Commentary | Love is scary

So fall anyways and forget about yourself (and OkCupid)

I want to talk about something I find increasingly taboo in our culture: love. Yes, that love – the ego-destroying, all-encompassing desire to merge with another human being unto eternity. Today, we believe this ideal no longer grabs hold of us or is a simple construct that rarely meets the contours of reality. But I think this betrays a deep seated fear in us. In a culture obsessed with safety, love presents a grave danger; it ruins our hedonistic life plans and wounds our narcissistic egos. But I believe we need it more than ever.

Love is not only blind – it is destructive. It does not fit nicely into an orderly life, or bend to our plans and desires. It instead strips us naked and tosses us around helplessly. We awaken like a shipwrecked sailor against the rocky shores of pain and turmoil. We are left barely alive, grasping to a wrecked piece of meaning in an ocean of meaninglessness…

Yet this is what makes love powerful. Love is one of the most destructive forces we are likely to encounter in our daily modern lives. Today we mistakenly believe that love is a trite, invented concept – a construct that doesn’t truly exist. We bumble to our lovers, we are red-faced and embarrassed to say the words. Today it is almost taboo to say, “I love you.” In our cynical, postmodern culture we believe we are beyond simple binaries as love and hate.

For us, in all our sophistication, the fact that we are afraid or need to preface the words (e.g. “this is gonna be cheesy, and who knows what this even means, and … But I love you”) indicates that we believe in love more than ever. Our snide remarks do not weaken its power, but in fact strengthen it. All our deconstruction of love and ironic attitudes betray a desire to distance ourselves from it; a desire which is born of fear, and true belief. Making fun of love, or rolling our eyes at the idea is a defense mechanism. It doesn’t stop one from believing it. Our humor and derision hides the fact that it still holds power over us. We can barely even utter the words!

We are a society obsessed with hedonistic self-fulfillment and material success – ‘find yourself!’, ‘be all you can be!’, ‘live your life to the fullest!’ and so forth. In this cultural environment, love is not only an obstacle, but an emotionally destructive force. The sacrifice of our own life plans, our own sense of self, and all else we may endure is nearly unbearable. The very word we use to describe the onset of love is ‘falling’, and this is no accident. It is a scary and exhilarating fall – to put oneself into the hands of another, naked as it were and completely open to the destruction of the ego.

Today this is terrifying for us, for it may interrupt our goals, or our narcissistic sense of self. Hence the rise of OkCupid and other dating sites, and similar services – the idea that you can take the ‘fall’ out of love, tame it, and make it safe. Even our ‘hookup’ culture hides a deep fear of the commitment and sacrifice required for love. But to make love safe, to remove the mortal danger it presents is to destroy what makes it love. You cannot love without falling, and you cannot fall without endangering yourself. It is the very act of putting all your faith into another human being that makes love what it is. And love is despotic; one cannot be a little bit in love. Hookup culture therefore betrays a fear by guaranteeing minimal emotional attachment and advocating a wait-and-see approach. Love does not wait and see, it projects itself to the very end. For love to be true one must be willing to go to that end to see the person and envision an eternity with them.

Such a concept is scary to us in our post-ideological age. However our “post-ideology” actually represents a deeply entrenched ideology: in our disregard for love we actually believe it whole-heartedly; the disregard betrays a desire to distance ourselves from it out of fear. Not only is love real to us post-modern ‘cynics,’ but we are simultaneously afraid of it; most afraid, yet most in need. Despite all the danger it presents to one’s life plans, and one’s ego, I say we ought to allow ourselves to fall, to disregard our obsession with safety, and to take the mortal yet vital plunge. Often the most dangerous life-threatening things are also those that make us feel most alive. Fuck your own life; let it be ruined by one big love! Danger is life affirming. Amor vincit omnia: “love conquers all.”

Wyatt Negrini is a U3 Philosophy major. He can be reached at wyatt.negrini@mail.mcgill.ca.


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