31 August 2012

Love, Frankl and Midlife

I continue reading through Viktor Frankl’s fascinating The Doctor and the Soul, and I find it both enlightening and frustrating. Enlightening because I can see things from a different angle, frustrating because just when I think I’m going to get to a real insight about myself, he moves on the next point. I find I wish I could talk to him face-to-face.

Last night I finished the chapter on love, and while most of it was on point, I have a few quibbles.

Frankl distinguishes between sexual desire (i.e., lust), erotic desire (i.e., infatuation) and love. Lust is purely physical, of course. Erotic desire involves the psychological as well as the physical. In other words, erotic desire is the desire to have/be with a person for their personality as well as their looks. Love, on the other hand, is the full, non-possessive appreciation of a whole person. Love can be experienced in a monogamous relationship, or it can be for a relative, etc. Up to this point I agree fully.

What I think Frankl didn’t spell out and should have is that for monogamous, coupling relationships, lust and infatuation are stages one must go through to reach love. I don’t think many, if any, leap ahead directly to love, bypassing lust and erotic desire, to establish monogamous relationships. Love minus sexual and erotic attraction is simply a deep friendship (which is a wonderful thing, by the way), but not the basis for a monogamous coupling.

To be sure, I agree with Frankl that if a relationship gets stuck at the possessive, erotic desire stage, it isn’t love. Furthermore, a relationship stuck at that stage is fragile. If the partners cannot move it to real love, it may not be able to hold up over time and the vicissitudes of life.

Frankl also reiterates that one does not have to experience love to make life meaningful. One can also make life meaningful through action and through one’s attitude toward unavoidable suffering. In fact there comes a point in some people’s lives when love is admittedly no longer possible, and they must make meaning otherwise. He maintains however that if one does not experience love and feels resentment toward life over this, he will hamper the meaning-making in his life. To be able to live without love and yet not be resentful about that is a path toward meaning-making.

And this is what I must learn to do. I freely admit I harbor resentment for not having been able to find/have/create love in my life. All my past relationships never got beyond the infatuation stage. I may have thought I was in love, but I wasn’t. Between coming out late and having warped ideals of love modeled for me while growing up, I was hampered in the pursuit of love. If I could undo my past I would certainly change how I did things.

But now I’m at a stage of life in which I believe opportunities for love are vanishingly scarce at best. Because (IMHO) sexual and erotic desire must precede love, I no longer can fall in love with someone. I do not desire men my age. They are not sexually attractive to me.  If, when I was much younger, I had truly loved someone, and had aged alongside him, that wouldn’t be an issue. We’d have our whole history together to draw upon. But without the initial stages of sexual desire and erotic desire to start off with, love of a monogamous, coupling nature is not going to happen for me. In my life, I’ve moved well beyond the time when this could have happened.

So my current task is to deal with the resentment. I must learn to live with my life (the unavoidable factors I was born into, such as a fundamentalist family, a small town milieu, etc., and the poor choices I made along the way, such as sticking with infatuation relationships when they should’ve been dropped) and move beyond the resentment. I must admit that the resentment runs deep, and is tangled up with my religious upbringing, my regressive childhood social milieu and a host of other factors. It may very well be that letting go of the resentment is a major component of my meaning-making tasks in life. To show to myself that having been born in the time and place I was does not need to make my life hopelessly angered and emotionally crippled.

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