THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE
"I'll give to you a paper of pins,
'Cause that's the way my love begins,
If you will marry me, me, me,
If you will marry me."
Traditional folk song - Author unknown
We all know about the commercialization of love. We know we are attracted to objects given as proof of love. We know that often, the more beautiful or the more expensive the gift, the more likely are we to feel valued. But why is this so? Why do objects come to signify love?
In the days of our ancestors, among even those who lived in caves, trinkets were given for special occasions, no doubt. But love as we know it today was not present, could not have been present. Love requires a refinement of the emotional senses to be present. And so need was present in that time, desire was present, the wish to propagate and have children to share the burden of survival was present, but not love as we know it.
Throughout history, for as long as women were considered to be property, to be bartered or sold for whatever dowry-price her family placed on her, we cannot speak of love being present in a permanent bond of relationship. Affection may have been present. A partnership of labor may have been present, and love may have eventually grown out of this barter arrangement. But it was not a necessary feature. It was not the focus of the relationship.
The Middle Ages and the ideals of chivalry, honor, and sacrifice brought romantic love into the foreground, combining it with an ideal of chastity and virtue that could be reached in poetry and in song, but not by the toiling masses of people who did not ride white horses and who did not have the time or the money to go out on conquests. In the Middle Ages, romantic love as an ideal, practiced by a few, was separate from the everydayness of love as companionship, as support, and also as lust which stood as a counterpoint to the high ideal of chastity and virtue.
Following the Renaissance, women came into the work-force more. Instead of just being at home raising children, some of them began to do other things - not many, but some - to paint, to write, to read, and to seek knowledge. And in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the new ideals of freedom and liberty were in the air - not just for those who participated in the revolutions in France and in the 'new' land of America, but everywhere. Whisperings of the word 'freedom' infused the consciousness of even those who didn't know what it was, and for women everywhere, it fostered a desire to no longer be considered property, but to have a measure of equality instead.
In the eighteenth century and even in the nineteenth, there were not many women who saw themselves as equal to men, but the idea was there. The idea was brewing, and with this idea came a new consciousness of love as a partnership between two equals, between two 'selves', and love became conceivable in a way that had not been possible before. True, it was still connected with a partnership of labor to meet the harsh conditions of life, but increasingly, it extended beyond this to a partnership of interests, of vision, and of understanding.
This trend toward love as partnership grew in the twentieth century. More and more, as women became able to assume activities and areas of work that were identical to those that men could engage in, partnership in love grew to have a new, deeper, and richer meaning.
However, in the midst of this deepening of possibility, another factor entered the picture. It was the factor of diminishing value given to relationship itself and to love itself, and the increased valuing of production, achievement and success. Even though there were more possibilities for true and deep partnership now as the basis for love, the devaluing of love and relationship caused people to not go in this direction, but instead, to seek more work for more money, success rather than happiness, and continual expansion of outer opportunities, especially in relation to money, rather than the expansion of inner opportunities for depth and sharing.
This brings us to where we are today and to the original question asked: Why is love represented through the giving of objects to such a degree? The answer is relatively simple: we have forgotten what love really is. We have forgotten this and at the same time have forgotten or decided against making it the highest priority in life. Rather, in practice (as distinguished from the words we say about it), it stands far behind in the line of things we pay more attention to. We have forgotten how to value love.
For this reason, it has increasingly become an emotional shorthand to give things to those we love rather than to say things or to feel things. The depth that is possible has become obscured by a lack of time and a lack of interest. The language we would use to express this depth - the language of love with all its many nuances and shades of feeling - is no longer accessible to us directly, and so we seek Hallmark cards or respond to store displays of what love looks like, or hold in our hearts the marketing slogan that a huge diamond conglommerate in South Africa originated almost sixty years ago - "a diamond is forever."
Buying has become our language of love instead of speaking, instead of feeling, for we have forgotten what to say and no longer recognize the depth and potential of what we feel and what we have to express. This situation can only be remedied by one thing and it is not a campaign against clever marketing, nor "shopping boycotts", nor protests against the materialism that is sweeping our society. It is a movement toward values of the spirit in which love and its expression receive the highest priority as the basis for our individual life, as the basis for partnership with another, and as the basis for a unified and harmonious way of living with others. It is a movement toward a new valuing of love, and the beginning of learning in a whole new way of the depth of heart we carry within ourselves - a depth that longs to be expressed directly. With this as a focus, we, as individuals and as a society, have the possibility of changing the direction that marketing strategies and economic greed have taken us in. We have the possibility of freeing ourselves from objects and of learning to speak from our hearts, truly and freely. We have the possibility of building a world that is based in love, that thrives in love, and for whom love is the spiritual glue that binds all together.
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