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How we love

/ 05:22 AM February 15, 2019

Love’s allure comes with its paradoxes. We’ve all experienced it, yet it remains mysterious. We analyze and reanalyze, only to say it’s inscrutable.  We hate it when we’re in love, and  long for it when we’re out of love.

Valentine’s Day cashes in on these conflicted feelings.  My own take is it’s one commercial scam, but, having been young once, I say live and let live.

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I did think of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 43, better known by its first line: “How do I love thee?” She then offers her take on love, counting the ways we love.

The sonnet is a blend of heart and mind, breathtaking in the declaration of loving “to the level of every day’s most quiet need, by sun and candlelight,” followed immediately by an almost militant call to arms: “I love thee freely, as men strive for right.”  Remember, that was composed in the 19th century, the Age of Revolution, when men, and even more so women, were ready to fight to the death for the still emerging concept of “rights.”

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But even in our modern times, men and women in different parts of the world continue to fight for the right to love. Mildred and Richard Loving, one white and the other black—and don’t you just love their surname—went to court in 1967 and finally put an end to laws in several states that did not allow interracial marriages. The US Supreme Court declared that such laws violated the constitutional right to pursue happiness.

Today, young men and women still struggle for the right to love, facing more formidable obstacles than laws: irrational cultural taboos that bar love (and marriage) across ethnicity, race, religion, caste and class.

Witness, too, in recent years people marching in the streets and lobbying, successfully in a growing number of countries, for the right of two men, or two women, to marry.

Cultures shape the way we love, or not to love at all. For years, it was unthinkable for local ethnic Chinese, the women in particular, to fall in love with, much less marry, a non-Chinese. That has changed, as new generations challenged the “Great Wall,” daring to love.

Cultures shape the way we express our love. Netflix has been running six  episodes of Christiane Amanpour’s “Love and Sex Around the World.” The episode on Japan focused on how even young married couples find it awkward to say “I love you,” and how one elderly couple has been campaigning to get their compatriots not just to say but to shout it out.

So, how do we Filipinos love?

We love American-style, saying it too often, even abbreviating it: “labsyu.” But I am grateful for the freedom—almost reckless—of American love. We also love Latin-style, “te amo” more than “I love you,” passionate, mapusok in Filipino, though it runs the risk of dying out too quickly.

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That passionate Latin love probably came around with Julio Iglesias and Spanish songs in the 20th century, rather than from our colonial Spanish rulers. The friars feared love, recognizing its blurred boundaries with lust. Confessions turned into interrogations: Who did you touch, how did you touch?

The restrictions may have created the tormented love we have, as in the man imploring the woman to open her window so he could sing to her. The woman, in turn, had to play coy (pakipot), worried someone was watching. I still had a chaperone (well, my date did) for my junior-senior prom in 1968, and I know some families today still assign a watchful person to tag along.

Maybe, too, we still have the precolonial imprint when it comes to love. In Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, “mahal” means both love and expensive, as many of you realized yesterday. “Sayang” means love (the noun) in Malaysia and Indonesia, speaking, too, of a longing for what can be. Somehow, in Filipino, it refers to what could have been… Hear the background music?

We senior citizens think back of all our loves, and what could have been, better appreciating Browning’s line: “I love thee with the passion put to use in my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.”

We should not think of the times we loved and “lost.” We learn and swear never to love again, until that someone comes along again and we discover a new way to love. We’re addicted—love releasing feel-good, no, feel-very-good, chemicals that hook us.

With all of the imperfections that come with love and loving, cultures believing in rebirth have an advantage, with people able to say: “We’ll meet, and try, again.”

mtan@inquirer.com.ph

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TAGS: Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 43, Filipino, love, mahal, Michael l. tan, Valentine’s Day
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