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Why Do Fools Fall in Love?

Falling in love is a complicated, messy, mad endeavor…and staying in love is even worse. But don’t despair, psychoanalyst Anouchka Grose, author of Why Do Fools Fall in Love: A Realist’s Guide to Romance is here to help with all your love questions.

Hi there, Tin House,

My question for Anouchka is this: I’ve been pretty much in love with my best friend since Clinton was in office, and I’m wondering if and how to make my feelings known. Does the fact that I’m even asking this question mean the battle is already lost and his heart lies elsewhere?  Or is it possible that he’s feeling the same thing, and the danger of royally fucking things up in our friendship that’s kept me silent is also what’s keeping him mum?  I honestly can’t get a read on what’s going on in his head at this point.  Is it worth the risk here to make some kind of bold but non-creepy Statement of Feelings?  If this were a rom-com, I’d make my move and two weeks later a dog would be ring bearer at our wedding; I’m less sure how this gets played out in real life.

Thanks,
Anonymous

Hi,

I love the idea of a ‘bold but non-creepy Statement of Feelings’. That pretty much sums up the whole problem; people who declare their love risk becoming frightening to the object of their affection. But why?

It’s interesting that love is so often characterised as a soft subject, represented by pinky, fluffy, harmless things. But everyone knows that people regularly kill themselves and each other over it. It’s as if there’s a desperate cultural drive – particularly in evidence on Valentine’s day – to tame love by indoctrinating everyone into the idea that it’s purely good and nice. Of course being in love can be intensely enjoyable, but it can also make you want to stick your hand into a bonfire. Love relationships generally invoke greater extremes of feeling than friendships – greater excitement, greater fear, greater dependency. By declaring love to a friend you are inviting them to risk experimenting with the more difficult limits of their feelings – and to submit themselves to being on the receiving end of yours. It’s natural that you’d want to think carefully about whether they, and you, can take it.

Our earliest experiences of love are usually at the hands of our primary carers. (And if they didn’t love you, that’s something else again.) As babies we are totally at the mercy of the people who feed, clean and cuddle us, but who also ignore, leave and even punish us (or totally overwhelm us by showering love on us without a break). Our first love experiences really are a matter of life and death – if our carers stop loving us, then they may stop feeding and cleaning us, and even start ignoring and punishing us, and that’s the end of that. So ensuring our own lovability is essential for survival. Of course as adults we learn how to clean and feed ourselves, and to say things like, ‘I’m not sure I’m ready for a relationship right now’. But any experience of love is still liable to trigger echoes of our original, less cool, experience of loving and being loved. It may make us feel needy and desperate, or smothered and claustrophobic, or any number of unpleasant feelings in between. It may also make us feel ecstatically happy, but even that’s risky because it gives us something to lose…

In our friendships we tend to maintain a safer distance from the other person than we do in our romantic relationships (although there are still inevitably sexual undercurrents at play in friendship). By declaring love to a friend you risk collapsing the distance. Still, if you’ve managed to keep up a close friendship throughout such drastic fluctuations in presidency you must be getting something right. Perhaps an elliptical hint or two might be a better starting point than an outright declaration. Then if the signs are bad you can get on with your excellent-sounding friendship.

I hope that doesn’t sound too gothically gloomy. Love is great.

Very good luck,
Anouchka

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