I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius,
The more you beat me, I will fawn on you:
Use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me,
Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave,
Unworthy as I am, to follow you.
What worser place can I beg in your love,–
And yet a place of high respect with me,–
Than to be used as you use your dog?
~Helena, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 2, Scene 1
In that scene, in that speech, Helena is everything I do not want to be. I do not want to be a dog, yearning and devoted, staring hopefully after an indifferent person. The most surprising aspect of breaking up with my girlfriend is not the sadness and the sense of loss, which I expected, but the accompanying sense of humiliation and shame.
Someone linked me to a post, “Where Are Your Fucking Values?” which brought up these salient questions:
“Why would you ever put effort into seeing someone who has demonstrated they don’t want to see you? Why on earth would you ever make time for someone who is unwilling to make time for you?”
This is what I have been trying to do for the last month: Pick self up, go out, date people who give a fuck. The particulars of this included a hookup at BDSM club, an expansive review of online dating sites, and steady attempts to chat up my writerly community via social media. I also wrote goals, lists of daily achievements to give myself confidence, which ran the gamut from daily exercise to imagining what I wanted my life to be like in a few years from now.
It didn’t work. It didn’t work. It didn’t work. “Your cat exploded,” I told myself. “Make good art.” I wrote badly and slowly, crying much of the time. I had intended summer to be for writing, and I blew it.
I was angry with myself. As far as I could tell, my ex had barely been thrown off her stride, while my thoughts circled relentlessly back to her, and I could not focus on my friends or my work. Where are your fucking values, Alex?
This is where it gets complicated. Admitting that I need people has never been a strong point of mine. I had come to an understanding with myself, I think, that I did need people, but people in general rather than people in specific. To wit, I have friends. If one friend is unavailable, I can talk to another friend, no sweat. Spread out your needs over a group, and you won’t ever starve. This isn’t a bad idea until you think about the implications for respecting the individuality of your friends.
When I fell in love, it was not in general. I wanted my girlfriend specifically, not a different girlfriend and not a friend: her. I was terrified. I told my fear to shut up, and I went for it.
When our relationship fell apart, I was ashamed. My thoughts were an endless loop of loathing. I was ashamed that I had been so careless as to end up needing her, just her, and still more ashamed that I could not stop myself from wanting her to come back. I was ashamed that my judgment had been so lacking; I should have seen disinterest for what it was, and I should have known better. I did not chase her after we broke up, but I felt like a dog.
Some of this I can contradict: there was a genuine connection, and those things snap back in your face like bungee cords when one person lets go. I was right not to play a game of “Who will let go first?” I was right to take risks for someone I cared about.
The hardest part is still loving her; the hardest part is that touch of spaniel in my heart. I think I must shift from despising this to valuing it. The capacity to reach out and connect not just to general human beauty, but to beauty that belongs uniquely to one person, means you don’t get to unfeel the brilliance of that relationship; you don’t get to forget it; and you sure as fuck don’t get to be indifferent.