How often have you heard someone say the immortal (or rather significantly transient) words, “You know, I really love/like him/her, but sometimes his/her temper/pokiness/vanity/fastidiousness/false modesty/hairdo/stinginess/gregariousness/flightiness/shortness/slovenliness makes me angry/sad/amused/sick/etc.”? It’s that old “I love that person, but…” disease. And what it means is that one is trying to sort through someone else’s psyche and discard some annoying habit or quality that provokes or otherwise exasperates one, and keep only the “good” part or parts to cherish and foster. We’ve all done it, even the most tolerant of us.
I’ve said that these words can be transient, but they can be transient in two senses, a positive and a negative. The positive sense is one in which the words are uttered, accompanied by a sigh or swear words, and then shelved in the awareness that “no one is perfect, I love him/her anyway, I guess I should put up with it (after all, I have my own faults), there’s nothing I can do about it, I accept that life is just that way,” and so on and so forth. These are the words and sentiments of those who like to think of themselves as realists, but who are perhaps even a tad optimistic in their outlook. They think that what goes around comes around (in spite of the fact that sometimes it doesn’t, to judge by any newspaper’s headlines), and an ounce of toleration is worth a pound of bitching and griping in coming to grips with life’s unfairnesses. These folks are the ones who by and large save at least themselves a lot of pain and emotional groping for a solution and avoid grief, because they go along their way with an amount of equanimity which sees them through the rough times and the uncertain fortunes of love and love’s qualms. As the I Ching notes in one of its more tongue-in-cheek passages, love sends people up to the stars in joy and down to the depths of despair, and this variation in altitude is a matter of happiness or unhappiness, “left to the subjective opinion of the persons concerned.” Since the oracle offers an opinion on almost everything else, this refusal to comment tells its own story. Thus, having an even temper and an accepting frame of mind about life and its vagaries is decidedly an advantage.
The negative sense in which these words (“I love him/her, but…”) can be transient is that they can recur, time and time again, when what we are doing is not accepting a person’s foibles and traits, but instead have apparently forgotten in between times that these traits annoy us, and are instead complaining yet again about something which bothers us about this person. This is what I’m referring to as “love’s complaints.” But the source of love’s complaints goes even deeper: it is that whereas we have fallen in love/like with a person’s “good” traits, we are trying to reject the traits which seem to us less “good.” We are in fact loving half a person. This puts us in the somewhat ludicrous position of the speaker in Monty Python’s song, who loves “Eric the Half a Bee,” a “hive employee” who lies “half-asleep upon my knee,” and whom the speaker is said to love “carnally…semi-carnally” (for of course it’s impossible to love something as small as a bee in any way whatsoever without making it a “half” or “semi” of something, once living, hence the crazy comedy of the song).
It’s perhaps stretching a point to suggest that making “half a person” is what we in fact risk doing when we describe someone’s characteristics to others or even in our own minds as less than satisfactory, but it’s nevertheless true that we do this. We are not just criticizing, we are excluding. We are saying that we only accept half of what is there, and sometimes when things go on long enough this way, we end up accepting even less than half, or rejecting the whole in an effort to attain wholeness of mind in our own psyche, where it’s often uncomfortable to exist in a half state.
So, what’s the solution? We either end up accepting, once again, that people and life are not whole and perfect (though perhaps someone’s being constantly consistent would eventually begin to plague us as much as inconsistent imperfections), and are in fact like Andrew Marvell’s bird, “[waving in their] plumes the various light,” or we fail of humanity ourselves, variable creatures that we are. For, humanity itself, loving and complaining as it does, seeks itself in other people, and we too have quirks and inequalities that make us less than satisfactory. The only way not to be half a person oneself, thus, is to attempt to the best of our ability to love and accept our lovers and friends as fully as possible, because it is only then that we allow ourselves to exist in our fullest being. This is not just moralizing and being sweet, it is a necessity of daily living, unless one would want to be constantly dissatisfied and complaining about all the adversities and unfairnesses of life, which would be grim indeed. For, it is through extending ourselves to love not half a person or half-people, but whole people, even if we do sometimes find ourselves making “love’s complaints,” that we keep from grousing all the time, and find occasion to cherish.