Think of it: the Gulag; the Holocaust; the U.S. invasion of Vietnam; 9/11. The list is almost endless. The unifying factor? Some rigid and over-simplified theory, a model meant to represent reality the way a map is meant to represent the physical world.
A man or woman who believes the map is the world most of us would quite rightly label insane; a man or woman who believes in a theory most of us honour as having strong beliefs, consistent views or values, rather than as a lunatic who confuses his or her view of how things ought to be with how things really are.
As in society, so in our personal lives - or mine, at least. (And yes - I am aware of the irony inherent in positing a theory about theories; especially at 6:30 in the morning.)
I have a date tonight, my first in quite some time. Somehow, the idea of meeting someone new has led me (again) to thinking about my previous relationship, which ended nearly a year ago now.
Though there were many signs of trouble, I was mostly able to, if not ignore them, at least deny them, so that I was caught by surprise when a day that began with love-making, a shower for two, and the exchange of the words, "I love you," ended with the announcement that our relationship was over. "I still love you," said Siya, "But we have to break up."
Never mind the whys and wherefores; my understanding is incomplete and my biases obvious. What concerns me just now is what came after and why it is that I know longer wish to talk with her, to write to her, or even to know what becomes of her.
I've always admired former lovers who have broken up and yet remained friends after the Relationship was over. And, in fact, I once prided myself on my ability to do the same thing.
With Michelle, the breakup was a decision mutually-arrived at, following months of unhappiness and failed attempts to "make the relationship work". For two or three months, we hung out together and then - suddenly - she would no longer talk to me and I had no idea why.
With others, I wanted to "stay friends" but was rebuffed - again, I did not know why.
With Siya ...
She broke up with me and I withdrew for a few weeks. "I need time to get over it," I told her, but I had no doubt that, once that time had passed, I would be able - more, I would want to be friends with her. After all, it was Siya I had been in love with, wasn't it?
Not her physical beauty, not the fact of our coupledom, but her, all of her.
And so, once a few weeks had passed, I invited her down for dinner. And it was almost like old times, but for the fact I felt drained, empty, and sad, when we were done and she left my apartment for hers, just two floors above.
And it was hard indeed to sleep in my half-empty bed, knowing she had been in the next room only an hour before.
To make a long story short, we continued to see each other from time to time, to chat on ICQ, to go out for a meal and a beer.
And every communication brought a in its wake days of meleancholy and depression for me, a familiar pit of despair I thought I had circled and left behind long before.
Sometime last spring, Siya went home to China and returned a few days later with her young sister, arrived for a month-long visit. Before she had gone, she'd said she wanted me to meet Moon, and to let Moon meet Chet, my cat and formerly Siya's. With unvoiced misgivings, I agreed.
A few days later, she was back and had left me a voicemail. Could she and Moon come to pay me a visit? For two or three days I did not reply. And when I did, I took the coward's way out. I emailed her, saying, in effect, "No. I don't want to see you; I don't want to meet your sister. Being in your company isn't good for me."
It took me nearly 6 months to understand that my theory - that if one loves a person, one should be able to adapt to a change in that relationship - was not one I was able to live by.
I had thought I might spend the rest of my life with Siya and was unable to live up to my ideals as to how I should behave. Trying to, attempting to follow a theoretical formula led me to emotional disaster. Rather than listening to my heart, discovering what made sense in my particular situation, I tried to live in the simple world of the Ideal, as if I were a Platonist, whose monstrous ideas have polluted Western Civilization for 2500 years.
Which brings me full circle, doesn't it?
Ideals are dangerous tools. Used wisely - as models, as goals - they can be powerful engines for good. Followed blindly, they lead to treating reality as an abstraction - "the proletariat", "the Jews", "women", "men," instead of "individual people". Reason becomes rationalization.
And so we fuck ourselves.