• Dave Burns

THE PROBLEM OF INTIMACY PART II

“‘Then,’ she said, ‘is it to be said unqualifiedly that human beings love the good?’


“‘Yes,’ I said.


“‘What about this? Mustn’t it be added,’ she said, ‘that they love the good to be theirs?’


“‘It must be added.’


“‘And not only that it be theirs,’ she said, ‘but always as well?’


“‘This too must be added.’


“‘So, in sum’ she said, ‘eros is of the good’s being one’s own always.’


“‘What you say is most true,’ I said.”


-Socrates and Diotima, Plato’s Symposium

When we seek out “the one,” what we are looking for is the forever one—the person whom we would delight to spend eternity with.


And when we finally do fall in love, this intuition of eternity is a core of the experience. I want to be with this human being—not just today, not just this year, but always

And, I don’t want to simply “be with” them. I want to be in love with them always, and for them to be in love with me. 


These desires are beautiful, and have an incontrovertible truth to them. 


But they also pose a problem. 


If being in love is characterized by a yearning for intimacy, a desire to experience the innermost nature of the beloved, then the greatest joys of love must occur through the experience of the beloved’s deepest and most mysterious essence being revealed. 


This could be through a glance, a laugh, a sob, a cry of pleasure, a gentle touch, or a whisper. 

And once this happens enough times, that essence is in some way, necessarily, no longer a mystery


And without a mystery remaining to be revealed, the yearning of eros has little left to fuel it. 


But if the mystery were never revealed, then the yearning would be perpetually, agonizingly thwarted, and there could be no true joy in the relationship. 

The options for devoted lovers then seem to be: 


1) To never experience what you desire most,


or 2) To experience what you desire most, and destroy it as a result.


This is the “problem of intimacy.”

That time of year thou mayst in me behold


When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang


Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,


Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. 


In me thou see’st the twilight of such day


As after sunset fadeth in the west;


Which by and by black night doth take away,


Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.


In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,


That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,


As the deathbed whereon it must expire,


Consumed with that which it was nourished by. 


This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,


To love that well which thou must leave ere long.”


-Sonnet 73, William Shakespeare

There is a deep tragedy in this apparently self-thwarting or self-consuming aspect of erotic love. 


If we were simply poets, or perhaps Buddhist painters, we might be content with a kind of sweet appreciation for the tragedy. 


But as lovers, we cannot. We will never be satisfied with the consolation prize of poetic beauty. We might even adamantly deny that we could ever fall out of love with our beloved. That love is, to us, the self-evident point of everything. How could we possibly accept it as ephemeral? To do so would amount to a fundamental condemnation of life.


What, then? Reflecting for five minutes leads to the profoundly concerning conclusions we arrived at above, to say nothing of the nearly universal stories of the gradual decline of erotic love between devoted partners. What could possibly be our way out?


If there is an answer, it is, in a word, this: 


Infinity.

A human being, as a human being, seems finite. Complex, multidimensional, initially mysterious, yes—but ultimately finite. 


And so a human being, as a human being, is to some extent knowable. It takes time, and devotion, and true love, but eventually one can grasp the nature of a human soul. 

This finite nature, and the resulting finite nature of human mystery, is the root of the problem of intimacy.


And so the only possible way out of the problem would be to locate inside of a finite human being something that is more than finite.


The discovery, direct experience, and love of the infinite, in and through the human beloved, is the only way that eros can be preserved forever in this life, and thus fulfill its ultimate end—to be in love, with the beloved, always, through direct contact with the ever-unfolding mysteries of the beloved’s truest nature. 


To see the infinite in every movement, glance, and word of the beloved is the only way to make the math work out.


This, as I understand it, is the foundation and ultimate reason for what we call the practice of sacred intimacy—the practice of systematically, reverently, recklessly opening one’s heart and eyes to the infinite secret unfolding of our beloved’s becoming. 


So we take on this practice, because it is the only hope we have of having what we hope for most. 


Some might say it is simply a game to comfort ourselves from the tragedy of life that we are unwilling to face.


But those people, clearly, have never truly been in love.