Seeking Definition and Failure
What do I say when I say, “I love you?”
If I mean, “You make me happy,” there is little difference between “love” and “happiness.” If when you say, “I love you,” you mean, “I’m happy around you,” again, the term “love” cannot readily be defined from “happiness.” If “love” is to be used distinctly and meaningfully in its own right, it must mean something else.
Love can result in happiness, but it isn’t reducible to “happiness.” If I love someone because that person “makes me happy,” there is little definable difference between “wanting happiness” and “giving love.” Though love can result in happiness, happiness cannot be love. Happiness is the goal of happiness, because happiness seems to be an end in itself. If the goal of love is happiness, the words “love” and “happiness” are often if not always similes.
Love is not physical, but some expression of the mind, will, or something metaphysical. Yet, that said, it is hard to say that “love is a feeling,” for the line between where the feeling of love ends and where happiness begins is hard to draw. We could associate “love” with “attraction,” but then what is the difference between those terms? It would seem that for “love” to be substantive (in itself), it must be associated with choice. We choose love, not just feel it. When someone most meaningfully says, “I love you,” the person doesn’t just mean “I feel love for you,” but “I choose to love you” (and the significance of this latter statement depends on the degree to which the speaker is committed to it).
If we told a loved one, “I love you because you make me happy,” not only could that come off as selfish, but it could also come off as having nothing to do with love at all. Also, our loved one may feel like a “means” versus an “end” and also feel appreciated because of what he or she does for us, rather than for who he or she is, which could be alienating. If love entailed reducing people to utilities or “means to an end,” not only would it be questionable to say that “love is good,” but it is also doubtful that love would be as popular or sought as it is. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that when people say, “I love you,” they mean something more than just “you make me happy,” even if it can be hard to tell what they mean.
To “like” is to “approve of” something or someone because of qualities. For example, I like pizza because pizza tastes good, as I like Sarah because she’s always energetic. To “like” something seems to be treating a thing as a means to an end of happiness, making it Utilitarian. If “love” is definable from “like” and not Utilitarian, “love” is to “will for” someone based on his or her “being,” upon which that person’s qualities are founded. This isn’t to say love and liking can’t arise simultaneously, only that they must maintain distinction if they aren’t one and the same.
To like something is to respond to what is before us: it is reactionary. I say, “I like something” that treats me well or that I enjoy experiencing. “Love,” if so reactionary, is indefinable from “liking.” Because liking is reactionary, it isn’t primarily committal and is more restricted to particular moments in time. Love, on the other hand, entails a commitment and operates through time: it “keeps its eyes on something unseen and yet-to-be,” per se.
If there were no time, people wouldn’t change, and if people didn’t change, there would be little need for vows or promises. A point of marriage is to be committed to another regardless who that person becomes. Likewise, there would be little if any need to define “love” apart from “like,” for a person would be an eternally pleasing or displeasing collection of suspended qualities.¹
A person likes another when he or she feels positively around someone, for who that individual is, in the present. On the other hand, a person loves another when he or she stays with that individual between instances of positivity. In other words, to love someone is to remain committed to a person between the times when he or she is likable. Therefore, “love” is a distinctively meaningful term during the times when we don’t like someone. Toward the people we always like, it’s hard to define our “love” from our “liking.” In a way, we cannot meaningfully say we love people who we always like.
If by “I love you” I mean “I’ll put up with you when you don’t make me happy until you do again,” “love” cannot be clearly defined from “tolerance.” Also, in such an instance, love is again Utilitarian, for it treats others like medicine with side effects. It is doubtful that love would be as popular as it is if love were, in essence, a “tolerable medicine.” Though it is reasonable to believe that “I love you” doesn’t mean “I tolerate you,” it must still entail some kind of commitment and toleration to some degree, which is necessary seeing as people change.
To tolerate someone is to be passive: it demands nothing more from a person then consent. I tolerate someone screaming at me if I don’t scream back. Again, if love means simply to not react during times I don’t like people until they’re likeable again, “love” is hard to define from “tolerance.” To have meaning, “love” must be active and signify something more.
“I love you” is a statement that requires that I know you for the statement to be meaningful. Yet, I can only know who you are (truly, if then) if I am you. Since this isn’t possible, I can only love my idea of you. Since you change through time, this idea must constantly adapt to accurately align with your identity. Also, since ideas tend to be stagnant and fixed, I must consciously change that idea to match who you become, which requires effort. If I fail to do these things, when I say, “I love you,” I’ll be talking more to who you were than to who you are.
If I settle with my idea of you rather than work that idea into matching your actuality, I will settle with not loving who you are (now). Actually loving you entails moving beyond my idea of you toward your true self. At the same time, an idea of you that I have now which matches your present actuality will not necessarily match the actuality of you a year from now. My love must constantly change as you change: my love must follow you. Otherwise, a ravine will form between “the you” I love and “the you” you are. When this ravine is recognized and I realize how far away from me you are, I may be heartbroken. Worse yet, I may blame you for leaving me, when in fact it was my fault for not following you as I promised (in expressing love). If “I love you” doesn’t mean “I will follow you (into whoever you become),” then “I love you” means only “I like you (now).”
Because my idea of you can never completely reach your actuality (only head toward it, like a curve toward an asymptote line), my love for you is destined for imperfection. Since a person loves another in order to love that person’s “you,” and because love can never fully reach this “you,” love can never reach its sought end. For “love” to be meaningful, humbly, it must be understood as impossible.
“Love” must be understood as destined to fail.
If in “following you into whoever you become’” I let you commit suicide, I may have loved you, but it will be difficult to claim that my love was good. Yet if “love” isn’t good, “love” cannot be readily defined from “hate” or “dislike” (and/or something like “a commitment to hatred,” carelessness, or something similar). Therefore, while love follows, love must also help guide another “toward the good” and into making the most of his or her self. To follow someone can be to suggest the person travels in a proper direction, and furthermore followers will likely be asked to voice their thoughts about the journey — both of which suggest why the line between “follower” and “guide” can blur.
Ultimately though, only a given person can know who he or she “is” (and so what constitutes “good” for that person), knowledge which is critical for knowing how to make the most of one’s life (whatever that might mean).² Therefore, love cannot guide with a “hands on”-approach, per se; love can only help people ask themselves, “Who am I?” and, in this way, help people find the life-giving answer for themselves. Love cannot provide the answer, for love cannot know the answer: love can only help. In this way, love is both active and passive. Love doesn’t entail telling people that they should do this or that; rather, love entails helping people ask themselves what they should do and then letting them live out that answer found within.
Love is good when it helps someone realize their true self, which none of us can know for another, which suggests that none of us can actually love. In this sense, when good, love fails, sacrificially, for love helps the other create the true self which love longs for, that in helping create, love makes more impossible to reach. And love provides this service most meaningfully when it doesn’t like who love serves.
Since self-discovery takes time, love must also be patient.
If you are a person I love but when I don’t like you I am mean to you, it wouldn’t be clear what the difference is between the statements “I dislike you” and “I love you.” Only a given person can know if he or she dislikes another (another’s decisions, another’s attitude, etc.); therefore, one can never say that another for sure “dislikes” something or someone; rather, all we can do is interpret certain dispositions, reactions, or actions as a sign that the person “may dislike” something or someone. We are all responsible for our interpretations, so we must be careful before thinking that someone dislikes others, this, or that.
That said, it cannot be ignored that certain attitudes, actions, etc. suggest dislike and even hatred. If between times when we are likeable someone doesn’t talk to us, this would seem to suggest that the person “dislikes us.” Whether or not this actually is the case is beside the point. If between “moments of likability,” the person tells us that we’re doing this or that wrong, it couldn’t be said meaningfully that the person “loves us” rather than “dislikes us” (for in that moment, there is no clear difference between the two). Therefore, if “I love you” is to be meaningful and reasonable, the person must be saying it toward someone who, when unlikable, the speaker acts kindly toward. Love, then, is kind.
Only a given person can know when he or she is trying to be kind, so one can never say for sure that another is kind or unkind. Rather, one can only suppose that another is perhaps “committed to being kind.” However, it also shouldn’t be ignored that certain attitudes, actions, etc. connote, at least, kindness. If between times of likability a person smiles and whispers, “I love you,” this would seem to suggest that the person is kind and also loving. If a person, when we tell them something that goes against what that person thought about us, continues to express trust and affection, it is reasonable to believe the person is kind and/or loving. With this in mind, it is loving toward that person to believe he or she will be kind once we tell that person a difficult thing that must be said, when we stop being likable, etc. Love chooses to believe that “all is well.”
Therefore, if someone loves us, that person, when we aren’t likeable, will do things that, to us, are kind. If a person is only kind to us when we are likable, it cannot be determined when that person is “kind” from when that person is “happy.” If someone smiles at us when we are likable, it can be said, “That person is happy,” but it cannot be readily said, “That person is kind.” However, if someone smiles at us when we aren’t likeable, it can be more readily said, “That person is kind,” without conflating terms and rendering them indistinguishable.
If we believe someone will be kind to us when we aren’t likeable, stay committed to enabling us to realize our “true self” (though I realize this phrase requires unpacking), etc., and that person believes the same of us, both of us have faith and hope in one another. If two people don’t have this faith and hope in one another, it couldn’t be readily said that either are committed to love. Since love is a choice, without this willingness, “love” will prove hard to define. Therefore, if meaningful, “love” is faithful and hopeful.
To say, “I love you,” suggests that “When you fail to love me, I will love you until and after you succeed.” Since love can never reach its end, love must be constant to maintain meaning. “I love you” needs to mean “I will have faith in you when you are unlikable and hope you will do the same for me.” If whether the person actually does love us when we’re unlikable influences whether we love that person, our love is blurred with liking: our love holds back. Consequently, a part of us won’t contribute to reminding our loved one what “love” means.
If our loved one isn’t kind to us when we aren’t likeable, in that moment, that person also becomes difficult to like, providing us with an opportunity to meaningfully and distinctly express love, kindness, and patience. If we stop loving a person when he or she stops meaningfully loving us (and so becomes unlikable), it cannot be readily said that we love that person. Therefore, if “love” is meaningful, love must be forgiving. When a loved one fails to love us as he or she committed to doing, this doesn’t mean we should stop loving that person. In fact, we have been given a chance to truly love, which can in turn lead, by example, the other back to true love. Love forgives love’s failure.
Love entails a kind of forgiveness, as being loved entails accepting forgiveness and gratitude for that forgiveness. In loving another, we forgive that individual for being unable to reach our true self, as that loved one forgives us for not reaching their true self. In accepting love in this way, we acknowledge our inability to love another fully; in giving love, we ask another to forgive this inability. To love is to forgive: to be loved is to bow.
We forgive a person who does something unlikeable. Since love is meaningfully willed toward the unlikable, love inherently entails a forgiveness of the unlikable for being such. To the degree one is kind toward the unlikable is to the degree one can say that person’s forgiveness and love are meaningful, and in a way, one.³ In this act of forgiveness, as expressed through kindness, “love” can be defined. When someone makes us happy, “love” and “like” cannot be distinguished from one another; when someone makes us upset, “love” and “like” have the potential to be defined apart. It is the act of forgiveness, manifest through kindness, which can cause this split. The more unlikable the individual, the more forgiveness can succeed, though the more difficult that success will prove. In this way, love is forgiveness: to say, “I love you,” is to say, “I (will/have) forgive(n) you.”⁴
“Love,” when meaningful, is patient and kind. It is also sacrificial, forgiving, and destined to fail to reach its end. Love only appears in a definable manner toward those we don’t (always) like, and it is well expressed in the act of forgiveness. When we like someone, “love” cannot be readily defined from “liking,” as kindness and happiness cannot be distinguished. Since it is hard to be around a person who does something unlikeable, it’s fair to say love is hard, that love is a hard commitment which requires faith and hope. Without love, “faith” and “hope” lack meaning, for it is in the context of hard times (and thus love) that faith and hope are needed. When things are good, faith and hope aren’t so needed, for fully achieving such goodness is the end of them.
Ideally, love and likability, and so kindness and happiness, always run together like rivers that merge. However, because they don’t always do so, love is necessary. If love didn’t exist, the moment likability ended, so would end every relationship. Life is hard, so love is necessary. Consequently, “love” is defined amidst the bad. Love sustains.
Since love can never reach its end, is painful, demanding, and most meaningful when things are hard, love is best avoided. And yet, without love, we would struggle between times of happiness, and we could not help one another find selfhood. Love bridges. Without love, life is best lived in search of evanescent “likes” and moments of happiness in such a way that those moments never end. Since this is impossible, love, painfully, cannot be avoided. If though love enables us to achieve a sense of authenticity and truth that without love we could never reach, and if love helps us achieve a continuous happiness which, ironically, love is logically and initially avoided in favor of, then perhaps it could be said that love is worth it.
Love addresses problems: if there were no problems, there would be no love. If to love is to endeavor to eliminate problems all together, love is to endeavor to create a place where love would be unnecessary. Love wouldn’t be needed in a perfect world. Though love itself could “be” the perfect world, in a sense, this perfection would lack definition if reaching it did not take wading through hardship. Through pain, love can divide heaven and hell.
Because there are no perfect people (and thus inevitable problems), love is enabled to exist, not that we love perfectly or love only that which is perfect, but so that the world can be made perfect in love.⁵ But isn’t it the case that if love gave the world perfection, love would render itself unnecessary?
Love is ironic: love loves to cease.
Love’s purpose is to arrive where it dies.
Remembering that “happiness” and “love” are both goods but not similes, the point of love is to realize a world of happiness and bliss: the purpose of love is to sacrifice itself. Yet if the goal of love is happiness, “love” cannot be defined from “happiness,” as noted at the very beginning of this work. Therefore, to be meaningful, “love” must achieve happiness not because happiness is its goal, but as a consequence of achieving its goal. Love doesn’t aim for happiness; rather, the purpose of love is to erase the need for love. In this sense, love seeks death.⁶ Love hopes that bliss will result for others because of its cessation and has faith that such will be the case, but doesn’t know for sure, nor does this outcome effect its commitment to sacrifice itself. Uncertain, facing doubts, love still loves, and ultimately dies, humbly knowing that as long as there is love, there will be sorrow, and that all this is good, true, and beautiful. Love weeps.
Since love is hard, necessitates facing the unlikable, and requires being vulnerable through forgiveness and a willingness to fail until love dies, to make life anew, love requires fearlessness. Only through fearlessness can love be meaningful; hence, only the fearless will be made perfect in love.⁷
In closing, the phrase “I love you,” when most meaningful, signifies:
“I am committed to being patient and kind to you when you aren’t likeable, and I am committed to always endeavoring to move my idea of who you are toward who you actually are, though I know, ultimately, I will never fully succeed. I promise to do all this while helping you, the one I long for, realize your true self, which, by pursuing, you will become harder to reach. I will hope in struggle: I will believe in what I cannot achieve. I will forgive and be forgiven: I will be made perfect in failure. I will love until my love dies. Beloved, I won’t be afraid.”
¹If people didn’t change, people would be like inanimate objects, which, being unconscious, cannot choose to change their purpose (from what they were made for or from what they do in the present). Though both are changed by their environments, humans can also change their “toward-ness” and the “purpose of their lives” (at will). While inanimate objects cannot change their essence, humans can. Consequently, the “true self” of a given person is always susceptible to transformation based on how a person changes his or her ‘end’, which is a prime source of a person’s definition.
²If a person comes to believe who they “are” is “someone who commits suicide” (and to which suicide is “good”), it would be difficult for a lover to direct that person another way (the time when that could have been done now perhaps having passed). This potential problem highlights the shortcomings of a model of reality lacking a sense of “teleological good” with which given “goods” can/should align, but that is a topic which will have to be explored in “(Im)morality” by O.G. Rose.
³There is a sense in which someone who is always likeable cannot be meaningfully loved. This isn’t to say the person isn’t loved, only that it cannot be said for sure when people “like” this individual from when people “love” this individual (the line is always blurred). Consequently, it can be hard for this seemingly perfect person to ever feel authentically accepted for who he or she truly “is” rather than for what he or she “does,” resulting in alienation. Therefore, a “perfect person” is contradictory, for what makes a person perfect to others can be what makes the person imperfect inside.
⁴To “love” is to “will (forgiveness and kindness) toward” another, and is most meaningful when that other is unlikable. Also, to “love” is to “will for” a person to be “forgiven and to experience kindness,” and to love is the very thing which fulfills that will.
⁵A paradox of love is that it is often accompanied by a feeling of happiness that can make someone seem perfect to us, but if that person were in fact perfect, we’d struggle to meaningfully love that individual. The person we fall in love with may always seems perfect, but the person we actually love must be fallible. Otherwise, our love will never achieve distinction.
5.1 The sooner a person realizes that the focus of their affection is imperfect, the sooner that person will achieve a meaningful sense of “love.’
5.11 As a person’s words achieve definition, so a person’s world achieves form.
5.2 We tend to fall in love with those we think will always be likable, yet we never have an opportunity to love the ones we never dislike.
5.21 In popular culture, “love” and “like” are often conflated: friends ask one another, “Do you like him?” and so on. This conflation can perpetuate our confusion about love.
5.3 We cannot seemingly “love” perfect people, only “like” them. Is this why imperfection exists even if God exists too?
⁶Whether or not this sacrificial act will make the lover happy, a lover does not know until the lover starts loving. If upon loving the lover doesn’t find happiness and quits, the lover wasn’t committed in the first place, and so arguably never loved. When “love” is meaningful, regardless if a given lover is happy or if others love the lover back, the lover continues to be committed to love’s sacrificial purpose.
6.1 In a sense, the goal of love is happiness, but distinct from “happiness,” this bliss is not for itself, but for others. Wanting happiness is Utilitarian, while endeavoring to give it to others is loving.
⁷To love is to allow our will to be transformed. When we love, what we want, what makes us happy, who we want to be, etc. — all change into that which will bring bliss to the focus of our love. Likewise, as we love another and are loved back, the will of that other will change as he or she loves us. This process is painful for both, but it is the only way for wills (and so selves) to become one.
7.1 Love seems to be the road to the meaning of life.
7.11 The purpose of life is a harmony of wills.
1. Distinct from “kindness,” love isn’t necessarily “nice.” What constitutes “nice” is often conflated with what’s “easy.” Since love is hard, it cannot be said, in this sense, that love is nice. Also, “nice” is often what “society considers nice,” which disregards particularities and the uniqueness of situations. Rather than “nice,” it’s better to say “love is kind”: “nice” can be too vague and confusing a term.
2. “Love” doesn’t mean “dependency,” for two individuals who are dependent on one another are hard to tell apart: where the line of one begins and the other ends is indefinable. Therefore, “love” that entails dependency cannot discern the self of the other which the love is “toward,” and so the love must be “toward” an “idea” versus an “actuality.” Also, since love, if meaningful, is “toward” a “true self,” love is “toward” an autonomous being. Since love guides another into realizing his or her “true self,” love will make the other increasingly autonomous. Love makes others independent, not dependent, which in response the loved should recognize the limits of their autonomy.
3. An important and prime function of meaningful love is getting individuals through framework discrepancies and miscommunications. If two people have different understandings of what constitutes “sensitive,” for example, it is love that can “get them through” the misunderstandings to where they can realize they misunderstood one another and that their logic failed them. Love loves to laugh.
4. “Falling in love” is different from “loving,” as “falling in battle” is different from “battling.”
5. If there is not a practice a term can be isolated to signify alone, then the term is particularly meaningless.
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