Sir Thomas Browne on the Transcendent Torture of Romantic Friendship

United souls are not satisfied with embraces, but desire to be truly each other; which being impossible, their desires are infinite, and must proceed without a possibility of satisfaction. – Sir Thomas Browne

In the November 5th issue of brainpickings.org email digest, Maria Popova continued her exploration of love, lust and devotion. In this case, an examination of Sir Thomas Browne’s view on the transcendent torture of romantic friendships.  Following are excerpts from the article.

Navigating the various types of platonic relationships can be challenging enough. But few things are more existentially disorienting than trying to moor oneself within a relationship that floats back and forth across the porous boundary between the platonic and the erotic — one rooted in a deep friendship but magnetized with undeniable romantic intensity.

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Four centuries ago, the English polymath Sir Thomas Browne (October 19, 1605–October 19, 1682) captured the divine heartbreak of romantic friendship with enduring insight in a passage from his first literary work, Religio Medici (The Religion of a Physician) (public library), penned the year of his thirtieth birthday.

 ..the redemption of this perennial dissatisfaction, Browne argues, is that by so intensely throwing ourselves into a love that can never be fully requited, we master the difficult art of unselfish love — a love we can then direct at anyone, free of expectation of return..

Browne put it simply: “He that can love his friend with this noble ardor will, in a competent degree, affect all.”


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