Thursday, 21 April 2016

On the Subject of Love

What can be greater than loving someone from a distance and letting them be free?
That question was the first to form in my mind when I read the words platonic love. A love without physical consummation: feelings divulged but not acted upon, shared but unification undesired. And when I say distance it might be just an arm's length, a person you may see or be in contact with regularly. A relationship which some might define as a mutual regard, but platonic love is so much more than that, though the thesaurus suggests passionless as a similar term. How can that be the case when its equivalent is the non-reciprocated crush?
It's by no means passionless: the shared passion is just directed elsewhere, in the love of similar tastes, intellectual debates or even in admiring looks. It's more head and heart than loins. Each the muse to each other's life-affirming endeavours. Each providing a way for the other to live, to survive, to cling onto a semblance of life they foster secretly, or to give them the stamina and the determination to push that same rock upwards though it repeatedly tumbles down. This admiration of another fortifies and inspires the will of men and women-kind. It gives rise to confidences, those things you might not utter to a lover until it's too late or they're left unsaid forever. The unspoken hanging in the air or locked away.
Why then is this kind of love deemed to be lesser? Less desirous, less potent? For what could possibly be more romantic than a meeting of minds? A relationship like that has longevity, as can a relationship based merely on the sight of each which induces a steady fire rather than a burning flame.

In 1855 Robert Browning, a Victorian romantic poet, wrote a poem about this very matter: The Statue and the Bust, where a Duke falls in love with a bride on her wedding day. The jealous husband learning of this confines his new wife to a room from where she watches the Duke ride by every day. As her beauty fades she has a bust made of herself which she places in the window; the Duke has a bronze statue made in his likeness which he erects in the square outside. That's the heart of it: nothing ever comes of this affair, and yet there's a constancy there. Yes, there's a vainness there also, a wanting to be seen as the best version of themselves like a portrait that though the colour might fade the light of the captured person never dims and their appearance never ages, but with an acceptance of how the situation stands and that their feelings will remain regardless. They build monuments to their suppressed love, elevating that unconsummated bond to an unattainable level.
An impossible love, one without stains! But I'd rather that than a possessive love or an uncaring one as both extremes are equally dispiriting. Why do we wish to possess, to grab? Why do we confess to love when it's not how we honestly feel? We think we apply unconditional love to family, sometimes close friends, but does it in reality exist? Because even in those relationships you often find struggles; there are conditions which if not met can result in love being withheld. Maybe unconditional love, despite our intentions, is not practised at all.
Ordinary love, ordinary in the sense of the usual formula, can be manipulative. Or even turn violent. Platonic love poses no such problems because it never progresses beyond a certain boundary. It's deeper than a friendship, but yet doesn't require an culmination which is where the normal spheres of love always veers. Both parties are satisfied with the companionship they provide to each other. Disappointment is rare as are the demands made. There are expectations, no dizzying heights and no crashing lows. Some would say that's not love at all since it doesn't involve the risks or fears that can make you soar or plummet.
I dispute that. What's wrong with a love that's comfortable and doesn't necessarily have to go anywhere? Far far away from the Fifty Shades of Grey territory. I think we've lost our real sense of romanticism and no, I don't mean in the dominion of Mills and Boon either, but an even more chaste version. Rewards, and sometimes more of them, can be found in a platonic form of love.

Picture Credits:
The Love Philtre (Study), circa 1914, John William Waterhouse
Photograph of an unidentified bust, circa 1951-1952, taken in Italy by Nigel Henderson