As I lay in the bathtub in a candlelit bathroom a few nights ago, iHeartRadio was set to the ’80s station. I wanted to remember that time in my life. I was a child in the ’80s. I was fortunate enough to have a childhood mostly of simplicity and comfort. At least relative to adulthood (haha hm). Some song came on–I don’t remember what it was–that worked its nostalgia on me and I had sudden flashes of my childhood bedroom, of the comfort, of the oak trees outside the windows, and of the comfort, and the lush breeze coming through the open windows in summer, and of the comfort. These flashes made me sad. Because more than anything, I miss the security of my childhood. (Which is somewhat cliche, but bear with me here.) With my loss of security at a basic level in these recent years, I’m rifling around for memories of security. Even though I have a roof over my head and I’m surviving, so much of my life feels alien, and sometimes I’m just very tired.
Once the sadness was upon me, I got to thinking about love … because so many of the songs I remember from the ’80s are love songs … about how I used to think of love, even fairly recently, as a selfless emotion, a pure act. I always thought I had the definition of love nailed–that humans become angels when they’re in love, that love “should be” this and “should be” that. That when a person is in love, they become giving, selfless, willing to sacrifice everything to please the object of their affection. It’s a Disney notion of love, I know. But you’re welcome, all the same, for admitting this to you.
Then, as the hot bath water slowly turned tepid and the bubbles (yes, I use bubbles) disappeared, I … well for one, I vaped. But I also lay there comparing my Disney definition of love to my actual experiences with love, and my loved ones’ actual experiences with love. After a bit of rancorous, and also tender, memory wrestling in my brain, I came to the conclusion that love is, fundamentally, not only a selfish emotion and indeed a selfish act but it’s also universally indefinable.
The proof is in the fact that sociopaths and narcissists can fall in love. They do truly love, whatever their definition of “love” is, and who is anyone to deny any one person’s definition of love, given that it’s universally indefinable. They may use their strong feelings of affection for another person as an excuse to decimate that person, to take advantage of, to steal from, to do horrible things, whatever they are. But is it not still love? After all, the only proof that love is a real thing lies in our belief, our faith, in its existence. Love is just a universally accepted word for strong and positive or maybe just deeply passionate feelings for another person. It’s a term we have fully adopted the world over and believe in at our core. And the thing is, if you listened to the psychology experts, they’d tell you that love isn’t even a basic emotion. It’s a “feeling” or whatever. And even basic emotions are intangible, abstract, the experiences of which vary from person to person. Do you see? Indefinable. It’s all indefinable except on the terms of your own individual experience.
But back to this theory of mine that love is selfish. Is love selfish? Since love is indefinable, we have to pull our view out. The real question, then, is: Are there any human emotions/feelings that aren’t selfish? Man, here’s what. I don’t think so.
We are not gods. We are animals with the (all-too-often not practiced) ability to reason. We are creatures of survival, just like every other animate being on Earth, and emotions have everything to do with survival, even if the dangers we often face (at least in the West) are mostly not life or death. Fear, happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, disgust–these all originate with survival. You’re not afraid of a grizzly bear eating you as you sleep on the ground. You’re afraid of your wife’s old family recipe for meatloaf that she won’t stop using. You’re not angry because an outside tribe is trying to take your food rations or encroach on your territory, you’re angry that someone cut you off in traffic. You’re not sad because winter’s coming and the food is going to be sparse. You’re sad because The Real Housewives of Atlanta is off tonight because of the fucking Superbowl. Etc.
And as I said, love’s not even on the list of basic human emotions. Love, presumably, is what one feels when another person makes them feel basic emotions sustainably and deeply–deep, sustained happiness; deep, sustained anger, deep, sustained “please fuck me everywhere all the time no matter what,” etc. etc. This other person makes you feel more passionate, more alive, less alone in the world, more murderous, more hungry, more druggy, more pukey, more whatever-floats-your-boat. You know what love does for you. I don’t have to explain it.
But so, it’s all about how the person makes you feel. It’s a selfish emotion, a thoroughly selfish experience of relationships, but it’s how we do it. It’s how dogs do it too! And elephants! Parrots! And it’s … not how cats do it because cats don’t love anyone. But it’s how dolphins do it! It’s how every living thing does it (except for cats … and, like, reptiles and insects and stuff, although even that is up for debate still I think in some schools of thinking)!
Even when a person commits a selfless act out of a feeling of love towards humanity at large, it’s not really selfless. It’s something you do because it makes you feel good, because you like helping people. You you you. Do you see? It’s all about you.
But is that so wrong? Of course not. Love can be used in fucked up ways, to justify all kinds of madness, but the concept of love itself is the basis for lots of good in the world.
What’s the point? I guess that it annoys me how often people like to give themselves blowjobs for being selfless when, in fact, they’re not being selfless at all. It’s a pernicious disease, this delusion of selflessness. It’s the foundation of politics. Politicians run on a platform of “I’m here to serve you,” which a lot of them probably believe … or at least did when they were still wet behind the ears … but in reality, even the best politicians are doing it for selfish reasons–for greatness, to improve the world around them, for power, for money–that whether there’s virtue in them or not are all reasons that ultimately make them (the politicians) feel good about themselves.
Perhaps humanity could stand to be more humble. We can’t help being a bunch of selfish, animalistic fuck-heads–it’s our nature–but we can use our reasoning ability to consciously be more humble, to inject a little virtue and purity into our relationships with lovers, friends, family, society. It really doesn’t take much. For instance, the next time you say “I love you” to your wife/girlfriend/husband/boyfriend, say, “I love you. I’m a selfish bastard/bitch, and I’m sorry.” Seriously, try it. I bet you’ll totally make her/his day.
Here’s an even simpler exercise: When you’re unsure what level of selfishness you’re acting out at any given time, ask yourself, “Would Diana want to punch me in the face right now?” and if you think the answer is yes, make an effort to be more humble. In fact, even if the answer’s no, make an effort to be more humble. Okay, nevermind this whole paragraph.
Just always make an effort to be more humble.
*punches you in the face*