August 17th, 2005


peaceful and lasting

William Hogarth, The Tête à Tête, No. 2 from the Marriage à la Mode series
    A month ago, you reminded me that you loved me and proposed the conditions for our peaceful and lasting marriage. Since then, we have had several conversations, wherein you underwent many reversals. Herewith my conclusion.
    You say that you respect and love my deep soul. You also complain that I am not good at dealing with reality. You have made these statements many times in the past. Neither of them gets us anywhere. As you agree, professions of love and respect cannot serve as a foundation for a family. Whereas your conditions for reforming my character are impossible to fulfill. My life plans are not well served by your injunction to behave normally. Catering to my social inclinations is less important to me that fulfilling my productive potential. I value attending to my existing relations over making new friends. I go about enjoying my leisure and indulding my aggression, as I see fit and as others require. Although I prefer to abstain from volunteering disparagement, I will not supplant it with flattery in response to solicitations of my complimentary opinions. I am better off without the company that falls by the wayside as a result of asking for and receiving a piece of my mind.
    Neither will I use rudeness and politeness as social crutches. The responsibilities that I cherish in attending to a friend or serving a client do not translate into an aptitude to flatter a boss. I believe in extending every courtesy to those whom I engage to serve me, and absolute contempt to those who would coopt me into unmerited service to them. I will not be a boor or a toady in order to cater to conventions. In order to work inside my head, I need peace and solitude far more than social approval. If that creates an intractable problem for you, we cannot live together. To take one example, my living arrangements are not as flexible as you wish. I prefer to stay in my house, even if that is not an essential requirement. I could rent it out and move into a smaller place. But I would never live in the conditions that you find so appealing. I have lived in many apartments. I have dealt with many landlords. I would sooner move into a trailer park than deal with either of these encumbrances. If you insist on your mate partaking of your relentless dedication to the lifestyle of a new immigrant, you should seek him in their midst.
    I disagree that money runs everything in the U.S. If that were the case, I would never have reached the far side of revenge against an adversary that exceeds my net worth a thousandfold. But by your own token, I have enough money to get most things that I want. I certainly have enough to create and sustain an environment for promoting a peaceful mind. I have no interest in hitching up with a woman, only to send her out to work on making and managing money. My family assets suffice to take care of things in any number of ways. If I need more money, I can earn it by writing, as I have done since I turned 19. I like working. I like helping others. I have no problem with doing it for money. On the other hand, I am not attracted to career women. I relate badly to worker bees resigned to vocational mediocrity. Least of all would I agree to delegate to my mate my duties to reshape and respond to reality and my authority over its choices and outcomes.
    You offer to take care of me, so that I take care of you. I do not regard this bargain as a good premiss for marriage. In fact, I do not accept any kind of bargaining as a good premiss for cordial relations. Its application to this end leaves them devoid of positive content. All that remains is the reliance on the penalties owed for its breach. Only lawyers and judges stand to benefit from this arrangement. Hooking up for good cannot originate in looking forward to the breakup. You cannot honor responsibility through avoiding penalties for its breach.
    My choice originates at the other end, in unconditional giving. Marriage is anything but a state of legal, moral, or physical freedom. It is not a mercantile exchange of benefits. It begins and ends in mutual surrender. Mutual aid is a consequence of this surrender. Its expectation is powerless to engender any human institution worth preserving in the face of adversity. If you insist on basing all your relations on a quid pro quo, if you must safeguard your basic human need against all compromise, you should never be married.
    Humans are not fit to emulate sympathetic musical strings vibrating in unison, or mountains arrayed in stately repose by each other’s side. We are rough, restless, and erratic. Our relationships cannot warrant taking any of their terms for granted. You seek to have your insecurities attended on demand. You yearn to be aloof whenever you need to come back to your senses. No one can secure your entitlement to such opportunities. You would be much better served by resolving your insecurities and refusing to get upset. The accommodations that you desire might find their fulfillment in hired help. But personal relationships cannot be governed by the norms of professional conduct. Intimacy is a constant gamble. Every so often, you will lose in your turn. In particular, the duties of parenthood stand at odds with your conditions for freedom and security. If it is so hurtful to your physical and mental health to be upset and nervous, to find yourself desperately struggling with a grown man, you are not prepared to have a child. You aborted your pregnancy in response to a row over a bowl of chicken soup. What would you do to your child upon finding it at fault for destroying something of real value? The hysterics that I absorb as an adult without further ado would break a minor forced to depend upon you in every important way. Your expectation of marital bonds cannot sustain the burdens of owning a dog.
    Your behavior reflects this deficiency. You seek my respect for your family even as you pursue your twisted fantasies about my relations. Perhaps we differ in this regard. I make jokes about everything. It is my way of coping with reality. Before promising my father on his deathbed that I would take care of my mother, I reproached him as a bad Jew, for entering the crematorium before passing through the gas chamber. You, on the other hand, appear to be dead serious in expressing your wish that my cousin would lose her husband so that I could marry her. Whether or not you mean what you say, what’s good for the goose, is good for the gander. Whatever happened between your parents in their marriage, appears to have left you as unfit as I am to familial pieties. Whether or not this condition leaves room for creating a happy family your own is another matter.
    You berate me for my fear factor and denounce my death wish. Make up your mind: either I am afraid of dying, or I choose death over life. In either case, I am what I am. I define my comfort, my vocation, and my security. I honor my duties to myself, my family, my friends, and my neighbors. I choose to go forth armed. My choice assumes my responsibility for others. I do not make it lightly. I understand that you are uncomfortable about that. You have expressed your misgivings for many of my choices and preferences. You know that I have accommodated you in many of them. But this one is non-negotiable. It is not amenable to personal delegation or dissolution through professional help. This country is founded upon the right to keep and bear arms. If you are uncomfortable with that, you should not be here.
    If you have a complaint about me, try it out on yourself first. If you must think about fears, consider your fear of responsibility. To date, you have failed to act on your commitments, both to stick around and to stay away. As with our affair, your first marriage culminated in the voiding of its issue. As with our affair, your marriage ended for reasons that remain unclear to its participants. As with our affair, both of you have expressed an interest in getting back together since your breakup. As with our affair, your gestures towards reconciliation came to nothing. Each breakup was anticlimactic. It is as if you put a greater value on your ability to destroy your bonds and annul your potential, than you find in sustaining a family and creating a life. Your habit of shrieking that you owe me nothing is as revealing in this regard, as is your refusal to spell out what you would owe to your child. I might take it on faith that some hitherto well hidden maternal instinct would forestall your child abuse. Still, I have every reason to expect your use of the child as a proxy for your resentment against its father.
    Your emotional explorations are a mystery to me. One way or another, they always seem to end up in revilement and recriminations. I have asked you many times to measure yourself against the accusations that you aim at me. You still fail to do so. How can you berate me for making myself into a victim, only to complain in the next breath of your difficulties in ridding yourself of me? By my count, this marriage proposal makes the fifth time that you come after me long after I have walked away. And yet you take no responsibility for sticking to any decision, for staying in one place long enough to make anything of yourself and your relations. I aim to arrange my life otherwise. Outside of commerce, I will not enter any relationship predicated on the anticipation of summary dissolution. I am sorry that your previous marriage has failed, but it is not my fault that it did. If I fail to play my part in any way, I will try to fail better on the next go around. I will not use this failure as a notch weakening my resolve to keep my family going. Surrender to circumstances is the option of last resort. I aim to avoid it in my lifetime. I am skeptical about no-fault divorce and favor the ideas behind covenant marriage. At any rate, it is impossible for me to advance to you the understanding that your will was good originally. Outside of binding commitment, all human motives are suspect. Everyone receives the benefit of the doubt early on, but with our history, it has been squandered many times over. Every time you shriek that you owe me nothing, every time you make it clear that this lack encompasses meaning and doing what you say, my presumption on your behalf swings the other way.
    You asked me why I kept talking to you after having described you as damaged goods. In the past, I have done so in response to your accounting of my faults. As I told you four weeks ago, and as I repeated today, I agreed with most points that you put forth. I am not easy company to keep. But two wrongs cannot make a right. My faults cannot prove your virtues. You have promised many times that you would see a psychiatrist. Do it for yourself, if you will not do it for anyone else. The facts of your inability to commit to any consistent position in our interactions, compounded by your avoidance of all planning for the future, should suffice to alert you to something having gone awry. Please do not deceive yourself in this regard by shifting focus to my alleged propensity to force you. You will always be forced by people and circumstances, as long as you continue to refuse to take charge of your life with a clear and undivided mind.
    I wanted to think highly of you. I wanted to overwhelm the memories of your malfunctions with living impressions of your kindness. I wanted to believe in your sincerity, your generosity, your dependability. I kept talking to you in the hope that our future actions towards each other would put both of us in the best light. I wanted to be able to account for all of the pain that we had caused each other in the past as the costs of two difficult people coming to terms with their indispensable contributions to each other. The only alternative to this interpretation was to discount our interactions as a succession of egotistic head games. As long as I refused to accept this assessment of my efforts to relate to you over the past three years, I preferred to withhold it in evaluating your past and present positions in their regard. But I am no longer hopeful of your helping me in this endeavor. You have lost my faith. From now on, you are on your own.