I wrote this under a different name in a different place in a different publication. And still, it’s the same. You have to find joy.
“Love, far from being blind, is the very emotion that allows us to see,” writes Cristina Nehring in her new book, A Vindication of Love (Harper 2009). In her opening chapter, Nehring argues that “[i]t is the only state of mind in which one is entirely and uncompromisingly open to another person.” She reclaims the countermovement: Love is wise. But are the two incompatible? Isn’t “love is blind,” short for “I see past your shortcomings to your true and lovable self?” I fear the author’s hook—an attack of a proverb—begins with mere tautology. Because to me, love is at once blind and wise.
With enchanting language, Nehring asks, “Why is it that we so often see people differently—and more darkly—after passion has passed? Could it be not because our vision improves after the fog of infatuation clears, but—for the opposite reason—because it deteriorates?” She answers her own questions several paragraphs later: “What happens when we cease to love is that we return to the world of surfaces and stereotypes.”
I don’t disagree, wholly. When love is strong and new, we are engaged with the world in hyperdrive. We read more, create more, exercise more, fuck more, grow more. And because it is new, and the attachment fresh, we forgive or even find charming the small idiosyncrasies (may I say turn a blind eye to them?) that would chafe if anyone else performed the same act.
Adam would be down to his last dollar and still buy the fancy Italian tuna in olive oil. No Bumble Bee for him, he was making tonnato sauce to accompany grilled swordfish. Forget Starkist. Not that he could even afford swordfish. I paid for it. As I paid for most our meals, when just plain salt, just plain mustard, just plain olive oil wouldn’t do. He was an excellent cook, he made each meal romantic and so, of course, I found his incessant overspending charming.
We do see the deeper person, the potential of that inner person, the reflection of our better self even. And this allows us to surf over the waves of dysfunction that lurk underneath.
On those nights, I would be his loving sous chef and we would prepare course after course at our own pace. Figs dressed with goat cheese and aged balsamic followed by sex on the kitchen floor. Spring pea soup with a dollop of crème fraiche, diver scallops seared and served over wilted escarole followed by dancing to Sinatra’s I’ve Got the World on a String. And then there was dessert, often cheese and nuts, sometimes a panna cotta. I saw his inner creative and nurturing soul, the person he wanted to be. And in that I saw the reflection of the kinder, softer person I could be.
This is wise, but it is a form of blindness nonetheless. And when the love fades—what does Nehring mean? Love, the urgent kind she speaks of, fades and one of two things happen: Urgent love fades and evolves into something more beautiful. Life is no longer in hyperdrive—we are refocused on the nitty-gritty and not creating as much, not exercising as much and not fucking as much. But a deeper honesty—a deeper intimacy—is achieved because the now annoying idiosyncrasies get addressed (put the toilet seat down, avoid the beans before bed), the dysfunctions faced, and ultimately more personal growth achieved. This second phase of love, to me, is the truest love. This is the deeper connection.
After five years living together and managing the financial turbulence of two freelance careers, his nose turned up at vegetables in a marina sauce for a cheap one-pot meal was no longer charming. It was annoying. This wasn’t love fading, this was me seeing past the romantic gesture to the dysfunction underneath. We talked. I understood what fine cooking meant to him after a childhood eating powdered mashed potatoes and sterile casseroles, how meditative cooking was for him, how he liked to nurture me. We adjusted our budget to spend more on food and he became more economical. We grew closer, more intimate. And who knew you could braise ever-economical sausage and sauerkraut to gourmet levels? Just add the juniper berries.
The other option is that love fades, hearts are broken, and grief ensues. To love again, a necessary refocusing takes place. A return to the surface with this person becomes necessary to break the attachment and move forward.
Sure, I resist returning to a shallow stereotype of Adam. My loyal friends returned there quickly so I can feel protected and loved by them and still heal without scars. My oldest friend calls him an immature, despicable dickhead. My mother calls him an idiotic disappointment. I’ve found myself referring to him as the depressive. But I haven’t resorted to food snob. Nehring calls this a reassertion of blindness, but isn’t this reassertion just making a long story short? This seems necessary; otherwise, each introduction of Adam would be a treatise. I would have to discuss how much I love him still even though I am well on the road to healing. I would have to explain that despite his penchant for depression, withdrawal and general self-destructive tendencies, I am who I am because of Adam. For one, I am a much better cook. He is who he is because of me. We are a dysfunctional family. To me, that is not blindness reasserting itself; for even after love, it is both blind and wise.