Why ‘love’ no longer has any meaning

Abstract: ‘Love’ no longer has any meaning, and women are, to a degree, to blame…

According to popular culture, you should have been reading this two weeks ago; but if you had, it wouldn’t have had any value. In fact, it would have been like what any wife thinks of her husband’s opinion in an argument: without foundation.

Poets, writers, and singers have, for thousands of years, made an impact expressing the emotions, trials and fortunes of love. However, I think it’s fair to argue, the main focus has always been on what we could call ‘young love’ – the raw, deeply electrified passion that sparks between two people exploring each other for the first time. This period peaks when one or the other uses the previously unspoken four- letter ‘L’ word: ‘love’.

This word is then used to identify the nature of the relationship between them – it is one of ‘love’. It’s even used to describe the state of the relationship – they are ‘in love’. This is a bit like ‘in mourning’ – except the bodies are very much alive and writhing. There’s a suggested passage of time; and just as people eventually move on from a period of mourning, couples, at some stage, move on from being ‘in love’ – they either break up or move up to the next level, where their relationship matures.

Whatever this level of relationship is, it’s apparently not ‘in love’. It’s a period of maturation characterised by comfort. It’s what therefore could be called: “the pizza level”.

It’s very hard to find someone who doesn’t like pizza. Children like pizza, adults like pizza, meat-eaters like pizza and vegetarians like pizza. What’s more, pizzas can be gluten-free, lactose-free, salt-free, sugar-free, and (my personal preference) tomato-free; in fact free of anything to which anyone is allergic. So pizza is a very popular meal. If you think about it, I’d hazard a guess if you were to ask the average person what they think of pizza, they’d say, “I love pizza”.

And there’s the problem. There’s nothing wrong with anyone showing an enthusiastic gastronomical interest in pizza; it’s just that using the four-letter ‘L’ word to describe a relationship with an inexpensive dough-based meal scattered with leftovers is, perhaps, a little overboard. And now men, especially, are paying the price for it.

In fact using the four-letter ‘L’ word to describe the nature of affection for anything other than a person with whom you are having an intimate or deeply personal relationship is simply diluting the real meaning of the word.

Those who are guilty of such a verbal travesty include people who use phrases such as “I’d love a glass of wine, thank you”, or, “I’d love to go shopping with you”, or, “I love my new shoes”, or, “I love the taste of chocolate”. That’s right: women.

Men are, of course, no less guilty. Robert Duvall did the word great disservice when his character Colonel Bill Kilgore in Apocalypse Now, proudly declares, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning”.

As a result, “I love you” has become the new “How are you?” It rolls off the tongue so easily. The interest is there, but the intensity of the meaning is lost. When you ask someone how they are, you’re saying what’s expected of the moment; you’re just not particularly committed in your interest in their health and general circumstances.

So how do we rectify this? We look, ironically, perhaps fittingly, to something that goes exceptionally well with pizza: wine.

As any good vintner will tell you: struggle develops character. What defines a good vineĀ is not only the quality of the soil and the conditions under which it grows, but the character it develops. If a vine has it easy, the wine it produces will, theoretically, be a good wine, it just won’t be a great wine. Struggle gives it strength and a defining quality.

What this means, for men in particular, is that if you want to really tell someone how special they are to you, you don’t take the easy route, especially if you’re at the pizza level of a relationship – you don’t say “I love you” as if they’re sprinkled with pepperoni. You need to show effort – do the wine thing and struggle a little. You need to dig deep.

It was something not lost on the English poet Lord Byron, who said: “Adversity is the first path to truth”.

So here’s a little inspiration from those, like Byron, who dug deep and in the process produced some of the richer, more creative alternatives to the four-letter ‘L’ word – the great romantic poets of the English language. Here’s a good one: “how quick my fluttering heart still moves when you are near”. If you’re looking for something a little punchier, how about: “you make once more my heart your home”; and if you really want to impress, you can always whip this one out: “you are the sum of innocence, purity and tenderness – the essence of all beauty”.

But if 18th and 19th century English poetry is not your thing, you can always try something a little more contemporary: from Sid the sloth in Ice Age 2: “You complete me”.

Whatever it is, for the sake of the love, work at it!

Originally published in the Sunday Tribune, 26 February 2012