When we talk about an object of desire we are really talking about a cluster of promises we want someone or something to make to us and make possible for us. To love something/someone is a wearing labour-intensive process of investment that can devour you and yet also enlivens and expands your understanding of what is possible. (In other words, it’s a yoga practice).
I still remember a time when I lived a life where my unhappiness or happiness was reliant only on how I angled myself to a situation; a result of the choices I alone made. Sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I could empty out all this sensory debris embedded in my flesh and start over. I’ll be sensible this time.
But moments hit you before you have chance to dodge. When I was younger, but old enough, I gave something of mine away. I gave it to a person who I thought would never hurt me. That was my first mistake. Because we are all capable of hurting each other, even if we don’t love them. More so when we do. Before we have time to catch up its somehow already happening. And there’s no chance to pause now. No matter how you wait, what time you take, the everyday affects persist in their surging impulses. Encounters affect, bruise, or heal, on a level that is always somewhat imperceptible.
We stay stubbornly fixed to situations of bruising attachments because to lose you, is to lose the future self and possibilities that you represent. I tell myself again and again: “It’s who you love that makes you who you are, not who loves you.” This helps to remind me to lose my attachment to the need to be loved. And yet if who/what I love makes me who I am, not only is my happiness and my future resting in the continuing presence of my object of desire, but to lose them means to also lose part of my self; and the promise of what I imagined I could be.
Speaking of love gets tired unless you can rescue it from the sentimental banality to which it has sunk in a consumer culture. But ‘I love…’ fixes its gaze in the wrong direction. Isn’t love rather something that passes through us, residing, if anywhere, only in the spaces in-between. This is why it can never quite be possessed, or given. And we frame love with time markers, it has to be said at the right moment – not too soon or too late – it is a benchmark in a relationship (after an appropriate number of months of dating/having sex). To say ‘I love you’ is then quite detached from love as a feeling: an affective atmosphere or attraction between two. Instead it becomes a way of claiming, a stealing of another; this one is mine we say.
No wonder we can get claustrophobic, no wonder we get so insecure about losing the other. Because the insecurity of losing or the fear of an inevitable break-up emerges only because we presume a permanence to the people in our lives. We might shy away from investing until the ‘right moment’. We might take up strategies (consciously or otherwise) to protect ourselves. We might try to always act appropriately, nonchalant, unaffected; we might try to fantasize that we are autonomous and seek control, and feel despair when that control is forever out of reach. We want emotions to only happen on our own terms. But affect always gives you away. We give ourselves away in the saying too much, in the spontaneous actions that change everything, in the piercing sense of insecurity that won’t subside, in moods that fluctuate between wanting to run for cover and curl closer.
Establishing a sense of permanence is a necessary mode of living in a confusing, contingent world, anchoring ourselves to something/someone helps make sense of it all. Yet when love becomes one of those anchors, we neglect to recognize how love, like all feelings and human nature, is not something that remains static. It is tempting, almost irresistible, to not begin to invest in the daydream vision of life, in the promises a person can encapsulate. The changing form of things, beings, encounters, reminds us of the very contingent nature of all things, especially love – as an affective response that emerges in-between. To invest in something that is inherently transitory is unsustainable – it means living on the edge of permanent uncertainty.
That’s not to say all relationships are doomed, but rather to point to the fact that if love is a space in between two shifting points (people) then to seek reassurance from an evolving moment is directing our energies in the wrong way. The “I love you”‘s and the marriage proposals, are all attempts to acknowledge a feeling that persisted longer than expected. But it doesn’t make it indestructible, nor should we live in fear lamenting a loss of sovereign control that was never ours. We cannot lose love because it was never ours to have.
And so until we conjure better words to express how we feel (“I enjoy occupying this space with you where love circulates around and over us” sounds pretty clumsy) the true essence of love is captured best in the subtle encounter and the unfinished moments; in the incomplete sentences and the ordinary silences.