The thought sprang to mind this morning, as I awakened, that my own need for love in my ‘romantic’ relationships is very closely bound up with a strong, recurring desire I have to recover my innocence, the unmolested joy of my early childhood—in two words, my blissful ignorance. I seek to return, atavistically, to a former condition wherein I was as yet unaware of the problems, the dangers, the anxieties and responsibilities with which I am confronted each day as a self-conscious, thinking adult. In my romantic love fantasy I seek a soothing balm against this corrosive knowledge, against the very sobering insights I’ve worked so strenuously to unearth and seize for myself.
It is almost like a longing for return to the Garden—before the Fall, before having tasted the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Of course, one revisits and re-awakens the tender and delicate realm of childhood innocence at considerable risk, since the thin, sensitive skin of the exposed heart cannot easily endure the cold, biting winds which blow and beat so mercilessly against the thick-skinned man of public affairs or the delving, dauntless, authentic psychologist. In romance, spurred on by the sometimes ravenous hunger for the childlike, the lyrical, and for that exquisite and utterly exclusive private intimacy savored by new lovers, we are invited to remove our armor and disarm our skeptical mistrust—and to believe again.
It may be wondered why such love should require the props and buttresses of belief. For one schooled by past disappointments and all-too-frequent glimpses into the fragility and the fickleness of human beings (myself included), it becomes increasingly difficult to regard belief as a substantive or affirmative state. Instead, it may be better described as a tentative and easily reversible suspension of a much deeper, fundamental mistrust. Such ‘belief’ is but a temporary, dreamlike relaxation of one’s painfully and laboriously earned perspective of suspicion, of piercing doubt, and wary detachment. In this sense, ‘belief’ amounts almost to self-contradiction—if not self-betrayal—since the lion’s share of one’s former misfortunes have branded this acquired mistrust into one’s very flesh. But then, I have already said that my craving for this romance which requires belief to support and encourage it is prompted at an even deeper level by the hunger for escape from myself—from the icy loneliness engendered by those hard truths for which the philosopher and psychologist has sacrificed so much ‘innocent’ joy, renounced so many sweet dreams and consoling lies.
I recognize a discernible pattern in my erotic-romantic history. I observe a strange dialectic, the point and counterpoint hidden within the movements, back and forth, between my strenuous labors in the cold depths, on the one hand, and the promised warmth and sweetness found in the arms of a lover, on the other. If, while cooing and kissing with my newfound lover, I am occasionally startled by the jarring declension of my accustomed, ‘ponderous’ discourse into mawkish baby-talk, my pride seems nevertheless willing to endure a bit of mortification just so long as I continue to be accosted with carnal and celestial caresses from my current sweetheart.
The question naturally arises: am I doomed to continue swinging, like a goose in a noose, between these two apparently opposed worlds of warm love and tender childishness, on the one hand, and cold, lonely psychological investigations, on the other? Are the two pursuits mutually exclusive—to the point where one simply cannot loyally (and un-hypocritically) serve the one without eschewing or forfeiting the other? And don’t they both ultimately seem to be despotic in their demands upon my soul, once I have been re-conscripted into their service? Is it possible here to envision—or better, to discover—a continuum between these two seemingly antithetical poles, so that a path, however precarious and steep, may be found between them—an unbroken path—and not, as it seems today, an abyss yawning between them—a deep crevasse over which I am periodically compelled to leap?
After further reflecting upon this problem, I am now inclined to see something suspicious on both sides of this ‘antithesis.’ On the ‘love’ and ‘innocent bliss’ side I suspect that there is a good deal more infantilism and selfishness than there is genuine love—for authentic love is always inclined to think first of what is good for the beloved, and only later of what we want or demand from the beloved. Romantic intoxication, which always has something youthful and ‘foolish’ about it, is perhaps better described as a temporary condition of delighted mutual exploitation than as ‘love,’ as any honest ‘victim/predator’ who has been down this path will admit (after a few belts of Scotch whiskey). And on the other side? I suspect that any philosophical or psychological quest that involves such a stark and spartan diet of isolation, coldness, hardness, darkness, and ascetic aloofness towards the claims of the flesh and the heart cannot, of itself, bring us to wholeness and true wisdom. It is one thing to have to pass through such regions of icy, dark isolation from time to time if we are to gain the wisdom and courage required to stand alone with ourselves (without going mad)—but it is another thing, altogether, to wallow or revel in such inhospitable and uninhabited zones, for in a real sense one eventually becomes merged, almost indistinguishably, with the contexts or the psychological regions he chronically inhabits.