In Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, I like it very much when Marianne cries passionately in her exchange with her sister Elinor about Willoughby's intentions towards her, now vanished into the air. When Elinor asks: But did he say it, that he loved you?, Marianne is prompt with an unambiguously affirmative answer. Yes, she says, he did. And then immediately reflects further upon the matter. Well, he didn't say it directly, he never did anything other than imply it, but I KNOW that he loves me as much as I love him. Nonetheless, Willoughby goes on to marry another. But the point is made however, and quite unambiguously, that it is clear that Willoughby does love Marianne, and that it is just too bad that he never actually says it. Or is it? If love is never declared directly, it has at least these pragmatic functions: (1) it leaves the one who wants to hear the words in a state of suspicion, and hence free to love elsewhere and (2) it leaves the one who wants to say the words but cannot free to activate a new narrative in which the unsaid love never happened. Hence, also here, there is thus the freedom to look elsewhere for some other love.
The only problem is that if life imitates fiction indeed, as many good literary folks have already established, then there is the problem with memory. Memory busts the ceiling of reason, makes a hole in it, and activates the part of knowledge that will never go away. I KNOW, Marianne, says about Willoughby's love, and yet, off she goes to also marry another. Willoughby, on the other hand, consolidates Marianne's knowledge by witnessing her marriage from afar, impotent, on the back of his horse. He then rides into the sunset forever miserable.
Indeed, where marriage is concerned, the ceremony is crucial. You have to go through with it, and say the words: 'I do.' It is also crucial precisely because it can never guarantee love. 'I do' is never the enunciation of love but the enunciation of commitment. Where love is concerned, you have to say nothing. Therefore love comes in unmeasurable degrees, some are vaster than others, and some more true than others. As they also say, true love is the most difficult because it always operates with the horizon of the crossing of aims. This horizon is also most crucial as it allows one to turn back if love gets too tough, perhaps to the initial crossing of aims, the one that gathers points articulated on completely different premises. How often do we not hear these positions assumed by lovers on a daily bases, from Austen to all romance in tabloids. He: I want sex. She: I want the soul. If “it” happens, then the aims are crossed, and both get what they want, on a simple basis. The love that grows sophisticated, however, even out of such disparate aims, has at least the advantage of always being able to revert back to the simple state. The only thing that is lost is the nuance. Some can live with that.
Now, given that this is quite so, why is it that so many of us still can't make that distinction, and thus keep confusing the gift of love with the act of marriage? Where words are concerned, we all want to hear it, sure enough. And yet, as good literary folks have also established, gestures are more powerful than words. So the question is not one of saying but one of doing. What kind of gestures can we thus make when we want to NOT declare what we nonetheless want the other to hear ever so clearly—and without the fear of getting sued for insisting? How do we bypass the ensuing suspicion that love's non-referentiality produces? How do we make sure that the doubt about the love of the other does not turn into mere cynicism, resentfulness, revenge, and restitution? —Here is your gift of love. Take it back. I want nothing from you. I'm fine.
One of my favorite critics is Gabriel Josipovici. In his brilliant book, On Trust, he makes a very apt comment on what happens when, in our desire to experience the fullness of love, or its continuos expression, we forget to think of it in terms of its finitude once death occurs. He calls this “the double vision” of the sense of life's abundance that entails the event of death, also as an abundance.
“[the] denial of the dual vision ... in the end entails a denial of the world we live in and, ultimately, of ourselves as embodied beings existing within that world. Yet such is the nature of suspicion that, once unleashed, it appears to produce a totally convincing and self-consistent world, not simply an alternative way of looking at things but the only way there can possibly be.”
If we cannot resist suspicion, and let love touch us beyond bonds, perhaps we can all do what the wise Cinderellas do, run and regret. Here in the words of another bard, Patrick Kavanagh:
Beauty at the Beauty Ball
Lose your silver slipper where
Some man passing may recall
A virtuous woman's prudent care.
Silver slipper, symbol of
Modesty who understands
That to run is part of love
The wiser part. Men in all lands
Are searching for a princess who
Spilled the last cocktail in her shoe.
... and from another poem: