‘love’ and other abstract boundaries

January 19, 2013

I was chatting with a friend the other day about how you know you love someone, which in some ways is really a discussion about what love is. It’s a curious, tricky topic for me. There’s no clear box. How does one measure the feeling, the space, the abstract reality that is love in the first place? How do you quantify- how do you delineate- where do you say, this is love, but this isn’t? How do you go about chalk-marking out boundaries around all the different ways you feel about all the different people in your life, line them all up on a scale that stretches from one hand to another, and say this means I love these people and don’t love these?

I’ve always struggled with the concept. The idea of love and how it applies to all the ways I feel or don’t feel about all the people I know- what ‘love’ is– is there a control test? A standard unit of measurement? Are there standardised, universally applicable symptoms that can be labelled love when you spot them- a spotter’s guide, if you will- in the same way that you can see form, material, purpose and then point at a cup and say cup! or a pick up a spoon and say spoon? And sure there are sporks and you can drink from your hands and it’s a bit of a sliding scale, this categorising of things, this naming of things. I try not to put my foot too often into the disconcerting rabbit hole of ontology because it goes down deep.

(Theologically speaking, I could say we were created to name things. To classify and to separate this thing from that. To say this is not that, like Dr. Seuss. After all, surely, to name something is to put boundaries around it, to divide it as one thing from everything else crowded around it- to set it apart as a thing with a separate purpose, with a separate meaning, with this-and-this way of behaving and this-and-this way of appearing*- and thus create it new as something entirely individual, entirely itself. It is what words do. It is what names do. My name is Valerie; my name is not chair or bed or book. All these other things that are not called Valerie, they are not a part of me. That thing over there is named chair. My name is not chair. Therefore I am not a chair, and my purpose is not to be tucked under tables and sat on, although you can sit on me.

The purposes and nature of language are bewildering and wondrous. Sometimes I wish I’d taken papers in linguistics or communication.)

Back to love. So the word ‘love’ is a hand-drawn boundary we place over a set of- feelings? actions? ideas?- then, is it? It’s not a very well-defined boundary. Feels a little like everyone sketches their own in. A book I’d flicked through earlier in the week had suggested that if you love someone, you hurt when they hurt and you’re joyful at their joy. Chatting with my friend, he drew a wide line in the sand- “would you miss them if they were gone? would your happiness be significantly affected if they disappeared from your life?”

tricky. measured by the last set of rules, I don’t love very many people at all. and perhaps I don’t. I am aware that my attachment style is avoidant. or perhaps these aren’t the right boundaries for me. naming things is hard. naming abstract things is harder. naming love is something everyone struggles with, surely.

how do you know you love someone? where are your lines? what do you call love?

more to come. more to think about. but bedtime now, because tomorrow is all about moving home.



* I. am having serious theological sideflashes here. current slipstream of ideas in the head are thus: Israel was named- or called- out of Egypt. the idea of holiness is to be set apart for a special purpose. Adam was told to name. identity is a thing given. Jesus renamed people. words demarcate, delineate, cut and divide the world- and hey, logos. it’s entertaining; when I dig down deep enough, I find at the base of everything- this. everything is theology.

2 Responses to “‘love’ and other abstract boundaries”

  1. qwandor Says:

    For your spotter’s guide, I think sacrifice is an important symptom. If you would sacrifice your own wants and desires to serve somebody else’s needs instead, put them ahead of your own, and work for their best interests even when it is difficult, then perhaps you love them.

    I do not know whether I love anyone. It is hard.

  2. […] out whether that’s a good idea or not. And hey, maybe that’s one of my boundaries of how I know whether I love someone or not! I get all inarticulate and incredibly, humungously awkward when I express myself about it. (I mean […]

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