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Love - whether an experience or an emotion, a reality or a fantasy - is a subject on which nearly all of us believe we are experts. And why not? Our atmosphere is saturated with the idea of love. The Peace movement and ministers preach it; billboards and mass media constantly invoke it; pacifists, militarists, and politicians extol it in the name of patriotism. We could not escape love even if we tried; and usually we do not, for we have come to believe love is a good and wonderous force which transport us and transform our experiences.
It is surprising, then, when we come to define love, what a perplexing demanding task it is. Why the difficulty? Because a feeling cannot be expressed in words? Because love can be manifested in so many ways? Because taboos and prejuidices have been formed about attitudes and practices of love? Because love is too universal to capture, to encompassing to compartmentalize?
In the ancient Greek world, men loved other men for their honor and courage, and they loved women for physical satisfaction. This personal devotion was first generalized into love of tribe and then, especially by the Romans, into a love of the state. In medievel times it evolved into a singular passionate love of God, frequently transforming women into saints, men into mystics, and ordinary practices of love into a tight and sometimes constricting ascetism. Since the Renaissance, however, lovers - and writers about love - have refocused on man, with views of love akin to thoseof the ancients, though modified by greater equality among classes and between the sexes.
But the historical approach is only one way to understand love. The love of man which Socrates reveals in his Symposium is quite opposed to the abject love inherent in the courtly code propsed by the medievel priest Andeas Capellanus; and neithe ris capable of the clever invitatin to seduction that governs Marvell's poem, "To His Coy Mistress." TO understand love only in terms of time and place is to ignore the perennial, timeless patterns. Love, we are told, improves us; yet lovers are frequently petty, selfish, narcissistic, exploitive. Love we are told is pleasurable - its own best reward; yet it causes us pain, doubt, fear and psycological torment. Love, we are told, is infinite, eternal, abiding. Yet love affairs begin and end in time; some are too brief, some are too long, too debilitating. Love, we are told, is all consuming; yet it can be forgotten, diminished, rejected, sublimated.
So, I, too add my voice to the eternal chorus. Here is my thought, my code.
Love is both a relationship freely begun and an extension of individual temperment.