Love and desire

Love is to having as desire is to getting.

Every toddler, every parent, every ad man, every human knows this.

We want to imagine the new thing  –  the shiny red car, the soda, the perfume, the razor, the concert, the whiskey, the necklace – will, finally, make us happy. Aren’t we, just for a moment, imagining that, when we buy it? That fantasy, that wanting, is what spurs us to action, to decision, to purchase. But we know –  we know deep in our bones – that this is just a fantasy. We know it so well that we pretend not even to have the momentary fantasy. “Of course I don’t believe that Coke adds life. But I prefer Coke to Pepsi, that’s for damned sure.”

It’s the same with people. Falling in love, desiring, are transcendent, and yet liminal moments, moments in which, for a moment, we become enamored of the fantasy that perfection is possible. Moments in which the present seems to stretch out forever before us, in which we can’t imagine change, don’t want to. And yet, part of what is perfect about those moments is the very fact that we don’t have what we want, we are getting it. It is arriving, imminently. And by virtue of its not having yet arrived, we haven’t yet become disenchanted with it, familiar with it, worse. Our relationship still is a fantasy, a projection.

Love is transcendent. Desire, evanescent.

Love is safe. Desire, dangerous.

Love is selfless. Desire, selfish.

None of this is to say desiring one’s beloved is impossible, or even unusual. Rather, it’s to say that the fire of desire resists familiarity, seeks discovery.

I’m so very lucky with T (about whom I write so little here), in that our marriage, after so long, still features all these things, both sides of the love and desire divide.

Esther Perel wrote a terrific book on this subject, Mating in Captivity.

I recommend it. No answers there, alas, but lots of confirmation, validation, normalization.

Here’s a talk she gave that gives a good taste of the book.


  • Foreplay begins with the end of the previous orgasm, not five minutes before sex.
  • A key to keeping desire alive in the context of romance is the maintenance of a sense of erotic privacy.
  • We get turned on at night by the very same things we were demonstrating against during the day.
  • Responsibility and desire don’t do well together.
  • Passion waxes and wanes.
  • Spontaneity is a myth.
  • Whatever was going to “just happen spontaneously” in a relationship already happened.

If you love the talk, you’ll probably like the book. If you don’t, you almost certainly won’t.


    1. 1) I think there’s an interesting point here – the idea that love is a verb, not a noun, that it’s an action, something we bestow on others. Of course, it ALSO is something we receive, we benefit from.

      2) With respect to the point about possession, I think that this is about one-quarter true. There is a “having” that is possession, sure, with all that entails. But there’s a “having” that is far less defined by the aspects of possession to which I imagine you mean to call attention (exclusivity, control) and more defined by the more ineffable aspects of “having,” such as unchangeability, immutability, permanence. It’s these latter characteristics that seem to me to be salient.

    1. In my experience, it is the nature of desire never to be fulfilled, never to become reality. Whenever my desires are fulfilled, they shift shapes, instantly, into new desires which haven’t yet been fulfilled.

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