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When I first came across the concept of loving, but not desiring something, I thought it brilliant. It’s from in A Child In Time (page 255), a book by one of my favorite fiction authors, Ian McEwan. Referencing feeling stuck mourning his beloved young daughter several years after her kidnapping, a character in the novel says, “I had to go on loving her, but I had to stop desiring her.” This concept could apply to almost anything.
Especially food. The phrase hit home because I’d been out to dinner with a good friend the evening before coming across it and we’d been discussing how to handle her food cravings. She insisted that she loved the chocolate cake in this particular restaurant which, she explained, made it impossible to resist it. As I’d learned to love certain foods without desiring them in order to become a “normal” eater, I wish I’d had the phrase at hand to suggest that it was possible to love but not desire.
With this thought, McKuen’s character is finally able to realize that his daughter is never going to come back to him and that he could continue to love and miss her deeply without attaching a desire to see and be with her because this desire was killing him. It wasn’t love that kept him fixated on her return—how could anyone stop loving a child who’s gone out of their lives?—but his fervent longing for her. It was his yearning for the improbability of her return that kept him from making peace with her loss.
Without in any way comparing losing a child with saying no to craving a food, it’s important to recognize that loving and desiring are not synonymous. Sometimes, we love things that are not good for us for myriad reasons. I love skiing, but the cold pains my feet and hands. I love baklava, but need to balance my desire for it against other factors—how much sugary foods I’ve eaten that day and may eat later, the quality of the baklava, and my hunger and fullness level. I love sitting in the sun, but forgo it because I fear skin cancer. I love margaritas, but the prepared mix sometimes make me sick to my stomach. I love my first adult boyfriend, but no longer yearn for him.
I no longer desire skiing, baklava, sitting in the sun, margaritas, or my first lover because the hurt they could cause me switches off the urgency I feel for them. I don’t love these things any less than I ever did but, due to the harm I might incur from them, I desire them less. While I no longer ski or see my former lover, I do sometimes eat baklava, sit in the sun, or drink a margarita made with a mix, but it’s by conscious decision, done not simply because I love these things. What would you need to say to yourself to do as McKuen says, to go on loving a food without desiring it?
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