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The Price of Everything and the Value of All

For Love Unravelled

By Hannah MoorePublished 3 months ago 7 min read
Runner-Up in Love Unraveled Challenge
20
The Price of Everything and the Value of All
Photo by Hush Naidoo Jade Photography on Unsplash

This week, in amongst the endless deluge of minor titillations my phone offers me each day, I saw a headline regarding Bradley Cooper not feeling immediately “connected” to his daughter, with the quote “I don’t even know if I really love the kid”. Despite not clicking on it, I saw it more than once. Clearly it was a sensational story. “I couldn’t be less interested in Bradley Cooper’s relationship with his daughter” I thought, and scrolled on, imagining I might like to read about something weightier, Ukraine, or Palestine, or the microchip supply chain, but actually settling on a “top ten hikes for 2024” or “Couple unearth underground tunnel in garden” or some such.

And yet here I am, opening with it. Bradley Cooper, unsure if he loved his baby daughter. I just googled it, to check the quote, and it has been covered by quite the slew of publications. And somewhere, it lodged it my mind too. It’s not that we DON’T have a narrative for this, of course, it is just not the dominant one is it. The story we tell ourselves, the story we like, is that love, particularly love for our children, is innate and automatic. Factual. As much a feature of human life as five fingers and toes. Yeah, there are anomalies, but mostly, five fingers, five toes. Until your hand gets mangled in some badly maintained bit of machinery that someone thought they could get away with keeping on the shop floor.

Two things struck me, though, about the headline. The first was the quote. “I don’t even know if I really love the kid.” The second, and I don’t know who made the semantic leap, but it appears across the headlines, was the word connection. Let’s begin with the first of these.

How on earth do we know what love is? “You’ll know it when you feel it” appears to be the cop out line here. Will I? Because last week I felt all tingly in the pit of myself when I saw my son waiting for me outside school having been away from me for a week, but yesterday I felt the same tingle while I was having a poo. And on Sunday my chest felt sinky and quiet and my brain felt like choppy waters calming to a soft, lapping sway when, for a moment, my family all seemed to be contentedly doing their own thing, but together. Then last night I felt that again when I looked at my pillows waiting for me in bed. I’d argue the feelings are kind of hard to really pin down. As a sole metric of love, how squooshy my gut feels may yield some false positives.

So can we cross check against cognitions? It appears to be what Bradley did. “I wasn’t sure I would die for her” he did not say. He said something akin to this, but if I click on that article again to get his precise words, we all know what is going to happen to my algorithms, and I REALLY don’t care what Bradley Cooper eats for breakfast. I think we have all measured our love against this question at some point though haven’t we? Bradley did – it was the realisation that he would hurl himself into certain death which appears to have marked the beginning of his understanding that he had come to love his child. I know I would die for both of mine. I ALSO know that had there been a choice to make at the time of my son’s birth, my life or his, my partner and I would both have chosen to save me. So when did the line come? I believe I already loved both my babies, long before they were born. But then I got to know them, and came to love them more. Yet how could I love them more, if I already loved the unconditionally? And how could my love be unconditional if it was contingent upon knowing them? And what if they underwent such significant personality changes that I didn’t know them anymore? Would my care for them, based on my narrative of unconditional love, be given out of love, or out of duty? I DON’T KNOW. Is love anything more than a declaration of intent?

What about behaviour then? Well there’s a can of worms I surely only need to waft in your direction for you to recognise the limitations of. Can you beat someone and still love them? Neglect them? Can you attend to a person’s every need without the slimmest sliver of love? Behaviour may be a key indicator of the viability of a love relationship, but as an indicator of the presence or absence of love it’s about as much use as spelling test grades as a predictor of genius.

Ask me now if I love my own children, and I will tell you that I do. How do I know? Well, firstly, because I go out of my way to look after them even though doing so is frequently in opposition to what I want to do. Secondly, I would definitely die for them, and live for them too. And thirdly, they make my inside feel soft and cushioning, and my edges expansive and malleable, even though I’ve sprouted retractable claws since giving birth. Except, have we not just established that all of this is poor evidence of love? Is the triangulation adequate? Or is Bradley giving voice to something we prefer to whisper? Is love simply a story we have invested so much in that were the ethereal nature of it to become the dominant narrative our social structures would collapse and the law of the jungle prevail?

Or are we there already?

Here I come to my second point. Connection. In the jungle, everyone is trying to survive, and not just survive, but propagate. Survival without propagation is so hideously mortal that across species, across lifeforms even, the passing on of genetic material, that survival beyond death, appears to be the core purpose of a life. Some poor creatures, red-back spiders and praying mantises for example, are sacrificed to the gods of fertility upon insemination. But for many species, insemination would be wasted without having a parent around. There has been an evolutionary advantage to connection. Some kind of bond which makes us stick around. And not just mothers with their young, or family units, but for species like us, larger social units. The lone wolf is, in fact, generally on the hunt for a mate. For many species, success depends on connection, and connection is so vital to humans that we have lumbered ourselves with grief as an unfortunate outcome of utilising separation anxiety to keep bonds strong. So is that all love is? The evolutionary call to connection we have storied into the concept of “love”? A rush of oxytocin we waxed lyrical about to the extent that it has become almost transgressive to admit to not having it in certain scenarios?

Now I could forgive you, to this point, for thinking that this is a sad and cynical piece of writing, cold and, well, loveless. But here is my conclusion. Oscar Wilde said that a cynic knew "the price of everything and the value of nothing". I argue that that it is far better to know the price of everything and the value of all. Much of what I discuss here may be entirely valid, love IS uncertain and socially constructed, and may well be rooted in biological imperative, but I don’t care. I don’t care whether my hormones are in cahoots with my cultural canon, I don’t care if that selfish gene I harbour is swinging through the jungle in an orgy of self-love masquerading as maternal adoration. I don’t care if I can’t pick love up and present it to you on a platter, or graph it, or recognise it like I’m identifying a baboon in heat. Am I swayed into discarding it as a false god? People, my faith is as strong as Abraham’s before the Lord. Well, actually, perhaps not that strong, that one would have been a big no from me, but strong. Strong enough not give up on the magic just because it makes sense. Is the creation life any less magical for understanding how conception works?

It could be argued then, that attempts to unravel love fly in the face of that faith. But I am curious. Curiosity is, after all, almost as intrinsic to being human as connection seeking. I am curious because it’s important. The disruption of connection is, I believe, one of the biggest causes of human suffering there is, and the more we can understand the biological, social and psychological barriers to and facilitators of connection, the more we can ameliorate the repercussions of disrupted connection. And so this is my position on love. Let’s keep trying to define it, to seek its markers, to understand its ways. But let’s never pretend that it is less than it is. Let’s go on pursuing it with courage. Let’s keep it the centrepiece on the table. But let’s also tell all the stories about it – the fierce ones of unbreakable passion, the soft ones of lasting commitment, the quiet ones of absence or uncertainty. Let’s recognise that we have a myriad of experiences of love, for better and worse, but let’s recognise too that we are unified in our need for connection, that we were each born primed for love, and worthy of receiving it. Let’s seek to understand love like scientists, but let’s also hold it in our spirits like believers, offer it liberally, and accept it in faith.

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20

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Hannah Moore

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  • The Invisible Writer3 months ago

    Great article and congratulations! I loved the way you framed this around the Bradley Cooper articles. I can only speak for myself but the moment I held each of my kids my only thought was life isn't about me anymore

  • L.C. Schäfer3 months ago

    The disruption of connection is, I believe, one of the biggest causes of human suffering there is - I think you're dead right 😁 Pratchett says, it's still magic when you know how it's done. I love that.

  • Babs Iverson3 months ago

    Congratulations!!!💕❤️❤️

  • Paul Stewart3 months ago

    Congrats. I am sure they changed the announcement date, but either way, glad to see your name popping up again!

  • Christy Munson3 months ago

    I enjoyed that you brought me (and others) with you on this journey toward understanding "love". I particularly appreciate the acknowledgment that the word "love" is a verb. Congratulations on earning Runner Up!

  • Caroline Craven3 months ago

    Can’t believe I missed this one Hannah. What a great entry and I’m so glad it placed. I thought this was such a great line - Is love anything more than a declaration of intent? Great writing as always.

  • Wooohooooo congratulations on your challenge win! 🎉💖🎊🎉💖🎊

  • Cathy holmes3 months ago

    I'm so glad this placed. I didn't realize I missed it. Love this whole thing, even (especially the cynicism) "I don’t care if that selfish gene I harbour is swinging through the jungle in an orgy of self-love masquerading as maternal adoration. I don’t care if I can’t pick love up and present it to you on a platter, or graph it, or recognise it like I’m identifying a baboon in heat." I laughed out loud, and also the part about the poop. Well done and congrats.

  • Rachel Deeming3 months ago

    Ah, love. It appears to be such a simple thing and yet, it is a tangled ball of knots. Perhaps that's why Vocal chose this title for the challenge. I think it is different for everyone. I think people view it differently, see it differently, experience it differently. Like tasting food. Excellently written. Very entertaining.

  • Phil Flannery3 months ago

    I worry for Bradley Coopers daughter when she realises the weight of his thoughtless statement. It's gunna hurt. I think you've answered all your own questions, and you posed all the questions. I had to read this twice. We can feel love for anything, but what weight that love carries depends on our connection to it. The love of a classic car shouldn't overshadow our love for our children, but some people put things before people, money before family, clearly not you. Your heart is on your sleeve and beating loud and proud and for everyone to see. This is a perfect entry to the challenge.

  • Daphsam3 months ago

    Really good article, I had not seen that Bradley Cooper had made those comments. Personally, being an actor, I would not be writing that he wasn’t sure about his love for his daughter immediately because years later, she’s gonna read that article. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. 

  • Shirley Belk3 months ago

    Hannah, I really enjoyed your thoughts here. I was also shocked by Cooper's crassness.. and also could care less about Hollywood's crap. BUT, it did make me think, too. I loved your conclusion: "Let’s seek to understand love like scientists, but let’s also hold it in our spirits like believers, offer it liberally, and accept it in faith."

  • Hannah, this belongs in every handbook regarding ecumenical faith & cosmopolitan, multi-cultural living. I'm not sure anyone has ever put it better. Differently? Yes. Equally? Perhaps. Better? I'd be hard pressed to name any, including Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.

  • John Cox3 months ago

    Hannah, it does not matter whether you wax lyrically or philosophically, you raise the bar so high that I am perfectly content to gaze at your efforts atop Olympus where they reside from the valley beneath it. I apologize for continuously gushing about your writing, but I simply cannot help it. This essay is stunning. It’s a privilege, quite frankly, to read your work.

  • Jay Kantor3 months ago

    Hi-H - This is just so amazing. Although, as a resisdent of HollyWeird I haven't run into any 'Baboons in Heat' of late. But, the 'Veteran' entertainers/sans makeup tend to be shy and private and very protective of their youngins; and rarely accosted as they walkabout. j.in.l.a.

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