»  National Review Online

February 20, 2004

  The Book of Love

As any regular NRO reader will tell you, I generally take a dark view of human nature, the prospects for Western civilization, and even, on a bad day, the fate of the universe. I am, in short, a congenital pessimist. My best friend in England once described me as "a gloomy popper" (here, I am afraid, you really need to be a regular reader to grasp his point), and he was not mistaken. The emotions that stir in my breast when I contemplate my fellow human beings in the generality do not normally range far outside a narrow territory marked at the higher end by Hamlet ("What is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me …") and at the lower by Madame Roland ("The more I see of men, the better I like dogs.")

You would therefore have had something of a surprise if you could have seen me reading my New York Post (America's Newspaper of Record) over the breakfast table last Saturday morning. I was grinning, I was chuckling; once in a while I would slap my thigh and emit a merry "Oh, hey!" Once in a somewhat longer while you would see me brushing a tear from my eye (no-one else was present), but in the happiest kind of way, blubbing softly to myself: "Oh, wonderful! Oh, gosh, that's so wonderful!"

I was, you see, reading the St. Valentine's Day "Book of Love," published by the Post as a 16-page pullout center section every February 14. This is just tributes, in small-ad form, from lovers, or aspiring lovers, to the objects of their affection. Who can resist this stuff?

I LUV MY SQUISHY
Today should be called Squishy Day because today is going to be all about my Squishy.  Massages, pampering, presents, sweet whispers and lots of Monkey-Love!
Happy V-Day my Squishy.

Well, of course, some people can resist it. You will find souls so parched and crabbed they will tell you this kind of thing makes them want to throw up. Well, pshaw to them! To my way of thinking, these artless little rhymes and tributes, these preposterous love-names — Froggy, Pinky, Stinky, Itchy, Gummibear, Noodlebone, Cozyball, Tweety, Porky Lu, Pockie Pockie, Honey Sugar Doll Baby — open a window into the human soul in all its beauty and sweetness. (Do the Derbs have silly names for each other? You bet. Am I going to tell you them? Not in a million years.)

BIG BAD VOODOO DADDY!
Love from Texas — even though, always, and still.  Happy Valentine's!
I LOVE YOU — Bonny

If you read a lot of these messages, some of the impressions you get are counter-intuitive. There is, for example, very little eroticism. "Denise — I could be helping with the bread, but I'd rather be cuddling in bed — Lou." That's about as far as it goes, in a not-particularly-straitlaced tabloid newspaper. By culling off about one percent of these items, you would be left with a collection that would have raised no eyebrows if it had appeared in the New York Post of 1904. The connection between love and sex is of course a vast and tangled subject, but there is no doubt at all that it is love that inspires Cozyball, Porky Lu, and the rest. That is not at all what a Martian would suspect from surveying our popular culture. Love, it would seem to him, is a secondary attribute of the Beast With Two Backs, an occasional side benefit of the generative act, as portrayed, or at any rate suggested, by Britney, Justin, Madonna, Alec, Sharon, and the rest of the hip-thrusting, leering, heavy-breathing menagerie that infests our TV and movie screens. That is, of course, the wrong way round. It is love that moves and inspires and uplifts us; sex merely clinches the deal.

Another surprise is the number of these tributes that come from men. Of those where the matter is clear, the proportion seems to me at least half. How sentimental we guys are! Of course, you could read this in a cold-hearted way. "Men give love to get sex; women give sex to get love," went the old wives' tale. I don't believe it. Love is as natural to men as to women, and springs from the same underlying motive — the desire to, as Dr. Johnson put it, "fill the mind of another."

And the most wonderful, most miraculous thing, as the Post's "Book of Love" makes plain, is that this glorious boon is available to anyone. Just look at the pictures that go along with some of these little testimonials. Here is the woman who ticked you off last week from behind the counter at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Here's the guy who cut into the parking space you were lined up for. Here is the office gossip, the ungracious hostess, the mean old rhymes-with-rich who wrecked your last dinner party. "What on earth does she/he see in him/her?" we say wonderingly. Here's the answer: She sees Bubby, Doopie Doo, Honeybee and Crunchy.

Happily married female seeks a more perfect husband than mine. Must give lots of kisses, walk the dog Sebastian at any hour, play silly games with Stella even when tired, give up everything to become a dentist, and most importantly be perfect in my eyes. Only Greg S. need apply. Signed, Very Happy in W. Orange.

A dentist! (And, now I think about it, I might want to qualify my previous remark about the absence of eroticism. Perhaps I have a dirty mind, but I suspect some encryption here. "Walk the dog"? "Play with Stella"? Hmmm …)

Yes, folks, love is for everyone. Here is diversity for you, in the Post's "Book of Love": Debbie, Shantel, Seymour, Sal, Consuelo, Athanasios, Shelly, Burhan and Vladimir, "Words cannot describe what you mean to me," and "Mi amor crece más cada día que estoy contigo." ("Spanish is the loving tongue," sang Bobby Dylan all those years ago, and he may have been on to something.) There is even municipal pride:

The Bestest Girlfriend in the Universe.
'Cause nothing matters in this whole wide world when you're in love with a Jersey girl.

And how love endures!

My precious ADA — For the past 35 years you have been my wife, my partner, my lover, my friend, my everything! I love you more every day than the day before. No man has ever been or ever will be as lucky as I. If we can live forever, I would want no other. I pledge to you my life and my undying love for eternity.
Always & Forever, CHARLIE.

Not even the Great Destroyer can take this from us:

To My Precious Wife Joceline M.
Though you are no longer in this world, my love for you will never diminish. We will see each other again some day. Until then, my sweet wife, Happy Valentine's Day. I love you forever. Fidel.

Here is the evidence, as much as you could ever wish for, that human beings were not designed to be alone, and that life begins properly only when a soul is paired off with another soul. WITHOUT YOU, I WOULD ONLY BE A HALF, declares "Vin" to "J." He is exactly right. We have made something of a mess of this natural pairing in our modern society, with our casual hedonism, easy divorce, and media displays of wanton eroticism. The center still holds, though. As long as Cozyball is willing to say to Honeybunny in the pages of the New York Post that "I will love you till the end of time," the human race will be all right.

I once wrote a novel about a loving marriage. I put an epigraph from John Donne on the title page: "To enter in these bonds, is to be free." People still occasionally ask me what it means. I always give the same reply: "If you don't know, I only hope that one day you will learn." Amor vincit omnia.