Love: A Very Beautiful Ugliness*

I watched “Bear With Me” by Propaganda and it reminded me of a poem by Tite Kubo in Volume 20 of the Bleach manga. It’s one of my favorite by him in the manga:

Those who do not know what love is
liken it to beauty.
Those who claim to know what love is
liken it to ugliness.

In the context of Prop’s song, the poem bespeaks romantic love. In a romantic relationship, love is tested; it is a daily commitment to put the other person before oneself prior to any interaction with one’s partner. Therefore, love is a disposition; it is an ethics. (It’s only natural for me to reflect on the subject of love as disposition [is it natural?], I’m engaged to be married very soon!) The decision to love prior to the ethical encounter (i.e. encountering another human being, in this case, a lover) is how I read the audacity of love: “I love you in spite of whatever you’re about to do in this moment.” The disposition of love is not concerned with its safety. It’s a fearless ethics.

Not much, however, is different in this regard with romantic love and neighborly love, i.e. agape. For too long, romantic love gets too much love at the expense of neighborly love, so that no one knows how to love, even those in romantic relationships. Eros is set over against agape, in an either/or struggle for supremacy. This dynamic makes love to be a farce, a shadow of its true beauty, and its true ugliness.

The ugliness of this fearless ethics is its willingness to suffer and to die for the sake of the other person. My father once said to me, “If one person is willing to die [to themselves, presumably], the relationship will always work.” The beauty of love is its unrelenting pursuit of satisfaction and completion in relationship; the ugliness is in the uncertain ways and forms this completion takes. Compromise. Arguments. Tears. Confusion. Forgiveness. Frustration. The death of the self in love is a slow, painful one.

But love is ultimately beautiful because that which willingly enters the ground will be raised up. The seed planted must die before it becomes the tree that brings shade to those under its branches. But the tree cannot become without the death of the seed. And so with love: it is always beautiful, and because it knows its true nature, it is not afraid of dying. In any and every relationship, love is strong enough to survive the honeymoon, rosy-colored phase and get into–and past–the funk, the ugliness. Love is willing to die slowly and painfully–because it knows it will be brought back to life. Are we willing?

*Disclaimer: this reflection in no way espouses “redemptive suffering” in the context of relational abuse of any kind. To abuse the love which is given by someone is hateful, antichrist, and a sign of a degenerate human being. There is (sadly) a praxis in Christian circles of blaming women for the abuse they experience in their marriages, which sadistically exhorts them to “submit to your husband and love him until he changes.” Nein! The devil is a liar; whether in marriage, friendship, family, anyone who abuses the other is evil, and the one(s) who are aware of such are as guilty. 

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