- 页码：第1页 2018-09-18 13:18:13
Why we fall in loveIf cynicism and love lie at opposite ends of a spectrum, do we not sometimes fall in love in order to escape the debilitating cynicism to which we are prone? Is there not in every coup de foudre a certain willful exaggeration of the qualities of the beloved, an exaggeration which distracts us from our habitual pessimism and focuses our energies on someone in whom we can believe in a way we have never believed in ourselves?I was ready to love every one of her jokes that had missed its punch line, every reflection that had lost its thread. I felt ready to abandon self-absorption for the sake of consummate empathy, to catalogue every one of Chloe’s memories, to become a historian of her childhood, to learn of all her loves and fears. Everything that could possibly have played itself out within her mind and body had promptly grown fascinating.Every fall into love involves the triumph of hope over self-knowledge. We fall in love hoping we won’t find in another what we know is in ourselves, all the cowardice, weakness, laziness, dishonesty, compromise, and stupidity. We throw a cordon of love around the chosen one and decide that everything within it will somehow be free of our faults. We locate inside another a perfection that eludes us within ourselves, and through our union with the beloved hope to maintain (against the evidence of all self-knowledge) a precarious faith in our species.Why did this awareness not prevent my fall into love? Because the illogicality and childishness of my desire did not outweigh my need to believe. I knew the void that romantic intoxication could fill, I knew the exhilaration that comes from identifying someone, anyone, as admirable. Long before I had even laid eyes on Chloe, I must have needed to find in the face of another an integrity I had never caught sight of within myself.
The chemistry“May I check your bags, sir?” asked the customs man. “Do you have anything to declare—any alcohol, cigarettes, firearms . . . ?” Like Oscar Wilde with his genius, I wanted to say “Only my love,” but my love was not a crime, not yet at least.Desire had turned me into a relentless hunter for clues, a romantic paranoiac, reading meaning into everything. But whatever my impatience with the rituals of seduction, I was aware that the enigma lent Chloe a distinctive appeal. The most attractive are not those who allow us to kiss them at once (we soon feel ungrateful) or those who never allow us to kiss them (we soon forget them), but those who know how to carefully administer varied doses of hope and despair.I had decided that attraction was synonymous with the removal of all personal characteristics, my true self being necessarily in conflict with and unworthy of the perfections found in the beloved.
The safety of unrequited loveWhen we look at someone (an angel) from a position of unrequited love and imagine the pleasures that being in heaven with them might bring us, we are prone to overlook a significant danger: how soon their attractions might pale if they began to love us back. We fall in love because we long to escape from ourselves with someone as ideal as we are corrupt. But what if such a being were one day to turn around and love us back? We can only be shocked.Unrequited love may be painful, but it is safely painful, because it does not involve inflicting damage on anyone but oneself, a private pain that is as bittersweet as it is self-induced. But as soon as love is reciprocated, one must be prepared to give up the passivity of simply being hurt to take on the responsibility of perpetrating hurt oneself.
The intimacyAfter unending irreconcilable differences in matters of the heart, I had at last found someone whose jokes I understood without the need of a dictionary, whose views seemed miraculously close to mine, whose loves and hates kept tandem with my own, and with whom I repeatedly found myself saying, “It’s amazing, I was about to say/ think/ do/ tell the same thing. . . .”Then I noticed a small plate of complimentary marshmallows near Chloe’s elbow and it suddenly seemed clear that I didn’t love Chloe so much as marshmallow her. What it was about a marshmallow that should suddenly have accorded so perfectly with my feelings toward her, I will never know, but the word seemed to capture the essence of my amorous state with an accuracy that the word “love,” weary with overuse, simply could not aspire to. Even more inexplicably, when I took Chloe’s hand and told her that I had something very important to tell her, that I marsh-mallowed her, she seemed to understand perfectly, answering that it was the sweetest thing anyone had ever told her.In the oasis complex, the thirsty man imagines he sees water, palm trees, and shade not because he has evidence for the belief, but because he has a need for it. Desperate needs bring about a hallucination of their solution: thirst hallucinates water, the need for love hallucinates a prince or princess. The oasis complex is never a complete delusion: the man in the desert does see something on the horizon. It is just that the palms have withered, the well is dry, and the place is infected with locusts.In one another’s company, we spent a good deal of time discussing how awful other people were. Unable to express ourselves honestly in most of our daily interactions, we could between us aerate our lies and atone for the social niceties we had performed. Chloe became the final repository of my harsh verdicts on friends or colleagues. Things I had long thought about them but had tried to deny, I was free to share with a sympathetic and even encouraging audience. We frequently indulged in orgies of gossip. Whatever the pleasures of discovering mutual loves, nothing compares with the intimacy of landing on mutual hates. At times, we came close to concluding (though coyness prevented us from quite admitting this openly) that everyone we’d ever come across was deeply flawed—and that we were in truth the only decent humans left on the planet. Love nourished itself through perpetual criticism of outsiders. The finest proof of our loyalty toward each other was our monstrous disloyalty toward everyone else.In another Chinese restaurant (Chloe loved them), I realized that life with other people functions a little like the circular wheel at the center of a table on which dishes have been placed and which can be revolved so that one is faced with shrimp one minute, pork the next. Does loving someone not follow a similar circular pattern, in which there are regular revolutions in the intensity and nature of one’s feelings? We tend to remain attached to a fixed view of emotions, as though a line exists between loving and not loving that can only be crossed twice, at the beginning and end of a relationship, rather than commuted across from minute to minute. But in reality, in only a day, I might go around every available emotional dish on my inner Chinese platter.
The bittersweet fear“We can’t move in together because of my problem: I have to live on my own or else I melt. It’s not that I don’t want you, it’s that I’m afraid of wanting only you, of finding that there’s nothing left of me. So excuse it as part of my general screwed-upness, but I’m afraid I have to stay a bag lady.”The inability to live in the present lies in the fear of leaving the sheltered position of anticipation or memory, and so of admitting that this is the only life that one is ever likely (heavenly intervention aside) to live. If commitment is seen as a group of eggs, then to commit oneself to the present is to risk putting all one’s eggs in the present basket, rather than distributing them between the baskets of past and future. And to shift the analogy to love, to finally accept that I was happy with Chloe would have meant accepting that, despite the danger, all of my eggs were firmly in her basket.Our accusations were loaded with a complicated subtext: I hate you, because I love you. It amounted to a fundamental protest: I hate having no choice but to risk loving you like this. The pleasures of depending on someone pale next to the paralyzing fears that such dependence evokes.It is easiest to accept happiness when it is brought about through things that one can control, that one has achieved after much effort and reason. But the happiness I had reached with Chloe had not come as a result of any personal achievement or effort. It was simply the outcome of having, by a miracle of divine intervention, found a person whose company was more valuable to me than that of anyone else in the world. Such happiness was dangerous precisely because it was so lacking in self-sufficient permanence. Had I after months of steady labor produced a scientific formula that had rocked the world of molecular biology, I would have had no qualms about accepting the happiness that had ensued from such a discovery.We were sometimes seized by an urge (manifested in our arguments about nothing) to kill our love affair before it had reached its natural end, a murder committed not out of hatred, but out of an excess of love—or rather, out of the fear that an excess of love may bring. Lovers may kill their own love story for no other reason than that they are unable to tolerate the uncertainty, the sheer risk, that their experiment in happiness has delivered.
The lossWhy had it become so hard for me to say what I meant? Because of the danger of communicating my real grievance: that Chloe had ceased to love me. My hurt was so inexpressible, had so little to do with a forgotten key, that I would have looked like a fool to bring the matter up at this stage. My anger was hence forced underground. Unable to say directly what I meant, I resorted to symbolizing meaning, half hoping, half dreading that the symbol would be decoded.To fly again soon—but would I live again soon? I envied the assumptions of others, the security of fixed lives and plans to take off again soon. What would life mean from now on? Though we continued holding hands, I knew how Chloe and I would watch our bodies grow foreign to each other. Walls would be built up, the separation would be institutionalized, I would meet her in a few months or years, we would be light, jovial, masked, dressed for business, ordering a salad in a restaurant—unable to touch what we were now revealing: the sheer human drama, the nakedness, the dependency, the unalterable loss. We would be like an audience emerging from a heart-wrenching play but unable to communicate anything of the emotions they had felt inside, able only to head for a drink at the bar, knowing there was more, but unable to touch it. Though it was agony, I preferred this moment to the ones that would come, the hours spent alone replaying it, blaming myself and her, trying to construct a future, an alternative story, like a confused playwright who does not know what to do with his characters.
The morality is the desireIt is surprising how often rejection in love is framed in moral language, the language of right and wrong, good and evil, as though to reject or not reject, to love or not to love, was something that naturally belonged to a branch of ethics. It is surprising how often the one who rejects is labeled evil, and the one who is rejected comes to embody the good. Blame is surely due when we spurn a gift given at much cost and sacrifice, but if the giver has derived as much pleasure from giving as we derive from receiving, then is there really a case for using moral language? If love is primarily given out of selfish motivations (i.e., for one’s own benefit, even as it benefits the other), then it is not, in Kantian eyes at least, a moral gift. Was I better than Chloe simply because I loved her? Of course not, for though my love for her included sacrifices, I had made these because it made me happy to do so; I had not martyred myself, but had acted only because it accorded so perfectly with my inclinations, because it was not a duty. What gave me pleasure and pain determined the moral labels I chose to affix to Chloe. I was an egocentric moralizer, judging the world and her duties within it according to my own interests. My moral code was a mere sublimation of my desires.A primitive belief made me feel that my anger entitled me to blame someone else, but I recognized that blame can only be linked to choice. One does not get angry with a donkey for not being able to sing, for the donkey’s constitution never gave it a chance to do anything but snort. Similarly, one cannot blame a lover for loving or not loving, for it is a matter beyond their choice and hence responsibility—though what makes rejection in love harder to bear than donkeys who can never sing is that one did once see the lover loving. One finds it easier not to blame the donkey for not singing because it never sang, but the lover loved, perhaps only a short while ago, which makes the reality of the claim I cannot love you anymore all the harder to digest.
The reconstructionThere is an Arabic saying that the soul travels at the pace of a camel. While most of our self is led by the strict demands of timetables and diaries, our soul, the seat of the heart, trails nostalgically behind, burdened by the weight of memory. If every love affair adds a certain weight to the camel’s load, then we can expect the soul to slow according to the significance of love’s burden. By the time it was finally able to shrug off the crushing weight of her memory, Chloe had nearly killed my camel. My eyes were never really open; they looked backward and inward to memory. I would have wished to spend the rest of my days following the camel, meandering through the dunes of yesteryear, stopping at charming oases to leaf through images of happier days. The present held nothing for me; the past had become the only inhabitable tense. What could the present be next to it but a mocking reminder of the one who was missing? What could the future hold beside yet more wretched absence?There was a gradual reconquering of the self; new habits were created and a Chloe-less identity built up. My identity had for so long been forged around “us” that to return to the “I” involved an almost complete reinvention of myself. It took a long time for the hundreds of associations that Chloe and I had accumulated together to fade. I had to live with my sofa for months before the image of her lying on it in her dressing gown was replaced by another image, the image of a friend reading a book on it, or of my coat lying across it. I had to walk through Islington on numberless occasions before I could forget that Islington was not simply Chloe’s district, but a useful place to shop or have dinner. I had to revisit almost every physical location, rewrite over every topic of conversation, replay every song and every activity that she and I had shared in order to reconquer them for the present, in order to defuse their associations. But gradually I forgot.THE camel became lighter and lighter as it walked through time. It kept shaking memories and photos off its back, scattering them over the desert floor and letting the wind bury them in the sand, and gradually the camel became so light that it could trot and even gallop in its own curious way—until one day, in a small oasis that called itself the present, the exhausted creature finally caught up with the rest of me.
Take a leap of faithWe start trying to be wise when we realize that we are not born knowing how to live, that living one’s life is a skill that has to be acquired, like learning to ride a bicycle or play the piano. But what does wisdom counsel us to do? It tells us to aim for tranquillity and inner peace, a life free from anxiety, fear, idolatry, and harmful passions. Wisdom teaches us that our first impulses may not always be trustworthy, and that our appetites will lead us astray if we do not train reason to separate vain from genuine needs. It tells us to control our imagination or it will distort reality and turn mountains into molehills and frogs into princesses. It tells us to hold our fears in check, so that we can be afraid of what will harm us, but not waste our energies fleeing shadows on the wall. It tells us we should not fear death, and that all we have to fear is fear itself.At the heart of stoicism lay the desire to disappoint oneself before someone else had the chance to do so. Stoicism was a crude defense against the dangers of the affections of others, dangers that would take more endurance than a life in the desert to be able to face. In calling for a monastic existence free of emotional turmoil, stoicism was simply trying to deny the legitimacy of certain potentially painful yet fundamental human needs. However brave, the stoic was in the end a coward at the point of perhaps the highest reality, at the moment of love.
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