Speak low if you speak love

I have to admit that after all these years, I still like myself. You’d have thought I’d be tired of looking at the same old face and its aging body in the mirror each day, but I’m kind of used to it I guess. I don’t think its mediocrity has ever bothered me, although I realize that’s only a self-report thing. And anyway, it’s just a wrapping over the me that lives inside.

And yet how much do I love me? How do I feel about my component parts -my hands for example, or maybe my hair? What silly questions; I’ve grown to accept what I was issued, warts and all, and I just leave it at that.

But for some people, that’s not enough apparently; there would seem to be a growing trend in various liberally -and perhaps narcissistically- minded countries for some of their inhabitants to decide to marry themselves… I’m not kidding.

Personally, I’m not the slightest bit sologamistic, and I have to admit I’d never even heard the term until I happened upon an article purporting to examine the practice of sologamy written by the sociologist, Polina Aronson in an older edition of the online publication Aeon. https://aeon.co/essays/does-self-marriage-challenge-romantic-ideals-or-just-cave-to-them

I also have to confess that I had trouble reading it. And the fact that the vast majority of the sologamists are said to be female, I find terribly sad, if not troubling: ‘most women (and it is almost always women)… were driven into self-marriage by the desire to emancipate themselves from the stigma attached to singledom and by the prospect of self-discovery. Some hoped that self-marriage would ‘heal them from a chain of painful break-ups’; others opted for it as a means of proving the worth of their lifestyles – and all of them were willing to learn how to love themselves ‘unconditionally’.’

Aronson outlines the matrimonial tenets in stark language. ‘At its core, self-marriage is a classic rite of passage with three obligatory stages: separation, liminality and incorporation. The first stage – symbolic death – serves to break all ties that no longer serve you. The second stage is all about ‘discovering’ your new love for yourself, through techniques such as self-addressed love letters and poems. And, finally, the third stage… the wedding ceremony, meant to seal the bond between You and You, through your choice of self-declared vows.’

The whole argument seemed so distressing, I could only skim uneasily through the essay. Perhaps it is my age that veils Aronson’s real message from my eyes, but I am still bothered by it. What is Love, after all? Is it merely the longing after some thing or someone because whatever or whoever it is, will somehow improve you? Make you better able to exist with yourself? Surely there’s more to love than that.

Fortunately, in the depth of the angst created by Aronson’s essay, I happened upon another article that accorded more with what I had come to feel was acceptable -that love is special. An essay by Mark Vernon made me feel a bit better about it -more mainstream, I suppose. ‘True love means looking beyond the couple and out toward life.’ He has a PhD in ancient Greek philosophy, and degrees in theology and physics and he seemed to offer a refreshingly different perspective to that of a sociological one. https://aeon.co/essays/true-love-lies-beyond-the-claustrophobia-of-romance

Vernon points out that ‘contemporary culture leaves us unprepared for thinking about love in anything other than a one-dimensional mode. Just as marriage has seized the monopoly on public affirmations of love, so a notion of romance has restricted what we can imagine as a loving relationship… The ancient Greeks, unlike us, did not have a single word for love but many… they had philia (friendship) and eros (desire), storge (affection) and agape (unconditional love). Perhaps that is another part of our problem. Our language invites us to think of love as a single, unified thing, when it is nothing of the sort.’ It’s hard to pin down what brand of love Aronson was describing -or if it was a new type altogether.

Vernon wonders if the varieties might be more aptly described in metaphors -as encapsulated in some of the ancient myths. ‘In a sense, we are lumbered with the dominance of romantic love; it can’t simply be sidestepped in favour of friendship, for example. That would never work: the erotic is simply too powerful. But the ancient myths can help us realise why romance is such a successful sell, if short-lived.’

He then describes several delightful myths including that of Eros and his brother Anteros the sons of Aphrodite. They saw themselves as rivals for Aphrodite’s affection, but although they fought, they also loved each other. Without Anteros, Eros weakens however, and so do the desires he encourages. ‘Anteros brings the courage required to resist the oceanic fantasy of disappearing into another’s arms, and instead embarks on the difficult process of making a life out of love… The 16th-century proverb conveys this Anterotic dynamic: ‘The quarrel of lovers is the renewal of love’. If Eros is the god of love who shoots people with his arrows and turns them mad with desire, Anteros is the god of love who opposes the madness.’ I like that.

I am also impressed with the words of the French writer and poet Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: ‘Experience shows us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking together in the same direction.’ 

Mature love, then, is dialogue and consensus; it is not self-centered -quite the opposite. Each of us is different, and therein lies the delightful challenge. To want both partners to surrender their individuality is often to risk ceding what attracted them to each other in the first place. I suspect that’s what I find so disturbing about sologamy: the lack of choice. And anyway, is self-marriage just the triumph of hope over experience?

Yes, I do like myself, but I also like the surprises that others bring to me. To slightly paraphrase John Donne, ‘No one is an island entire of itself; everyone is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.’ What’s your view from the island, Polina…?

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