Dear Gillian: Advice to the lovelorn from the liberal arts
Dear Cultural Cures –
There’s this girl. Not a girl or some girl. This girl. I’ve known her forever, which is measured by the infinite number of hours I’ve thought of her since tripping over her speakers when we moved in freshman year. You know this girl. She’s at every party, every bar; she works the scene wherever she is with her restless (yet maddeningly easygoing) energy.
I’m in love with her. So is the guy she sits with in Vic Lit. And the one who lives in her apartment. And the dude who bought her a cocktail with egg whites, or some shit, at The Last Word last night. And the one she’ll meet at the Blind Pig tomorrow. My best friend too. A friend of yours as well, I bet.
Occasionally she enters into a sort of relationship with one of these guys, exquisite in its ambiguity, breathtaking in its commitmentlessness. It’s way south of “exclusive,” but just far enough north of the one-nighter to keep each poor bro thinking he can win her over, and that he can be jealous when she gets with the next one.
We’re close, and often end up stumbling down South U. in search of late-night quesadillas together after the party dies down. Oh, she knows I love her. She says she loves me too and comes over at any hour whenever she needs to vent or talk — but when it comes to realizing a romance, you know, she “just can’t.” I nod and pretend I understand, somewhat happy that at least I’m not just another one of her whatevers.
I’m playing it cool, but — not gonna lie — it's torture.
– South of South U.
Your femme impossible, like most goodies under the sun, is nothing new. From Aphrodite and her many lovers — some from afar, some from much closer up — to the “modern woman” of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, you can’t blame a girl for doing what she wants. That’s not to say she doesn’t have real feelings, including for you. I’m sure her affection is genuine, just multi-directional.
You’re right to pity the fools who drool over this young lady, and those who read months-or-more into her days-or-less. They’re not worthy of Shakespeare’s “green eyed monster” of jealousy.
This girl, despite confessions of feelings for you, is a wild thing, no more capturable than the wind. “If you let yourself love a wild thing,” Truman Capote explained in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “you'll end up looking at the sky.”
For how to proceed, I recommend you look at Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.” Lady Brett Ashley is deep into the Parisian café scene. She is irresistible, with her boyish haircut and exuberant effect. She dabbles in dalliances with pretty much every character in the book. Each wannabe suitor is a case study in how not to react to such a woman. Mike Campbell, Brett’s supposed fiancé, loses it one night drinking in Pamplona and has a throwdown with Robert Cohn, with whom Brett had gone to San Sebastian for some Basque sexy time. Mike’s drunken outburst is awkward for the entire group and reveals an awfully ugly side of him to Brett.
South, I know you dismiss the other chaps revolving around your chica as somewhere between pitiable and pathetic, but did you mention your best friend among them? I’m guessing you respect him some? Try to be open with him and not bottle up your feelings; because after you down a few bottles, you will only break the cringe-meter and maybe some other stuff too.
Even worse is Robert Cohn’s game, which begins with a clingy, stalkerish sort of approach and ends with pre-meditated physical harm to his perceived competitors. Not a good look, leaving him with nothing but memories of pinxtos in San Sebastian.
Then there’s the 19-year-old toreador stud Pedro Romero. Romero’s tactic is to try to change Brett, get her to grow her hair longer and become more womanish, and presumably a more traditional, monogamous lady. Although Romero sees she’s not going to do that for him and ends up accepting her, Brett nonetheless decides she “just can’t.”
These faulty characters covered, we are left with Jake Barnes. I’d say in your own scenario, Señor South, you’re playing Jake. Although I assume you don’t have a war injury that holds you back from consummating a relationship with your Lady Ashley, you, like Jake, are not one of her flings, but are her constant, her steady Platonic love. Jake bends at Brett’s will and runs at her beck and call. This isn’t healthy for him — or for you — and will only lead to a life of therapy and counseling.
The best thing you can do is take some time away from her. You don’t need to make it a dramatic break up (that would require an official relationship), but try to see her a lot less: don’t pick up her Facetime in the middle of the night; hang out where she’s not likely to be. Maybe don’t like her Instagrams. Your absence will be noticed and this girl will either accept it, in which case you can try to move on and meet someone else, or realize that maybe she wants to give a shot at being with you. In either case, you’ll be better off than as her Jake.
Whatever you do, don’t force her to choose like the guys in Spike Lee’s first film “She’s Gotta Have It.” Nola Darling, a confident Brooklyn girl with a sick apartment, loves to make love and takes what she wants from her rotation of three boy interests. These guys are pretty one-dimensional and each fits into a singular “type.” Jamie Overstreet is polite, sensitive and possessive; Greer Childs is a narcissistic male-model; and Mars Blackmon (played by Spike) is a fast-talking jokester.
In the pseudo-documentary format of the film, the characters are interviewed about Nola and their relationships with her. Jamie: “to Nola we were all interchangeable, simply parts of a whole.” Greer: “You know in retrospect I can see that Nola saw me, Mars and Jamie as a whole. Not as three separate individuals , but as one organism. We let her create a three headed, six armed, six legged, three penised monster.”
Jamie eventually gives her an ultimatum and Nola is tricked into thinking she wants to commit and be with only him. But its doomed because these men can’t change the fact that Nola, like Lady Ashley, is the only one who can curate her love life. “It’s about control,” Nola says. “My body, my mind. Who’s going to own ’em, them? Or Me? I am not a one-man woman.”
You don’t need to take a Women’s Studies class to know there are still double standards for men and women when it comes to their sex lives. The point here, South, is to avoid being judgmental, and keep any conversations you have on the personal level rather than the general and gendered.
So, Mr. South, my advice is to drop out of the web your Nola has created, don’t judge her for it, and definitely don’t try forcing her to choose if that’s not who she is. I believe she will come to you, but even if she doesn’t, you’ll be good in the long run.
Let me leave you with some pictures to look at while you’re on your This Girl sabbatical, which could be a while.
Gustave Klimt’s two paintings The Kiss and Tears: No matter how many sides your love polygon has, the simple cause and effect equation in Klimt’s symbolism, depicted in his signature gold leaf style, captures the raw emotion generated by envy and the mysteries of human sexuality.
And how about a Warhol Marilyn Diptych? After flitting from DiMaggio to Miller to Brando and on, all while enchanting with the entire western world, and squeezing in a president for good measure, you become a cloned icon of pop art irony.
Send an e-mail to email@example.com describing a quandary about love, relationships, existence or their opposites. Gillian Jakab will attempt to summon the wisdom of the arts (literary, visual, performing) to soothe your troubled soul. We may publish your letter in the biweekly column with your first name (or penname) and year. Submissions should be 250 words or fewer and may be edited prior to publication.