Yes, I’ve been asked that question…mostly by people who dislike love stories and exhort me to concentrate on other themes.
I call them “romances,” because that’s the name of the genre. However, they don’t bear a lot of resemblance to typical contemporary romances. The attraction comes early, as does the commitment. There isn’t a lot of “on-screen” sex. The meat of the tale is about two people growing closer, bonding to one another, and achieving the state Robert A. Heinlein described in Stranger in a Strange Land: the condition in which the happiness of one’s beloved is essential to one’s own.
Romantic love is a marvelous experience. I’ve had it twice, and I can’t think of anything wholly secular that compares to it. A lot of people yearn to have it. Some never do. It’s on the minds of quite a large fraction of teenagers and young adults, built into them by the forces of evolution and reinforced by a pop culture that seems unable to speak of anything else.
But romantic love can also fail. Young love is especially vulnerable. It comes with no guarantee. A great many stories and songs have been written about it – perhaps as many as have been penned about the onset of love. Here’s one of my favorite songs to that effect, from the halcyon days of AM radio:
And here’s another, perhaps the best-loved song of its era:
How much more pathos could you pack into a three-minute song? I can’t imagine it.
Love is important. Love, not sex. Not being seen with the head cheerleader on your arm. Not having a “trophy wife” to parade before one’s peers. And definitely not “getting your rocks off.” But today the emphasis has shifted critically, and not for the better.
Love should be understood as something independent of sex. Few persons manage to separate them, which testifies to the steady penetration of our relations by aggressive, often predatory impulses. Sex is wonderful. I’ll never denigrate it. But love – real love, of the sort Heinlein described – should always take priority.
Go ahead; ignore me. Everyone knows I’m an old softy. But I had to say this.
Here follows a snippet from In Vino. It describes a meeting – a regular, twice-weekly get-together of interested persons with a parish priest to discuss topics in Catholic Christianity – in which the pastor himself, Father Ray Altomare, seeks an explanation for why the group is so routinely joyous:
“A white wine this evening, Matt?” Rachel said.
The vintner smiled as he pulled the cork from the bottle. “A Riesling.”
“Hilaire Belloc, call your office,” Ray quipped.
“But a really good Riesling,” Lundin said as he commenced to fill glasses. “The best I’ve ever made. Much better than the sugar water most other New York vineyards sell.” He filled the priests’ glasses last, seated himself next to Domenico Monti, and hoisted his glass. “Salud.”
The rest echoed the sentiment, and they sipped. Eyebrows rose at once.
“Well!” Rowenna said. “I know where I’m getting our Riesling from now on.”
“Second the motion,” Holly said.
“Passed by acclamation,” Larry added. “Great stuff, Matt. But how does your boss feel about your giving away so much first-class wine? Does he know about it?”
“Oh, he knows,” Lundin said. The vintner’s demeanor and body language were that of a man completely at his ease. “He gave me a hard time about it at first, but I persuaded him to think of it as a promotional move. Part of the reason our products have been selling so well lately. I said if he felt really strongly about it, he could take the cost out of my salary. He shrugged and let it go.”
“You know, Matt,” Rachel said, “this completely inverts the usual order of things. Normally it’s the older vintages that are more highly prized. The ones that have had time to age, develop depth, and gain a reputation. But here you are selling brand new wine, practically straight out of the vats, that beats the older stuff hollow.”
Lundin grinned and shrugged. “Well, a winemaker’s gotta do—”
“What a winemaker’s gotta do,” Larry finished.
The others chuckled. Ray furtively surveyed the faces around the table.
These meetings are the best thing to happen to this parish since I arrived here. Even Domenico seems lighthearted and relaxed. I’d love to extend this, or at least the spirit of it, to the rest of the flock…but I suppose I should think about what makes it such a good thing first. It’s not just the free wine and cheese, for sure.
We can talk about justice some other evening.
“Why does this work so well?” he said. It grabbed the others’ attention as swiftly and definitely as a fire alarm.
“What do you mean, Father?” Rowenna said.
Monti eyed Ray dubiously.
Ray grinned and swept a hand around the table. “Look at us. We’ve been convening every Monday and Thursday evening, with very few exceptions, for a whole year—to discuss Catholic theology and ethics. Ultra-serious subjects, the sort that people associate with old men in cassocks poring over even older books and arguing about the meanings of words in languages nobody speaks any more. But I’ve been having a blast, and from the looks of the rest of you I’m not the only one. So why?”
He panned the faces of the group. All appeared flustered by the question, but for one.
“Can you tell us, Fountain?”
The others immediately turned toward the young futa.
She nodded. “There is love here.”
A profound silence descended upon the gathering.
Yes, of course.
“Would anyone care to offer another opinion?” Ray murmured after a few seconds.
“No…” Holly said. “That’s it.”
“Agreed,” Rachel said.
“On the button,” Rowenna said.
“Hey!” Lundin said. “What about the wine?”
The gathering laughed joyously.
That little group – six laymen and two priests – had bonded through love of a completely asexual variety. The Greeks called it αγάπη. It gave the group a power of concentration and penetration they hadn’t previously possessed. (You’ll need to read the novel to learn the rest.)
When Frank Herbert addressed love in his great novel The Dragon in the Sea, he was curiously inarticulate:
“How’s Joe?” Sparrow spoke without turning.
Saw my reflection in the dive-board glass, thought Ramsey. Nothing escapes him.
“He’s going to be all right,” said Ramsey. “His vein-counter shows negative absorption. He may lose a little hair, be nauseated for a while undoubtedly.”
“We ought to set him into Charleston,” said Sparrow. “The vein-counter doesn’t tell you what’s happening in the bone marrow. Not until it’s too late.”
“All the signs are good,” said Ramsey. “Calcium leaching out and being replaced by non-hot. Sulphate’s negative. He’s going to be okay.”
“Sure, Johnny. It’s just that I’ve sailed with him for a long time. I’d hate to lose him.”
“He knows it, Skipper.”
Sparrow turned, smiled, a strangely plaintive gesture. “I guess he does at that.”
And Ramsey thought: You can’t tell a man you love him — not if you’re a man. That’s a problem, too. We don’t have the right word — the one that leaves out sex.
But you can. You can tell a woman, too. It may take a modicum of courage, but it can be done. And we need to do it—first to feel it, of course. But we need to do it, as well.
Today is Memorial Day, when we remember and honor our war dead. Many of those men died, not for “their country,” nor for any abstract cause such as freedom or justice, but for their buddies: fellow soldiers who had taken a bullet and were lying on a battlefield, vulnerable to further damage, in desperate need of retrieval and medical help. Never imagine that anything less than love – “the brotherhood of fighting men,” to steal a phrase from Gordon Dickson – could move a man to court his own death for the sake of a comrade in arms.
Love may not be the answer to all the troubles of Mankind. But we could use a lot more of it. It would be a huge error to discount it.
Have a nice evening.