When people suggest to me that romantic love is what occurs in the space where pain is absent, I want to laugh. It sounds childish and incredibly inexperienced to me. No, that would be total apathy at worst; slight indifference at best. That’s what occurs in the space where pain is absent. Indifference, not love, is the opposite of hate, as so many wise scholars have noted. When one doesn’t care enough to ever risk being hurt, one is indifferent.
Love and pain aren’t the same things but they are directly proportional to each other. The more you love someone, the more they can hurt you. The more you can hurt them. Love should mean that they choose to do everything in their power not to hurt you, and you do everything in your power not to hurt them. However, that’s not what always occurs.
Love can manifest in painful ways because the emotion exists while deterrents exist. They run together concurrently; maybe parallel lines that are bisected by particular incidents and other turbulent emotions. This doesn’t necessarily mean that love has evaporated and has been replaced by abuse.
The pain of a wife missing a husband in the military overseas is a pain felt because she knows what the love feels like when they are together. It is the pain of longing. The pain a husband feels when his wife dies before him is a pain felt because he knows what their life, their challenges, their connection, their love was like during their marriage. It is the pain of loss. The pain a child feels who has to bury her mother, one she feels was taken away too soon by an easily curable illness but poverty stood in their way is a pain felt because this child feels exposed, lost, guide-less and unprotected. It is the pain of abandonment. The pain felt when parents have to bury a child—a human belief that this violates the circle of life, the natural order of things is a pain felt because no parent wants to bury a child because it just feels…wrong. It is the pain of injustice. The pain a LGBTQ/SGL couple feels because the hatred in society might mean one or both of them cannot reveal themselves and remain safe in their love is a pain felt because external hatred imposes shame on the true beauty that they share between themselves. It is the pain of fear and uncertainty. The pain a woman feels when she loves a man that society deems she should not love—a society that deems she isn’t even worthy of love in the first place, and the man who loves her in return also feels this pain, is a pain felt because they know that breaking rules, norms, even others’ notions of “morality” is a pain that equals their passion, their desire, their love, and the quest to tip the scales in their favor is the challenge of their lifetimes. It is a pain of unbearable balance.
None of these forms of love are devalued by the presence of pain. Complicated by it? Yes. Devalued? No. Abuse? No.
When people desire painful love, it can mean that they desire pain as punishment for feeling love. They desire abuse as they don’t feel worthy of love. This is very common…and tragic. Or…it can mean that they desire love so valuable, so meaningful, so rich, and so true, that the propensity to feel pain and create pain is there—even at equal capacity—but the risk of a love so unabashed and powerful makes the risk of pain worth it.
The fact that babies die of SIDS, and kids are kidnapped, die from illness, are abused and are murdered, yet, people still choose to have them, to nurture new life, to parent, reveals that there is a form of love where the greatest risk possible is taken for what is viewed as a great reward. Simply because some people view perhaps sibling, platonic or romantic love, not just parental love, as love worth great risks, and possibly great pain, doesn’t necessarily mean they crave hurt or abuse (and they can still be clear on what abuse really is, and not accept it—all pain isn’t abuse, though all abuse is pain). It means that they value love. They want it in their lives.
Who are we to stop them? Who are we to deny them the chance?