What Do You Love Me For – Free Ebook

Sometimes, and it often happens in bed, we
face an acute test at the hands of a lover

to whom we have pledged our affections. We
are asked, with little warning, and in a serious

tone: ‘What do you love me for?’
Few moments in a relationship can be as philosophical

as this – or as dangerous. A good answer
has the power to confirm and enhance the union;

a bad one could blow it apart. As we try to
make headway, we immediately recognise that

we can’t simply say ‘everything’. We’re
being asked to make choices – and our love

will be deemed sincere to the extent that
the choices feel accurate to their recipients.

The fundamental assumption behind the enquiry
is that there are better and worse things

to be loved for. It isn’t the brute fact
that we are liked that can count; the liking

has to target certain of our best characteristics
as we define them. Which in turn implies that

there are parts of our minds and our bodies
that feel as though they better contain our

‘essential selves’ than others. We are
– if we can put it like this – not equally

present in all parts of ourselves.
When it comes to the body, there appears to

be more of ‘us’ in our hands than in our
heels and, when it comes to the mind, more

of ‘us’ in our sense of humour than in
our knowledge of the seven times table. If

a malevolent demon were to force us to give
up a bit of our minds, it might be better

– from the point of view of maintaining
the continuity of our essential selves – to

surrender our ability to speak a foreign language
than to wipe out our taste in music – just

as it would be more bearable to suffer a change
in the shape of our big toe than in the profile

of our nose.
To be told that we have a ‘loveable mind’

may be a good start, but not much more. There
are likely to be many things that this mind

can do quite well: lay a table, drive safely
down a motorway, prepare a household budget,

remember geographical facts. But such talents
seldom feel gratifying when singled out, because

of their intrinsically generic nature. Someone
who loved us for these skills alone would

have few reasons why they might not equally
well wander away and love someone else at

another point, which is the very risk we are
trying to ward off and are looking for the

right compliment to appease.
The skills it’s touching to be praised for

are those in which some of our uniqueness
can be observed, for example: in the way we

prepare the icing of a birthday cake, pick
songs for a drive through the desert, analyse

a historical novel, discuss a friend’s love
affair or lightly tease a frustrating colleague

without ruffling their dignity… If someone
has started to notice such details, then he

or she starts to feel like a reliable candidate
to whom to get attached. Their love has become

specific rather than generic. It is in the
end a good deal more gratifying for a lover

to pay us a small compliment about the deft
way we are able to dislodge a relative from

a sulk than to be declared a sensational human
for knowing the capital of New Zealand or

the way to calculate the diameter of a circle.
But, to add further complexity to our demands,

it isn’t enough just to be admired. We also
want a true lover to feel well disposed towards

our vulnerabilities. Whatever our degree of
competence, we are never far from moments

of fear, ignorance, humiliation, childlikeness
and sadness – and it is these moods too

that we long for a lover to have the strength
to feel generous towards. It may be pleasant

to be found impressive, but it is more reassuring
to discover that our vulnerability is ready

to be treated with generosity; that we are
with someone who will allow us to be sad,

discomfited and weepy, who has spotted that
we sometimes bite our nails and worry about

work late at night. We don’t bluntly want
to awe a lover, we want permission to be,

every now and then, at wits end. We want them
to have sufficient faith in our powers that

they can be unfrightened by our periods of
fragility. We need to know that the child

in us has been seen and won’t appall. ‘I
love you for being a hero,’ would be an

eerie pronouncement. ‘I love you for being
a child,’ would be equally alienating. But

‘I love the sad child I occasionally glimpse
in you beneath your resourceful adult day

to day self’ comes as close as one can imagine
to the epicentre of love.

Our hopes for what role our body will play
in eliciting love follow a comparable pattern.

Here too, sweeping generic praise feels like
the work of someone who might not notice if

our body was replaced by that of another in
the night. It might be true that we have ‘lovely

eyes’ or ‘soft hair’ but exactly the
same words could be said with accuracy to

millions of others, just as a host would not
want to hear thanks for a ‘nice dinner’

but rather praise for the hint of dill in
the lemon sauce or for the seating arrangement

that allowed political opposites to be reconciled.
In the detail lies proof that someone cares.

Some of the best kinds of praise about the
body are psycho-physical, that is, they praise

a physical aspect in order to highlight a
psychological quality. They reassures us that

our physical envelopes have been connected
up with the most loveable sides of our personalities.

A perceptive lover might say:
I like the way your smile is slightly different

on each side of your mouth. One side is warm
and welcoming, the other is thoughtful and

a bit melancholy. You’re not merely smiling,
it seems like you’re thinking deeply as

you smile.
Or: There is a charming thing you do with

your eyelids when you are listening, half
bringing them down in a quizzical way. It

feels like you’re saying ‘I don’t totally
believe you’ but it’s really an encouragement;

there’s an invitation, as if you were adding:
‘but come on, give me the real truth, I

know you’re holding back the best bits because
you worry you won’t be understood… but

you will be. You’re safe with me.’
Or: There’s this great thing you do with

your thumb and middle finger when you get
excited by an idea. It’s as if you’re

feeling the quality of a piece of silk … as
if you’re touching a thought with your fingers.

Or: I’m slightly in love with the freckle
on your upper left arm. It’s a bit like

you, quietly saying ‘here I am, I’m me;
nothing special but I’m happy with who I

am.’ It’s poised and unshowy but confident
of its power to attract those who get it.

I love that it was there when you were little
and that it’s been with you every day since.

In the art of caricature, an artist looks
closely at the face and body of a politician

and then carefully pick out details with whose
help we can be taught to forever hate and

mock them. The caricaturist will spot a slight
jump at the end of the nose, a pair of unusually

large earlobes, a somewhat wavy curl of hair
or knobbly set of knees. They will then place

such emphasis on these details that we will
never be able to overlook them again – nor

cease despising the unfortunate politicians
who possess them. One way to think of love

is as a comparable yet entirely compassionate
process, whereby the lover studies their beloved

minutely and latches on to elements – an
index finger, the inside of a knee, a shoulder

blade or a way of closing the eyes – that
become the touchstones of affection, part

of the many apparently tiny but in reality
hugely sound reasons why one person has come

to admire and love another.
We can add that, just as with the mind, it

is frequently vulnerability in these bodily
details that charms. It is the little toe

and the little finger that seduce more than
the thighs or thorax. It is the hand that

curls up as it must have done in childhood.
It is the thin nape of the neck normally hidden

behind a confident mane of hair. It is a delicate
wrist through which run intricate greenish

veins. Within an otherwise mature body, we
are seeing hints of an endearing and more

fragile earlier self, to whom we offer our
sympathy, protection and reassurance.

The question of what we have found to love
in someone should not frighten us. We simply

need to give ourselves the time to trace back
our enthusiasms to their authentic sources,

while remembering that love is liable to collect
with particular intensity in the most vulnerable

and improbably small nooks of the self.

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