Love, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage or by removal of the patient from the influences under which he/she incurred the disorder. -Ambrose Bierce
In his book, The Devil’s Dictionary, Mr. Bierce classifies love as a noun, since it identifies a type of mental disorder. People in love have an illness typified by transitory disturbances in neural processing, resulting in visual hallucinations and delusional behavior. These deliriums can involve a variety of irrational ideas that are treated as real, such as soul mates or that love conquers all. When the fantasies finally resolve themselves, people experience trauma ranging from acute embarrassment to hatred.
The good news is that, once diagnosed, love is a treatable psychosis, even if the remedy on occasion needs to be drastic, requiring removal of the patient from the afflicting environment. Thankfully, much of the time, physical and mental proximity eventually dissolves love’s hallucinatory qualities, causing a resulting sense of dislocation, as the suddenly sane person wonders how they ended up looking across a table at the source of continual annoyance. Sometimes this results in the annoying person’s delusions also being removed, but not always.
As someone who has experienced this disorder on a recurring basis, I can attest to the accuracy of the diagnostic description. My first episode occurred at a Friday night football game when I was a sophomore in high school. She was a senior cheerleader. I had no idea what was going on in the game, nor did I care, leaning against a fence watching her cheer, pom poms in hand. Then she looked back. End of story; I was fully involved in the aforementioned condition.
In terms of symptoms, I can confirm a blindness to certain realities, immersed in some kind of rosy, imagined love bubble. This was, however, conducive to boundary testing. Discoveries were made. There was also a heroic quality; two people alone in the world. Bruce Springsteen has made a living on that delusion. The fantasy possessed a never-ending aura, even if short-lived. One of the ignored realities ended the psychosis when she went off to college the following year.
As often happens, the resulting trauma precipitated another episode. This easily becomes a pattern and accounts for love’s chronic nature, as bouts of temporary insanity follow upon and induce each other. Episode two involved a younger female; I was the one who went off to college.
Unfortunately, within American culture, the disorder is typically incurable, of which I am a prime example, being happily ensconced in my final hallucination, with my obviously equally delusional partner. But I can report a workaround. In fact, I’ve come to believe there is only one way to truly treat love’s peculiar form of insanity, along with the ensuing carnage. The context must be changed entirely. Love must be transmuted from a noun to a verb, which may be what the satirical Mr. Bierce was implying.
For example, when love is a temporary form of insanity (noun), it takes on the appearance of an involuntary condition, where rational choice is disrupted. We can’t help ourselves; love is something we fall into, like a hole. But love (verb) challenges that notion, since, as an act, our love interests are always chosen. We are more calculating than we like to admit. People choose their partners in insanity.
Love as a verb requires bringing those calculations out into the open and spend some time thinking about the formulas. There are good and bad choices to be made. Rather than physical appearances and liking the same bands, it’s wiser to ask potential partners how much money they make and how much debt they are in.
When love is a noun, it’s easy to consider ourselves or someone else as loving, since it’s a label conferred by the disorder. People in love, by definition, love each other. That’s why it is possible for people who claim to love each other to also treat each other like offal (a biblical term for animal waste.) A classic example is provided by a former client who abused his wife whenever he was drinking or smoking crack, but would later sit in my office proclaiming love for his wife. His thinking was clearly disordered, making it impossible to invalidate his claim. He wasn’t interested in love as a verb.
The verb form says love is revealed by our actions; what we say, or feel, doesn’t matter. When we choose to love someone, we commit ourselves to treating them in a particular manner. For instance, literature on the subject suggests that love involves being patient with people, even the old person at the register fumbling for exact change. Love requires honesty. Don’t’ say you like things you don’t or mislead people to get things you want. That includes sex. Love treats people with kindness, even if they are a Republican to your Democrat, or vice versa.
There are other aspects to loving people. But, for our purposes, love as an action is a direct antidote to love as delusion, since actions bring love down to the level where we live. The discordance between illusion and reality is an effective resolving agent upon hallucinatory tendencies. If you want to know if someone loves you, or you love them, do an assessment of how you treat each other. Is patience present? Is honesty a rule? Is the relationship characterized by kindness? When it comes to love, use this as a gauge; you won’t go wrong.
For any who desire assistance with putting love into action, God remains available.