Love in the Time of Capitalism

When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie
Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.

“Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers,” Adrienne Rich

When risking love, we often calculate the costs.

The emotional cost of being vulnerable with your heart, the existential awareness that our passions are inevitably our sufferings.

But the economic cost as well—gifts and anniversaries, engagement and wedding rings, weddings, honeymoons, car payments, rent and mortgages.

‘Til death do us part.

I believe in soulmates; that love is a recognition, not a choice.

These likely are idealistic, even romantic, and thus unlike virtually every other fiber of my being. And since almost all of my poetry in some way is love poetry, people are often surprised at the poetry against the other writing they know, or the person they recognize as the public and social me.

A therapist once told me that my hypersensitivity to the world (he said I see the world in techno-color when most people see black and white) is a gift—although it also was at the root of my anxiety, my being prone to loneliness and depression.

That hypersensitivity also translates into love, or better phrased, loving too deeply, too much.

I am too much, my love is too much for the unfortunate objects of my affection. A tidal wave. An avalanche.

Although I taught it for many years, I never cared for The Great Gatsby, but one scene always stood out. When Gatsby demands that Daisy tells Tom she never loved Tom, only Gatsby, Daisy breaks:

“Oh, you want too much!” she cried to Gatsby. “I love you now—isn’t that enough? I can’t help what’s past.” She began to sob helplessly. “I did love him once—but I loved you too.”

This moment—”‘you want too much'”—sets in motion the inevitable end, the tragedy that very well could be titled Love in the Time of Capitalism.

Love that is allowed—normal love, conventional love—triumphs in a perverse way that leaves many people dead in its wake, collateral damage like the idealized love Gatsby so desperately wanted Daisy to confirm.

Their unconventional love across social class, like interracial or interfaith love, love between different nationalities, same-sex love, love across an age gap.

As I near 60, I have discovered that the costs of romantic and familial love can become too much, or at least so demanding that I have failed it—or as I recognize, I become too much.

I have at times learned to disassociate, to set aside feeling too deeply, feeling at all. Love is a kind of obsession, at least for me, and when I care deeply I am nearly always aware of that love, especially in the absence.

As I near 60, I also must admit I am far more able to appreciate the importance of love, not just conventional love, and far more willing to seek ways to ignore the barricades to love. I am apt to argue that nothing else matters as love must for any human.

So this morning, with the recent death of Donald Hall, I was introduced to Hall’s Between Solitude and Loneliness from 2016.

Aging and becoming aware of ones mortality can often be extremely liberating—paradoxically too late. Hall writes at 87 about his journey with solitude and loneliness, as a veneer for an essay about love.

Hall details an early life that seemed crowded, especially for a man prone to the solitude of writing. In college, for example, “Solitude was scarce, and I labored to find it.”

And then Hall married young: “My extremely intelligent wife was more mathematical than literary. We lived together and we grew apart….After sixteen years of marriage, my wife and I divorced.”

Hall’s essay turns, then, to the ways in which he squandered life and love:

For five years I was alone again, but without the comfort of solitude. I exchanged the miseries of a bad marriage for the miseries of bourbon. I dated a girlfriend who drank two bottles of vodka a day. I dated three or four women a week, occasionally three in a day. My poems slackened and stopped. I tried to think that I lived in happy license. I didn’t.

When love returned to Hall, however, he was vividly aware of the costs, in this case of unconventional love, a much younger former student: “One night, we spoke of marriage. Quickly we changed the subject, because I was nineteen years older and, if we married, she would be a widow so long.”

None the less, they married, and the essay cannot hide the joy of their love, that the risk of unconventional love for a man who had failed life and love was very much worth the cost.

There is nothing guaranteed about life and love—”After twenty years of our remarkable marriage, living and writing together in double solitude, Jane died of leukemia at forty-seven, on April 22, 1995.”

This essay is about a man risking love, grieving as deeply as he loved while envisioning his own death bed before him.

I was watching my two grandchildren when I read this. I cried very hard and had to navigate my granddaughter asking me to help her find her P.J. Mask dolls through tears blurring my contacts and dropping onto the lenses of my old-man reading glasses.

It was the sort of deep and unnerving cry I experience, spontaneous and uncontrollable, when I listen to Ben Fold’s “The Luckiest,” my go-to anthem about the treasured soulmate.

The lyrics are quirky and heartfelt—with the speaker admitting: “I love you more than I have/Ever found a way to say to you.”

Our metaphors of capitalism, the costs of love, ultimately corrupt not just love itself but how we talk about love.

Love fills us to bursting, forcing at times the tears from our eyes. In its absence we are empty.

Not much could save The Great Gatsby for me; I loathe Fitzgerald, and the characters leave me cold. But reimagined as Love in the Time of Capitalism, a novel as a cautionary tale calling for humans to choose the heart over our consumerism, I may be persuaded otherwise.

Love is a very human thing, and a very difficult thing for humans. In the time of capitalism, it may damn well be impossible.

But what if Gatsby were not asking too much? What if unconventional love was not just  tolerated but celebrated?

What if love was enough?

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