What is in a Name?

I started this blog on my birthday February 14th, more or less one year ago. At that time, I posted on the idea that the purpose of Valentine’s Day is to encourage lovers to perform their commitments in order to temporarily ease the anxiety over the question – why am I loved – (see blog archive). Today, I want to revisit the same question but from a slightly different perspective: discomfort with the unknown. Why we are compelled to name, define, and enclose.

I am not only speaking from my own experience, but also reflecting upon many of the experiences of friends and strangers, I have come into contact with recently, and had the good fortune to listen to their stories, longings, and complaints. Here is my basic realization: a relationship suffers from the imperative to define the relationship; in other words, the present may be shared tenderly until it becomes stretched and stressed by the pull of the future. At that moment, when it is demanded that the present be named and the future mapped, something goes terribly wrong. In admitting what we want from the future, we inevitably appear as other: distinct, strange to, and perhaps out of sync with the person we are confiding in. In such discussions, the other person emerges as truly other, and beyond the control of the intimate space created by the relationship. And all of a sudden, your grasp on the fragile composition of the present slips, and the illusion of control over and knowledge of the person crumbles.

As a result, certain demands, actions, and performances inevitably creep up to compensate for the moment when the other slips out of sight. As a friend of mine pointed out, in many ways, this process resembles a baby’s scream to re-claim the absent mother’s attention ~ although, our modes of screaming have become more subtle. An obvious technique is to signal to the beloved that other people are interested in you ~ that the other person is lucky to have you, and it could be easily taken away. This way, the fear of loss binds us to the present. Another way is to continually re-affirm and perform your love, and demand that everyone else recognize how in love you are, as if the infinite reproduction of the image of being in love gives it weight and substance. We can also ask subtle questions or pose small, trivial demands, in a search for confirmation. Do this and Remind me that I am still loved. Prove to me that I still exist for you. Finally, we can pretend we are hurt in order to demand sympathy and attention – Hey! if you knew the pain I am in, you would not do this to me. Nonetheless, in all of our attempts to overcome, deny, or hide the distance inherent in every relation, uncertainty trembles.

So is it possible to accept uncertainty and distance as fundamental, and courageously resist the temptation to collapse 2 into 1? This would mean that a part of the other always remains broken off, out of reach, and for that, we are grateful. None of this, however, rules out the possibility of being with someone exclusively or having a future with them. My purpose is not to dictate what are appropriate forms of love and desire or prescribe durations, but rather, to elucidate what we inevitably bump against when finding our own way.

A year later, and all I’ve got is the uneasy sense that I am not so sure what is possible anymore, because all of the scripts and narratives we’ve inherited prove ultimately unsatisfying when it comes to such singular matters as love, desire, intimacy, and distance. But in many ways, I think that is a lot.

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