Love Letter: Love As Art

I should begin with my credentials which are quite impressive, almost Harvard or guru status. Many years ago, I was quite smitten with a Zen roshi. We were on retreat, and he went around reading everyone’s fingerprints. He came to me, and I put my trembling hands forward. He looked down, he looked up. 

He explained to me that there are four schools: Peace, Wisdom, Service, and Love, and that he’d never witnessed anyone who had all ten fingerprints in one school and that I did—they were all in Love. This, he informed me, was potent and would likely prove challenging. I thought, burning with love for him, you got that right, but remained properly Zen silent.  

Okay, so maybe not Harvard or guru status. But I do believe this qualifies me as an expert on love. 

I should tell you that this in no way qualifies me as an expert in conventional relationship as I have spent a greater portion of my life not as wife or girlfriend (and when I did it was nothing if not a disaster), but as consort, the only form I know to accommodate the earthquake-prone activity of true love. 

My journal is a love letter I write to my muse almost daily. He and I rarely speak so it is how I communicate through the distance, through the hope and fear, through the doubt, through holding too tightly and giving up entirely. Some write letters to God. That is far too abstract for a lover, too pale and diffuse.  

My Love

It’s Valentine’s Day. How auspicious that it should be Ash Wednesday which heralds the holy and Valentine’s Day at the same time: love finally colliding into our notion of holy. 

You are far away right here. 

I flew out of JFK today. The security line was 90 minutes. All due to the snowstorm that didn’t really happen. Coitus interruptus of weather.

We inched forward like pilgrims to meet the faceless agents who hold your ID up. Look at your face, back at the ID, and motion you to the next station. 

“Take out your computers. They go in a separate bin.” Aggie lost her driver’s license. It’s okay. She has a passport.

She packed many, maybe six bottles, of Hal’s Seltzer. One fell out of my bag on the plane, rolled down the aisle. The Indian man who had been negotiating a deal on the phone at takeoff, irritating the woman in front of him, gently tapped my shoulder and pointed to the bottle merrily rolling into the next section. We let it keep rolling. 

Most of the flight, I managed the creative tempest. She barely took a breath, talking in my ear nonstop about the course on Friday. I couldn’t really say, “Enough already, can we get to the part where you pull it all together? I’m getting a little nervous.” I couldn’t say that because the inner muse gets her feelings hurt easily and storms off, leaving me with no ideas whatsoever. I’ve learned to accommodate her gluts and gushes so that she never goes radio silent. I entertain as much as I can and then watch the flight attendants for a while and wonder if their skin gets dry from so much flying.

After, we were in the Uber driving through the tenderloin. It was dark, shimmery San Francisco, shiny streets from earlier rain.

The tempest whispered, Make each your beloved, that would be you, for the weekend. 

That seems crazy.

No hear me out. Just be it. Be what you want them to feel. In other words, see them as I see you, my love. The way Chongwol told me to imagine the whole audience was Sarasvati when I spoke in San Francisco. Imagine that they are you. 

Of course I argued. People think I’m weird enough as it is. How inappropriate. It is not in good taste to wear a mic and sit in front of people naked. It’s not in good taste to be naked period. Exposing yourself, your heart, your humiliation, your hope—that is not in good taste. 

Only discuss the problems of love, the theories about love, perhaps the ceremonies of love, but do not strip it bare in the middle of the room and let yourself be felt. This is what we say to each other. I am glad if you know love but please, keep it to yourself. 

What if I were the one to say let’s dispense with pretense, the distant third-person voice of the educator? What if I were to do the trembling thing instead of reading 13 poems that point to it?

What if I were to love them as I love you, where the aim is a love that is newly fashioned to invoke the imagination, provoke the senses, and evoke the rainbow spectrum of emotions? 

This is what I will do.

It will be good to see your face in so many faces.

I didn’t tell you. In your absence, I took on a new companion. Younger but strong. He’s just learning to speak in my presence. I don’t mind but for his discomfort because I’m not big on conversation. I do like when he tells me how I make him feel. It’s like doubling down. I get to feel me and then me in him. I find out who I am in the form of a young, artistic man. Apparently, I am quite sexual in that form as, like music in the background, images of him naked in his bed in various states of tension, how he imagines my body, play through my mind. 

And well, I took back an old companion. Past lover is perhaps more accurate. With a king’s belly and the accompanying harumph at anything other than me, as far as I can tell. 

“Did I ever hurt you?” I asked. Ten years ago I left unceremoniously after the best lovemaking of my life. Before you, I was feeling more apparition than woman, something I was not prepared for in the cold, hard world of business that my life was then.

Big Indian king man with big Indian king belly.My head was in his lap when I said. 

“You broke my heart.” 

He responded, “Goes with the territory, not of me not loving you, but of me loving you.”

I knew I would have chucked it all for him, all of it. We stood on the corner in Soho. He said let’s go to India. That corner became a crossroads. I went the other way.

He nods. Squeezes my face. I’m back now.

I told him about my journeys with the shaman in Spain. The way that a funnel in the sky opens and sucks out all the fear. 

You die, you know. That’s what they say. I did it seven times. 

“Looks like you were pretty determined to die,” my king says about my story.

“That’s why I can see you again. I have no fear. I wanted to see what this looked like without fear.”

You, my love, remind me of him. Or he of you. I’m not sure of the order. Who’s the primary number in these equations. He saw my statue with Parvati, Shiva, and Ganesh. 

“Indians have three questions you know, you cut off your son’s head and replaced it with an elephant’s. If you could do that why not just put your son’s head back on? And you’re a god, Shiva, so how could you not tell that this was your son? He’s the lord of the realm, he could just turn back time.” I said, “Like you?” He said, “I have no such powers.” I didn’t believe him. 

I thought you’d get a kick out of that. 

I just said, “Poor Parvati had to stand on one leg in the snow to capture Shiva’s attention.” 

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman. She gave all her love to just one man. I do too. He just has a lot of bodies. 

Remember the time when I went on strike, and I didn’t come to the big lunch because I didn’t like the way you kissed that other woman? I wrote you a letter then too. Only that one, I sent. I explained that I am the two-o’clock spot. All things love.

We all have tendencies or preferences that make our particular signature. The aim is to fully develop that signature as a carrier signal while developing all other spots, speeds, and pressures in such a way that you have full optionality, while having a unique gift to offer. My frequency, for example, is the two-o’clock spot. The stroke on that spot evokes what we might think of as the various expressions of love: ranging from a feeling of deep sex to compassion. Heavier pressure and it’s sex; lighter and it’s compassion.

That’s what I’m teaching about on Friday. I worry. I worry that not everyone knows this love the way Lamas and Rinpoches likely don’t worry but want people to know light. The lightness of being without that burdensome self. 

I want everyone to know the weight of being, always carrying another. The way your feet strike the ground differently. The way the chords in a song howl differently. The way loneliness has a poignancy, a meaning, a substance.

I want every woman to know what it is to issue a signal of such strength that he returns the way crows do, loyal to where they have been fed with tiny shiny objects as gifts. How that signal burns away the indifference or ignorance, and anyone in its beam grows more attractive as they attune to it. How clothes don’t make a man, nor does fixing, just this steady, unwavering signal. 

I want to share the art of love because I love men, love art, love love itself. I fear that this might be a bit much in a world that sees men as either bumbling fools or as the gender that is only here to serve and protect. And knows love as a weak tea not strong enough to wake you up. 

How would I ever explain to a world that believes in the self that I do not exist without a you? I am called into being the way RevJo used to thank me for praying her into my life. I’m not. Until a thought, a vision, a desire calls me in. Then I am the basement desire of the person on the other end of the line. I am the Mrs. Robinson or Yeshe Tsogyal to the fresh flesh young man. The co-queen who has built and destroyed nations with her king. And the space space space space of the yearning that draws worlds into being in a display of my wares to you—a woman’s peacock feathers. 

How do I explain what it is like to stand before another, any other—man woman, young old, grumpy lascivious—and become the complement, to adjust the rheostat to present as that which wants to be seen? What the suspicious call shapeshifting, acquiescing, accommodating—the nascent form that when charged with volition is the high art of woman. 

Men want to know what they are capable of. 

Women want the other that would draw out the “anything for,” the “I would do anything, be anything, create anything for you.” Our tastes grow more sophisticated as we develop our capacity to match the vision of the one viewing us, as we meet the rare ones who can see us not merely as object but as subject. 

The love, the fire down below must burn hot enough to draw me forth. But that is how I know. I know that you love me including hate, want me, need me, despite your dismissal and rejections, your brush-offs and every now and again nods—I know because I am here. I exist. That is you. 

You will argue with me and have plenty of scripture to back you. I will not argue back and have the truth to back me.

People will get up in arms, call me too big for my britches when I use the example of the Buddha, how after awakening he did not want to share what he knew. 

But it was the Brahma who said, “Let the One-Well-Gone teach the Dhamma! There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.”

I’m hoping the same. That there will be those who will understand love, synonymous with risk. Love with its own authority. That would, if it could, bow down to, accommodate, the scripture but for the fact that it birthed it. Not the other way around. And at the same time, it exists, I exist, because there is you. 

I like Thomas Moore’s take on it:

“If each god has his own logos, then Eros, too, has his special logic and necessities. In art he has often been pictured as a handsome adolescent, and in the story of Eros and Psyche, he is the wild son of Aphrodite, easy to love and difficult to abide with. He brings the psyche promises of pleasure and many occasions for suffering. He pleases without measure, and he tortures without any apparent misgiving.”

Rather than present a program of painless love, the aim is to point to the authority of the path of the bittersweet. The black that implies the white. What the marketing people and saints would aim to eliminate, love welcomes in as initiation. He continues, “Initiation is a rite of soul-making. Innocence may have to be punctured. Idealized notions of self, other, and love may have to earn their ripening shadows. A third element may have to appear to keep the two in love from closing their world in on themselves. Primal, Eden-like trust may have to mature so that one doesn’t go about life with an innocence frequently shocked and undone by disappointment and betrayal.”

Eros always leads to psyche. Even, and perhaps especially, impossible loves invite interiorizing. As the ancient tale spells out, the soul tortured by love is in an ordeal in which specific initiations are carried out. The psyche’s attachment to the love that is so difficult keeps it within the work of initiation. 

Desire, longing, attachment, intensity, endurance, receptivity—these qualities of soul are in league with Erotic demands of fate.

It goes like this:  

Take a prism, put it near the window where the mid-afternoon sunlight can beam through. Watch the colors like Sufi dancers move through the room, the walls, the floor. That empty, that white, is but a seed of colors waiting for the sun to activate. This prism liberates. We, who are so bedazzled by the light, have lost sight of its purpose: to switch on the white light that is love. All of it, my love—jealousy, grief, rage, hope, yearning, ache, brokenness, rapture, bliss, compassion, effulgence, absence that gets jam-packed into this one-word container: love. We know it not as vibrant, vivid, distinct rays. We know it only as that which arouses—crimes of passion; coolings of the trembling heart of compassion. How boring. How slothful. That this opalescent rainbow, this jeweled room, this fractal light should be the muddy color of confusion. What would clarify confuses when it is pushed down into the gut because we lack the courage to unleash it, to ride it. This is why we muse. It is through art that we pull out the individual rays from the weave and play with the palate of light, paint visions into the mind of the beloved. True love liberates love, takes it off the leash, out of the cage, lets it bear its teeth and lick our face with a tongue so big it threatens to suffocate. True love supplicates us to love and puts various characters in its stead for us to enjoy its play. 

There’s a Sunday kind of love, endless love, tough love. There’s universal love and compassion. Passion and its crimes and kisses. There’s true love. My beloved and my betrothed. There’s a mother’s love, and the tail-wagging puppy love. Don’t forget the unrequited love of love songs and cowboy love which is distinct from the love of a queen for her subjects. There’s devotional love and loving kindness. Of course there’s Greek love which is distinct from geek love: agape, which has no conditions, and searching for love that has many. There’s the seasonal love of summer with back seats and promises that won’t be kept. And the vipassana love, a fervent projection of one’s love onto another. There’s the love of cupid’s arrow. And the Tibetan three kinds of love. What about Van Morrison’s crazy love, or Leonard Cohen’s love until the end of time. 

There’s love that is hardly love, wrapped in duty, and love at first sight. There’s the love that is madness and poetic that Bukowski writes about and the love of solitude that Rilke offers as the antidote. A favorite of mine, the yearning love of the troubadour and the creative love of the muse. There’s the newly branded self-love that’s a lot closer to thinking a lot of the self. Love of country and countryman. There’s black love and the green love of envy. There’s our love that is always more precious than their boring, mundane, wrung-out love. There’s a whole city of brotherly love and filial love. A nice one is ludus—playful love—which sounds to me like the wild love of the gods with thunder and lightning bolts. There’s the love of Samaya, the love of master to student with a vow to remain. And Christian love that rings bells at Christmas. There’s the Parisian-style intellectual love and the ardor of the Latinos. We must include the gradations of fondness as in rather fond. Or the taken-a-liking-to brand of British love. We have the daisy love of loves me and sadly loves me not. And the haiku of silent and enduring love. The father’s love is meant to comfort, and the revolutionary love, aimed to disrupt. 

We do it out of love, for love, and with love. We sign off letters to grandparents and crushes alike simply with love. There’s Bob Marley’s love that accepts no umbrellas and demands you get wet if you dare say you love the rain. Then the act of love that is making love. There’s the everyday declaration about a dress or pizza “I love that” and the stone-cold love that is not really cold at all. There’s this love, the love that is a strange love. And that love, of lotharios and cars. Oh, the love of Casablanca that is honorable, noble even. There are declarations of love with serenades on the ground and writing on the sky. Carnal love and the love of knowing between a man and a woman, which does not seem all that different from gay love. Love is love. There’s the lost love that makes you ask ‘why me?’ and the drunk in love who makes you ask ‘why not?’ There is the labor of love and the love that puts you into labor. Phil Collins had a groovy kind of love. Of course, there is timid love dog and Hafiz asking to the moon face ‘will you love me?’ I like the back-alley love and the shady, illicit love. There’s love for money which isn’t always love but then again neither is marriage.

 I love all the above 

Because it breathes the same air you do 

I inhale 

When they exhale 

Hoping to catch the scent of you. 

I love the cashier. I lust after the gas station attendant. I envy the fat-breasted women imagining how they would feel to you were you to hold them against you. I taste your breath in the heat coming off my tea and become a bee that I might drink the pollen that has been in your lungs. I inhale inside this small hotel room because you exhaled once in Italy. Every particle that has been in you, around you, of you, I open my mouth, heart, legs that it might enter me. 

That is the love I want people to know. To take that beige-Oxford-shirt version, put it back on the rack, and stand naked so that the light can dance on their red with blush and shame bodies. 

There’s the story Maria Popova tells of Susan R. Barry: It was not until her junior year of college that, listening to a lecture about the visual cortex, she learned about monocular and binocular vision. She was astonished to realize that she had gone through life lacking the latter—the kind most people have, which allows us to see in stereo. She accepted her condition and went on living with the lens chance had dealt her. But by midlife, her eyes had grown even more misaligned, both horizontally and vertically. She learned about a kind of vision therapy involving a set of prism glasses and some impressively inventive eye-training exercises. It was transformative. 

Imagine a person who saw only in shades of gray suddenly able to see in full color. Such a person would probably be overwhelmed by the beauty of the world. Could they stop looking? 

Each day, I spend time looking head-on at objects—flowers, my fingers, faucets, anything—to get that strong three-dimensional sense… After almost three years, my new vision continues to surprise and delight me.

This is what it is to see through the eyes of love. It offers an added dimension. You fall a little in love with everything.

But we can scarcely imagine what it would be to see the world from this vantage point as we look to the skies to define a love that comes from below. It’s not unlike William Beebe, the first deep-sea diver, who writes:

“So I gave the signal to descend quickly. After that, the flashlight was turned on. Two minutes more and ‘400 feet’ was called out; 500 and 600 feet came and passed overhead, then 700 feet where we remained for a while. Ever since the beginnings of human history, when first the Phoenicians dared to sail the open sea, thousands upon thousands of human beings had reached the depth at which we were now suspended and had passed on to lower levels. But all of these were dead, drowned victims of war, tempest, or other Acts of God. We were the first living men to look out at the strange illumination: And it was stranger than any imagination could have conceived. It was of an indefinable translucent blue quite unlike anything I have ever seen in the upper world, and it excited our optic nerves in a most confusing manner. We kept thinking and calling it brilliant, and again and again I picked up a book to read the type, only to find that I could not tell the difference between a blank page and a colored plate. I brought all my logic to bear, I put out of mind the excitement of our position in watery space and tried to think sanely of comparative color, and I failed utterly. I flashed on the searchlight, which seemed the yellowest thing I have ever seen, and let it soak into my eyes, yet the moment it was switched off, it was like the long vanished sunlight—it was as though it never had been—and the blueness of the blue, both outside and inside our sphere, seemed to pass materially through the eye into our very beings. This is all very unscientific; quite worthy of being jeered at by optician or physicist, but there it was. I was excited by the fishes that I was seeing perhaps more than I have ever been by other organisms, but it was only an intensification of my surface and laboratory interest: I have seen strange fluorescence and ultra-violet illumination in the laboratories of physicists: I recall the weird effects of color shifting through distant snow crystals on the high Himalayas, and I have been impressed by the eerie illumination, or lack of it, during a full eclipse of the sun. But this was beyond and outside all or any of these. I think we both experienced a wholly new kind of mental reception of color impression. I felt I was dealing with something too different to be classified in usual terms.”

I believe that those who have been to the depths of love know this experience. It would be an apt description of just one night spent with you.

Remember the chapter I sent you from Dr. Andrew where he said that sex is the source of spirituality and not the other way around, that the ritual of spirit is an imitation of the mating ritual plucked from the foundation and then, my addiction used against the very source itself? We keep searching for the source and yet, we dare not go down the 400, 500, 600, 700 feet. 

Or the way Rick Hansen says that life is impermanent, intense, and interconnected and yet our survival strategies are tool for the illusion of permanence, decreased sensation, and the isolation of you and me against the world. 

Love is the only force strong enough to put survival in its place and usher us into the ways of reality. 

As Diane Ackerman writes in A Natural History of Love

“Love is the great intangible. In our nightmare we can create beasts out of pure emotion. Hate stalks the streets with dripping fangs, fear flies down narrow alleyways on leather wings, and jealousy spins sticky webs across the sky. In daydreams, we can maneuver with poise, foiling an opponent, scoring high on fields of glory while crowds cheer, cutting fast to the heart of an adventure. But what dream state is love? Frantic and serene, vigilant and calm, wrung-out and fortified, explosive and sedate love commands a vast army of moods. Hoping for victory, limping from the latest skirmish, lovers enter the arena once again. Sitting still, we are as daring as gladiators.”

While at the same time:

“Love. What a small word we use for an idea so immense and powerful it has altered the flow of history, calmed monsters, kindled works of art, cheered the forlorn, turned tough guys to mush, consoled the enslaved, driven strong women mad, glorified the humble, fueled national scandals, bankrupted robber barons, and made mincemeat of kings. How can love’s spaciousness be conveyed in the narrow confines of one syllable?” 

If we search for the source of the word, we find a history vague and confusing, stretching back to the Sanskrit lubhyati (“he desires”). I’m sure the etymology rambles back much farther than that, to a one-syllable word heavy as a heartbeat. Love is an ancient delirium, a desire older than civilization, with taproots stretching deep into dark and mysterious days.

But we want love without the risk without the suffering without the angst; we want the top notes of love, all operatic, no baritones. But that would mean that it was the castrato, which, I would argue, is the artless, insurance-man’s version of love. Marriage is where sex goes to die. And yet, we have it backward: Sex is not here to serve love but vice versa, and when we turn the world right side up, we will find the unlikely solution. 

A great force for love on the planet, Alain de Botton describes our modern dilemma:

“Paris is plastered with posters for the Meetic internet dating-site, whose ads I find really disturbing. I could mention several slogans its hype uses. The first misappropriate the title of Marivaux’s play, The Game of Love and Chance, “Get love without chance!” And another says: “Be in love without falling in love!” No raptures, right? Then: “Get perfect love without suffering!” And all thanks to the Meetic dating-site…that offers into the bargain—and the notion takes my breath away—“coaching in love.” They supply you with a trainer who will prepare you to face the test.”

This hype reflects a safety-first concept of “love.” It is love comprehensively insured against all risks: you will have love, but will have assessed the prospective relationship so thoroughly, will have selected your partner so carefully by searching online—by obtaining, of course, a photo, details of his or her tastes, date of birth, horoscope sign, etc—and putting it all in the mix you can tell yourself: “This is a risk-free option!” That’s their pitch and it’s fascinating that the ad campaign should adopt it. Clearly, since love is a pleasure almost everyone is looking for, the thing that gives meaning and intensity to almost everyone’s life, I am convinced that love cannot be a gift given on the basis of a complete lack of risk. The Meetic approach reminds me of the propaganda of the American Army when promoting the idea of “smart” bombs and “zero dead” wars.

James Hillman, in conversation with Michael Ventura in an interview, goes further:

HILLMAN: Then she realized that what love is all about is heartbreak. And when you realize that what love is all about is heartbreak, you’re all right. But if you think it’s about fulfillment, happiness, satisfaction, union, all of that stuff, you’re in for even more heartbreak. 

VENTURA: Well, love is a very funny place to go for safety. 

HILLMAN: very funny place to go for safety. 

VENTURA: You get totally vulnerable and infantile with somebody you’re in love with, you’re vulnerable to their moods, their needs. And you become more vulnerable to yourself, your own needs. Things you didn’t guess were inside you will come out with a loved one, including the fact that you have needs that no one can possibly satisfy. 

HILLMAN: The thing is that two people do go to love for safety, safety for their vulnerability. Both people want to be vulnerable, but as long as you’re open and vulnerable nothing is safe. They want a safety for their vulnerability, but because of their vulnerability they can’t be safe. 

VENTURA: Anyway, the reason you’re with this certain person, this certain lover, is not about love, or at least it’s not about “having a good relationship.” You’re with this person because your soul is hungry for them, your soul is seeking something with or through them, and it will insist on what it wants. It doesn’t care what price YOU pay for that; the ego-driven, agenda-ridden you is not your soul’s priority. The nice thing about getting older is that you learn to pay some prices more gracefully, but the soul doesn’t care. The soul is absolutely merciless – toward you, and toward anybody around you. The soul doesn’t give a damn about human values. 

HILLMAN: The Gods do not care. That’s the basic old Greek idea, that the Gods do not care about that kind of human concern. Our happiness, our security doesn’t interest the Gods. 

HILLMAN: What is the price of love? T.S. Eliot says, “Costing not less than everything.” So You think you’re bringing a lot of sacrifice to it, but the sacrifice demanded, the ultimate sacrifice, is the sacrifice of love itself. All your notions of love – that’s what’s given up. Your idea of love, what you’ve thought of love, what you expect from love, what you cling to as love – that is what you give up. 

“Do you want to marry him?” someone once asked me of you. 

“Yes,” I responded, “but like this.” This is the marriage that marriage, like a globe that represents earth, pretends to be. 

There was the day, my love. I was in Mongolia, and you wrote to me. I read the pulse of every word, took the temperature of every comma. What you said was cool and scarcely beating. I was a madwoman, spinning around my room. My ex, who once induced a similar state, must have heard the call (sometimes men come to save you from men), and after years of not speaking, sent a video as the bitter medicine of love. 

Relationship has nothing to do with love.

Again, a relationship is the medium in which value is transacted. Since this is the case, relationships have rules. What is allowed and what is not allowed.

Relationships have definitions. This is what it is, and this is what it is not. And relationships have compromises. This is what I will get for what I will give up, and this is because we need rules and definitions and compromises to in effect do business with each other, which is what we do when we transact value. However, love has absolutely nothing to do with any of these things. Love does not love where it is allowed. That’s absurd. It has an imminent contempt for rules. Love does not restrict itself to a certain relationship format. It ignores every label and definition that attempts to constrain it, and love does not expect anything in return. So, there is absolutely nothing to compromise. Expecting love to abide within rules and definitions and compromises is not only absurd, it cheapens love. It’s the emotional equivalent of taking an animal out of its natural habitat and shutting it up in a zoo and then we wonder why the animal seems

so spiritless and depressed for all the benefits of its new arrangement. 

Love wants nothing but in humility, if possible, to remain in the presence of a loved one.

Everything else that you can get from someone else is worthless junk by comparison. 

Love wants only to remain in the presence of the loved one but is willing to sacrifice even that for the good of the loved one. 

So this is why love has nothing to do with relationships. All the things that people want in relationships—children, commitment, respect, sex, lifestyle, excitement, security—love doesn’t care about any of them. Love doesn’t care whether it gives everything and receives nothing in return precisely because it is not transactional. But we would call such a relationship where one person gives everything and receives nothing in return an abusive or exploitative relationship. Love is given spontaneously as a gift at the pleasure of the lover. Expecting acknowledgment, let alone reciprocity, is just transaction disguised as love, and this is because love is actually a form of defeat. 

Listen up, love is exaltation by virtue of the humiliated self and that is why it is so very rare to see in the world today and not even today but at any time in human history and why the people who are out there looking for love don’t really understand what they’re signing up for. Love is the humiliated self-exalted seen in Casino Royale when Vesper asks Bond about his armor, and he replies, “I have no armor left. You’ve stripped it from me. Whatever is left of me, whatever I am, is yours.” Bond is naked and vulnerable. Pathetic, he has humiliated himself. That’s love and that’s also why, when he learns of Vesper’s betrayal, he puts the armor back on more securely than ever and functionally says, ‘Never again.’

Why? Because, to quote Leonard Cohen, I’ve seen your flag on the Marble Arch and love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah. Love is defeat and that’s why it’s strange to hear people saying they are looking for love and expecting to find it in a relationship. This is some high-level personal alchemy I’ve got for you. Love is the passage into a higher form of life through the Gateway of the humiliated self. If you’ve never experienced love before, you’re going to think that this is it, but the true fact is it has nothing to do with relationships. 

We need to be real with ourselves if we want things from others. If we need things from others then we don’t want love, we want a relationship. We want to do business and I see nothing wrong with that except the rampant hypocrisy that wants to pretend that is not what it’s doing and that is because wanting a relationship is the right thing to want. 

If you want things from other people, it is because a relationship is the medium through which value is transacted. So, if you want to do business, get yourself down to the marketplace and prepare to barter with what you have to offer. And if you want a lot, be prepared to bring a lot to the bargaining table and we can do this because let’s be honest, everything that you can get from another person in a relationship has a transacted value and can be bought. Not necessarily with money, but you can buy sex, you can buy companionship, you can buy emotional support and childcare and home-cooked meals. You can even buy children through adoption or surrogacy. You can buy nearly everything that can be transacted in a human relationship.

However, you can’t buy love and that is because, paradoxically, love is valueless. Valueless in the sense that it is free and valueless in the sense that it cannot be bought at any price. On the other hand, if you want love, you don’t need a relationship. 

Why? Listen carefully.

If love is wanting the best for the loved one, you can only reasonably want a relationship with the loved one if a relationship with you is literally the best possible thing for the loved one. And let’s be real, it probably isn’t. Generally, this means sacrificing both the self and the possibility of a relationship. That’s why Rick Blaine in Casablanca is the romantic hero par excellence. He puts the woman he loves on a plane with another man because he realizes it’s better for her that way. Remember, love is not a victory march. At least not in any way we’re used to speaking about victory. But in so doing, Rick finally succeeds in humiliating the self, who had been mired for years in cynicism and despair and presumably attaining to something higher. At the very least, we suspect a new beginning is in store. The beginning, as Louis says, of a beautiful friendship.

I sat in the hotel room in tears when I heard this, my love, because it was written for me, including the fact that when I professed my love to you, you said to me that no, you wanted what was best for me but that yes, this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I’ve never hated the word “friendship” more than I did in that moment. But I did take a vow: This love would remain whether you would have me. I would make you my reason and I would taste the love of the Gods. I would begin the initiation of what I now, years in, can say I wish for everyone. I suspect it would be a hard sell, have all of the love and none of the man. 

I would have to explain how things work, or in this case, play. Consort as the form. Evoking the highest sensation possible as the aim. In the end, they would have to leap with no way to figure it out. But how would I explain that what we had known love to be is in fact the opposite; the constraints of transaction? 

I would ask them: Do you want to know love itself?

I might turn to LA Paul’s exploration of metaphysics, cognitive science, and the philosophy of mind, a paradox might be highlighted delving into the question of how we might free ourselves from the constraints of selfhood through a straightforward thought experiment asking, if you had the chance to become a vampire, would you do it? 

Paul writes:

“Imagine you’re given the opportunity to transform into something inherent within yourself, painlessly and without causing harm to others. In exchange for relinquishing your familiar human existence, you would acquire extraordinary superpowers. Knowing that all your friends have already embraced this leap and love it, would you choose to follow suit?”

The trouble is, in this situation, how could you possibly make an informed choice? For, after all, you cannot know what it is like to be a vampire until you are one. And if you can’t know what it’s like to be a vampire without becoming one, you can’t compare the character of the lived experience of what it is like to be you, right now, a mere human, to the character of the lived experience of what it would be like to be a vampire. This means that, if you want to make this choice by considering what you want your lived experience to be like in the future, you can’t do it rationally. At least, you can’t do it by weighing the competing options concerning what it would be like and choosing on that basis. And it seems awfully suspect to rely solely on the testimony of your vampire friends to make your choice, because, after all, they aren’t human anymore, so their preferences are the ones vampires have, not the ones humans have.

Would you dive into this other kind of love?

I once saw a movie that illustrated the kind of love I know. 

In Love Me If You Dare, best friends Julien Janvier and Sophie Kowalsky begin playing a game of dares as children and find themselves unable to stop as they grow older, even when the game threatens to destroy their lives.

The film begins with a little girl, Sophie, being bullied by other children. Only a bus driver and a boy, Julien, help her collect her books that the others have thrown into a puddle. To cheer Sophie up, Julien gives her a small tin box, a gift from his fatally ill mother. Because it is important to him, he asks her to lend it back to him from time to time. As Julien wants the box back at the moment he gave it to her, Sophie demands proof of how important it is to him. Julien disengages the handbrake of the bus without hesitation, and the bus full of children rolls down a hill. Their game has begun: The box changes its owner after each completed dare.

Between the son of wealthy Belgian parents and the daughter of poor Polish immigrants, a lasting friendship develops. As children, they misbehave in school, wreak havoc on a wedding, and request silly tasks of each other. As teenagers, their romantic relationships with others suffer because of their dares. Meanwhile, the two friends ignore any consequences or punishment during their game.

While they are always looking for the next kick, a love is slowly evolving between the protagonists. Not wanting to admit it, they divert their attention from it by even more extreme dares. As young adults, Julien tells Sophie that he wants to get married, only later revealing that he means to someone else. The climax is reached when Sophie interrupts Julien’s wedding, after which he is cast out by his father and Sophie is nearly killed during another game. Julien returns to marry his wife, and Sophie declares that they will not see each other for ten years.

Ten years pass, and Julien is married with two children. Sophie has also married her husband, a famous soccer star. A successful Julien admits that he has not forgotten Sophie, though he assumes she has forgotten him. On the night of Julien’s tenth wedding anniversary, Sophie sends a message to him, indicating that the game is back on. Julien and Sophie meet for a moment during another dare, yet it is enough to remind Julien that their game is “better than life itself.” After a dramatic accident, Julien and Sophie finally reunite, despite the protestations of their spouses.

There are two alternate endings, which are shown consecutively. In the first, Julien and Sophie decide, as an ultimate dare, to finally share their dream together, their “dream of an eternal love.” The pair embrace while they stand in a construction pit that is about to be filled with concrete. They kiss as they are pulled beneath the cement, and both drown in the sludge. The other alternative ending has the now-aged Julien and Sophie spending time together in a garden and carrying on playing their game with milder dares.

I want to underscore that the risks and the dares come first, the love is the result, and this is what births the eternal.

I was thinking of another way to describe it and what came to mind was Cirque du Soleil. I love their tagline; it is perfect for love: 

Dreaming the Unimaginable, Creating the Unexpected

At the heart of Cirque du Soleil lies dreaming, a definitive aspect of Erotic philosophy. They say: We are committed to taking adventures further, pushing our dreams beyond limits, and offering our artists and creators the necessary resources to bring their imaginations to life. They foster an environment where freedom of thought and creativity are paramount, allowing dreams to become reality.

In a declining industry, Cirque du Soleil’s productions have captivated approximately 150 million people across more than three hundred cities worldwide. 

Cirque du Soleil revolutionized the circus by eliminating traditional elements long considered indispensable. This included the use of animals, which was not only costly (covering expenses for training, medical care, housing, insurance, and transportation) but also increasingly controversial among the public. Instead, Cirque du Soleil focused on clowns, shifting their humor from slapstick to a more nuanced and sophisticated style, and acrobats, whose performances were enhanced with artistic flair and intellectual intrigue.

I often think that it is as if, in the same way they removed the animals as the focus of the circus, we might remove the concept of procreation from the focus of love. We might then shift the play from basic mating rituals to sophisticated play and risky displays. 

Others tried to improve on the existing model: They got bigger lions, better tamers, more popcorn. Cirque du Soleil reimagined the entire production as a marriage of Broadway and circus: the perfect interplay between the fun and acrobatic art of the circus, and the artistic richness of theater. The issues that plagued the circus industry fell away. 

This is my desire for love—play and sophistication, art and theater that is a testament of mastery, the seeing of another human being extended beyond what we thought possible. That is the Cirque du Love I am interested in. No more coziness because the animals are caged and chained, but the thrill of letting loose. 

I’ve heard the mission of Cirque du Soleil is “to invoke the imagination, provoke the senses and evoke the emotions of people around the world.” 

I would like to make this the mission of love, as well. 

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