By Elizabeth Speth
Love hurts. Love scars. Love wounds.
Love is a many-splendored thing.
All you need is love.
Love is the moon, jealous of the stars.
Scientists have confirmed that both good and bad things happen to our brains when we love. Or when we think we love, but maybe we just want to have sex. We produce dopamine and ocxytocin, which make us feel pleasure. They are the biological reward for mating. Cocaine addiction, of course, does much the same thing to us chemically.
The early stages of romance are linked with diminished levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin and of a serotonin receptor, which, to some degree, mimics the chemistry of obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety.
It’s wonderful and magical, and makes us write songs and sonnets. It also makes our stomachs hurt, soaks our palms in sweat, dries out our mouths and makes us do stupid things.
Love is agony and ecstasy. We know all this.
We know that love takes up both spectrums of human emotion, but, as a society, have we allowed it to lay claim to everything in between?
Do we love too much?
I’m talking about the fact that ‘love’ may have become a useless concept, stretched and strained, overused and flabby. Because we love everything.
We love coffee and fast internet connections.
My son loves pickup trucks and old movies. I have lots of friends who love cats. I have even more friends who love cat videos.
These days we love food trucks, but we still love restaurants. We love social media. If something is ‘trending’, that means we briefly love it.
As a pre-teen I loved disco, and I tried to love all of the Bee Gees equally. Even though everyone knew Barry was the cutest. The first time I ever tasted prosciutto, I thought: What wondrous love is this?
I know words mean things. I respect the power of words. As a writer, I try not to use the same one twice in a paragraph. I agonize over exactly the right, the best, the most effective selection.
But I invoke the word ‘love’ a lot.
How can this be? Can I truly love as many things as I say I do?
If I love my children, can I also love dry martinis? Is it okay that I love my husband, religious and political freedom, the great outdoors, and also Sriracha sauce?
Do I really love Downtown Abbey? Actually, I don’t. That family is exhausting.
Am I lying when I say I love, at least a little bit, every one of my friends, a number of my co-workers, and also the fellow at the grocery store who gives me such good advice about wine?
I remember when I was in second grade, huddled with my best friend on the outskirts of a Catholic school playground, sneakily splitting a Snickers candy bar, despite the fact that Sister Joseph Adrian wielded a yardstick in the cloak room for such offenses. Even then, a girl had to have her chocolate.
I told Felicia, around a mouthful of chocolate and peanuts and caramel, that I loved Snickers, and I was shocked when she sneered: “Well, why don’t you marry it?”
Though I was offended at the time, I got over it. I realized she was repeating something she’d heard. But the admonishment stuck with me. The message she’d received from someone at some point, and passed along to me, was: Hey! You there, with the chocolate dribbling down your chin! It’s not okay to love too much! Rein it in, Nougat Breath!
The thing was, though, that I really did love that contraband candy treat. I was passionate about it at that moment. I cared about it as much as I cared about anything in my tiny life. It was a real high point, and I’m not sorry I said so, Felicia.
I mean, if we have to avoid over-loving, who gets to decide what is love-worthy?
Where do we draw the line?
What if you are only allowed to love, say, the person you can legally marry? And nothing else is allowed to be called love? Ugh. What a tragedy.
If the list of things I love is miles long, albeit ever-changing, it would follow that I will neglect the list of things I hate. There are only so many hours in the day, and I have a lot less energy than I used to. Isn’t that a good thing? In my case and also in the larger picture?
Ah, you say. But the absence of love is not hate. It’s indifference.
Well, maybe so. But I still think love looks better.
If I do a kind thing for a stranger on the street, I’d rather feel that small, temporary bridge of love than indifference between us.
“Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.” Mother Teresa said that. Are you going to argue with Mother Teresa? Don’t, because I love her.
Historically, hate and indifference both get us into trouble. And trust me, you won’t have mass sales on discounted chocolate the day after a holiday celebrating either.
I’d rather have a world full of shallow, shifting, transient (or deep, passionate, lasting) love than the alternative. I really would.
I think you were right, John Lennon. All you do need is love.
Vincent Van Gogh was kooky, but he was right when he said: “The best way to know God is to love many things.”
Happy Love Day, my friends. I think you know how I feel about you.