Let’s talk about Valentine’s Day. I’m going to take the long way around to get there. We’re going to travel dangerously close to the confessional, but I promise we will eventually return to the subject of love, lust, and desire. Sit down. Make yourself comfortable. Have a piece of chocolate.
As some of you may be aware, I had a catastrophic hard drive failure on my gaming PC about a month ago. It wasn’t the boot disk, so the main effect was that I lost most of the games I had installed on the machine. Most of those games, it should be noted, I never actually played.
I ended up reinstalling Windows, mostly to wipe the Starforce virus that the jerks who made Etherlords II infected my machine with. And after that, I began installing games.
I started with just the games I knew I wanted to play, either because I was reviewing them, or because I liked them. So: Oasis, Strange Adventures in Infinite Space, MS Flight Simulator 2004, Civ IV. And that was really about it.
This weekend I was cleaning up some computer discs. As I was putting the game discs away, I installed some of them onto the computer. At some point — when I started obsessively hunting through the piles of old disks for Mechwarrior 4: Vengeance, a game I knew that I had no intention of playing — the epiphany hit me, like a bolt from the blue:
I like installing most PC games more than I like playing them.
I mentioned this to psu, who accurately observed “You need help.”
Spinning this so that it doesn’t sound quite so horrible, I can claim that this feeling is like enjoying the opening of Christmas gifts more than the subsequent possession of the presents themselves. Really, though, my urge to install games is just another manifestation of the latent object fetish.
During installation, the latent object experience is at its apogee. The anticipation of acquiring the perfect thing is at a fever pitch. Satisfaction is nearly in your grasp. As you install a game, it is still perfect and unmarred by reality. You don’t have to worry about the poor game design, or the crashing bugs, or the fact that it isn’t fun. Once you actually launch the game, though, all of your illusions shatter. You are no longer playing the game that engendered all of your hopes and dreams, but instead you are playing the one that the developers actually delivered, which by definition cannot possibly be as good as the ideal of a game in your head. It’s not the game that you’re in love with.
We are in love with ideals because by their nature they are perfect. And not just ideal games, but ideal people. Around the world, right now, millions of people are experiencing the latent object fetish, where the latent object in question is “true love.” You can, if you wish, transpose our frequent refrain about the desire for the latent object into purely Jungian terms. The latent object of true love exists before we meet the person we think we love. That poor person is, all too often, just a convenient surface on which to project our own desires. Succesfully projecting desires this way reifies our latent ideal of true love, and this makes us blind. When someone murmurs “You’re the only person in the world who makes me feel this way,” they are telling the absolute truth: the secret, of course, is that the person they are talking to is themselves.
Eventually, months or years later (always in August — no one knows why) the person you’re projecting your desires onto fails to imitate your anima or animus one too many times, and the projection breaks. It has to break. It is inevitable. No one is as perfect as the “soulmate” who lives inside your head. That person that you’ve dreamed about, anticipated your whole life, the ideal: that person doesn’t exist. When you discover that your loved one is not as perfect as the ideal in your head, you are hurt and disapointed. You feel betrayed. Alcohol is consumed. “I don’t understand what I ever saw in him,” you confide to your closest friends. And the next Valentine’s day, you’re murmuring in someone’s ear “You’re the only person in the world who makes me feel this way.”
I have no great insight about how to break this cycle. The one thing I’ll suggest is based on something somone said to me, once. “Love is not something you have. It’s something you do.” As long as we view love as a state we are in, or as something we own, we are, I think, doomed to failure by the thousands of quotidian disappointments that any relationship accumulates over the years. Real love, it seems to me, does not consist of being in a state of neverending infatuation, where everything is perfect. Such a state doesn’t exist, and if it did it would be inhumanly boring. Real love is the sum total of the things we do every day to show the people we care about that we put their happiness before our own.
Have a happy Valentine’s Day, everyone. Just watch out for viruses.