Rethinking Love and Betrayal at Valentine,By Onyeagolu Tochukwu

A certain friend of mine recently called in. Her eyes were gelid with tears and her voice, having lost its characteristic lilt, was emotional with plaints of sorrow. Obviously she has a tale to tell and a most unsettling one at that. And so she began, amidst sobs and sorrowful plaints, a story rife with the meanness of human frustration in the event of love. If love has rough edges, her story bears it out. Five times in a row, for that was how she began; the medical practitioner’s thread and needle have engaged my tummy, on the one graceless mission of wholesale redesigning, of its God given seamless suture, in an attempt to clear the end product of the mess men call love. If men were true, my story would have been different. These were the exact words of this victim of the proverbial cupid arrow sitting right before me. At this point I crave your indulgence my reader as I don’t intend to go on with the details of her woeful tale, to respect her opinion of keeping mum over the whole charade. However, my mind is overcast with a welter of polemics, as I mull over this luckless encounter. How is it that for long the world is yet to get it right with love? Why is it that the story of love is always about heartbreak, betrayal, outright cheat, deceit and even tragedy? I remember it was Shakespeare who said; “See what a scourge is laid upon your hate, that heaven finds means to kill your joy with love.” With these words directed to the two warring families of Montague and Capulet over the tragedy of the two love birds, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare has unwittingly struck on that tragic dimension that has remained a recurrent decimal, in the human experience of love. Yes! Heaven has actually killed and is still killing our joy with love. Think of the many broken hearts and bodies, think of the many broken vows and promises, and think also of a certain strange man who recently told me; O women are so cheap! It took me just a dollar to make love yester night. To talk about love without addressing this brazen facts, is to build a make believe world of reality TV shows, which can never survive contact with the real world. So as the world celebrates 14th February/ valentine day as a unique day of love, more especially of the romantic type that exists between a man and a woman, it will be necessary for us to bear in mind that human experience of love is still far from being meaningful. While I will not bore my reader with the many disputations regarding the origin of valentine day or its romantic twist, I still see it meet to add, that for one to peel off the rinds of façade orbiting about love and discern the true essence of love, posers critical to the meaning, quality, weaknesses and true character of human love should be brainstormed. So I invite you to journey with me as I reflect on how to improve our experience of love as humans.
One of the commonest trends in history is to hear people hype or make much of their love for their friends and acquaintances. Caesar’s love for Brutus was legendary. At least Shakespeare’s Mark-Anthony testified to this when with heart-stirring words he exclaimed; “For Brutus as you know, was Caesar’s angel. Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar loved him!” (Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2) Judas in the same vain not only numbered among the beloved apostles of Christ but was also among the very twelve to whom Jesus said; I no longer call you servants but friends, for I have made known to you the things I learnt from my father. (Jn. 15:15) In our own time, it can’t pass for novelty to hear a man address his lady with love vaunting words like; the apple of my eyes’ or to hear a lady address her man as my sweet heart and honey. In fact human history has never been short of amazing paradigms of love overtures. In his symposium for instance, the noted Greek philosopher Plato remarked about the fascination of the gods over the love Achilles, that mythic warrior of Greek fame, had for his dead lover Patroclus. Unfortunately for all this sense of history, human experience of love is still lamentable and fraught with tragedy. The historical instances we just considered did not adorn love with the ornate garb of triumphalism and victory. The tragedy of Caesar and Christ is famed and proverbial to say nothing of the trail of broken hearts that love affairs of today’s men and women have left in their wake.
The tragic dimension to human experience of love has been the fact that those we love hardly return our love. Ovid, a notable griot of Greek ancestry drew a parallel insight to this fact with the myth of Narcissus and Echo. The fair nymph called Echo wasted away with love for Narcissus while Narcissus remained indifferent to her love. Commenting on the tragic end that met Narcissus, a nymph tells Narcissus; your crime is to ignore all the hearts around you. As far as love is the issue, the modern man is no less guilty of this crime than Narcissus. On many occasions our gestures and hearts of love have not only been ignored but we have also had cause to cry and lament in the manner of that biblical victim that said; “If this had been done by an enemy I could bear his taunts. If a rival had risen against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, my own companion, my intimate friend! How close was the friendship between us? We walked together in harmony in the house of God” (Psalm 55:12-13). This cry resonates with my friend’s cry narrated at the beginning of this piece. While my friend believes that her story would have been different if men were true, I contend that the story of love will be different if we as humans can unseat our default approach to love.
As humans our default leaning towards love is simply subjective. We are ever too quick to believe that people love us simply because we love them. We always use our love for people as the measure of their love for us. Surprisingly, love doesn’t work that way. We can’t use our love for people to determine their love for us. The trick is that it is easy to find someone to love but very difficult to find someone to return our love. The golden rule that enjoined us to love our neighbour as ourselves did not oblige our neighbour to love us as ourselves. Just as the way we are free to love our neighbour as ourselves, our neighbour is also free to love us as himself or herself and how our neighbour chooses to love himself or herself is what we cannot guarantee. Ever wonder why Caesar was betrayed by Brutus despite his vaunted love for him. It is possible that as Caesar was parading Brutus as his angel that Brutus was parading Caesar as his rival. This is the very challenge of our default subjective approach to love. This challenge can be resolved if men will be willing to discover that point of intersection where love is established not from the subjective perspective of one person but from the objective dimension of two or more people. Love by nature is not selfish to be approached subjectively. It is selfless because it is other-inclined, i.e. it has the quality of reaching out beyond the limited horizon of subjectivity. Love must be love for something or love of something, for a love that does not go beyond the subjective self is nothing but selfishness. Once two or more people are involved, appeal to subjectivity leads to subordination and selfishness while objectivity leads to inclusion and selflessness. What a woman means to a man will always be as important as what the man meant to the woman in any love commitment. There is no way we can ever get it right with love and escape betrayal if this mutual and objective view is disregarded.
And that word betrayal is even another thing altogether. I have always wondered whether betrayal as a human experience is actually possible. Is it possible for one to betray what he or she does not know or love? I am beginning to see reason with Robert Greene who contends that it is only what is seen, loved and appreciated that will be missed in its absence. Obviously the possibility of betraying what one neither knows nor loves will be parallel to the possibility of being guilty of a crime one neither committed nor is aware of. There can never be a real case of betrayal without love or any kind of commitment. A certain experience I had recently with a colleague nudged me towards this conclusion. For long this colleague was bearing me grudges over what he perceived was my offence against him. On my part I moved about my normal business oblivious of the fact that someone out there was actually living with the feeling that I owe him an apology or that I should be remorseful. Each time I see him, he always expected my apology. When after like two weeks and none was forthcoming, he called me and said; so you don’t notice that for two weeks in a row I have been wearing gloomy face for you. My answer shocked him as much as his question shocked me. He was shocked to realize that his gloomy face was all in vain because in my wildest imagination I never believed there was anything sinister about his mien for the two weeks long. I was not remorseful not because I didn’t wrong him but because I didn’t know. You can’t establish a case of betrayal here. Sense of betrayal like remorse goes with the knowledge that you have wronged a person dear to you. Without this, the word ‘betrayal’ could be just another instance, where human language lacks the verbal grace and linguistic precision to articulate certain human experiences in speech. In the dictionary, betrayal is explained as disloyalty, unfaithfulness, infidelity and so on. Semantic analysis of words like these shows that their meanings are ultimately derivative. You can’t talk of unfaithfulness, disloyalty and infidelity without talking about faithfulness, loyalty and fidelity. And so you can’t talk about betrayal without annexing it to love or commitment. It may be wrong to assume that Brutus betrayed Caesar for apart from Caesar’s love for Brutus, Brutus might have anything but love for Caesar. Men hardly betray what they love and know truly that they love it. Here we see that knowledge is decisive in the business of love. True love must go with knowledge and awareness. For instance, after the death of Caesar, Romans could not even as much as mourn him. It was only when Mark-Anthony made them realize how Caesar loved them, that they were heirs to Caesar’s wealth and fortune did they mourn and even went after those that killed Caesar. Nothing has crushed men’s heart more than the realisation that those whom they disregard and persecute have nothing but love for them. Christ excused his executioners with the phrase that considers knowledge as what can save love from betrayal. It is that phrase that says; father forgive them for they know not what they are doing. Since there could be no betrayal without love, the inevitable conclusion will be something like this; with the establishment of objective love, a love that is mutual and symbiotic nature, the occurrence of betrayal will be near impossibility. Therefore, as we celebrate this day of love, let us strive to tip the balance of love away from tragedy and tilt it towards joy and rapture. Till then I say; HAPPY VALENTINE TO ONE AND ALL.
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