Resignation, muted yet desperate, “a fever” Rihanna calls it. The desire to keep loving, needing to love, and finding in anything—“show me something”—a purchase to continue to love with bleak determination. An ambivalence that is nonetheless grounded in a need that cannot be satisfied any other way. It’s the worst place to be when you’re in love: heart-sick at the situation but knowing that you would be heartbroken without it. It is asphyxiating and all-consuming. At some point, the string that holds you to your love snaps and you’re cast into that ashen world of heartbreak. Some people handle that process with grace and dignity. I roar at the world in childish defiance to the facts. Whatever way we manage it, at some point, many years later, you can look back and feel no pain at all. Isn’t that a motherfucker? When they don’t stay, eventually it all goes away, including the love and the hurt that accompanied it.
I watch my daughter sleep. Her brown face is completely relaxed. I’m so overcome with love for her that I lift her off the bed, squeeze her, and kiss her on the nose. She doesn’t wake up when I put her back down. But she does turn over while pulling a raggedy old cloth sheep up to her face. She inhales the toy’s smell deeply before settling back into her quiet sleep. The tenderness with which she smells her toy reminds me of a woman I once loved with a withering intensity. She had two blankets from childhood, from before her father died, and which in her mind were inseparable from the feelings of happiness she associated with the period before his death. She would occasionally press her face to the blankets and inhale whatever it was that was in them. Whenever she did that, I found it so sweet and sad that I always had to look away. She was the most beautiful woman I have ever known and the sadness and distance that suffused everything about her, so that you could feel it in every one of her gestures, combined to make me obsess about her constantly. But I never really knew how to love her in a way that made her happy. This stemmed from my own demands of how I wanted to be loved. I didn’t just want her love. I wanted her to love me in the way that made me feel loved. She had to show me something that I considered was an appropriate display of love.
In my mind, the contrast between these two consuming loves demonstrates the poverty of romantic love. My daughter does not have to do anything for me to love her. My love for her is unconditional: it makes no claims and requires nothing in return. She doesn’t even have to love me. But I don’t think I could ever love a romantic partner unconditionally. I also don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. That kind of love demands something. It may not be much or even make us happy but in order for it to endure we need something, however small, to stay.