As for Love....
Bill Long 1/12/05
Alfred Kinsey, Liam Neeson and Love in the 21st Century
The purpose of this mini-essay is not to review Condon's recent film Kinsey, a probing study into the methods and person of the mid-20th century sexologist Dr. Alfred Kinsey (1894-1956). The story now is well-known about how this New Jersey native, the son of a carping and sexually-repressed father, rebelled against his father by going to Bowdoin College in Maine, pursuing a doctoral degree at Harvard, publishing two little-known works on the gall wasp while a professor at Indiana University in Bloomington and getting into sex research through discovering a dearth of scientifically-based material on sex when he began to teach a class on sex and marriage at IU in the late 1930s. I was entertained by the movie, and especially by the performance of his winsome wife Clara MacMillan Kinsey, whose support, insight and occasional jealousy make her as much of an interesting character as he.
Instead of a review, I would like to reflect on one line in the movie. After a falling out between two of his staff members through a wife-swapping incident, Kinsey mused on the scientific nature of his work. Though he could measure sexual behavior and habits in men and women, he confessed that "As for love, we are all in the dark." The relationship of sex and love, and the elusiveness of love--the thing that we all say we want and need, is my subject.
Love and Control
I don't know if it is more true for men than for women (I suspect it is), but most men have a need to try to control things--their circumstances, their women, their emotions. One way to look at scientific exploration is as a reflection of the long shadow of maleness. We tame rivers, conquer mountains, and channel nature into the courses that most please us. Males want to organize, classify, define, categorize and ultimately to control. Things resisting control and definition are, by definition, uninteresting or beyond our ken. Oh, at times we are stimulated to want to understand a mystical experience or some longings in the heart that we cannot easily define, but normally we are content to return to our control-oriented view of life. Data represents things, and data can be learned. By learning the data, we control. We establish a place for ourselves in the world. We are thereby subduing the earth, to use the words of Genesis, and thus fulfilling a creation mandate (even if we are not consciously aware of it at times).
Yet any man who has wanted to love in this life is confronted by a dilemma. You can't love unless you learn to give up control. Or, to put it slightly differently, you will not be able to treat a woman the same way you treat your data if you want to get the most out of her and be mutually satisfied. Women will appreciate, honor, and even love you for your data-collecting and analytic abilities, but that will never be enough for them. They want you to venture out of the controlled world of the mind and journey with them into the undiscovered vistas of the heart. So, how do we do this?
Loosening the Grip
A digression on the Bard. Shakespeare's view of love is hinted at in many of his plays, but is most arresting for me in Twelfth Night. Love for Shakespeare is a force that comes on you, like a tsunami of the heart, which you cannot resist. When it comes you simply have to do its bidding--and, as a result, princesses fall in love with servant girls, who happen to be dressed as boys, and servant girls, dressed as boys, fall in love with counts. Love happens to us all, except possibly to Malvolio. Love makes us fools, one and all, but brings us such a sense of deeply-filled hearts that we have no choice but to go after it.
But I don't know if Shakespeare is correct. Control can be so much a part of the male instinct that love's gentle whispers are not only be repressed; sometimes we can train ourselves to ignore them. But we receive so many mixed messages about love. On the one hand the pop song says, "It's so easy to fall in love," but for many men, love is not that easy. It means a trip from one's inner world of neatly-ordered categories to a world of potentially tumultuous and terrifying chaos, as the heart floats on a seemingly ill-protected craft down a churning river swollen from the winter rains.
Whenever I think of love, I think of an experience I had while an undergraduate at Brown University. My closest friend at the time was the captain of the hockey team. I didn't know how to skate, so I thought I would ask Norm to teach me how to do so. One Sunday afternoon we went down to the rink during public skating, and quickly laced our skates. With great anticipation I went out on the ice, hugging the boards for support. Norm looked at me and said, "Ok, Bill, here is what you do. All you have to do is this. You skate..." And then he glided off across the ice.
I remember a flood of terror overtaking me. I was expecting someone to "hold my hand," so to speak, to tell me about technique and cautions and protecting myself. I guess I don't really know what I was really expecting, but I didn't think it would be seeing my friend glide effortlessly across the ice and disappear into the happy group of skaters.
I remember that story when I think about love because I sometimes wonder if love for me is like skating was on that cold winter afternooon in 1972. I grip tightly onto the only thing that I can control, I am told by someone that all I really need to do is to "skate" ('let go of the wall, Bill'), and then the last image I have is of my friend gliding out to meet a happy company of skaters while I am still clinging to the wall.
What does it take to get a man to leave the safe confines of the wall and to venture out to the icy slipperiness? I don't know, but when I come to this point, I think I need to write a poem, which is on the next page.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long