I've been in there before of course, if only because it is the only air-conditioned space in the museum. My first month-long trip summer trip to Paris I took in July instead of June and it was hot (and a little smelly). I was spending my afternoons in museums looking at Virgin and Child statues and most of the Cluny's are gathered in a gallery right next to the tapestries room, so I would duck in there to sit in the a.c. for a bit whenever I got just too uncomfortable. On this most recent trip, in March, it was freezing cold and I got routed through the room because that space with the Virgins was briefly closed for some reason.
First, I am very resistant - and so also very attracted to - the "to my only love" interpretation. Because I don't - and yet secretly want to - believe in the idea of an "only love," of a one right person.
In general, I don't believe in it because it is so obviously illogical, unreasonable, impossible: in this whole wide world, how could there be a one right person, an "only love," for each of us? I don't believe in it because it is so conventional as to be cliched, a product of every romance narrative from the Middle Ages forward. And I don't believe in it because it is coercive and limiting: if there is a one right person, then there is also a one right way to live a life, in a couple pair-bounded with that one right person; and if your life isn't like that - as mine isn't - it must be a failure of some sort; you must not have met that one right person yet and ought to be spending your life looking for him (or her); and if you aren't, if you don't want to, because you find the whole processes of dating to be disheartening and humiliating - as I do - then there must be something wrong with you. As Berlant points out, romantic love's failures are consistently read as personal failures rather than as evidences of its impossibility and in this way ideology sustains itself at a cost to the individual (p. 101).
And yet, the first of my reasons for not believing in an "only love" - it's illogical, unreasonable, impossible - is exactly one reason why I want to believe in it: because given that it is illogical, unreasonable, and impossible, how much more special must its real existence be? And then to hell with all of the rest of my objections. And because I secretly believe this, I'm not willing to settle for a good enough relationship with a nice enough person in order to have the one right lifestyle with someone other than the one right person (and am I the only person who gets a Match.com ad every time I log out of Facebook that promises "more relationships" than the site's competitors, as if simply being in a relationship, any relationship, were a worthy goal in itself?)
I am also both resistant and attracted to the "only love" reading of this phrase at this moment in my life because I both don't and do want to attach it to the last person I was involved with, in a relationship that ended just about a year ago (in fact I am very conscious of writing this on the one year anniversary of the last time I saw him, although at the time it was not in any way evidently an end to the relationship). I don't and do want to identify this person as my "only love," precisely because he is gone from my life and is not coming back (something that I am still struggling with a year later). I don't want to attach this idea to him because he is gone and so if he was the only love than that experience is in the past and not being able to sustain that relationship is an ultimate failure. But at the same time I do want to attach it to him because it seems like a way of somehow holding on to him even in his absence. I am evidently experiencing melancholia, in a Freudian sense and as explained by Berlant, a way of merging the lost object into the self in order not to experience the loss and so an inverse of the idealized love relationship understood as the fusion of two into one (p. 29). I identify him as the "only love" now that he is a lost love precisely in order not to lose him. In doing so I write our relationship into a slightly different, more tragic, but equally conventional and cliched narrative structure.
And so I, ironically, make our relationship much more conventional than it ever actually was. Because even though he and I were together for almost four years (a record for me by the way), our relationship did not conform to the quasi-marital pattern that people expect of a boyfriend and girlfriend. That was difficult for me to accept to begin with, because I had those expectations too; but after a while I came to like it, because for me it was a way of being in a relationship with someone without losing my sense of myself as I have in previous more conventional relationships. It continued to be difficult for other people to accept, however, and I experienced directly the coercive qualities of our culture's ideology of romantic love in other people's negative reactions to my decision to stay in the relationship as it was (see Berlant, p. 44-5, 87).
Not wanting and yet wanting the phrase to mean "to my only love," then, I've been trying to consciously read that last word as "desire" instead. And reading Berlant, that seems appropriate as desire can be distinguished from love by its ambivalence, which the narrative conventions of romantic love attempt to stabilize in order to produce a stable sense of self (p. 25, 44, 76, 95). Recognizing desire's ambiguity introduces some irony into the phrase, however; for how can there be an "only desire" if desire is always at least doubled? In desire, the drive for merger - for the "only love" - coexists with the drive to destroy - to critique all of these coercive cliches and conventions out of existence, at least in my own mind if not in the wider world. And the drive to master the other - to finally make our relationship conform to convention and so resolve the conflict with myself and others - meets the drive for recognition from the other - something that I cannot get from him in his absence and that makes the lost-love narrative finally unsatisfying (p. 39).
I choose to read it as "desire," for desire can be deeply positive exactly in its ambivalence or really its multiplicity: I read the bracelet as asking me what I desire in this or that situation, even situations that have nothing to do with romantic love. As Berlant writes building on Eve Sedgwick, desire can be productive of pleasure, of creativity, newness, and possibility - but only if it is not confused with the desire for stability or schooled by convention and by fear not to stray off of romantic love's overly beaten tracks (p. 44, 95).