For The Love Of Love
by Fariha Roísín
All About Love saved me. I had just come out of a tumultuous relationship where I was still in love with my partner — but he wanted out. Overwhelmed by my feelings, I couldn’t let go so quickly. I felt unsure of how to sublimate my feelings, and I grew angry and frustrated I even cared for someone that had such little disregard for me.
The last conversation we had we sat in a full café, brimming with warm espresso. It was November. The winter prior we had met in a similar cafe; his glasses fogging over as he came into the heat from the cold. Now, unlike then, he was fatigued and broken, wanting to rid me with little to no patience, elegance, or gratitude for the time we had spent. There’s nothing as tragic as seeing a lover fall out of like with you. As if witnessing a natural disaster, there’s a feeling of awe and simultaneous hope that it won’t turn out the way you know it will: devastation.
Around this time I began to feel that love was too painful, too much. I began to punish and drain myself, thinking that the only way to stop loving someone was to purge myself of happiness. I hurt, and in the process of hurting, I kept falling.
Kindness is a thing I have eternally struggled with. As a naturally caring person who goes above and beyond to make others feel good, I had spent a lifetime being overlooked — people regularly taking my acts of kindness for granted — and I learnt through osmosis that if given the chance people would readily take advantage of me. After this specific relationship went south, I decided that I cared too much. I looked to role models: hardened women, hoping to embolden myself with a pulsating rage. I read all of Sontag’s diaries, following her pain with Irene and found a respite in her recollections of failed love. I was wounded and I wanted my anger to make me powerful. I wanted to inflict pain onto those who could do so with such little regard for my feelings. I wanted to morph into Medusa — snakes for hair, hated of mortal man — and climb every person who had forsaken my heart and make them burn.
Then I read All About Love.
bell hooks and I have a lot in common. She, like me, loved her abusers. She served them, fearing they would leave her if she didn’t. I learnt this from my mother, who is my abuser. I served her regardless of all the myriad ways in which she would hurt me. I taught myself (and she forced it into me) that loving her was paramount — despite her physical and psychological terrorism. Because I am a child of abuse I yearned for love, and took it in whichever form it came to me. I craved the love I saw in films, for that eerie sensory envelopment I read in books, and even whilst doubting its existence entirely, my search for love continued, as hooks so eloquently states: “even in the face of great odds.”
I love love. For a long time I was so embarrassed that one of my greatest desires was to be loved by another. I wanted somebody to love me completely so I wouldn’t have to. The love I was dreaming of I knew I deserved to feel, but I was self-jeopardizing. I didn’t want to come face-to-face with what was alienating about me, or to focus on being strong, so I threw myself into unruly circumstances. As if under the spell of some perplexed masochism, I kept putting myself in situations where it was impossible to thrive. hooks describes this with deliberation — “It’s easier to articulate the pain of love’s absence then to describe it’s presence and meaning in our lives.” We are more comfortable suffering than we are succeeding. There is more art devoted to the loss of love, or the unrequited pursuit of it, than the actual experience of loving, or being in love; the gushing, the fulfillment, the incessant tepidness, the vacuum of warmth that envelopes you with a fervent completeness. That kind of art is limited. We want to be saved, but only in jest, because we’re not investing the time to actually have a fulfilling kind of love as that would mean really looking at ourselves.
The problem is that we don’t consider how we interact with what love is, we only view it through the guise of others. We listen to others, but not ourselves; not our own needs. Through my teens and into my twenties I spent so much of my life pleasing others — sexually, or otherwise. Thinking that if I loved enough they would too. Then I thought sexual prowess would lead to some sort of internal satisfaction. I didn’t think of how it would affect me each time I was tossed to a side, or used by merciless hands that didn’t care for me. I was fooling myself. I thought I could be like what I thought a strong woman was to be, thinking that in order to be stronger I needed to be devoid of emotion. I’ve realized that my own feelings of unease stemmed from my inability to truly articulate what it was that I needed to myself. I was sexual, so I wielded my sexuality, hoping to find solace as if that would be enough to satisfy me, but the problem was that I was just listening to whatever anybody else was telling me how a modern woman should be.
hooks says that the idea that love means different things to men than it does to women is obscure and dishonest. Love should not be gendered (nothing should be) and it shouldn’t be seen as a weakness when there’s nothing as effective as love. But we’re encouraged to be a disaffected society. Love is only ever wielded as a bargaining chip, or a manipulation tool. Men aren’t less romantic, they’re just discouraged to show their true emotions so we breed them to lie about their feelings. It’s this warped system we’ve created, disallowing men to truly become men so we stunt them to remain boys. They live their lives not wanting to invest in anything that will involve dealing with emotional pain. Women, on the other hand, are given cultural support, despite their childhood traumas, to cultivate an interest in love. Therein lies the division. It’s not biological, it’s taught and fostered.
Modern love comes with caveats, the promise of it returned; Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks on top of the Empire State Building. But that isn’t love, it’s capitalism — it’s greeting cards; freshly cut roses; Tiffany rings and teddy bears embossed with “I love you” on the belly. True love has little to do with romance and more to do with tenacity of spirit: that is to love in spite of it all. So we sustain our fantasy of love by sublimating it with romance because we think they are both the same thing.
I’ve blamed myself for thinking that I was too romantic, ashamed of that word my whole life. It’s been weaponized against me since I can remember, “Fariha, you’re so romantic.” But there’s value to it. hooks explains that in order to transcend our own pain, to liberate ourselves from everything that holds us down, we have to breathe in and out an abundance of love. That there needs to be a shift in the way we view ourselves, and others. She insists that true love has a transformative power — and that by learning how to face our fears we learn how to truly embrace love. Real love — that love of humans, the ability to look past foibles, and consider and comprehend the humanity in another is a gift more profound than anything in this world. In fact, I’m not sure if there is anything as truly mighty than the ability to love. To love those who have hurt you, to love what is dark and mysterious, to love without knowing; or understanding — to love because you can, is power, it’s revolution.
hooks posits within the middle of All About Love that “what matters is how we live” — but my own addendum to that would be, “…what also matters is how we love.”
In this past year, despite all odds, I’ve realized that what makes me happy is my kindness. If I can be generous with no hope for anything in return, I feel invincible; I see myself for the person I am and I see strength. Loving isn’t about how much you get back, it’s about overcoming all that brings you down. By learning to truly love, we accept change; we accept our mortality — and we learn that the only thing that is immortal is the love that we share with others. That is the most vital part of our humanity, when we can be without concern, and know, when it comes down to it, that life really is all about love.
Fariha Roísín is a writer extraordinaire. Follow her rambunctious tweeting @fariharoisin.