Then the phrases withdrew, save one which I saw reappear five times or six without being able to distinguish its features, but so caressing, so different - as no doubt the little phrase from the sonata had been for Swann - from anything that any woman had ever made me desire, that this phrase - this invisible creature whose language I did not know but whom I understood so well - which offered me in so sweet a voice a happiness that it would really have been worth the struggle to obtain, is perhaps the only Unknown Woman that it has ever been my good fortune to meet.
Marcel Proust, The Captive, p. 262
Dar Williams has a simple and beautiful little song entitled Miss You Till I Meet You, and it was impossible for me to read this passage from Remembrance of Things Past without thinking of it. She sings: "I tried again, I went last night/ another date was just not right/ and as I drove myself back home/ a little voice said "just be alone"/ but sometimes I think/ I see you in a crowd/ it's not picture perfect you're just meant for me somehow/ and I'll miss you till I meet you." Essentially she's yearning for someone, in love with someone, she's never met. I've talked about the fact that after all these years I really don't believe in The One, although you might convince me of the existence of The Ones. And you do miss them and yearn for them and long for them, because they are a product of your own imagination - and because of this even when you're actually with The One (or a suitable member of The Ones) you might still long for The One because what you want is the imagined version as compared to the tangible, and thus disappointing, reality. Maybe Proust found The One in this passage of music, which was "so caressing, so different . . . from anything that any woman had ever made me desire . . ." We've all heard, and loved, songs that reminded us of women we've loved, if only from a distance. I think the first one that filled that bill for me was Angie, a fair to middling Rolling Stones song, but one which I always associate with this older girl, appropriately named Angie, who lived in my neighborhood while I was growing up. She had absolutely no contact with me whatsoever other than answering the door in a bikini when I came by to see her brother, but I was in serious love/lust with her, and I can't hear that song, even today, without feeling an elegiac stab in the heart. But Proust, typically, is talking about something more profound. In his mind the women didn't give life to the song, the song gave life to the, yet unknown, women. He continued: "this invisible creature whose language I did not know but whom I understood so well - which offered me in so sweet a voice a happiness that it would really have been worth the struggle to obtain, is perhaps the only Unknown Woman that it has ever been my good fortune to meet." This "Unknown Woman" lived in a state of perfection within the music, and she would then drive our quest and shape our perception of every woman we ever meet. I've said before that maybe Proust was far more interested in the idea of a woman than in an actual woman, and now she has a name, even if it is just the "Unknown Woman." Plato famously proposed that we spend our lives trying to find the other half of our being that was carved off before birth, although I don't know if we need to be that metaphysical. Maybe we are born striving after beauty, whether it is physical or emotional, and we'll miss it until we meet it.