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Things you don't know you know about love

Adam Phillips:

"All love stories are frustration stories. As are all stories about parents and children, which are also love stories, in Freud’s view, the formative love stories. To fall in love is to be reminded of a frustration that you didn’t know you had (of one’s formative frustrations, and of one’s attempted self-cures for them); you wanted someone, you felt deprived of something, and then it seems to be there. And what is renewed in that experience is an intensity of frustration, and an intensity of satisfaction. It is as if, oddly, you were waiting for someone but you didn’t know who they were until they arrived. Whether or not you were aware that there was something missing in your life, you will be when you meet the person you want."

Kathleen Dean Moore:

"The love of a mother for her infant is inevitable, unsurprising, Frank says. Take goats, for example. Whatever a mother goat smells right after she gives birth, that becomes the object of its goofy mother love. This is why, if a tiny kid dies, a goatherd will skin it and tie its steaming hide onto an orphan goat. The mother doesn't know or care. She doesn't love her kid. What she is attached to, what she is compelled to nourish and protect, is the blood-touched smell of a newborn kid: chemicals washing silently over receptors at the nose-edge of her brain. Love is a matter of hormones and pheromones and reproductive necessity, of rhythms and cycles, life and death, chemicals ebbing and flooding like tiny tides under a microscopic moon.

But what about lovers? I ask. What about tundra swans who mate for life and languish and die if their mate dies? What about ptarmigans, who follow each other around, clucking softly, fussing over each other, sifting their feathers? It's evolution again, according to Frank. Swans and ptarmigans nest on the ground, where their chicks need the protection of two parents, one to sit on the nest and one to warn off predators. Wandering foxes have long ago eaten the offspring of faithless parents."

James Lasdun:

"Courtly Love, that elaborate medieval attempt to reconcile raw desire with the smooth running of the social machine, is in fact a deliberate exercise in such ambiguities. Under its rules a young knight may fall in love with a married woman and enter into the steamiest of flirtations with her, in which everything is permitted except for the ultimate consummation. The beauty of the formula is that it appears to acknowledge both the force of lust and the virtue of fidelity. Like all codes of sexual conduct, it is fatally flawed, the state of deferred gratification being naturally unstable, and therefore highly likely to culminate in tragedy or farce. But it has an appealing realism about it, and at least tries to recognize the human psyche in all its contradictory totality."

John Stuart Mill:

"Though the practice of chivalry fell even more sadly short of its theoretic standard than practice generally falls below theory, it remains one of the most precious monuments of the moral history of our race; as a remarkable instance of a concerted and organized attempt by a most disorganized and distracted society, to raise up and carry into practice a moral idea greatly in advance of its social conditions and institutions; so much so as to have been completely frustrated in the main object, yet never entirely inefficacious, and which was left a most sensible, and for the most part a highly valuable impress on the ideas and feelings of all subsequent times. ... Chivalry was the attempt to infuse moral elements into a state of society in which everything depended for good or evil on individual prowess, under the softening influences of individual delicacy and generosity."

Ira F. Stone:

"Love is that internal emotional state achieved when fulfilling our needs leads to the pursuit of pleasure. To say that love is a complex phenomenon is an understatement. It communicates both desire for and service to another, and we will express these two aspects of love as yirat hashem (fear of God) and ahavat hashem (love of God) in later chapters. For our present purposes we recognize that love is an internal sensation, but one that is inextricably connected to something outside ourselves. We feel love when we take in or internalize enjoyment, but our love is also directed toward the source of that pleasure. Love describes the experience we have of belonging in the world and at the same time being beholden to the world and to other people in it. The pursuit of our own enjoyment would be impossible as a solitary activity, without stimulation beyond ourselves. Love is both a feeling and an acknowledgement. It ends up within us, but comes to us from the outside. We are affirmed by it, but we are indebted because of it – or, at least, we are conscious of its bi-directionality."

William Ian Miller:

"We know this about love, yet we don't know; we know that the particular contours of what we call love depend greatly on the object of that love, whether it be parents, spouse, lover, child, dog, country, faith, or friend; yet we are never quite sure which is the love that is the purest or deepest or that should set the standard for the others. Somehow all are felt to be paler versions of the love celebrated in fiction, the passionate quest for a mate. We are put to ranking these loves, in part, because the word 'love' applies to all of them and forces the comparison upon us. We think of them, if not exactly the same, as being of the same species."

Juan Valera:

“Who knows if he would grow tired of me and end up hating me?”

“I can see that you overanalyze things and enjoy torturing yourself by creating obstacles for what you want the most.”

“Who says that is what I want? I myself do not know. I have my doubts. I cannot discern the depths of my soul. Might it be my vain pride, the childish contentment at being loved by a person of such standing, that leads me to believe that I love him too? What is love? Is love that which I feel in my heart and that draws me to this man? Listen, Manuela, I may as well tell you all. Everything is dark and muddled. There is another man whose every word I hang on when he speaks, whose gifts amaze me, whose intellectual superiority enthrall me, whose virtues fill me with wonder and thrill me, whose great kindness I can see clearly in the depths of his heart. And you are well aware of how it infuriates and disturbs me for anyone to think for one moment that my feelings for that man, and doubtless his feelings for me, could be confused with love.”

Gabrielle Zevin:

Maya’s not-christening party is held the week before Halloween. Aside from several of the children in attendance wearing Halloween costumes, the party is indistinguishable from either a christening christening or a book party. A.J. watches Maya in her pink party dress, and he feels a vaguely familiar, slightly intolerable bubbling inside of him. He wants to laugh out loud or punch a wall. He feels drunk or at least carbonated. Insane. At first, he thinks this is happiness, but then he determines it’s love. Fucking love, he thinks. What a bother. It’s completely gotten in the way of his plan to drink himself to death, to drive his business to ruin. The most annoying thing about it is that once a person gives a shit about one thing, he finds he has to start giving a shit about everything.”

Martha Stout:

”Psychologically speaking, conscience is a sense of obligation ultimately based in an emotional attachment to another living creature (often but not always a human being), or to group of human beings, or even in some cases to humanity as a whole. Conscience does not exist without an emotional bond to someone or something, and in this way conscience is closely allied with the spectrum of emotions we call "love." This alliance is what gives true conscience its resilience and its astonishing authority over those who have it, and probably also its confusing and frustrating quality.

Conscience can motivate us to make seemingly irrational and even self-destructive decisions, from the trivial to the heroic, from missing an 8:00 meeting to remaining silent under torture for the love of one's country. It can drive us in this way only because its fuel is none other than our strongest affections. … A story about conscience is a story about the connectedness of living things, and in unconscious recognition, we smile at the true nature of the tale.”

Simon Critchley:

“When Courtney Love first read out Cobain’s [suicide] note at a press conference, she finished by saying to the crowd, ‘Just tell him he’s a fucker, OK?...and that you love him’. The ambivalence of Cobain’s suicide note of love and hate is captured precisely in Love’s hate. This is what Jacques Lacan called ‘hainamoration’, ‘hate-love’.”


Adam Phillips. Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012. pp. 17-18.

Kathleen Dean Moore, Riverwalking: Reflections on Moving Water. New York: Harvest, 1995. pp. 24-25.

James Lasdun. Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked. New York: Picador, 2013. pp. 91-92.

John Stuart Mill. The Subjection of Women. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2001. Originally London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1869. p 82.

Ira F. Stone. A Responsible Life: The Spiritual Path of Mussar. New York: Aviv Press, 2006. p. 12.

William Ian Miller. Faking It. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. p 180-181.

Juan Valera, Doña Luz

Gabrielle Zevin. The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014.

Martha Stout. The Sociopath Next Door. Harmony, 2005. (Released by Random House Digital for Kindle.)

Simon Critchley. Suicide. Thought Catalog, 2015.


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