Monday, April 21, 2014

Vocabulary of Love: Words That Don't Belong There

How does one define 'love', exactly? Not easy, is it? No word, in the English language, can adequately capture the full meaning of 'love'. 

'Taboo' is a party team game. Each round, a member is given a card with a main word, followed by five additional 'taboo' words. In a race against time, he has to steer his teammates to guess the main word - by giving all sorts of verbal hints, except uttering the main word itself and the five taboo words. Now, assume that 'love' is the main word. What other words would you use to describe 'love'?

Different people associate different words to 'love'. Some common words, like 'affection', 'trust', 'commitment', 'fidelity' and 'connection', are hard to argue against. Others, like the ones below, deserve some serious reconsideration.

Which card (and word) describes me best? Wait, I don't think I want to know.

1. Sacrifice

Lovers are prone to sacrifice for each other. Like giving up on your splendid job to be closer to him. Or coming late to your best friend's wedding because she couldn't decide whether which heels matches best with her slinky black bandage dress... no, shoot, she just changed to the silver bareback halter top.

The more he sacrifices for her, the more he cherishes her. And vice versa. That's how the theory goes. Drop everything - even if the boss is yelling, the gas is leaking, the sky is falling - because when your lover is calling, time stands still, the world stops turning, and nothing else matters. Right?

No, it's not right. If you find yourself in a relationship where you (or your partner) constantly needs to make sacrifices, then something is fundamentally wrong with your relationship.

When a colleague sorrowfully shares his plight on having to wake up at five plus in the morning to fetch the kids to school and wife to work, I don't feel impressed. I feel sad - mortified, even. Why can't the kids take the school bus? Why can't the wife drive to work herself? Oh, right, because that's the way she wants it. I equally feel sad, when a woman can't celebrate Christmas with her family yearly like she used to, because the husband side always has priority on reunions. Why can't each spouse return to their respective homes, to spend more time with their own aging parents who may not be around in the world for long (touch wood)?

Love should not be about sacrifices. Love should be about finding solutions that leave both sides happy. Sacrifices sometimes are required, because circumstances call for it. But more often than not, most sacrifices can be avoided, arise from problems of one's own making, and happen when one is taking advantage of another.

If there's one too many sacrifices one has to bear in a relationship: you're not hopelessly lost in love, you're just hopelessly lost - period!

Other closely associated words: compromise, give and take

All your daily sacrifices are pathetic, compared to medieval 'Romeo and Juliet' standards

2. Obligation

Every relationship is a social contract. And in every social contract, there are obligations. There's nothing wrong with obligations per se. But when the contract is one forged out from the fiery passions of love and meant to last a lifetime, then stuffing the contract with pages after pages of obligations is  asking for the contract to be torn to shreds.

Even early on in a relationship, there are rules. No texting and talking with the ex-es. No partying. Lose ten kilos. Lose that ugly shirt. Stop swearing. Stop hanging out with Raphael, that creep. Once married, a new host of obligations come into play. Walk the dog daily. Visit the in-laws weekly. Attending PTA meetings monthly. Obligations that no one quite enjoys doing, but has to be done, because it's all part of the marriage deal. 

The word 'obligation' is quite different from 'expectation'. When someone is obliged to do something, there's an element of forced acceptance, mandatory compliance and high penalty. In short, one party has to perform a duty whether he or she wants to or not, otherwise there will be serious consequences.  When someone is expected to do something, no such strict elements arise. And if one fails at a task, there may be sadness and disappointment - yet nothing too grave that cannot be healed by reconciliation.  

When is it do you feel compelled to sign a written a contract, instead of trusting someone's verbal promise? When is it do you feel compelled to speak of obligations, instead of trusting someone to do something without being asked? When people need to be forced, that's when. When there is no trust or trust is weak between people, that's when.

If there's one too many things that feels like an obligation in a relationship: it's no longer a bond, it's bondage.

Other closely associated words: duty, responsibility

No modern-day relationship is complete, without these pink beauties.

3. Settle Down

'Settle down' - a common term in the language of love. "When are you going to settle down?" - a common question posed to unmarried couple and single folks (to their utmost annoyance) during social gatherings. 'Settle' and 'Down' - two words that already sound negative on their own. Two negatives make a positive in mathematics, but not in love.

Taking life slow and easy. Retreating from the wider vibrant community, into a cocoon of two in the countryside. Giving up on ambitions and dreams. That's what 'settling down' means. That's the same thing a lot of people say and mean to say, when they reach the age of sixty and ready for retirement.

When in love, change is bound to happen. That's fine, that's acceptable. But not all change is good. Things can change for the worst. You're contented grooming your kids towards the path of success, the kind you had always dreamt of taking but chose to forsake... because, hey, you wanted to have kids! You left the hustle and bustle of the crazy city, only to lapse into a sedentary life meeting the same close-knit of people reviewing the latest books and reminiscing about the good 'ol days.

There's nothing wrong in 'settling down'. Some people genuinely want to, and enjoy it. The problem is equating 'love' with 'settling down'. 'Settling down' involves subtracting things from life that one used to do and enjoy - poker nights with the mates, shopping with the girls. Here's the thing: you can be in love, without settling down. However, most people don't realise that, simply because society frowns upon couples who have a life outside their relationship.

Love is meant to add value to life, not subtract value from it. Love is meant for both parties to share each others' personal joys (or at least to allow each other to have time off to pursue their own personal joys), not force them to limit their time to only their common joys whilst forsaking their personal joys.

If there's one too many personal joys you need to scale down in a relationship: it's not giving in to love, it's giving up on life.

Other closely associated words: stability, security

"Don't let Daddy's looks deceive you, honey bun. Took me centuries of stalking high-school virgins and fighting off big bad wolves before I could settle down with Mommy, here on this nice white tundra."

Vocabulary of Love

So what's in your vocabulary of love? Chances are, you have included most of the words mentioned above in yours. If so, you are gravely mistaken. Such words poison the purity of love's essence. Such words are taboo. Scrap them from your vocabulary, please.

I don't know yet for sure what love is about. But I'm slowly learning what love isn't about. And maybe that's how love works, as unromantic and scientific as it may sound: through a process of elimination. You cross out the words that don't matter, until you're left with the words that do.

And what's wrong with that? In our search for true love, we go through a cycle - meet new people, date, fall in love, break up, rinse your tears, repeat step one. And through this cycle, we cross out people off our list - and most of the times, permanently. Now, isn't that also a process of elimination?

A vocabulary of love is made up of words, and only words. But these words matter. These words help define what 'love' means to you. I can't define it for you. Neither can your friends, your family, society nor the author of the 'Twilight' saga. No one can, but yourself. So get it done now, and get it right.


  1. I was once thought that why should I scarifice my personal joy in a "settle down" relationship. it is so lame. boring to follow the trend out there, settle down, married, having kids, work 24/7 for company, family, his and my family by playing the roles as good employee, perfect mum, pretty wife, wonderful daughter and daughter-in-law etc..argh....being a woman is just so tough luck.
    These perception totally changed when I constatntly making routine calls to my single father living away from me alone at my home town, telling him interesting incidents that made him laugh over it or making endless complaints at least to a willing and paying full attention listener like him. Soon I realised, settle down or raising a family is like a personal retirement investiment. Most of my friends around me were so busy with their families and don't really have time for me. But at least when I grow old and living in a dry life wrose in a lonely life, there will be someone like me now calling me and tell me all sort of things that make me laugh, feel exciting and hopeful that someone out there remembering me and may be someone to look for when I need them. Of course, there will be no guarantee based on today's demanding life style but it all boil down to how I manage the investment (my teaching and coaching on my kid-if any) so that it will be a fruitful or meaningful investment. Maybe someone may say i should invest in the real profitable investments like properties, shares etc that will bring me real money to do whatever I want at the later life. But, won't it be better if this joy is share with someone that will accompany me to do the things I like such as travel with me while taking care me? Occasionally, my lonely house may be full of laughter, kids running around and telling me things out there when I am not fast enough to catch up all the latest news, trends, technologies, social life. Hey, think about that, I still can have party like in my house at my old age. Ain't all these also a kind of "personal joy" at a different stage? Just like any other investments, it needs time and money. Being a woman, I knew I have many roles to play and it will be very hard for me but I believe is all about setting a personal time table and making deals with partner on achieving win-win goals for all parties. It's just like recent business deal trend, if you may like to equate. Or just like when negotiating a contract, when you propose a mutually beneficial term, is not so reasonable for your counter party to refuse to accept. Always find time for what I like and making time for my personal investment will do me just fine. cheers bro

  2. What you say is true. We do think the same way, despite our different priorities in life. It all boils down to choice. And all choices are investments - time, money, energy. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Even if you make a gain from an investment, the next question is whether more could have been gained from investing elsewhere (economic loss).

    Instead of writing these articles, which eats up a few hours of my life each week, I could have used those hours to spend more time with family and friends or focus on my career. But I made a conscious decision not to. It's my choice, and I'm happy with it. I enjoy inspiring and influencing people. I'm still hoping I could do more of it, and cut down less on other materialistic distractions in life.

    I can't say that you're a wrong to 'settle down', as much as you can't say I'm wrong not to. And it's because we've thought about our choices through, long and hard. My gripe against people is how they unthinkingly make choices - equating love with 'settling down' being one of them.

    But I need to correct you on something - 'settle down' is the wrong word to explain the choice you made. Building a family - that's the choice you made. It's not just a matter of semantics - it's about seeing things in a positive light ('building'), as opposed to the negative ('settle down').

  3. You know, I went from this:-

    Now my answer is simply that love is a transfer of a part, or all of a soul from one being to another.

    You could be in love a million times for and overlapping, for so long as you have soul left, and all would be as significant as the other.

    1. Meaning to say, love is made out of intangible pieces from the depths of our soul, unstuck to physical and material things? I like to think so.

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