Monday, July 18, 2011

What is Love?

What is love? Baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me no more.



Sorry. I couldn't help adding the cheesy music video to this.

Anyway, last night my  ever-patient husband took me to see DEATHLY HALLOWS! Yay! But with all the hoopla surrounding it, there's been some great discussions about one of the most complex charatcers of the series.


Snape.

If you follow my Tumblr or Twitter, you might have noticed that I've gotten into a few (friendly!) debates about this character recently. The thing is...

I don't think Snape loved Lily.

Let me back up.

The Eskimos have how many gazillion words for snow because there are so many different kinds of snow to them. We need a few more words for love.


First there's true wuv love. It's so trite to call it that, but there's just a lack of a better word. True love is selfless. True love is a matter of putting another ahead of oneself. True love cares for the other's happiness more than one's own.

There's the Biblical definition of love, and while it is a bit cliched and read aloud at every wedding, it's no less true.

I honestly believe there needs to be more true love in the world. I think that between couples, on a romantic level, true love is often lacking--which leads, ultimately, to a lot of unhappiness and broken hearts. The easiest and most common form of true love we see in society today is the love a parent feels for a child. The way a parent will give up something he or she wants for their son or daughter is, at it's base, the heart of true love.

Of course, it's a sad but true situation that not every parent loves his or her child in a true way. You need only see an episode of Toddlers and Tiaras to know that: some parents replace true love for their child with a selfish sort of love that twists itself into something ugly. I saw that sometimes while I was teaching: a sad, self-fulfilling cycle of teen pregnancies where the teen mother believed the child was there as insurance to keep her man, or as a plaything that is there to love and adore her rather than the other way around. (This is not, btw, to say that all teen pregnancies are like this; I'm speaking of a specific few cases.)

It's often more complicated when discussing romantic love above parental love because while most parents feel true love for their children--it is, I think, a genetic default within our DNA to fall in love with our own children--I think true love on a romantic level between couples is not any sort of immediate or default response.

From my experience with teenagers--not only having been one myself, but also having taught them for six years--I think one of the earliest types of love, and most common types of love, especially among teens, is what I'll label "obsessive love."

Obsessive love--an extreme form of infatuation, perhaps even a shared infatuation--is what will lead a girl to write a boys name in every page of her notebook. It's what leads a teen to kiss a poster hanging on the wall. It's what inspires every girl (or boy) with Beiber fever. Obsessive love feels like true love, but it's often one-sided.

In its darker form, obsessive love will lead a boy to beat up a girl for looking at another man. It's what leads a girl to manipulate her boy through tears or self destruction. It produces lies and fear. It's what leads couples to burn themselves down eventually.



But obsessive love is often on a smaller scale, an unidentifiable scale that seems harmless. Obsessive love leads to devotion--and devotion can't be bad, right? It leads to hero-worship. It mimics true love in that it leads to self-sacrifice, and the one who is in obsessive love will often feel that he or she is in true love.

But the thing is...true love is shared. Obsessive love is clutched close you, like Gollum's precious.

I don't think Snape was in true love with Lily. He was in obsessive love. His love may have started out pure, but it became twisted with jealousy and guilt and regret. It became obsessive love. It became a sort of love that isn't shared, that's buried deep inside like a foul thing to be ashamed of. Yes--yes--it involved self-sacrifice, just like true love will involve. But the motivation behind the self-sacrifice wasn't pure.

Love does not destroy. But Snape's love did destroy him. He was so blindly obsessed with Lily that he forewent the possibility of love existing outside of his obsession.

Unpopular opinion: I don't think Twilight is a romantic book. I'm not speaking here as criticism or saying whether I like it or not: I'm just saying that I don't believe that Edward and Bella's love is true. I think it's a case of reciprocal obsessive love. They both have obsessive love for each other, not true love. Bella's self-destructive nature in the second book is basis of my argument here, as well as how they initially "fell" in love.

In fact, I think that many YA books don't portray true love, but instead portray obsessive love. And I don't think there's anything wrong with showing obsessive love opposed to true love, especially in YA books--I think most people experience obsessive love in some form as a teenager--it's an almost universal feeling of that age--but I also think that most people do not experience true love as a teenager...and sadly, many people never graduate from obsessive love to true love.
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Edited to add: After posting this, I received an excellent question that I'd like to elaborate on here: Can unrequited love ever be real or always just obsessive love because it's not shared?

I think it depends. We really need more words for love! My best example is to go back to a parent's love. A parent who loves his or her child will eventually need to let that child go--move away, get married, essentially abandon the parent. I think parental love is in many ways both true and not shared equally. A child rarely--if ever--has the capacity to love a parent more than that the parent loves a child. It is in the nature of true parental love that the love, while not one-sided, is also not fairly shared. But is that love less real? No. It is more real because it is selfless in its love.

Snape's love, for example, was both unrequited and self-sacrificing--but the intent behind his self-sacrifice was not. Perhaps his love for Lily was real when he went to Dumbledore to ask him to save Lily--but the way he treated Harry after Lily's death, even though he was doing it in Lily's name, hints to me that his love had grown bitter. Had he been able to see Harry as Harry and not as James, perhaps I would see an argument for his unrequited love having been true love, but because his feelings had become so tainted with bitter anger and vitriol, his unrequited love was obsessive, not true.
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This is something that I've definitely thought a lot about, and I know that my opinion on the matter isn't necessarily right and certainly not shared by all (Myra McEntire, I'm looking at you :P ). It's something I tried to portray in my own novel, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE: when Elder first sees Amy, frozen in her cryo chamber, he experiences an almost immediate obsessive love for her. His love for her at that moment is not true. How could it be? He doesn't know her. He's only seen her--and, I have to add, I don't believe in romantic love at first sight. As Elder gets to know Amy--and as Amy gets to know Elder--there is the potential of true love (you didn't think I was going to give away the plot here, were you?) but I tried to make it very clear that Elder's initial response to Amy, while he thinks of it as love, is not. Not true love. It's infatuation at best, obsessive love at worst. These feeling will certainly change as the story progresses, and develop more in the second and third books, but in those first chapters of the first book? Not love.

My point to all of this is simple: I would like for you, as a reader, to think about what real love is. When you read a story, even a story that's labeled as romantic, ask yourself if, at its heart, the love you are witnessing is true love or obsessive love. It is important for everyone to know that there is a difference between the kinds of love a person can have, that, like the Eskimos with snow, we need different words for love.

It is fine if you have obsessive love--as long as you can recognize that it is obsessive love. Most love starts out as obsessive love. The thing is: don't settle for it. Don't stay in a relationship that's based on obsessive love alone. Obsessive love is one-sided, and if it doesn't spill over into a shared, true love, obsessive love will turn something true and pure and beautiful into something dark and twisted and hollow.

I don't often get philosophical on this blog, and even rarer do I get preachy. But if there's anything I'd like to impart today--any day--it's this: you are worthy of true love. 
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