Rose B. Thorny Copyright 2011
Many years ago, I discovered that I didn’t see love as many of my peers did. I’ll never know whether or not I truly believed what I said, or if I was just being naïve and painfully, altruistically immature, but here is how it happened.
It was 1965, I was 14, and I was in the eighth grade. Miss Boychuk, our homeroom and English teacher, had us reading and, subsequently, holding a class discussion on, “The Lady or The Tiger,” that famous, much anthologized short story by Frank Stockton. http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/LadyTige.shtml
It is a story without an ending. Mr. Stockton leaves it up to the reader to decide the fate of the young man on trial facing his precarious destiny, but with the admonition, “Think of it, fair reader, not as if the decision of the question depended upon yourself, but upon that hot-blooded, semi-barbaric princess, her soul at a white heat beneath the combined fires of despair and jealousy. She had lost him, but who should have him?”
I must admit to not having been objective enough, back then, to fulfill the author’s request. My first impulse, my gut response, at the tender age of 14 was to answer, “The lady.” Of the students in my class willing to wildly wave his or her hand in the air and respond, I was the only one who chose the lady, and nothing anyone said would sway me. That’s not to say others didn’t agree with me, simply that I was the only one willing to come out and sound like an idealistic, romantic idiot.
My reasoning? If you really love someone, you would not want to see them dead. No matter how angry you might be at someone you love, in the heat of the moment, if you did not give into any kind of instinctive rage – and clearly, according to the story, the princess had more than enough time to cogitate on the situation – you would not want them dead. I sincerely believed then, that if you love someone, you do not want them to die. You would want them to be alive, and you would want them to be happy, even if it meant you wouldn’t be. (And let’s not get into the euthanasia question at this point, where you want to see someone you love out of excruciating pain and the only way that can happen is if they cease to live. It isn’t that you want them dead; it’s that you don’t’ want them to be suffering.)
I knew, even at that young age, that absolutely nothing good comes from anything done out of jealousy and anger. I knew that inside me there was never any feeling of lightness or joy when I did something that hurt someone else, especially someone I loved, even when I was angry or enraged by that person. Whenever I hurt someone I loved, no matter how I justified my actions, no matter how vindicated – avenged? – I felt, the ultimate result was guilt and self-hatred. Taking the low road always feels like taking the low road. Hurting someone, causing someone harm and emotional distress, doesn’t feel good. I didn’t go into such depth or introspection in front of the rest of the class, lest I make of myself a complete laughing stock, instead of just a partial one, but that was the basis for my expressing the simple thought that you don’t purposely hurt people you profess to love.
Miss Boychuk, bless her heart – she was, in fact, one of my all time favourite teachers – respected my opinion, but remarked that I was being altruistic and somewhat unrealistic and that in real life people are usually jealous. Did I really believe the princess would encourage her lover to choose the lady?
Well, yes, I did. Back then, I sincerely believed what I said, although I could only say that from my point of view. For whatever reason, I could not put myself in the princess’s place, or rather, I could not not feel what I truly felt. It is difficult to imagine feeling insanely jealous when you don’t know how it is supposed to feel. And what I truly felt was that although the princess was really angry, hated the lady behind the door, and would be doomed to live her life without the man she loved, she did, in fact, love him and would not deprive him of his life and a chance to be happy.
Additionally, she was a person of importance and authority and by her actions, the example she set for others, would she be judged and who, in their right mind, would want to be thought of as cruel and vindictive? Who would be so selfish as to say, “If this person can’t be with me, I won’t allow them to be with anyone? And even though no one else would know what she’d done, she would know, and how do you live with that? How do you live with yourself and your conscience knowing you caused the demise of someone you held so dear?
That was the main reason I believed the princess would choose to allow the man she loved to live; because she could not bear to see him die needlessly.
To be honest, there was also a part of me that thought of the future not mentioned in the story. The author made no allusion to the possibilities. Even back then, I was always looking at the possibilities, the alternatives. I am not now, nor was I back then, an aficionado of the no-win scenario. Perhaps, in later years, if the princess spared her lover’s life, fate would allow them to be together again. There was no reason not to keep loving, even without “having,” because there is always hope that circumstances could change, that things might be different. Always, there is hope. Someday, perhaps, the dice might roll in their favour. Or she would find someone else to love and she would be happy again and glad that she had not done evil. I saw beyond the immediate scenario and entertained the possibilities.
Now, at the seasoned age of 60, having endured the angst and pangs of repeated romantic love and loss, and lustful love and loss, before finding what I sincerely believe is true love, and having suffered through countless hours of introspection and terrible, tearful pain and depression in trying to comprehend what “love” really is and, in doing so, learning what it is not – not just romantic and/or lustful love, but all love – I can sincerely say that I haven’t changed my mind.
Hah! I’ll bet you thought that the intervening decades would have turned me much more realistic, or cynical, or even bitter, but they haven’t. If anything, I have come to believe my assertions about love even more earnestly than I did at 14.
I will state, however, that knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the princess did encourage her lover to choose the tiger. I have become more of a realist and developed a certain amount of cynicism, and I do know how it feels to be bitter, very bitter. I do understand how, in a moment of unreasoning rage, you might do or say something that absolutely disallows a do-over.
My faith in love has not waned, but my faith in many people has.
I’ve seen too many jealous, spiteful, and malicious people, who have only wished ill on those with whom they once had an ostensibly loving relationship, to believe that the princess would unhesitatingly take the high road, whether out of love or duty to the fulfill the noble office she held. I’ve read one too many news stories, with “murder-suicide” in the headline, to not believe that what many people call love is actually maniacal possessiveness and a sense of entitlement to own another person and all the love that person has inside them. I’ve heard more than my share of, “If he cheated on me, I’d kill him,” or, “I’ll fix him (or her) but good.” I’ve seen good men taken to the cleaners and pay through the nose to support a woman who is perfectly capable of supporting herself, but because she doesn’t “love” him anymore, or he doesn’t “love” her anymore, he owes her. I’ve seen those same women use their own children as pawns in the “gimme” game. I’ve seen good women stifled, suffocated, and controlled by men who seek only to possess another soul, since their own appears to be missing.
I’ve seen enough of so-called love turn into, “I want everything and I want you to pay for it,” to realize that the feeling I interpret as love isn’t at all the same thing as “getting even,” with someone, when that supposedly loving feeling has waned or been lost. And if loving is predicated only on being loved in return, is that love?
Is “love” that turns into burning anger, or even rage actually “love,” or is it narcissism -- self-love? Is it “love” for another person that incites such unreasoning hate, or is it, “How dare he/she choose someone else over me? I am the person he/she was meant to be with. I am the only one who counts, and I won’t stand for anything less than total devotion. This is all about me and what I want and I’ll only “love” this person, if I’m getting what I want, and nothing less than that will do. If I can’t have that, I’ll stop loving them. On top of not loving them, I fully intend to hurt them as much as possible.”
Is that love? Perhaps I’ve got it wrong and that really is how love is supposed to feel. Should love – to properly be called love – include jealousy and possessiveness? Perhaps what I feel is something else. Maybe what I feel is just respect, kindness and compassion and not love at all.
To be sure, I do understand the impulse to get even, to hurt in return, when one has been hurt. I’ve felt it. I’m not immune to evil impulses. You just want the other person to know how much it hurts and the only way they can understand is if they feel the same pain, so on the spur of the moment, in the heat of passionate anger, you say or do things that will sting. It’s an automatic response that engages without conscious thought. It’s primal. But, in the end, I do not understand how anyone, can actually plan and act on the impulse to inflict pain upon someone they say they love. In the heat of passion, acting upon an impulse is understandable, but after taking cold counsel with oneself, how can a sane, humane person justify hurting, willfully and with malice the person for whom they profess to have such deep feelings.
Ultimately, the one thing I never liked about “The Lady or the Tiger” is the limited choice. Clearly, I’m not happy with an either/or scenario. That wasn’t good enough for me back in 1965 and it wasn’t good enough for me years later.
Why just two doors? What can’t there be more possibilities? Why only a choice that results in pain for someone?
I don’t believe is has to be that way. I believe that there are always possibilities, alternatives.
When you take insecurity, possessiveness and jealousy out of the mix, many more doors can be opened that do not lead to someone being hurt.
There is an amazing amount of freedom and lightness in knowing that loving one person does not preclude loving another. I’ve always known this because I know what I feel. No matter what anyone said, I knew that I could feel love – or at least what I believe is love – for two people at the same time. I assumed, incorrectly it appears, that everyone could feel that way, and I couldn’t understand why it was always demanded that you could have one or the other, but not both. “Why not?” I asked myself.
Loving one person doesn’t mean loving another person less. We don’t demand that a parent stop loving one child, when the next child comes along. We don’t demand that siblings stop loving one another, when a third or fourth or fifth sibling shows up. But each person you love brings something different into you life. Not necessarily better, but different.
I am polyfidelic. I have known my husband for over 38 years and we’ve been married for 37. I can’t imagine life without him. Almost six years ago, I met someone else who brought something different into my life. The first thing he brought was friendship and support when I needed it most, when my husband was facing the cancer battle. We grew to love each other. I can’t imagine my life without him either. They like each and are friends, too, for which I’m grateful. Sometimes when we’re all together spending the day at some event or other, I wander off on my own, while they talk about stuff that interests them, but not me.
Such a relationship might not work for many people, but it seems to be working out just fine for the three of us.
It works because insecurity, possessiveness and jealousy have been banished. It works because we believe that there are more than two doors from which to choose.