„To be in love with someone means believing that to be in someone else’s presence is the only means of being, completely, yourself.“
This is what Chris Kraus states at one point in “I LOVE DICK”. The semi-autobiographic, largely epistolary novel evolves around Chris’ feelings for a man called Dick, who is, frankly, a dick. She falls in love with him or, how she calls it, becomes infatuated with him. He is secretive, lonely and sexy. Handsome, too. Also, he is her husband’s colleague, maybe even friend. Of course they are all artists and university teachers, open-minded, self-aware and intellectually sexual, so her husband is okay with it – for the most part. At some point, Chris becomes obsessed with Dick.
She has her ups and downs within her constructed alternative reality evolving around him until they meet again and have sex. By the way, this is the only reason why I think he is a dick: He sleeps with her even though he knows she is a psychological wreck, without thinking what it could do to her already fragile mental state. After sleeping with her, he throws brutal honesty at her, calling her evil, psychotic and a stalker, making clear that he never wanted “this”.
The quote above is taken from a letter she wrote to him a few weeks later.
What does this quote mean?
“To be in love with someone means believing that to be in someone else’s presence is the only means of being, completely, yourself.”
The only means of being, completely, yourself. It means that you make your being, completely, yourself dependent on another person’s presence, i.e. the person you are in love with.
I conducted a small poll on Instagram, asking if people agreed or disagreed. The outcome was almost 50:50, just as I expected:
However, I was surprised that one person in particular agreed.
Let’s call her Woman.
Who is she? We went to school together, we were even in the same year, but deep down she always has been a woman. Even at age 15 she seemed very powerful and privileged, also intelligent. Besides, she used to hang out with the more interesting lot of our small, close-minded hometown.
Her saying that she agreed with this quote shocked me at first. How could a strong, feminist woman like her think that she could only be herself in another person’s, another man’s presence?
At a second glance, however, it all made sense. I thought about how she acted during the class reunion we had a few weeks ago. More than ever, she was a woman. A woman, typically worn out by society’s expectations. She returned to living at a place near her – near our – horrible hometown, settling down for way less of a future than what she dreamed of ten years ago.
The reality of patriarchy hit her hard and she gave in to it, looking wearily elegant while doing so. She took a job that doesn’t make her happy and crushes all her expectations that she had of her life when she was a teenager. Well, she just couldn’t get a better job in this town, where her boyfriend lives, who – by the way – did not propose to her, although she expected him to. Leaving doesn’t seem to be an option here.
Of course she flees into believing that being with this guy is the only means of being, completely, herself. Because if it isn’t, why stay? And how to leave, when it’s so scary to be all by yourself?
But fear not, there’s still hope. Because I’m convinced that she knows this. Like Chris, she knows that the believing part is what counts. That being in love with someone means believing that, to be in someone else’s presence is the only means of being, completely, yourself. Even if it might not be the truth. Like Chris, she is aware of the dilemma of this non-feminist point of view, but she also knows that she can’t help it. For now. Until then, at least she’s not lonely.
Somebody else is, though.
Let’s call him The Guy.
He almost never takes part in my polls, so the more important it gets when he does. The Guy disagreed with Chris’ statement. He, too, comes from my hometown, but he despises it, even more than I do. He, too, seemed always very powerful and privileged, also intelligent. Besides, he used to be the most interesting of the more interesting lot I mentioned above. At least that’s what my 15-year-old self thought. Back then, people used to call him a dick and even though I barely knew him I used to say You just don’t understand his art. Back then, I never thought we would become something like friends roughly ten years later, but somehow we did. I think.
Of course he doesn’t agree with the quote. But probably not for the reasons one might think. I assume, he doesn’t agree with it because to him, being in love means something completely different. Maybe to him it means being one’s best self. Because if he were, completely, himself, the kind of person he falls in love with wouldn’t want him anymore. At least that’s what he believes, and maybe he is right. Like Dick, he gave up on trying to find real connection. Like Dick, he wears his loneliness like an extravagant accessory.
What do I think?
I, myself, disagree with Chris Kraus on this one too. To be honest, I don’t know what being in love really means to me. I am very good at convincing others and myself of being in love when I don’t think I have, in fact, ever been in love. (Although I have loved thoroughly.)
However, I won’t deny that feeling of despair, when the connection to another person is broken and you suddenly lose the connection to yourself as well:
“How do you continue when the connection to the other person is broken (when the connection is broken to yourself)? To be in love with someone means believing that to be in someone else’s presence is the only means of being, completely, yourself.”
Breaking a connection
You always have the right to remove someone from your life without giving an explanation why. That’s something The Guy said to me the other day. And yes, I agree. You absolutely have that right. I made use of it many times myself. But is it fair? Isn’t it awfully impolite? Are you not a dick when you do that? Because as we all know and as he, as well, pointed out, there is always an imbalance in every kind of relationship. It doesn’t even have to be the case that one person falls in love and the other one doesn’t. It’s enough that one person thinks everything is just fine while the other one just disappears from their life. You don’t have to be in love with that person to think “But why?” and then, at some point, “What a dick. What. A. Dick.”
“How do you continue when the connection to the other person is broken (when the connection is broken to yourself)?”
And that is, exactly, the point. The connection to another person should never be the same as the connection to yourself. Because it might feel right and easy at the beginning, like something you seek solace in, when you have resigned to the system. But it is going to leave you completely damaged once the connection is broken. You might recover, but it might take time.
It’s like a drug, an addiction, just like Chris’ (largely imagined) connection to Dick. By making your being, completely, yourself dependent on another person, you lose control over yourself.
And maybe that’s what being in love means, losing control over yourself, over Your Self.
I hope that for me – when it comes to it – being in love means: Being able to keep the connection I found to myself, despite having this other person in my life. Being, completely, myself and staying that way, regardless of whether this person sticks around or not. However, getting there is the hard part.
So what’s the use of all this?
Isn’t Chris’ obsession with Dick absolutely relatable? It feels like yielding to a temptation, letting it become your addiction, denying all sensibility, until it becomes your rescue, your carthasis.
Such sweet pleasure to give in to such a deep infatuation, losing yourself completely in a mere idea of someone else, up to the point where you jump over the edge and embrace your obsession as your own personal artwork, your “schizophrenic experiment”, diving in so deep that you go straight through insanity, unravelling the makings of your own mind, until you finally –
become, completely, yourself.
What do you think? Tell me in the comments below or dm me on Instagram.