes easily.” Some could argue that with all the complications of love, it is hardly worth the trouble. But a life without any form of love would be a lonely existence. The struggles and difficulties of life and love are truly where one finds himself or herself. The frustration and discomfort that love delivers are no match for the glorious fulfillment that it provides.
Rich, Adrienne "Living in Sin " The Norton Introdcution to Literature. Ed.
Kelly J. Mays. 11th ed. New York: Norton, 2013. 915. Print.
Shakespeare, William. "Let Me Not to the Marriage of True Minds." The
Norton Introduction to Literature. Ed. Kelly J. Mays. 11th ed. New York:
Norton, 2013. 892. Print.
Shakespeare, William "My Mistress' Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun." The
Norton Introduction to Literature. Ed. Kelly J. Mays. 11th ed. New York.
2013. 891. Print.
About the Author
My name is Sarah Vizena and although I have yet to obtain a career title with which to endow myself, I am proud to say that I am not without accomplishments. I find my joy in photography, art, writing, and most of all, being a mother. I am currently pursuing a degree in nursing.
For this essay, I was assigned the task of writing a definition essay on the subject of love. I initially imagined this would be an easy assignment; however, it quickly became evident that I was mistaken. Since love can describe multiple emotions – even within the same individual – it was hard to decide in what direction to take my essay. In the end I chose to focus on the difficult and often less desirable aspects of love, as these are frequently overlooked.
I kept my writing process as straightforward and simple as possible by attributing a single aspect of love to each paragraph and using as many colorful examples as possible to support my opinions. I believe that the best thing a writer can do to be successful is to write about that which is familiar to him/her firsthand. When a writer is transparent with his/her personal experience and emotion, this passion will transfer to the reader. This helps the reader relate to the subject at hand on a deeper level and provides a more satisfying reading experience.