Monday, July 27, 2009

The Self-Depriving Cynic

"What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." - Oscar Wilde

I've thought a lot about cynicism lately because of an experience I had with someone. Then I thought even more about it after watching the amazing movies Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.

In the former, Ethan Hawke plays Jesse, a young man who has recently been burned by a long-time girlfriend of his. Throughout the movie, he is cynical about nearly every romantic thing he and Julie Delpy (Celine) encounter. He tells her not to believe the palm reader, says that the poet plugged in the word they gave him, and displays an overall doubtful attitude about all things romantic.

In the latter, Julie Delpy's character has traded places with Ethan Hawke's. After nine years, she has been hurt far too many times and has felt the loss of Jesse's love too strongly to feel hopeful or romantic anymore. At one point, she says she has never gotten married because she never thought she had the right man. "But what does it mean, the right man? The love of your life? The concept is absurd, the idea that we can only be complete with another person is evil right? You know, I guess I’ve been heartbroken too many times, and then I recovered. So now you know, from the starts I make no effort because I know it’s not going to work out! I know it’s not going to work out."

I have to say of myself that I am in danger of adopting Celine's perspective. I'm glad I'm recognizing this now so I can avoid it with every bit of effort.

I believe that this life is about relationships. It's about being a friend to the Lord's children and loving people to the best of our ability. It's about finding that one person who can elevate us to our best selves--who will be sealed to us in eternity and ascend to godhood holding our hand. We can't obtain our full potential without that one person to travel with us into eternity.

I have loved a few people. With one, I was young--14. It was a more selfish kind of love, which is what Jesse believes love is, after he has been hurt. But at the same time, it's the purest kind--the kind where you jump in, giving your all, not knowing the pain that can and probably will come later. With that one I got hurt badly. He lied time and time again. He was unfaithful to me in several ways with several girls after over two years together. I was convinced that he didn't love me the same way as I loved him, or he had stopped at some point. If you really loved someone, you wouldn't be able to do such things--you'd have no desire to seek after other girls because you'd love the one you had, and know that she was all you wanted.

With another one, I simply wasn't ready for him. He had reached a much higher stage in his ability to love. I don't think I loved him the same way as he loved me because I hadn't yet understood how. I had the feeling that I needed to end it, but I didn't understand at the time why. I knew I was losing someone great. But I understand now.

Because with another, I finally learned how. I learned what it was like to simply take joy in loving somebody, without even needing to tell him. I learned what it was like to want to do everything in my power to make him happy or to help him however I could. I thought all the time about what I could do to surprise him, make his day, or make him feel loved. I still think about ways to do that--old habits die hard, I guess. Most especially I learned to give and give and give. I gave all of myself, all of my effort. I worked to improve in the ways I fell short, and I tried to do it as quickly as possible. I learned how to put someone else first, and learned about the desire to truly take care of someone.

President Hinckley said, "If every husband and every wife would constantly do whatever might be possible to ensure the comfort and happiness of his or her companion, there would be very little, if any, divorce."

I knew I had that pinned. That was my entire focus--to ensure his comfort and happiness. I had such a strong desire to put him first. I can't speak for him, so I don't know if he ever learned or really wanted to put me first. I will say that both of us put in a lot of effort in improving for one another.

So why, if this was the first time I had loved someone so truly, so deeply, and so selflessly, did I end up hurt? Why, if I had learned the kind of love described by the prophet as one that could sustain a relationship, could I not keep that person I loved? Is it because he hadn't yet learned?

I don't know the answer to these questions. I think of how intensely I loved, how hard I tried, and how little the risk of my heartbreak mattered to me, and I wonder how I could deserve the pain that came... the pain that never fails to come.

So in this process, and especially in this last experience, I can see myself becoming like Celine. I can see myself becoming tired of putting so much into something only to get hurt. I can hear myself saying, "Protect your heart. Protect your heart." I can feel myself ready to give up. And I'm only 22. That's how bad it hurts.

But then I think of the gospel. I think of the places I can go with someone who really does love me with the same selfless intensity that I love him. I think of how what brings me the most joy in this life is to love and to give and to form meaningful relationships with others. It's simple:

We aren't meant to be alone.

No wonder it's hard. And no wonder people get lonely. We're just not meant to do this alone. But the pain of loneliness is no reason to become a Celine. It's no reason to become numb or unwilling to try because we're afraid of pain.

I want to be the Before Sunrise, hopeful Celine: "I think I can really fall in love when I know everything about someone—the way he’s going to part his hair, which shirt he’s going to wear that day, knowing the exact story he’d tell in a given situation. I’m sure that’s when I know I’m really in love."

Oscar Wilde's quote reminds me that I know the price of love. I know what it takes out of me. But I also know the value and importance of love.

I refuse to be a cynic.


Lisa Petrarca said...

Good for you hurts but loneliness is even more painful. The life of a cynic is one of solitude, distance, emptiness and pain.

Love causes pain, but the joyful moments far surpass the hurt. Don't give up the perfect person for you is out there. He will come into your life when you least expect it. Your Heavenly Father has a wonderful plan for your life and it is in HIS timing.

Continue to grow into the AMAZING, CARING, GIVING & LOVING person you are and everything else will fall into place!


Kirsten said...

Janae, this post was beautiful and very very very very helpful to me. Thank you. :)