Love Isn't Rational and Neither Are You
oh damn the concept of limitless and unconditional love doesn't satisfy your logical brain, wow that's crazy
Do we really have to do this? Again?
The Giving Tree is not a self-help book. It’s not intended to flatter the myopic literalism of the kind of people who talk about “self-actualization.” The Giving Tree is about unconditional love. Oh, you think the book isn’t rationally defensible? Guess what: love is not rationally defensible, and unconditional love certainly isn’t. And yet both are still blessed and treasured conditions, precisely because we are not rational creatures. We are beings whose lives are dictated by emotions we neither control nor understand. Pretending otherwise isn’t self-help, it’s self-delusion.
(Viral meme: “Never fall in love with a man who XYZ” What? You don’t choose who you fall in love with. The heart wants what it wants. It’s out of your hands.)
More specifically, The Giving Tree is about parenting, about a parent’s love. Nothing could be less rational than a parent’s love. You give and give and ask for nothing in return. It’s completely unjustifiable in logical terms and it’s maybe the most beautiful part of being human. If your child comes looking to you for love without strings attached and you say “whoa whoa, let’s set some boundaries!,” I’m calling DCF. We are literally animals. You are driven by evolutionary emotional forces you will never understand. Your human relationships will never conform to the kind of rules you’re trying to set. Never. You can either accept the incredible beauty of the parts of yourself that are defiantly irrational, or you can lie to yourself about who and what you are. But let me enjoy this gorgeous and true book without the lecture please. I don’t need overeducated strangers to tell me how to understand that which cannot be understood, that which is not meant to be understood.
And “createthelove,” “teedoodler,” Adam Grant, and Allison Sweet Grant are free to live in fear of the parts of themselves that they cannot accept that they cannot control.
THANK YOU! This idea that depictions of relationships must always be healthy and positive (or else stern and condemnatory, of the bad ones) is everywhere these days. I was deeply depressed when I learned that The Mountain Goats never play “Going to Georgia” anymore, probably my favorite song by them, because John Darnielle now finds its depiction of unhealthy, passionate love to be antisocial and regressive. Obviously he’s entitled to his feelings and his setlist but it just seems like such a loss for a performer who’s so skilled at capturing dysfunction to cut out that part of himself out of a sense of responsibility.
What’s more, the anti-GT critique seems like another example of the relentless modern attack on ambiguity or even subtlety in art. The Boy in Giving Tree immediately loses his happiness when he starts asking the Tree for material things (in addition to being about parenthood I think GT is an ecological story as well), and he only regains happiness when he’s too incapable to make use of the material and has to resort to pure communion with the loved one. But we apparently can’t trust kids to think, “Boy, seems like the Boy shouldn’t have done that!”
Thank you for your writing. It is a joy to read.