Cautiously in love

I just wanted to say thank you very much to everyone who has taken the time to stop by and read my blog. A much bigger thank you to those who have liked, commented, followed, etc. I appreciate the support and am thrilled that you find this subject and the content as appealing as I do.

For today’s post, I received a question from a reader that I want to share and respond to. (If anyone else has any questions they want me to tackle, please feel free to send them in!)

Can you address how getting close to someone can create a feeling of vulnerability to the point where you fear getting too close to the person?
– Cautiously in love

Dear Cautiously in love,

My very first post mentioned a New York Times article discussing how Alain Badiou thought it was absurd that tourists were chaining love locks on Parisian bridges:

The idea that you can lock two people’s love once and for all, and toss the key, is a puerile fantasy. For Mr. Badiou, love is inherently hazardous, always on the brink of failure and above all vulnerable.

We are taught from a young age in the Western world to plan and to go for what we want. We have a difficult time acknowledging that not everything is in our control and that we aren’t as independent and as self-reliant as we try to convince ourselves we are. And love is one of those things that profoundly shakes up our sense of independence. It lays bare all of our vulnerabilities and weaknesses, exposing them not just to others, but also to ourselves.

A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon introduces the idea of open-loop limbic resonance, meaning our brain functions are created and physically changed by those we care for.

“Because loving is a reciprocal physiologic influence, it entails a deeper and more literal connection than most realize. Limbic regulation affords lovers the ability to modulate each other’s emotions, neurophysiology, hormone status, immune function, sleep, rhythms, and stability…. Lovers hold the key to each other’s identities, and they write neostructural alterations into each other’s networks.”

So remember all those times when you can’t sleep at night because your significant other is away? Yes, those aren’t just because you’re pining for them and madly in love. It’s also because your brain misses the regulation that he or she provides by being close.

I think that the vulnerability you’re feeling is because both your heart and your head are slowly becoming more and more dependent on someone else and you are trying to think your way out of it. That fear you feel comes from the logical, socially-conditioned place that is resisting the direction your body is going in. And that’s fine. There’s a lot to be said for being cautious and not completely giving in to your emotions. You need to have some sense of self-awareness to be able to protect yourself in the event that your head and heart have misjudged.

But for now…guess what? The fact that you feel vulnerable means that you are already in too deep, so stop trying to think yourself out of it. Give your brain and your heart a chance! 🙂

loop of dependence

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Love isn’t a possibility, but an overcoming of the impossible

I will stop my chapter by chapter break down of In Praise of Love and just get into how love is constructed according to Badiou, and more importantly, get into what is this crazy thing called love and how does it last.

There are two fundamental aspects of love that correspond to everyone’s experience of it.

    1. “Love contains an initial element that separates, dislocates and differentiates. You have Two. Love involves Two.”
    2. Love involves risk precisely because you going from one to Two.

What is love’s main rival? For most of us, it would be another person, someone else that competes with us for the affection and attention of the individual we love. That’s not quite the case, as Badiou explains:

Selfishness, not a rival, is love’s enemy. One could say: my love’s main enemy, the one I must defeat, is not the other, it is myself, the “myself” that prefers identity to difference, that prefers to impose its world against the world re-constructed through the filter of difference.

It turns out that you are your own worst enemy, your insecurities, your ego, you desire for perfection without appreciating the other as he or she is, your desire to keep barriers and maintain differences rather than seeing past them.

So once you have love, does it last forever? I haven’t seen a study on this, but I’d be willing to bet that everyone, or at the very least the female population, would jump at the chance to freeze love, to preserve that moment where you’ve both declared your love for each other and life seems blissful, and you want it to stay that blissful forever. Alas, it does not last. You have arguments. You get married and maybe lose the excitement you once had. You get caught up in the day to day routine and take the other for granted. And then…you get angry because it feels like you’ve lost the love you have before.

Love invents a different way of lasting in life. That everyone’s existence, when tested by love, confronts a new way of experiencing time.

But love has many shapes and forms. Just as all species have needed to adapt and evolve to survive, love needs to as well. It cannot be and it should not be the same a few months/years/decades later as it first was.

So I’ve left this to the very end, but what is this “love” that Badiou has gone on about and that I’ve detailed in about 3.5 blog posts?

– Love is above all a construction that lasts. We could say that love is a tenacious adventure. The adventurous side is necessary, but equally so is the need for tenacity. To give up at the first hurdle, the first serious disagreement, the first quarrel, is only to distort love. Real love is the one that triumphs lastingly, sometimes painfully, over the hurdles erected by time, space and the world.

– The process of love isn’t always peaceful. It can bring violent argument, genuine anguish and separations we may or may not overcome. We should recognize that it is one of the most painful experiences in the subjective life of an individual.

– Strictly speaking, love isn’t a possibility, but rather the overcoming of something that might appear to be impossible. Something exists that had no reason to, which was never offered to you as a possibility.

I feel vindicated in reading this version of love, and not just because it corresponds so neatly with my own romantic version of love. I think it’s refreshing for someone to describe the depth and passion of the state of love into such an eloquent and humbling manner that doesn’t downgrade love as cheesy or kitschy.

Above all, Badiou’s notion of love celebrates transforming the seemingly not possible into the possible. And that is quite celebratory. For two people to come together and create a bond from nothing and to continue to sustain that bond to make it into something is simply amazing.

Monkey and bear(awwwww…)

Sex separates people, it does not unite them.

photo (2)

Jacques Lacan concludes that “there is no such thing as a sexual relationship.” In chapter two of In Praise of Love, Badiou elaborates on what exactly Lacan meant by that.

In sex, “each individual is to a large extent on their own,” and at the end of the day, “the please will always be your own pleasure.” Yes, you clearly need at least two to have sex and you can pleasure each other, but “what is real is that pleasure takes you a long way away” from the other because you both experience pleasure separately.

Lacan says sexual relationships don’t exist and that love is what comes to replace that non-relationship. Badiou writes:

In love the individual goes beyond himself, beyond the narcissistic. In sex, you are really in a relationship with yourself via the mediation of the other. The other helps you to discover the reality of pleasure. In love, on the contrary, the mediation of the other is enough in itself. Such is the nature of the amorous encounter: you do to take on the other, to make him or her exist with you, as he or she is.

Badiou refers to a passage in Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex where she reduces post-sex to a type of theatrical farce. Badiou is disgusted by this.

While desire focuses on the other, always in a somewhat fetishist manner, on particular objects, like breasts, buttocks and cock…love focuses on the very being of the other, on the other as it has erupted, fully armed with its being into my life this disrupted and re-fashioned.

Badiou’s depiction of love as disruptive and re-inventing doesn’t sound as Romantic as it appears to be. He doesn’t claim that it will be the answer to all your questions or that it will lift your soul towards the divine. He’s just saying that love takes risk and precisely because it is to predicated on chance, it also disrupts. Love also doesn’t stay the same, it need to re-invent and re-fashion itself….but that’s for tomorrow’s post!

Love really is a unique trust placed in chance

“Anyone who doesn’t take love as a starting point will never understand the nature of philosophy.”
– Plato

I didn’t do the best job of introducing Alain Badiou, so I’ll give a brief sketch before getting into the first chapter of In Praise of Love, called “Love Under Threat”.

Badiou’s biography on The European Graduate School’s website says:

Alain Badiou, Ph.D., born in Rabat, Morocco in 1937, holds the Rene Descartes Chair at the European Graduate School EGS. Alain Badiou was a student at the École Normale Supérieure in the 1950s. He taught at the University of Paris VIII (Vincennes-Saint Denis) from 1969 until 1999, when he returned to ENS as the Chair of the philosophy department. He continues to teach a popular seminar at the Collège International de Philosophie, on topics ranging from the great ‘antiphilosophers’ (Saint-Paul, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Lacan) to the major conceptual innovations of the twentieth century.

Badiou’s most general goal can be described, then, as the effort to expose and make sense of the potential for profound, transformative innovation in any situation. He distinguishes four general fields of truth, or four domains of subjectivation (which in turn operate as the four generic ‘conditions’ of philosophy itself): politics, science, art and love.

The website also provides a conscience summary of what I think will be the summary of Badiou’s view of love:

Genuine love begins in the wake of an unpredictable encounter that escapes the conventional representation of sexual roles, continues as a fidelity to the consequences of that encounter, and is sustained through an unrepresentable exposure to what Lacan famously described as the ‘impossibility of a sexual relationship’.

In Praise of Love - Badiou(There are several covers for this book, but I prefer this one.)

Badiou’s summary of Lacan’s view on love in the first chapter deserves a post on it’s own, so I’ll limit this post to what Badiou believes love is under treat from.

Love confronts two enemies, essentially: safety guaranteed by an insurance policy and the comfort zone limited by regulated pressures.

In the first instance, Badiou points to dating websites and how we actively avoid randomness by choosing to meet with those people who tick our boxes. In our quest for safety and security, we are overlooking that love is “the thing that gives meaning and intensity to almost everyone’s life.” If we truly want the ardent passion that we associate with love, we also have to embrace the turbulence and risk that is also intrinsic to love.  “Love cannot be a gift given on the basis of a complete lack of risk.”

The second threat to love is the idea that “love is only a variant of rampant hedonism and the wide range of possible enjoyment.” Or essentially, love = pleasure. This view of love lacks a deep bond or a relationship. It it simply a taking of pleasure until you no longer derive pleasure.

Even philosophers have a difficult time contending with love. The majority either tend to devalue it as a “natural extravagance of sex” or elevate on par with a religious epiphany.

Badiou is not satisfied with either of those two views. For him:

Provided it isn’t conceived only as an exchange of mutual favours or isn’t calculated way in advance as a profitable investment, love really is a unique trust placed in chance. It takes us into key areas of the experience of what is difference and, essentially, leads to the idea that you can experience the world from the perspective of difference.

Love, French Style

When I was thinking about what to write for my first post, I immediately thought about this article I read in The New York Times about the locks people place on the Pont de l’Archevêché in Paris. Apparently not only do Parisians (and French people in general) have an aversion to tourists weighing down their bridges with kitschy symbols of love but they also abhor the idea that a lock could represent love. Quoting a Parisian, the article notes:

“The fools! They haven’t understood a thing about love, have they?” was the conclusion recently of a 23-year-old waiter at Panis, a cafe on the Left Bank with a view over Notre-Dame. At the heart of love à la française lies the idea of freedom. To love truly is to want the other free, and this includes the freedom to walk away. Love is not about possession or property. Love is no prison where two people are each other’s slaves. Love is not a commodity, either. Love is not capitalist, it is revolutionary. If anything, true love shows you the way to selflessness….

In his recent book, “In Praise of Love,” the French philosopher Alain Badiou reminds us that love implies constant risk. There is no safe, everlasting love. The idea that you can lock two people’s love once and for all, and toss the key, is a puerile fantasy. For Mr. Badiou, love is inherently hazardous, always on the brink of failure and above all vulnerable. Embrace its fragility, wish your beloved to be free and you might just, only just, have a chance to retain his or her undying gratitude, and love. But don’t ever dream of locks and throwing keys overboard, especially not in Paris.

Pont de l'Archevêché

As beautiful as the idea is of love meaning you want your significant other to be free, I’m skeptical of believing that. Maybe it’s because for me love and security also go hand in hand, and security and the freedom to walk away clash. But theoretically, I do agree that love should be about open doors and the freedom to walk in and out. It’s human to want to hold onto and preserve something once you get it, but nothing lasts for ever, especially if you force it to last.

I’ve bought Badiou’s book on Kindle so I can’t wait to delve into what he says.