I was asked to do a talk to kick off the third Gender and Sexuality meet-up groups organised by a friend of mine, and knee-jerk reaction, looking at the date (Valentines Day or thereabouts) said that I would talk about love. I'm a hopeless romantic, such things are well documented. I still believe in storming the castle and rescuing the (gender ambiguous) princess.
Love, then. I got all the bad song lyrics out of my head first, or actually spent the whole time writing my notes humming Boston's More Than A Feeling. Love is... Love, Actually. Love in the time of Cholera. It's a well-used word and so it was with words that I began. We get "love" in english from the same root as we get "like", from lufu/lief in old and middle english. The meanings are about desire, preference, approval and the idea of preference or to be pleasing. Very different, when you think about it, to the latin (and hence other romance languages) amor from which we get amorous and the passion that conveys. Our love has it's latinate roots in libet which is to please. The english lover is a pleaser, amongst other things, and none the worse for it as we shall see.
Love travels through history becoming romantic love only relatively recently - romantic love itself being a modern invention, with its antecedents in courtly love where the suitor wooed the fair maiden, often wealthy, of noble birth and hence totally unattainable. Love was something out of reach, but also something pure and chaste because it could not be unfulfilled - we all know the desire and yearning for that thing we cannot have, and the way we put that remote, untouchable subject of our desire on a pedestal. And the problems that can give us when they fail to live up to our ridiculous expectations. Another interesting literary use of love is commonly found in Shakespeare, the idea of "making love to" as pouring honeyed words into someone's ear, either in a seductive or persuasive fashion, again, love as being pleasing.
C.S. Lewis wrote a book called The Four Loves where he attempted to categorise the different types of love, and it was the idea of "types of love" I was perhaps more interested in than how he chose to define them. He had affection, friendship, romance and unconditional love - there's a full brief in the wikipedia link, but let's return to the idea of a classification of love. We know that some loves are different to others. I do not love my mother in the same way I love my father, or my friends, or a lover, a submissive or a dominant. Not perhaps because they are those things, but because they are individuals, and so am I and the love I have for them is precisely that: the love between the two of us. Another person will love you differently to the way that I love you. Neither better, nor worse, necessarily. But different.
I was thinking a lot about the idea of "making love", once cutely referred to as "like having sex, but very horizontal". We talked amongst ourselves as to whether any of us had actually, ever made love. Those that spoke up, myself included, could count the instances on one hand. But actually describing what made it "making love" rather than fucking or any other word got us into hazy territory. We talked about sex as absence of the self, the notion of giving up, perhaps in a submissive sense, certainly the utter selflessness of it, the idea of sexually opening up completely and putting all the focus we had - and more - on the person we were making love to.
Finally, I like the idea that love is a verb, it's active: something that you do, you work at it, create it, shape it. It isn't a passive thing hanging around - though we sometimes do find love. Love takes time. It is an ongoing thing, a life pursuit. We discussed the idea of love and longevity: the difference between NRE at the beginning of a romance, and the daily satisfaction of a loving relationship.