Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Friday, March 10, 2006

More Night Thoughts

What I hope will be my last word on this subject for awhile:

It occurs to me, as I ponder, Job-like, the injustice of the universe that has robbed me of love and companionship that, unlike poor Job, I actually have a single, grim little piece of comfort--I can at least know why I'm alone right now. Because, to a great extent, I deserve to be. To wit:

I'm not especially loveable. Or indeed, even moderately so. Or indeed, even slightly so. I am, in fact, quite unloveable.

I don't say this out of false modesty, or self-pity, or out of some depression-induced sense of self-loathing. I don't think I'm a bad person, or a hateful one. I'm not. But to be loved--to be worthy of being loved--one has to be exceptional in a certain way, a way in which I'm not exceptional at all.

What way, you ask. Well, give me moment--it's hard to articulate and I've been drinking. (More red wine, which suggests that perhaps I am acting out of self-loathing, only I'm drinking from my parents' cellar, which means it's good red wine, so back off.)

In order to be loveable, one must be capable of love oneself, yes? And I wonder, sometimes, whether or not I am. In any meaningful sense. Meaningful? Yes, in the sense of being giving. Not just giving--happily giving. Because my greatest fault--and I have many--is that I'm terribly selfish. It really is all about me, when it comes right down to it. Don't get me wrong, I don't want other people hurt, and I care if they are, but mostly--almost entirely--when I act in a good and kind way, I do so because I like being thought of as good and kind. Hobbes, of course, would say that that's what we all do--that we act virtuously out of enlightened self-interest. Freud would agree--hell, even Christ suggests that the basis of morality is "Do as you would be done by"--be good and you increase the odds that others will be good to you. And perhaps love operates like that. Perhaps, somehow, one has to force oneself outside of one's self and into the wants and needs of others because those wants and need matter more. I think of Dickens's Marley describing the duty of humanity : "It is required of every man...that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death." Spirit going forth--that's love, isn't it?

I don't seem to have that. Not with any kind of dependability. Get me in the right mood--on the right day, and sure, I'm tender and self-sacrificing, and so on. Romantic, even. But mostly? Mostly, there's something in me that--pulls back from it. From feeling bad when the person I'm with feels bad--from confrontations where I'll have to hear what I don't want to hear about myself--from being genuinely open and being found wanting. Why, I don't know. Afraid of being hurt? Simple, childish, foot-stomping me-first-ness? Maybe--though the one's cowardly and the other's contemptible. Whatever the reason, though, if you can't be giving--if you can't be adoringly giving on a consistent basis--do you deserve to be loved? I don't think so. And that means that I don't, doesn't it? For all of my ability to be charming, and patient, and kind--and I've got those, I really do--I think that I'm too selfish to deserve love. I think that I place myself first too often, too easily. And I don't deserve to be loved, then.

Sigh. Now that's depressing.


Blogger Jehanus Bleak said...

This entry deserves only one response, and that is, "Bull****!" I've known you since before the Internet, when mastodons still roamed La Brea, and the walk to and from school was uphill through snowdrifts both ways. Yes, you've always been a royal pain in the posterior, but then so have the rest of us vermin; that's part of the admission price to the human condition. On the other hand, you also possess a talent and imagination that few can match. Where women are concerned, those gifts translate into future earning potential. That none of them can connect the dots just now says little about the future. Besides, studies show that people consistently overrate the amount of control they can exert over their fate, and tend to see "patterns" in randomness. Who can justify the claim that anyone gets what he or she "deserves?" Wait a while, and the wheel of fortune, which certainly has run you over of late, may yet drop what you seek in your lap. You admit that you are capable of kindness and politeness; practicing these skills with determination and persistence is the greatest "love" that one can show another. Perhaps the next time that opportunity allows, you may decide to treat a special lady this way more often than before. Perhaps not. That end of the relationship is up to you. The rest is a roll of the dice. More or less the same can be said about career, and to some extent about health. However, the biostatisticians assure us that, despite the wonderful anitoxidant properties of red wine, more than a glass or two a day can throw off the biggest longevity jackpot. Take care of yourself, old friend. Whatever cards you are dealt, the numbers show that a healthy...or healthiER...approach to diet and exercise pays off in the long run. And if you, as I, hope to win the lottery of love, it will be necessary to play long enough for the lucky number to show up.

3:09 AM  
Blogger Janet said...

This post sounded very familiar to me.


9:08 AM  
Anonymous Michele said...

. . . but i love you . . .

9:38 AM  
Blogger Yr. Hmbl. & Obdt. said...

JB--Thanks, I'll ponder your response. Always nice to have an experienced second opinion.

Janet--Oddly enough, Ms. O'Hara occurred to me as an example of the sort of emotionally selfish person I am--though I rarely--*rarely*--use the expression "Fiddle-dee-dee."

Michele--Thanks, but you want to stay clear of me. I'm bad news. Damaged goods. No good for you, no good for anyone. I'm...nope, I've run out of cliches. But thanks.

10:51 AM  
Anonymous Beatrice said...

But I love you. And I'm even worse news than you are.

1:50 PM  
Anonymous Katie said...

Well, those who have commented before me have articulated the appropriate responses. So it works out that my comment comes late! I do like to write though, so I'm commenting anyway.

I think giving - or any loving thing - is done with a nod to selfishness. I like the way it makes me feel, remembering people who have made me bask in being special and important, and the hope that someday someone (not necessarily the person who receives my love in that moment, but someone at some point) will be compelled to return such displays of love.

Where JB's 'bullshit' comment rings particularly true is that you don't seem to be particularly selfish or awful. Since he knows you, his opinion must carry more value than mine, but I'm pretty sure I'm right here too. So I'm putting some of your thoughts into the 'too much wine during a late night without company' category and hope you can do the same. Give yourself a break, Dryden. Maybe nobody deserves one, or perhaps all of us do. Either way, I'd say that it's nearly certain you'll find love again.

Of course, at that point I'll be forced to roll my eyes at your giddy blog posts where you poetically describe the wonder that is happiness, so there's always a price to pay.

2:01 PM  
Blogger La Lecturess said...

I'll second everyone else here by saying: goddamn it, man; who DESERVES anything? And indeed, aren't the most worthless, arrogant so-and-sos the ones most often showered with affection--while the kind, all-loving, all-suffering types wind up...well, all-suffering? Life isn't fair and relationship aren't equal, and those who love us love us in spite of all the truly nasty and terrible and disagreeable things about us. Even if all you have to offer is what you claim--the ability, sometimes, to be charming and kind and patient--well, that's enough, really.

Remember that legend inscribed on all investment funds: "past performance is no guarantee of future results"? Learn it and live it.

"Though justice be thy plea, consider this:/That in the course of justice, none of us/Should see salvation."

For "justice," replace "desert," and for "salvation," "love," "happiness," or what you will.

7:42 PM  
Blogger Yr. Hmbl. & Obdt. said...

Hmmm. "Who DESERVES anything?" is a little too nihilistic (maybe Nietzschean) for me. I think that people *do* deserve things--perhaps it's hard to quantify such matters--perhaps it's easier to mete out punishments rather than rewards. But surely if one *cannot* love--not in any *genuine* sense--then one shouldn't be loved in a genuine sense, since--I don't know, let's apply an economy of emotion here--there isn't a fair exchange. (furrows brow) I'm not sure--I'm hitting my head against the fact that I may not be smart enough to articulate this properly. Well, or at least, to do so in a way that isn't totally boring. Wait, I've already passed that point, haven't I? Damn.

Katie--Here's hoping that your eye-rolling is in the near-future.

Beatrice--you're *not* worse news than I am. You're very very good news indeed--"the cancer is benign *and* you've won the lottery" kind of good news. I, on the other hand, am "you just got fired and the vet called to say that Trixie's condition is inoperable." Big difference...

10:39 PM  
Blogger ArticulateDad said...

Dryden, you make me laugh... and that is pretty good. All your friends here have said what needs being said. The only thing I'll add (and I know I'm late to the table... I've been, uh, busy...), I once described love as a mirror. I like the image. It means, when someone loves you, they serve as a mirror to you, reflecting all your worthies as well as your faults. The trick is allowing yourself to become their mirror as well.

It's never smooth sailing (even after more than 8 years of marriage). But it can be worth it.

11:44 AM  

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