In Korea, where I spent many years as a young man, they have a slew of sayings which border on cynical. It isn’t that they are a hard people, it is just that they have been so thoroughly relieved of their illusions over the centuries of history, so accustom to morbid reality that they’ve learned a jarring, folksy certainty about the world.

A personal favorite among these maxims is that “Love cannot feed us rice.”

There are many ways to interpret this. An old mother might say it to her love-sick daughter, before the girl runs off with the kind but poor maintenance man in a Korean Drama. Fathers say it to their sons when they begin to swerve away from that one well-worn path that leads to success in Korean life (study, examinations, obedience, filial duty) and start to practice magical thinking about “art” or “making a difference” or even, “true love.”

It seems harsh, but like so many harsh things, it is true. At least for men it is true. Love cannot feed a man rice.

In the West, we aren’t so lucky anymore. We’re taught from an early age that it is despicable to turn away from the wobbly notion that “love is all you need”, that a happy, loving wife is all that is necessary to get by in the world, that a relationship deep and meaningful enough will save your life, will rescue your soul from mediocrity.

We’ve lost touch with our guts, have grown so limp on comforts that we know the luxury of deciding that nebulous intangibles are the real meat and potatoes of human existence. We actually think that love can feed us rice, if only because not a one of us has ever been a rice farmer.

The first time you go hungry you’ll realize that emotions aren’t nearly as important as you’ve been led to believe, that most of them are simply the whimsical allowances of the well-fed. That doesn’t mean that love isn’t real. It certainly is. In some forms at least. It isn’t that love is unimportant.

It is just to remind you that the way we pedestalize the concept of love, as if it should come first and foremost on the hierarchy of life’s most important reckonings, is a childish fallacy that’s popularity is indicative of how gorged, pampered, and physically satiated we are. Our hunger then becomes for the intangible, for the emotional, for the divine. We forget the corporeal, and in such a way we lose ourselves. It is why so many people criticize cynics.

But a romantic approach to human connection belies the fact that love, in all its forms and machinations, is the studied result of extended, dependable, and hard work. There is no such thing as “love at first sight” or “soulmates”, nor any other modernist sugar coating. Love, whatever that word means, is the slow grinding and mixing and packing of the firework, not the explosion itself.

When you drill to the core of it, love is just a fanciful word for so many other things: devotion, dependability, partnership, security, and so forth. It is not some magical elixir that, once imbed, makes the world other than it really is— an animal place of alliances and tribes and stomachs and feet and hands reaching and eyes finding, of the rough work of getting and keeping the rice in our bellies.

You are an animal first and an emotional being second. Feelings only matter because you aren’t hungry. Your ability to bend the world to making sure that you have the resources you need to live is more important than your boredom, your dissatisfaction, your anger, your lust.

Look at yourself in the mirror, and then go out and try to go at life as you would if your stomach was for the first time empty.


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