From the start of adulthood, we have been
waiting. We understood love intuitively long
before it was ever a practical possibility.
We knew that it was bound up with a sense
of being profoundly understood and finally
able to say everything, without fear of judgement
or censure. Love was a two-person conspiracy
against everyone else too dumb or leaden to
get ‘it’, the true nature of being alive.
It had to do with fancying someone totally
and the amazingness that they might fancy
you back, to the extent that you could do
anything with them, like rest a finger inside
their mouth and ask them to bite it hard.
We imagined from the first that love might
be the best part of life – and we were not
In the name of love, we put ourselves in extraordinary
situations. We went out far more than we would
have wanted. We bought fancy clothes, we thought
about our hair and worried about our spots,
we drank intensely coloured cocktails, we
ended up at small hours in alien parts of
town, in the bedrooms of people we knew weren’t
right but that seemed at least in some way
to be an advance on the cause. We accepted
dates with people we knew were problematic
because we wanted not to ossify or grow too
peculiar. It wasn’t always right, in fact,
it was mostly always wrong, but we kept our
spirits up and told ourselves it would eventually
be OK, as they kindly assured us it would
But time passed; decades went by. We got enmeshed
in some very troubling situations that looked
like love from the outside but were anything
but. We spent far too long extricating ourselves
and finding our voice. And at a certain point,
we started to apprehend something whose terror
we are still grappling with, probably late
at night, because such things aren’t easy
to look at in daylight: the probability that
love isn’t, after all, despite our efforts
and insights, ever going to come right for
us. We are going to die without ever having
known the love we long for.
The reasons are multiple and in their ways
entirely banal. Because our past is too complicated;
our lack of trust too deep; we are too ugly;
we are too unconfident; we don’t meet the
right people; our luck is too slim; hope feels
too risky. Though we try, harder than we try
at anything else, we can’t do this thing.
It won’t work out for us.
The ambassador for this sombre grand truth
might be an objectively rather innocuous disappointment:
perhaps one more date that didn’t in the
end – despite a very hopeful stage around
dessert – go as it should, or one more person
who didn’t call back. They, the angel of
romantic death, couldn’t have known what
they were doing to us, and certainly didn’t
mean to (we can’t hate them for a moment,
unfortunately), but through their lack of
desire, they initiated us into an idea which
now threatens to blow our sanity.
Behind closed doors, the scenes aren’t pretty.
Thank goodness for privacy to shield a moralistic
world from scenes that need to be forgotten.
There will be hours of the most unedifying
desperation: tears, bitter denunciations of
everyone and everything, self-pitying and
vengeful rants: this is too much, I can’t
take it any more, this is unfair beyond measure.
In the night, we smash through the crash barriers
of ordinary hope. We’re going to do away
with ourselves. They’ll regret us, they’ll
miss us now. But we won’t, of course, do
anything silly. It’s just the mind doing
it’s normal work, adjusting to yet another
yawning gap between the way we would want
things to be and the horrid way they are.
We settle. We are – after all – creatures
who know how to die. We think we don’t know
how to, but we invariably do, whatever the
fierce rage. We can digest pretty much any
verdict. We tell ourselves we’d never endure
not being able to speak or losing our bowels,
but then the doctors tell us what has to be
and we put up with a feeding tube and a bag
and being able to communicate only through
a quivering eyelid. It’s always better than
So of course we deal with the cataclysmic
lack of love. Dawn comes, chilly and severe
and yet reassuring in its sober bleakness.
We make the bed, clear away the despair, and
There are a few consolations. First and foremost,
a ravaged incensed defiance, a fuck you to
the universe and all those who peddle sentimental
nonsense that doesn’t fit our reality. A
certain kind of art works too, the sort created
by unflinching genius realists who went through
as much loneliness as we have, who understood
our sadness ahead of time, grief-stricken
masters like Baudelaire and Leopardi, Pessoa
and Pascal, who can express our petty domestic
sorrow in mighty transcendental terms and
induct us to the most dignified kind of regret.
They were there too and, in the most abstract
accomplished ways, tell us ‘I know’. And
we have friendship, not the kind that obliterates
the loneliness, but that allows us to commune
around it. We can’t help each other directly,
we’re more like a group of the dying in
a hospice talking circle who won’t be able
to eradicate the end but know they are at
least not alone with it. We get better too
at understanding statistics: that this is
normal for a benighted group of us. We belong
to an important minority party in the parliament
of human suffering.
Lovelessness will have been our major burden,
a grief that endured from adolescence to the
end, a problem that was meant to go away and
never did. On our secret gravestone, it should
say: Love didn’t work out for them, and
how they longed that it might: an epitaph
to frighten children and reassure our emotional
successors. What was meant to be a phase turned
into the truest thing about us: that we longed
for love – and that it never came, a truth
all the more redemptive for being expressed
at last with a rare calm unflinching honesty.
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