Boredom Claustrophobia And Depletion

Excessive surrender not only damages the lover but also threatens the beloved. The beloved often experiences the lover as too dependent and may come to find his love so claustrophobic that she feels imprisoned. What the lover exalts as desire, the beloved may experience as cannibalism.

Furthermore, the lover's impulse to surrender can alienate the beloved who is its object if she becomes horrified at the lover's abjectness and is therefore no longer able to admire or even respect him. In fact, the lover may sometimes become the object of the beloved's disparagement and negative feelings precisely because he too completely fulfills her fantasies. Insofar as the lover attempts to gratify all the material and emotional needs of the beloved, the beloved either overidentifies the lover with a maternal figure and feels stifled, or regards him as little more than an adoring puppy. The beloved cannot idealize a lover who has abandoned any pretense of autonomy. She feels the lack of stimulation, of tension. She feels she knows the lover too well, that the lover can say nothing which will expand her intellectually, do nothing which will stretch her emotionally. The relationship becomes threatened not by any tension between two autonomous people, but by the very lack of it.

The beloved may come to feel depleted or overwhelmed by the lover's manifest dependency. The lover's needs may even seem terrifying to the beloved. A twenty-eight-year-old divorced teacher implored her lover not to leave her, proclaiming both her love and need; she pleaded that her young son was sick and she was being considered for a promotion and she needed his support. Her lover reassured her, but bitterly complained to a friend that her declaration of love sounded more like a simple proclamation of weakness. Yet we all expect the plea "I need you so much" to be interpreted as a manifesto of love. "I need you," "I want you," "I cannot live without you," and "I love you" are statements that have an emotional coherence (at least to the one who is uttering them) if not a rational one. But the magnitude of need, insofar as it reveals the depths of the lover's dependency, may make the beloved feel trapped, and the consequent longing to escape may cause guilt. The beloved may squelch the longing to flee, yet feel enormous resentment. There is a profound debilitation experienced by the be-loved—this once autonomous person—as he or she dutifully performs in the roles of savior, parent, and nursemaid.

A needy lover can be hard to escape. But perhaps no noose is tighter than that of the oversolicitous lover. We are all familiar with stories of a matriarch so overwhelming that her whole family could relax and expand only after she died. In a similar way, the beloved can come to experience her adoring lover as her jailer, feeling that she is imprisoned in a nightmarish distortion of solicitude. The wedding ring, once the token of the promise of eternal love, now becomes an emblem of bondage.

In Huxley's "The Gioconda Smile" Mr. Hutten is in Florence with his devoted and grateful second wife:

He had need to be alone. It was good sometimes to escape from Doris and the restless solicitude of her passion. He had never known the pains of loving hopelessly, but he was experiencing now the pains of being loved. These last weeks had been a period of growing discomfort. Doris was always with him, like an obsession, like a guilty conscience. Yes, it was good to be alone.

Consider also Benjamin Constant's complaint (in Adolphe): "She was not circumspect in her sacrifices because she was concerned with making me accept them."

When the lover is insistent on presenting self-surrender as a gift, there is a tacit (or sometimes explicit) demand that the beloved feel gratitude. In some wearing and tiresome marriages, one partner assumes the moral superiority of selflessness. The beloved is trapped by a sense of duty or by guilt. She feels an inability to move, believes that escape is impossible, but at heart she revolts.

Not only does she feel suffocated, stifled, but she is burdened by the vast expectations with which the lover attempts to saddle her; she is made to feel her own inadequacy by virtue of the exaggerated esteem in which she is held. It is wearying to try to live up to others' expectations of us. Sometimes the beloved has the urge to transgress simply as correction to the exalted image foisted upon her. She may look for stimulation elsewhere, telling herself that she is looking for larger horizons. In this way, she recapitulates the experience of previous separations from her "engulfing" family, now finding the lover as narrow, provincial, and constricting as the adolescent once found her parents.

The lover, sensing the beloved's defection, recognizes that he has changed in surrender; he knows he cannot be regarded as an object of desire. His freedom and independence have yielded to servitude, and he is no longer perceived as fascinating or desirable. Knowing this, the lover may attempt to withdraw and play "hard to get." Such is the advice mothers give their daughters, and such is the stuff of Hollywood comedies. In films, the ploy is invariably successful; in life, it may or may not be. But even if successful, the ploy leaves the lover new—and unwelcome—information; he now knows he cannot safely yield to his impulse to total self-surrender.

If the lovers give themselves over to sustained mutual surrender, there ceases to be an autonomous Other who can serve as an avenue for transcendence. These relationships, without any external sustenance, subsisting almost exclusively on mirroring, devolve into ennui. Boredom is the result of many relationships, partly because the intrinsic stuff of the self is not limitless. Some lovers counter such boredom by cultivating a small joint passion for amusements, grounding their mutuality in the external structure of games or a shared social life, whiling away the time pleasantly. By externalizing mutuality, they counter the threatening void.

Surrender is an integral part of love, at least at moments, allowing merger to be approached if not achieved. No love can be sustained without those periodic moments in which the lovers feel they have achieved merger—a sense that they are one.

For those who have the capacity for surrender it becomes problematic rather than exhilarating or enriching only when it is the sole aim of love. For then, paradoxically, the lover is concerned only with self, not with the beloved. True love is ultimately the granting of full subjectivity to the Other, which demands that each lover maintain enough of a separate identity to serve reciprocally as an object for transcendence and surrender. The lover must not only have the capacity to idealize the beloved; he must also hold himself worthy as an object for idealization. Unilateral surrender is doomed. Love cannot serve as religion; the lover cannot be redeemed solely by surrender. The lover will become disillusioned or the beloved burdened; whichever comes first, love will be shattered, or devolve into an obsessive torment. Therefore, while surrender is indispensable to passionate love, it must be measured, intermittent, and reciprocal in order for love to endure.

Fortunate lovers are able to oscillate on the continuum between merger and separateness with relative ease. They are best equipped to solve the paradox of how to achieve merger and yet maintain autonomy. As to the surrender implicit in love, the magnitude of the impulse is not the same for everyone, nor necessarily the same for any one person at different points in his life. For some, love comes close to total abdication of self; for others, such self-abdication is utterly implausible. These differences, as we shall see, depend on age, on gender, on culture, and on individual psychology. These are not inconsequential variables; they are decisive both for the ability or inability to love (in essence, to let go) and for the magnitude of danger to which one exposes oneself when one does open up in love.

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