|Saturday, Feburary 15,1998
The Straits Times : Life Section Page 2
If you love her, set her free
Across the waters, the situation looks grimmer by the day.
It is easy to give in to gloom, if not despair. But gloom feeds on gloom, as my editor told me the other day, and it is not constructive.
So while the more qualified pundits debate whether or not a currency board can save the situation, let me write here instead about something as frivolous as love, since it was Valentine's Day yesterday.
In a letter to a friend at the time when he fell madly in love with his professor's wife, D. H. Lawrence wrote: "I am in love -- and, my God, it's the greatest thing that can happen to a man."
He admonished his friend: "I tell you, find a woman you can fall in love with. Do it. Let yourself fall in love ... You are wasting your life ... Nowadays, men haven't the courage and the strength to love. You must know that you're committing slow suicide."
Lawrence was once seen as a pornographer, but he was really, as he described himself, "the priest of love". He believed in marriage, not as an institution that bound a woman, but one that set her free.
In his letter to Professor Ernest Weekley, whose wife he was taking away, he said: "Mrs Weekley is afraid of being stunted and not allowed to grow, so she must live her own life. All women in their natures are like giantesses. They will break through everything and go on with their own lives ... Mrs Weekley must live largely and abundantly."
Throughout his marriage to Freida, despite the frequent tumult, despite her cuckolding him, he abided by those words. He allowed Freida to live largely and abundantly.
But for many, marriage is a diminution, a reduction of the universe to two persons, and maybe their children. They find sufficiency in their togetherness, and it is them against the world.
It is all very sweet, but couples who close their worlds to others are often dull, because they do not grow anymore. They end up looking like one another.
The French actress Catherine Deneuve said in an interview some time ago: "When I see a couple who relate only to each another, it strikes me as rather strange -- too limiting.
"I can understand the concept of spending your whole life with one person, but I don't think you can do without relationships with others. I cannot take on the whole job, I cannot be the woman a man can't live without."
Of course, Deneuve does not have to cling to just one man, since she has remained beautiful and regal even as she ages, and she has no lack of suitors.
But love and marriage should never limit anyone.
Recently, I met a woman I consider to be an ideal wife. She lives thousands of kilometres away from her husband, who lives and works here, and visits him only several times a year.
"I won't get to see him much even if I moved here," she offered as reason for her staying put at where she is, where she runs a professional practice of her own.
Her husband is driven by his work, he clocks 15, 16-hour days. During her last visit, which lasted just about a month, she got to spend time fully with him only during the Chinese New Year break, and only because he had scheduled a minor operation which was subsequently cancelled.
In the few days that I spent with them on a business trip recently, I did not once see her demanding his attention.
While waiting for our flight at an airport, she said to me: "Look, look at him, he's working even at the airport."
And indeed he was. He was going round pumping flesh and making small talk with the airport workers and some other businessmen who were also waiting for the same flight.
"You know," the husband confessed to me later, after she had gone home, "I actually felt quite good after she had left. I found I could work four hours more at home.
"We are lucky in that we married at a late age. What matters most for either of us is that we know that at the end of all the work, there is someone there. That's a great comfort."
I can imagine the couple spending their twilight years together, content with the knowledge that they have, both separately and together, lived a full life.
Too many people today think they should find the answers to all their needs in their marriage, and that they should look to it exclusively for happiness.
But as a character in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love In A Time Of Cholera tells his wife: "Always remember that the most important thing in a good marriage is not happiness, but stability."
It is only after he has died that the wife realises the wisdom of his words -- they were "the lodestone that had given them both so many happy hours". CAN a man love more than one person at the same time? No, according to the main character in Bernard Malamud's Dublin's Lives.
"One would think that if a man loves, the fountain flows: All may drink, no limit. But in truth the feeling of love for those one has loved was not boundless -- it was bound ...
"If you loved someone with deepening passion the love for others was effectively reduced, perhaps even paid for the passion. No, love was not boundless -- not more than a pailful -- barely enough for one at a time."
In Paul Theroux's My Secret History, which reads more like an autobiography than a novel -- it is one of the few works of his that I actually like -- the protagonist has two lovers: a wife in England, and a mistress in America. He shuttles between the two.
You would think that is a largess. But he laments: "I had two lives but I had intimations today that because there were two they were both incomplete. I lived in the cracks between them -- had only ever lived in that space."
The actress Nastassia Kinski once said: "I always fall in love while I'm working on a film. It's such an intense thing, being absorbed into the world of the movie.
"It's like discovering you have a fatal illness, with only a short time to live. So you live and love twice as deeply."
But: "Then you slip out of it, like a snakeskin, and you're naked and cold. What worries me is that when these loves die, they hardly leave traces on me. I wonder why I don't suffer?"
15/02/98 If you love her, set her free