There is a vocabulary to the emotions of human relationships and feelings. There are a lot of books about this; many firm, concise sentences have been declared. We may explain ourselves as a single word written one thousand times, or as many do, we may write nothing. There is a certain versatility to the absence of words and the ambiguity of potential explanations. There is a perfect complexity to the formless abstractions that have conquered the uncivilized and turned our fears into markets. I like these a lot. I prefer to think that the mathematicians and physicists keep key formulas ridiculously convoluted so that only a minority finds them accessible. Their language, their syntax, their symbolism just as complicated as the equations that drive our global economy or our interpersonal relationships. Systems as complex and potentially unknowable as the weather. However, the wonder of our contemporary world is not in what we've found, but in what we've determined we cannot find. Our everyday reason is beginning to move in similar directions.
Listen: I have a lot of things I can't discuss because the discourse would destroy them. A lot of things that can't be talked about because they're too obscene or not obscene enough. I'm wasting time even mentioning them, and it's a problem we all have, every single one of us whether we know it or not. The variables are all best left as unknowable Greek symbols, inverted in cube roots and imaginary numbers. For the sake of my argument, we are going to substitute the language of mathematics with a bastardized English. I've wanted to create a thousand verbs to elaborate upon them. A hundred dozen nouns of materials, shapes, forms borne of emotions, expectations, assumptions, revelations. I've wanted to enumerate these visions and graph them from a million data points, between social capital and synthesized personalities. Big numbers to keep me company, wrestling these tiny fragments caught up in pockets of the dark. Hopefully we'll never be able to do this. These are transformative ideas rather than explanatory ones: these struggles are the conversations we should be having, and we are beginning to realize their importance between hashtags and occupations.
There are cycles to the madness of individuality and its formation and its exuberance. Everybody builds walls, goes on quests, defeats monsters within and without, and ultimately (hopefully) laughs about all of this later. This isn't news -- but what is? The only plot that hasn't been adequately covered is the one that makes any of these subplots possible. Perhaps because it's the most easily assumed one: the plot about death, that one we take for granted so often it's a starting point, but even that punchline is inadequate. Death -- or absence itself -- is default; it's a joke not worth telling. There is a lot of nothing in the universe. One of the best philosophical problems is simple: why is there something rather than nothing? The story that isn't often covered or discussed, socially and culturally, is our metaphorical one. What makes us capable of describing our world and our thoughts through metaphor, and how this alone examines our true inner quest for articulation. This is the framework that makes all other stories possible, the one that takes years to figure out that it shouldn't take years to figure out. This is the story (and its subsets) that you can't really talk about because they have to be figured out in their own way by each of us individually. The math on this is too complicated. At least for now.
I'll put it a different way (as I'll be doing throughout). What interests me most about other people is what they know they can't say. There are infinite things other people don't know that they can't articulate, and there are likewise infinite things that people don't know they are unconsciously articulating. Those are typical: it's why the majority of meaningful human communication is relegated to body language and tonality. (Hence why no purely textual conversation should ever be fully trusted.) What intrigues me is the special dance associated with the process of the known unknown (as was famously phrased), which can't be summarized as something we're "hinting at" or "suggesting to". There may still be a distance between our mere biological truths and our unconscious ones -- this is the space I wish to navigate.
My favorite example of this in my life so far is the articulation of love, mostly because it's the only one we can't give up on easily, and it sticks with us universally. A lot of our unspeakable metaphors are ones we gradually discover, realize, and the work of understanding it is done silently whether we continue realizing it or not. Few are so begging (demanding and expecting) expression as love, and so much of our maturation can be positively centered around the idea of love's necessity and its sheer ubiquity. It is important to know what you know, what you do not know, and what you may never know, and that it may take years to fully understand and appreciate all three of those ideas. Let that focus be centered on love only, for it is the easiest to use within the point of my argument. I call this abstraction-as-focus the girlfriend effect, but that's only a title. There are parts of love that are universal, above the heterosexual notion I'm using as a basis, as I have loved men in ways that I have not loved women, just as likewise I love my mother differently than I would love a wife.
In all these equations along the same spectrum as love's inarticulate explanation, and the most startling fact of the pursuit of their description, is that I can only be responsible for myself within their experience. There is a self-reliance and emotional honesty one must attain with oneself before being able to truly achieve it with others. The process to understanding this multidimensional game of touch-and-go, duck-duck-goose, rolling of dice, et cetera ad naseum, is one that can't be beaten but our odds can be bettered only by the examination of self. One moment we find ourselves thinking one thing, only to be proven wrong; and rarely are we happy by this result except when in love. Let me elaborate.
We lay different intimacy needs onto others and we spread our feelings out thinner unless we have the mind to do otherwise. We establish trust either as closeness or as distance. Some people only trust those they consider close, some only trust those who they consider capable of being distant (and yet still maintaining trust). There is no concrete measure either way. Put more abstractly: there is a coherent whole of self (there always is whether we know it or not) and then there is what can be only described as the other. You, and then there's everyone else. Arguably, this is most acute when you're single. Friendship, specifically the ready-made assumption of distance between the subject (you) and the object (them), is a trait of the normal. Everyone is supposed to have friends, and because of this elaborate social trickery we often don't think about it much deeper than that. (This fact is exploited every day, between Facebook and coworkers and political parties.)
Here's friendship as a many-state system, pay very close attention to the pronouns:
- I see myself as your friend.
- I see you as my friend.
- You see me as your friend.
- You see yourself as my friend.
I can only really control one of the four of those states, and that list is interpreting friendship at a basic, mechanistic level. The only thing I can really control is me seeing myself as your friend, the first one in the list. You may easily see yourself as my friend, which is the only piece you can control, but I may not be seeing you as my friend. This is where many of our social problems exist: in the space between me seeing myself as your friend and me seeing you as my friend... because the latter is an understanding that can never be truly accomplished. I can never know what is in the mind of potential friend, therefore it is potentially tricky to ever know if the other can be considered, by me, as a friend, as much as I consider myself as their friend. Keep that in mind as I move forward: the dichotomy between known-in-self and unknown-as-other. (Sorry for the extensive italics.)
Time is elastic because of thought. For some people, every one moment lived they actually experience three minutes: one assuming what might happen, one for the actual happening, and a final moment for reflection. Not to mention the many more moments that may be further bent into reflection later. But do these moments all exist in a zero-sum game of time, do we have a prefilled allotment (which we call a life)? For every moment of reflection, are we losing a moment of happening? Or can we make it shorter, change the allotments, become better at it so that for every one moment lived we actually live 30 seconds, and suddenly our lives feel twice as long. Cut a moment of life into less than the time it took to experience it, shortcutting our future perception with expectations based on previous experiences and compressing our past by relying on already-found conclusions. Perhaps our maturation is simply turning that ratio around, or finding the balance that suits us best, so that every moment we experience is not an additional moment lost. Sometimes you need three minutes for every one, and sometimes you only need thirty seconds for every moment. As you grow older, you'll become more confident in your assumptions, more ready to draw conclusions as patterns emerge; but how many minutes will we lose to those suppositions should they prove erroneous? In our world, today, many would think that such a self-argument renders you a philosopher. To me, it simply renders you human rather than machine. (It's amazing how many machines we walk among, incapable of spending years figuring out the intricacies of mere moments.)
Some of these important perceptions on time, reflection, and assumption change when we consider ourselves not single. This is the clearest example of the mistake I call the girlfriend effect. Or rather, this is most likely the first exposure to this mistake, as it may cascade throughout life later. It's a simple dilemma: we think that our significant other is somehow special. Somehow different. Somehow rises above the rest of the other. This is, at first, seen as the ability to establish a kind of codependency. This becomes, often quickly, as the risk of codependency. (In friends, too, but more easily in love. The association of risk and reward itself is why I am focusing more and more on social markets.) We concentrate and focus our feelings so readily that they become a risk to the integrity of our selves... and most would say that's a good thing. With any relationship comes risk, and learning to manage that risk is a part of growing up. When you're "in love", nothing is supposed to matter. That's not news in a universal sense, but individually we begin to realize something that we don't know, and the need to articulate that something. We begin to butt against the limits of our understanding, and we have two choices: grow up... or don't.
Love is a multifarious construct and I would contend that the love I have for a girlfriend should be but a dimensional differential from the love I have for a friend. Just as we discover more dimensions to our physical reality, we should allow the extensions of our selves. What is a girlfriend? A wife? A lover? Some would call it entirely selfish: we need someone to make ourselves feel better. Some would call it reflexive: we need someone to watch our lives as we watch theirs, unknowingly. All I need as an individual is to be important to one person and know it and I'll be fine. But what happens then? If their life doesn't go anywhere, and you get bored, do you get divorced? If that is the mere truth of it, could I blame my wife if she leaves me when my aspirations stagnate, expectations unfulfilled? Who are you supposed to talk to about this, really? Your parents probably have the same questions, never knowing an answer. Perhaps we live life by the wrong parameters (or -- maybe -- what's wrong is having parameters at all).
It is amazing how little conscious experience we need to really have feelings and begin to understand them. With the smallest beginnings we can extrapolate a path to survival, whether it's right or not, in such a base instinctual capacity. And what of those extremes? Right, wrong? I hesitate to use them; the shades are too deep and too unknowable. How much wisdom can you draw from those around you, and how much can you rely on your own unconscious processes? If movies have taught us anything, it's that people will draw conclusions from them, but the finer points are learned by watching those people test their conclusions. I think one of the interesting unexplored territories is one's own inaccessible intuition -- after a certain fashion and an understanding of the associated risks. Our minds learn more than we do, faster, and in more elaborate schemes and scaffolds.
There is always a girl/boy struggle in life, it's one of love's subplots... there's always a war between how each person expects and assumes things will work between them. The emotions stemmed from assumption seem so visceral that the only adequate articulation can be found in shitty teenage emo music (and rightly so as we have no better frame of reference) but what do older people listen to in these situations? Or do they even experience them after having gained the experience enough times? Will we, as old people, become desensitized, apathetic, or are these even the right words for the repetition of experience? Just as importantly: are we in danger of making ourselves emotionally atrophied too soon, or are we currently insulating ourselves in our contemporary adolescence? (This is one of my main questions -- the new stories we're writing now with our networked sociality -- do they reinforce, reconcile, or abdicate?)
These are questions worth asking, but their answers are individualistic, not collective. Everyone must answer them as best as possible to themselves, and know that the solutions are continually unknowable. We already have written the truths we've found self-evident: moving beyond them are the feelings and articulations of truths we each find evident in ourselves. The revolution we are waiting for in the twenty-first century is not one of governments, corporations, or institutions, but an amalgamation of ideas we each can find ourselves holding true and expressing as our own. A million voices, perhaps saying the same thing, but individually. It's tough to monetize that, and it's tough to cover it in the media, and it's impossible to fully understand. This is the effect we all find puzzling because we are so used to summarizing a collective action within soundbites and headlines. That's the old media, we're still trying to figure out the new media.
The girlfriend effect, simply put in a grander context, is our inability to see what we can't yet see and are perfectly willing to not yet see. The girlfriend effect, put another way, is not being able to discuss something with someone we love because we don't yet know any way to talk about it. You can't even articulate it to yourself, but you want to articulate it to them, if anyone. That's love: the purest experience of selflessness, so much so that we question what we know of ourselves and begin to express the lack of our knowledge. It takes trust to do that, it takes confidence, and it takes risk. What may transcend love is that the risk itself may be worth more to ourselves than to that other person... but shouldn't the one we love know and appreciate that?
What is the path to trust but one of constant warfare, between defeats and conquests, in that space amongst enemies and lovers? Do we learn more in the retreat, do we affirm more in victory? (Does a victory equal correct, or does it expose nothing at all?) How many friends do we need to have in order to know the good ones from the bad? How many dimensions can be added to our valuations of friendship? (Many, many, many, and potentially none more valuable than any other.) How many experiences do we need to have, how many do we merely need to witness? Time seems to be invaluable, though there are many available shortcuts. Being older does not always mean being smarter, but being younger does not always afford a fresh perspective.
We are trying to make these paths (all paths) knowable, indexable, driven through mechanical means. My analogy stands: if we can figure out the global economy or quantum physics through computerization, why can't we figure out what makes up a self? Can we quantize love into an algorithm that is more complex than the dating-site questionaires? A similar argument: why explore space when we have yet to explore all of our own planet? Do we hesitate to conquer the seas because their depths mimic our unknowable selves too closely? Is our greatest fear merely ourselves? If we could make a computer that could calculate and predict my next thought, my every reaction, and be a person itself, would we know better than to press "okay"?
There are things you can believe, or you can't. There are things you can understand now, or maybe later. You can either read this and know what I'm talking about, or you don't. Any which way you go, it doesn't matter. This whole article itself is just an elaborate metaphor, if you can look at it that way. Any reason you try to find is unknowable to me. We are each an island trying to build bridges between selves like the scaffolding between neurons. Shouldn't it all be so symmetrical as one cosmic joke? Move from atoms, to molecules, to masses, to abstractions, to collectives and institutions, and all throughout we have the same themes, the same tragedies. Maybe after a time and a thought you'll begin to breach through these layers and begin to carve out the form of a person. It takes years to figure out what love really means to you and to me. There's no other way to do it, nor should there be. When you do come across a meaning that truly satisfies it'll always feel like one that shouldn't have taken years to find, and it'll always be one you can't quite put into words.