Is desire simply a precursor or an inextricable part of loving and dreaming? Desire can be ephemeral with as short a ruinous lifespan as lust, or it can be the foundation of everlasting love. After all, how can you love or dream without first desiring? Yet, so much pain can result from misplaced desire and passion. This is a tale as old as humanity. We are born with many desires, perhaps too many to pursue with conviction or dedication. Most desires concern the superficial aspects of life, such as appearance or possessions. People with too many desires can be the poorest as they seldom fully achieve what they crave. Their lives can be the saddest since they are dominated by their unfulfilled desires and the search for what is missing. What does it mean to desire something so much that it transforms into physical pain in its absence? This almost euphoric need generates such intense emotions that it could end up being addictive and ultimately transforms itself into despair and anguish.
Despair can be a strange and sly emotion as well. At times it will suddenly appear in a surge of panic, or perhaps it hides as a niggling itch in the back of your mind. These emotions are not opposites; despair and desire circle and reinforce each other. We may have petty or soul-changing desires, but one thing is guaranteed, with few hesitations, we will run like screaming flying monkeys to achieve them.
Yet we don’t always understand the cost of achieving what we want, and we certainly do not always get what we desire. If we are fortunate, we smash through whatever barriers exist between ourselves and our dreams. But far more often, we bounce right off a barricade to our desires and land flat on our backs, shocked and unsure of what to do next or how to feel. For many of us, failure and despair set in. Despair is a cluster of emotions that are difficult to manage. It is an emotionally charged state of mind that destroys clarity and can lead to even more self-destructive behavior.
But what about those rare individuals that can limit themselves to one or two grand dreams? They can dedicate all their efforts and ambition to achieving their singular goal. They can progress from attraction to desire to devotion and end up with one flaming passion that sears the heart. But what happens when these same people achieve and then lose their desires? Isn’t their pain all that more intense and endless?
Think of a man who has found love, that desperately sought-after emotion that so few of us see or keep. The feelings of completeness and joy must be incomparable. Unfortunately, death, disinterest, or change can eliminate love for some. Then what happens?
I once had a friend named Pedro Jose. He was an inspiring figure, heroic in stature, and a steadfast supporter of the weak and the weary. From the outside, Pedro Jose was considered by all who met him as a man to emulate, and the populace would swear he could be seen bathed in a rosy golden light of wonder. Yet, as in all reality, there was more to Pedro Jose. I can remember my shock as his deeply hidden neurosis came out when I saw him lose what he called his “eternal love.” He was left behind by this lovely woman who wanted to travel onto an azure sea and uncover more of her individuality in faraway lands under silver stars. She explained it to Pedro Jose not as a rebuke but as a journey she needed to make for herself. But Pedro Jose’s inner self-worth and insecurities buried under the hard-shelled veneer of his popularity started to be exposed. He was appalled and, without much justification, at least in my eyes, began to dangerously pursue his other emotions of lust, hate, despair, and wrath. I could see him spiraling out of control, and although I wanted to support him, I was consistently rebuffed. Without surprise, Pedro Jose initiated a cosmic-sized bender that included alcohol-driven misbehavior and an orgiastic line of meaningless relationships that left everyone involved sullied. This sad tale went on for years, then after a particularly brutal fall to rock bottom, Pedro Jose started to recover his balance. The ending is still to be determined, but I could see that this was not a story about Pedro Jose’s obsession or fear, but instead the tragedy of how one man let himself fall and then later regretted the life he had led. He chose to change because of the monster he had become and because, at heart, Pedro Jose was a decent man. From my observations, all of us are capable of intensely wild reactions to lost love. Losing what you desire and love is a multi-dimensional experience laden with dark inner motifs that can make us despair and act in ways that are eventually shameful.
So, in the end, I keep considering the alternatives to Pedro Jose’s situation. Who would I rather be? A pure pragmatist, ice cold with logic and convinced there are always answers if only enough bright light is thrown onto the dark of lost love. Or the tragic hero who is almost exploding with wildly contrasting emotions and personifying mystery and intensity. Who would not shiver in delight and sexual frisson to be a savior to such a tragic figure?
Reflecting on these images, I kept returning to the idea of lost desires, love, and regret. I can remember the overwhelming feelings that erupt after losing an intense love. We may cry inconsolably, become rageful or despondent, lose interest in things that used to bring us joy, and replay moments of the relationship on endless closed loops in our minds, often while blaming ourselves for something we did or failed to do along the way. Our pain manifests itself throughout our bodies.
Why does this emotional storm overtake us? Why can’t we grieve the loss, learn from the experience, and move on without subjecting ourselves to torturous anxiety for weeks, months, or even years? While every situation is unique, our intimate relationships engender an interplay between our past, present, and envisioned future. And this affects how we act and, in some cases, how we start to destroy ourselves. There is another story that keeps coming to mind, but this one is more of a fairy tale: Desire, Love, and the Loss of Oneself.
Once upon a time, a man named Allegro was born into an infamous family of illusionists. They were in demand, but only as secondary or filler acts since they all suffered from an unfortunate lack of talent. The only reason they had any success was that they were as beautiful as angels. And one son, Allegro, was rumored to be the most handsome of all. Like all great—and terrible—stories, his story started with love. Love for the elegant Mariana. With rich chocolate brown hair and words made of spun sugar. She bewitched Allegro as he’d done to so many girls before her: with compliments, kisses, and promises he should have known better than to believe.
Allegro wasn’t wealthy, he mostly lived on charm and stolen hearts, and Mariana claimed it was enough for her but that her father, a wealthy merchant, would never allow her to wed a pauper. Allegro had a plan; there was to be a grand birthday party for one the most affluent, most venal children in the town where he lived. Allegro believed it would bring him the notoriety and money he needed to marry Mariana if he could be the main attraction at the birthday celebration. Only Allegro was turned away in shame because of his lack of talent.
Allegro didn’t really have magic, just various tenuous illusions and his beauty to distract the audience from the obvious. But he desired Mariana so much and believed there was magic, just lurking beyond normal senses if he could only tap into it. He’d heard every person gets one impossible wish—just one—if they want something more than anything and can find a bit of magic to help them along. So, Allegro went in search of a woman who had studied enchantments. A witch. He ended up in the center of a dimly lit room with mysterious jars full of liquid and blobs of what seemed to be misshapen flesh. A woman with hair as red as fury sat across from a boy made of lean lines, his head shaded by a dark top hat, the obvious prop for a magician.
The woman asked what he wanted most, and Allegro told her he wished to perform the most enchanting and alluring magic the world had ever seen so that he could win his true love, Mariana. But the woman warned he could not have both things. He must pick only one. Allegro was as prideful as he was handsome and believed she was wrong. He told himself that being famous would allow him to marry Mariana. So he wished for that. He said he wanted his performances to be celebrated. Magical. A breeze cut through the room, blowing out every candle but the one illuminating Allegro. The transformation began right away; its magic was fueled by Allegro’s true desires, which were powerful indeed. The witch told him his performances would be transcendent, blending fantasy with reality in a way the world had never witnessed. But she also warned that wishes come with costs, and the more he performed, the more he would transform into whatever roles he played. If he acted the part of a villain in his pantomimes, he’d become one in truth. The witch had not lied when she said Legend could not have fame and Mariana. After fame and fortune, Allegro was no longer the same boy she fell in love with. He was now cynical, jaded, and, at times, ruinously mean. So, Mariana married another and broke Allegro’s heart, whatever was left of it.
As you can imagine, self-destruction and despair most likely would play a role in the finale of this tale. But it helps illustrate what is both dangerous and vital as we yearn for our heart’s desire. Belief in yourself and your virtues are essential foundations if we wish to avoid despair and regret.
In Pedro Jose’s case, he looked upon his recent past. A history filled with shame and regret for failing to live the way he would have wanted before losing his “eternal love.” He faced a future that would be spent taking everything from anyone he wanted, robbing women’s emotions for his vanity. And yet, towards the end of his bender, Pedro believed there was still hope; perhaps he could be forgiven and have a chance to be reunited with his lost love. There were no guarantees or promises but nonetheless, he had hope, and he started to return to the man he was. And that is the lesson we should take from love, desire and despair; we need to believe that no matter what terrible or petty deeds we have committed, there is hope that we are still capable of love and a little magic.