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.


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.
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.

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. 


Nicole said...

*slow clap*

You say what I keep thinking.

I knew I liked you for a reason. :) Agreed on all points.

newshadeofgreen said...

Thank you for this thoughtful post. I agree! Oh, and I loved the Eminem video. :) ~ Jen @ A Book and a Latte

Lisa Mandina said...

I don't know if I completely agree with you on this. But, may I say, as someone who has probably never really experienced any kind of love, other than having a crush on someone, almost to the point of being what you call and obsessive love, maybe that's why. But then again, I've never been loved by anyone but my family, so maybe to me, an obsessive love like Edward has for Bella sounds wonderful. But I do see what you're saying, and it makes me think. However, I don't know if I agree that obsessive love is completely self-sacrificing like Snape was at the end. Just my opinion, but as I said, I do have to stop and think about what you've written about here.

Anonymous said...

Okay I a really going to stop analyzing - just creates more questions! But I do want to point out that Snape's bitterness may not just have do to with James but also maybe blaming Harry for Lily's death (since she died to save him) Had Lily lived (esp. if James did not Snape still had a chance -- in his mind anyway) His protection of Harry was to honor her sacrifice & guilt he was unable to protect her?

Christine Rains said...

I completely agree. The purest form of love I have ever experienced is for my son. It's hard to describe to others unless they're a parent who truly loves their child.

Emily said...

Excellent article! I agree with you entirely.

Joshua McCune said...

I'd go a bit further than obsessive. Creepy, stalker, something along those lines.

Slamdunk said...

Beth--thanks for the informative post.

As you mention with the different terms for "snow"; it would require me to slow down periodically and reflect on concepts such as love to best understand rather than just use a label that society has deemed as a "comprehensive."

Ishta Mercurio said...

GREAT post. Very thought-provoking. I think one of the interesting things about TWILIGHT was that Edward's love for Bella seemed to go from obsessive, to true, and then back to self-sacrificing/obsessive-ey again. At least, that's the way I read it.

You've given me a lot of good things to think about as I work on my revisions...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. :-)

R.J. Anderson said...

I agree with everything you've said here -- the attraction you feel for someone you're still getting to know, no matter how powerful the feeling may be or how many "facts" you may know about that person's tastes and interests, is not love. True love only comes when the first blaze of attraction has faded enough to give us a clearer picture of who our loved ones really are, and we recognize their faults and foibles and weaknesses as well as their virtues and desirable qualities. If you still think the Beloved is perfect in every way or even in most ways, you're "in love" with an illusion, not a real person.

Infatuation is a feeling. Passion is a feeling. And feelings change and fade, so they can't be depended on. True love is an act of the mind and of the will, not just the heart.

But having waxed philosophical about the nature of love, I'll add a practical consideration -- it's incredibly hard to develop a believable True Love story over the course of one book, even if that book is 80 or 90K. Communicating attraction and passion is much easier, and people respond to it more immediately, and I think that's why so many novels focus on Obsessive Love rather than True Love.

Personally, I most enjoy love stories that grow out of two people being attracted to each other's minds and sharing common interests -- in short, friendship -- rather than how gorgeous he is or how good she smells or whatever. But those stories are definitely more of a challenge to write and pull off successfully.

Julia @ That Hapa Chick said...

You hit the nail on the head. Part of the reason why I'm so not a fan of romances and romantic things in general. Its not real. Its just obsessive. You rock! :)

Nicole Settle said...

Interesting post! I think love is really complex and I think it is also subjective. We can call love so many things--obsessive, true, friendship, puppy, and so on. But I think the individual doing the loving and receiving the love (or not), can only say what love is to them. I think all kinds of love is real and's just might not be real and true to you.

Christine Tyler said...

YES to Snape.
YES to Twilight.
YES to your ongoing philosophizing.

I agree completely. I remember reading Wuthering Heights for the first time in High School, with my teacher going on and on about how romantic it was, and I raised my hand and was like, "WTF? This isn't romance--this is infatuation! This is a reciprocated obsession these folks have!" and ever since then I keep finding it, like you said, especially in YA. But it's certainly the majority in a lot of adult books and movies (don't even get me started on movies) as well.

I'm currently writing a story where a husband and wife are in obsessive-love with each other. The husband is crazy infatuated, but extremely abusive. The wife is obsessed with how much she hates her husband, which is a form of infatuation. Then she has an affair with the hero poster-boy, only to find she's once again gone for a facade.

But don't worry, she finds true "wuv" eventually.

Emily said...

Brilliantly written! I agree with everything you said, especially about Snape (and I'm going to forward this post to my husband because we've had a few Snape debates ourselves :D).

I think the Greek got it right where it comes to different words for love:

Eros - Passionate love
Agape - True love
Philia - Friendship/Brotherly love which is dispassionate and virtuous
Storge - Affectionate love

It's too bad we can't translate those over to English. "Love" is just too simple a word for such a complex thing.

Aylee said...

Thank you for this! I've always agreed about Snape's love for Lily. Obsessively spying at her from behind the bushes? Willing to sacrifice the people she loves most, her husband and son, to be able to have her for himself? Definitely not true love.

Jennie said...

LOVE. THIS. POST. Well said my friend. ::Jennie picks up Nicole's slow clap::

Miriam Forster said...

BRAVO! *claps*

Without getting all spoilery, I did like how you showed obsessive love can lead to poor decisions. That was pretty awesome. :)

My pastor once quoted an old song with the line "I'll follow you anywhere" and then said this:

"That's romantic until you break up. Then it's stalking."

Seems as good a criteria as any. Would you find this person's actions romantic if you had just broken up with them? If not, it's probably obsessive. :)

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

Great post. I agree with all points. It's interesting. I always wanted to figure out Snape's feelings for Lily and Harry, understand his point of view, and I didn't really get it until you put it this way. And it makes perfect sense. I think this is good to keep in mind while writing. I definitely put in obsessive love at first with my characters, and it then deepends into something real, or at the very least a good solid friendship.

And BTW LOVE the Haddaway video. That was a fav. song of mine as a teen!

Matthew MacNish said...

Personally I believe that all love is true. I'm not saying you're wrong about obsessive love, only that obsession isn't love. People do often call it love, though, you're certainly right about that.

I completely agree that we need more words for love. I mean if you love a sibling who is a hopeless drug addict, incapable of loving you back, that's still love. Is it true love, though? Maybe not.

On a side note, is that Meriadoc Brandybuck in that Eminem and Rihanna video? Awesome.

Mary Ann said...

I think I would agree with most of your post. The only exception I have is about a child's love. While it is not equal to the self-sacrifice of a parent, it is humble, meek and, at times, exceeds parental love in its unconditionalness, much like the love of a dog.

Theresa Milstein said...

This is excellent, Beth. I'm going to share it.

I agree with you about the Toddlers and Tiaras paragraph. I recently wrote a short story inspired by child beauty pageants, which will be published in October. The story brings home the exact point about love.

You are so right about parental love. In the first months after I gave birth to my son, I used to be overwhelmed with sadness because if I died at that moment, my son wouldn't remember me, wouldn't know the fierce love I felt for him. I realized it would take years before he could truly reciprocate and have memories of our time together. Feeling such an intense, mostly one-sided love is intense. But it develops into a two-sided love. But never equal. Then again, what love is exactly equal?

I'm conflicted about Snape's love for Lily. But I'm with you on Twilight. Reading that book made me shift uncomfortably. It was obsessive and paternal.

linda said...

Wow, great post! We definitely need more words for love instead of using the same word for everything.

I find that I get annoyed if the relationship in a novel never advances beyond obsessive love, especially if the people involved sacrifice a lot for it. I understand your point about teenagers mostly experiencing obsessive love, but I still prefer reading about love that has more substance to it than infatuation and lust.

Liana Brooks said...

Scientifically speaking love comes in 3 parts. The first stage is lust, the obsessive love you're discussing here. The second stage is a form of limited commitment, and the third stage is a long-term mutual commitment.

True love is a mutual expression of love, caring, support, and more very complex emotions. It is a measurable, testable phenomenon in the lab environs (I did a 3 part series on my blog if anyone wants the chemical details), but I think most people don't get past the LUST stage.

To selfishly want someone - that's lust, not love.

I don't think Snape ever moved past the lust. He wanted Lily, he lost her, and he never moved on. In many ways he is emotionally crippled by Lily choosing James. That's hardly true love.

But love does start at that point of attraction. Lust and obsession have their place. The danger is when people become mired in the selfish obsession and can't move on.

Brenna said...

I just ended up reading this now, but what a fantastic and insightful post, Beth. Thank you so much for sharing- I love reading posts like these.

One of the first things I thought of as I was reading this is how in the Bible, there are many different words that simply translate to "love" in English. Just look at the different Greek words there are to describe different kinds of love: agape, eros, philia, and storge. I'm not sure if your "obsessive" love falls into any of these, but it's a start anyways ;)

And I agree with you about Twilight as well- I just couldn't buy into that concept of true love portrayed there. It was the same issue I had with Tabitha Suzuma's Forbidden; it didn't sound like a healthy, positive love for me (even if they hadn't been brother and sister).

Brenna from
Esther's Ever After

F. S. Poesy said...

For those wishing to delve deeper into this subject I can't recommend more highly C.S. Lewis' The Four Loves. "It must be noted, states Lewis, that just as Lucifer—a former archangel—perverted himself by pride and fell into depravity, so too can love—commonly held to be the arch-emotion—become corrupt by presuming itself to be what it is not."

Anonymous said...

I don't agree with you. JK Rowling herself said that Lily could have grown to love Snape if he hadn't been so enthralled by the Dark Arts. They were best friends for a long time. They did have a degree of mutual affection, one for the other. You are way too hard on Snape. Harry was the emodiment of both James and Lily, which made being around Harry and dealing with him very hard for Snape. Harry was a living reminder that Lily had chosen someone else. I thought he did pretty well, all things considered. In the end, I think Lily left both James and Severus behind in her heart. She loved Harry, her son more than either of them.