on giving up the chase.
Very recently I made a casual reference to someone very dear to me about my distaste for the idea of “pursuit” in the context of romantic relationships. I can’t even remember what I said at this point, but something about how I don’t like that language and what it means for us as we grow closer together. Naturally, she asked me to elaborate in a long form email (much preferential to speaking of such things in texts), so it got me thinking in a slightly-more-cohesive-than-140-characters way about what I really mean, especially as I have been trying to tangibly live this out and helping friends do the same in their own relationships.
How can we ever hope to really write about love in concrete terms? Or with any consistency in our [small] perspective of everything that world entails? Sometimes I feel my opinions on the matter change with the seasons, whether in theory or in practice. I suppose my qualification to this thought is that I am not necessarily living this out, but I am striving for it to become a reality in my life. Chomsky said something once about how we have to start with the ideal to figure out how we operate in the now, but I can’t remember the exact quote, and I may just be putting words in his mouth. Isn’t it amazing that writing about love can become the most poignant or mundane thing we could possibly speak of?
SO, what is the problem I have with the idea of “pursuit”?
In one respect, it’s purely semantics. I often find our arguments become so preoccupied with the words used that we never find a common space to deal with the issue at hand. It’s a good place for smart people to hide, in the fringes of ideology without action. Our words can either sit as an icon for the larger concept, or they can cage us in to a very narrow modus operandi. One must be particularly careful when talking about love, because our adherence to the words we use can bring us to a place of perpetual disappointment, or worse yet-disillusionment, with love itself. SO while I only allow the concept of “pursuit” its due weight in my life, I understand completely that it can become a form of idolism to me. Idols reduce where icons hint at.
Now, I don’t COMPLETELY disagree with the thought behind the word. In fact, I think it’s rather accurate to the first part of a relationship. In the beginning of romance, I am looking for Someone[Anyone]. There is a relatively wide swath of women that have the present potential to be what I’m looking for in that moment. And, if I’m being honest, generally what I’m looking for when I’m not with someone usually has to do with myself. I want affection, I want to be wanted, I don’t want to be alone. When we’re not in relationship (God or people) are the times in our lives when we focus the most on , and call in to question, our self-worth and identity. So pursuit as idolatry is where I tend to begin, because the Other [at first] serves to give me something. When I’m in the midst of identity crisis, I will consume what I need to in order to make up for the absence. In some instances, you can see this in very overt, violent terms; in others, you’d never even know that this is what is taking place, perhaps least of all in yourself.
But then I get to know Someone(Anyone), and she starts to become Someone(in Particular).
Now, perhaps, my motives change. my desire for romance becomes not so much about what I can get out of her, but the marvel at who she is. Gradually, the other present potentials fade into the background and Someone(in Particular) becomes my sole focus. Ideally, the same process has been happening for her as we allow each other the fact that we are real people and not an idea or concept. We become wrapped up in the intricacies of the Other’s story: their strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes. We challenge the Other, not in any sort of forced sterile-prefabricated-reality-television way, but by the sheer desire we have to be worthy of/responsible with the love we have already received. Somewhere in this place “pursuit” doesn’t do justice to the climate of the relationship.
I don’t like what “pursuit” implies about what men and women want. I think the idea of the knight wanting to rescue a maiden, and the maiden waiting to be rescued dumbs down the complexity of our gender roles. It reduces us to one simple aspect of who we’re “supposed” to be. The truth is, there’s part of me that wants someone to chase after me, to desire me. And I’ve seen a lot of women who have the conquering passion to set out after what they desire with a fierceness that would make King Arthur think twice. The language of pursuit ignores this fact and tries to oversimplify. Those of us who take this analogy too far end up reducing themselves: men become combative and pig-headed, women become frail and more concerned with how they look and present themselves. Additionally if we get too caught up in that form of romance, we never allow ourselves to engage in genuine relationship. The knight/princess ideal only goes so far before it takes us to a place where we are constantly disappointed by reality. No matter how much pursuing/waiting is done, it won”t be enough. Real love is far grittier than that; it’s not focused on just what I want, but how I can serve the Other.
The word implies a hunt like I’m chasing a deer through the woods, which is quickly the mindset that a lot of guys take on because we’re told to pursue women. This is why we “objectify” women. And a lot of women fall into the trap of believing themselves to be some sort of trophy to be “won”, so they try to doll themselves up to be more worthy of the chase, which means that looks become more important than personality.
So there can be a lack of humility in men to acknowledge our weakness, and the can be a place of false humility in women, where they can’t feel empowered to be assertive and go out into the world and do.
We have to believe that pursuit ends when the Other is right in front of us, not running away or playing hard to get or protecting themselves, but being vulnerable and raw in the hopes that we do the same. Then the chase ends. Romance becomes an exploration, and ultimately “love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction” (Antoine de Saint-Exupery).. There is no more separateness, or rather, the relationship doesn’t start from the place of “you+me”, but rather “us”. The biblical writers, and indeed Jesus himself, phrase it as “two becoming as one flesh”. All the best romances drop the “and” at some point when it becomes real and the chase ends.
“Pursuit” implies that there’s no rest, that the Other is unattainable. That I’m going to spend my life chasing something I’ll never lay hold of. It also carries so many connotations of separateness (me vs. you, or at the very least, there’s me over here and you over there). It calls into question my reasons for desiring relationship in the first place. If I’m always in the mode of pursuit, it kind of implies that there’s something Out There for me to capture for MY benefit. For me to consume. So I’m placing myself at the center of my own story.
I’ve been trying to realign my priorities so that they are more in line with why I was created. And if all our relationships in this world ultimately reflect our relationship with God, our relationship with God is also the primary standard for seeing the health of our worldly relationships. As I study the scriptures I see people who chase after God when they realize their own destitution, then find rest and completion when the chase is abandoned for unity (you+me < US). So the ultimate goal for any intimate relationship is to mirror intimacy with Abba, where no chase is necessary. Indeed, isn't this the sign of spiritual maturity? I don't feel like I have to pursue God when I've always had Him and He's always had me. The "distance" is an illusion when I convince myself that I'm far from Him. So in order to repair the breach I don't have to pursue what I've already got, but I have to choose to see the truth of what's right in front of me.
When I say pursuance stops, it's not because I've reached the end of my Beloved. Not at all. It's because I'm standing at her front door after having run towards it all this time. It's exploration. It's intimacy. But not at the expense of taking my eyes of the REAL purpose of my life. I explore the depths of her as we grow closer in God and through God. The transfer takes place when understanding as One on the outside is exchanged for existing as One on the inside. Don't think that I'm using the words "pursue" and "explore" interchangeably. I'm not. There's not a lot of space for peace and intimacy in the chase. The chase tests our motives, challenges what we want and who we think we are. But when the time comes to let go of the chase, when we have found what we were looking for, we can trust in the intimacy to bring us further into accord with our Beloved.