"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, August 27, 2018

Love The One You’re With Unless You Can’t Forget The One You’ve Loved - Can Love Ever Be Incidental?

The Sixties were significant for many reasons – a renewed, public, and militant commitment to civil rights, opposition to an unjust if not immoral war, and a rejection of an old, faded, antiquarian morality.   More than anything else, however, the Sixties revolutionized sexual attitudes and behavior.  No longer was one obliged to conform to Victorian mores, Fifties sanctimony, and outdated and irrelevant attitudes towards the nature and purpose of intimacy. Love the one you’re with was the anthem of the Sixties.  Love was relegated to treacly Hallmark cards, daytime television and the Midwest.

At its most post-modern love did not exist at all.  It was no more than a social construct reflecting time, era, and culture.  The sonnets of Petrarch for the first time expressing romantic love were a product of the emerging middle class, one which had risen above the peasantry and while not quite upper class or aristocratic had the economic and social mobility to worry less about survival and able to think less of hammers, nails, and anvils.  Love was a new thing, an invented idea, a plaything of the rich and privileged.

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Romantic love has stayed alive for centuries, a commodity of the wealthy and the newly rich and an aspirational ideal of those beneath.  In America the concept of romantic love has been institutionalized in Hollywood, soap operas, comic  books, and popular lore. Everyone wants to fall in love and to be happy forever after.

At the same time romantic love has been progressively marginalized.  Love is found through the social media, contracted civilly, and continued thanks to feminism, sexual mutuality and new-found respect.

But is it love? Can any socially-mediated commodity possibly be the stuff of romance, marital fidelity,  or painful, passionate infidelity?

What was it that enabled sex between Medieval peasants? Nothing romantic, no coincidence of  souls, nor even a conscious desire for more labor or a son to light the funeral pyre.  Only a prescribed, unavoidable biological sexual union – genetic destiny, the foregone conclusion of man and woman, and economic necessity.   How has this changed?

The biological imperative to have children has long since been dismissed.  The economic, social, and even genetic necessity of offspring is a thing of the past.  Social security, government pensions, the welfare state have done away with maternity and parenthood. The only reason to have children is the recapture of innocence.
“Innocence”, said Henry Davis. “That can be the only reason”; and from that moment on he understood why Nancy Bell had meant so much to him.  He had known and understood innocence when he was a child…Instinctively he knew then that his childhood friendship with her was special, irreplaceable, and unforgettable.  How could he not then compare her with every other woman he met? He had known Nancy in an impossibly unique time and place…
Tired, worn out, and dispirited by his inability to reason the answer, he backed into faith. Born-again Christians report spiritual epiphanies where they have indeed been welcomed by Jesus Christ.  Henry Halter was spared all that painful exegesis, struggle, and religious fol-de-rol.  He was a lucky man. He found innocence as an innocent child.
Those who have found love in its childlike or even adolescent form are indeed lucky.  After thirty love becomes a contract – a fulfillment of adult expectations not childlike fantasy.  A man to take care, a woman to support, a union of equals in a competitive age. Those who fell in love young and early have some idea of what Petrarch meant and what indeed might be true and attainable.

Image result for images heloise and abelard

It is not easy to put relativism aside, to reason that nothing happens for a reason but is but the product of universal billiard balls or a hand of cards.  It is very tempting to believe that love, individualism, and the very definable outline of the human spirit are real, tangible, and effective; but hard to truly believe in what have been treated and considered as flim-flammery, fiction, and idealism at best.

Yet what to say about Bart Margate and Lucy Docker who had loved each other from the first, who couldn’t resist each other, who married early, divorced, died young, but who never forgot each other and their love.   Bart, second married for twenty years, the father of two children never loved anyone else.  Sally, dying at fifty with two young children of her own professed her one and only love to Bart on her deathbed.  Even Cleopatra, for all her tamasha and melodrama, could only have been speaking true love to Antony on the catafalque.  Despite her politics, her political deviousness, and her sexual diffidence, she did love Antony despite herself.  No one in their last moment lies; and Lucy admitted that she had loved no one else, an irrefutable deathbed admission.

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Of what then, consisted the love between Bart  and Lucy? A Petrarchan fantasy? A Romeo and Juliet impossible fated romance?  The influence of Hallmark cards, a culture of mediated  romance, unions of tradition and convenience without real purpose or meaning?

If so, then why, after 40 years divorce and twenty-five years after Lucy’s early death, did Bart continue to wish she were still with him? Was it simply adolescent memories and unachieved desires – a conflation of Hollywood, the Fifties, and Medieval romance? Or was there something more to it?  After years of romantic atheism, determinism, and philosophical indifference, could he have been wrong?

Many factors conditioned their meeting and their marriage. Two well-bred, Ivy League-educated, sophisticated, attractive, New York-oriented young people were destined to meet.  The system was in their favor.  Both calculated chances of success. They ‘loved’ each other in a romantic way, married in a traditional ceremony, and began their life together.  Yet they had miscalculated ambition, will, sexuality, and the untold ‘givens’ – the influences of heredity and environment which necessarily interrupt romance.  They were simply too young to understand, too influenced by Petrarch and Hallmark, and too intent on forming a perfect couple.

Yet after their separation and divorce they never lost touch.  She had children and so did she.  She advanced professionally and so did he.  Both he and she had remarried well and prosperously; so why was it that both of them thought only of each other? Both independently concluded that it must have been a function of adolescence and the discovery of sexuality and intimacy, a conditioned romance of a neo-romantic age; but neither was ever convinced.  Their love was special, unique, and irreplaceable.

But why? Was there something that unique in each of them and the coincidence of the two especially remarkable? Hardly.  Petrarch and Shakespeare were only two of many poets who wrote of indescribable, fated love.  Marriages of convenience arranged according to wealth, position, or horoscope were more the rule.  Even in liberated feminist America, few women disregard romantic calculus – the balance sheet of education, family, intelligence, attractiveness and well-being – and agree to rather than fall for the right man.  There must have been something in the love between Bert and Lucy after all.

The only unequivocal love is that between mother and son – an absolute, indissoluble relationship of love and by nurture.  Fathers and sons must work out the competition, rivalry, guilt, and association; but motherhood and son-by-motherhood is innate and implicit.

Adult sexual relationships pale by comparison.  They have neither the physical intimacy, the genetic markers, or the social history to make a go of it.  They are determined by both nature and nurture, but only second hand.  They sense their mothers and fathers but indistinctly at best. They act with unknown guidance but guidance nonetheless.

Was Bart’s love for Lucy conditioned by his love – or lack thereof – for his mother? An unhealthy subscription to Fifties romantic comics? To Hollywood? Or was it that one-in-a-million special connection that has little or nothing to do with environment, conditioning or literature.  A real life Abelard and Heloise?

Society has gotten along well enough without romantic love which was  unknown before 1400, so why should anything be any different today? We are in our cybernetic, socially-mediated age contracting marriage not unlike our forbears according to background, history, potential, and promise. Why search elsewhere?

Bart and Lucy prove the exception or at least challenge received wisdom.  There might indeed be something unique and even indispensable about intimate relationships, and practical, deterministic assumptions may be totally wrong.  Innocence?
Nancy pulled her dress up over her head and stood naked as the water droplets from the ferns dripped onto her face and arms.  “They are my jewels”, she said to Bart, “and one day you can buy me real ones.”
It was cool and dark in the woods behind his house.  Bart’s father had said that he would cull the deep grove before it got too overgrown but he never got around to it, so the ferns had grown taller than him, and only rabbits could find their way through the bramble bushes. Once when he was little he got lost in the woods and thought he would never find his way out. There were bears and wolves in the woods, and he might wander for days without finding his way home.  For years he never set foot in the woods until Lucretia had asked him. 
He knew that the wild animals were not real, but he still hesitated at the mountain laurel bushes at the back of their yard, and never took the narrow path into the woods. That was how childhood worked, he later thought, full of crazy imaginary things that scared you, and one day you woke up and they weren’t there any more, and the woods was just a dark, wet place where you would prefer not to go.
Mountain laurel
Nancy sat next to him in school the next day, so close together in the auditorium that their legs touched.  She smelled fresh and clean, like talcum powder and lilac soap, and she was wearing the same dress that she had worn in the woods.  He noticed a bit of dried oak leaf on her dress that she had not seen and remembered how she had put her clothes neatly in a pile on a mossy patch under his father’s favorite tree.
Bart was spared all that painful exegesis, struggle, and religious fol-de-rol.  He was a lucky man. He found innocence as an innocent child.
Innocence? i
Ignorance? Happenstance? Love may not be incidental. 

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