Love has a storied history of being linked to sacrifice, pain, and death way preceding Taylor Swift. In fact, the oldest texts known to man indicate that inherent to the the experience of being in love is excruciating, prolonged pain. Eros the ancient greek word for what we call love denotes “‘want’, ‘lack’, ‘desire for that which is missing’,” according translator Anne Carson. And from Sappho to Aristophanes to Homer, the Greeks sure did feel that love was synonymous with lack, with suffering.
Eros once again limb-loosener whirls me sweetbitter, impossible to fight off, creature stealing up Sappho’s poems are filled with such seeming contradictions as “sweetbitter”— love is never without this co-existent dichotomy. In another fragment she describes seeing the object of her desire and feeling herself “not far from dying,”— a sentiment that her lover apparently shares: “honestly I wish I were dead/ She wept as she was leaving me.”
Despite moments of happiness, and indeed at times during moments of happiness, there exists in love hate, pain, death— a bitterness within the sweetness. “love/ is at rest in no season/ but like the Thracian north wind ablaze with lightning/ rushing from Aphrodite with scorching/ fits of madness, dark and unrestrained/ it forcibly convulses, from their very roots/ my mind and heart,” wrote Ibycus, a poet from the sixth century BC.
2. The Bible
“Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love so much, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.’”
The ultimate expression of love in The Bible is literally killing your own son. And the sacrifice doesn’t stop there: there is, of course, the ultimate sacrifice that God makes for his love for humans (that of Jesus), but there are also smaller sacrifices– animal sacrifices, crop sacrifices, or personal sacrifices— that populate the pages of this ancient text. As early as Genesis, Cain and Abel both offer God sacrifices, only one of which God accepts (the animal offering). God demands literal blood for his love. And so the idea that love equals suffering is instigated in the hearts of every kid who reads The Bible— and that happens young.
But for those of us who were raised by agnostic liberals who would rather read The New Yorker than The New Testament, you may be wondering if this idea was really that deeply ingrained in you at an early age. Well, I turn you to Shakespeare.
(Also, this: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.”)
“Thus, with a kiss, I die.”
There are perhaps the most uttered words onstage, ever. I first heard them at the Ashland Shakespeare Festival when I was seven. And if your parents didn’t drag you to 3 hour performances you didn’t understand when you were a kid, you almost certainly read it 7 years later as a freshman in high school.
Romeo and Juliet is ripe with love=suffering. “My only love sprung from my only hate!” cries Juliet after learning that Romeo is a Montague. Love, hate, suffering, death— the ultimate love story has it all. Love springs from hate, hate breeds violence, love suffers, and finally, everyone dies.
4. Anna Karenina
I know my point is that we all see suffering in love but wow, if there was one person who really saw suffering in love it was Tolstoy. Or really, all the Russians. Anna thinks of “how miserably she loved and hated” her lover, Vronsky. Theirs is a particularly Sappho-esque love, though “sweetbitter” is somewhat of an understatement. Ripe with jealousies, petty fights, and, well, suffering, it ultimately ends with Anna killing herself.
Right before she flings herself in front of a train, she thinks “I will punish him and escape from every one and from myself.” The goal of her suicide is to “punish” her lover— it is not to escape love that she kills herself, but to continue love’s narrative. And as we’ve already seen, part of love is wishing that you were dead.
5. Ryan Gosling
“It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be really hard. And we’re going to have to work on this every day, but I want to do that because I want you. I want all of you, forever, you and me.”
True love is excruciating. That’s what The Notebook taught us, with its passionate rain-soaked kisses, screaming matches, crying, and ultimate tragedy. Even if, after years of depression and solitude, you end up getting the girl, she’ll eventually get dementia and forget you which will be super insanely painful and then you’ll both end up dead. At least they’ll make a movie out of it.
6. Drake/ All Music
The concept of giving up everything for one’s love is frequently invoked in pop songs. Take Drake singing “I think I’d die for you”. It’s not really love unless you’re totally prepared to end your own life for it– never mind that outside of The Bible or Sophie’s Choice you’re pretty much guaranteed not to have to follow through.
Taylor Swift basically made her career off of being heartbroken. “I’m dying to know is it killing you like it’s killing me?” she sings. Even obnoxiously innocent girls next door want to die from love! It’s a total epidemic!
This is all to say: if you’re feeling bummed because it’s V Day and you’re suffering, just remember that people in love have been suffering too, ever since the beginning of being human.