With Valentine’s Day having rolled around again, I’ve been thinking about love. Specifically about the boundaries of love.
We all know that love can be the glue that holds people together through rough times. It can also rip people apart with just as much firepower as a terrorist bomb, only instead of bodies left mangled and bleeding, it’s emotions. Love can even dwindle to indifference–or become distorted, even turn to hate.
How to define where love’s responsibility begins and ends? For a culture in transition such as ours, it seems especially difficult, though maybe it’s always been that way, we’ve only seen the personal records people wanted progeny to see. (How many of our favorite writers and historical personages required a trusted survivor to burn the more personal parts of their letters and diaries?)
I know a family in which the grandmother lived for her beloveds. Her life really was wrapped around her family. She truly believed it was her love that caused her to nag one granddaughter about that extra 100 pounds of weight. Love prompted her to earnestly advise her own retirement-age daughter to kick out the disabled son she was supporting because ” a man should be working a real job, even if he’s only got one arm.” It doesn’t count that the son did all the cooking and shopping and gardening, because that’s women’s work, and the mother ought to be doing those when she came home from her job.
Because Grandmother loves everyone, she feels that her advice should be welcome. It can’t possibly be intrusive or unwanted when your motive is love! Yet if there is a crisis, who is there first with the chicken soup and the offers to clean, cook, drive, or sit with sick people? Yep, Grandmother—even for neighbors or in-laws, sometimes when the person’s own family is way too busy to deal.
I think one of the things we deal with all our lives, from our first tentative relationships as teens until we are old and coping with the younger generations (either ours or others), is the responsibilities of love. Even the fizz of attraction has its hidden pitfalls and responsibilities, as we discover in our first (and often dramatic) relationships. How many of us have dated someone who was just dazzling when it came to the fun part of love, but as soon as there was a bump in the road, they could not deal with the jolt? Or with whom we had nothing to say when the heat of attraction abated?
Friendship is a part of love. It, too, has its responsibilities, as we see over and over again in media in expressions like wingman, and I’ve got your back, and trust me.
What are your favorite books that deal with all aspects of love, and not just the razzle-dazzle (or dramatic destruction) of sexual chemistry?
There are a lot of books that I appreciate for how they deal with questions of love, but the longest enduring over my lifetime are George Eliot’s Middlemarch and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters. The latter is not as well-known because the author died before she could complete the last chapter. The editor included notes on where it was going, but the closure does come at that distance. Yet even so, it, like Middlemarch, examines love not just between possible mates, but family love, friend love, relations between women, the dangers of mistaking attraction for love, and the dangers of someone else’s attraction leading to mistaken assumptions.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that though I still enjoy stories about young people dealing with the dazzle of passion, what lingers longest in my mind are works that examine the full spectrum of love with a clarity that resonates with that resounding YES, someone else has walked that road.