Rather than writing all blog entries at 1:00am, hunched over the iBook keyboard, I’ve purchased a very European looking black writing pad to carry around. I suppose it will help me look like the stereotypical poet or a sixteen year old pseudo-goth girl, but it will beat the ever-larger collection of biodegrading scraps in my pockets. Oh, and the heartbreak when they get accidentally laundered!
Luxuriously, my 10:00pm-concluding shift was followed by a ride home from my friend and co-worker Chris. The ride also delivered me to a mercifully empty house, where I can listen to the Great Lake Swimmers, eat bread, and drink tea while allowing the brain to be mowed, to have the weeds pulled, and to have the edges repaired.
A few times here, I’ve made reference to my present functional conception of love. In my view, the word is hopelesly equivocated: linked to so many disparate ideas and personal expectations as to have lost any clear meaning. This framework has therefore been developed to understand and explain how it impacts my life, for purposes of better planning. Within this framework, the focus is on romantic love (of the kind experienced between people who are generally interested in some sort of sexual contact with one another). The components are threefold:
- One partner’s assessment of the other. Now, the word ‘assessment’ is obviously open to broad interpretation. What makes this criteria viable is that the opinion cannot be based on any probability of future contact. It must be a determination of a person’s level of appropriate respect – roughly, how good a thing it is that they are in the world. A person’s values and aesthetics naturally do a lot to determine what kind of traits are respected.
To begin with, this assessment is often badly coloured by our desires at the time. For me, women who I think might be single and interesting instantly and consistently get more attention than others. Still, from the perspective of a long-term relationship, the level of respect you have for a person is a critical part of the foundation.
- The second component is the sensory experience of being with the person, contemplating the person, and such. It seems to me that this is what most people are referring to when they use the term love, though this narrow focus excludes any need for commitment.The sensory experience of love ebbs and flows. Often, the beginning stages of a relationship are a dramatic crescendo of such thoughts: fueled by ever quicker flowing hormones and neurotransmitters. Something similar definitely happens after long seperations. When scientists with functional MRI machines find love, this will probably be most of what they are seeing.
- Insofar as a relationship can exist as an entity unto itself, it exists as a cluser of norms, rules, decision making procedures, and expectations – what some IR theorists call a ‘regime.’ These are not restricted to the people involved: if I saw a good (attached) friend having illicit relations with a stranger, it would be a matter of concern for me.I’ve often likened relationships to two islands that are initially driven together by random currents, but which are held together through an ever-more-complex system of bridges, tunnels, power lines, roads, and communication systems. Terms of trade are established and goods flow from one to the other, for mutual benefit. Another crucial part of the relationship regime is multilateral relations between partners, friends, family, and others. Having the respect of my friends is often crucial for retaining my own. Having the less noble attentions of my friends can often count as a point in your favour, both because it provides a reassuring second opinion and the promise of gains within the social structure should such a relationship be concluded.
When relationships end, it often seems to have a lot to do with an undermining of section 2 above. One thing I find interesting is how easily some people seem to be able to transfer the bulk of their section 3 connections to another person once they have found someone who is willing, for whom they have respect under section 1, and with whom they have the kind of pleasantly blinding jubilation which section 2 rests upon. The burst of heat from two inactive second sections re-activating seems as though it can often be more than enough to compensate for the cold and discomfort that creeps in as one set of section three links cracks and are sliced open, then shifted along towards the positions where they will be affixed to a new partner.
Ultimately, I am looking for someone with whom I can travel, raise children, write and edit books with, and generally enrichen life in defiance of a human psyche that I am convinced cannot generally function properly on its own. For me to set out on such a course with a person requires a pretty sturdy assessment that these three areas are well-built and not vulnerable to ordinary schocks. It’s basically a necessity that there be a good collection of reasons why they should be put into an escape pod for 1% of humanity. Also essential is their ability to maintain good relations with my family. The border between my parents and I is long and undefended, crossing rocky terrain. Disasters can move across both ways, and anyone who I could be with for any length of time would need to have the skill to manage that. Of course, as I will be living in Oxford, contact with my parents will be infrequent at best. None of these criteria are things that will never change.
This rough, imperfect, and far from comprehensive framework does nothing to acknowledge the infinite complexities that make love so fascinating. For me, the question of women and how I relate to them as individuals is the most engaging and life-defining one that I can think of. The framework is just a crude tool – a couple of wobbly steps added to a ladder of understanding. For all the joy and revelations we shared, as well as for everything they helped me learn about the world and myself, I am infinitely thankful to Kate, Sarah, and Meghan. Also, for enduring hours of my hypothesizing about these and related ideas, Sarah Pemberton and Sasha Wiley have my thanks as well.
There are 15 days left until my departure party.
I fly to England in 19 days.