Writing, Identity, & Queer Studies

In & Out, Either/Or, and Everything In Between

Pain as the Measurement of Love

“Why is the measure of love loss?” (Winterson 1993, 9)

Reading this quote in the beginning of Written on the Body I didn’t understand what Winterson meant by this. As I read further in the book I began to understand what she meant. When the narrator was breaking up with one person to get with another, they were seeking love by leaving what they thought love could be (with that person), but realized was not. With each person that the narrator broke up with, they were entranced by someone new. Each time that they moved on from someone they felt pain from the messy breakup before. This is how they knew that at one point they had loved; the feeling of pain told them that they had loved. They were confused with themselves, knowing that the relationship that they left was no longer love, but also uncertain about finding love with the next person.

Another time in the book where I saw a connection to this quote was when the narrator left Louise. They claim that they left out of an “act of love” for Louise’s health and wellbeing, but she had no input in their decision to leave. All the narrator ended up with was pain and longing to be reunited with her.

When reflecting on what this all means, the “so what,” I found that for the narrator, pain is the measurement of love. Consistently throughout the book the author recognizes their love through pain, and in the end pain was the only way that the narrator could feel, remember and relive their love. In the first example they couldn’t measure the love that they had so they jumped from relationship to relationship quickly, hurting after each breakup. In the second example they realized that leaving Louise was as mistake when they could no longer bear the pain of being separate from her.  Pain gave clarity to love that the narrator could not previously identify. 

5 Comments

  1. Cookies and Naps

    October 7, 2018 at 3:14 pm

    I was hoping someone would talk about “Written on the Body”. I feel like you could even say that in the beginning of the book that we felt bad for the narrator, always wanted by others but never enough to stay with them. As the book progresses and we learn more about the narrator and their past relationships as well as their relationship with Jacqueline (the spelling is so off on this) and Louise, our sympathy died away. As you pointed out with every relationship that ended there was always another one right after for the narrator to fall into.

  2. paintstarsincolor

    October 7, 2018 at 8:04 pm

    Do you think that is possible that the narrator sought out people who could not actively reciprocate feelings, either emotionally unavailable or physically attached to another, because they derived some sense of punishment from these experiences? A punishment that gave the narrator a form of emotional relief? I think that the narrator might have had a trauma from their past, maybe in their childhood or adolescence, that they seek a form of reparation to ease the pain of whatever happened. Perhaps they feel guilty and seek punishment through dissatisfying relationships and the suffering that comes with pursuing such relationships.

  3. I really love your interpretation of this quote. Because it was the first sentence, it clearly holds significance. Plus, it is used many times throughout the book, which I think points to the fact that it means something throughout the narrator’s life, and perhaps it could even mean something different to them every time. When I was reading this quote at the beginning of the novel, I thought the narrator was arguing that the measure of love should not be loss (although everyone seems to measure love that way), but I think your interpretation of it as a genuine question, rather than a rhetorical one is really astute.

  4. I agree with your interpretation, and appreciate that this was revisited as it is the essential question the narrator pondered throughout the book. I think that the interpretation of love is destined to change, but will especially go through changes depending on the person and circumstance, as we see with the narrator and their history of lovers. Although tragic, I think that your understanding of pain being the measurement of love to ring true, and I wish that this wasn’t always the case. The narrator was in pain when they had lost Louise, understandably, but the narrator was also in pain when they didn’t have love (when they didn’t have Louise). Most notably, the narrator was in a state of pain during the time that they dated Louise. Which is interesting because you’d think it would be the opposite. I think this hurt that the narrator felt was guilt from past relationships as well as the constant stress of negative outcomes with Louise.

  5. westcoastbesttoast

    October 8, 2018 at 1:36 pm

    I, too, was intrigued by this passage. However, I saw “Why is the measure of love loss?” a bit differently. I saw it as the reader measuring love by the way she experienced something new/different every time they fell in love with someone else. While yes, there is pain with leaving someone you once loved, there is also something new to experience with the next person you are falling in love with.

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