It Isn't Romantic, Is It?
Continuing with my observations from the post-mortem:
Second, I think I have a very different understanding of relationships than most people, including she-for-whom-I-still-have-no-nickname.
The difference concerns the idea of romance.
I just don't get it.
It seems to me many people treat romance as though it is some separate species of relationship, quite distinct from friendship, one with its own rituals and standards of conduct.
From my point of view, it looks like some sort of relationship kabuki, a very contrived sort of play-acting.
I tend to think of relationships more on a continuum, or perhaps on a continuous, multi-dimensional field of possibilities. The core of it is always the mutual recognition of two people, the response of one to another.
The basic pattern is what Aristotle called philia, friendship or affection, wishing for the good of the other person for her or his own sake.
Everything else is just a matter of degree.
While I can see that sexual desire has its own dynamics, I tend to think of physical intimacy as part of the continuum, something to which two people may be drawn as a particular expression of their more basic response to one another.
What I realize now is that people have to negotiate their own boundaries in the wide field of possible relationships.
"Friendship" versus "romance" is one standardized way of drawing such boundaries, but one that doesn't make a lot of sense to me. It seems to shut out a whole range of other possibilities, and to artificialize personal intimacy.
I've never really been drawn to the chocolate-and-flowers, dressing-up-and-dining-out model of romance.
My crush was, really, a wistful longing to be closer to her as a person, to be on more intimate terms in our connection to one another; the physical intimacy was secondary to that, and a remote possibility, at that. Personal intimacy was the point, in this case.
That I don't get the idea of "romance" was driven home for me by reviewing a critical moment in the history of this particular crush.
In the summer after she was my student, I asked her if she'd like to have lunch with me. She said yes, and wondered if I had a restaurant in mind. I named a place I thought would be cool, a place I'd visited with my wife and some friends of ours, with our assorted children, a couple of years before. The view from the restaurant is impressive.
In her mind, though, it was someplace special, someplace to go on a date. Even though I was keenly interested in her, it simply had not occurred to me that suggesting that particular restaurant might be perceived as an opening gambit in the romance game.
She asked directly: was my interest in her romantic, or Platonic?
When she asked, I figured she was not then interested in anything other than friendship with me. I was genuinely interested in friendship with her, though, so I answered that my intentions were not "romantic".
In hindsight, this was a bit of dishonesty on my part, or at least a lack of clear thinking. I wanted to make it true; I resolved to make it true. But it drove my interest in her underground, made it harder for me to reveal any deeper interest in her, and easier to fall into self-deception in various directions, including the wistful hope that she might someday be willing to have a closer relationship with me, in one form or another.
I did pretty well with that resolve, for a long while, but the lack of communication about it, the lack of clear boundaries in the wide-open field of relationship (as I see it), made things very difficult for me.
Still, what I find interesting at the moment is how clear the friendship/romance boundary was for her, and how clear it is for most people. I'll need to be attentive to it, in the future, even if I don't see it - or see the point of it - myself.
As a side-note, I have a pet peeve about people's use of the adjective, "Platonic". Most people think a Platonic relationship is simply a close friendship without physical intimacy. What Plato meant by it, though, is something quite different.
Platonic love, as it is spelled out in the Symposium, and elsewhere, is not only non-sexual but actually non-personal. If I'm in a Platonic relationship, I do not love the other person at all, in all her particularity; instead, I love the pure and abstract Form of the Beautiful as it is exhibited - temporarily - in the other person.
By my lights, that isn't really love at all. In fact, it's offensive and degrading, almost the opposite of a real, human relationship.