From Alain de Botton’s book Essays in Love: “Every fall into love involves [to adapt Oscar Wilde] the triumph of hope over self-knowledge. We fall in love hoping that we will not find in the other what we know is in ourselves – all the cowardice, weakness, laziness, dishonesty, compromise and brute stupidity. We throw a cordon of love around the chosen one, and decide that everything that lies within it will somehow be free of our faults and hence lovable. We locate inside another a perfection that eludes us within ourselves, and through union with the beloved, hope somehow to maintain [against evidence of all self-knowledge] a precarious faith in the species.”
I read this excerpt on brainpickings.org and found it, in my humble opinion and with copious respect to both de Botton and Wilde, to be somewhat inaccurate. Or at least incomplete.
Instead of the idea that we hope to find in others a more perfect version of ourselves, I offer that we already see the beauty in another’s imperfection and we then love in order that the other person may get a glimpse of his or her (necessarily flawed, as we all are) perfection through our eyes. Love, after all, feels more like the sharing of a sense of beauty and less of desperation or self-loathing or of turning a blind eye/dusting over our own flaws. I posit that attention paid to lack in ourselves, in fact, precludes our ability to really love. That giddy love energy comes from meeting on a level in which one recognizes something amazing in another, the other feels it and for however long this glimmer of shared beauty can be sustained, however long they see it and believe it too, therein exists ‘in love.’
What happens when the subject of love stops sensing, stops believing, in this vision? Once one person loses the trust they had in the other’s vision, failure follows. After that, it doesn’t matter how many times that person says he or she loves the other. The trust has gone. Once it’s discovered they’ve lost faith in the other’s reflection of their beauty, that bond begins to crumble.
I do, regrettably, agree with de Botton’s opening claim, that falling in love involves ‘the triumph of hope over self-knowledge.’ Pessimists might consider the use of the word ‘triumph’ as tongue in cheek. Maybe even optimists would, because I think we all know, somewhere deep inside, even as we are falling into that blind hope and swirling energy of newly connecting with another, that there is no getting out of love unscathed. So why do we do it? It’s that delicious experience of suspended disbelief that begs the question how much of the joy and reward of love actually depends on being loved back. Is being in love really more about the surprising and temporary joy of believing in magic, allowing for a minute that there exists a time and place where the swirl might remain?
When the swirl stops, it stops short. Emotional whiplash occurs. Scars. But the resulting scars tell a story that we carry with us into the next battle. Begging forgiveness for the comparison of love to dung, dung is the best fertilizer, is it not? The most beautiful vegetables I’ve ever grown were ones fertilized with my mom’s chickens’ poop. There can be no growth, no transformation, without shit. Consider the pain of birth. Think of the forest fire, destroying in order to clear the earth for new growth.
As Haruki Murakami wrote: ”When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person that walked in. That’s what the storm is all about.”
Ultimately, I’m not even sure whether my take on why we love wholly contradicts that of de Botton and Wilde. Maybe the excerpt above is just missing one tiny element, that of reciprocation. As much as I believe loving someone or something can just be its own reward, there is no denying the bliss/wholeness that comes with having it returned. Maybe it is precisely the fact that as we are able to find others ‘perfect’ despite their flaws that opens our hearts just enough to perhaps finally find those same flaws lovable, if not yet perfect, in ourselves. Thus the co-dependent (and which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg) relationship of self-love/ability to love another.
In that case, I disagree mainly with this line: “We fall in love hoping that we will not find in the other what we know is in ourselves.” I have loved only after having accepted my own “cowardice, weakness, laziness, dishonesty, compromise and brute stupidity.” When I see the same in others, I feel complete and human, and hope that they do too.