Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Ties that Bind

Dear Cary Tennis confesses that he is undergoing some personal upheavals at the moment. Pretty Lady is certain that this is why he bombed a question from a heartbroken lady so terribly this week; none of us are at our best when our private realities are under renovation.

The lady's letter, moreover, touched a chord with Pretty Lady, who, not-so-coincidentally, has undergone similar experiences in the past:

...our relationship, I thought, was literally perfect. Every night we slept in each other's arms after laughing together all day long. Held hands, said "I love you," etc. So there wasn't enough sex, enough passion -- I was getting help.

I know I should probably feel like I deserve better than a man who didn't love me enough to put any work into our relationship, or to open up his mouth and communicate with me about our problems, which I deserved as his partner of so many years. But all I am is devastated, utterly hopeless, heartbroken, totally crushed.

Cary's response to this shattered lady was a mere rant upon the capriciousness of the gods. In Pretty Lady's view, the gods had little to do with it. She subscribes instead to the notion that the problem has more to do with a pervasive and legalistic misconception about the true nature of interpersonal passion in our culture.

Recently, Pretty Lady rented "Mrs. Harris," an HBO movie about the real-life killing of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor by his lover, Jean Harris. Thus she was already meditating upon the exigencies of sustained passion, when she encountered Cary's blooper. She noted some extreme similaries between the extinguished Dr. Tarnhower and several of her past lovers; the charisma, the intensity, the lack of mature personal integrity, and in particular, the habit of yanking on his beloved's heartstrings like so many rubber bands, and yo-yoing her psyche into the pavement.

It is no wonder that, weakened by fourteen years of passionate proposals and abrupt dismissals, idyllic interludes punctuated with casual betrayals, tender gestures accompanied by draconian threats, all bolstered by a regular influx of lover-prescribed drugs which masked the physiological and psychological symptoms of intolerable stress, Jean Harris snapped. It does not matter to Pretty Lady whether Mrs. Harris intended to shoot herself, Dr. Tarnhower, or both of them. Her actions were merely a predictable result of the attempt to sustain a self-destructive system. At that point, she and Dr. Tarnhower were no longer individual entities; they were a single, suicidal proposition.

You see, darlings, when two people fall in love, bonds are formed. I realize this comes across as a staggeringly obvious cliché. Please forgive me. The fact is that this is true, in a more profound sense than we fully understand. Bonds are formed which connect hearts, minds, throats and solar plexi; because these bonds are invisible to most people, we tend to think of them as metaphorical. They are not. They are emphatically, literally real, perhaps more real than the tabletop under Pretty Lady's computer. Disavowing these bonds does not cause them to vanish, any more than deciding to apply the term 'leg' to a cat's tail creates a five-legged cat.

Immature, selfish persons will refuse to acknowledge the reality of these bonds for a variety of reasons. The primary reason is a fear of responsibility, coupled with an unwillingness to grow. You see, our lovers act as reflections of ourselves; anything we dislike about ourselves will eventually surface in our mate as a seemingly intractable incompatibility. It is at this point that the integrity of each individual becomes crucial. Lazy, ignorant, or foolish persons will jettison the imperfect mate and start anew, running against the selfsame problem with the next person, a few years down the line. Only the wise and the consciously committed will seize the opportunity to grow in a deeper understanding of the nature of love.

It is for this reason that Pretty Lady recommends asking any potential mate the question, early on in the relationship, "Do you believe in commitment?" If the person says "no," flee instantly. There is no room for negotiation on this issue. Because commitments exist whether a person believes in them or not; what a person who 'doesn't believe in commitment' is really saying is that they do not accept responsibility for nurturing the commitments that they inevitably create.

From Pretty Lady's perspective, then, what happened to the unfortunate lady above is the spiritual equivalent of having one's limbs abruptly hacked off with a blunt axe. It is no wonder that the lady is feeling, not merely a little blue, but utterly incapacitated. Pretty Lady can only speculate as to what is going on, on a conscious level, with her scurrilous ex-partner; she imagines that he has anaesthetized his psyche with lies, denial, and fantasies about what 'true love' really is. He will most certainly muck around looking for it, only to perpetrate the same sort of devastation, 3.5 years later, when he comes smack up against his own unwillingness to grow once again.

Thus, this lady telling herself that her lover "didn't love me enough" to put any work into the relationship is, in itself, another lie and act of emotional violence toward herself. It is not that the man 'did not love her enough;' it is that he labors under a complete misconception as to what love actually entails. True love is a continuous series of actions, not an arbitrary feeling that exists until it ceases. Love is a willingness to embrace a truth larger than oneself. It is a process, frequently a difficult and painful one, but the only process worth undertaking.

Pretty Lady may be coming across today as unwontedly harsh. She means to do so. Because she has noticed that we constantly feed ourselves the lie and the assumption that if things are difficult, they must not be what God intended. Thus we get into the habit of blaming people for their struggles; we say that they must have given themselves cancer, they must have chased their husband away, they must have displeased God and that's why the Mongol hordes overran their village. In reality, the Mongol hordes may be an indication of God's favor, or at least a challenge on a higher order of difficulty, earned as a sort of graduation present--we have no way of knowing. To assume that it is even possible to 'curry favor' with God is hubris of a high degree. Scattering blame is an act of fear; it puts distance between us and the sufferer, as though suffering were a contagious disease, instead of a natural and integral part of life.

Copping out on 'love' the moment it ceases to be an effortless idyll is infantile and contemptible behavior. Modern society is far too lax on this sort of thing. It is time we, as a culture, stopped pretending that emotions are subject to re-negotiation according to whim. It is time we took responsibility for our whole selves, not merely the material portions.


Anonymous said...

Oh, crap, does that hit home. My extended family has been rocked by two divorces this year, and in both cases the female who did the leavin' proclaimed that because happiness and marital harmony didn't come effortlessly in their relationships, their spouse wasn't "the one", and therefore said female needed to be freed up to seek that "one". (I'd call bullshit, but they're both scrappy little bitches who would mop the floor with my butt ;) Meanwhile, their poor faithful, hardworking ex-husbands are scratching their heads wondering what the heck happened to what used to be their home and family.

Pretty Lady said...

There you go. I don't think this form of Cinderella thinking is confined to either gender; I think it is a result of not teaching our children that 'good relationships'='hard work.' Hard work at being honest but kind, assertive but empathetic, strong but generous.

You don't 'trade in' human beings, in Pretty Lady's opinion, unless they are so damaged that they create a swath of destruction around them. Even then you need to think about it.

Anonymous said...

I will admit to abandoning my first marriage after eight months, but I have excellent excuses--I was 18, mentally ill and addicted to drugs, and he was the type of "man" who didn't give a crap whether or not I was out screwing every male in town between the ages of 16 and 40 as long as I left him alone to play D&D online. I know this because he said it. Out loud. While sober. I'm going to go ahead and say I made the right decision ;)

Pretty Lady said...

Yes, Mitzibel, we have discussed your former husband in the past--I recall that the stories were so horrific that I have simply deleted the details from my memory bank. Doesn't he weigh about 390 pounds, now?