The Dialectic of Love
The emotional fly-wheel
Sarah realised that the dynamics of friendship were more complicated than she had thought. She used to conceptualise relationships as a subtle system of barter or exchange. Your friends or lovers might know stuff that you did not: you could spark each other off, fill in the gaps, and set off an endless chain of creative responses. This model had the advantage of neatness, balance and symmetry. It also meant that you could aspire to having emotional rights over someone else. But Sarah had come unstuck with that so many times that it had now become an unfeasible model. The thermometer of emotional misery and dysfunction went sky-high on so many chilly days.
When did she first realise that it didn’t quite work like that? When did things become intractable? It was when she realised that the mechanism of attachment worked by a sort of fly-wheel system. It had something to do with taste: what gave you sensual pleasure, what stimulated your eye. She had a friend called Virginia who thought that nectarines were the only fruit. She grew them in her walled garden, she made jam from them, she bought fabric with a nectarine pattern and made a dress from it. Sarah found her friend’s obsession both interesting and admirable. She herself was more catholic in her tastes, and more sensual probably: and she realised with a jolt that she loved Virginia because her tastes offered a utopia of economy and coherence. Sarah herself was rather chaotic and impulsive, and she liked formlessness. She wanted to be like Virginia, but knew she probably never could, and so the relationship was (for her) aspirational. But (and here was the rub) Virginia had no desire to be like Sarah, with her volatility, her unsuitable swains, her stormy passions. And that was the source of the pain. The clue was in your expectations. And whether or not you saw someones else’s feelings as a stimulus, or a salve.
On reflection, Sarah wondered if sexual love worked like that too. Perhaps you loved and desired the other person because they were how you wanted to be: more empathetic perhaps, more graceful, stronger. But they of course did not necessarily have the same feelings: they did not want to be as messy, creative and unpredictable as you. And there was where all the pain started: the little boil, the inflammation, the seeping wound, the rupture, the acrimony. By having the wrong expectations and a fatal sense of erotic entitlement.
Sarah thought there ought to be a way of breaking the cycle of envy, failure and blame. She tried to reconceptualise it in terms of maternal affection. Think of being in the womb: no unhappiness in that hotel. Warmth, blood, bone, milk. Perhaps if both partners mothered each other? Or (better), perhaps if they imagined each other as siblings in the womb of time: swirling round together in the amniotic fluid, each giving way to the other, each circling and enfolding each other’s bodies. Yes. That might do the trick.
And so Sarah set out to find her soulmate. Perhaps somewhere, in a shimmering, viscous ball, he was waiting for her. It was not too late to look. It was someone who would know her, who was her kin, who needed no explanations, who was not on the make, who was her familiar. That. That. That.