This first moment, which decisively shifts us from relative strangers to sexual intimates, thrills us because it marks an overcoming of loneliness. The pleasure we take is not rooted purely in stimulated nerve endings and the satisfaction of a biological drive; it also stems from the joy we feel at emerging, however briefly, from our isolation in a cold and anonymous world.
This isolation is something we all become acquainted with after the end of childhood. If we are lucky, we begin comfortably enough on this earth, in a state of close physical and emotional union with a devoted caregiver. We lie naked on her skin, we can hear her heartbeat, we can see the delight in her eyes as she watches us do nothing more accomplished than blow a saliva bubble – in other words, than merely exist. We can bang our spoon against the table and inspire uproarious laughter. Our fingers are tickled, and the fine hairs on our head are stroked, smelt and kissed. We don’t even have to speak. Our needs are carefully interpreted; the breast is there whenever we want it.
Then gradually comes the fall. The nipple is taken away, and we are blithely induced to move on to rice and morsels of dry chicken. Our body either ceases to please or can no longer be so casually displayed. We grow ashamed of our particularities. Ever-expanding areas of our outer selves are forbidden to be touched by others. It begins with the genitals, then spreads to encompass the stomach, the back of the neck, the ears and the armpits, until all we are allowed to do is occasionally give someone a hug, shake hands or bestow or receive a peck on the cheek. The signs of others’ satisfaction in our existence declines, and their enthusiasm begins to be linked to our performance. It is what we do rather than what we are that is now of interest to them. Our teachers, once so encouraging about our smudgy drawings of ladybirds and our scrawls depicting the flags of the world, seem to take pleasure only in our exam results. Well-meaning individuals brutally suggest that perhaps it is time for us to start earning some money of our own, and society is kind or unkind to us chiefly according to how successful we turn out to be at doing just that. We begin to have to monitor what we say and how we look. There are aspects of our appearance that revolt and terrify us and that we feel we have to hide from others by spending money on clothes and haircuts. We grow into clumsy, heavy-footed, shameful, anxious creatures. We become adults, definitively expelled from paradise.
But deep inside, we never quite forget the needs with which we were born: to be accepted as we are, without regard to our deeds; to be loved through the medium of our body; to be enclosed in another’s arms; to occasion delight with the smell of our skin – all of these needs inspiring our relentless and passionately idealistic quest for someone to kiss and sleep with.
—Alain de Botton, How to Think More about Sex
My memory loves you; it asks about you all the time.