In an ideal world all choices and actions would be preceded by a simple formulation of desired ends and the means to attain those ends. Fulfilment would simply be the manipulation of the means within my disposal to attain the ends in my purview. And so long as the ends are possible considering the means, I have a chance of succeeding, of reaching that resting place where desire and its satiation coincide. But an ideal world ours is not. Not only do we frequently – out of a surge of irrationality or a predicament of oppression – fail to manipulate or possess the means to secure those ends, we also may have no idea what our desired ends are, the whole process thereby reduced to a ‘dance on the staircase’; neither heard by those above or seen by anyone below. Relationships are a good example.
First of all we have the old frameworks of marriage/monogamy/long term cohabitation, call what it what you will, all generally emphasising the creation of a family unit and the propagation of that unit along time and across individuals: offspring. This framework provides, within it, the end and also the means to attain it. All you need to do is fall in to it, to plug yourself in the slot – notwithstanding considerations of fit – and carry through. The main function of such a framework is to reduce the immense possibilities of human interaction, the chaos – and therefore the beauty – of human interaction, to one single, controllable, more-or-less agreed upon trajectory. When such a framework no longer appears workable, or desirable, or even possible, when it can no longer do the work it is supposed to do, you find yourself facing a number of choices: You either revert to some other form of the ideal means/end model, you follow ‘love’ if you still can, or you go truly post-modern and deconstruct the framework beliefs that make ‘relationship talk’ possible, the pre-ontology that remains forever hidden yet over-determines our choices.
The Impossible: Doing a Relationship is Like Reaching for a Glass of Water
The immediate problem with the means/end model is this: having forsaken absolute ends and communal means you must find your own, simply because if you don’t then whatever means/ends you absent mindedly embrace cannot be your own, hence you would be revelling in inconsistency and inauthenticity, and I suppose that would be strange considering that you gave up the ‘accepted frameworks’ partly to “be your own man”; you must come up with your own alternatives. But what would those look like? First come the ends: you might not want to be alone when you grow old. In your projection of your future life, you recoil at the thought of having hit seventy and having no one to worry about you, to fulfil your needs, to inspire you. You might simply want to be ‘happy’, as imprecise and complicated such a notion is. You might simply want to be surrounded by children, or you might dream of having a ‘base’, a home, a secure space from where you can move and to which you can return. Assuming you have managed to conceptualise an end you then turn to the means. You could invest time, emotion, money in pursuit of your desired end. You could search for someone seeking similar ends, and – even better – sharing similar values. The list is long, think of your own.
In any case, having formulated clear ends and possible means you still face a problem: how are you to know that the ends you have thus formulated will be desirable by you at that point in the future you based your projection on? Not that they couldn’t, but that would only be possible if you are a static self, a self whose boundaries have long been drawn and its dreams long transformed to faded images. And assuming you are satisfied with your static self, how can you find others who could share your means/ends vision with you, and manage to get along with you on a day-to-day basis? That would only be possible – but hardly guaranteed – if you forsake your individualistic means/end project and revert to some other communal framework, only not saying to yourself that you are. In effect you are back searching for a guiding and impersonal ‘hand-rail’.
The Illusion: If You Follow Love You Can’t Go Wrong
To follow love is to seek gratification. And gratification ends the moment the object of your affection is no longer seen through the lens of lust, and that is inevitable. Following love is like playing Russian roulette; when the allure fades you wake up and face reality, and the person you suddenly find in front of you and who suddenly fails to sustain your illusion, becomes like everyone else with habits, needs, and quirks, and who may share nothing with you, or you with him. This is not a viable route, and one that should only be taken with the awareness that it won’t or is unlikely to lead to anything sustainable. But without the illusion of sustainability, would love happen? No.
But, we are told, there is a deeper kind of love, the love that develops after years of cohabitation, and shared experiences. It’s the love that emerges when destinies are fused, and that love – we are again told – is enduring, sustaining, and nobler than the transient illusory lust that we mistake for love. This sounds good, in fact desirable. But we are again left without a foothold: on what basis will I choose the person with whom such a kind of love would be attainable? Will I again revert to the means/ends model and face the problems mentioned above, or is there another way?
The Solution: Untangling the Web
Deconstruct all relationship discourse. Stand in a position of naivety to all talk of ‘partner’, ‘boyfriend/girlfriend’, ‘spouse’, and ‘sex buddy’. Approach these terms with wonder, and even better with incomprehensibility. What do they all mean anyways? Aren’t they all declarations of limits and boundaries? You are my ‘sex buddy’, so don’t expect me to ring you in the morning and say that I’ve only called because I miss your voice. I am your ‘boyfriend’, so do expect me to offer a (hopefully?) consistent and fulfilling presence in your life. You are my ‘spouse’, so don’t expect me to go crazy at the sight of your naked body. I am your ‘partner’ so do expect me to feature in all major decisions of your life. Limits and boundaries. What all these terms do is offer a ‘hand-rail’; in invoking them we are declaring what we expect of each other in keeping with the social meanings ascribed to these words. But why start or carry through a relationship with preset boundaries and expectations? Why reduce the immense possibilities of human interaction to those set by our prior expectations?
Giving up on relationship talk is only part of the solution, for we have already given up on the means/ends model in so far as it is not part of the interaction from the very first moment. This means that we would find ourselves in the unusual position of wanting something without knowing what we want it for. In other words, we would be seeking a relationship without knowing the end our pursuit is supposed to fulfil. But that should not matter. We do not choose relationships because we can; we choose relationships because we have no choice but to seek others. And if you are willing to argue against that, it would do you well to consult no less than the history of humanity, if the present is insufficient for you. We therefore have already chosen relationships; that is the end: to be in a relationship, or several. What shape the relationship will take, what derivative ends will emerge from it, and what it will lead to are all questions that are answered in the experiment that we launch with the other.
0. My encounter with the other is no less than an experiment.
1. We will renounce all fears drawn from our previous failures.
2. We must unburden ourselves of the weight of cowardice.
3. Participation must be full and succumb to no boundaries.
4. If my choice of the other is to have some base independent of all formulations or judgments, then I must resist reifying the other in to a familiar mental category; a label.
5. We will – initially – assume nothing; expect nothing (except 7).
6. Desire is the engine that sets the whole in motion.
7. Desire must be unrestrained and its satiation unusually fulfilling.
8. We must debate our fundamental framework beliefs, which will make (9) easier.
9. Ends will be chosen together: nothing is off limits.