Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Love Hurts

For 44 years, I was single since birth. When I was in my late-20s and early 30s, I was desperate for a partner. But after going out every weekend night to Makati and Malate bars, seeking out guys in websites like G4M, Downelink, and Connexion, meeting strangers in dark moviehouses, alleys, and parks, and repeatedly falling for guys that were unavailable or uninterested, I turned cynical before resigned and then philosophical about love. I knew that my biggest stumbling block was my fear of rejection and failure.

But then in one night at a party, I met D. A month or so of dating and a year and 10 months later, we’re still together. What surprises me is what happened that made me decide that: [1] I should just take a chance; and [2] D’s the one I want to take a chance with. Up to now I still am not too sure why I did what I did, how I go over my fears, what gave me the courage to just take a leap, and what made me choose D over others.

Then I read this NY Times essay by Jonathan Franzen, best-selling author, whose link was being passed around on Facebook by my friends. The essay was adapted from a commencement speech he delivered at Kenyon College. Unfortunately, his essay relates how technology encourages liking instead of the harder work of loving. However, what he discusses about love really hit me hard. And for once someone had articulated in clear, precise prose, some of the reasons behind my decisions which led me to having a partner.

Being the editor that I am, I decided to just pick out the passages from Mr. Franzen’s essay and tweak the words a bit so that the said passages strung together still read like a complete article.

I also like to dedicate the following essay to my friend Araw. For the longest time he was running scared. Araw, it’s time for you to face pain. You can never completely run away from it.

(For those who want to read Jonathan Franzen’s NY Times article in full, click HERE.)

* * * * *

Liking Is for Cowards. Go for What Hurts.
Original text by JONATHAN FRANZEN
Edited and tweaked by JOEL McVIE

Imagine a person defined by a desperation to be liked, what do you see? You see a person without integrity, without a center. In more pathological cases, you see a narcissist — a person who can’t tolerate the tarnishing of his or her self-image that not being liked represents, and who therefore either withdraws from human contact or goes to extreme, integrity-sacrificing lengths to be likable.

If you dedicate your existence to being likable, however, and if you adopt whatever cool persona is necessary to make it happen, it suggests that you’ve despaired of being loved for who you really are. And if you succeed in manipulating other people into liking you, it will be hard not to feel, at some level, contempt for those people, because they’ve fallen for your shtick. You may find yourself becoming depressed, or alcoholic, or, if you’re Donald Trump, running for president (and then quitting).

My aim here is mainly to set up a contrast between the narcissistic tendencies of liking and the problem of actual love. My friend Alice Sebold likes to talk about “getting down in the pit and loving somebody.” She has in mind the dirt that love inevitably splatters on the mirror of our self-regard.

The simple fact of the matter is that trying to be perfectly likable is incompatible with loving relationships. Sooner or later, for example, you’re going to find yourself in a hideous, screaming fight, and you’ll hear coming out of your mouth things that you yourself don’t like at all, things that shatter your self-image as a fair, kind, cool, attractive, in-control, funny, likable person. Something realer than likability has come out in you, and suddenly you’re having an actual life.
Suddenly there’s a real choice to be made, not a fake consumer choice between a BlackBerry and an iPhone, but a question: Do I love this person? And, for the other person, does this person love me?

There is no such thing as a person whose real self you like every particle of. This is why a world of liking is ultimately a lie. But there is such a thing as a person whose real self you love every particle of.

This is not to say that love is only about fighting. Love is about bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are. And this is why love, as I understand it, is always specific. Trying to love all of humanity may be a worthy endeavor, but, in a funny way, it keeps the focus on the self, on the self’s own moral or spiritual well-being. Whereas, to love a specific person, and to identify with his or her struggles and joys as if they were your own, you have to surrender some of your self.

The big risk here, of course, is rejection. We can all handle being disliked now and then, because there’s such an infinitely big pool of potential likers. But to expose your whole self, not just the likable surface, and to have it rejected, can be catastrophically painful. The prospect of pain generally, the pain of loss, of breakup, of death, is what makes it so tempting to avoid love and stay safely in the world of liking.

And yet pain hurts but it doesn’t kill. When you consider the alternative — an anesthetized dream of self-sufficiency, abetted by technology — pain emerges as the natural product and natural indicator of being alive in a resistant world. To go through a life painlessly is to have not lived. Even just to say to yourself, “Oh, I’ll get to that love and pain stuff later, maybe in my 30s” is to consign yourself to 10 years of merely taking up space on the planet and burning up its resources. Of being (and I mean this in the most damning sense of the word) a consumer.

The fundamental fact about all of us is that we’re alive for a while but will die before long. This fact is the real root cause of all our anger and pain and despair. And you can either run from this fact or, by way of love, you can embrace it.

When you stay in your room and rage or sneer or shrug your shoulders, as I did for many years, the world and its problems are impossibly daunting. But when you go out and put yourself in real relation to real people, there’s a very real danger that you might love some of them.

And who knows what might happen to you then?

1 comment:

Pika said...

GREAT post...