Charlie Ambler

Love, that four letter word

Love, in all its forms, is the greatest opiate, and the greatest inhibitor we possess. Nothing is as complicated, painful or valuable as our pursuit of it.



I could write a 1000-page listicle about all the countless oddities of modern life. Most of us can acknowledge that it’s weird living in a period of such complexity. Everything we think and do is influenced by micro-bits of information we acquire in the strangest of places throughout the day. As the systems delivering these bits of information grow more intelligent and nuanced, we’re left with a more chaotic spectrum of thoughts to process.

Romantic life is especially vulnerable to these influences. Sit through enough romcoms, primetime dramas, op-ed pieces, quote tweets and Reddit posts about love and you’ll eventually end up feeling condemned to confusion. What the hell is love, anyway? And what is it good for?

If we use entertainment or modern culture as our guide, love ends up looking like an extremely shallow series of ego projections, doomed to failure or delusion for one reason or another. It seems like it’s all about “searching”, when this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The experience of love is a direct reflection of our experience of life at large. In Buddhism, we acknowledge mindless desire as the root of all suffering. What could be a purer concentration of the experience of desire than love? And what could be more responsible for the everyday suffering of mankind than love?

That’s how it appears on the surface, at least. But nothing is so simple, especially not something as complicated as love. If love only caused us pain, it wouldn’t be one of the fundamental drivers behind all human behaviour. In fact, love teaches us a lot about how desire functions. And it’s not so simple as chasing and finding, thankfully—imagine how boring life would be if that were the case! To learn to love is to learn to live. How cute.

Love is not about acquiring some ideal docile version of a person that flatters you in every way. If everyone found their perfect Hollywood “soul-mate”, we’d be living amongst billions of adult children…

Without love, life basically remains one-dimensional, precisely because love is the only experience that teaches us to see desire, joy and suffering in a new light, and to grow in accordance with this heightened understanding. We see this in people who grow older without exposing themselves to any challenging or meaningful relationships, often consumed by materialism, self-pity or vapid sexual conquests.

Some lessons love teaches:

We learn that the more selfish and fantastical we are about what we desire, the harder we fall when reality fails to meet our expectations.

We learn that desire, paired with reflection and compassion, can create incredible relationships capable of allowing us to transform into our best selves.

We learn that when we let the ego, and not the true self, paint the objects of our desire, we often end up fantasising and chasing waterfalls (thanks TLC), ignoring the beautiful people and things of our real lives. Or we become enmeshed in relationships based on false pretences (uh oh!).

We learn that finding and experiencing love is often just a matter of remembering to look and be grateful.

We learn that love is strongest when the ego fades away and we become “one” with another. It reminds us that we’re one with all things. It’s an antidote to both alienation and narcissism.

And that’s where all the chaotic cultural influences often lead us astray, as they do with just about everything else. Love is not about acquiring some ideal docile version of a person that flatters you in every way. If everyone found their perfect Hollywood “soul-mate”, some hot piece of ass or tall drink of water who never confronted them, challenged them or rejected them in any way, we’d be living amongst billions of adult children. I’m sure soon there will be flattering romantic sex robots that allow adult children to remain adult children forever, but I certainly won’t be on that waiting list.

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Love is the only form of desire that allows us to feel pure joy and pure yearning at the same time. Experienced in earnest, it’s the highest form of good. There’s nothing fantastical about it. There’s no healthy marriage without fighting. There’s no healthy relationship based purely on sex or flattery. When you sign up, you get the full package. You don’t get to pick and choose features based on your own projections. You might think you can, but no one gets away with this (and if someone seems “perfect” they’re usually just hiding something). When we say, “I love you,” we’re accepting someone as they are. And we hope they will do the same. Because I am not perfect, and you are not perfect, and if either of us think we’re perfect we need love to remind us that perfection is not a goal nor a reality.

True love asks us to find nuance in our desire. It asks us to sacrifice, to make compromises, to let go of our narcissistic projections about what we want. It’s about acceptance, tolerance and compassion, three traits any person needs to not feel completely miserable and confused in this world.

And, in my experience, if we can learn to see love in this way, it’s really the only thing capable of saving us from ourselves. There’s no way to “hack” it. You can’t buy a great relationship. You can’t fantasise one into existence. There has to be a decision to put the work into the process, to let go of the selfish part of yourself alongside someone else, embrace gifts and faults alike, challenge one another, and grow together, both as individuals and as a unit.

For some people, this means growing apart. There’s nothing tragic about that. Love is not some magical heavenly experience. It’s a process, ever-evolving alongside your own effort, your own desire to grow and help another person grow. People part ways, and this rarely ever happens by accident. There’s always a reason.

Participating in this process with the understanding that it’s a reflection of life, with all its highs and lows, allows the true lessons and beauty of love to flourish. Running in fear at the first sign of challenge is also a reflection of life, a sign that we’re not yet ready to grow. Love represents truth, and we can only tolerate as much of it as we’re ready for.

But love is always there, waiting for us. We don’t even really have to chase it down. Its lessons apply to everything we do. And it ultimately comes down to one question:

Are you willing to make yourself vulnerable, to expose yourself to reality, in order to grow and find joy and truth?

I’ll let you answer for yourself.


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