Every love is the whole love. There is no finite amount of love that comes with you when you are born and then distributes it. The whole love arises between you and that other being, and with it something new arises. When the one you love is gone, the world you share ends – that’s why grief is so hard to share. But because love can arise again and form a world again, you can also give love back to someone. My dog Olli had lost love when we met, he had lost too much and withdrawn into himself. He could turn that around and with that he gave himself and me love back. You are always apart.
Behind that one word, love, there are so many kinds of love. Not only for your cat, your child, your loved one, also within romantic love. I have never experienced a love that was exactly the same shape as a previous one. Sometimes romantic love is very close to friendship, sometimes it is mainly about sex – although sex does not require love or even friendship.
The dominant narratives about love in our society—those from series and Valentine’s Day commercials, or from Instagram—are just one way of thinking about love that follows from our history and culture. What counts as love, as a normal relationship, is pre-eminently political, you learn that as a queer person when you grow up. And society is less tolerant of it now than it was in the 1990s, when I kissed girls and boys at school parties.
At the same time, love is being delegated to the private realm by many political thinkers. Hannah Arendt perhaps calls it the strongest apolitical human force, because she sees love as unworldly – directed towards unity rather than the plurality that, in her view, constitutes the political. Philosophers more often associate love with a love partner or family, the household. And feeling is often considered unstable in the philosophical tradition.
But precisely because love can overturn established orders thinks philosopher Michael Hardt that we need a political understanding of love. Politics is also about passions, not just about reason. Love can transform us as individuals, and as a group because it enhances our social ability. bell hooks also connects love with collective change. She writes about love as a practice of freedom. Love, she says, is a way to look beyond your own position and to understand that different forms of social struggle are connected. Hardt and hooks show that love can be and already is political in different ways. And that the word ‘love’ here also houses different meanings and possibilities.
Big words often mislead us precisely because they are so familiar. Some people therefore choose others. S., a good friend, calls everyone you walk through life with companion. Close friend, lover, pet. I often think of humans and animals as interlocutors. With some creatures I like to talk for a long time. All those conversations have a different shape and form me in a different way. Because every love changes you. You cannot touch anyone without being touched yourself. You don’t know in advance how you will change shape – every love is also a risk.
And in the end every love is a new beginning. In a world where everything disappears, we can give love back to ourselves and others, or get someone’s love back.
All the love. And that’s the miracle.
Eva Meijer is a writer and philosopher. She writes a column every other week.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of February 14, 2023