Against Love: A Polemic
By Laura Kipnis
So are you the type who hadn't realized how unhappy you'd been until you found yourself in the midst of a serious life-shattering affair, diving headlong into this new person's arms to escape the rising tide of emotional deadness at home and in some ridiculously short space of time risking things you never thought you'd risk, without a clue how you've gotten yourself into this whole thing or what disasters might be waiting around the next comer (or the next credit card bill)? If not, please use your imagination: imagine that every moronic love song is drilling a pathway directly to your deepest self, imagine being hurtled up and down the entire gamut of emotions from one hour to the next, consuming Turns like Raisinets, but what if it's a million times more compelling than anything else in your life? Even if home life wasn't totally terrible, even if there were (and are) good times plus all the comforts of familiarity and history and even affection-when not squeezed out by a festering accretion of disappointments and injuries or that low-hanging cloud of overfamiliarity which means knowing in advance the shape of every argument before it even happens, and everything you once liked best about yourself getting buried under the avalanche of routine. Let's say there's even sex-reliably satisfying, gets-the-job-done sex (and what's wrong with that?)-but how can that compare to the feeling of being reinvented? Of being desired? Of feeling fascinating?
Or maybe you're the type who dived headlong into this love affair-possibly not for the first time?-as a rickety lifeboat from an entirely familiar unhappiness that you can't bring yourself to do anything about, and whose bittersweet romance with your own melancholia or extended penance for imagined sins (early religious training never stops rearing its head for some) will be your new lover's real competition, not that mate waiting at home But even having made your bed you'd still prefer a little company in it now and then, plus the occasional rush of possibility all the while knowing that eventually the sackcloth will come out and there you'll be, as penitent as the day is long, slinking back to the familiar emotional deep freeze that you can't (or won't) forsake.
Or maybe you weren't unhappy at all, and things were just fine at home, and you were just unlucky enough to fall in love.
Whatever your type, however it started, the point is that you didn't plan to feel this way, it just happened-well maybe you didn't plan not to either, or didn't have the foresight and "maturity" to put the brakes on before it was too late; and if you started spilling the most intimate details about your relationship problems after a couple of drinks, and lately seem to be fantasizing out loud about the future in ways that are clearly rash, and venturing onto emotional limbs that might crack under your combined weight, and saying things you probably shouldn't because they do have rather a promissory air ("I've been wailing my whole life to meet someone like you" I've never felt this way about anyone before"), or an increasing number of those marathon confessional lovers' tell-alls contain rueful yearning sentences beginning with the phrase "If you and I lived together..." or references to foreign locales to which idyllic future visits might be arranged; if there's been more than one discussion of respective tastes in furniture or decor and potential agreements or arguments over (even style dissensions can have something charming about them when tinged with eros, something your mate has yet to comprehend) along with fantasized-perhaps enacted?-introductions to best friends or nonjudgmental family members ("You'd really love my sister"), or extended discussions of your plight with said friends and family members; it's just because you haven't felt connected to anyone for so long. And because you can't believe your luck in nabbing such an amusing, sexy, and adoring lover, and for the moment the bliss is edging out the anxiety about where all this is going to lead-although maybe you've had an occasional stomach-churning moment too, and a full night's sleep is a distant memory.
"Bliss": often synonymous with intense sexual reawakening-or for a few of us late bloomers, an erotic initiation (who knew it could feel this way!)-that has you stumbling around in states of altered consciousness and electrified embodiment; that has you fantasizing about sex: a) when you wake up in the morning, b) shower, c) drive to work, d) work, e) confer with the boss, f) take meetings, g) make household arrangements with the partner, h) dine en famille or with friends, i) try to get work done after dinner because you got none done during the day because you were lost in sex reveries. All of which means that the entire concept of "life as usual" has taken on a radical new dimension; it's a whole new sexy way of existing in the world. Granted, "newness" doesn't mean that there isn't a certain conventionality about it also. But conventional is not how it feels when you're in the midst of it.
It feels fun. It feels rebellious. Instead of Bartleby hunched dutifully over that project or report that was due days or weeks ago, there you are on the computer composing witty novella-length e-mails to your beloved. Every time you hit "send" you're redirecting resources: your productivity, your attention, the boss's dollar. Rebellion? It's virtually industrial sabotage. From upstanding citizen to petty thief: pilfering from the company stockroom, poaching in the boss's pond, as useless to the forces of production as a lovestruck hormonal teenager or a Romantic poet-no, you're hardly going to make Employee of the Year this way. You're in a state of perpetual exhaustion, raw and unmoored, up half the night either tossing and turning, or huddled in a closet or guest bathroom whispering away on the phone; days are spent in a pleasant sleepy fog, alert enough only to plot your next assignation. Or you're gabbing on the phone all day, meaning late, late nights finishing what you never got done at work and which is-oh shit!-due tomorrow. But who cares? What a blast it is feeling so unfamiliar to yourself: a tightrope walker, an explorer, a neo-virgin, a Wordsworth. You're a dust-bowl farmer whose dry scrubby fields have been transformed into lush verdant plains by a miracle rainfall, vitality coursing through your thirsty back rows where only shortly ago barrenness and despair prevailed. You're remaking the world through emotions and desire, which is a full-time job in itself.