THE sensations that come to mind when I think of my love for you rely on metaphors of air and water: I am inflated, inundated, floating, brimming, surging. I swell with love for you. I surge toward you and experience the pleasure of desire and care—the siblings of love. My life becomes meaningful in a way it was not before; my days feel urgent in the awareness of the precarity of your life. I love you because you are there naked before me, suffering and surviving. Because you are loving me idiosyncratically, imperfectly, with ambivalence. Because you lay both your brokenness and your trust at my feet. Because I can.
I love you in the stubborn belief that my love is omnipotent. And there you are by some happy and most irrational coincidence loving me. Telling me with your mouth and eyes and hands that I am loved. I experience that irresistible pull into a shared existence, always aware of your proximity or distance.
When I am separated from you by physical space, there is no corresponding geography in the world of our “we.” Our thoughts are like threads that connect us—I think of what you would say about this new book in my hands or about the image on the wall before me, and I hear your laughter over something I just overheard. In this way, you are always present to me.
Love may intensify over time or fade away, but it is born in a moment of unnamable affinity. We call this “chemistry”—neuroscientists have one explanation and psychoanalysts another—but I prefer the term affinity, which brings us into the poetic. We do not love everyone. Something in another captivates us, draws us in—vulnerability exposed in an open face, something familiar yet different, the aura of a person that we cannot quite identify. A hand is opened, and we grasp it, an invitation extended, and we accept. We let ourselves into another life and our own alters irrevocably.
In this way, our lives are inhabited by others, and even when we lose them, they remain lodged within us. It is this initial affinity that becomes the foundation on which we build a world around a “we.” Diotima’s wisdom is sound. The beloved is before us, pregnant with beauty and goodness, and our love is a skilled midwife drawing out this nobility. This is your inestimable gift to me—to desire what is beautiful and lovable in me that I might feel something like the person you adore. I come to see myself through your eyes and hope that you will come to see yourself through mine, willingly accepting the risk of this intimate exchange for the sake of the we, the interworld arising between us.
I try to imagine what philosophy or religion might look like now if throughout history the confusion of human desire and affect, their origins in a mutable body, and the bittersweet nature of eros were celebrated rather than dismissed as irrational nonsense. So much of what is good and beautiful in life is irrational. There is no reason in the scene before me—the blue of the sky and the deep clefts of a mountainside. There is no reason in how moved I am by the pine trees that line my path and stimulate my senses. There is no reason in the love I felt for you, no reason in the fact that I felt more loved by you than by those whose capacity for love exceeded your own and who loved without the torment it caused you to love and be loved by me.