Why Love Doesn’t Have to Make Sense

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Jackson Bliss explains why love is beautiful precisely because it’s irrational

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I met LB on MySpace (yeah, I said MySpace), back when I was getting my first Masters degree. I was spending close to twelve hours a day working on my thesis and I needed a way to get away without leaving my apartment, so I let one of my friends talk me into joining MySpace. During my breaks, I’d occasionally look up women in Chicago and read their profiles. When I sent LB a message, I never expected her to write back since reaching out to her was mostly for me. But she did write back.  Six months later, we were good friends. In February of 2007, on the same day I had an interview for the JET program, I met LB for the first time in the flesh. I was dressed in a new suit and Kenneth Cole shoes I’d bought seconds before our first date (they were for her, not the job interview). By June, I knew we had something special. By August, I was totally in love with her for reals. By October, I moved in with her. In February of 2008, we visited her family in Lima. And in July of 2008, we moved to Buenos Aires together, just to do something different. Just for quality of life.

Ever since we started dating, my life has gotten better. That’s not hyperbole, by the way. And yet, a big part of me knows that we almost missed each other. You see, I wasn’t her type and she wasn’t mine. Years before LB and I got married, I’d dated a number of awesome women with impressive and contradictory creds. My list of desired qualities for my type could—and did—go on and on, and yet this list ultimately failed me. Yes, I met amazing women, but I didn’t fall in love the way I did with my wife.  Not even close.

Conventional wisdom encourages us to find people who are scrambled images of ourselves. The standard paradigm for relationships claims we date people who make us feel a certain way about ourselves.  And popular culture pushes the construct of the “perfect partner.”  Our type, that person who is supposedly hidden somewhere in the ether, waiting to unlock the latent happiness inside us with a mysterious skeleton key, is treated like our great savior. The perfect partner is supposed to save us from our drab, familiar life. But this notion of the perfect partner, what we commonly refer to as our type, is actually a narcissistic invention of personal entitlement. When we say someone is our type, we’re not actually saying that person is gonna make us happy, we’re just articulating a specific set of qualities that we find uniquely attractive in the abstract. In fact, happiness is only implied in this articulation because we assume that we’ll be happy once we find the person we want. Counterintuitively, though, the people we seek out may not even be the people we fall in love with. They’re often just the people we think we deserve, the people we like the idea of. Our romantic instincts can mislead us even though everything about them makes sense.  Maybe that’s the problem.

When you get down to it, love doesn’t make any damn sense at all. When people list all the reasons they love someone, they’re usually the reasons they like someone. With love, you find yourself loving things about that person you don’t even like in the abstract, things you don’t even want sometimes. Love is like a secret passageway that goes through places you’re completely familiar with and other places you’ve never seen before, some of which you’re afraid of and others you simply avoided. Like, on the other hand is like a browsing history of all the places you’ve already seen, all the pages you’ve read before, things you find comforting and reassuring because you know exactly where you are. There’s something intrinsically irrational about love. We can’t fake love or force love, we can’t persuade love or build a case for love. We can’t write out a big list and say: see, these are all the reasons you should love her. If you do love her, much of it has nothing to do with that list. And if you don’t love him, that list won’t make you change your mind either.

Contrary to the false epistemology of social conservatives, people just love because they can’t fucking help it. Sometimes, we even love people we don’t wanna love, which shows that volition and reasoning can’t prevent or create love. Love is fluid and difficult to control. It’s hard to manipulate and even harder to predict. It’s no one’s fault that love is this way. At the same time, you’ll never bully love. It’s always the other way around.

♦◊♦

In the alternative world of being in love, things that usually annoy the shit out of us suddenly delight us. Things we swore to our friends we would never do, we end up doing (often by accident) with the people we’re in love with, and even stranger, we’re happy doing them too because being crazy in love feels better than being cool (or just crazy). Of course, it’s extremely important for couples to have things in common with each other. It’s important for them to be able to share and communicate common interests and experiences together.  That’s crucial. But love is like a big, clumsy rocket detonating inside us without any warning.

If my wife and I had joined OK Cupid or Match.com instead of signing up for MySpace (both of us were peer-pressurized, by the way), we would never have found each other. The truth is, we weren’t looking for each other, we were looking for people more like us, or at least, more like our type. In other words, we were both looking for people we wanted because we assumed the people we wanted would make us happy. But a big part of being human includes a deficient knowledge of true happiness, not because humans are delusional but because they can never be omniscient. As humans, we know what we want, but what we want doesn’t necessarily make us happy.

Even though I would never have asked for these things, I love it when LB invents new words or combines two languages together. I love the way she yells at me in telenovela Spanish when she’s pissed off. I love the way she sighs in her sleep when I kiss her forehead. I love that when she’s stressed out, she asks me to play with her hair. I love the way she takes care of sick and wounded children at the hospital, risking her own health each and every day to make the world a better place. I love that she makes me dance to crappy top-40 music in our underwear, cry to sentimental love ballads in Spanish, and give her a million hugs a day. I love that I now watch TV shows I didn’t even know I liked (e.g. CSI, Bones, ANTM). I love that she eats arroz con palta between paychecks, gives me pathophysiology lectures against my will and always wants to “detangle” my shaved head and groom my eyebrows like I’m a bonobo. I love that sometimes we play Supermario Brothers together on our Wii and we’re both obsessed with traveling. I love that my wife went through a phase where she sent me videos of baby elephants for a whole month. I love that she brings me home beanie babies I don’t want, blueberry muffins I didn’t ask for and threatens me when I pretend to eat all the chocolate. I even love the fact she cleverly talked (bribed) me into leaving Argentina in 2009 because we ended up traveling through Western Europe and Morocco instead.

In so many ways, LB is different than what I was looking for and I know for a fact that she wasn’t looking for a hapa fiction writer with a shaved head and a Buddha tat. But instead of traveling to the emotional places we’ve already known, LB and I have opened up entirely new worlds to each other we didn’t even know we loved. For me, that’s what love is supposed to do, if in fact love is supposed to do anything at all. Ultimately, joy isn’t an equation and love isn’t a set of rules. With LB, I found love in the last place I expected.  And though our friendship is a crucial part of our love (always and forever), friendship and rationality aren’t a substitute for our madcrazybeautiful love.  Friendship and rationality don’t even come close, man.

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image credit:  Flickr/istolethetv


Other articles by Jackson Bliss:

Ballers of the Heart:  The Importance of Male Self-Love

5 Mistakes Men Make in Relationships

A Scarcity of Affection among Men

How to Stay in Love

The Dream of an Inclusive Masculinity

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About Jackson Bliss

Jackson Bliss is the author of The Amnesia of Junebugs, The Ninjas of My Greater Self, Dream Pop Origami + Atlas of Tiny Desires. His essays + short stories have appeared in Tin House, Antioch Review, Kenyon Review, Fiction, Quarterly West, ZYZZYVA, Fiction International, Stand (UK), Huffington Post UK and African American Review, among others. You can find him at www.jacksonbliss.com and on Twitter.

Comments

  1. “Sometimes, we even love people we don’t wanna love, which shows that volition and reasoning can’t prevent or create love. Love is fluid and difficult to control. It’s hard to manipulate and even harder to predict. It’s no one’s fault that love is this way. At the same time, you’ll never bully love. It’s always the other way around.”

    Yep. Been there. Part of the reason that I am so incredibly thankful for the people I have now.

  2. I know I am supposed to say how wacky and wonderful all of the unpredictability and unexplainable feelings that accompany “love” are.They are not.If one wants raise a family predictability and strength of consistency in manner and habit will be necessary to get you through.The initial high that one gets from being in love must eventually be put aside and be allowed to run its course so that a more mature, responsible…less sexy version can take its place.

    • StringZero says:

      Not true at all. Strength and consistency aren’t precluded from wild love. If anything, they are a prerequisite for making that wild love last. What you’ve just said is the kind of thing we tell ourselves when we become complacent. Obviously, the balance changes over time as there are only so many hours in the day, but a relationship is whatever two people make of it–if you’re both on board, you can be wild, passionate, responsible, and mature, all at the same time.

      You are what you do, not the other way around. It’s not even some mystical thing–your brain will literally rewire itself for the patterns that you provide it. Whether you’re willing to do the things necessary, is an entirely separate issue.

  3. I know I am supposed to say how wacky and wonderful all of the unpredictability and unexplainable feelings that accompany “love” are.They are not.If one wants raise a family predictability and strength of consistency in manner and habit will be necessary to get you through.The initial high that one gets from being in love must eventually be put aside and be allowed to run its course so that a more mature, responsible…less sexy version can take its place.I mean,do you want romance or love?

    • Jackson Bliss says:

      OGW,

      As I stated in my article, I’m not sure there is a “supposed” to with love. I also don’t think that we have to choose between romance or love, especially since those things can blur nicely. Also, not everyone wants a family + even if they do, that doesn’t mean they have to stop being in love. And while I respect your feelings on this subject, I also disagree with you that “love must eventually be put aside” because that’s a choice couples make or don’t make, but there’s nothing necessary about that decision, nor is there anything immature about being in love prior to having kids. There’s no reason couples have to put aside love because they have other responsibilities. If they choose to, that’s certainly their right, but let’s not act like that decision is somehow a wiser, more mature version of love or that it’s somehow an unavoidable “necessity” because each couple defines their relationship in their own way. I’ve been with LB for six years. According to many people, the infatuation stage should have ended already, but it hasn’t and I don’t think I’ll ever really know why.

  4. Couldn’t agree more with the intent of this well written piece. My husband and I met not quite one year ago. We talked on the phone for three months before we met in person. We learned about one another from the inside out. Had we met in a social setting we would have walked right past one another. We are not one another’s “type”. We have a connection now that we’ve never shared with anyone else. Kudos to your for your article!

  5. I am merely speaking my mind as the prompt implores one to do.Romance and love are as different as chess and checkers.Love was well establisbed millenia prior to the invention of romance and the world kept spinning.Romance is western concept anyway.if love can be anything anyone says it is then it has no meaning.If love doesn’t have to make sense then there is no accountability.Whats the point to someone saying I love you?I hope your relationship goes well.

    • Jackson Bliss says:

      OGW,

      I appreciate what you’re saying, but I just don’t agree. All of us are merely speaking our mind, by the way, but some of us do so in a way that gives other people the space to have alternative definitions + other simply don’t. Yes, love + romance can be different, but who says they have to be? Also, what about a relationship where couples deliberately maintain their romance even though they’re in love? That’s what LB + I do, we go on dates every week + make sure we have moments of romance + intimacy every week. It’s a conscious decision. In our case, love + romance are interconnected together even after 6.5 years, but according to you, they’re separate. Well in my case, they’re definitely not. They’re not the same thing, I’ll grant that, but they’re not separate for us. I’m also not sure that I’m arguing that love can be anything (e.g. violence, suicide, alcoholism, killing small animals, self-destruction, drag racing), but I do think that different couples define love differently + they express love differently. It’s not meaningless just because it’s multifarious. That would be like saying that democratic countries are meaningless because they’re so pluralistic. Well, I think love is pluralistic too.

  6. I love couples who show that romance doesn’t have to fall away and that you can still be existed about your partner after years together. We can choose to let the romance/excitement go like we can choose to stop taking care of ourselves physically, we need to take care of our relationships. I wonder how many people follow the “grow into love/romance is lie” path cause after searching for they expected to make them happy, they settled for the one they were compatible and made it enough.

    • Jackson Bliss says:

      Lee,

      I totally agree with you that it’s a choice. I also really like your analogy. It really is like staying in shape. While there’s nothing wrong with a beautiful friendship/companionship in a relationship or marriage, I don’t think couples have to settle (even though I know some definitely do).

      Peace, Blessings,

      -j1b

  7. OMG— what an utterly beautiful essay! Sometimes I think love is like saying the right password and the door to the secret cave opens up…but nobody tells you what that secret password is, but at the right moment it just pops into your head….before I first kissed my BF (now husband), he told me a story about how his grandpa (then a teenager) jumped onto a ship going to America because he couldn’t bear staying behind in the old country while his girlfriend and her family left…his grandpa eventually married that girl (who later became his grandma!)….

    • Jackson Bliss says:

      Leia,

      Thanks so much. I like your analogy too. Love definitely can be a pater noster, a word charm that opens up a secret passage! I love that story too. I’m all for jumping on the ship instead of watching the love of your life sail away.

      Peace, Blessings,

      -j1b

  8. Lovely piece of writing. However, I wonder – why do you say you’d never have met on Match.com or another dating site? After all, you were searching profiles online and you saw something in your wife’s that you were attracted to. Sounds like an early version of online dating to me!

    • Jackson Bliss says:

      Hey Dawn,

      It’s true that I definitely found something that I was attracted to in her profile, but we’re not each other’s types at all. She wasn’t looking for a writer, a Buddhist with tats and a shaved head. She wasn’t even looking to leave the country (as I was). And I wasn’t looking for a nurse or someone working with children, or someone so socially awkward and shy, someone who’s so scientifically minded (but also very emotional). I was probably looking for someone more like me + I think LB was too (proof of that is that her earlier lovers were all Latino + I’d never dated a Latina before). So, if something like Match.com had existed then, I would have entered a bunch of desired qualities in my search that don’t match LB at all + she would have done the same (I mean, just look at our prior dating history!). We would never have found each other, and part of the reason is that many dating sites try to find matches for you based on the things you’re looking for in a partner and the whole point of this article for me is that, while LB + I are amazing together, many of the things we would have asked for in our potential matches didn’t make us happy in the past. And many of the best things about our relationship now we would never have asked for. I know that many people have had success with dating sites, so obviously they’re working for some people. But one of the flaws of dating sites I think is that they assume we really know what makes us happy just because we know what we want. And sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. Also, with MySpace, the only criteria that was available then was location, so there was no way to filter search results for anything besides the city you lived in, which is quite different from how dating sites work!

      Peace, Blessings,

      -j1b

      • Hey JB I think you have it a bit wrong about modern dating sites, most of the match algorithms are based on how you describe yourself, the kind of things you consistently like in general, ethics etc, and less on something as simple as “what do you want in a match”. They pretty much build an idea of who you are rather than who you think you want, and I think they’re more successful for it, so like in your case, even if you wouldn’t have thought you would like someone like your wife the algorithm may well have matched you. I say it because your article struck a chord with me, I met someone on okc that I never thought I would like either, even though we’re a match according to their algorithm and against all logic etc I’ve completely fallen for him. I think my last relationship (which was 4 years and almost ended in marriage) was based on “like” as you mentioned, he had all the qualities I thought I wanted, and made sense on paper, and like OGW said, I really thought that love was supposed to be this sensible thing in order to raise a successful stable family etc, but when it came down to it I just couldn’t go through with it, and lucky thing too. Anyway, thank you for the awesome article, after 6.5 years, you and your wife’s relationship sounds amazing! I think I’ll stop trying to analyze why this person makes me so insanely happy and just go with it, hopefully 6.5 years down the road, I’ll still have what you have :) <3

  9. Ok, honestly this reads far more as an ode to how much you love your wife than it reads as an opinion piece on love’s irrationality. I even agree, in a very real sense. Blaise Pascal wrote, “The heart has its reasons where reason knows nothing.”

    However; this piece is like a love note, not an article.

    Also however; congratulations on your happy marriage :-)

    • Dude,

      Get real. As someone who writes both fiction, memoir, essay + creative nonfiction + also has two blogs, I can tell you that most articles triple as posts + essays (+ vice-versa). Also there are a number of ways to write an article/post/essay. An article/post/essay can be personal. It can be journalistic, autobiographical or short. It can be polemical or satirical. It can weave in fictional elements as new journalism does (which an import school of nonfiction). And an article/post/essay can certainly be about love. There’s no conceivable reason why an essay, a blog post or an article cannot interweave personal narrative with bigger cultural/global issues. Also, have you read other GMP articles/blogs/essay? They blend the personal with the cultural frequently. Also, if we’re going to be technical, a love note is only written for one person, it tends to follow a traditional epistolary form (including salutations + a signature). Often, there’s also some type of poetic mimesis, an extended list of physical attributes celebrated, some indication of sickness/pain/suffering due to separation or distance, but again, who gets to decide what a love note is, anymore than what an “article” really is?

      Personally, I think your definition of love note is strangely inaccurate and expansive whereas your definition of article is both simplistic, obsolete, arbitrary, constrictive, and delimiting, but to each their own, my man. You can stick to your definition + I’ll stick to mine.

      Peace, Blessings,

      -j1b

  10. Anonymous Please says:

    Yes indeed I look at the 3 children I had with a woman I met in AA,
    We are divorced after her several hospitalizations for Bi-polar & schizoaffective disorder…
    The best being the time the police came to investigate my suicide as reported by herself.
    I think of the line of drunks and suicides fading into the past lineage of both of these poor children’s parents..
    I shudder at my hubris…

  11. Thanks for this article. I got so much out of reading your perspective, and was really uplifted by your writing style.

    “And though our friendship is a crucial part of our love (always and forever), friendship and rationality aren’t a substitute for our madcrazybeautiful love. Friendship and rationality don’t even come close, man.”

    – this is just what I needed to hear.

    Its easy to lose faith when you haven’t got that madcrazybeautifullove – or to settle for something that ‘makes sense’ on one level, yet if you are truly honest with yourself, feels lacking on another. There is some balance between not believing the ‘romance’ line that our society sells us, and the reality of what can come of two people truly connecting out of love, not fear. I have spent years entering into relationships with people that I connect with in my life already in a positive healthy way – only to find that the ‘love’ stuff ends up becoming a lesson in …. sovereignty and a need for self love…. Love doesnt make sense. And if you keep seeking out the love that does, well – maybe you miss out on that madcrazy beautiful love that I want to keep the faith is out there…..

  12. I think you made a lot of really interesting points in this article. One of them being that it’s sort of a fallacy to assume we know what will make us happy because we know what we want. Since humans and relationships are so complex, it’s much more difficult to pinpoint what you want and what will make you happy in another person.

    From my experience, chasing this “ideal boyfriend” or “ideal girlfriend” truly is narcissistic. Sometimes we look for a partner to “complete us”. I think this serves someone’s selfish desires to become a certain “type” of person themselves. We look for people who have certain qualities we find desirable, and usually they are qualities we wish we had ourselves. For example, we say “I want to date an actor”, but why, what is the reason for this desire? And usually it is a selfish one, an unfulfilled dream. Either find a partner who is an actor or raise a child as an actor.. It seems like a form of projection+introjection.

    Anyways, long story short.. I agree with you.. I think it’s very unrealistic to assume we know what “type” of person will make us happy. I ended up falling in love with a man who was the complete opposite of the “type” or “ideal” that I had in mind all of these years. I have never been happier in my life, and I am so happy I learned (and unlearned;)) a new way of viewing relationships and love.

    • P.S I just read your BIO on your website.. I was intrigued to see one of your favourite authors is Arundhati Roy :) I’ve met very few people who have read her work, she is an amazing author! Also, kudos on all of your successes.. I hope I come across this horrible novel of yours one day :P ahaha just kidding! I’m sure it’s not so bad for a first novel.

      Take care!

  13. > “When you get down to it, love doesn’t make any damn sense at all.”

    Oh, please.
    If you understand human nature, love is mostly explainable (after all, everything happens for a reason).
    Sure, there’s something in it that’s somehow transcendent, unspeakable and mysterious, but most of it can be explained.

    In the simplest way, we love someone who gives us what we want/need (and I know that’s over-simplifying), even when we don’t know what that is.

    Just because someone cannot read Sanskrit, it doesn’t mean Sanskrit has no meaning.
    It just means you aren’t able to understand it – or you still miss a “Rosetta stone”.
    When you got your love’s “Rosetta stone” – hey presto! – everything (or most) becomes clear. :)

    • Dude,

      Don’t be dismissive, it’s not becoming. Anyway, I think you’re confusing narrativizability with rationality. Just because we can understand (and therefore, explain + narrate) why someone might do something irrational doesn’t mean it’s not irrational. Many of us make (or have made) bad decisions that we know are bad for us when we love someone deeply, but we still do them anyway because love can short-circuit reasoning. The fact that it’s possible to understand + explain powerful and potentially self-destructive behavior like that doesn’t stop it from being on one level, fundamentally irrational.

      And part of my argument in this essay is that we don’t love people rationally, so we don’t love them because they give us what we want, we love them for reasons that we often don’t understand or even agree with. I’ve been in love with several women who didn’t give me ANYTHING I wanted, but that didn’t stop me from loving them. And I think it’s very that I ABSOLUTELY didn’t suggest that love has no meaning just because we can’t understand it (as your analogy implied). On the contrary, it’s meaningful whether or not we understand it, whether or not we can read, whether or not we can even explain it. Conversely, being able to understand love, explain love, or read love, doesn’t suddenly make it rational either.

      Peace,

      -j1b

  14. Why do you love the Japanese boy?

  15. Just out of curiosity, what’s with the photo of the cosplayers of the lead characters from the anime Black Butler (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Butler), shot at an anime convention? Jackson says nothing about him or LB liking anime, let alone cosplay. Both cosplayers also appear to be Asian. Just wondering what one has to do with the other.

    • Hey eyevocal,

      Normally, I don’t respond to comments after a couple of days, but I’m willing to make a exception + send you a quick note. First off, I love cosplay, just in general. Second, レイヤー show up in my second novel, The Ninjas of My Greater Self, with some frequency in the beginning, so in terms of of the artistic element of performativity inherent in Cosplay, this is something very close to my heart. Third, I’m part Asian (though you wouldn’t know it by looking at me). I’m actually both hapa + Nisei (since both my mom + my obāsan were born in Japan), so I make a conscious effort to chose pictures that are not only inclusive of all peoples of all races + cultures, but I make a special effort to bring Asians (+ other minorities) into the visual elements of my editorialization because I think Asian are often rendered invisible in our culture, so there’s that. Anyway, beyond that, I love this pic because a lot of people would say: what’s their deal? They may not understand why these two people are together even though those of us into or fascinated by cosplay would totally get it. And really, that’s kinda what I’m getting at, that no one needs to understand why two people match well together. Only they do. And it’s a beautiful thing that their connection is probably very idiosyncratic on one level + very intuitive (to them) on another, which connects with the tenor of my piece. Besides, it’s Shiroshitsuji + Ciel! What’s not to love about that.

      Anyway, I have another essay coming out friday that talks about being both hapa + a nerd, so maybe you’ll see some more thematic interconnectivity in that article! Good hearing from you.

      Peace, Blessings,

      -j1b

  16. First, I love your writing style. This love-note essay memoire narrative poem article contains many beautiful, subtle expressions.

    To me this explains why we can’t look for love. As you point out, we don’t actually know what makes us happy. When we look for love, we’re looking for what we think makes us happy, and it’s slightly off-the-mark. This reminds me of my favorite Rumi line:

    “Sometimes I praise love / Sometimes love praises me”

    I’m in the same boat as you and several other commentators: had I met my husband in ordinary social circumstances, I’m sure we would have passed each other by. However, the universe (if you believe in that kind of thing) conspired to help us spend time together, and the result was totally unexpected.

    • Many thanks, Oriane. I appreciate that + also agree with you completely. My wife + I often refer to it as our vibration at the time we met + how it brought us together.

      Peace, Blessings,

      -j1b

  17. Natalie says:

    Crazy that this would pop up in my newsfeed today, of all days. I really needed this. “friendship and rationality aren’t a substitute for madcrazybeautiful love.” You’re absolutely right. Thank you so much for giving me so much to think about.

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