Wien: Love is an asymptote

by Elise Wien | 2/15/17 2:05am

The book of love is long and boring / No one can lift the damn thing / It’s full of charts and facts and figures / And instructions for dancing / But I, I love it when you read to me / And you, you can read me anything.

— The Magnetic Fields

Love is a tenuous term. This isn’t a new sentiment but it bears repeating.

In “The Movies,” which is the only dictionary that matters, love looks like this: valuing someone else’s worth enough that you’re willing to die for them.

Maybe some people play by this definition in the “Not-Movies,” but it seems difficult. The movie can continue after the death, while life cannot. In the Not-Movies, love looks like this: valuing someone else’s worth enough to sacrifice elements of your own life for their well-being.

The recent popularity of phrases like “love trumps hate” and “all you need is love” is disappointing. You need a home, health care, food, art and clean drinking water (a friendly reminder that Flint, Michigan is still without clean water). However, love can be a conduit for this. In loving others, I care for them enough to provide them with these needs.

A project I am giving myself is to be more merciful towards others. This is the work that I have to do.

Case Study A:

It is the work of white folks in these times to reach out to people who voted for #45 and get them to see the humanity of those they are hurting. How do I even begin to approach these people? At a recent meeting of the Coalition for Israel-Palestine, I said some choice words to a ’20 who had some choice words for Palestinians. I later went up and introduced myself, suggesting we get coffee and talk further. I blitzed him. I blitzed him again. No response. This isn’t surprising given the distance I’d initially put between us. There is a certain mercy required in talking to Trump voters. Maybe not because I love them but because I love my friends enough to talk to them and to attempt to change their minds about who counts as worthy and who does not. And maybe in that process I will learn to love them too. I don’t foresee it, but there’s a lot I don’t foresee. I’ll try blitzing the ’20 again.

Case Study B:

Hell hath no fury like a woman who did the entirety of a group project. This was me, two days ago. My group project partner tells me he spent the evening in Dick’s House. I will choose to believe him.

Case Study C:

I think about this a fair amount in terms of my religion. Christ is a pretty compelling example of self-sacrifice for the love of the other. Old Testament God is characterized as a lot more fire and brimstone. For my thesis, I’ve been looking at a Haggadah from 1832. It’s the first one published in the U.S. A Haggadah is the liturgical text that dictates the steps of the Passover Seder. Absent from this edition is the modern tradition of removing a drop of wine from our glasses for each plague, in commemoration of those who suffered. This Seder takes place in 1869, just after the Civil War. At the table would have been members of the Columbia, South Carolina Jewry, some of whom were prominent players within the confederacy and many of whom were slave owners. I imagine that they invented the tradition. I imagine that they saw themselves reflected in the Egyptians, and wanted display mercy. The mercy project is forgiveness for the sake of growth. I see myself in those who fail to see humanity.

Love is not an end but a means. Not a fixed form but a relationship that feels the tension of all its stakeholders.

“Stakeholders” is a tantalizing word to use when describing love. You know what else is tantalizing? Graphs!!!

Let’s say I = 1, which is to say, one human unit, one comfortable human unit.

Let’s say the Love Equation is f(x) = 1/x.

Let x = my affection and f(x) = my comfort.

Letting x = 0 results in a mathematical error, and letting x = a negative number results in a metaphorical one, so I’m not going to go there. For now, let 0 < x ≤ 1, with one being the amount of comfort that I would allow for myself.

Example: let’s solve for f(x) when x = .75 Love Units (LUs)

f(.75) = 1/.75 = 1.333333333…3.

Therefore, f(.75) = 1.33333…3 Comfort Units (CUs)

The relationship between x and y is asymptotic. As my affection increases, my comfort approaches zero. The Good Love is shaped like this.

Let’s try another schema, wherein I take

into account the pain in my chest.

F(x) = (x), wherein f(x) represents my comfort and (x) represents yours, which is to say, your comfort is a variable of mine. Mine is dependent on yours. This formula collects dust with distance and time. It becomes difficult for me to care about your comfort if you are far away or depicted a certain way or if I do not even know you exist.

What does this mean for us? I think Case Study C contains an unmerciful look at Judaism. Maybe we can take the prioritization of Jews as the chosen nation to mean that we should love ourselves first. Not because we are the most important but because love of others is predicated on our own health.

If we combine the two it looks like this:

F(x) = 1/x + x

I show this graph to my friend, who has more math knowledge than I, and she tells me that it looks like the slope of compassionate love that Jonathan Haidt prints in his book “The Happiness Hypothesis.” The graph depicts steady growth (the y-axis is time and the x-axis is intensity), which he contrasts to passionate love, which looks more like a hospital monitor during a heart attack (ending, tragically, in flatline).

Case Study D:

On Sunday night, Corinne and I dragged Kayuri out of the library for the snowball fight on the Green. After getting hit in the face a few times, my glasses became useless and I pocketed them. The blur of bodies was equalizing — in other words, anyone was fair game. Today, Kayuri and I came home to valentines that read: “I love you enough to live with you for four years even though you smell. Happy Valentine’s, [expletive] nerds.”