There's no love without risk, and, worse, there's no love without loss. It's true, one can live without romantic love and avoid the messiness of breakups, the weirdness of in-laws, and the tedium of another person's annoying habits. Without romantic love you can skip those terrible hours when you lie in bed, not alone, which wouldn't be so bad accompanied by chocolate ice cream and the 3 A.M. rerun of Law & Order—but instead you're next to the man or woman you share your life with, a person who, while claiming to love you, has let you down, disappointed you deeply, abandoned you when you were in great need. And, just as bad, you know you've done the same, and will again. If only perfect people loved, the species would have died before we got upright. And for all the pain and discomfort, and occasional boredom and unkindness, it's still a chance worth taking, which is why happily married people talk about the bad times with the perspective and humor of successful gamblers, and unhappily married people curse the cards, the dealers, and the stars.
Even if you duck out on romance, love, in all of its other forms, can still grab you and make you roll the dice. If we're lucky, we love our children passionately (sometimes so much that there's hardly room for adult passion). We plunge into that great love—some of us frightened and reluctant, some of us realistic and cheerful, some of us in a match-the-diaper-bag-to-the-crib-bumper frenzy—and spend 18 years doing a lot of giving, thinking, sacrificing, planning, and getting back much more:
She's so good at holding the bottle...I better buy a sippy cup. She needs braces...how can I help her not mind the braces? I hope she gets asked to the prom...how can I help her not care about the prom? I want her to be seen in the world as she truly is...how can I help her not care about superficial things, because she's a fine human being, but make sure she gets asked to every dance, because that would be so nice?
And after all that, they go. If you've done your job well, they grow up and go on, and as close as they remain to you and as much joy as they bring you as the intelligent, interesting adults they've become, those scampering children, those little bottomless pits who took so much of your energy and drive and commitment, are gone. It is, in its way, like a great love affair that must end; that it only lasts a few decades doesn't tarnish its glory. That preoccupying, even blinding, passion does change. And if it doesn't, it probably should.
Next: What's the alternative to risking for love?
And in romance, in friendship, in parenting—in every kind of love that matters—it's just one damned risk after another. We have to love and know that loss hovers nearby. For some of us, that prospect of loss darkens everything. These are the lovers who reject before they are rejected, the ones who seize on every excuse to end it (too short, too old, not enough money, not enough hair). The knowledge that love ends—by divorce, by death, or sometimes by our own or our partner's limitations—makes some of us, crying about the unfairness of life, end it before it begins. Others of us only manage to love with denial; these are the people who react to other people's breakups with anger and drop the divorced and the widowed from their social calendar, as if loss is contagious; they treat their adolescents as little children (and their dogs as babies) and fight all signs of age with graceless, even pointless weapons.
And then there are the rest of us: lucky and scared, hating to be disappointed, sorry to be disappointing, but unwilling to do without. For all the ants at the picnic and the jellyfish in the ocean, for all the love we have that goes astray or is never returned or is shared until old age, only to have our hearts broken by a parting no less painful, we clamor for that chance and we wouldn't have it any other way. If you love, there is no other way.
Amy Bloom is the author of A Blind Man Can See I Love You.
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