Every leave-taking is a reminder that nothing lasts. A romance like ours, in which absence and presence alternate like night and day, allows little opportunity to forget this fact, and that is the most notable difference between an affair of such starkly defined seasons and conventional arrangements, in which the temperature fluctuates less widely and the cadence is harder to detect. Essentially all love is made on the verge of departure. It always has been. Today, however, many more people than ever find themselves in decidedly unconventional arrangements, living under separate roofs, on opposite coasts, with different lovers at various times, and for us the domestic symbol of modern romance is not the marital bed or the kitchen table or the family room but the doorway. Whatever permanence we may find comes by embracing the transient, a paradox that we somehow must make our own. If there is a tragedy in this it is not that we die unto each other, or that we actually die, but that we act as if this were not the way of the world. Nothing is more contrary to romance than the presumption of constancy. …We draw near. Our lips touch, a first kiss, first among many firsts and deepened immeasurably by all of the farewell kisses that have preceded it and resonate within it. Beat after beat after beat. However our partings may have come about, they have given this affair an unusually robust pulse. They have taught me that passionate love endures only if it continually transforms itself, that transformation is achieved through the rapture of arrival, and that there is no arrival without a departure of one sort or another. More than anything, romance is rhythm. We exhale so as to inhale again. We withdraw so as to approach anew.
It’s hard for me to believe this was written in 1996. Given the reality, inevitability and opportunity of long distance, nonconventional romances for so many of my friends–in the NGO sector and not–these words feel fresh, albeit fatalistic. Is it possible for us to ever truly ’embrace the transient’? In a globalized world, where things continue to move faster and faster, is romantic intimacy only destined to be felt with departures?
Dobb’s essay title in itself is amazing. A strange, contemporary koan.