I’m always pointing out the fallacy of adages — a watched pot does boil, for example, and you can judge a book by its cover. (I do it all the time.) Pop music tends to spread a lot of faulty “truths” around as well, most of them having to do with love. As I’ve said before, this matters.
As impressionable teens being schooled in love by pop music (because, god knows, our parents weren’t talking to us about it), we got some bad advice and learned some bad lessons. It’s remarkable how durable some of those lessons can be. Love is blind, higher than a mountain, thicker than water, alive, a rose, like a heatwave, like oxygen, the drug… Perhaps the worst love lesson we get: “Love Hurts.”
It was first recorded by the Everly Brothers in 1960, then Roy Orbison, but people around my age all know it as the top 10 hit by Nazareth. “Love Hurts” is a great song. The drama! Apparently, it was the biggest hit ever in Norway. (Oh, the things you learn on Wikipedia!) I and countless other teens coming of age around the time of the Bicentennial ached to have a love so grand that it hurt.
So many people I know still cling to this idea, a corollary to that other maddening maxim, “relationships are really hard work”: if there’s no pain, if it doesn’t break your heart, it isn’t (or wasn’t) love. I felt the same way for a long time. I’ve cried 96 tears. But guess what? If it hurts, it’s not love.
What is it, then, you ask? Good question. It’s self-cherishing attachment, that grasping we do…which is pretty much the opposite of love. I didn’t come up with that myself; it was pointed out in a great talk I went to last week. So simple and so profound, it bears repeating: attachment is the opposite of love.
Think about the last time you felt hurt by love. What hurt? The fact that you weren’t going to be getting something from the other person anymore, right? Yes, that hurts. But it ain’t love. That, my friend, in a nutshell, is attachment.
“If you love someone, set them free,” we started hearing at the dawn of the 1970s (around the time of Love Story and Love is… cartoons), and Sting sang a decade and a half later. Corny as it sounds, that aphorism comes a lot closer to the truth. Love is wanting the other person to be happy. Period.
Usually, when we’re “in love,” we’re doing some combination of grasping and really loving; it’s rarely 100% one or the other. At least that’s what I’ve been doing. I still catch myself doing it. I’ve loved, sure, but I can’t say I’ve ever truly loved all the way, selflessly. How do I know? It always hurts when it ends. Maybe the next one won’t.