The Erotic Uncertainty Principle

When I am in love I am uncertain, and my uncertainty makes me certain that I am in love.

I am uncertain why my beloved loves me. In her gaze, there is no understanding that “I am somewhere near a 7, she near an 8, we have these common interests and this mutual, biochemical attraction, and the sum total of all these things is the reason for her love.”

Her love remains a mystery.

In fact, any love that I’ve been happy enough to experience has come with the realization that “I don’t deserve this.”

I do not deserve to be forgiven by my friends. I do not deserve the kindness of my readers. If I were asked why I deserve the love of my family, I would panic in an attempt to gauge my relative worth before realizing what seems to be true: My family is a gift. No one deserves a gift. Gifts are simply given.

Love is a gift of self, and a deserved gift is not a gift, it is a paycheck. When I am certain about the other’s love for me — when I can give a reason for her love and a justification for my being loved — then I have torn love from the realm of gift and forced it into the Wal-mart world of transaction, for if I deserve love, then my beloved owes me her love, and we are made merchants.

So I am uncertain why my beloved loves me, and because of this uncertainty, I am certain that she does, for love is a gift, and a gift needs no reason for being given. Gifts, like babies, are unfathomable.

But there is a far deeper uncertainty. I cannot explain — in any rational way — why I love her.

Whenever I try to answer the question I end up resorting to a tautology: “I love her for who she is.” This phrase has always struck me as true when I utter it in love, and idiotic when I consider it rationally, in the same way things said drunk sound idiotic sober.

“I love her for who she is.” The word “her” already contains in its meaning “who she is”, and so all I am really saying is “I love her for her.” But even here, why the extra “for her”? Is this not already understood in the phrase “I love her?” If I said “I love to waterski for waterskiing” I would sound stupidly redundant.

I am trying to express that I do not love this or that quality, nor a particular usefulness, nor a particular moment, no, I love her, and I cannot possibly give a reason for this love that does not transcend all reasons and simply point to the existence of my beloved. Why her? Because her. As Pascal said: “The heart has its own reasons, of which reason knows not.”

I remember being disappointed with myself for having a list of my beloved’s lovable traits – “I love her because she is charming, kind, etc.” — and now I understand why.

True love persists when all lovable traits are latent or absent in the beloved. I love when my beloved is everything but charming. I loves her in her ugly days. “I love her no matter what” — is this not the distinguishing phrase of love in any form it takes? The vows of marriage give testimony to this fact: We love “rich or poor, in sickness or in health.”

All I can say is “I love her for her”, because love responds to the beloved’s very being. Thus I am uncertain as to why I love — at least, I cannot give a reason for my love — and because of this uncertainty, I am certain that I have found love indeed, for I love her, and love has nothing to do with any combination of attributes or uses that may serve as a reason.

Now there is no conceivable point in which love is completed. I’ve watched my father and mother weather thick and thin, and one thing has been made undeniably clear to me: There is no point in which lovers can sit back and say, “Here we are. We’ve arrived. We love each other. We have finished this project of love.”

Alright, I guess we can go home now.

Love is an act of becoming one. One Jack and another Jill both exist in one friendship. There are two lovers, but only one marriage. The relationship of love between the teacher and the student makes one class. In an erotic arithmetic, 1 + 1 = 1.

My task of love is never finished in my lifetime, because there is always the capacity for deeper intimacy with my beloved’s subjectivity. If a “You” is infinitely not an “I”, and an “other” is infinitely not a “self”, then any motion which aches with the sweet pain of pulling You and I into one must be an infinite motion. As such, love cannot be completed in finite existence.

So when I look upon my beloved, I must acknowledge that my love is an action orientated towards an end which I cannot perceive as attainable in this limited, physical universe — namely, complete oneness with the other. But again, because of this uncertainty, I am certain that I am in love and nothing else. The man who has loved to an endpoint — who has loved enough — is not a lover. Love is not attained, but acted. Which leads me to my last uncertainty.

I do not know love as I know with scientific certainty that leaves contain chlorophyll and that whales are mammals. Prove to me that water is one part oxygen and two parts hydrogen and I will know the fact — I cannot know love in the same way. If I could, all love would require is a single “I love you” and I would know it. But lovers need constant expressions of love, in silence, in gifts, in touches, and poetry. Love is eternally acted or dead.

I know love by being loved, I do not know it as a rational phenomenon, outside of me, available to my cool, disinterested reasoning.(It was foolish, when my girlfriend asked “Do you still love me?”, to have gone about proving the existence of my love, as if love was an object that only needed enough evidence to be known. The only answer to a lack of love is active love. Love is proved by its presence. What was needed was a hug.)

So I am uncertain that love exists, insofar as I can offer no evidence for its existence. But because of this uncertainty, I am certain of love, for love is an action known in the acting, not an object known in the observing.

So to summarize, I am uncertain why I love, uncertain why I am loved in return, uncertain of love’s end, and uncertain of love’s existence except in loving, and all my uncertainty makes me certain of love, of the fact that I love and am loved.

This is the aspect under which I experience the existence of God. God is not an object to be known, and thus no amount of evidence towards his existence will ultimately rid us of uncertainty as to whether he exists. God is Love, a You to be loved, and Love is known in the loving. If God is an object-God, then Dawkins is right, faith — belief which exists despite uncertainty — is “a kind of mental illness”. But we are not supposed to know God — for who would have the courage to claim this knowledge? — we are supposed to love and be loved by God, and love does not simply allow for uncertainty, love demands it.

If God is Real, Why Won't He Show Himself?
Sexuality and the Land
Why I Can't Conceive of De-conversion
Presence as Absence
  • CatholicChemist

    Great post, with one moment that made me twitch–water is one part *oxygen* and two parts *hydrogen*. HOO is the hydroperoxide ion. Sorry to be nit-picky, but it was a flow-breaker.

    • Marc Barnes

      Thanks! Yeah I was just pretending to know anything with “scientific certainty” (:

      • john

        One part oxygen two parts hydrogen. Sounds like H20 to me, just written backwards; not that it matters.

  • Mitchell

    Great one Marc, really been missing my Bad Catholic fix (leaving us hanging in Lent, that should be a sin!)

  • Benjamin

    Shame you’re in love! You’d make a great priest. Imagine the homilies!

    • fletcherwarren

      No, we need Marc to procreate.

    • Claude

      Shame you’re in love! You’d make a great priest.

      Right, because though Marc may rhapsodize on love and the erotic, priests must pretend they do not fall in love and have sex.

      Seems fair.

      • Cam

        Priests are in love for sure! A love, like all love, that demands sacrifice! :D
        RC priests are pretty boss for how much they freely choose to give out of love for God and the people in the Church.

        If you are wondering why the Roman Catholic Church chooses to call Priests to celibacy then I would check out this article:

      • unfair_fight

        To shamelessly join the conversation where we pretend to know what’s best for Marc;

        easy fix.
        Marc makes genius Catholic children and helps the priest at the parish he attends write his homilies. ;)

        • Ryan M.

          Two words: Permanent. Diaconate.

          I think we’ve solved this conundrum…

  • Clara VanSmoorenburg

    Bravo, Marc! Bravo!! This is simply breathtaking! Wow!! This makes sense of so many separate thoughts that I have floating around in my head. Thank you!

  • Chris O’Hara

    Great post, but I was a bit disappointed that it didn’t end with a marriage proposal via blog. That would’ve been classy

    • Cam


  • Julieanne Loth

    Love this! ;) But I am concerned by what I perceive as a misleading conclusion? Perhaps you can clarify your statement: “But we are not supposed to KNOW God”? This directly conflicts with Church teaching: Q. Why did God make you? A. God made me to KNOW, love and serve Him….

    • Isabel

      “Why did God make you? A. God made me to KNOW, love and serve Him….” This is correct, but right now, it is faith that makes us “know” God. I guess that’s why we still say we BELIEVE that God exists and not that we KNOW God exists. If we’re talking about knowing God after we die, then yes, at that point we should say that we KNOW God exists. But even then we cannot know Him perfectly.

    • Clark Russell

      Know, in the sense of subjective, experimental knowledge, not in the sense of book knowledge. Like the difference between studying an orange and tasting an orange. Until you really taste it, you don’t really know what an orange is. You don’t know it’s essence. The same with God. Until you experience God, you don’t really know God.

      • Helen Peyrebrune

        You still don’t know what an orange is, even after you taste it.

        • Scaevola

          In the sense of “book knowledge”, that is–universally and demonstratively. You do indeed know it, experientially and particularly.

  • Andrew Lewis

    Beautifully written! Question: When you say we are not suppose to know God, do you mean we are not suppose to know what He is? Like we know what water is. We are suppose to know (love and serve) who God is, but not what God is (not saying we even have the capacity to know what God is). Am I correct?

  • Zaire Adams

    *slow clap* I actually really need this. This confirms that I was in love with my now ex-girlfriend. Not sure when she stopped acting out our play, but I do miss her. Beautifully written.

  • Rai

    You expose your reasoning with great clarity, which is really needed. Being more or less an ex-positivist I struggle a lot with phrases like “all my uncertainty makes me certain of love” (even if the context helps a lot). Some time ago, I would have refused to consider it out of principle.
    But thinking about it, there is no other way to approach the problem meaningfully without declaring love to be a “effect of chemicals in the brain (or equivalent)” Which is all good and well, until you need a working ethic system.
    P.S. “Any motion which aches with the sweet pain of pulling You and I into one must be an infinite motion. As such, love cannot be completed in finite existence.” I swear I’ve heard something similar in the Scholastics, or even in Aristotle, but I’m not enough well-versed in philosophy to find out exactly where. Someone can help?

    • McG

      Maybe I’ve misunderstood your point about “effect of chemicals in the brain”, but allow me to respond. There is no doubt that one dimension of how we experience love is through the neurotransmitters being released in our neural circuitry. Why? There is no denying the fact that we as human beings are both spiritual and material beings, a paradox. Yet, the important point that Marc raises here is that, contra materialists and many neuroscientists, love cannot be reduced to simply the neurons firing; there’s so much more to it.

      Unfortunately, I can’t help you with your question about the Scholastics, though I would agree that it definitely sounds like them.

      • Rai

        Well… you have misunderstood in the sense that we are exactly on the same page, here. The duality of human beings is something I am willing to accept. Since we can’t study it from an objective perspective, I feel really lost… but I realized this, I can’t ignore the. So it’s good to read Marc’s pieces on the argument… he may be wrong, but he is as clear as the subyect allows.

        • Rai

          *subject. Sorry.

  • Jimmy Nelson

    Question is, what does this mean for those who are incapable of — or choose to reject — the notion of love? As a man who has been jilted numerous times and had every single one of his romantic hopes and dreams crushed, I fully believe it’s possible for someone to have a heart so hardened that it’s impossible to thaw.

    For the record, I’m ex-Christian, so I might be off-target (more likely unwelcome) here, haha.

    • James H, London

      “it’s possible for someone to have a heart so hardened that it’s impossible to thaw.”

      Yes, it is. BUT – and it’s a big butt – as long as you’re under 40, the thaw is still possible. Proceed to for suggestion for improvement. Be warned – it may start as a bit of a shock.

      • Jimmy Nelson

        Because THAT is how you answer a pressing question: with an advertisement! But in all seriousness, I’m honestly curious.

    • Just me

      When we’re hurt, we become defensive. We don’t want to take the leap of faith. We run away from the real deal because we know how much it will hurt if things go wrong. Even if your loved ones never let you down, someday they won’t be there anymore, and that hurts too.

      We don’t even run exclusively from romance. We run from friendships. We run from family. We don’t want to be hurt. It’s easier to harden your heart; it hurts less that way. Your parents can never let you down if you don’t love them. You can’t spend your nights lying awake wondering if your troubled brother is okay if you genuinely don’t care.

      But I don’t believe you really do reject the notion of love. I believe you do love people. Love is selfless. Love involves the leap of faith. And it’s frightening, but anyone can make it…it just gets harder and harder the more we learn that love is scary, and can be painful. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or how hardened your heart has become, you can still take that leap. Someday you’ll find the courage. If you can love your mother (or father, or sister, or friend), you haven’t lost the ability to love. Use it.

    • Ce Gzz

      Christ was my answer…He became that perfect lover and life partner.

  • nanomanoman

    Very well put.

  • Nicole

    I really liked this post, because it gives a somewhat different point of view to mine on love. I’ve always looked at love as a choice, I choose to love my partner, and I may choose to commit to loving him for the rest of my life. Because of that, I can be certain I will not ‘fall out of love’, since I actively decide to continue loving him each day. It seems like your version of love stems from something you can’t explain, much like feelings, and I’ve always thought that feelings can change, and so one day (if I marry) I may lose feelings – and so, love- for my husband.

    What do you think?

  • Marc

    Whales are fish. This is widely known

  • Robert Homan




    That was stunning. I couldn’t help but thinking that at some point it was gonna end and all be a quote from some famous saint or CS Lewis or someone. Unreal. Also I can’t imagine how much that made her blush.

  • Robert Homan

    I mean I’m still bowled over by it. I’m proud that you go to school in Ohio.

  • Trouble

    Dude, you can’t publicly label your girlfriend anything less than a 10.

  • R

    Yeah, but as an art geek I need to ask: why the fluffy Victorian smut painting?? A flawless, nearly faceless woman rolling around, served up for voyeuristic gazing. Objectification much?

    • Cam

      I agree. I enjoyed this article and wasn’t too distracted by the first image but those like myself who have been affected by porn have a hard time appreciating nude art like this. Its a challenge.

      • Scaevola

        He actually wrote an article on this. It has “porn” in the title, look it up in the archives.

        • R

          I’ve read the article and it was good. But i don’t believe that picture is beautiful/good art. It’s Victorian eye candy and I look at it and see objectification.

  • Dean Dickens

    Great post, how did you get to be such a good writer?

  • Cam

    Totally sent this to my fiance with an “I love you”. Got engaged this past weekend ! :)

  • Katy Dornbos

    Marc, thank you for this post! It has generated (and added to) many conversations.

    Maybe you’ve already read Fulton Sheen’s Calm “The World’s First Love”, but the opening lines remind me of the ‘certainty’ of the ‘uncertainty’:

    “Every person carries within his heart a blueprint of the one he loves. What seems to be “love at first sight” is actually the fulfillment of desire…the heart has its own secret melody, and one day, when the score is played, the heart answers: “This is it.” So it is with love.

  • yesimcatholic

    AWWWWW. I know it sounds silly but awwwww. That’s very lovely to read. And sums up a lot of things I’ve never quite been able to say.
    P.S. Sorry for the late comment, only just discovered your blog :P