We consistently fetishize and idealize those things that we lack, that we can't quite achieve. It's as if we recognize our incompleteness—whether we think of this as our fall from grace, our looking for our other half, our alienation, the absurdity of our lives, or any number of other ways it's been conceptualized through the years—and think that if we could just get that one thing everything would be complete. And, since it's a thing we aren't ever going to get, we can be guaranteed never to be complete.
So, many gay men fetishize a particular picture of masculinity. I'm not saying that gay men can't be masculine. Hell, I'm so mascmusc it's painful. But, so many in the gay community long for the "straight-acting" man. Why would you want this unless you think that's not what you are? Unless you think there is something missing in your own masculinity or femininity or wherever you fall?
But this isn't a post about gay men. You see the same thing in political discourse with its strange nostalgia for a time that never was, quite often a fantasy of the 1950s or early 1960s (though only if you are both White and straight) or sometimes a Rousseau-tinged fantasy of the rural life (only ever indulged in by people who do not remember that life), a time that could not possibly be regained—there is no way back there from here. If only we could regain that, if only we could live in that way again, everything would be fine. The world would be perfect; utopia would be achieved.
You see it in religious believers who long for a golden past—the Tridentine Mass, primitive Christianity—or the millennium whatever that is supposed to look like.
You see it in revolutionaries who long for the utopia to come when everything will be made whole.
You see it in our consumerism, when just one more possession, a new car, a nicer house, that jacket, those kicks, will be the thing that makes everything right, that will finally make me happy.
I see it in myself, in a need to think of people who are merely acquaintances as friends, in a need to feel I belong even to groups that I know I could never belong to. I idealize community and friendship in a way that points to my own inability to feel or find either one very often. That is, I idealize it in the way that one of nature's outsiders is bound to. If only I would belong, if only they would think of me as a friend, then I would be happy. But they won't, so my unhappiness is external.
And, that's the thing about all of these: happiness is conceived of as something I will gain if only I could achieve the unachievable. But this is a kind of nihilism—in the way Camus conceives it in The Rebel—in the way it removes value and happiness to some future state. It also leads us to do things that are wrong (for us) in order to achieve that unachievable or constantly progressing goal.
I'm not saying that part of happiness isn't finding things outside ourselves. I have to admit that much or most of the happiness in my life relies on the presence of my partner/husband/friend. But, I am saying something that has been noted by thinkers as diverse as Aristotle and RuPaul: love and happiness have to start with a love and happiness in oneself. I have to start by loving my life and my situation as it is in its imperfections. This might well include a realization that it could become better, but it has to have some value as it is. Nothing else can complete me unless I am already complete.
If we can't love the here and now and the person we are, we will never love any there and then or person we can become.