David Mitchell reads from his biography “Back Story” about how he found the love of his life.
"I didn’t want to break into another conversation, I wanted to stay in this one forever."
"It made me sad to describe myself as so sad."
Wow, this was heartbreaking. And unequivocally beautiful! Love stories! So great!
So many women, and thusly, men, have reduced me to being completely non-sexual; I am good for homo-social relationships only. I find it so hard to blame them for that assumption. Muslim women are seldom seen as anything other than oppressed. My friendships have become strained on the issue of my singleness: women will sympathetically extoll my virtues in an effort to prove me wrong. “You’ll see,” they’ll say, “There’s someone out there for everyone.” To me, that only sounds naïve.
I have to face the truth: I might never be with someone. I might never have a boyfriend, and I might never get married. I have never met a man who wanted to be with me. I am alone. I have to learn to be okay with being alone – no, with being single. Loneliness is okay once in a while, but being single is never okay. Because being single is not a value you have, but the net worth you own. And my net worth is only myself. No one has ever seen me as sexy: only as a capable, good-humored and worthwhile friend. In the end, I will add it onto my list of failures: I did not get into that Ivy League school I applied to, I did not write that book I meant to write, and I did not find someone to love me back. Not even for just a little while.
I have a fascination with couples and long-standing (or even temporary) relationships. I like to wonder and question and draw lives for other people, even people I know well, even people I could just put questions to for clarification. Maybe I don’t want the clarification. But this narrative building works best with utter strangers who lead public lives. Not public in the “celebrity” sense, but public in the sense that the information is there if you want it. Basically, people who “live on the Internet” and people who I read most about on the Internet. This is why I have spent hours voraciously scrolling through people’s Facebook albums, Flickr streams, Twitter feeds and most dangerously, old blogs.
I remember a couple I knew of, who used to host a tech-based show on a tech-based channel I used to watch (I’m keeping it anonymous because they live on the Internet and know about Google Alerts!). They broke up because B spent his savings on a business venture instead of a house or something like that, therefore A went and got married to co-host C. That first part I got from a magazine article. I Googled all three parties and found that A had a photo stream that was full of mobile uploads, and if you went from the newest additions to the oldest, you could see her new relationship with C devolving back into her old relationship with A. Smushed noses kissy pictures! It felt like reading someone’s diary.
That rush of the forbidden, the what-should-be-and-remain-unseen happens to me every time I find an unlocked Facebook account with no privacy settings, or find an archive as deep as a decade. It’s like an inner triumphant “A-ha!”
Last night I delved into the Livejournals of a new trio of A, B and C, the first two being creative types I admire and “follow”. The archives go back to 2003, from the tail end of A & B’s three year relationship (there was an allusion to a three year anniversary). I had been clicking through from newest to oldest, and was already up to 2006 - in the midst of B & C’s relationship - when I thought to go back to the very beginning. So I was like a two headed snake, devouring something to the very middle from both ends, where the end ended and the start started. Even later than that I thought to read C’s blog, and found an account of the first time she met B, in which she knew him as I did, from the Internet, in a collaborative partnership with A. “How awkward,” I thought. How much is A involved in B’s new relationship? They seem close, they work together quite heavily still, and seem to be good friends. I wonder about that. I wonder if they talk about it in secret chats both parties have agreed not to share. I wonder about how often C mentions B on her blog, and the relative reticence of A, with B in the middle. What does it all mean?
It’s not for me to know, I know this. And I don’t even get to know very much, for all the time I spend devouring these people’s written, discarded lives. You go through 50 posts for one mention of a name, and even that mention could be the most mundane thing but it’s all you get for the next 50 posts before there is another mention. You read in between, because in between is all there is. It’s like knowing that two authors had/have an intimate relationship, and reading both their works trying to find the other, trying to find the marks and references. It’s like reading Sylvia Plath next to Ted Hughes.
I know my fascination is not rooted solely in lives on the Internet, that it extends to my encounters with “flesh and blood people” of the “real world”. But it is an entirely different experience on the Internet, maybe because most of the people I am reading about are still very much alive, still writing their stories so it feels as if the past you dig up is ephemeral, nothing has yet been set in stone. A could still return to B. The love story could happen all over again for you who had been too late.
Under It All
He made me laugh every day, but he didn’t understand the deep, deep sorrow. I think he didn’t have any reference point for it. Either that, or he was just too scared to go there. He was my love and my only real friend, but those of us who have roots that go deep into the marshes, need at least some people around us who are mucked in too. Or who know how to dredge. Or who know how to build bridges. We need people who know. We get exhausted trying to explain.
— Cindy Crabb, Doris Twenty Seven
I’ve come to realize that I’ve lived almost my entire life doing what I wanted to do pretty much when I wanted to do it. Yes, I went to school, I held jobs and I followed most of the rules, but when I was on my own, at leisure, I was, as former President Bush famously said, the decider. If I wanted to go out, to take a walk, well, that’s what I decided to do: I grabbed my coat and I left, right then. If I felt hungry, I ate. If I needed to go to the bathroom, I went. I mean, why ever delay? And yet I never, in all those years, thought of myself as intrinsically selfish. This is not like the selfishness of the uncharitable miser or the greed of the money-grubber. This is a kind of invisible, existential selfishness. I wrestle with this still, from time to time, and so I have no real wisdom to offer, except to say that there are many varieties of love, and one that I’m learning is this: love is when you feed yourself not when you feel hunger, but after everyone else has eaten.
Love is hourly, too. There are stories about people who have loved someone forever after laying eyes on them for a few minutes and then nevermore, but these stories have not happened to anyone we know. No, when you love someone you spend hours and hours with them, and even the mightiest forces in the netherworld could not say whether the hours you spend increase your love or if you simply spend more hours with someone as your love increases. And when the love is over, when the diner of love seems closed from the outside, you want those all those hours back, along with anything you left at the lover’s house and maybe a couple of things which aren’t technically yours on the grounds that you wasted a portion of your life and those hours have all gone southside. Nobody can make this better, it seems, nothing on the menu. It’s like what the stewardess offers, even in first class. They come with towels, with drinks, mints, but they never say, “Here’s the five hours we took from you when you flew across the country to New York to live with your boyfriend and then one day he got in a taxicab and he never came back, and also you flew back, another five hours, to San Francisco, just in time for a catastrophe.”
from Adverbs by Daniel Handler
Watching Marianne’s near-death scene (lovesickness, fever) in Sense and Sensibility, I wondered why I was so pierced, and so desolated, when Elinor addresses her sister as, simply, “my dearest”. We are moved because the endearment is literally true - and may well remain true, for life. For the unmarried, no reconfiguration awaits the pattern of their love; their nearest are their dearest, and that is the end of it.