“All About Love”


“All About Love”

On a wintry Parisian evening, I was sitting with my Czech friend Anna in Chez Maurice, one of the seedier cafes on the rue de Tournon.  A group of young Russians were within earshot, one holding forth to the others.

“What are they saying?” I asked Anna, who knew Russian.

“You really want to know?’


“The one making speeches is asking, ‘What is love?’ and then replying – to himself – ‘To love is to suffer.’”

We both laughed.  Russians!

Another time, I was teaching a required Intro class in Philosophy and one student in the front row was making himself into a discipline problem – in a college classroom!  My own sense was that I loved this young trouble-maker (teaching is an act of love), wanted very much to help him, had tried this and tried that and nothing worked.  I thought to myself, the only way to get through to him would be with a crowbar!

Then he was absent for a week or ten days.  I thought he’d dropped the course but, to my surprise, he reappeared and took his customary seat.  When I asked him why he’d been absent, he explained, “I got hit by a crowbar.”

Hmn … .  Slightly creepy, but I put the coincidence out of my mind – that is, until he began acting up again.  Absent-mindedly, I said to myself, Guess one crowbar wasn’t enough!

The next week he was absent again.  ‘Where’d you go this time?” I said, when he returned.  Incredibly he told me, “Another guy hit me with a crowbar!”

I swear I meant my loving best by the lad, and do not think of myself as possessed of any paranormal powers.  But, to love is to … bring it about that the one you love will … suffer?  Go figure.

Gandhi recommended that one take the suffering of an unjust situation on oneself.  More than once in my life I’ve been in some human interaction that caused me to suffer and, whether it was Gandhi’s influence or not, my instinctive reaction was generally to try to take the suffering of the situation on myself.  The aggressor could have been a menacing relative, a woman friend who proved treacherous when loyalty counted, or a suitor who professed romantic love but salted it down with hurtful words or acts.  It was a long, hard slog before I finally learned the concept of “enabling” and quit it.

I don’t go in for retroactive self-contempt for all these “mistakes.”  Frankly I think my instincts were natural and womanly, if you’ll pardon my saying so.  But I did learn the hard way that it’s ill-advised to allow someone’s unfairness to become habitual.  It doesn’t help the one who’s hurting you to let him, or her, keep doing that.  And, after all, one wants to help.

One of the things that I found unexpected, almost disorienting, about Jerry (the Mr. Right of my column about finding Mr. Right) was that – whatever might be wrong with him – it was clear that he would not be shifting the burden to me, to fix it.

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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