Her soft voice had me falling over her every word. My eyes were transfixed on her smile, my ears tuned into her story. She apologized for talking so much. I told her I love to listen. It’s how we get to know one another, I said.
Something was happening. Not any something, something exceptional. I was not going to censor how I felt. I was going away soon and had been too long bound to fear. Excited and curious, she encouraged me to speak. I said I had never felt this way in a long time. My knees were shaking. I wanted to lunge over the table and kiss her. I had never felt so connected to someone for years, so attracted to who they were. She said she was feeling something special, too. She smiled.
She asked me what I liked about her so much. I didn’t know, but I felt obliged to respond, so I foolishly tried to capture my feelings in words. It was a beautiful story if I ever heard one. A sincere and seductive fiction. She said I was sweet.
Moments later we were making out on Michigan Avenue right outside the thrift store she worked at. She said I was beautiful, that someone should paint a portrait of me. Near the end of our date, she said she didn’t feel the same about me. In the minute I had taken to use the restroom, she lost confidence in her desire. She may have been afraid of being in a long-term relationship, but she was also afraid of feeling used and of growing close to someone who was leaving so soon. She said she needed more time to assess her feelings and that we should get together again another night.
When I returned home, I did what every internet junkie does. I logged onto Facebook and “updated my status:”
Mutually “falling in love” (or whatever the fuck you want to call knee-shaking intense attraction) with someone you just met is super amazing
Why had I chosen those words, “falling in love”? Yes, I had put them in scare quotes to emphasize my suspicion, but I had never thought the word “love” during the entire experience. Only after it was over did I choose those words. Why?
II. Who Loves Who?
By morning, the previous night seemed relatively uneventful. What had just happened? Why had such a powerful event been diluted with a few hour holiday from conscious thought? Was I protecting myself from being hurt, or had I ever really felt those feelings in the first place? Had I interpreted my attraction to her, my shaky knees, and her attraction to me as “love” for the sake of security after heart aching reflection, indecision over a car purchase, intoxication, and anticipation for sexual commencement?
A thought darkened my image of myself: had I only said what I said in order to fuck her? Was I one of those douche bag guys who would say anything to get in a girl’s pants? I was concerned the previous night that that’s what she was afraid of. I reassured myself and her that I was being sincere and I sincerely believed that! But I can be a manipulative person with plans below the surface, acting and desiring to be considerate but not without a more primal underlying desire. Was I unaware of my subterranian agenda? Had I fooled myself the night before that I wasn’t one of those guys? I wanted to believe I was better, but the question presented itself to me: was I?
But that sketchy story is also a fiction, a story just as much as the previous one about falling in love. Just as there is no one ultimate meaning to life and the cosmos, there is no intrinsic meaning to our affect and actions. Whether I narrate myself as sincere and sweet or stealthy and seductive, when it comes down to it, I am both and neither, for all “I” am is a fiction with no author. “I” am but a translator of actions and affect of the practices of my-self-formation. To translate oneself to oneself is perhaps our most fundamental responsibility. Who is self? Not “I,” but self-conscious autopoesis–life becoming conscious of itself, naming itself as such, and narrating itself into existence through its bastard child be call language.
It’s a scary thing not knowing who we are. And that’s why we write. More fundamental than being sincere, sweet, stealthy, and seductive, I am a sorcerer conjuring new identities and worlds to inhabit. These are not my creations, for I do not simply precede them as a cause to an effect. For the very “I” who has crafted these narrative dolls is itself a doll woven by yet a doll before it and the one before it and is contingent upon whatever string and instruments those dolls have been enlightened to use. We are driven to translate our affect and actions to others in conversation, to share our-self-formation and to be recognized as such. So “I” can never be sufficient. There must always be an other who precedes, exceeds, and lives amongst my presence.
III. A String Theory of Love:
The compulsion to feel complete and connected is a human one as is the suffering produced by it. In an impermanent world in which we are all by natural law unraveling, the concept of “love” as that which binds is very securing. But love is not the stitches, nor the stitching. Love is the gravitational force that spins the soft string so that it contacts and caresses other string. It pulls us closer to others while not binding one to the other so that me may slip in and out of our identities, unraveling into and out of one another. There is no inherent meaning to the string of love beyond the pleasure, desire, and joy of love’s contact; and whatever meaning there is, is woven and rewoven.
Love is a craft out of our control. To bind ourselves to ourselves and to those we care about is not always an affirmation of love, but more often an act to protect ourselves from it. To love self and other is to allow slippage into and out of one another, reducing friction. At times, the discomfort of friction and puncturing is necessary to free others who have been tied up by the hands of others in the cat’s cradle of oppression. To love, then, is not to secure and design, but to ride along the sensual flows of soft fabric that rips, tears, is punctured, and patched up. This is the life of string.
So-called “love” is a beautiful fabrication. It’s not something that exists prior to linguistic craftmanship of the materials and instruments we’ve inherited from past experiences and techniques. It’s an art form of the deceit of security. When I say “I love you,” I am translating my affect and self into existence, weaving the strings that pre-exist me into a doll in relationship to another doll to make myself whole, to complete “me.” So it is true that “love” makes one complete, but only true as a fabrication. The reality that underlies it, however, is that “love” is not love. It is us who does the stitching and the knotting for love is always in motion, not stasis. It is an unnameable excess through which “we” come into existence.