Richard Armitage, again and again
[This post was developed from a piece I cut out of the first draft of my confessions about Armitage desire. Push play on soundtrack for this post:
Stars, “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It,” from The North (2012)
I’ve been thinking, lately, of all the ways we humans get taught not to love. On a daily basis.
It seems odd. Why would we teach people not to love? But we do.
I’ve thought long and hard over the years about how “health” is the metaphor that’s replaced “salvation” in modern life, and it seems fitting in this sense that love, a central religious notion, thus also be retooled for our own times in terms of what is healthy. If human relationships are constituted by different kinds of love, the world seems to be telling us these days, then we must watch out for “unhealthy” variations of that love. Bad love is a serious threat to our well-being, and you can read about it all over. Women shouldn’t “love too much.” Co-dependency is a kind of love that damages not only the lover, but also the beloved. Don’t get obsessed; obsessive love frightens away its object and can cause you to feel suicidal. Be careful, because loving your children wrong can ruin their entire lives. Don’t co-sleep, don’t attachment parent, Ferberize your baby rather than picking her up immediately if she cries, don’t make your decision about when to wean about the emotional bonds created by breastfeeding. Or, with equal force: co-sleep, breastfeed on demand, wait till your child self-weans, don’t leave your baby to “cry it out,” always respond attentively to your child’s demands. As a non-parent, I wonder how parents deal with it; once you have a baby, it seems, everything you do, every way you love your child, is an occasion for fault-finding by someone.
Those are all the grand failures of love that we risk, but just as every health problem is not terminal, every love problem is not pathological. All the lesser versions of “unhealth” then come into play. Don’t extend your generosity to people who aren’t going to deserve it. Hang onto your virginity until you can exchange it for a pseudo-permanent commitment. Or: If you’re interested in someone, don’t be the first to admit it or don’t admit it at all. Hold on to your power, hold on to your self-respect. If the emotion is not reciprocated, you might be embarrassed. If you are rejected, if your love is unrequited, you will be humiliated. “Tis better to have loved and lost, then never to have loved at all” is not a risk many people want to take, as often as they might quote the aphorism.
In one of the most intelligent observations he’s made about human character in an interview, I feel, Richard Armitage commented on this problem in June of 2008, when interviewed for BBCA about Guy of Gisborne with questions from fans.
Armitage said he didn’t know if Guy could “love someone in the truest sense.” One of the things I love about this answer is that while this question points to the discourse about “unhealthy” love I discussed above — as the fan question appears to force Armitage to choose between the options of “obsession or desire” and “love in the truest sense” — his answer turns the discussion in a different direction entirely. The reason he doesn’t know, Armitage states, is “because I don’t think he’s experienced much love in return, so when the little bits of it do come towards him, I think he grabs onto it really hard.”
If Guy is a pathological lover in the way the question implies — Armitage says, and note that he leaves desire out of his answer to focus on obsession — then because Guy has not had enough love himself. Not because Guy loves too much; not because Guy has been loved too much or in the wrong way. But because he has not been loved in response to what he’s given. Because he’s parched. Because he doesn’t know how to do it and ends up coming up with a litany of reasons (money, power) he should be loved; because he doesn’t know how to do it and takes advice on gift-giving and thus gives gifts that are stolen from others, or gifts that are out of all proportion. He loves in all the wrong ways because he has not experienced sufficient love himself to love well in initiation or in return.
“Whyever not?” Monet (Richard Armitage) replies, when admonished by Manet that he can’t celebrate the sale of a painting every single time, in episode 2 of The Impressionists. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com
I love this answer. Because it makes me hope that Richard Armitage has loved and been loved, or that his observations about these reciprocations are rich enough to keep giving us interesting characterizations of love in roles to come. (Though it’s not the theme of this post, it’s quite striking how many nuances he can bring to the experience and indication of love in his roles.) But also, because it makes me wonder — what if we stopped asking ourselves all the questions about “unhealthy” love and just — loved? I’m not saying there are no styles of love that are problematic, or that the experience of love is entirely devoid of ethical dilemmas — but I am saying, somehow I suspect that the worry over “bad” love is a much wider phenomenon than actual instances of it. So, I ask: what if we stopped worrying and just put love first? What if we provided our love, projected it into the universe — so that there was just enough for everyone?
What if we just gave our love away to whoever needed it? Because I’m starting to think that “unhealthy” love is so often related in modern discourses to something like payoff. Don’t invest your love in someone who will never change; don’t give your agape indiscriminately, to those won’t ever be capable of meriting it, but save it for those who are “worthy”; don’t appear to eager because you’ll scare your beloved and he will run away and thus not love you back; don’t pick up your baby at night because she will just expect you to do it again tomorrow night and the night after that.
Loving the unworthy object anyway? Carol Boulton (Sarah Smart) and John Standring (Richard Armitage) after their wedding in episode 3 of Sparkhouse. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com
This theme applies to fandom insofar as the love of a fan is more or less one-sided — the fan loves, and the object feels how s/he feels but is not obliged to reciprocate. The imbalance in the act of love means that the payoff accrues solely to the fan/lover. Because the payoff is not something that others can see or integrate into their systems of exchnge; it is therefore non-existent and potentially embarrassing. So the fandom tint of “unhealthy love” that we talk about from time to time involves the extent to which “crazy” fans are the source of their own humiliation. Fandom, seen from the perspective of the world, is told: don’t make yourself a source of ridicule, even if the entire commercial structure of distribution of fan information is set up to commodify your emotions in order to generate that effect and profit from it! Stop admitting that you feel intensely. Against that, I argued last April that desire is not humiliating, but ennobling — as evidence of one’s capacity to feel.
It’s against this background that I am starting to understand that the fact that Armitage’s pictures and performances continue to animate me has a utility that I didn’t realize before. They have this effect even when there’s no reliable news for weeks; twelve hours away and a look at a picture can elevate my mood again. Now: One level of the effect is certainly the hormone and neurotransmitter surge generated by the pleasurable experience of looking at him and remembering the many pleasurable emotions associated with him in the past. But this is not unconnected to the performance of love, the doing of love as an act, insofar as, I believe, and Armitage seems to suggest about Guy, that the experience of being loved in turn makes us able to love. It makes us stop thinking that love is a scarce commodity, to be guarded and saved, or something that we have to fence around with pain in order to prevent our own humiliation or disgrace, but something to be flung out into the universe with spendthrift profligacy.
Loving in the absence of hope of a payoff: Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) decides to protect Margaret from the consequences of her lies in episode 3 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com
So if the experience of watching Armitage desire things makes me desire not as much Armitage himself, as it makes me desire to desire, then the fact that I desire him almost every time I see him has a bigger implication in the sense of definitions of “healthy” or acceptable kinds of love. That’s the (confusing?) conceptual statement — the practical substance of it is:
I think that the experience of fandom, and of desiring Richard Armitage specifically, is teaching me about the potential depths of all of my energy for love — and also letting me learn to experience that love as legitimate. To be ennobled by it and not embarrassed — to let go of love when I give it. To push it out there, because as long as there is enough love circulating, I will be loved enough and thus I will be able to keep on loving.
That’s the only way I can explain this insistent response to him over all this time, surging out of me, growing like fire, that lies at the basis of the flow I experience outside of religious settings.
Richard Armitage, somehow your face, your picture, the images of you, the pictures of your performances — they can take, they can accept, they can absorb all of the love I feel surging out of myself, the huge and frightening rush of insistent emotion that you so often evoke.
Against the fear that I have to hide the energy of love that I feel because I fear that no one will ever want all the things that I am, that no one can take the force of all the love that I can bring to bear, I can desire you and your image can accept all that desire and help me learn to push it out all over the place. Love, I now see, in its true ignorance of punishment, in the very unconsciousness of anything but the experience of love itself, does, indeed, cast out fear.
Loving, desiring you allows me to practice loving and desiring with all the depth that the calculating world would like to forbid me — for whatever reason. Writing about desire is as much an act of desire as desiring; it’s a response to desire as potent as orgasm. In loving you, I learn to love like there really are no risks. In loving you, I learn to accept myself as a lover, and — in turn — as someone worthy of love.