"Do you think that love is something that only emerges out of certain relationships or do you think that it’s an impulse that looks for expression? Does it come out of interaction with other people or does it start from inside us?”
“Is love something that looks for someone as an excuse or is it something that seizes you by the lapels and shakes you out of your stupor? Is that what you’re asking?”
“Yeah. I guess.” Bernard had a way of making me wonder what I was talking about. Bernard was eating a cup cake. I felt a little self conscious just watching him and wondered if some time we might meet over something other than a meal. His eating etiquette did not seem to be improving.
“The Greeks were so much smarter than us. They had multiple words for love. We still don’t appreciate how much confusion we create because of our careless way with language. Rather than question our language, though, we just hire more lawyers.”
“Sure. Almost always when we call in the lawyers it is because it turns out that the things said – even the things for which we’ve created a contract – were exactly different ideas hiding behind exactly the same words.”
“What?” I don’t know how Bernard did it. I started the conversation with a question and quickly lost the thread of what we were talking about.
“Two people say that they’re in love. And they are. That’s true. But then it can take them months or years to realize that although they were both saying love they were referring to different things.”
“One person is talking about affection and another about arousal?”
“Something like that. That is part of it.” Bernard rather ungraciously turned the cupcake paper inside out to chew the cake off of it. I glanced around to make sure that no one else noticed. “The Greeks had three or four words for love – words that loosely lined up with our words for affection, loyalty, passion, friendship, and desire. And even with that finer distinction, they had room for confusion.”
“So what is the cure, Bernard?”
“Talk your way into love. There should be a minimum word count before two people can declare themselves to be in love. There is a reason that the heart craves conversation and love letters.”
“So only poets should fall in love?”
“No,” Bernard laughed. “None of it has to rhyme. But relationships have to be defined with at least as much care as a house or a piece of electronic equipment. You start with a purpose and then you talk through design details for a house or piece of hardware. If those things are going to work, they’ve been thought through. You think that relationships are any different?”
“How do you start?”
“Start from anywhere and go everywhere. That’s the conversation of love. Stories from childhood. Discarded dreams and dreams that stick to your shoe like gum on a hot summer day. Fantasies. Fears. Philosophy.”
“That’s a lot.”
“That’s the risk of love. You have these conversations about love even before you are sure that their definition of love is the same as yours. And in the end, no two people ever share the same definition of love. We just need some overlap and respect for the rest. When you love someone, you don’t just share a definition of love; you let them keep what’s unique about their definition, what they love about their idea of love.”
“You need your idea of love to be the same but in the end you need to love them enough to let them hold onto their own idea of love?”
“Yes. If you love them enough, you feed that because there is nothing more vital to a heart than to have its idea of love loved in turn.”
“Why does that make sense, Bernard? You are saying that you have to share a definition of love in order for love to work and then you are saying that you have to accept the fact that you won't fully share a definition of love?”
Bernard frowned. "Did I say share a definition of love?" I nodded. "I guess I should have said, share a conversation about love."
"For how long?"
"Why the whole time, of course," Bernard said. And then he shrugged as if he’d suddenly lost interest. He had a child like expression as he looked around for the waitress. “I love these cup cakes,” he said with enthusiasm. “I think that I’m going to have another one. Would you like one?”