The year is 2022. Everybody is dressed like they’re about to go on a gender non-binary hike on mt. balenciaga. We find ourselves outside of a natural wine pop up where everyone is trying to decide whether the wine is off or is “funky”. No one knows how to change a car tire.
When you feel like you want something, need it, you’re supposed to breathe in and ask: is this image me? Is this feeling me? Is any of this me? Then you’re supposed to realize none of it is you. Okay, so if I’m not the things I want, the things I love, then who am I? If I’m pure presence, then how am I supposed to live? Lightly, apparently.
I saw a TikTok where a girl’s therapist told her that in a healthy relationship with anything, you give ~30% of yourself, and keep 70% private. In an unhealthy relationship, you might give 90% and keep only 10%. I found this advice so wholly unrelatable I had to write an entire Substack post about it.
As you might already know: when I like something, I get tunnel vision. I can’t see or think about anything else. For me, the beginning of obsession feels completely, unmistakably good. There’s a purity to the experience that can only be described as euphoric: I was looking for you and now I’ve found you.
Some of my fixations have been longer-lasting than others. I’ve been obsessed with reading my entire life. I’ve been writing for a long time, too. Other fixations have been more temporary—I’ve fallen in and out of love. I’ve taken up hobbies that haven’t lasted. My friend Ben and I often discuss this: how can you tell which fixations will last and which are temporary? How can you tell which are fruitful and which lead to a dead end? We love passion, but also distrust it.
A constant dilemma in my life is what Heather Havrilesky describes as the tug between passion and loyalty. I identify as someone who is moved by idealism and intensity, but also cares about duty and longevity. When you’re torn between the two, what are you supposed to choose?
If I had to tell the story of my life, it would be this: I need intensity, but I also need intensity to feel safe. Here’s a scene from The Superrationals that has always haunted me:
“You want this high from the attention, and the crazy passion, but it comes with fall out. It’s like sleeping pills. It would be different if you were an eighteen year old girl, but you’re nearly thirty. You no longer have the luxury of being a neurotic romantic.”
“You do somehow?”
“You made a decision, which is the only thing that allows you to even entertain these fantasies. You want the complexity and drama and torture to validate your existence, but what if it negates it, chipping away at your reality for what doesn’t even exist. Have you heard from Tom since that night?”
“What if what validates your reality is that you are grounded and committed, invested in something?” She didn’t want an answer. “You have that. And still, you seek the poser that’s going to claim he loves you; to crush on you, because that’s what it is. He doesn’t know Mathilde, only the doll. I, on the other hand, love you, but acknowledge you’re fucked up; not at all a doll. Jack knows this too, and he’s fine with it,” Gretchen pulled herself out of bed to use the bathroom. She turned to look at me. “I don’t look for stability where I get my passion.”
“That was the most profound thing you’ve ever said.”
I think there are two types of people in the world: people who believe intensity can coexist with stability, and people who don’t. Some days this seems to me like the most meaningful distinction there is. And maybe it’s not about who’s right or wrong: maybe for some people it exists, and for some people it can’t.
Lately my theory is that the best kind of loyalty stems from passion: it is the story after the story, the one that endures. The best fixations shift to become constructive passions, things that nourish you instead of hollowing you out. Something might start off consuming 90% of your time and energy, but over time it levels out to 30%. Or 50% or 70%, I don’t know. People are different degrees of monomaniacal, after all. Not all of us are trying to live well-adjusted lives. Some of us want to be like Parfit—there’s something beautiful about that, right? A life completely dedicated to moral philosophy? It seems relevant that both June Huh and Derek Parfit originally wanted to become poets. I often think that poets are the only real idealists in the world, the people who pursue beauty in the most uncontaminated way. The way I’ve always aspired to live is this: I want to dedicate myself to one person, one idea. Which is the dumbest way to live and I often fear that my stupidity is incurable. Hass: It is a difficult story and the wise never choose it / because it requires a long performance / and because there is nothing, by definition, between the acts.
Earlier I mentioned that I worry about how to tell which fixations will last and which won’t. The truth is, I don’t think we get to choose. The things we stick with are just are the things we repeatedly fail to give up. Here’s the entirety of what I know about love: in the beginning it felt like I couldn’t control myself. And then it felt like I could control myself, but I still wanted to continue.