Longing, Loving and Other Forms of Masochism
The phenomena of Loving and the phenomena of Longing have long been confused. Although both states require an object
of attention, each state is experienced to varying degrees and at different times in the life of the subject. Loving is the feeling
we might have after an ejaculation, while longing is the feelings experienced prior to ejaculation or orgasm.
Not many people have appreciated the extent to which Freud went to understand human behavior. Until his writings, intellectuals
and academics of the day were not inclined to view sexuality with the central role that it plays in the every day life of an ordinary human being.
Freud brought the attention of science and medicine squarely onto the forbidden fruit of sexual appetite not only as it applies to the genital regions of the human body; but as it applies to the very heart of human desire.
Desire is the fundamental aspect of the human mind that drives the individual human and is the motor of civilization that has propelled our
specie to its hight of success in the building of social order. Sexuality as the prototype of desire is one of the fundamental concepts that needs to be understood if we are to reconcile the many obvious ways in which sex has held us back as well as the many ways it has provided with the energy to propel us forward.
Freud’s theory of sexuality as a prototype for psychic energy is as well known as it is disputed. But for sake of this article, I will assume that you understand that it is possible that the mental energy we expend in the course of daily living has both a character of desire as well as a character of force. The libidinal energy is the energy of desire and to english speaking audiences we can dispense with the word, “libidinal” and use our english word, “desire” to talk about this action. The second character is the drive of aggression, that is, the force that we need to expend in order to obtain the objects of our desire, be that a score from a wild beast hunt, or the latest electronic gadget that we can’t live without.
My patients often hate it or love it, when I refer to this system of engagement simply as fucking and killing. But the desire to sexually release energy as well as the aggressive force needed to tear apart an orange, pluck it from a tree, stick your finger in its navel and rip apart the skin and flesh in order to get to the succulent pulp which you will stuff in your mouth, masticate it to juice, and then begin the process of digesting and eliminating; this process is part of the cycle of life and death. At every turn, life involves desire and force, or to use Freud’s words, sex and aggression.
In relation to psychic energy there is a dichotomy that is less explored in the literature: the difference between the state of loving and the state of longing. At first glance Loving appears to be calmer, smoother, and maybe even less passionate that the state of longing which tends to be aggressive, maybe addictive and full of a yearning for something that feels to be just beyond our reach.
Frequently patients come in to my office having had a life time of unfulfilled longings, and then I hear them say they have not been successful at love. It seems useful to be able to understand that it is not possible to be successful at longing because the very nature of longing is that the object of desire is still out of reach. However, because longing involves the same type of psychic energy, it is easy to see that if your connection to what you think is love, is really a connection to longing…then the very acts that you commit in order to long are met over and over again with a sense of failure because longing does not involve reaching the object. In this formula a person can believe that the energy of longing is really simply an unfulfilled, or unsuccessful love. In actuality they are not the same thing at all, though their use of psychic energy is similar.
While discussing this topic with some one the phrase came up that I thought was pretty accurate. “Love is the feeling that you have after
orgasm, and longing is the feeling you get leading up to the orgasm.” This seems to me to be an accurate metaphor to discuss what the problem is with love. The problem with longing is clear. That which you want is not present. But the problem with love is a bit more complicated. Another way of stating the problem is to ask why the blush of love fades so quickly after marriage or moving in together. And again it is sometimes stated as the difference between falling in love and being in love. The process of falling in love is probably a strong longing to possess the object and when the object is possessed the psychic energy needed to capture the object is no longer needed. What is left is the captured object.
So what do you do after you say hello?
Longing is filled with passion and promise, Freud in one of his early articles refers to falling in love as a form of psychosis because it involves illusions and delusions of grandeur. The process of sexuality involves this same type of energy of longing while moving along toward the completion of the sex act. In the process of sex the moment is all about a rapid race to a conclusion. The pleasures involved in copulation are physicals sensations that are building toward a climax. The process of building the sensation is intensely pleasurable. But as soon as the orgasms is reached, the intense pleasures of reaching for, come to a swift end and you are left with a withering comfort that is more a sensation of after pleasure that actual pleasure. Though, we need to be careful here in this description, because the state of comfort and released passion is also a pleasant one, it just does not have the intensity of emotion and sensation that is part of the building up to conclusion.
The point of this description will undoubtedly bring some challenges and criticism to this post and I welcome those arguments. But to get on with
the intent of this essay, I want to make the comparison that longing is all the emotions and sensations that are part of the build-up to a climax and love is those feelings and sensations that come after release of that building-up passion.
This bring us directly to the point of the essay. The facts of mature love as it is often called are all wrapped up in sensations of comfort, and security and aspects of loving that have to do with commitment and remaining in place. So the experience of a mature love will not be riddled with the sensations of passion that falling in love possesses. The couple that has stayed together for a period of years begin to know each other well and this understanding brings about a comfort that feels safe. But while this feeling of safety and security and being understood is pleasant we still possess the memory of what it was like to be involved in the chase for love. In other words we have a memory of the feelings involved with longing and those feelings have a wild attraction attached to them.
The desire to go back into a state where the object of the desire is not possessed yet is a desire to be youthful and passionate and filled with sensations of building toward the climax. Frequently this desire for longing is seen as a specific set of feelings that the person wants to experience again. But in order to successfully bring your self back to where you are not yet possessing means that you have to leave the more mature relationship that has already passed through that phase. In some cases the desire to remain in a state of longing is so strong that relationships never get to the belonging stage. They are often discarded before any commitment is formed.
In addition most people are not thinking about these feelings and sensations in the way that we are intellectually discussing them in this essay. Instead the person is filled with an urge and a sense that they are compelled to recapture these intense sensations and the idea is that both the sensation of passion and longing and the sensation of having and commitment is just one long continuum. The next longing will lead to some kind of perpetual longing that will ultimately be satisfying. But the first part of the fantasy does not attach to the second part of the fantasy and soon the person addicted to longing will have to abandon the new object because it too will inevitability turn into” having” at which point the feelings of longing will again be lost to a mature love or commitment.
The desire for longing does not go away for having possessed. In some cases the repetition compulsion is glaringly visible from the outside but very hard to discern if you are the person lost in this matrix. The way out of the cycle has to begin with a recognition that longing is not the same as loving and that longing never leads to a love where longing will never again be experienced. One has to understand that these two states have very little to do with each other. When one compares them it is a little like comparing a piece of chocolate with bowl of oatmeal. Both have their place in our lives and one will never replace the need for the other.
In the ideal world, a well analyzed person will have a keen understanding of when a piece of chocolate is appropriate and that it will never be as soothing as a morning bowl of warm, comforting oatmeal; and the oatmeal will never provide the succulent intensity of warm chocolate melting at 98.6 degrees slowly dripping down your throat coating your mouth and esophagus with passion and delight.