Is it just that in an age obsessed with menus, with choices, with the drop-down box, we have turned even love into a multiple choice question? "How do you feel about this person? Are you a) a friend b) a lover c) a brother or d) a father". What about none of the above? What about Other (please specify)? What about feelings that are open-ended?
Or is it that we have been so poisoned by reason, by our quest for explicability, that the apprehension of another human being in his or her specificity has become impossible for us, and that we can only love people (as we may only hate them) by converting them into abstractions, into the idea of the other rather than the other itself? That having to face up to the reality of who the other person is, to their infinite humanity, is more than we are capable of, so that just as we must ignore what is human about someone to hate him or her, we must also ignore the details of the person we care for, in order to love them? Is this why we give names to our feelings - because we cannot experience them unless they are made intelligible to us, like a child who cannot eat his dinner unless it is cut into bite sized pieces?
Or is it more than an existential choice - is it, perhaps, an aesthetic one? Is our will to definition a way of mythologising the people we live with, of converting them, not only into ideas, but also into ideals? In classifying people into roles vis a vis ourselves, are we perhaps disguising the weaknesses we do not want to see in them, excusing ourselves from paying attention to these flaws, or justifying our own compromise in accepting these shortcomings, if only because of our desperate need not to be alone?
And if so, where does this search for perfection come from? Why must we require those we love to be flawless? Most lovers I know will insist that their beloveds are paragons. Yet even if this were true (and not sheer delusion) what would be the virtue in it? Surely the real achievement is to care for someone not because they are perfect but inspite of their imperfections? Not for their qualities but for their faults? A love that celebrates the perfection of the beloved is a trophy love, one that is more interested in showing off its own 'achievement' than in the enjoyment of its object. If we see relationships as something more than a path to status, why must we pretend that the other person is not silly or immature or ugly or unversed in order to acknowledge that that we care for his or her welfare? Why must we judge people in order to love them? (Or, for that matter, why must we limit ourselves to a single individual and evaluate him / her in his / her entirety, rather than seeking out what is worth loving in a multiplicity of people?)
Or is this need to define, to retreat into a kind of social shorthand, simply a recognition of our own inadequacy? Do we recognise that we have neither the energy nor the imagination to constantly innovate and renew our relationships? That, in Blake-ian terms, we must reason and compare simply because we cannot create? That we are merely players, and need our set scripts - we cannot invent, we can only enact?
Or perhaps the truth is that we could create, but that we need guidelines to ratify our creations. Without the benchmarks of stereotypes, we have no way to judge the affection of others or be judged for our own affections. Do we then lapse into these set relationship roles only because the way to communicate and prove our feelings to one another is by classifying them?
Or, finally, is this desire of ours for relationships that are easily translatable simply a pragmatic recognition of the mutability of the feeling, of the ephemeral nature of its intensity? Because we know that the strength of our emotions will not last, because we see them turning into a lie even as we experience them, we are therefore driven to capture them forever in the snap-shot of a word that we can place on our mantelpiece, display proudly to others? That we freeze frame ourselves into language as a way to deny the wrinkles and weakness that all our feelings are heir to, hoping to use these classifications of ours as a means to both memory and denial?
Isn't it strange that we, as mortals, should despair so over the transience of our feelings for each other? That we should so long to believe in eternity, in permanence, that we would betray the truth of our feelings to their cause, giving the name of 'relationship' to what are, after all, only stray instances of mutual sympathy, occasional accidents of connection. That we should sacrifice the perfection of the moment to the slow decay of forever.
"As everyone knows, there are insects which die in the moment of fertilization. Thus it is with all joy, life's supreme and most voluptuous moment of pleasure is attended by death."Why then do we continue to cling to the ridiculous notion that the ideal is something that we must hold on to? Why does it depress us to recognise that perfection does not last, and that what is ideal today could be cloying tomorrow? This is where regret comes from - a sorrow over the loss of something we treasured, that fails to recognise that even had we held on to it it would have changed, turned sour.
If we are ever to achieve happiness as human beings, if we are ever to attain satisfaction, we must recognise that the most beautiful, most perfect experiences are those that do not last and cannot be repeated, and that we can only truly enjoy them by not trying to repeat them. They are precious precisely because they are unique and unrepeatable.
It follows that the categories we impose on ourselves - all this talk of boyfriends / girlfriends, of friends and lovers and siblings - is pointless, because the real meaning of our contact with other people lies in the connection we have already experienced, and in trying to resurrect that emotion by assigning it the mask of some relationship we are only setting ourselves up for failure.
Exactly. Love domesticated, tied to the leash of some relationship, is no longer the proud animal we admired for its strength and freedom. Love tamed is a shabby pet, good for company on lonely nights, but incapable of the hunt and therefore of independent survival.
On the stroke of midnight pass
Live vibrations of a bell,
And fashionable madmen raise
Their pedantic boring cry:
Every farthing of the cost,
All the dreaded cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost."
(Okay, okay, so I know I'm rambling. But I'm in the mood to ramble. Plus I've got to the point where conversations with my friends about their love-lives - I, of course, don't have one - seem to revolve almost entirely around the politics of 'relationships' rather than the poetry of feelings. And that annoys and depresses me. So there.)
Categories: Universe, Whimsy