When you were a baby and became uncomfortable, you didn’t know what you wanted. You could scream, but you had no words to describe what was going on with you or what would change it. Your parents didn’t either. They would try one thing and then another; give you food, change your diaper, burp you, maybe just hold you and sing. When you stopped crying, they figured they had it. That must have been what you wanted.
In time, you began to associate all the various things they did for you when you cried with this experience of wanting. The food, the diaper, the burping, the singing: they called them your desires and you learned to call them that, too; but they weren’t your desires, they were only the symbols of your desires. For instance, just because you stopped crying when they gave you food, does not mean that it was food you needed. Maybe you just needed someone to pay attention to you. Maybe you needed love.
Babies who are not loved will sicken, weaken, and may die. Grown adults who are not loved will not do so well, either. But there’s a problem with love, you can’t ask for it. You can only ask for its symbols.
You can ask your husband to bring you flowers, but, if he does, you will know you had to ask for them and they won’t count for as much. You can ask your wife to be more sexy and wanton, but, deep down, you know that’s not who she is. You can’t compel affection, command spontaneity, arrange for grace. True love cannot be bought and sold, ordered and filled. The government cannot provide it after filling out a four part form; you can’t even get it from Amazon.
The symbols of desire can be insistent and dictatorial. You may believe that if you do not obey them: buy those shoes, have sex with this person, drink that beer, go on this vacation, marry that person, get a divorce; you will be destitute and unfulfilled. But, all those things are just the symbols of the nameless, inchoate desire. They are a paper tiger, a powerless tyrant, a blustering, threatening Saddam Hussein with no weapons of mass destruction.
Your ultimate experience of love and the true object of your desires was encountered before you ever had a language. Things that you experienced during this period are beyond the reach of language and reason. They are like the foundation of your house: buried deep and inaccessible. They, nonetheless, support everything and determine the shape of the structure.
So, that’s the problem with talking about love. We know what we are talking about, but can’t find adequate words to describe it.
In my next post, I will talk about love in a totally inadequate manner. I will treat it as a business contract. We shall see if that reveals the foundation.