Ambivalent Love

Ambivalent Love

A friend sent me a song by The Civil Wars a few years ago, and quite stupidly I didn’t pay any attention. A few years later, another chance came along and I was hooked. Now, I have to force myself not to listen to their songs over and over, so that the experience of being immersed in their music won’t grow stale.

In particular, the song “Poison & Wine” has gripped me. As I listen, the song sounds like it’s about ambivalence. The word ‘ambivalent’ is commonly used to mean “apathetic” or maybe “indecisive.” Something like that. But the word is a bit more complex than that. The first part [‘ambi-‘] means “both,” as in ‘ambidextrous,’ which is the ability to use both hands equally. Similarly, ‘ambiguous’ doesn’t mean “vague” (as many commonly use it), but “meaning both things at once, having multiple possible meanings.”

So ambivalence is not apathy (a lack of feeling), but the conflicted emotional state of feeling two ways about another person at the same time. It’s about the coexistence of love and hate, longing and contempt. It’s about the strong yet subverted connection between anger and desire, since both can produce arousal of one sort or another. It’s about how all our spitefulness is really a cry for love, and all our love is tainted by the desire to dominate. It’s about the power to create and the power to destroy warring in each of us for control of our hands and our imaginations. It’s that dangerous duplicity responsible for the very best and the very worst that humanity has done–that I have done.

What I express through etymological ramblings, The Civil Wars express much more powerfully through this beautiful song. The words are below the video.

“Poison & Wine”
by The Civil Wars

You only know what I want you to
I know everything you don’t want me to
Your mouth is poison, your mouth is wine
You think your dreams are the same as mine

I don’t love you, but I always will
I don’t love you, but I always will
I don’t love you, but I always will, I always will

I wish you’d hold me when I turn my back
The less I give, the more I get back
Your hands can heal, your hands can bruise
I don’t have a choice, but I still choose you