Our inner lives, William James announced, are fluid, restless, mercurial, always in transition. The transitions, he speculated, are the reality, and concluded that our experience ‘lives in the transitions.’ This is a piece of information difficult to absorb, much less accept, yet it is transparently persuasive. How else account for the mysterious shift in emotional sympathies that, at any hour of the ordinary day, brings a marriage, a friendship, a professional connection that has repeatedly threatened dissolution, to a ‘sudden’ actual end?

The withdrawal of feeling in romantic love is a drama most of us are familiar with and therefore feel equipped to explain. In thrall to the intensity generated by passion, we invest love with transformative powers; imagine ourselves about to be made new, even whole, under its influence. When the expected transformation fails to materialize, the hopes interwoven with the infatuation do a desperate dissolve. The adventure of having felt known in the presence of the lover now bleeds out into the anxiety of being exposed.

In both friendship and love, the expectation that one’s expressive (if not best) self will flower in the presence of the beloved other is key. Upon that flowering all is posited. But what if the restless, the fluid, the mercurial, within each of us is steadily undermining the very thing we think we most want? What, in fact, if the assumption of a self inĀ need of expressiveness is an illusion? What if the urge toward stable intimacy is perpetually threatened by an equally great, if not greater, urge toward destabilization? What then?

fromĀ The Odd Woman and the City

by Vivian Gornick