The Ineffable Quality of Love

ineffable: too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words. 

The other day I ran into someone who uses the L word a lot. In the course of regular conversation, she expressed it no fewer than 10 times, to encompass everything, from the latte she was drinking, to her new bag, to the latest episode of some vapid TV show she watches but I’m glad to say I’ve never seen.

I nodded along, but inside I was counting, and thinking to myself, “You can’t possibly love all of these things.” I realized one of two things in that moment. Either she honestly believes she loves all of these things, or she hasn’t really taken the time to analyze her feelings for each one, and love is simply a placeholder until she decides she wants to dig a little deeper. If she ever decides she wants to dig a little deeper.

Too often people don’t. Too often they grab a word, put it in their pocket, and pull it out whenever the mood strikes, whenever they can’t think of anything that fits the situation they’re in. That’s why we often say we love others too soon, when all we can possibly feel is attraction, or companionship, or relief, or any number of a million other feelings that often masquerade as love.

We see others living the lives we want, having the love we wish we had…

As human beings, we want this more than anything short of scads of money (and don’t get me started on valuing money above all else). As people living together in society we see others living the lives we want, having the love we wish we had, and we envy them.

We want what they have so much that we often project the love we wish we had onto others, graft our hopes and dreams together around someone who can’t possibly live up to those expectations. We think if we say the word enough times we can wish it true, like Dorothy and the ruby slippers, like conjuring Beetlejuice.

But love is not simple. It doesn’t come just because we call it in a repetitious cacophony. It’s either there or it’s not. It’s either ever present or it doesn’t exist. Because while I don’t believe in unconditional love, I do feel that love lasts, even when it shouldn’t, even when it would be best if we moved on for whatever reasons. Sometimes we do move on physically, we go on from that unhealthy connection, but it’s still there under the surface.

It shocks and galls us with its efficient excising of our other emotions…

Because love doesn’t simply evaporate like milk in the sun. Which sucks, of course, because we often don’t love people who can love us back the way we need to be loved. We far too many times give ourselves over to love and it’s not returned. We expect love to be a certain way, and it shocks and galls us with its efficient excising of our other emotions, with its lack of Disney music in the background, with its indelicacies and the harsh reality that comes along with admitting that we love.

That’s why I love the idea of love. It is bells and whistles. It is flowers and candy. It is blessed pink insides and sparkling red outsides. It is everything that we want it to be. But then we love, and it cuts. We love and it bleeds us dry. We love and it’s adequate but not extraordinary. We love and it’s hard work.

Why didn’t anyone ever tell us that before we started loving? I’ll tell you why. Because love is also individual. It tears us from the inside out, but it starts on the inside and spreads everywhere else. It begins with our individual selves, with our feelings, and those can’t be duplicated. Those can’t be formulaic and pressed into cookie cutter shapes to share with others. Love is hard, but it has to be experienced to be understood.

I can tell you so many words to explain how it’s been for me, how the struggle is real, but it’s not a simple hashtag. It can’t be contained in words. Which is its most powerful quality, of course. It draws us in. We want to understand it, to feel it, to let it overwhelm us like so much salt water, until we drown beneath its waves.

There just aren’t any words for it.

After all, we’ve been taught to seek love since day one, haven’t we? But, don’t get me wrong. It’s the most incredible, the most phenomenal feeling in the world, if you look at it from the right angle, if you approach it understanding that you’ll never truly understand all of its facets, knowing that you’ll have to take the bad with the good or let it drift in the wind.

Knowing that it will always be there, even when you let it go, even when the one you love let you down more times to count. That’s natural. There just aren’t any words for it.

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