“If all the days of your relationship are spent pining for some far-distant future, isn’t it more productive to sever that bond and get on with the present?” I asked, staring hard into the depths of my coffee. The hot brown liquid held no answers.
“Could you provide maybe a little more context?” Lyle asked.
Liu chimed in. “Yeah, are you talking about yourself, or someone we know?”
“We usually talk about ourselves, whether consciously or not,” I said. Lyle rolled his eyes. “Okay, let me rein it in a little. Let’s suppose you’ve embraced the philosophy of ‘living for today’, yes? Where the art and the act of being present, inhabiting the moment, is what you truly strive for, spiritually and mentally. By hanging your heart on something that may or may not happen, rather than on what is, the right now, you create an idealized phantom rather than touch the vitality of what’s real.”
Lyle crossed his eyes and stuck out his tongue. Liu elbowed him and said, “I think I follow you. But aren’t most expressions of love those of illusory idealizations? We fall in love with the idea of things, rather than the things themselves. The actual meat is, for the most part, icky. It’s covered in warts and zits, and zigs when we want it to zag.”
“True,” I said, “which makes embracing the now that much more difficult. But, gentlemen, let me make it clear that I’m talking about true love here, at least as it relates to both time and its perception. I’m theorizing that it can only be true when it’s held in the living present: warts, zits, zigs, and all.”
Liu nodded. “I can agree with that, but going back to your opening point: you said that it would be better to rid yourself of a non-present love than it would be to, what? Hold on to it in vain?”
“Right. The unknown and unknowable future is an ever-moving target, obscured by fog and mostly the product of our hopes, dreams, and imagination. You’re spending energy in the present taking shots at ghosts, steering your ship through fog toward a lighthouse that’s more likely swamp gas or a will-o’-wisp. That’s a waste, in my opinion.”
“When you frame it like that, and if holding on to someone with a love that’s based in fantasy is just a fruitless endeavor, then sure. It’s a huge waste,” Liu said.
“Now hold on a second,” Lyle said. “I think I’ve caught up with you great philosophers, and I have to say that I disagree. First, how can you know that your love is a fantasy? That’s what you’re talking about, right? I’d guess an example would be a love where the participants are somehow separated, and they spend their energy working toward bridging that gap, yes? A long-distance love where one or both sides is constantly making promises about overcoming whatever it is that’s keeping them apart and finally moving together.”
“That’s a great example,” I said.
“Okay, then what happens if the effort pays off for the people involved? If we look at love as a gamble—which would be my point of view—then those folks are just playing the long game. I’ve heard of such things working out. Their circumstances prevent them from living in the present, so they’re forced to live and love with an eye to the future, because there is no physically real now for them.”
“Right,” I said, “so then I take it back; that’s not a good example. A better example would be two people so absorbed with their careers that they share a living arrangement, are near each other, and yet spend most of their time working toward a dream of peaceful retirement. Their day-to-day life does nothing to support their romantic intent, and instead they’re storing it away for the time when they don’t have to worry about their work.”
Lyle frowned. “That’s still a long game. Isn’t it worthwhile to remain together, even with both eyes trained on some distant and potentially unreasonable or unrealistic finish line, all the while building trust and familiarity? There’s more to love than just the hot passions of the moments. At least, I think so.”
I scratched my head. “So, what you’re saying, then, is that in some cases it may be worthwhile to hang on to a relationship that has no presence in the now, and might someday explode into burning fireworks?”
“Or fizzle and disappear into the sea,” Liu said. “I have to agree with Lyle, love is a gamble. Some folks play a short game, others a long one, but in the end it’s more about that solidarity of trust than it is about being right there in someone’s heart every second of the day. Besides, isn’t that more exhausting than holding a place for someone?”
2015.02.19 – 2023.09.15