Tuesday 27 Sep 2016

Handle on Love
Sjef Frenken

Jack looked different when he arrived, late, at my table. He seemed a little distracted as he seated himself.

I put down my plastic fork and said "What's the matter, something troubling you?"

Jack said "No. Not at all. I think I've fallen in love again."

I said "I'm so sorry. Anything I can do to help?"

"Yes," said Jack, "wipe that smirk off your face."

I said "You don't like the way I show my sympathy for your plight?"

Jack said "It looks to me more like 'schadenfreude'."

I said "Sorry, Jack, I don't mean it like that. It's just that I can sympathize with someone who has fallen in love. I'm not a frequent victim or should I say 'offender', like you, but I've tumbled into infatuation myself a few times."

"It's not infatuation," protested Jack, "it's love. I can tell the difference."

I said "I don't think you can. I think you're a love junkie."

"You're just jealous," said Jack.

"Maybe so," I admitted. "Falling in love can give you a great high, I know, I've been there, but I don't think it has much to do with love."

"What do you know about love?" asked Jack, more as an exclamation than a question.

"My dear Jack," I said, "seventy-four years of living and three wives haven't exactly given me the total inside dope on love, but I've made enough mistakes to have at least a little theory on the subject."

"In twenty-five words or less," said Jack, "I'm hungry. Hurry up."

I said "that's no way to have a serious discussion. Go get your food. In the meantime I'll see whether I can summarize a lifetime of experience in the area of love in a few words."

Jack went. I scribbled a few words on a paper napkin and hoped that I could read what I wrote, and make sense of it too.

After a few minutes Jack came back, put down his tray and said "give it to me straight."

I said "Jack, as far as I can tell 'falling in love' is just that, a tumble, an accident. Actually, not so much an accident as it is a push by some hormones. We don't have much control over them, and once the hormones quit on us, that kind of love ceases to exist. A pretty face, for instance, that combines certain aspects that we've come to associate with a pleasant feeling, triggers that hormonal response in us, and next thing you know, we've fallen in love. I think there's a song with the title 'Hooked on a Feeling'. If you have an addictive personality, you can get hooked, not on a person, but rather on the pleasant feeling of being in love. You wind up being a love-junkey. With your track-record, I wouldn't be surprised if you're one yourself."

"Go on!" said Jack.

I said "Are you listening or am I just helping circulate the carbon dioxide?"

"You're doing fine," said Jack, "you haven't hurt my feelings yet."

I said "sometimes the hormones push so hard that you've got yourself what's called a grand passion, which takes over your life. It can consume everything in its path. It can be powerfully destructive, because the people involved in such a passion can only think of themselves, regardless of the consequences. It can be incredibly destructive. Remember the Scandinavian film 'Elvira Madigan' -- that's a good example. And when the hormones stop agitating, when such a passion burns out, there is nothing left -- no love, nothing. Except the aftermath, the wreckage, the devastating impact on the innocent bystanders."

"Are you speaking from experience," asked Jack.

I said "I've never been involved in such a grand passion, myself, thank God, but I've seen a few in action. And it's not what I'd want to wish on anyone. They make great movies though!"

"Actually," said Jack pensively, "I think that's what I was caught up in, and what eventually broke up my marriage with Martha. Mind you, I had been stepping out on her for quite some time, but nothing serious enough to break up our relationship. I mean I'm not proud of it, but you know...." Jack left his sentence unfinished. His marriage to Martha was probably the one and only serious long-term relationship Jack has had. His long string of girl-friends has never replaced her in his life.

Jack said "So what in your opinion is real love?"

I said "Loving, as Saint Thomas maintains -- and who am I to argue with him -- is an act of the will. It's not an act of the hormones, although I think they play a role. I mean you just don't go up to just anyone and say 'I've decided to love you'. I think it's the hormones that get you interested, their reaction to some stimulus like a nice face, a well-turned ankle, or, if I know you, a fine set of mammary protuberances. But as you get to know the other person, you start to appreciate qualities over and above those that drew your attention in the first place. You get to know her and you find out whether she is compatible, has similar values, that kind of thing, and what started out as self-interest, slowly develops into a genuine love for the other. You want to take care of her, be a better person for her. And if that bond is strong enough, you've arrived at the point where you will to love her. And if in time the hormonal activity abates, there are still enough bonds to maintain a loving relationship. Happy is the marriage where the hormones continue to kick in from time to time for the same person. And there you have my theory. Take it or leave it."

Jack said "before I do either, I'll mull it over some more. Maybe tomorrow. I can't today. I have a date with the object of my affection -- Rachel. Shes really something. Nice, tight behind, big ..."

"I know, I know, I know," I interrupted. "May the Hormones guide you to True Love!"

As if ...

Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.

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