I want to talk about desire, and to do that I must tell you that I had a heartbreak a few weeks ago:
I fell for a guy.
A real one, not a crush. A real, live, human being. I never thought that would happen.
He was kind, and smart. And he was always learning. He is a different person now than he was a year ago, and in a year he’ll have evolved again. I love that. He wanted to know me. For real.
And he made me want to be authentic. I wanted to be my true self, not the persona I usually show people. I trusted him. I could be honest with him. He’d ask me questions and actually be interested in the answers. It seemed like he was capable of handling my answers.
I’ve always made friends because we had classes together, or we worked together, or we were roommates, or we were on the same sports team. Friendship for me was always kind of an ancillary benefit of having something to offer. I never trusted that people were friends with me because of me.
I had nothing to offer this man, there was no other benefit to him for being friends with me.
He liked me. But he chose someone else.
And it broke my heart.
I was completely surprised at how heartbroken I was because, as I look back on it, I never literally wanted a “relationship” with this man. I didn’t want to date him, I didn’t want to marry him, I thought I just wanted to be friends. He’s one of the first people with whom I’ve ever sought friendship.
But really, I loved what he elicited in me. I loved what he represented to me: honesty, trust, someone that can truly support me, someone stimulating, that makes me want to be my best self. It’s like the quote from Byron Katie I referenced a few weeks ago, the source of my joy wasn’t this man, it was discovering my own long-lost capacity for joy and delight.
But I still wanted to be picked. I came to him with only myself, and I wanted it to be enough.
And when it wasn’t, the only words I could say were, “It hurts. It hurts. It hurts.”
It burns, burns, burns
the ring of fire, the ring of fire.
– “Ring of Fire” June Cash
I felt so stupid. Bitch Boss immediately stepped in to say, “And that’s why we always keep a distance. That’s why we don’t get so vulnerable. I told you so.”
I can’t go back. The reality of living that desire, of truly embodying my emotions, was so exquisite, I could never go back to walling myself off from connection. Now that I’ve had a person that inspires my authentic self, I could never settle for less.
I want to share an excerpt from an essay by James Hillman. In it he discusses the three portions of Eros, or three different kinds of love and the underlying characteristics:
… himeros or physical desire for the immediately present to be grasped in the heat of the moment; anteros or answering love; and pothos, the longing toward the unattainable, the ungraspable, the incomprehensible, that idealization which is attendant upon all love and which is always beyond capture…. we see that pothos is the motive force that drives desire ever onward, as the portion of love that is never satisfied by actual loving and actual possession of the object. It is the fantasy factor that pulls the chariot beyond immediacy, like the seizures that took Alexander and like Ulysses’s desire for “home.”
Pothos here is the blue romantic flower of love that idealizes and drives our wandering; or as the romantics put it: we are defined not by what we are or what we do, but by our Sehnsucht: Tell me for what you yearn and I shall tell you who you are. We are what we reach for, the idealized image that drives our wandering. Pothos, as the wider factor in eros, drives the sailor-wanderer to quest for what cannot be fulfilled and what must be impossible. It is the source of “impossible love,” producing the Tristan complex that refuses himeros and anteros in order to maintain the transcendence of pothos. This side of eros makes possible living the world as a scene of impossible mythical action, mythologizing life. This component of eros is the factor, or the divine figure, within all our senseless individuation adventures, the phallic foolishness that sends us chasing, the mind’s mad wanderings after impossibilities, our forever being at sea, and the fictive goals we must set ourselves – all so that we may go on loving.
We are what we reach for. That phrase alone sings to my soul and nearly brings me to tears when I read it.
How often do we truly reach? For me, it’s rare. In fact, when I try to outline my true, deep, secret desires, it’s clear to me that I need to spend some time excavating. If somehow a desire starts to make itself known in the world, I stamp down on it and crush it like a tiny blade of grass.
I’m fascinated by the idea that the part of ourselves we guard the most are our desires. There are some psychologists that say that desire is our true nature, that everything else is a façade. In my experience, that’s largely true. I can see how the stories I create about myself, the way I act in front of other people, are constructed as a protection, but they seem separate from my true self.
It’s very easy for me to see the ways I start to get in my own way when I think about my true desires. I see how I use symbolic substitutes to try and satisfy myself.
How the chemical pleasure of chocolate, combined with the ritual of self-care, can distract me from the pain of not being deemed special to this man.
I can see how zoning out with television is easier and safer than ripping open my soul to write.
I can see how fixating on calories would be a welcome relief from having to acknowledge that what I truly want would break someone else’s heart.
But the whole point of pothos is to embody impossible desires. It’s our driving force, and it’s our soul’s true path. Desire isn’t about self-improvement, it’s not change, it’s not control.
I invite you to consider all this over the next few days. Make it secret, make it public, but what is it that you truly desire. What elicits a bodily reaction when you whisper it? What emotions, ideas, possibilities bring you to tears?
That’s who you really are.