Well, I am here to make some things clear.
I understand that this sort of love is not reality. I realize that for many of us, our idea of love has been soured and tainted from previous experiences. For some of us, it is as much about letting go of our past as it is about looking to lay hold of our future. We cannot imagine what a good love story is because we’ve only experienced tragedy in our vain attempts.
What pierces us so much, a movie like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind–in particular, this exchange between Joel and Clementine–is that it captures the grounding reality of love. It is the reminder that romance is every bit as bitter as it is sweet. It knows by touch that all roses come with sharp, painful thorns. It warns us about being cautious even as we look for that one in six billion.
Love hurts. I don’t think there is any other way to put it.
For those of us who’ve been through this sort of hell, we know this. We’ve been vulnerable before. We’ve entrusted our hearts to another, only to have it dashed and broken into a thousand little pieces. We’ve been lied to, mistreated, and abandoned without reason. When we experience heartbreak, there is that part of us that shuts up, that refrains from allowing ourselves to ever be susceptible again. Instead, we resort to the very dregs of cynicism, a jaded perception that love isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be and isn’t worth our time or effort.
I had a long conversation with a good friend who shared some of her cynicism. She is a couple years into her recovery after a long relationship that ended in heartbreak. She says she’s ready for marriage, but not necessarily for a relationship. She wants something that is perhaps convenient, steady, comfortable. How exhausting it is to have to, in a sense, start all over. And what if that fails again? There are no guarantees in love. I get it, I’ve been through it before.
The paradox of love could not be captured more powerfully than in the movie’s exchange. Clementine reminds him that she is not an ideal. She is not the perfect answer for a man. Joel knows this. Yet, in a way he cannot help but long for her, an ineffable something within that hopes beyond all reason that she can cure him.
What many of us fail to understand is that love is not complete. What I mean by that is, love from another human being can never truly fulfill us. It won’t make us happy because people are imperfect. It is impossible to demand from an imperfect person something that will make you perfectly happy. Simple logic. Love, in this sense, will always be lacking.
Love also demands sacrifice, patience, devotion and self-denial. Those are hard words. Take those words individually and I bet you think more of discipline than love. But I would dare to argue that love is every bit as much science and math as it is free-verse poetry.
Yet, love rocks. Love makes you feel things, do things, say things that don’t always make sense. Joel hoped she could save him because that’s what love makes you do.
All this to say: love is neither for the cynics nor the idealists. Love is for those who want to learn what it means to risk, hurt, and die to self for something greater. It is a weapon that can bring mass destruction; it is also the fuel that could drive one to greater heights of understanding and appreciation.
There just needs to be a balance. There is a rightful place onstage for love, but it does not sit on the pedestal. It is not God. It is hard, it can hurt, but it hopes. And it is certainly something worth fighting for.