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Posts Tagged ‘relationships’

I find this passage from Arianna Huffington’s old article “Bernard Levin remembered” rather poignant for several  reasons. The italics are mine.

We started a relationship which was to last until the end of 1980, when I left London to move to New York. And he was, in many ways, the reason I left London. I was by then 30, still deeply in love with him, but longing to have children. He, on the other hand, never wanted to get married or have children. What was touching is that he saw this not as a badge of independence and freedom but as a character flaw, almost a handicap. As he wrote in 1983 in his book “Enthusiasms”, which he movingly dedicated to me even though we were no longer together: “What fear of revealing, of vulnerability, of being human, grips us so fiercely, and above all why? What is it that, down there in the darkness of the psyche, cries its silent No to the longing for Yes?” It was a No that often coincided with retreating into depression — the “black dog” that he described as “that dark lair where the sick soul’s desire for solitude turns into misanthropy.”

The whole article is in fact extremely touching, as I suspect such things often are. Read it.

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I know I haven’t posted in a fair while.

It’s been a busy time. I finished writing up my thesis and defended last Monday. Then there was a whirlwind trip to Zurich and Milan over the last four days. The next month I will be busy wrapping some things around here; also my mom will be here for my commencement.

Plans for the summer include plenty of reading and writing — I intend to write a series of posts on morality, rationality and political philosophy: in some sense it will be a long explanation of what I really mean when I say I am a libertarian. I might also go for a solo drive across the US, and stop over at campsites and cities, mountains and forests. From storm-chasing in Denver to hiking in Montana — let’s see!

Then, some time in August, I’ll cross the ocean and begin life in a new continent.

While on the flight back from Zurich on Friday I saw two movies — each for the second time — that I had copied on to my mp3/video player. They were Annie Hall and Before Sunset. I wanted to share this small passage from Before Sunset.

I mean, I always feel like a freak because I’m never able to move on like… this! You know, people just have an affair, or even entire relationships… they break up and they forget. They move on like they would have changed a brand of cereals.

I feel I was never able to forget anyone I’ve been with. Because each person have…you know, specific details. You can never replace anyone. What is lost is lost.

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When I walked out of the bathroom, she was still singing the same tune. She had been singing it on and off for the past several days. The song was now stuck in my head. I loved the song and loved her singing it.

A thought struck me.

“You know what, I just realized something.”

“What?”

“I have started subconsciously associating this song with you. I think that whenever I hear it again, I am going to remember you. It could be someone else singing it, it could be years in the future — I don’t think I can ever hear it without thinking of you.”

“Well, that’s nice.”

She smiled beautifully as I shook my head in only half-mock desperation. There was a long kiss.

She slapped my butt playfully. Her lips pursed. “Off you go,” she said.

I walked out of her apartment and made my way back to mine. Somewhere in the middle, I stopped momentarily to let the song play clearly in my head and felt the association stronger than ever. It was a weird sensation; painfully pleasurable with notes of utter beauty and tragic sadness. But then, I am sure I have been through this with other people before.

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“When did you see it last?” he asked his girl.

“I don’t know,” she wailed. “It was on me when I walked into the restaurant.”

She looked so sad, and her eyes were so large and ready to cry that his insides dissolved in a burst of affection. This led to kisses being exchanged and tender words spoken. When all was done, they commenced a search of the floor and the handbag. She went into the bathroom to see if she had dropped them there. Unfortunately, the ear rings were nowhere to be seen.

“It doesn’t matter sweetie, I will get you another one. I’ll get you one that’s exactly the same.”

His reasoning seemed to have little effect; she continued behaving in a manner that suggested she had lost something irreplaceable. He puzzled for a second over this and whatever he inferred made him strangely happy.

***

Their romance stabilized and their entanglement got more intense every month. They were similar in a way no two people ever had been and he truly believed they could realize this miracle. Slowly, he came to think of her as an extension of himself. The smallest differences drove him mad. They vowed to each other, “Your smallest whim will be more important to me than the combined power of the rest of the universe.” She used to write to him, “I could lose anything but you, or math that is; the things in life I’ve chosen are those which give me that extra something. I think I know how special it is. The colors, the hues, the shades, they are different for us. Richer… special… the whole tone…”

***

But exactly nine months after he had gotten her the ear ring and eight after she had lost it, they broke up. For many months after that, he could not think of the loss without an accompanying pain in his chest. The pain was physical and asphyxiating, like being constricted by a giant python. It intrigued him that his memories could affect him so physically. Sometimes he would think of her just to trigger the reaction. It was like taking part in a controlled experiment where he was master, slave and observer.

What he had less control over were his dreams. They were all variations of a common theme in which she would appear and tell him that everything had been a massive joke. She had never really wanted to break up with him, she said, merely to punish him for hurting her.

“So, none of the things you told me that morning are true?” he asked, full of amazement.

“Of course they are not, dearest.”

“So nothing is true? You did not … nothing happened?”

“You really think I would betray you, baby? It was just a crazy scheme I cooked up because I thought I was getting tired of you. But.”

“But…” he whispered.

“I want you. I cannot live without you. Will you take me back?”

He did not reply. He was crying for the first time in many years, for the full import of her revelation had finally hit him. She hadn’t disobeyed him; she hadn’t decided that the thread with which he controlled and loved her obsessively needed to be snapped. None of the events that had led to the break-up were real; everything had just been a long, arduous test which he had finally passed. Yet, she knew from his expression, and he knew that she knew, that they had forgiven each other, that his tears were out of joy too immense to contain.

This was when the dream usually ended and he woke up violently to see the harsh sunlight flooding his bedroom.

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Certain events reminded me

of this funniness I once wrote.

So I called up K —  he told me

of she he was with no more;

So I asked him about the circles

And he said he’d come a full circle.

For some reason that makes me  sad.

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Conversations, news and movies inform me that it is pretty common for a person to say bad things about his or her ex. I have always found that practice mystifyingly alien. It is not that I necessarily have any moral objection to saying such things; just that I cannot ever imagine myself doing it.

A part of this attitude has probably to do with my general distate to voicing private matters in public, even to close friends. But a lot of it also has to do with pride and self-respect; it seems to me that it is impossible to say really bad things about someone you were close to for an extended period of time in the past without disrespecting yourself. How can you today badmouth someone you loved and respected in the past without implying that your judgment, taste — in a sense your entire existence then — was in some fundamental way flawed or false? I mean I see that people can feel pretty strong negative emotions after a bad break-up but still… I simply don’t get it. I don’t think I can ever publicly put down or even strongly criticize anyone I had been together with for a reasonable period of time; however acrimonious the break-up, however hurt I were in the process. Maybe I am just weird in this way.

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Having a Wall Street boyfriend isn’t as attractive when there is a financial crisis.

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(Post updated)

In my earlier post on this theme, I expressed my opposition to using coercive legal means to advance social goals and my moral abhorrence for laws which censor expression, ban consensual behavior or limit freedom of association. I wrote:

Any rational system of morality that makes the basic libertarian distinction between the personal and the political must conclude that laws [which restrict individual liberty] are immoral.

To give another side of the issue, I am also surprised when people think that it is ‘unlibertarian’ to attempt to modify other people’s behavior — for good or bad — through non-coercive means. A controlling husband who does not want his wife to dance with other men, a guy who ‘makes’  his girlfriend eat healthy foods, a friend who tries to emotionally pressurize you to give up smoking or a lover who makes you give up something you love as a precondition of being with you are not in any way violating the non-aggression principle. Such behavior can be sensible or irrational, helpful or counter-productive but as long as they do not involve actual coercion, they are neither libertarian nor unlibertarian.

Let me focus on the cases when the controlling behavior is generally seen as bad or unfair. In those examples, the offending party may not often act in an understanding or considerate manner. However they certainly have the right to be inconsiderate. I most definitely have the right to demand that my partner do things in a certain way. The partner also has the right to refuse. At that point, each of us has the right to suggest a compromise, let the other’s wish prevail or end the relationship. As a general principle, I think such controlling behavior is a terrible idea because even if the other person acts as you wish, she will usually resent it and if you do it often enough, end the relationship with you. However, simply because an idea is terrible does not mean it violates another’s liberty. When private, consensual relationships are involved, everyone has the right to stay in it strictly on their terms.

For instance I would never date a deeply religious person. I would also prefer that my partner’s tastes and convictions are compatible with mine. I might attempt to persuade her to do things in a certain way if they are important to me, even if those things are essentially her personal matter. If the matter is core and non-negotiable, I would even make it clear that we cannot be together if she does not change. These actions may or may not be the best thing for the relationship but they certainly are a natural consequence of my liberty to live my life (which includes my associations and relationships) on the exact terms I wish.

Libertarianism deals with the legal and the political. The meme that it also governs one’s behavior in a purely social or personal setting  is misguided and display a lack of understanding of the underlying philosophical principles. That is not to say that social and personal behavior is not important or that the pros and cons of a particular kind of behavior should not be discussed; merely that such discussions (or any ethics/principles underlying it) are distinct from the principles that underlie individual liberty. Using pressure and emotional leverage to make a friend change his behavior is fundamentally different from having a law that mandates this behavior change. Social pressure is on an entirely different plane from legal coercion. Friendships, marriages and relationships can be ended by either party for any reason, rational or irrational; an oppressive law can never be escaped from.

The personal is not the political. Period.

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According to this article, Iceland has the happiest people on the planet:

Highest birth rate in Europe + highest divorce rate + highest percentage of women working outside the home = the best country in the world in which to live. There has to be something wrong with this equation. Put those three factors together – loads of children, broken homes, absent mothers – and what you have, surely, is a recipe for misery and social chaos. But no. Iceland, the block of sub-Arctic lava to which these statistics apply, tops the latest table of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index rankings, meaning that as a society and as an economy – in terms of wealth, health and education – they are champions of the world. To which one might respond: Yes, but – what with the dark winters and the far from tropical summers – are Icelanders happy? Actually, in so far as one can reliably measure such things, they are. According to a seemingly serious academic study reported in the Guardian in 2006, Icelanders are the happiest people on earth.

The reason perhaps, is the social freedom that is intrinsic to that country.

‘That is not something to be proud of,’ said Oddny, with a brisk smile, ‘but the fact is that Icelanders don’t stay in lousy relationships. They just leave.’ And the reason they can do so is that society, starting with the parents and grandparents, does not stigmatise them for making that choice. Icelanders are the least hung-up people in the world.

But equally important is the high economic freedom, at least when compared to the rest of Europe:

‘I believe we have blended the best of Europe and the United States here, the Nordic welfare system with the American entrepreneurial spirit,’ he said, pointing out that Iceland, unlike the other Nordic countries, had exceptionally low personal and corporate tax rates. ‘This has meant not only that Icelandic companies stay and foreign ones come, but that we have increased by 20 per cent our tax revenue owing to increased turnover.’

Among other facts I dug up about Iceland, prostitution is legal in that country. Opium, unfortunately, is not, but then, Netherlands isn’t too far from there!

I am not trying to suggest that Iceland is a libertarian paradise. It falls short in some important areas, such as labor regulations. However there is a genuine case that all things considered, it may be closer to the libertarian ideal than any place else.

(Link via India Uncut)

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Rummaging through my old emails, I found this passage, from an email I wrote to someone three years and six months ago.

There are so many things that are close to you at some point of time. People who were important in your life or just friends ; and then there are surroundings and places. They become part of your everyday existence — in a way sharing your joys and sorrows, and then when you move to a different place, or circumstances change, or maybe you stop loving someone, all of these people and things diminish in importance. You get new friends, new surroundings, and though you might keep in contact with your old friends, its not the same really, is it?

I suppose it is all very natural and obvious — to be happy one needs to do precisely this — move on when necessary. It is inevitable that things change and indeed I have never really bothered about that fact. But just now, as I was reading my French textbook, one of my office-mates started playing these old Hindi songs on the computer, and you know how associations are — they made me think about India and people I have left behind, people who were so important to me at one point of time, *****, *******, ********* … ISI, Bangalore, Calcutta, home; and then for a second it struck as something unbelievably monstrous that such things too can change!

Change is such a weird thing! It is beautiful, wonderful, exciting; and it is certainly irresistible and inevitable. But five minutes ago it seemed to me, for those fleeting seconds, as something tragic, something purely and unbelievably tragic.

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