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The Lover’s Advance

It is not always the distance which worries us. Not because distance requires the impetus necessary in order to traverse it, which in itself can only come from a decision to take leave of that hell of a place you find yourself in; more so, because any crossing of that distance brings you to the point where you can no longer stop or retreat. Once you break into a life, there is no turning back--best of all, for the lover who advances.

Such is the dilemma of introductions, that otherwise casual and everyday occurrence of collecting names to be filed under the general heading ‘acquaintances’; those you meet by chance or by necessity, only to be discarded the following day like name cards as there will be no need to keep anything here. You meet, you smile, you pretend to care for a moment, and then that is all that can be said about that.

But there are some introductions that mark you. A name marks you, you see. Having won it, you also are granted the possibilities that come with his name. Shall I know you more? Shall we meet again? Otherwise, without a name to go with a face, we will be without a future because we shall forever remain strangers to each other. For precisely it is the stranger who is by name disqualified from being a beloved--he without a face, he who does not see me, he who does not know me. How can we ever love what we do not know?

Whence the necessity of the lover’s advance. The advance, we suppose, ought to address the distance by first of all addressing him in person, face to face, through a name. The face marks a passage because it leads to him, and the name ushers you to him, because it bestows permission to know him further. But one can verily proceed no further. To see the road to be taken is still different from taking it, and to be granted entry need not mean actually crossing the threshold. He can do this to me, either intentionally or through sheer indifference to me. He can block my advance, keep me at a distance, hold me in place by remaining in his place. The possible beloved must meet you at the gate, as it were; without that consent, without that rendezvous, the lover will and must still be alone. If I seek him, he, too must seek me. Otherwise, I, the visitor from nowhere, shall have to wander about, lost in that no man’s land, in love’s purgatory where all that can be done is to await the final judgment.

And it is that in-between, caught between two cliffs hanging only by a rope over a great abyss, which demarcates for the lover that place where possibilities become greater in intensity, enticing you to move forward; and where calls to surrender, to ‘give up’, to ‘cut your losses’ also beckon you to go back to that safe place from where you came. Thus all possible loves paradoxically begin with both anticipation and hesitation. Idle talk and everyday language call this period, or location, having a ‘crush’ on somebody--and this surprisingly apt name describes that joyful yet painful longing: you see him but you are not yet seen 'up close’, meaning who you are; you see, but you are too far away. Or again: he sees you but at the same time he doesn’t; while you see him but at the same time the possibility of seeing more possesses you to no end.

The anticipation to go forward is pulled back by the fear of not gaining admittance; the decision to seek him is pulled back by the hesitation which precedes all fateful decisions. For at bottom, what is at stake in this final--or first?--decision the lover has to make is nothing other than his fate in winning the title of becoming indeed a lover. And of all the decisions to be made by the lover, this is the one which will always have to crush him first: a decision which is crushing because his very definition--as being he who wants to love the possible beloved--is at stake, where everything is gathered into a great Yes and No; where each side has an equal weight, each having consequences of equal magnitude, that is to say, a No which balances the Yes, where the possibilities of love are held back by that possibility which always has to be included among them--that possibility of not being loved in return. As most of us know already, when those who had taken love’s advance look back at the many crossings they made, there are as many, if not more, advances that had failed.

John William Waterhouse, Echo and Narcissus, 1908.
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.


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