The lyrics of Stills’s song “Love the One You’re With” are about love’s many conflicts. For this reason, although the song and the values it conveys may sound a bit superficial, its opposing themes may evoke different feelings and opinions.
If you’re down and confused
And you don’t remember who you’re talking to
Concentration slips away
Because your baby is so far away
The singer is lonely, depressed, and “confused”, because his baby is “so far away”. She doesn’t seem to have left temporarily because, in the following verse, he says he’s “crying over (the) good times” that they had.
Well there’s a rose in a fisted glove
And the eagle flies with the dove
And if you can’t be with the one you love, honey
Love the one you’re with
The second verse is full of symbols.
The first is the rose, which represents love and passion. It is beautiful and delicate, but it has thorns, too. Also love has its thorns: for instance, a person may change completely, as was hinted at in the first verse
The rose is in a fisted glove, which may be a warning to handle the hazards of love with care, even if this can prevent one from experiencing it in its entirety.
On the other hand, the fisted glove can be a metaphor for a hardened heart, someone whose fist is ready to fight, or something that is trapping the beloved, maybe held against her will.
Then there is a reference to a dove, and an eagle. If the former represents peace, and the latter war, it can mean that people stay with their lovers both in good and in bad times, in all those conflicting emotions represented by the eagle flying with the dove. The two images may parallel the struggle between the rose of love and the fist that tries to suppress it.
It may also be a reference to the Vietnam War: the eagle may recall the US and the Hawks, the people who wanted war, as opposed to the “Doves”, those who instead wanted peace.
All of these contradictory emotions are caused by the fact that the singer is unable to be with the person he loves, which is expressed in the following line.
Anyway, the proposed solution: “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with” seems to foster some sort of replacement, to hang out with a person that at the moment doesn’t seem to possess any particular appeal (not yet, at least).
Don’t be angry – don’t be sad
Don’t sit crying over good times you’ve had
There’s a girl right next to you
And she’s just waiting for something to do
This seems to underline once more that, if we accept to be with the person that is near us and ready to help, we can stop suffering and be happy again.
To be continued…