10 July 2016

Love notes

This is going to be a post about love, sex, and relationships.

I know, the thought of reading such a thing, from me of all people, makes you groan. Depending on your inclination you've probably got the appropriate canned response ready. Who wants to listen to another entitled male nerd whine about what he's owed by women? Why doesn't this gross old man realize his failures at life ruined this part of human experience for him.

Well listen, you aren't wrong. The genesis of these micro-essays is my wrestling with, on the one hand, doubt and embarrassment, and on the other, my longstanding commitment to the principle that everyone has a valid claim on the human desire to love and be loved.

It's an internal argument that hits so many broader personal insecurities and doubts on its way down. Surely, being single in my mid-30s is just a thing someone should learn to live with; I'm not special, I should tell myself, there are many people like me, and they've accepted this, so why can't I? Every new disappointment brings with it some Sometimes I only half-jokingly wish for the sweet release of a painless and affordable castration; if I can't mentally discipline myself to accept the consequences of my life choices, then let Father Biology do his thankless work.

We've heard the glib mantra “everybody needs love” in so many song lyrics and popular romances that the real egalitarian idea behind this sentiment is mostly not taken seriously. It isn't a luxury, or the exclusive property of young adult book cover models. It includes the awkward, the anxious, the ugly, the dissenters, the experimenters, the naive, the simple, the unsteady. To say, I exist, I have a human need for sex and intimacy, and I will express it no matter if it makes you groan or gag to imagine it, is a defiant act.


There is a certain perspective that comes with being a poorly-seeing virgin in your mid-30s. Not all of it is melancholy; most of it isn't, in fact. There are a lot of things that most of my compatriots would find utterly quotidian by now that still are full of wonder and curiosity for me.

Two of these are the peculiar multi-tiered reality in which people exist to me, and its relation, the visceral immediacy of close physical presence and human contact. I prefer to take most of my human interaction through text; a method where I'm more comfortable, being freed of the strains of insecurity and time to explore the depths of whatever imagination and personalty I have. It's also where other people become liberated from the weight of keeping up appearances to say and write material they might not have intended someone like me to see. I've always believed in the idea that a person's digital presence is something more akin to their real selves; a place where they'll reveal more of their private thoughts than what their low regard for me would typically warrant.

As I go about my daily life in public, most people I interact with are people I can't really see. I am aware they are there, only insofar as I see the few identifiable signs I've come to use to distinguish them from the other mental files I keep of the few people I know. But I can't look them in the eye, and after they're out of sight whatever subtle features they might have to really differentiate them, to make them truly unique, are lost to me. No one comes close enough to seem like flesh and blood, just temporarily opaque sheets of skin stretched over the keystrokes they'll eventually spill out into the digital realm.

What does it mean when your body has no memory of physical intimacy? The obvious consequence of course is that fantasy becomes something of a chore; images and dreams have only so much power when there's no spark or friction that can be conjured; like persistently tipping a glass of water into your mouth that's long since been sucked dry of its contents. But it also means the simple act of human touch is still an explosion of magnificence, indescribable, otherworldly to you. The human body has a unique irreplicable tension and temperature; its weight atmospheric even when inches away. This is where people become real, the word—to steal an appropriately scriptural phrase—made flesh. It is fitting that we would never grow bored with it.


The paradox of romance for me has always been this: People seem to generally expect two things from a relationship social companionship, and physical intimacy. But the former seems intellectually irrelevant; if you have a circle of acquaintances and friends to act as confidants, why do you need a partner? But this leaves us with the alternative which most people will steadfastly resist, that their relationships are predicated first and foremost on sexual gratification. Myself included, since if I can dismiss my feelings of loneliness as a mirage, overcoming lovesickness should be a breeze, since surely I can prove myself to be driven by more than thirst alone.

This is far too simple of a dichotomy, as everyone knows. There's nothing shameful in enjoying the fruits of carnal sin with a partner, and the social and emotional connections we have with a lover are more expansive and intricate than the ones we have with friends. Those connections themselves push all kinds of biological buttons inside of us, so it's fallacious to suggest there's any real separation between these ideas at all.

It wouldn't be fair to write this post without taking a pass at the evergreen question “what does love mean to me?” I think it's a rather profound exercise, actually. Inspired by the documentary “Love Me” about mail-order brides, I've become piqued by the idea of some kind of oral interview project where I pester couples about their relationship, how it started, what it means to them, what they think their life would be missing if they didn't have it, and so on.

It's very easy to think about love in terms of what you're getting from or giving to someone else. And there's a lot of merit to these things about vulnerability, support, connections, sharing, and so on that you've doubtless heard thousands of times before. All of these are things we want, and want to do, and of course it's important to satisfy ourselves, but they don't seem quite sufficient. For me, the most remarkable thing is that, with a partner, we get to live two lives at once, and that's a thrilling, frightening, transcendental thing to experience. We envelop each other; more talents, more responsibilities, more feelings. How can we be in multiple lives at once? It makes sense humans have been seeking some supernatural explanation to explain it for millennia.


I am often taken by the idea of another person spending their time thinking about you while you aren't near them. Of course, there is an element of self-flattery here. We like the idea of being important enough to someone else, that we've captured their imagination to such a degree that they spend part of their day thinking of what we might do, or how we might react to a given situation.

But I'd like to think there is something a little more transcendent about this. In our own body, we're self-contained. We've explored most of the depths of our personality, our whims, the levers and pulleys that animate us now seem very mechanical in our own observation. But when someone else, someone special to us in particular, creates an image of us in their own mind, it's a renewal of our existence, an extension of our humanity. We are experiencing life with them, helping them, inspiring them, in a fashion that's entirely new, because a unique individual has made us for themselves.

I've realized recently that, if I'm really honest with myself, I don't keep chasing romance because I have any genuine belief there might be a person someday who wants to spend a lot of time together with me. The combination of my choices and circumstance just makes that nearly impossible. I do it because it's still a rush of excitement to imagine the possibilities, however unlikely. Is it healthy? Possibly not. The constant rejection can be mentally draining, and skews my personal social perception into even more insular self-consciousness. But I do it, primarily I think, because it makes me feel like part of the human experience, and that, if I gave up, I'd be surrendering part of my humanity to the forces of self-doubt and social conformity.