Saturday, 21 July 2012

Life is Pain, Highness

Today I come to the end of the requests by addressing once again the age-old problem of unrequited love.

(Someone asked me how Single girls can live together and support each other without going nuts, but the only thing I have to say to that is draw up a cleaning schedule and be fair. Clean when it's your turn!!! But also don't be a Soap Nazi. If Alice makes the effort but just doesn't get the bathroom/kitchen as clean as you do, cut her some slack.)

I am sure you would all love to know how you can stop yourself from suffering the pangs of unrequited love. The solution is easy. You stand in front of the bathroom mirror, take a vegetable knife and cut your heart right out. This may be difficult, for you will die in the process, but what the heck. At least you tried.

No, don't do that. Instead get over the idea that you are going to be a calm, cool, collected, totally together, completely rational woman every day of your life. Let go of the idea that you are always going to be happy, or that you should always be happy. Hopefully you will be happy most of the time, but you are not going to be happy ALL of the time. And how could you be, anyway, in this fallen world?

The amazing thing about unrequited love, and pain in general, is that God will take it and turn it into something good if you ask Him and let Him. The poet William Wordsworth said that poetry is "the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions recollected in tranquility." So many of the treasures of artistic achievement were born after long bouts of weeping. On my bedside table I have, for example, Elizabeth Smart's "By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept"; possibly the most passionate piece of poetic prose ever written by a Canadian, it tells the story of a doomed romance with a married bisexual man.

Ah. And this brings me to my next point. The deepest wounds are self-inflicted. If you are alive, if you have even the slightest interest in other people, you are going to be struck by the beauty of another human person. Your imagination is going to reach out and grasp a face or a timbre of voice that will trouble your waking and sleeping thoughts. This phenomenon will occur before your rational mind has any say in the matter. However, the amount you suffer because of it will depend on your choices.

We all have lines we draw in the sand, lines we simply do not cross. If you are a cradle Catholic like me, you probably draw the line at daydreaming about priests. And most Catholic women and other women of good will stop their line of amorous thought at the first glimpse of a man's wedding ring. Married people can snap out of wayward thoughts by thinking of their spouses. Adult women are usually very good at snapping off erotic thoughts about teenage boys, should we have them. And women professors and doctors are likewise very good at thinking professionally about any good looking student or patient who appears in their office, if only out of sheer self-protection

This may all seem obvious to you, but my point is that we DO have a choice. We CAN say "No." We DO say "No", quite a lot of the time. Friend's cute husband--NO. STOP. Friend's cute boyfriend--NO. STOP. Friend's nineteen year old son--NO. STOP. Father Mike, that cute new priest--NO. STOP.

Of course, it gets more difficult when our attraction to somebody does not seem so disordered. What is wrong, after all, with an unattached Single woman feeling longing for an unattached Single man? And certainly, there is nothing wrong with it in itself. But what can be wrong is its intensity, its excess. Passion should always be at the service of the intellect and the will, NOT vice versa.

You may think passion is what made Chopin or Beethoven a genius, but the mind that conceived and laid out the notes was driven principally by rational training and the effort of will. Chopin is not treasured because he struggled with his feelings for either Georges Sand or Polish independence but because he was a great artist, and great art demands great craftsmanship, which is to say, masterful use of reason and will.

So the question is, how rational are your feelings of attraction? If you do not know that man at all, and you merely admire his face or tone of voice, then not very rational at all. If you do know the man, and he has a proven excellent character, or at least very lovable traits, then your feelings of admiration are more rational. If you do know that man, and he is honestly affectionate towards you--is, at least, kind to you, includes you in conversations, and does you good deeds--then feelings of affection are also rational. The extent to which you allow your feelings of affection to grow, however, must be chosen by your intellect and enforced by your will.

I think, though, that the most dangerous crush has not as much to do with the specific concrete man who is its object as it has to do with the woman's own desire to be desired. "I just want someone to love me; I just want someone to love" is a terribly perilous position from which to face the world. This is why I emphasize again and again the importance for Single people of your chaste friendships and family ties. Although it is perfectly natural for human beings to long for love, it is terrible to allow such longing to dominate you. It is more likely to do so if you never receive affection from anyway, if you never get a hug.

This is all very deep, so I will end soon. The best thing, I think, is to remain rooted in reality and strive to understand situations AS THEY ARE and not as how you wish or panic they might be. The next thing is to remember that, whatever happens, the person you have to live with afterwards is you. My greatest comfort, when in the grip of a ridiculous crush on a much-too-young man during a summer in German, was that he could not tell. So there is such a thing as keeping a grip on your dignity, even if you cannot always keep a grip on your heart. You can choose to keep your mouth shut. You can choose to keep your hands to yourself. You can choose to leave a room, to shut a door, to lock a door, to call a cab. You can choose to confide in a friend whom you know to be the best keeper of secrets of all your friends, and to listen to her comfort and counsel.

And always remember that life includes pain, Highness. "Anyone who says differently is selling something."


Jamie said...

Great advice. And great Princess Bride quote. :)

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

I know it's not on topic exactly, but I saw that today only there's a sale on The Princess Bride for Kindle on Amazon (at least in the US) if anyone's interested - something like $2 today.

Back on topic, yeah, I completely agree - emotions, etc., of course aren't bad things, but we have them - if they have us, there's a problem.


Notburga said...

First and foremost: Many, many thanks for giving us Bertie as a Swashbuckler Protector! Now I think of it, of all my favourite literary figures he is indeed a single girl's best friend: always ready to help, never (or hardly ever) out to break their hearts, and a great help to me in many emotional difficulties: for what calms you down quite as much as reading Jeeves and Woster (uhm, apart from, er, praying, perhaps).

Regarding today's post: It's amazingly appropriate for me today, since very similar thoughts as those you expressed in the beginning helped me to find some light in a pretty unpleasant fit of the dismals today: At least pain is real - it means that you are living, and may very well change you into a better person than you are now.

Regarding the choice we have as to our feelings: A while ago, I had a terrible crush on a fellow scientist I met at a conference. In the wake of the conference, we had a lively e-mail exchange. He was really most attentive, so that, even being Seraphic-schooled as I am, I felt there could be hardly another interpretation than that he was really interested. I met up with him when visiting a very good friend living in the same place as he. In the course of our conversation (I had just moved into my first own flat) I asked whether he was living in a shared flat or on his own, and he - after a short hesitation - said he was living with his girl-friend. The following two or three days were not nice at all: I really felt as if I was asked to cut my heart out with a vegetable knife. Even if we could only be friends, it would be sooo good just to see him again... Nevertheless, I declined meeting up for another coffee, went home, and only answered every second or third e-mail of his, after suitable delay. And amazingly: bang, after some pretty unhappy days,there suddenly was peace - a peace that, knowing me, I can only explain as being a gift of God.

Seraphic said...

Oh, Notburga. I'm so sorry. :-(

Seraphic said...

(Not about the peace, of course. I'm just sorry your hopes were raised and dashed in the first place.)

Elaine W. said...

Thank you for this great post, Auntie Seraphic! Just what I needed to read after having spent some days in the company of a wonderful NCB, who unfortunately does not seem to be interested in me as more than a friend. He has always been very affectionate towards me, but whenever our mutual friends are dropping hints about what a great couple he and I would make, he backs away.

Seraphic said...

I'm glad the post helped you, and I'm sorry he's j.n.t.i.y. Sigh!