Well, there's this piece. I look at a beautiful woman, and I want her. Sure. That's pretty simple. It's desire. It's very like looking at a hamburger and wanting it. Neither complicated nor problematic.
Then there's admiring a woman and falling in love with her. Lots more things in play here. My own worth is on the table. She is such an admirable person -- if she loved me, then I would be an admirable person. The whole catalogue of virtues is a catalogue of things I want to own, have a stake in, be associated with. Do I admire her apart from that? I don't know. I know I admire physical beauty, apart from desire. Maybe it's the same sort of thing. Don't know. Not sure I've ever experienced pure moral admiration, in the way that I know I've experienced pure appreciation of physical beauty. This kind of infatuation, it seems to me, has more to do with ownership and territory, than with compassion. I don't want her to be happy, if she's going to be happy without me. If she's going to be without me, I want her to suffer and pine about it. I want her to want me desperately. And I want the other people who want her to be disappointed. How is that compassion, by any stretch?
(Not that this is confined to erotic love. I see many people respond to lama Michael in precisely the same way. We want to be special to him. We want to be his best student. The vajrayana exploits this ego-investment in our teachers shamelessly.)
Where is compassion, in all this? Where it always is -- mixed up with every goddamn thing in every possible way. I do sincerely desire the happiness of someone I'm in love with. Simple friendship and kindliness leaks through. And the more it does leak through, the more the infatuation dwindles. Isn't that in itself something to make me a little suspicious of "being in love?"
Yet the ferocity of infatuation resonates with something deeper, as Dante knew very well. It resonates with any rapturous reponse to something beautiful. It's a hunger for God, as Dante would put it, or for the transcendance of the self, as I would. It's not even exactly misplaced -- just misunderstood and misapplied.