The answer to this core question may seem simple and logical: You can’t not do something because of the fear that it might end, as in reality, everything ends. Your friendships, the song you’re listening to, the very moment of reading this article. If you didn’t pursue things because of your fear of them ending and causing you pain, you would never do anything at all. You would spend your life miserably in your room, seeing no one, not even opening a book or starting a film because those simple joys would also end. Even more frightening is the idea that your experience and view of the things you love would change the next time you started them, reminding you of what you once felt. But all these changes are inevitable. And so, the logical answer would suggest that you get on with life and make peace with the idea that “life is a mixture of joy and pain”. End of the story.
But this doesn’t satisfy the question of why we should love people when one way or another our hearts and selves will break when we eventually lose them? Why we should do things that we love when we will find a piece of ourselves missing when we are never able to do them again? One day the singer will lose their voice, and the explorer won’t be able to walk in a forest and they will both yearn for what they used to have. One day we will lose our friends, our siblings, our parents, and nothing will make that wrenching apart okay. Death is the reminder that our time together is never, ever enough – all we want is a moment longer in each other’s presence.
The truth is: we don’t start relationships and friendships or pursue projects because everything ends anyway, we pursue them because the love of the connection is more important and profound than the truth that they will never physically last.
Take the cases of lost platonic or romantic connections: even if that love wasn’t “strong enough” in the face of external circumstances or personal attributes which drive people apart, maybe it was worth it for the person you were at that time and what you needed.
Perhaps, that is really what loving in life is about; when we let ourselves love, we are unconsciously saying: I don’t know how long I can have you because of the nature of life, but I will love you and be in your presence for as long as I can. Whether physical circumstances, personal changes or death brings us apart, I will love who you are right now. It is certain that one day you will cause me pain, but you are worth it.
In his seminal 1956 book The Art of Loving, social philosopher Erich Fromm argued that there is nothing more important than love, as it is the only experience which takes us out of our feelings of isolation and loneliness – the inherent separateness of ourselves that we are always striving to escape. He presents love as an art to be learned, not tied to any specific individual “object”, but a way of experiencing the world. Under Fromm’s view, the pursuit of love is an action of the soul, in comparison to the insufficient prioritising of money, success and power in modern society.
And so, it is okay and right to give your time to loving someone for who they are, even though you will leave each other sooner or later.
Again and again, we learn that yes, life is about physical survival and the energy of the world. We need food and water and shelter to survive. We need to live lives that are as safe and comfortable as possible in our circumstances. But at the root of what gives us the greatest satisfaction in life is love: living through the purest part of you and your soul by living a life of love, giving time to the things and the people we love. Even the duty to do mundane activities can be motivated by love and care. Why write that essay? Because you deserve your academic talents to be worked on, even if you don’t “succeed” to the extent that you hoped. Why do your laundry? Because you deserve to be cared for, to fulfil your small needs, like having clean clothes.
A real and honest life is about dedicating your time to love. To live in that mindset and energy and practise, even if the objects of your love will be lost and the new is beautiful but can never replace the old. Your love always exists within you.
And so, as the Victorian Poet Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote in the aftermath of the death of one of his closest friends, “tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all”.