I’m sleepless in Beirut.
I’m not sure if it comes with age or if it is a natural ability that I’ve improved on or whether the walls of my heart have been so stretched by shoulder-brushing occupants that there is newfound space for additional rooms. The nature of my emotional engagement looks almost like a flow chart of the check-ins and checkouts in a hostel. Objects of desire are constantly flowing and moving in and out of the frame. It’s as though I watch them move within its borders until I see the perfect shot – click – and I’m done. The duration of my interest is like the gaze of a people watcher stationed on a park bench: an attractive figure enters far left, approaches, approaches, when in close proximity my neck begins to turn slowly from left to right until I cannot see the face no more, and while I turn my head back to look out at the far left for someone new - play that in slow motion - the amount of time it takes for the head to turn from the right side back to the left is equal to the lingering of the memory of the figure that just passed by, and the further I turn away, the less I feel and oh, in comes a new one! And the cycle resumes.
I am at once amazed and concerned with this nonchalance. Would one person ever be enough? Or is this monogamy business an unrealistic model for our modern times to begin with?
I recently read a book, “How to Think More about Sex” and it made me feel less alone. Alain de Botton, whose writings and acute observations I cherish, explains how monogamy came to be.
“Taking a step back, what distinguishes modern marriage from its historical precedents is its fundamental tenet that all our desires for love, sex and family ought to reside in the selfsame person. No other society has been so stringent or so hopeful about the institution of marriage, nor ultimately, as a consequence, so disappointed in it.
In the past, these three very distinct needs – for love, sex and family – were wisely differentiated and separated out from one another. The troubadours of twelfth-century Provence, for example, were experts in romantic love. The libertines of early-eighteenth century Paris were just as devoted, but in their case to sex rather than romance. For its part, the impulse to raise a family has been well known to the largest share of humanity since our earliest upright days in East Africa.
The independence, if not the incompatibility, of our romantic, sexual and familial sides was held to be an untroubling and universal fact of life until the mid-eighteenth century, when, among members of one particular segment of society in the more prosperous countries of Europe, a remarkable new ideal began to take shape. This ideal proposed that henceforth, spouses ought not to be satisfied with just tolerating each other for the sake of the children; instead, and in addition, they were to regard it as their due to deeply love and desire each other. Their relationships were to wed the romantic energy of the troubadours to the sexual enthusiasm of the libertines. Thus was set before the world the compelling notion that our most pressing needs might be solved all at once, with the help of only one other person.
It was no coincidence that the new ideal of marriage was created and backed almost exclusively by a specific economic class: the bourgeoisie, whose balance of freedom and constraint it also uncannily mirrored. With a little extra money to spare for relaxation, bourgeois lawyers and merchants could now raise their sights and hope to find in a partner more than merely someone who could help them to survive the next winter.
The notion of entering into a loveless or indifferent marriage was as much anathema to a bourgeois as the concept of not having outside affairs would have been to a libertine.”
Certainly, I would love to find somebody who could incarnate everything I love, desire and care for, and I know that a certain amount of compromise would need to be involved. Even if there are such perfect-fitting persons out there, what are the chances of the two of us crossing paths? Meager, to say the least.
So I thought, why not Red? Ten years down the line and we still cared for one another, we got along and we understood, if not wholly, the notion how either of us worked. After seeing him in Dubai, I found myself thinking more and more about the prospect of us coming to a sort of conclusion. “Right here, this is where our search will end, and we will work on making us work.”
But at the moment, I am not ready and neither is he. We are too young and still hungry and still hopeful. I can see it happening a couple of years down the line. We have the chemistry, we have the love; all we would need is conviction and a continuous exercising of effort to not fall through the comfortable cracks of commitment.
So I wrote to him. I laid out my logic, I laid out my feelings and it felt good to click send and not worry about being rejected. He wrote back to me the following day and I was touched. I felt cocooned.
“It’s a fucking shame that we currently do not live in the same country, I would have definitely not let go of you if we did. I’m going to finish up by expressing myself in four words and hope that you truly understand me when I tell you: I love you too.”
What more could I ask for? Nothing. This is all we have, this perpetual love that resurfaces every time we cross paths. Yet, in the meantime, I do not see it necessary to cling on to something so virtual as a feeling of love. I love him, I do, but I am not there with him and neither is he with me. What foundation other than a high-school romance and a warm fuzzy feeling do we have to build on?
I was missing him too much, so I decided to turn my head back to the left for now and wait for him to pass me by again at a more convenient time.
I sat there on the bench, looking ahead for no one, when in came a familiar figure. It was Kavinsky and his phone was to his ear.
“Where are you?”
“I’m going home. Just left.”
“I’m in Gemmayze, come!”
“I was just there. But I’m tired, and I need to get up early.”
“Oh come on.”
“What are you doing this weekend?”
“I’m not yet sure.”
“I miss you. I want to see you. Let’s do something.”
“Tabb call me Friday and we’ll see.”
This man, I had sworn off, but there was a pull of gravity, still. Amazingly, I still felt I had another chance of handling him better. I didn’t know how, but I trusted I could improvise…after all, you live and you learn.