Love or lust?
All of us.
— Kendrick Lamar
Something we don’t spend nearly enough time thinking about is the nature of our sexual desires, romantic longings, and other such fantasies, as well as the role those things play in our life — unconsciously or otherwise.
These things should be a huge part of our self-reflection because it’s easy to dupe ourselves into thinking that happiness is one desire away, and so we keep chasing, and chasing, and chasing…
The problem is that we can cause a lot of emotional damage — to ourselves and others — by pursuing romance and sex without a degree of self-awareness.
We all have a fear of missing out on the truly “ecstatic” experience, so we may turn to deceitful means in the pursuit of pleasure.
The modern-day pickup artist scene is one such example of this kind of deceit.
Other examples include the heaps of advice columns, videos, and other such materials that advise men and women as to how they can best appeal to members of the opposite sex by changing their personalities, their appearance, their “tactics and strategies,” etc.
I find these things dreadfully inauthentic, and borderline shady, even if I can understand why people would fall victim to them.
Rather than embracing ourselves and seeing what is attracted to us as a result, we think we have to play the role of a social chameleon in order to obtain the rewards we are after.
This fuels a gnawing self-loathing, a sense that one isn’t good enough the way they are, and that if only they could figure out some trick they’d have a better chance at finding satisfaction.
There aren’t many who try to work their way through this problem via means of self-reflection, because it often involves internalizing difficult truths.
One such truth is that we have to accept that there really is no way we can get what we want through any artificial means — we have to love ourselves and trust that we attract what we’re meant for along the way.
Put another way, only someone that accepts us as fully as we accept ourselves is capable of consenting to the kind of activities that we’d like to engage in.
Everything else is a scam, a cheat, a dishonest trick that runs the risk of hurt feelings, or worse, a toxic relationship that destroys the parties involved.
Even within a relationship, it can be difficult to tell the difference between action born from genuine, authentic, spiritual love, and that which stems from simply wanting urges or fantasies satisfied.
And this is not a condemnation of these things. Provided both partners are open with each other, it can be fun, and even healthy, to engage in physical intimacy, whether it’s perceived as “spiritual” or not.
But relationships — particularly among the youthful —can easily fall apart after the honeymoon phase. If genuine compatibility between the partners isn’t there, and the novelty of the initial romance is lost, then there’s nothing to keep the two committed.
This is where expectations and reality come into conflict.
Because our genes give rise to a strong desire to have our physical needs met, we focus a little bit too much on fantasies pertaining to the satisfaction of those needs, and not enough on the long-term reality of what a relationship truly is.
In a real relationship, 99% of the time is spent not having sex. It’s spent largely in a sort of silent co-existence in which what really matters is whether or not you can tolerate your partner beyond the bedroom.
And unfortunately, our love stories often don’t have time to dissect this aspect of our relationships.
The story has become formulaic.
- Boy meets girl (or vice versa).
- True love is found.
- They ride off into the sunset.
Few stories delve into that in-between space of relationships, that silence of shared presence that defines what a relationship is.
This is one of the reasons I’m so interested in seeing Marriage Story, starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, as it seems to get a little bit at the difficulties in maintaining a loving relationship once the infatuation component of it has worn off and the cracks in an otherwise “perfect” coupling begin to surface.
Because after all, is there ever such thing as a “perfect” couple? Or do we seek out long-term partners because we want someone to accept the ways in which we are cracked, broken, or otherwise falling apart?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condemning selfish desires/fantasies entirely.
If love is a spectrum, then there is even a place for infatuation.
We live in a universe that operates on an action-reaction basis, of opposing forces coming together (as in positive and negative charges) and of like-attracting-like (as in gravitation).
The instantaneous pull we experience towards another person is an attractive force that helps bring people together. Infatuation, perhaps, plays a role in that.
This piece is simply a reflection on the nature of romantic longing and sexual fantasies, and how, in my own experience, their promises of happiness are illusory.
I’ve come to learn — thanks to the woman I’ve been dating these past few years — that real love is much more of a thing that grows, that requires effort.
The initial infatuation we feel towards a person makes love easy — at first.
As time goes on, however, the degree to which we are willing to keep putting effort into the relationship signifies something about the quality of the relationship as a whole.
If there isn’t something there beyond the physical component, there will be very little incentive to keep struggling along with a partner.
This is why it’s great to see so many people raising awareness about the need to feel whole and complete — even while single — before entering a relationship.
Unconditional love is discovered first in the attitude that we take toward ourselves. If we cannot sit alone with ourselves and enjoy our own presence, can we really hope to be able to do the same with another?
This is one of the reasons meditation is so helpful. It can help us learn how to be content when we are simply sitting alone with ourselves.
Most of the time, when we’re alone, we become agitated. Or we start to daydream…
And even fantasize.
Fantasizing seems to be modern humans’ way of dealing with the sheer boredom of existence.
We imagine that a sexual encounter or a new relationship partner will sweep us off our feet will tame the storm within. The human mind, being the treadmill runner that it is, jumps the gun all-to-often.
Meditation helps us redefine our attitude toward boredom, and even toward our own fantasies, longings, and desires.
Rather than running away boredom, we embrace it for what it is, realizing that there isn’t necessarily anything more to life than meeting our basic needs and feeling happy as we sit back and enjoy the ride.
It’s a difficult thing to mindfully pull awareness back to what really matters. We each only live once, and the development of unconditional love, first towards ourselves, and then for others, is — to my mind — the only thing we ought to strive towards in life.
Cultivating unconditional love makes the somewhat empty experience of being an “individual” more bearable. Then, if we are successful in doing this, we can stop letting our mind’s desires get the better of us and approach our relationships with deeper self-awareness and a greater willingness to give rather than to take.
The British philosopher Alan Watts likened the experience of human life to a falling sensation, which is why he was keen to share a bit of wisdom from Buddhism that says we ought not to try and cling to what is falling alongside us — be it another person or what have you.
In many ways, our lusts, our infatuations, our fantasies are ways of clinging to a form of non-reality. They set expectations up that aren’t necessarily what other people are capable of meeting, or even what we really want at the end of the day.
If we realize that a real relationship is not one that’s lived inside the head, but that exists in the “in-between space” that connects each partner, then we can learn to fall together with more grace.