ome time ago a male friend and I discussed love and relationships, two subjects that have always fascinated and perplexed me. Our conversation wasn’t about the ins and outs of pledges, as in “I love you… until it’s too much work,” or “I love you… until the next best thing,” or even “I love you… until death do us part.” What we were trying to understand was the concept of profound love. He called couples that had it the “Superheroes of Love.”
I liked that, the Superheroes of Love.
Like most kids, I spent a lot of time with superheroes — Spiderman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Each one had an elusive side and a flair for the unexpected. Just when you thought the world was ending they’d show up and save the day.
Superheroes of Love are like those cartoon heroes. Just when we think true love or profound love can’t possibly exist, Superheroes appear so we can see it in action. We stand there amazed. Just like that, our faith in romance is restored. Some of us think we’ve had (or at least felt) that kind of love, when it truth most of us are more like sidekicks — like Robin was to Batman.
Once upon a time I was convinced that love meant passion. I read poem after poem by Pablo Neruda, his words bubbling over with devotion for his beloved last wife Matilde. He wrote her literally hundreds of love poems (“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you directly without problems or pride…”) I read Voltaire, Flaubert, Graham Greene, and Anaïs Nin, all of them eager to pen their passion. Couples drenched in enough passion seemed able to overcome any obstacle. “I never feel the brakes. I overflow,” Nin once wrote to lover Henry Miller. “When I awake in the morning I use my intelligence to discover more ways of appreciating you.” Love conquers all, or so it seems.
But the reality is that passion can’t do it alone — except maybe in a poem or novel. Don’t get me wrong, Superheroes have oodles of passion, but the art of profound love — and yes, it’s an art — includes other ingredients.
So if it’s not just passion, what else is it?
Is it respect? If two people respect each other enough — their goals, their separate personalities, personal histories, life philosophy and general being — does that respect alone constitute profound love? Do Superheroes stay together happily for months, years, decades, and even half-centuries out of unshakable respect? Is putting respect ahead of passion a better bet when it comes to love?
I have my doubts. I respect many people in my life but I don’t feel love for all of them, whether it’s romantic love or something else. Maybe respect by itself falls short. Maybe we need to add adoration.
We all know the importance of being adored by the object of our love and affection. He or she is the person we most want to adore us. To see the “I’m so lucky to have you” look in a lover’s eyes is like a drug. To absorb that look and want to return can also be habit-forming. In fact, adoration is important in any relationship, even platonic friendships.
Goethe once wrote, “It’s true that nothing in this world makes us so necessary to others as the affection we have for them.” I’m guessing the Superheroes of Love live in a world where adoration and affection are constants.
But adoration, like passion and respect, has a fleeting side. Maybe profound love is the sum of three parts: passion, respect and adoration. Certainly Superheroes of Love possess all three.
My own feeling is that there’s something more at work, something that defies words, that’s utterly undying, unfailing, and gentle, something that sidekicks just don’t and can’t get.
Whenever I stumble by chance on Superheroes I immediately pick up on that something else, whatever it is. I stop thinking and behold Superhero Love Powers at work. My faith in the profound is restored. I see the pure art of love as practiced by people who’ve mastered it gracefully, keeping its formula a secret.