What is love? No, I am not going to burst into song (although I feel like doing so). Instead, I am simply going to ponder the question. I am in no way qualified to define this unsettling emotion, this life-changing obstacle. I don't know how it comes about, or how it manifests itself in the image of a "perfect" man or woman. I don't know why it both makes and destroys lives. I can't say why we crave it, why we search our whole lives for it. For this reason, I am not going to try to define the concept without doing my research.
However, on my quest for answers, I have found a break in the case. I believe much knowledge on the subject of love can be found in fiction. As a "bookie," I am constantly reading. When I need an answer, I turn to my collection of diverse fictional favorites. Today, I look to my books for answers on the most written-about topic in the history of mankind, love itself. The material I found was overwhelming. It was the perfect place to start my research. Here are a few of my favorite quotes on the subject. Let us start with an expert on the feeling, Marcel Proust.
"His love was so utterly inseparable from him that it would have been impossible to eradicate it without almost entirely destroying him; as surgeons say, his love was no longer operable."
- Remembrance of Things Past, Volume I, Marcel Proust
This quote compares love to a serious disease. The patient inflicted with this illness is beyond medical help. He must simply wait the feeling out. It will either heal over time or take him completely. Love is not fickle. It is instead a powerful storm that one must ride to the end. It is impossible to tell the victim of love that he should "stop acting this way." This will do no good. Love is beyond human intervention, according to Proustian wisdom.
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
- The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams
According to this quote, one does not become "real" in a sense until they experience the world of love. When in love, one feels things deeper, has fonder memories, everything becomes that much more vibrant. This is not always good. As the Skin Horse warns, the process can also be painful. Pain is also enhanced. Would you take the risk of terrible pain to feel extreme pleasure? This question comes with the territory. In love, pain and pleasure are a package deal.
"You anticipate what I would say, though you cannot know how earnestly I say it, how earnestly I feel it, without knowing my secret heart, and the hopes and fears and anxieties with which it has long been laden. Dear Doctor Manette, I love your daughter fondly, dearly, disinterestedly, devotedly. If ever there were love in the world, I love her."
- A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
This quote is my all-time favorite. I mean, what girl does not want to hear these words? They are the words of someone who is truly love-stricken. This man is in love to the point of complete helplessness (to a point of not even being afraid to talk to the girl's father!). Dr. Dickens describes love as something that is all-consuming. It is also a feeling that cannot be argued. Someone in love does not sit there thinking, "Do I love her? Or is this just a crush?" If someone is really in love, they know.
This "knowing" has always been a mystery to me. It is crazy to me that at any point in time, one can be walking down the street, without looking for love, or even trying to run away from it, and suddenly be taken down by an arrow. In a moment, you go from uncertain to complete certainty. Everything is real, nothing is questionable. When you know, you know. I will need to do further research, but one thing I have discovered through my readings is this: Love cannot be defined.