A Pernicious Idea

Love is friendship set on fire.

This is apparently from Jeremy Taylor – an Anglican clergyman and author of the 17th century. I first heard it on Northern Exposure, where it was incorrectly attributed to Bruce Lee, of all people; I guess it makes for better TV if it’s a name the audience knows.

In any case, it seems to be a popular idea. It’s all over the internet, and I can’t count how many times I’ve had friends tell me that what they really want in life is for their best friend to become their lover. Well this, in the words of a great man, makes me want to heave.

Maybe it sounds nice, but it’s tripe, plain and simple. (Romantic) Love is not friendship, nor even anything like friendship. And why would you want it to be?

Honestly, why would you want it to be? That there is friendship in the world is clear. That it is meaningful and important is equally clear. That (most) everyone has it is also clear. So what possible meaning can there be in having, as an ideal, something that is a not-too-different version of what you’re guaranteed to experience eventually by just hanging around and talking to people?

It’s one thing to think that what love is beneath the surface, when you get past the poetry and other mumbo-jumbo, is just friendship plus sex, and hormones trick us into thinking otherwise. That’s a psychological theory – and it may even turn out to be true. But what we believe out of scientific curiosity doesn’t matter much to what we want, or should want, for ourselves in our lives.

If the issue is what your ideal is, then I’m sure this isn’t mine. Love is just the fire. The friendship either comes later or never at all – but it isn’t the same thing.

Now, a lot of people will say that they have experienced exactly this – a friendship that smoothly transitions into a romance. I wonder if they really have. I can safely say that it has never happened to me. What might have seemed like a “friendship” was really just one or the other of us faking it to get close to the prey.

Today is my birthday – which technically makes me an Aries. Not that astrology has much to do with anything in reality – but I just so happen to be one of those people who fits the random template personality description of his starsign pretty well. According to Wikipedia:

“I am”. Assertive, individualistic, selfish, impulsive, energetic, headstrong, pioneering, leader, competitive, action-oriented, aggressive, intemperate, violent, fiery, extreme, arrogant, quick, passionate, powerful, loner, freedom-loving.

Emphasis here on “assertive” and “impulsive.” I express opinions about everything, regardless of how the audience will take it, and suffer from an almost total lack of self-discipline.

I suppose I can see how people who are more collected and rational, less emotional and impulsive, might dream of a slow-burning fire that starts unannounced and grows with time. Call it the difference between those who are comfort-oriented and those who are gratification-oriented.

Well, (romantic) love itself is gratification-oriented. People who think they can love their friends romantically aren’t really in love. They are, when all is said and done, “just friends” and always will be.

Another show does a better job:

You’re not friends. You’ll never be friends. You’ll be in love till it kills you both. You’ll fight, and you’ll shag, and you’ll hate each other till it makes you quiver, but you’ll never be friends. Love isn’t brains, children, it’s blood.

Right.

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