Can love be willed?

I'd like to feel the way I think I'm supposed to feel, but I don't seem to be able to.

By Cary Tennis
January 9, 2004 1:56AM (UTC)
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Dear Cary,

Can love be willed? I know it can't be as easy as turning on and off the hot water, but please tell me, how can I make myself love someone? How can I make my addled brain focus on one woman?

I am about to lose a wonderful woman, the best thing that's happened to me in long, long time, because I just can't seem to love her. She has told me she loves me and that (of course) she can't stick around if I can't reciprocate. I am a romantic at heart; I want to settle down and give myself exclusively to one good woman, and accept the same gift from her. My family wants me to marry her. Friends want me to marry her. I want me to marry her. But the feelings just don't seem to be there. I do care about her deeply. She has become my best friend and, sitting here writing this, the thought of her absence brings me to tears. So why can't I love her? Why am I always noticing other women and wishing I were in another situation? How does familiarity breed contempt? It's not as if there's no sexual connection; I am attracted to her. I'm beginning to suspect I'm hopelessly flawed, with no capacity for love and commitment.


Cary please tell me, please give me specific step-by-step instructions; how can I make myself love this woman before I lose her forever?

What the hell's wrong with me?

Dear What the Hell,

Step 1: Find a high, relatively flat place with a gentle upward slope.


Step 2: Bend your arms so your elbows form a 90-degree joint.

Step 3: Using cardboard, balsa wood, duct tape or whatever materials are available, attach wings to your arms.

Step 4: Run as fast as you can into the wind, holding your arms out.

Step 5: Take a flying leap.


Following these instructions, it is possible that you will be the first in the world to achieve man-powered flight. On the other hand, you may join the thousands, perhaps millions of others throughout time who saw no essential difference between us and the birds. It would be a stupendous achievement and the whole world would gasp in amazement. You would receive a phone call from documentarian Ken Burns and from cable news producers; possibly, if business was slow in Harlem, former President Clinton would call to express his admiration for your achievement.

The same would be true if I gave you step-by-step instructions on how to fall in love and you carried them out successfully. But since I do not even know where to tell you to place the wings, or what slope to run at, or even if running would be a part of the exercise, I do not know where to begin (perhaps to will yourself into a state of love it would be necessary to sit under your not-yet-beloved's skirts blindfolded for hours or even days; perhaps you would be required to kiss her while magically suspended upside down in the air).


At first thought I do find it strange that I know of no such exercise. On the other hand, if ordinary people were to commonly take flight quite by accident and unawares -- if on a given day on a busy New York street you would see people at random lift off the sidewalks, briefcases, purses, baby carriages and all, and swoop toward the skyline in startled ecstasies of passion fulfilled, the novelty of the phenomenon might wear off. And there would always be those few unlucky ones, rooted to the ground, clamoring for a formula by which they too might magically and without warning take to the air. They would interview the fliers for tips, unwilling to believe that they simply did not know how it happened.

Also, amid all this spontaneous swooping, barrel rolling and loop the looping, concerted efforts to mass-produce the phenomenon might grind to a halt. If you could not will flight but had to wait for it to occur like a meteor across the sky, it would elude the calculations of aeronautical engineers and the step-by-step catechisms of how-to publishers and come to reside solely in the world of dreams and epiphany. Airline schedules would be even harder to keep than they are today.

But that is the place love occupies. It is not a mineral to be mined or a physical process to be flowcharted and then refined for yearly productivity increases. It is a sudden unexpected taking to the air, as miraculous and as unfathomable.


On the other hand, that doesn't mean that you can have no human relationships of enduring power and depth. It doesn't mean you can't love. In fact, if you look down, you may find that you are flying right now, just not as high off the ground as you expected.

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Cary Tennis

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