old lovers



    The dynamics of approach, turning, separation, and turning back, though they are common to all loves, manifest differently in each kind of love, they pursue different aims at different physical distances, and each lover in the pursuit of that aim, discovers his or her own distinct knowledge of the beloved. Sexual lovers know each other one way, erotic lovers another, friends another, divine lovers another. Moreover, lovers in congress, and groups in fellowship, in every kind of love, find the significance, the pulling power, the hold of their bond in the belief (and experience) that they belong to something or to each other and that when they are moving in the field of love they are getting closer or further from it. Together the knowing, the being known, and the physiological resonances that carry it, which is the music of love, create its lived reality.
    All lovers in every kind of social interaction sustain some kind of physiological congress. Sense receptors mediate the connection, though the communications array themselves differently among the senses. Each person has his or her own way of prioritizing the move-ments between approach and separation and may conceive of them distinctively, according to his sensory equipment and the learned responses he has acquired at the different distances over a lifetime. In each kind of loving congress, crucial exchanges of information happen, some volitional, some based on the following response and imitation that ordinarily occur below the threshold of consciousness. Each kind of love carries information unique to it.
    Still, after every intimacy distance comes. Every separation sets up a possible approach. Pablo Neruda wrote:

Sorrow rises and falls, comes near with its deep spoons, and no one
can live without this endless motion; without it there would be no
birth, no roof, no fence. It happens: we have to account for it. 18

    It happens, but the rising and falling makes for an enormous problem. Neither blissful union nor terrible separation last. Furthermore, we repel as well as attract each other in all four kinds of love. The antipathies of the soul are as real and immediate and rhythmically ex-pressive as its desires – as sexual arousal and performance. Hate is close to love. Emotional rejection and sexual satiation both reverberate on the legs of approach and separation. At every distance, both possibilities come up.

Closest Approach

old lovers   Where closest approach raises certain transformational possibilities, furthest separation deals out others. In the moment of union, closest approach changes us through a primary exchange of materials, flavors, touches, caresses, but also with resonances, information and energy carried up from the deeper workings of the body.
     At closest approach, where all the body rhythms, desires, and emo-tional and spiritual hopes have mingled, giving and receiving are joined and perhaps made indistinguishable, as Pablo Neruda says,

like a double drum in the forest, pounding
against the thick wall of wet leaves.19
     Only those who have been close enough for rhythmic entrainment can separate with truly lasting after-effects. Those who have endured the greatest intimacy are those who through self-forgetting in those moments have been most profoundly changed by the other.
     In closest intimacy, in some real sense the being of the other crosses over and is shared. Rhythm based physiological entrainments carry profound information about the tonalities of life of the other. Language, touch, tremor, thermal changes and aromatic bio-molecules cross between lovers. They carry messages by frequency and amplitude modulation decoded in the primeval being of the other whether in desire or aversion, love or hate.
     The contents of the giving and receiving may travel differently in each kind of love but the silent language of transmission and reception, the giving that is receiving and the receiving that is giving, is always there. As Robert Graves wrote:

After when they disintwine
You from me and yours from mine,
Neither can be certain who
Was that I whose mine was you.
To the act again they go
More completely not to know.

(The Thieves)

     The giving that is receiving either lets us be changed by the other or, when the mutuality fails, prevents it. In all four kinds of love, the giving that is receiving and the receiving that is giving form the natural substratum of all the ethics inherent in human nature. Kin and reciprocal altruism show the outer surface of it in ethological studies, but in human life love, not altruism, is its basis.

Furthest Separation

     By stages, separation takes lovers out of sensory range. Finally they reach a distance where the senses no longer meaningfully pick up the presence of the other. The beloved now only resides in memory, in sense memory. The impressions can be reviewed in the reverse order they were acquired until at the furthest distance the last thing remembered is the first encountered.
     In furthest separation, we nurture the raw materials for transfiguration in loneliness. The seed of the next approach that is planted in the moment of union in visceral and intellectual knowledge, the scent of the other, the touch of the other, exchange of fluids, exchange of eye-contact, breaks into consciousness in furthest separation.20
     In the farthest extremes of loneliness, at separation, longing burns the memory of the beloved into the heart. And the heart changes when memories and introjections burn themselves into it. That is what Solomon meant when he said to “Set me as a seal upon thine heart.” In absence, we reconstruct the other in the body. Hart Crane‘s poem Carrier Letter says it well:

My hands have not touched water since your hands, –
No; – nor my lips freed laughter since ‘farewell’.
And with the day, distance again expands
Between us, voiceless as an uncoiled shell.

Yet, – much follows, much endures… Trust birds alone:
A dove’s wings clung around my heart last night
With surging gentleness; and the blue stone
Set in the trysting has but worn more bright.

     In all kinds of love, at farthest distance, imagery floods into consciousness and begins to shape our expectations for the next approach, whether with fear or hope.

Turn My Beloved: Turning Points in Love

Until the day breathe, and the shadows flee away,
Turn, my beloved, and be thou like a gazelle or a young hart
Upon the mountain of spices…

     “Turn, my beloved” is the operative phrase here, the defining act, the shape-giving event. The turning point moments matter most. In them, we find or lose each other. We celebrate or mourn, love or hate. Our weddings, divorces and funerals mark these passages in the larger social world. They express not only in conjugal love, but in every kind of love. A child’s love for its parents, brother and sisterly love, camaraderie, lifelong friendships, marriages and affinity groups all show it. We define the larger contours, the ‘story content’ of love, by its turning moments.
     However, turning always involves personal change. The way back is never a mirror image of the way here. Not constancy but mutability gives love its true character. The yearning for constancy comes as a response to its mutability.
The crucial test for love is living with change and being true to change. The pledge taken in intimacy, as if the intimacy would last forever, remains empty until we test it in the fires of loneliness. In the sonnets, Shakespeare frequently tries to mend the eroding effects of time on commitment. We soothe it mainly by denying it. In protesting, however, he must admit there is a breach that needs mending.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.21
 Elizabethan poets usually celebrated their constancy when they were preparing to leave their lovers. Here’s John Donne.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion

Like gold to airy thinness beat.

What lovers lose in constancy, they stand to gain from the power of change itself, even when the change follows terrible losses. Freedom makes its presence known in these changes. Turning points bravely endured set us on new paths.


     We are predisposed by nature and nurture to specialize in one kind of love, to prefer one kind to another. In each kind of love, we follow our proclivities. We have intense or mild turning points, strength in approach or separation. We are histrionic or flat, extroverted or introverted. We feel safe and comfortable in sex, Eros, Philia or Agape. Or on certain legs thereof.
     Our ways of proceeding mutate. In our greatest turnings,  one kind of love can turn into another. At the extremes of closest approach or furthest separation, near the reversal moments, sex can become Eros, or Philia Agape, and these can happen in all permutations.
     The introjected components of the beloved, sealed in the heart in furthest separation, return to the world transformed. They usually go to the person who gave them, but not always with the same kind of love. The introjected presence of other lovers plays a part. Past loves shape us. The shadow or light from our mothers or fathers can darken a new relationship. All those one has ever loved may return to the world through each new intimacy. When one kind of love changes into another, and something of the states and traits of all our past loves mingle, love changes tracks.
     The sensory boundaries that shape the character of each kind of love also function as gateways to other kinds of love. We go through the gateways at vulnerable moments. The vulnerable moments tend to come during turning dramas.
    After almost any calamity, love can reestablish itself. It relies on the power of rhythm to restore balance when perturbations hit at vulnerable moments near turning points. These transformations happen because all four loves have turning points in them that ride on the common tides of approach and separation. Moreover, they do so in the same frequency bands, reflecting sleep/waking rest/activity, desire/satiation rhythms in the circadian and ultradian bands.
     These common dynamics are what keep the four loves potentially interchangeable, so that after significant perturbations, we do sometimes come back to our lovers on fresh foundations, sometimes shifting to a different kind of love. Sometimes the beloved accepts the new configuration, but by no means always. Sometimes the new love has to seek out a different object.