More bad love this week. This time with me behaving badly. Because there has to be something wrong with the ones who want you, right?
I think I may have mentioned once or twice that, in my day job, I’m a medievalist. And one of my areas of specialization—if you know anything about my actual love life, this will make you howl—is courtly love. I know. I know. Call it a Princess Hangover from my days of growing up in Tennessee, where the only thing medieval were the Sunday sermons about the tortures of hell, and Dolly Parton in spangly boots was the closest we were going to get to courtly.
One of the things that most speaks to me about courtly love is the possibility that you—you, on any given day of your little life—might actually meet that person whose very glance liquefies your stomach and sends it dripping toward your shoes. Touch, you ask? Touch? Well, that’s the stuff of ecstasy. Physical, spiritual, the two combined if you believe in that or even if you don’t. Touch might just send you hurtling beyond the confines of the known universe, and you might not come back. But that would be okay, because your love would be of the amour fou—crazed love—variety, whose only possible outcome, sooner or later, is the love death. Wagner’s liebestod? Pure, unadulterated medievalism.
Asez me plest e bien le voil,
Del lai qu’hum num Chevrefoil,
Que la verité vus en cunt.
Pur quei il fu fet et dunt.
Plusurs le m’ung cunté et dit
E jeo l’ai trové en escrit
De Tristam e de la reïne,
De lur amur que tant fu fine
Dunt il eurent meint dolur,
Puis mururent en un jur…
—Lai de Chevrefeuil, Marie de France, 12th century
Basically, so as not to be pedantic, she is delighted to tell you of the tale of « Tristan and the Queen », a story of their « love so fine », which caused them such great pain, and which caused them both to die, on the same day. That, my friends, is love writ large, writ big and bad and nothing-else-like-it. Love that knows no forgetting of the milk, no dirty socks on floors, no spats about toilet seats and toothpaste caps. Tristan and Isolde had no offspring (which are really good at pulling fin’amour right down into the boue and toute de suite too). As far as I know, Tristan and Isolde didn’t want any offspring (and this in an age when sons were everything and daughters were for sale). Maybe it never even came up.
This was the love I wanted, during graduate school and the days immediately afterward, of loving badly in Manhattan. And maybe it’s still what I want (did I mention I live alone with two rabbits and keep my man in an overseas compartment? Like the old country song says, how can I miss you if you won’t go away…). But now I know it doesn’t exist, unless very particular conditions are imposed.
Those were pre-iPhone days. Even pre-cell-phone. Pre-Tinder and OkCupid and even Match.com. I am OLD, people. In those days, if you were really adventurous and edgy, you put a personal ad in the Village Voice.
Let’s just say it was…interesting. And could be summed up by stating that the ones I wanted didn’t want me, at least not the next day, and the ones that wanted me, I stomped on. Because why wouldn’t you? Humans might be part inherent goodness, but they’re also little and petty and mean, especially if they think they can get away with it.
I let one of them love me for a while, sometimes it’s nice to bask in adoration after a month or two of being kicked around. I even let him invite me to Ireland, to a friend’s wedding, and pay for…like…everything. Even the dresses I would wear to the ceremony and then to the party afterward.
And how is Marie de France relevant to this, you ask? Well, because most of the love tales she tells are Celtic in origin, and perhaps more importantly because I wanted to be pretentious and better-than-him (I could tell that my smarts and Ivy-League PhD got to him, even if at that particular stage I was slinging hash and tending bar). I packed this little book under the thin pretext that I might be using it, sometime, for a class I might, one day, teach. But mostly to bust his balls even more than I was already in the habit of doing, by rubbing in the fact that I could read old French. It’s possible I overestimated the envy that skill might awaken in most other humans… but I knew it would get to him, so Marie came along.
As one or the other of you may know, weddings in Ireland are often week-long affairs, and there’s a lot of drinking involved. Weirdly, this was the self-same week that Princess Diana died, which, while not really related to anything I’m telling you, except maybe that she, too, was bitterly disillusioned by love, did add an air of the out-of-body to the whole experience. By far the most fun activity in which I participated was the Hen Party, which is when the women of the wedding party take the bride out for one last wild ride across the town as a single girl. These events are much more similar to our own Stag Parties than to a bridal shower, and I say good for that; why should women eat teacakes and open gifts for the kitchen while their men stuff dollar bills into a stripper’s G-string? And there’s always a bit of a competitive edge: who will crawl back the latest (or, the earliest—it will certainly be the next day), and the drunkest?
In this case, it was the women. Of course.
We were at a whole bunch of places, drinking a whole bunch of stuff and getting along like a house on fire, and then we were in a club, and I was being hit on by a soccer player from Leeds who looked like Kurt Cobain would if he’d had black hair. I’m pretty sure he was still around then, so maybe it even was him. Though I don’t think he played soccer. But, y’all, that is my type (I’ll have more to say about that type on another post sometime; the one who brung me looked nothing like Kurt Cobain). Really quickly we were upstairs in a nook or a cranny (he clearly knew the place) doing…well…lots of things. At which he was really good.
He wanted me to run away to Leeds with him, and I said I would.
And I was absolutely going to, I had no permanent ties to anyone or anything, least of all to the one that brung me, who had to help his friend the next morning setting up at the pub for the wedding reception. By the time he came back to the hotel to dress for the ceremony, I would be g o n e, disappeared into the smoke and mirrors of l’amour fou.
Of course Soccer-Player Kurt Cobain was a no-show. Who knows why, you couldn’t text people then. And he might not have texted back anyway. The crazy one was me.
After waiting for way longer than anyone should under those humiliating circumstances, I drained my fourth pint and made my devastated way back to the hotel just in time to dress for the ceremony, shoving my pub dress for later into my bag.
At the pub, I flat-out ignored my date, and paired up with a rowdy 70-year-old named Janet who must have been quite the girl in her day, still was. We made a game out of drinking one another under the table and seeing who could dance suggestively with more underage boys, who were queuing up in our general vicinity (their mothers hated us). Underneath, I was miserable. I wanted—oh, how I wanted, unreasonably, idiotically, desperately—my soccer player. What I would have done with him, I have no idea. But that was hardly the point.
Back at the hotel, with the sky already lightening, I refused my date’s sexual overtures, swatting his hand impatiently away. Instead, I had a confession to make. So we talked, or I did, til dawn, me watching the embers of unrequited love, or desire, or whatever, roast him to a crisp as I told him in great detail of the hen party, under the guise of an apology. He was trying to understand, trying to be on my side, which made me really cruel. I hate when people do that, that’s exactly how I tried to rationalize the barbs flung by the ones that didn’t want me.
I actually made him cry.
And then I promised never to do anything like that again. Which was a lie.
Of course I changed the ending. The one who hadn’t shown was I.