Great Love

The Community Chronicle, February 2022

Great Love

By Jeffree Wyn Itrich

Ah, February. The month of palpitating hearts, roses, and heart-shaped boxes of decadent chocolate. It’s the month of love. Perhaps there is no drive greater than to be loved, more specifically, to find a love that will fill you with joy, and make you feel complete. The education for finding and keeping love starts early, and I would surmise in the womb. No sooner are we born than our parents, if we are lucky, shower us with a love that defies explanation. It is the strongest of human bonds that lasts a lifetime and I would add, beyond. 

Then we grow up and are gripped, sometimes consumed, by an overwhelming desire to find a different kind of love, that of romance, real romance. Of being loved unconditionally. For many, finding the love of a lifetime, that soul mate, that person who completes you becomes essential to living. And for those who do not find that kind of love, daily existence becomes a road of shattered dreams strewn with constant reminders of failure. And yet, is it really? Do most people find the kind of great love that is extolled in novels, films, and throughout history?  As much as I have personally succumbed to that kind of love that swallows you, that devours every ounce of your being, in truth, it is destructive and no way to live. I have known someone who committed suicide over love unrequited, and others who have never found what they think is great love, so they settle for no love at all, or even worse, a relationship unworthy of them for the sake of being in a relationship. Call it societal pressure. Which brings up the question – do soulmates and great love even exist? Are we chasing unrealistic dreams?

“Soulmates aren’t the ones who make you happiest, no. They’re instead the ones who make you feel the most. Burning edges and scars and stars. Old pangs, captivation and beauty. Strain and shadows and worry and yearning. Sweetness and madness and dreamlike surrender. They hurl you into the abyss. They taste like hope.” — Victoria Erikson

I’ve been there. Felt that kind of searing, gut-wrenching pain, and heady, delirious joy. Was it worth it? For me, it was because I got to experience the kind of all-consuming love that devours every cell in the body. To feel in ways I did not know was possible. But is it a way to live one’s life? No. It’s exhausting. Appealing as great love is, I’ll take a quieter, old-fashioned love any day. The kind my great-great-grandparents had. After raising 13 children on the family farm, including my grandmother, Great-Great Grandma Fluretta died of the “crup” (flu) in the early 20th century, and three days later Great-Great-Grampa Wiley died of a heart condition, or as I’m inclined to think, a broken heart. 

Does that mean they settled for less? No, I don’t think they did. To the contrary, they settled for the kind of love that allowed them to breathe and to live with tender hearts. Do I believe in great love and soulmates? I do. Take for example the love between Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning (a distant cousin).  After meeting, they exchanged nearly 600 letters over a year and a half, eventually eloping due to her father’s opposition to their marriage. Though he never spoke with his daughter again, Elizabeth never regretted her decision. I can think of no poem more romantic than her ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’ she wrote about Robert and published in 1850. It begins: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” She died in Robert’s arms 15 years after they married.

Another couple that personifies great love was that of a young Down Syndrome couple I met several years ago in Albuquerque who fell in love at a jobsite for developmentally disabled adults. It was the kind of love you couldn’t help wishing for yourself. The kind of affection and devotion they showed to one another was nothing short of inspiring and breathtaking. 

To me, these stories personify great love at its finest. As appealing as the all-consuming love between Antony and Cleopatra was or that of the passionate, often fractious Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, I’ll pass. I will take sweet old-fashioned love any day.