We Learn Nothing

I’m reading a collection of essays by fantastic essayist and cartoonist Tim Kreider, entitled “We Learn Nothing”. It’s absolutely brilliant writing, and my favorite essay (and it’s only the second one chronologically in the book) is “The Creature Walks Among Us”. It’s an incredible look at love, debilitating and mind rending heartbreak, and the emotionless void and drudgery that exists in between.

On bold romantic gestures: “Often you don’t know whether you’re the hero of a romantic comedy or the villain on a Lifetime special until the restraining order arrives.”

“This kind of anarchic, Dionysian love doesn’t give a shit about commitments or institutions; it smashes our illusions about what kind of people we are, what we would and would not do, exposing the difference between what we want to want and what we really want.”

“The goal of life is not to provide material for good stories. Because it must also be noted that I’ve spent a larger percentage of my life than any sane person would wish crouching on the bathroom floor sobbing into a smelly old towel. Heartbreak is the common term for this condition — a Hallmark euphemism for something that’s about as romantic as pancreatitis. I’ve endured three or four let’s call them episodes in my life. Which may not seem like all that many unless you’re a friend of mine who’s had to watch. I would not want to relive even one second of those times, nor would I wish them on anyone else, but I also don’t know if I can relate to anyone who hasn’t gone through them…At such times we are certainly not at our best but we are undeniably at our most human—utterly vulnerable, naked and laid open, a mess.”

“I have known people who selected their mates on the same bases on which they chose friends: affinity, compatibility, common goals. I like to believe that these people are innocent of true passion, that they haven’t yet met the person for whom they would forfeit everything. What I fear they actually are is emotionally healthy.”

“I recently met a very difficult but beautiful ex-girlfriend for coffee, and as we were talking I had two epiphanies: 1) I do not even like this person and yet 2) I would sneak off to the bathroom with her right now. With some people, it’s all a foregone conclusion once you get close enough to inhale the scent of their hair.”

“Even in the midst of these deliriums, some tiny, invincibly sane part of my brain, like the last surviving scholar barricaded in the library of a burning city, realized that the intensity of emotion I was experiencing was disproportionate to my actual investment in these relationships. I spent a summer racked with loss over a woman with whom I’d had only four weekends and a lot of phone calls, which we mostly spent listening to each other breathe. I wasted a year of my life torturing myself with jealousy and rage over someone I knew that I didn’t want to be with; what I wanted was not to lose her. That passion took these women as its objects as arbitrarily, and as indispensably, as a fetish fixates on an elbow or stiletto or a bathtub full of flan. Those emotional cataclysms were not only incommensurate to the circumstances but felt much bigger than I was, like a lightning strike channeled through a 60-watt bulb.”

“Love tends to sneak up on me over a period of years…Someone…simply reaches out and takes your lapel to steady herself as the subway decelerates into the station and you realize: Uh-oh. Even though those breakups and disentanglements hurt, and it may always make me a little sad to see those women, they are the ones I will love for life, the ones I’d want to have by my deathbed. The kind of bond I feel with the women I’ve fallen so horribly in love with is more involuntary, as arbitrary and indissoluble as the one that unites the survivors of some infamous disaster.”

“I don’t know whether I would trade in those dizzying highs to rid myself of the memory of the crashes and wreckage.” (This is something I’ve mused over many, many times)

“I’ve known kisses so narcotic they made my eyes roll back in my head. For a few weeks one winter I walked around feeling like I had a miniature sun in my heart.”

“Right now I’m neither in love nor heartbroken.  I almost hesitate to say this: it feels provisional, like remission.  Sometimes I’m afraid it may be as ephemeral as that temporary sanity that afflicts us for as long as forty-five seconds after orgasm.  But at other times I worry it may be permanent.  Maybe we have a finite capacity for falling in love that gets depleted with age.  OR maybe romantic love is an affliction of adolescence, like acne or a passionate ideological investment in pop songs.  It’s mostly a relief to be free of it, like not waking up hung over.  At those moments when I’ve felt myself starting to relapse–waiting for someone to call who wasn’t going to, that familiar helplessness clutching my gut–I’ve recoiled like a recovering alcoholic waking from a dream of being blacked-out drunk, relieved and thankful that he’s still sober.

But sometimes this life starts to feel grudging and dutiful.  I’m clear-eyed again, but the world looks lusterless and dull.  I can understand why schizophrenics stop taking their meds.  I’m functioning and accomplishing things; everyone approves of my behavior and agrees that I seem happier; I’m not embarrassing my friends with any histrionic displays.  But I also know that all around me the air is full of songs too beautiful for me to hear.  Sometimes I’ll see a pair of electric-blue damselflies coupled in flight, and I remember how it felt to be weightless.”

So yes, brilliant, brilliant man. I have belly laughed numerous times at his stories, and I can identify with just so much of this. I worry that I won’t love again like I did. I then reassure myself with the simple fact that love doesn’t give a fuck what you want and will claim you as its victim when it feels like it. It’ll toss you into the rollercoaster again as soon it sees fit. I also agree with Kreider regarding loving for life. Something that deep remains eternal, regardless of any intellectual considerations and conscious decisions to exist without these people. I don’t feel this way about other women I’ve dated, though they’re great people that I cared about deeply. They were important at the time, and I won’t forget them, but they’ll never be women that I ever feel a twinge in my chest about.

I went on a date in Princeton the other evening. Nice girl, but I quickly realized that I wasn’t interested in dating her in the slightest. Bright girl, but did nothing for me sexually. I downgraded her to a possible friend to have an occasional beer with. Judging by her tame demeanor throughout the date, I don’t think she was opposed to this idea either. In either case, I got a chance to walk around Princeton, which is as lovely and scenic as I remember it.


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