A novel/essay that teaches us how to love better. An deep dive into human emotions often felt but rarely understood. For those who wish to understand that to love (as opposed to being loved) is a skill that has to be acquired, like riding a bicycle.
My mistake was to confuse a destiny to love with a destiny to love a given person. It was the error of thinking Chloe, rather than love, was inevitable.
Every fall into love involves the triumph of hope over self-knowledge. We fall into love hoping we won’t find in another what we know is in ourselves, all the cowardice, weakness, laziness, dishonesty, compromise and stupidity.
Desire had turned me into a relentless hunter for clues, a romantic paranoiac, reading meaning into everything.
My sense of inferiority bred a need to take on a personality that was not my own, a seducing self that would respond to every demand and suggestion made by my exalted companion.
Few things are as antithetical to sex as thought. Sex is instinctive, unreflexive and spontaneous, while thought is careful, uninvolved and judgemental.
If in order to love, we must believe that the beloved surpasses us in some way, does not a cruel paradox emerge when we witness this love returned? ‘If s/he really is so wonderful, how could s/he could love someone like me?’
If one is not wholly convinced of one’s own lovability, receiving affection can appear like being bestowed an honour for a feat one feels no connection with.
Unrequited love may be painful, but it is safely painful, because it does not involve inflicting damage on anyone but oneself…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.
We would not love if there were no lack within us, but we are offended by the discovery of a similar lack in the other.
There is usually a moment in every relationship when it becomes clear that love is reciprocated. The way it is resolved depends on the balance between self-love and self-hatred. If self-hatred gains the upper hand, then the one who has received love will declare that the beloved (on some excuse or other) is not good enough for them (not good enough by virtue of associating with no-goods). But if self-love gains the upper hand, both partners may accept that seeing their love reciprocated is not proof of how low the beloved is, but of how lovable they have themselves turned out to be.
In the mature account of love, we should never fall at first glance. We should reserve our leap until we have completed a clear-eyed investigation of the depths and nature of the waters.
Perhaps the easiest people to fall in love with are those about whom we know nothing.
Parents and politicians: I care about you, therefore I will upset you, I have honoured you with a vision of how you should be, therefore I will hurt you. Chloe and I would never have been as brutal to ours friends as we were to one another.
It may be a sign that two people have stopped loving one another (or at least stopped wishing to make the effort that constitutes 90% of love) when they are no longer able to spin differences into jokes. Humour lined the walls of irritation between our ideals and the reality.
Love reveals its insanity in its refusal to acknowledge the inherent normality of the loved one. Hence the boredom of lovers for those standing on the sidelines.
In each other’s company, we spent a good deal of time discussing how awful other people were. We retreated into each other’s company to laugh at the hypocrisy demanded by society.
Leitmotifs were important because they gave us the feeling that we were far from strangers to one another, that we had lived through things together, and remembered the joint meanings we have derived from them.
Happiness with other people seems bounded by two kinds of excess: suffocation and loneliness.
Though I felt myself attentive to the complexities of Chloe’s nature, I must have been guilty of great abbreviations, of passing lightly over areas I simply did not have the empathy or maturity to understand…However close we might be, Chloe was in the end another human being, with all the mystery and distance this implied, the inevitable distance embodied in the thought that we must die alone.
We long for a love in which we are never reduced or misunderstood. We have a morbid resistance to classification by others…To ourselves, we are after all always un-labelable.
We must define maturity as the ability to give everyone what they deserve when they deserve it, to separate the emotions that belong and should be restricted to oneself from those that should be at once be expressed to their initiators than passed on to later and more innocent arrivals. We were often not mature.
One of love’s greatest drawbacks is that, for a while at least, it is in danger of making us seriously happy.
Living in the future perfect tense involved holding up an ideal life to contrast with the present, one that would save us from the need to commit ourselves to our present situation.
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 to live.
We argued not because we hated one another, but because we loved one another too much…I hate having no choice but to risk loving you like this.
Such happiness is dangerous precisely because it is so lacking in self-sufficient permanence.
The sulker is a complicated creature, giving off messages of deep ambivalence, crying out for help and attention, while at the same time rejecting it should it be offered, wanting to be understood without needing to speak.
You must love me…I will force you to love me by sulking you or making you feel jealous…But if I have forced you to love me, then I cannot accept this love, for it was not spontaneously given.
[Love] is one of the few times when life isn’t elsewhere.
I learnt that humans stood in a relation of negative liberty towards one another, duty-bound not to hurt others, but certainly not forced to love one another if they did not wish.
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 any more all the harder to digest.
A notorious inability to express emotions makes human beings the only animals capable of suicide. An angry dog does not commit suicide, it bites the person or thing that made it angry, but an angry human sulks in its room and later shoots itself leaving a silent note. Man is a symbolic, metaphorical creature.
On overcoming break up: Then, inevitably, I began to forget.
We start trying to be wise when we realise that we are not born knowing how to live, but that life is a skill that has to be acquired, like riding a bicycle or playing the piano.
Though love might never be painless and was certainly not wise, neither could it be forgotten. It was as inevitable as it was unreasonable – and its unreason was unfortunately no argument against it.
Balancing romantic positivism with romantic pessimism: A more complex lesson needed to be drawn, one that could play with the incompatibilities of love, juggling the need for wisdom with its likely impotence, juggling the idiocy of infatuation with its inevitability. Love had to be appreciated without flight into dogmatic optimism or pessimism, without constructing a philosophy of one’s fears, or a morality of one’s disappointments.