On the Nature and Representation of Love

March 12, 2008
By Meg Rueden, Cumming, GA

My original intention for this project was to push myself out of my comfort zone and attempt to write something happy for once. I thus decided to create a love story. I had it all planned out, and I was pretty damn excited about it for awhile.. It was to be written as a series of love letters between a teenager and an American solider fighting during World War Two. Over the course of two weeks I managed to write a few diary entries from the protagonist’s point of view. I wrote a number of letters too, loosely based on the letters sent to me by a friend away in the army. But as I read through it, I was stuck by the obvious falsehood of all the tender exchanges. At first I tried to fix it, weeding out some of the cornier statements and so forth. But no matter what I did, the little ‘I love you’s remained just as hollow and unconvincing as they were before.
As most writers do, I blamed myself at first. I thought it was just bad writing. As hard as I had tried to be eloquent and romantic, the product was nothing short of an epic failure. And so, fuming, I let the thing alone and went downstairs to my library to search for a book for stimulation. After some time perusing my bookshelves I came across a relatively popular romance novel. The author (who shall- for the purpose of avoiding legal conflict- shall remain anonymous) has a reputation for being quite an amorous sonuvabitch, and so I flopped down on the couch with the book and a mug of coffee, waiting to be inspired. It didn’t happen. In fact, as the novel progressed I became more and more repulsed by the pseudo-romantic dynamic between the hero and heroine. Again, I chalked it up to bad writing, and returned to the shelves in search of a work that could more effectively portray the nature of love. Much to my frustration, I found none. Not in Brontë, or Mitchell, or Shakespeare. How could it be that so many had managed to reveal only a shallow posture of love? How thin the characters were! How feeble even the most ardent proclamations of affection.
I came to the realization then that my previous assumption must have been false. For these are all, indeed, very great writers. And yet all had somehow missed something when it came to the portrayal of love. So I withdrew to my bedroom to mull this over, much to the disdain of mother dear. She thinks I’m crazy when I abstain from company simply for the sake of thinking. My dad thinks I’m too damn intelligent for my own good. Neither being the case one is forced to assume I just have too much time on my hands. After some time had passed I was no closer to figuring out the missing element, much less to fixing the problem in my own writing. As I lay there brooding, I had no idea that I was to discover the truth firsthand very next day. How serendipitous.
I had put the thought from my mind temporarily when I left to spend the day with a nameless someone. The day was relatively uneventful. He did nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to sweep me off my feet. But as he laced his fingers with mine during our drive home, a sudden epiphany took hold of me. I remained silent; my hand still clasping his when it dawned on me just how much I loved the boy sitting next to me. But this was not the source of the insight. Rather, it was the realization that, although I loved him dearly, I was not the least bit tempted to forge some eloquent metaphor around it. I felt no desire to compare him to a rose, or to whisper words of undying devotion into his ear. As a writer, I see the world in words. I am forever drawing comparisons between all that I see and feel. And being so unexpectedly at a loss for words startled me. “And then a sudden light broke in upon me - a light so brilliant, yet so simple.”
Love is intangible. Elegantly simple in its design and intricate in practice. But for all its commonality, it simply cannot be expressed through so meager a medium as words. In truth, no avenue as succeeded to instill within our hearts that certain trill which rings true, unfetters, and sets the soul aglow. It was, therefore, no fault of the author’s that the romance they sought to depict was vacant and pathetic. It was preposterous situations surrounding an unexplainable subject, not absurd writing that led to the fall of even the greatest literary masters. Love is not the promise to bleed oneself dry for another, nor is it the return of a long-lost lover to the arms of one who has missed them for a decade. It resides instead in a meeting of the eyes, the press of a kiss, the feeling of your lover’s breath on your skin. It lies within furtive smiles and fleeting touches of the fingertips. All of the love letters in the world could not match in strength a gently spoken ‘I love you’. All the promises and gifts bestowed throughout history bow to the clout of a timid smile. The greatest artists and writers of all time would have no more luck explaining love to the loveless than describing color to a blind man. But they try and fail to put in plain words that which can only be felt.
I must admit I am half afraid that I shall be punished for this epiphany. True, I did not complete the intended assignment. But in coming to this understanding, I think I have grown more as a writer than I ever could have hoped to in forcing false words of love. I cannot have one merely stand below his lover’s window and compare her to a summer’s day. It would be a debauchery to let two people fall in love through letters alone, and an even greater crime to try explaining the love between them. If I am ever to successfully render this elegantly simple emotion in words, I must demonstrate, not explain, as so many others have before. And, in truth, I think this revelation is a greater deed accomplished than the completion of a mediocre love story.

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