Yana Djin

  A Ghost of Love
Moscow News
May,  2001


The writer, Isaac Babel, started one of his short stories with the following words: “To live in Tiflis in the spring, to be twenty years of age and not to be loved is a disaster. Such a disaster happened to me.” Although most of us, I daresay, are not as sensitive as Babel and have long outgrown the youthful age of twenty, we would still have to agree that not to be loved – or in love – is -- well, if not a disaster – then a sorrowful fact of life.

There is something stifling about spring. Something almost unbearable. Everything around you is blooming and chirping, everything is being born anew and yet – unless you are extraordinarily lucky – you are left wearing the same old skin that had gathered dust and experience during the past winter. You are walking around in the fresh sunshine of the morning and suddenly realize how little you have in common with the cherry blossoms or the lilies-of-the-valley sprouting forth. You feel drained and wasted like a November afternoon. What’s worse, going to Tiflis, or any other city for that matter, is not going to remedy the situation. The only thing that is capable of awakening you from the emotional slumber is that which is referred to by the overused, over-tortured word ‘love”. When I say “you”, I mean two out of three people on the planet. I mean the majority of us, who, according to different polls and accounts, admit that they are now leading a loveless existence. The other 25% acknowledged that they were either dishonest or irretrievably high to treat the issue with the seriousness it deserves.

April might indeed, to repeat after the poet, be the cruelest month of all. As soon as it arrived, every magazine, newspaper, internet publication started giving us advice on how and where to find love. Most of their suggestions are, to put it mildly, far-fetched. In fact, they are downright dangerous. At least in this country. If a woman were to don fishnet stockings and a lacy teddy, and stand in the middle of an airport with a glass of martini, looking forlorn and searching, she would either be considered demented or whisked away by a police officer for drinking in public. Nevertheless, these are the sort of suggestions which popular magazines like to dispense to their lonely readers who are looking to find their better halves. Eventually and inevitably, as an occasional glance at the passing crowd should prove, most people do find those halves. The problem, however, is that those very people are not sure that these halves are necessarily “better”. In fact, when you see couples strolling hand in hand on a warm spring evening, do not assume that what brought them together is love. More often than not, it is fear and distrust of loneliness. What most couples seem to be doing, according to their own accounts, is settling for less. You could say that romantic love has shared the fate of ghosts in the modern society: since people stopped believing in them, they have stopped appearing. Granted, we have increasingly stopped reading the classics where love was exalted and celebrated. Hollywood, though, which replaced literature on the mass scale, does, at times produce films where love means more than mere convenience and where it is not a word that encompasses everything from holding hands to politically-correct marriage. So what happened to us? Why is our daily world so devoid of passionate love that we see in the movies? Have we become worse or, vice versa, better? I am afraid, we have become neither: we have simply become so logical that our ordered lives have no place in them for love, which, usually, wreaks havoc and anarchy in our hearts.

We have become so practical that the slightest inconvenience is enough for us to “rethink” and “regroup” our relationship with the one we supposedly love. The above two are merely an example of despicable words which modern society, bread on pop-psychology and the mistaken believe in the inalienable right of every individual to be happy all of the time, has introduced into the realm of love. Thus, love was made bland and trivial, much like most aspects of life. It is no longer an overwhelming, overpowering emotion that disrupts our very core and rules over us; it no longer drives us to anguish as it did Ovid, nor does it cause exquisite suffering that Stendhal experienced. Now it is a matter of personal convenience, not unlike air-conditioning. It is too hot in the summers without the latter and it is rather lonely without someone to hold hands with on a spring night. If the owner of that hand, however, should behave in a way that would inconvenience us or offend us, we, the utilitarian members of modern society, turn away from our “love” and start searching for another one that would fit us better.

Paradoxically, in our strive to escape loneliness, we have alienated ourselves away from passionate love to such an extent that we are lonelier than ever. We are terrified of making mistakes because that would be a sure guarantee that our “beloved” will drop us like a hot potato. Modern men and women do not want lovers that make mistakes; they do not want lovers that risk everything for the sake of passion; they want programmed robots who are taught not to love, but “to be in a successful relationship where each partner is left fulfilled”.

Oh, how disgusting! And how boring this sounds against the background of blooming tulips and lilac! Even if you are not twenty years of age and instead of the streets of the old Tiflis you are dragging your feet through Washington! Almost as boring as the advice of the leading TV therapist: “… keep your expectations in check. Realize that this man is a separate person… you are only a small part of his life. Show him that you are a self-fulfilled and independent human being”. What the hell is she saying? Don’t count on anyone. Have low expectations. Have lots of pride. Don’t humiliate yourself by loving anyone other than yourself. As for me, I have a different advice: go ahead and take those spring strolls with someone if you don’t want to be alone. Even Adam couldn’t. But if, by chance, you do come across someone in your life whose mere presence is enough to stir passion or pain in you, drop your “convenient” walking partner like a hot potato along with your pride, and run after the ghost of love.

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