Alone Together

A friend of mine and I have a sort of informal book club, in which we occasionally happen to be reading the same books, and then we talk about them. Lately he’s been on a kick of reading books from around the ’20s, and we both finished reading Tender is the Night at around the same time, so last night we had the following exchange:

meloukhia: I finished Tender is the Night
Friend: was it not really really depressing
meloukhia: I wasn’t as depressed by it as you were, I think.
Friend: ah
meloukhia: Maybe I just have fundamentally less faith in humanity
Friend: well it depressed the shit out of me
meloukhia: I mean, I’m not saying that it was uplifting or anything.
Friend: well that or you have less of an ideal of true love
meloukhia: Oh, yeah, that is actually a really good point.
meloukhia: I’ve been noticing lately that people keep recommending books with love as a central theme and I just don’t enjoy them as much as they think I should.
meloukhia: It was still good, though.

And then we talked some more about other themes in the book, and Fitzgerald’s penchant for corrupting beautiful, innocent young women, but the conversation got me thinking.

I realized last night that I don’t believe in true love. He definitely does, and it’s interesting to talk with him about love and relationships because I tend to view these things in terms of biological imperatives, pheromones, and psychology. Like all animals, we are programmed to want to perpetuate our own species, and while we happen to be biologically organized in a way that makes this fun, fundamentally, for me, this is all about biology and it has nothing to do with “love” except in the sense of love as a chemical imbalance. Maybe you do believe in love, in which case you probably reject the idea of sexual attraction as a chemical thing, and you prefer to imagine that people magically meet their complementary souls and then ride off into the sunset together. Or maybe you think think there’s a bit of brain chemistry and a bit of the ineffable power of love or some such nonsense.

I don’t think I’ve ever really admitted my lack of faith in love before, although I may have made passing jokes about it. But I really don’t believe in it. I don’t think that everyone has a soul mate, and I don’t believe that there’s some sort of indescribable force which governs human relationships. It’s all in the way your neurons fire. I’ve been living a very solitary life lately, and I’ve found that I deeply enjoy it. I sometimes go for several days without interacting with another person, and I have found that I like life this way. It’s clean, well organized, and far less complicated. I don’t want to share my life with anybody at the moment, and sometimes I think that hermitage really is a way of life for me.

I’ve never really wanted to share with anyone, so I suppose the fans of true love will say that I just haven’t found the right person yet. That someday I will be walking down the street and I will see the person of my dreams, the 100% perfect girl (or boy). But I don’t think I will, because the 100% perfect person for me is myself, is solitude and sitting on the porch in the rain in my pajamas. Maybe I like to be alone because I’m wired that way, and other people seek “love” because their brains tell them to, because this state is most likely to result in more little humans crowding our sick and poisoned planet.

As I found from our brief conversation, my cynicism appears to be ruining my ability to enjoy classic literature. So much literature is about love and human relationships that I often find it hard to relate to books that other people really enjoy. And perhaps this explains my dislike of entire generations of authors and novels; it’s not that they’re bad books, it’s just that they deal with concepts which are totally alien to me. I get that other people love, or at least think that they are in love, and that’s dandy for them. But I do wish they would stop writing about it so that I could settle down and enjoy a nice novel more often.

Instead, I read a lot of nonfiction, or very strange fiction. I like books like Some Prefer Nettles which are all about corruption and evil, two human things I do understand. I like eccentric short stories. I don’t even mind a bit of lust now and then, especially when it’s cold and calculated. Mystery novels ain’t half bad either.

We live in a society which is very focused on pairing us off, like the animals on the ark. A solitary state is alien, while a paired state is natural. This certainly makes sense biologically, but it makes people like me feel as though we live in the twilight zone. It reaches into so many strange aspects of our lives, like the security questions my bank wants me to fill out so that I can prove I’m me. In one of their list of choices of questions, none of the questions applied to me. They were all things like “What is your oldest child’s name?” and “What is your husband’s name?” I literally could not answer any of the questions, so I had to make up an answer to one of them which I will hopefully remember when the bank challenges me as to my identity.

How strange to think that my identity should be intertwined with someone else, that other people are apparently ok with being defined by the people around them, rather than themselves.