She is the boundary of his being
Kierkegaard met Regine Olsen in Copenhagen in 1837, and, by all appearances, there was a deep attraction between the two. They were engaged in 1840, but Kierkegaard immediately broke off the engagement the following year. Regina married her old tutor in 1847, and the couple left Copenhagen for the Danish West Indies in March 1855. Kierkegaard died in November that same year, having remained a celibate bachelor all his life.
These facts about Kierkegaard’s life can be gathered from Wikipedia, and all the rest from his own writings. I first encountered Kierkegaard three years ago when I read Fear and Trembling. I knew nothing about him except his reputation as a Christian philosopher with a keen intellect. By the time I finished the book, however, I had learned about his affair with Regina and his innermost thoughts about their relationship. Kierkegaard would not divulge his secrets to any living person, yet he pours his heart out in his books, and Regina is in almost every one of them.
Repetition is a companion and prequel to “Fear and Trembling”. A couple of times during reading, I had to keep back sentimental tears from staining the pages (for I borrowed the book from the local library). Kierkegaard wrote that Regina was “the boundary of his being”. I suppose he wasn’t exaggerating, since he died –became completely dissolved as it were, when she left the city where they both lived.
Can an existentialist love?
Heraclitus says that all things are in motion and nothing at rest, and that you cannot go into the same river twice. Plato counters by arguing that if that is the case, knowledge and love would be impossible. “There will be no one to know and nothing to be known”; in the same vein, there would be no one to love and be loved.
The existentialists seem to subscribe to Heraclitus’ view, which makes me wonder whether they can have a normal relationship. If they themselves and the ones they are supposed to love are constantly in the process of becoming, how can they remain in love? As far as I can gather, Nietzsche never had a romantic relationship with woman. (“Suppose truth is a woman, what then?” Then you don’t have it, period.)
I cannot say whether Kierkegaard’s struggles with love also arise from his existentialist view, which leads the Young Man to proclaim, “I stick my finger into existence — it smells of nothing.” He seems to have progressed from the aesthetic sphere to the religious (in the spirit if not in the flesh), when Works of Love was published, fours years after Repetition. In that book, he contrasts the worldly conception of love, as sublimated by the poets, with the Christian ideal.