A Bachelor’s Complaint on the Behavior of Himself
It is and always has been a much more satisfying pursuit to criticize the behavior of other people than it is to criticize one’s own. For one thing, criticism of other people could plausibly lead to some improvement in their behavior; with oneself, happy complacency forbids any such result. Then, too, there is the fact that other people have more to do to improve; but when one is so nearly perfect as one regards oneself as being, there is hardly room for any more than the slightest move toward moral perfection. Finally, there is the simple fact that a Bachelor is a higher sort of being, as anyone in the least familiar with English literature can attest. You know, therefore, that it is serious when I, a Bachelor, think fit to censure my own behavior.
I have held myself under constant scrutiny, measured myself to the highest standard, wrapped myself entirely in a constant and loving gaze. Too constant, perhaps? And too loving? One cannot see what one does not love; one cannot love what one cannot see. The result, in any case, is this: beneath my evasions and self-evasions, digging through layers of half-expressed half-truths and uncomfortable facts about my behavior, I’ve found the root of the problem: I want too much to be liked. I am gluttonous of affection.
This surprised me just as much as now it surprises you. I wouldn’t have said I needed much affection to get by - I am by choice and settled conviction a Bachelor, as you know - and, besides, I’ve got plenty of the stuff already - if not in absolute terms, at least relative to my merits. Never, for instance, would I go around feeling that I was unrecognized or under-loved. Rather the contrary: I have often felt that at some point or another those with lingering attachments to me would suddenly see through their error, and, upon correction, I would be left with love in exactly the right measure.
How, then, does it disturb me to find that one person, out of all the multitude that people the earth, might withhold her approval? Certainly I don’t expect that everyone love me, and I can go quite happily through my days unknown and unloved with respect to the huge majority of people on the planet. But once I’ve been entangled with someone - as, just these past weeks, I have been - it becomes unbearable to think that she should somehow not love me. And this is so even if, in the first place, it was I who was tepid. An absurd posture! At a first meeting, I’m cautious - we speak - I come away with the impression of pleasantness, and nothing more. No disturbing currents of feeling; nothing ripples the calm surface of my heart. Then, a second meeting - we speak some more - I come away with the beginning of an attachment. It’s here the suffering starts.
Now, with this one person singled out from all the rest, my avidity for love has a focus - and instead of simmering away down in some well-hidden corner of my self, it takes over. I can think of nothing but whether she likes me. Work, play, idle enjoyment of the season? All gone. A week ago, I was untroubled. A week from now, I shall be again. In between, when there’s the possibility of more affection - when it has been dangled in front of me but not confirmed - proposed but not granted - raised but not decided - I am undone. I must have it.
And is this a harmless romanticism? The overactive imagination of one too ready to fall in love? Exactly the opposite. The lover extends his affection first and foremost; all nature revolves around the beloved; he hopes for her reciprocation. That’s not what happens here. Instead, I take and only take. The important thing is not that I love her but that she love me. Not at all gentlemanly, you’ll agree, and that’s why I must complain of it.
My censure is not limited to the fact that I don’t necessarily love in return those from whom I demand love. That might be bad enough, but it is not all. No, in addition I censure my own desire. I’m supposed to be a gentleman - a Bachelor! - untroubled by the passing dumb-show and all the vanity that is the world. I live a life of settled, moderate content - a second Epicurus - Spinoza reborn. Nothing troubles me - nothing ought to. But, just as no man’s a Stoic when he has a toothache, no Bachelor has philosophy when it comes to love.
Will this censure, unlike all the rest that I have offered over the years, come to any effect? I must be more composed; I must not be disturbed. Miser Caleb, desinas ineptire! And instead of hungering so for other’s love, I should work on extending my own. The Bachelor does not need his regard to be returned; it is a gift freely given. These resolutions, satisfying as they are to voice in this moment, shall surely go by the wayside as soon as I am confronted again with the same situation: before my present discomposure I would have sworn I had met them already.
Lest I seem too downtrodden, let me note that I am consoled by certain facts about my condition. Firstly, I am not alone; if I disappoint myself, so does many another. It might be good to see myself fallible, so long as it not occur too often. Secondly, the cure is time, and time will pass. I shall have no choice but to take my medicine. And, finally, there’s always poetry. Even when every other pleasure palls, and the totalizing concern with this girl’s love drives me mad, I can sit down with a notebook and compose myself. With a good theme at hand, I amuse myself with all the different ways of coming at the subject. The infinity of first lines that define the voice, the approach, and, eventually, what gets said. So, although my penance continues, don’t, pray, worry about me. As long as you are charmed, or as long as I can believe that you might be, I’ll get by.
Following are my latest compositions.