Monday, August 3, 2009

Loving Her

Melancholy, Edvard Munch (1894/96)

Nearly three months after we had broken up, my ex-girlfriend and I continued to see each other. Both of us were dating, but neither of us had found anyone we liked. You could say we were happy, not as a couple, but as two people who enjoyed spending time together. And the sex, well, you get the point . . .

Before we broke up, she lived with me in my house. In the beginning, it was exhilarating and rife with possibilities. This was the stage of the relationship when you picture living in Europe together, or on an island. But then, the novelty wore off and I wanted more and more time to myself. I started to say things like, "I want to be left alone tonight." By the end of the relationship, it seemed like we hated each other. That grim statement by Sartre, "Hell is other people," echoed in my mind. It wasn't going to work . . .

My difficulty was loving her. But love shouldn't be difficult at all. I've loved before; love is the easiest thing in the world. Love is effortless, a joy.

Maybe if I would have fallen in love with her, then I could have effortlessly loved her. You know, the romantic, feverish feeling, the tingling, anxiety, and butterflies--that never happened to me. We even talked about this. "I'm not head over heels for you," I told her bluntly on one of our morning walks, "But I do have feelings for you."

What were those feelings? I never really examined them. The feelings I did examine were the ones I didn't have. I was obsessed with the void, the emptiness, the missing piece, and I constantly brought it up, as if to safeguard myself from the tidal wave of her affections.

Despite my weirdly anti-social behavior, we grew together as friends, as partners, and I believe she accepted my shortcomings. We argued and disagreed on many things, but in truth, we were hopelessly entangled, psychologically, emotionally, and physically. Whether it was love or something else, stuff just happened, and Ariel and I were bound in some mysterious way.

Now that she has another boyfriend, I guess you could say I'm coming to terms with what I lost.

I remember one day in particular. We were spending the weekend in Chicago. At night we had plans to go to dinner and then to the movies. During the day, I wanted to take her to the Art Institute. It's the largest collection of art in the city, and my mother graduated from the School of the Art Institute. So, I loved being there. It reminded me of my mother.

Ariel wanted to be close to me. She loved me . . . I can't deny her that! I kept pulling back from her, though. I narrowed my focus, or I distracted myself with my obsession . . .

Did I tell you about my obsession? I have many, but on this day, I felt as though I did not love her. The entire day felt like a sort of pantomime, an act, and the mere thought of faking it was beginning to disturb me. What was worse I gazed at the couples who appeared all around us, radiantly attractive in their picture-perfect worlds.
We walked through the cold, granite park that day,
ice-skaters breezed by in merry furies, loops upon loops,
maddened by the wind,
with bright shining faces and bright shining eyes,
and everywhere I looked
couples burrowed in each others arms.
This was January, and our faces were red from cold air. That's when I noticed all of the couples wearing knit hats and gloves. I stood by the ice rink and Ariel took a picture of me. It was too cold to smile.
I suggested the museum,
the first floor was empty
except for two high school kids who played hooky
and jested beside the glass of Renaissance art;
I stared at them meekly, as if I envied their sweet
adolescent rebellion. They were drenched in
whatever I wanted.
The high school kids. I was jealous of them for being so blithe and carefree. They were oblivious. But I saw them, I peered into their self-contained world. The boy wore a jean's jacket with a chain hanging out of one of the pockets, and the girl had a seductively sweet face. The slightest thing the boy said made the girl laugh. Sulking, I continued through the museum with Ariel.
You lingered in the early art periods;
I approached a Grecian bust, once perfect,
now broken,
scuffed forehead, damaged nose and some dust.
A security guard paced the length of a wall,
I asked what exhibit was showing,
de Kooning just left, said the Chicago accent.

The Girl by the Window, Edvard Munch (1893)

We walked through the galleries, and I noticed more couples in love. But I must have stopped noticing them because I was suddenly engrossed in art. It was Edvard Munch's, The Girl by the Window, which commanded my attention. The colors, a mixture of shades of blue, seemed to emanate from the canvas. Ariel was standing right next to me and we were both transfixed.
On the second floor, Munchs bedroom girl,
we both agreed, a mystery of emotion,
haunting, beautiful, a dream . . .
That brief instant was gone forever, like the day,
and the next, dominated by a hunchbacked curator
who lectured to the floor about floating blocks and cubes,
both subject and
object moving, (a preacher
went to see his lover, a dancer in a midnight club)
amorous obsessions, I thought.
In the next gallery, a large crowd was gathered before a giant canvas spanning the entire wall. A hunchbacked curator gave a short lecture mostly in anecdotes about the abstract masterpiece. To me, the painting looked like so many random lines and squares with splotches of color. But apparently, it was a painting of a nightclub, and the story involved a preacher who came to the nightclub to see his mistress perform.

Self-Portrait, Van Gogh (1889)

I strayed into the next room. Ariel was gone. Maybe she was still listening to the hunchbacked curator. Maybe she left the museum all together. It didn't matter; I found Van Gogh.
Van Goghs Self-Portrait:
I stood there in a trance
beneath the fixed stare of triumph or terror,
beneath the weary beard of jagged lines,
inchoate strokes . . .

Later in bed, you grieved.
I said what I loved
about the portrait
the sheer incompletenessas if
the colors were still dripping, and the artist
somewhere near.
When we returned to my father's apartment, we fought, made love, and fought again. She wanted to know if I loved her--

"Van Gogh, Van Gogh, Van--" All I could talk about was him. He was perfect, and I was alone.

You might also like this post: Shakespeare's Sonnet 29



trewz said...

very nice!

V said...

I, too, was with a girl for a long time. Im a writer, and I was young, and very inexperienced with both allowing myself to feel and expressing any emotions I admitted to having. We broke up, and it wasnt until after that I finally allowed myself to admit that I had fallen in love with the girl. I spent the next several months trying to win her back, but to no avail.

I learned from the experience, no doubt, but it was a bitter lesson. I like to think my next relationship will have a happier ending.

savedR said...

This is beautiful.

One piece of advice, though Im sure itll be small comfort: Life is far too short to settle for anything less than head-over-heels love. Everything else is a filling of time!

Your writing is truly beautiful.

Odin Xenobuilder said...

I love the way you laid this out, a real pleasure to read. Vivid and full of feeling.

Falling for someone seems easy, staying that way seems the hard part to me. Then again, maybe the head over heels part is just a delusion, though an effective euphoric one, and guaranteed to pass.

kira_arg said...

Very beautiful essay! But I do feel sad, both for your ex and you. Agree with savedR that "Life is far too short to settle for anything less than head-over-heels love. Everything else is a filling of time!"

As for your ex, I have to say I was in her shoes, twice (in different ways). My take is that everything happens for the good. Maybe you werent prepared for a relationship (then) and maybe she was a wee bit needy! As V commented above, maybe your next one will be happier! :)

Showeda said...

I always find the level of honesty in your writing so endearing...
That may seem a little contradictory, given that this is an analysis of the absence of (at least some)feelings.

The observations/observances, the
poetry, the paintings interwoven with the skill of a true artist, were the equivalent of exclamation marks forcing our attention inwards to recognise/acknowledge our own singularity, whilst hankering for some perceived sameness. Great work, as usual.

I hope that your rather bald statement at the beginning of the relationship was enough to alert Ariel of the dangers that lay ahead...Doubt it tho...My guess...You broke her heart and that broke yours.

gingatao said...

Very precise and careful and well-made writing. Weaving the art into the story is really well done and adds depth and resonance. Great work.

Rina said...

Great writing. Sad story. What is your obsession, and what was it that made you pull away? Do you still love her, or just regret the loss?

RinaMonte (on Twitter)

Kelvin Oliver said...

Since I am experienced in being in a relationship with someone, I will still say that I enjoyed reading this post. It was a warm story of reflections and thoughts on a relationship. Not many people will actually think about the past but rather keep the dating train moving. Some thing unique I also thought about is the way you seem to coporate the story of your relationship with your ex and different pieces of art paintings.

Kelvin Oliver said...

Correction: "Since I am not in experienced...." is what the beginning of my comment should say.

GreatBigBadger said...

I spent six years trying to maintain a head-over-heels relationship, which my lover had righted herself from some while before me.

I slipped into my current relationship more gently and its bounced along naturally without either of us having to force any feelings.

We celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary yesterday with a walk through the wood and a chinese takeaway on the beach of a tiny cove. We watched the water-skiers, skipped stones and explored an old boathouse til it was almost too dark to see our way home.

I sometimes think too much self-examination can get in the way of going with it and living.

Sol y Luna said...

Eww! Eww! This one is GOOD, real good. Perfectly paced, succinct, evocative! Well done.


Lethe said...

Thank you everyone for you generous support of the Blog of Innocence. Your comments are an important part of my articles and essays.

@trewz thank you!

@V thanks for sharing . . . admitting to love is also very difficult. I dont know if this was the case with me, but its certainly possible.

@savedR Thank you. And that is good advice. I would like to only settle for the best when it comes to love.

@Odin The head over heels may be a delusion but its a biological one!

@Kira Yes, to be on the other side of this drama is no fun. I know my ex suffered greatly from my shenanigans.

@Showeda Wow, you have a gift for summation. "You broke her heart and that broke yours." Wisely put, well articulated.

@gingatao Thank you. I love the craft of writing, Im always exploring possible ways to present the material.

@Rina My obsession was that I didnt love her, and I was obsessed with thinking about that I didnt love her, to the point that it probably interfered with me loving her.

@Kelvin Thank you and thank you for being such a devoted follower of the Blog of Innocence. I knew what you meant. Yes, I think a lot about my relationships with people; these thoughts become a part of my narrative.

@Great Big Youre absolutely right! I do analyze relationships too much. I examine everything; its a blessing and a curse. As you say, there comes a point, when life must simply be lived and not thought about or talked about.

@Rhonda Thank you!

Thanks again everyone . . .

Betsy S. Franz said...

This is a beautiful essay but Im not sure I agree with the premise. Sometimes love starts out slow and it takes awhile before you get that head over heels feeling. Ive been with my husband for over ten years and the feeling is stronger than ever. Stronger than I ever thought it would be. Scary strong. But I didnt feel that at first with him. It grew, over time.

Robin said...

The emptiness that you feel is also a part of you.Its a part that you would like to explore on your own. And that is how one evolves as a person. In most probability, Ariel did not understand that part of you.Self exploration is an individualistic experience and there are no companions on this journey.

Being and Quirkiness said...

Nicely written. The problem when you fall in love, is that you must later pick yourself up. Love should be, in the last analysis, what remains when there is no emotion left.

Five Foot Nothing said...

Beautifully written Lethe. Its always honest and thoughtful.

onlynoor said...

WOW!!!!!! very well written. I really enjoy your style of writing, its interesting, yet to the point. But do you regret any of your actions now? Like looking back, do you wish you acted differently?

Lethe said...


I rarely regret things in life, and I never regret my feelings; I loved Ariel but was not in love with her.

Right now, Im single and she has a boyfriend who is in love with her. It would be nice for me to meet someone, but at the very least Im happy for her.


maria.magdalena.manea said...

can i ask you what is the difference you see between being in love with someone and loving that person?
as for Ariel, is she aware of this article? I think shed consider herself lucky upon reading the text from above.

and if you have succeeded to feel happy for her despite your feelings or, should I say, by virtue of these feelings, thats great.

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