Sunday, May 07, 2006

Don't Look Back

Recently a girlfriend confided in me that she may be in love with two men at the same time for completely different reasons. She looked to me for advice, a reason to allow the scales to tip one way or another -- a way out of the erotic dilemma. I felt for her, and yet I also sensed something enviable in the way she allowed herself to experience the fullness of life in multiple directions, the way she allowed herself to be extended in different directions without breaking. I wanted to tell her she didn't have to choose, that she need only feel and that would be enough, all anyone could ask of her. Forget logic, dispose of boundaries, confound reason.

I then thought of one of my favorite essays of all time as a way to help her validate the complexity of her desires.

In Rebecca Goldstein's 1992 essay "Looking Back at Lot's Wife," (Commentary) the story of Lot's wife in Genesis is examined. Goldstein suggests that while Irit may have looked back though God told her not to, it was because of her love for her daughters who remained there. She suggests that God may have turned Lot's wife into salt as a way of forgiveness.

But that isn't what I wish to talk about right now.

Goldstein describes a poignant conversation with her father: "He thought it was right for human life to be subject to contradictions, for a person to love in more than one direction, and sometimes to be torn into pieces because of his many loves. I suspect he even felt a little sorry for any great man of ideas who had cut himself off, so consistently, from what my father saw as the fullness of human life."

The fullness of human life. To love in more than one direction. To embrace human complexity and uphold it as the greatest aspect of being, well, human. But reality tells me that this can't work. Yes, the lover who has extended him/herself in two directions may feel the pain of being torn into millions of pieces, but what about the two people who he/she loves? Aren't they also torn considerably, and in a way far less easier to piece back together? Doesn't it require that the lover deceive them at times in order to maintain the "love" or the relationship(s)? Doesn't the lover ultimately rob the the ones he/she loves of the capacity to love in the same way? It doesn't seem like a fair trade.

I want to tell my friend that her emotions are beautiful and complex and blameless. But that is the romantic side of me. The realistic side of me says that if such an instance of complexity is the fullness of life, then life is ultimately empty in so many other ways, and hurtful for the people who must share the lover's love.

1 comment:

Casey said...

Lots of wisdom here--good post. It's the difference between pheremonal attraction and Kierkegaard-style commitment, maybe? Otherwise it seems love works against ethics (as we understand ethics, anyway) -- and that would be weird!