Heartbroken is better than alone

My mother is remarrying.

My girlfriend throws her arms around me. Her eyes brim with tears.

“Why are you crying?” I ask, holding her away from me so I can see her face.

“I am happy! Marriage is happy!”

I hold her closely again while she shivers with excitement.

My eyes unfocus on the laundry hanging in the veranda.

Outside the miserable world thrums, certain of its ideals.

“Aren’t you happy?” she asks.

“Hardly.”

“Are you being sarcastic?” she asks.

They say it requires advanced fluency to hear sarcasm. She hasn’t quite got the ear for it yet, but she’s been caught taking sincerely what was meant sarcastically often enough to proactively guard against it.

“No, darling. I’m serious.”

“You don’t want your mother to get married?”

“I don’t mind if she remarries. Just, not to him.”

“He isn’t a good man?”

I don’t want to impugn him. He is a good man.

“He’s great. Just, they’re seeking strength from each other. They rely on each other. It’s to the point of codependence.”

“I think we want to be codependent.”

“I disagree. Anyway, it’s more than that. Since she’s been with him she hasn’t written.”

“Maybe she’s too busy falling in love.”

“Hardly.”

“What does it mean when you say it like that?”

“Hardly? It means, not at all.”

“She’s not at all busy falling in love?”

“Falling in love doesn’t take any time at all. She’s not writing because she believes all her problems are solved in love. She’s taken her angst and set it on his shoulders. He’s done the same.”

“It sounds beautiful. We carry each other’s burdens.”

“Except that the other person can’t possibly succeed. The issues don’t go away. It’s like watching a movie inside when there’s a famine outside.”

“Oh I see. Because they have fallen in love, they ignore the problems. So the problems get worse.”

“It’s not even that. It’s that they expect the problems have become irrelevant now, that love has solved everything. It’s just a drug. You wake up from it and realize the world’s still a shit place. So you take another hit.”

“So they’re high? But isn’t that a happy place to be?”

“Except that, all through your high, you know that the problems are waiting for you. With a high you expect to come down. You enjoy the high because it doesn’t last. It’s an escape that doesn’t amount to deriliction of duty.”

“What is deriliction?”

“I mean the escape isn’t permanent, so eventually you face your problems.”

“So love is a drug. It’s cheaper than THC.”

I chuckle at her formality. “Weed.”

“What?”

“Weed. It’s called weed. Pot, ganja, Mary Jane.”

“Who is Mary Jane?”

“Tom Petty. Never mind. Love isn’t the same sort of drug though. On weed, you know you’ll come down. Love, you expect love to last forever. Hence, when love ends, you’re crushed. Not only is the high over, but it comes with a rejection, AND you realize your problems are still waiting on the doorstep.”

“Your mother’s problems are waiting on the doorstep?”

“Yes. Still bankrupt, still overweight, still aimless and timid.”

“Maybe their love won’t die. You should give them a chance. Some loves last.”

“In Korea maybe.”

She defends love because divorce is non-existent in Korea. The cultural aversion to divorce doesn’t transfer to extra-marital affairs, which are so rampant that an entire industry of Love Hotels exists to cater to unhappy spouses risking ostracization for two hours of suspended reality.

She’s been thinking. “Just because you don’t believe in love doesn’t mean it won’t work for your mother. You should support her decision.”

“I DO believe in love. But this isn’t love. This is codependence.”

“You said they’re in love.”

“Yes, but there’s a difference between being ‘in love’ and loving someone.”

“Which are we?”

“We’re in love.”

“Is that good or bad?”

“Right now it’s good. Because we’re not codependent. I don’t need you and you don’t need me.”

“You don’t need me? Why not?”

I see she’s suddenly sensitive. Here we go again.

“I don’t need you. I’m independent. But I want you. It’s better.”

“But what if you stop wanting me? Then we won’t be in love?”

“I suppose not.”

“At least your mom needs her fiance. Then it might last.”

“It might last longer, yes. But it’s not a safe foundation. Because they expect the other person to meet their needs. And if one of them fails to meet a need, which WILL happen – it’s a heavy burden – so WHEN one of them fails, the other will feel betrayed. And they’ll resent each other, and the love collapses. Back to facing reality. It’s devestating.”

“I see. But every couple does this. You will have to look over the whole earth to find a woman who does not have a burden. Or a man.”

“It’s fine to share problems.”

“You said it was devastating.”

“Depending on someone to maintain the illusion that your problems don’t exist is a tenuous reason to love them. They’ll end up feeling used, and at some point betrayed by asymetrical disclosure.”

I can tell I am beginning to get annoyed repeating myself. I’m not sure if I’m not being clear, or if the language is distorting my argument, or if she just doesn’t get it. Or even that she doesn’t want to get it.

“So it is safe to love, so long as we are already perfect? But love is what makes us perfect. The only time we are perfect is in our lover’s eyes.”

I suppress the vomit. “Only because our lovers are willing to ignore our faults and baggage in the name of persisting a false ideal – like agreeing to say we’re safer for invading Iraq. It makes us feel better, but it isn’t true.”

Retreating to the bathroom, I study the mirror. My eyes scorn me, taking my mother’s side. Must I inflict my sobriety on her? These opiates, they’re how we bear it.

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About Galen Sanford

Galen studied Philosophy, Leadership, Peace and English at Whitworth University where he served as a columnist for the university newspaper and as a student representative to the Sustainability Committee. The UN RCE ESD in Tongyeong, South Korea recruited him to teach English and Sustainability, where he co-wrote a sustainability curriculum. His passions are for sustainable food, for stories, and for exploring the potential of crowds. He’s lived on three continents. Follow him on Twitter.
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7 Responses to Heartbroken is better than alone

  1. Kyle N says:

    Ooooh, this damn interesting. And I’m pretty sure I fundamentally disagree with you about the negativity of codependence and opiate bits. And I’m also wondering how much of this is fictitious? I’m going to read this again when I’m not at work.

  2. I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Be sure to note the distinction between codependence and interdependence.

    However, I’ll back up the narrator’s assertion that “falling in love” is an opiate.

  3. Quirina says:

    This is an exquisitely written piece Galen. The dialogue was brilliantly executed. The character development, mainly via dialogue, was fantastic. I loved it!

  4. If love is an opiate, it is more than capable of being a sober opiate. Being “high” does not necessitate ignorance of the effects, when it comes to something like love.

    I think the strength of this story is that it presents two sides of a view well enough that the reader can agree with one perspective or the other without feeling that the author will tell them they interpreted it wrong. That’s what art should strive for.

  5. Nussi Khalil says:

    okay so you make your point again… however, I disagree with Quirina. The character development is only of his. There is a sense of disbelief in the girlfriend that one might generalize to women in such a short story, and her character does not seem to develop at all except for the purpose of irritating the guy. HE seems to get life from being irritated, he is in love with his arguments. he seems codependent on proving her wrong. He lives to contradict. So he wakes up to a sad world every morning instead.
    Also I must say, you under represent the girlfriend as a thinking intelligent woman as well as a thinking intelligent Korean. Quite frankly, its irritating.

    White American Male perspective 101 🙂

    Otherwise I think it’s great. It shows much of the modern philosophies in the workings and this generation’s crisis with social norms.

  6. Mike says:

    pain, joy, sex shared over time in companionship with a sensitive other. Off the top of my head, this seems like good love.

  7. Bravo, Galen.

    As far as above comments: She is one-sided; but then — it is written in first-person, and whether this is essentially transcribed from a memory or completely fictitious, presents a realistic perspective. Once may criticize His perspective, but the character is self-reflective at the end, recognizing that the viewpoint may have limitations. It makes no comment on Her intelligence, and is I think an accurate portrayal of many personalities, not necessarily a “feminine” one. I am assuming Galen is speaking out of personal experience as well, and so referring to Korea is simply contextual. Art Perspective 101.

    Finally, love is an opiate, of sorts; and opiates aren’t necessarily bad. Love implies equilibrium.

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