*The following are excerpts from a list of responses made to the chapters found in
Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse. The
excerpts are arranged in the order of Barthes’ chapters, rather
than the dates noted within the excerpts.*

The Absent One:

It’s an evening in mid-April of 2015. I lay prone on my bed, phone in hand, waiting for the words that will release me from my suffering:

*phone chime* “I’m on my way.”

The apartment is clean, all necessary homework is done, and my sister is already asleep on the air mattress in the living room. Nothing can lull me from the purgatory I find myself in. I have succumbed. I wait, staring at the phone, torn between inescapable loneliness and numbing boredom. The display on my clock reads 1 AM, I begin to worry.

My fears are confirmed later, the words never come.

“Now absence can exist only as a consequence of the other: it is the other who leaves, it is I who remain…I am loved less than I love” (Barthes 13). Because the amorous object can make the choice to leave the lover, the amorous object loves the lover less. I am never the one to make the choice to leave. Even when I am the one visiting the other, it is the other who makes the suggestion that I should go. By this suggestion I feel more abandoned, for the other has grown tired of me.

“The lover who doesn’t forget sometimes dies of excess, exhaustion, and tension of memory” (Barthes 14). My flaw is that I can never erase the other from memory. When in love, I obsess, immobilized by the need to re-enter the image-repertoire of my affair.

To Love Love: 

Mid-September of 2015, I have been permanently discarded from the image-repertoire. Desperate to fill the hollow wound in my chest, I turn to my phone. Tinder, OkCupid, Bumbleevery dating app I can find becomes my lifeline, a buoy that keeps me from succumbing to the waves of my depression. The next few months become a blur of bodies and faces as I attempt to mend my wound by stuffing myself with dates, shallow connections, food, drugs, alcohol, fingers, and dicks. If I could just find my other half, I can be healed. I’m too impatient to wait, though I need to find him or her now.

“It is love the subject loves, not the object… it is my desire I desire, and the loved being is no more than its tool” (Barthes 31).

And yet when suitors approach me who display genuine romantic affections towards me I distance myself, untrustworthy of their interest and unnerved by the position I find myself in. Suddenly, I become the amorous object rather than the lover, and I am unable to cope with the foreign territory.

Waiting:

Late April of 2015, another evening of waiting. The other is an hour late, and I find myself for the one-hundredth time lying in bed attempting to distract myself with my phone. The stupid games, videos, and status updates do little to alleviate my anxiety as the possibilities for his tardiness split my head open. His phone probably died; maybe he got hit by a car; he’s in the hospital; he fell asleep; he’s cheating on me with that friend of his; his crutches tired him out so he’s resting back at his place; he didn’t finish his homework so he’s refusing to come until he does, he’s drawing and got lost in the process; he became absorbed in his book; someone called him at the last minute and he’s caught up in an engrossing conversation; there was an emergency with his parents; he’s locked out of his room and can’t get to his phone; his charger stopped working; he lost his phone; he’s vacuuming his room; you’ve officially gone insane and there is no other, you’ve imagined his affections this whole time. 

“Waiting: Tumult of anxiety provoked by waiting for the loved being, subject to trivial delays (rendezvous, letters, telephone calls, returns)… The Lover’s fatal identity is precisely: I am the one who waits” (Barthes 37-40).

The phone rings, the other has finally arrived. I let him up and wait for an apology, but none comes. My temper burns through my fear of upsetting him.

“Why were you so late? You said you’d be here at 9.” The time is now 10:30.

“I was drawing in my room. What’s the problem?”

“I’ve been sitting here waiting for you, why didn’t you bother to call?”

“I didn’t think it’d be a problem. You were just sitting here? Why weren’t you working?” 

“I have no sense of proportions… waiting is a delirium…” (Barthes 37-39).

He doesn’t understand what he’s doing to me.

“I want to understand”:

Early February of 2015, my affections for the other have bubbled up overnight like expanding foam. For four days the other has tormented me. Back and forth he goes with his decision to evolve our friendship into a romantic relationship. Finally, on day four, he tells me that he is numb to me, he can’t return my affections. As he lies asleep next to me after a tumultuous night of curse-laced questions and wet, begging sobs I feel my emotions congeal like pus, clogging my insides and forcing my eyes to leak infected tears. I pull out my phone, open the notes section, and begin to tap away at the screen with my thumbs. Bad, amateur poetry pours out. It feels like I’m dying.

I’m trying to understand, I need to understand.

“Suddenly perceiving the amorous episode as a knot of inexplicable reasons and impaired solutions, the subject exclaims: ‘I want to understand (what is happening to me)!” (Barthes 59). How does one comprehend her own madness? When burrowed into my hole of agony I am unable to distance myself away from the pain, hatred, and need. Rational thoughts are immediately banished from my mind, yet all the while I still try to find a solution to my grief. I refuse to believe I have gone mad.

“What is to be done?”:

Early February of 2015, it is day three in the four days that the other torments me. The other had decided the day before that we would not pursue a romantic relationship; we lie on our backs in my bed. In the silence the loose fibers of our jeans touch and I stop breathing. I refuse to move, I refuse to be the one who acts, the other will not blame me for seducing him again. If he wants me, he will have to bear the responsibility of succumbing to his loneliness.

“I stubbornly choose not to choose; I choose drifting: I continue… In misery itself, I can, for a very brief interval, devise myself a little corner of sloth” (Barthes 62-64). If I do not act deliberately, then at least the suffering is not my fault. I passively let “events” unfold. I allow the other to take charge of the situation; therefore, if I suffer, I can place the blame onto him. Then in the end when I am left alone with my gaping, bleeding wound, I don’t hate myself. At least I didn’t deliver the fatal blow that would lead me down this path of anguish. However, in reality my passiveness can also be the cause of my suffering. I can’t make decisions for myself. Active or passive, I suffer all the same.

“I love you…”:

Mid-March of 2015, the other invites me to his parents’ house for Spring Break. We’ve only been dating for three weeks, but I read too much into the invitation. That night, within the protected folds of his childhood bed, the glowing sticker-stars pasted above my head give me the strength to spill my curse:

“Iloveyou”

A slight pause, “Aw, I love you too.” The insincerity of the words coat his mouth like chalk. A part of me dies.

“I-love-you has no usages. Like a child’s word, it enters into no social constraint; it can be a sublime, solemn, trivial word, it can be an exotic, pornographic word. It is a socially irresponsible word” (Barthes 148). These horrible words are an accumulation of the lover’s desperation, the fear of the other leaving. I love you, don’t go.

The other would continue to tease me with these words, only to take them back over and over again. His final words to me:

“Love should be reserved for engagements and marriages, and I’m in no position to propose to you anytime soon.

Don’t flower your words with logical excuses. Tell me the truth, “There is no answer” to my “I love you” (Barthes 149).

I am odious:

Late June of 2015, the other and I lay in bed after an argument. Every time we have an argument he tries to squeeze me into a smaller box. The way I am is not enough for him: not serious enough, not talented enough, not smart enough. Facing the wall as the other stares at the ceiling, I pity myself.

Then, a horrible realization: what if instead of not being enough for my other, I was too much? Too silly, too greedy, too emotional, too sexual. He wants less of me and, instead of accepting his emotional shortcomings, I had taken offense.

I turn around and reach out to him, the gesture imbued with how sorry I am for taking so long to come to this conclusion. I can be less selfish, I am about to tell him, I’ll give you more space.

The other slaps my hand away. “No,” he says, “I’m done.”

“The subject suddenly realizes that he is imprisoning the loved object in a net of tyrannies: he has been pitiable, now he becomes monstrous… the lover is intolerable (by his heaviness) to be loved” (Barthes 165). Out of desperation to be loved, the lover overwhelms and scares the amorous object away. How cruel! Allow love to overtake you and you hurt the one you wish to hurt the least. Is the amorous object at fault for wanting less of the lover, or is the lover to blame for succumbing to her emotions? The abuse can go both ways.

S. Von Puttkammer is a junior in the Fine Arts undergraduate program at the School of Visual Arts. Her work mainly focuses on romance or art history, and when she is not conceptualizing new work she likes to sit alone in her room and stare at her walls (which for some reason she thought was a good idea to paint black). She also believes in aliens and can occasionally be seen strutting around campus sporting a fake beard made from eyeshadow.