Tuesday, May 29, 2007

This Is Not About Love

So Lina did a great post about the possibility (or impossibility) of having a love affair with an online person. This post has got me thinking, in that I'm a pretty practical girl and I'm not one to fall in love easily even in the most conventional of scenarios. Can one fall in love with a person whom one has never met in real life?


I definitely think that one can become infatuated with a person whom one has never met. Or whom one has met but whom one doesn't actually "know," which I think is another side of the same coin. What is the Imaginary Boyfriend if not that? But this question of love... well, it's a question of what we talk about when we talk about love, isn't it? (And if you've not read the Carver story, or listened to the Old 97s song, you should.)

I remember a conversation I had with a friend a couple of months ago in which we were talking about what love is, and his shtick was this whole "love is ephemeral and cannot last" thing. And I remember I got into this big debate with him in which I said to him (or, probably more accurately, kind of yelled at him) that he was full of shit - that love was something you decided to do every day. That love wasn't something that happens to you, but rather something that we choose - and that it's only when one or the other person stops choosing that love stops. Now, this may surprise you, but I actually believe that. I know it surprised me, when I realized it as I vehemently made my case. But apparently, with all experience to the contrary, I do actually believe that lasting love is possible. But I believe it's something you jump into - not something you fall into - not some accidental slip that happens when you're not paying attention to the icy sidewalk, but rather a willful leap. You might end up on your ass in both scenarios, but I'd rather make the leap and fall on my ass than slip on a bit of black ice.

I'm not sure which of these two ways of thinking is more romantic or more cynical. On the one hand, if one believes that one "falls" into love, that's the traditional romantic definition, right? We are powerless over love, and it happens when we least expect it. This can be comforting, when one is one of the Lonely People - "Hey! I could fall in love tomorrow! It could happen!" Kind of like how one time a bird shit on me as I was walking with my mom. (That analogy should tell you what I think of that idea. Just because it happens, out of your control, doesn't mean it's necessarily a positive, yeah?) On the other hand, though, my theory, the "you choose it every day" theory, while not the most conventional romantic way of thinking about love, certainly is romantic, because it reveals a kind of faith in "true love and love forever" (I think this is a paraphrase or perhaps even a quotation of Lawrence but I can't be bothered to look it up) that my readers probably wouldn't expect of me. But yes, it seems that I do believe in that, even if I don't believe in "soul mates" or any of that crap (which is also totally passive). It's not about finding one's soul mate but about choosing one's PARTNER, flaws and all.

The fact of the matter is, when one hasn't met a person, it's easier to construct a person as one's soul mate. It's easier not to see the whole person but to manufacture the person into a character that fits one's idealized version of what one might want in one's life. This is one reason why it's weird to meet bloggy people in whatever context: we all have our ideas about who "Crazy" is or who "Profgrrrrl" is or who "Medusa" or who "Horace" or who "Dean Dad" are, but those are identities that we build out of the words and information that are provided for us. And maybe we "know" those people through emails, too, but even that is the same situation: we're "reading" these personae. Even if one has talked to somebody on the phone, one can, depending on the circumstance, make the other person up. Elide the flaws in favor of the fantasy.

But isn't that true in real life, too? If one believes that one is going to happen upon one's one and only One True Love, won't one try to construct each and every person one meets according to that agenda? Regardless of who the person really is? Now, I've had a One True Love in my time, but that's exactly what he was - a construction based on fantasy. I didn't "know" him (though I did, in the conventional sense, know him). In contrast, one might meet a person in an online context and get to know that person for real in a way that I never knew my OTL. Which is more real? Which is love?

Lina's verdict in her post is that, ultimately, one "can't have a true love affair with someone you've never met." Her reasons relate to the physicality of true love, the intimacy of snuggling after sex, etc. I think what I'd say is that one can't have a meaningful, intimate relationship without that physicality. Now, one can be intimate, and one can have meaningful interactions, and one can have a relationship, but one can't have all three simultaneously without the physical. The thing about being stuck in language (which is really what all this is about, I suppose) is that there are rules to follow, a grammar, a syntax, a linear structure. In spite of the best efforts of great writers, there's just not a way out of that. No, not even for Joyce in Finnegans Wake, though he makes a valiant attempt. And the thing about love affairs with those whom we've not met is that they are bound by the grammar, syntax, and structure of language. For me, that doesn't mean they're not love affairs, but it does mean that they don't translate into the physical reality of one's life unless one makes the big leap into the physical world. And perhaps that's the thing: they might be love affairs, but they're not being in love. There are finite lines that wrap around the affair and close it off from the realities of one's day-to-day existence. And it doesn't matter how much one talks about one's day-to-day life: the person still isn't in it.

But then, it's not even as simple as that. With all of this technology at our fingertips, it IS possible for a person to be "in" one's life even if they're not local. I mean, take my A. for example. We talk every day. She is "in" my life as much as BFF who is local is in my life. That said, hanging with A. in person this weekend was so important. So as much as she's "in" my life all the time, being with her was different, and a good different. So in thinking about that, here's what I'd say about the technologically enabled love affair that does not cross the line into the physical: for me, it's the deliberately limited thing. (And I feel like I'm quoting something with that phrase, too, but again, too lazy to look it up, as whatever it is, it is obscure, though I think it might be Doris Lessing.) The technologically enabled love affair is safe. One's beloved is always at a distance. One doesn't have to deal with their irritating habits; one doesn't have to, ultimately, compromise. But it's also less than what it is when one has to deal with the risk, when one has to deal with the irritating habits, and one has to compromise. It is both more and less intimate, and it is both more and less real, but always, there is a limitation.

Does that mean one doesn't love? I don't think so. It just means one doesn't love with her whole heart. And if she did, she'd be an idiot.


Dr. Virago said...

I've had that same argument with a male friend that you had with yours. Only he was a Romanticist and so would tell me that my view of love was very Wollestonecraftian -- love as rooted in rational choice and friendship -- while his was Shellian (Percy, not Mary) -- love as an overwhelming power. Well, let's see: as I recall Mary Wollestonecraft kind of got jerked around by Godwin, but not nearly to the extent that her daughter did by Percy Shelley, so I'll take Mary W.'s version, thank you very much.

But seriously, I don't think you can choose to be attracted to someone if you're not, and attraction matters to relationships. But the good news is that we're generally attracted to lots and lots of people, so we *can* choose who to take seriously and who to love.. But I think you have to get to a certain place in your life to do that. For some people it comes earlier; for me, I wasn't ready until I was almost 35. I had to go on the roller coaster of not choosing a few time first before I realized it just went round and round and ended up leaving me dissatisfied.

Karet said...

Have you ever known someone intimately, without any "electronic" relationship, and then years later had an email correspondence? I'm so old that email wasn't around when I was in college, and it's funny now to learn what my ex-boyfriend's email personalities are. Know what I mean? (some of them seem more interesting than I would have thought, others less!)

Tom Paine said...

Nice post. I'm one of Lina's two crushes, so I thought I'd drop by and see what you had to say.