Post-Socratic Dialogues: Love: 7


Post-Socratic Dialogues are moving thought experiments. They portray elaborate, unfolding situations which, at every turn, force the reader to examine his or her philosophical intuitions about a range of topics. These dialogues are called “Post-Socratic” because there is no Socrates figure, telling the reader which arguments (if any) are the best ones. The reader decides that on their own.

LOVE: PART 7: Manipulation: Parenting for Adults in Love

Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast,
It is not proud.
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking,
It is not easily angered,
It keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil
But rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts,
Always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
1 Corinthians 13:4

Three days later at exactly 3pm, Janet arrives at her London flat after having had a joyful lunch with her friend Claire. Claire happens to be in London reading some of her poems in coffee houses that Janet regularly frequents. Claire gets much bigger and enthusiastic audiences in London than she does when she reads her poems in Leicester. It’s been a while since Janet and Claire have had a chance to have an in-person conversation with each other. They mostly talk on Skype. 

That day, Janet decided to meet Claire at a trendy Mexican restaurant (Wahaca) at 11am. Both originally planned to finish their lunch and leave by 1: 30. However, Janet and Claire were so engrossed in their conversation that they stayed chatting for another hour. They both found it hard to leave an intense and funny discussion, a gabfest mostly about the pitfalls of conceptual art and the stupidity of the art market. Their conversation also drifted off into other topics: Jeremy Corbyn, 60s jazz, electronic cigarettes, quantum computers, cuban vegetarian food, consensual slavery in the BDSM community, and the most efficient way to control your face during a poker game. They even talked about Joe and Loraine. Neither Joe nor Loraine know that Claire is friends with Janet.

Back at her flat, Janet sips a cup of tea at her office desk and opens her laptop to check her email. Her office is untidy. There are books all over the floor; books Joe either purchased for Janet or recommended to her between 1999 and 2002. Next to the books are ipods, kindles, CDs, manuscrips, drawings, skirts, jackets, hats, plastic cups, incense sticks, and candy wrappers.

Janet can see that there is an email in her inbox from Joe. She opens it excitedly to see how Joe has responded to the long and elaborate email she sent him four days earlier.

Janet reads every line of Joe’s email very carefully. 


Where to begin…

I know it wasn’t easy writing to me after all these years. I appreciate your courage and honesty. I appreciate all the time and effort it took you to tell me all those things you felt you needed to say.

Believe it or not, it was a relief to hear from you again. I’ve been thinking about you a lot, recently. If you hadn’t emailed me, I would have eventually found a way to contact you. I don’t know how, but I could sense we both needed to talk to each other again. Those feelings were reaffirmed when I read all those beautiful sentences you sent me; it didn’t feel like I was reading text. It felt like a phone conversation, but even that’s not quite getting it right.

It was more like an old rock band had been re-united. When you have an idea and I feel something strongly about it, it’s like harmony. Very complex harmony. Maybe we’re not a rock band after all. Maybe we’re be-bop. Maybe John Zorn and Bill Frisell. That’s not quite right either. It’s more like being a 12 year old boy, being seduced by a beautiful woman I should report to the police. You’d make a great coke dealer, Janet. In some ways, you’re like cocaine to me.

But a little self-destruction is sometimes illuminating. I’m always learning something about myself when I communicate with you. The lessons can be painful. That doesn’t bother me though. Most of the things I learn about myself are painful. Being born was painful. And it’s been painful understanding just how much I miss having your thoughts in my life. It was strange seeing them again, like revisiting a confused childhood memory. Your words are like a swarm of beautiful and golden bees. I work hard to leave them alone.

In your email, you said many things I thought were unfair, insensitive, cruel, and otherwise full of shit. In a couple of places, you were just a mean cunt. Not a nice person. Maybe not even a good person. But that’s only one side of you. There are others. Too many for me to pretend that I understand how they all fit together. That’s why I’m writing you back. That’s why I haven’t told you to fuck off, even though I probably should have. You are a master at making me feel things I shouldn’t feel. You bring out the weepy old woman in me. I can only thank you for that.

Thank you for making it so hard for me to stay angry at you. Thank you for expressing yourself so openly. Thank you for explaining to me the entire history of our relationship and break up (from your perspective). It’s good for me to see myself through someone else’s eyes, once in a while. I’m glad I now know so much more about your mind and history than I ever did as a young lad. So much of what you said I wish I knew thirteen years ago. It might have helped me treat you like less of a dick.

For the record, I don’t hate your brain and never have. It’s an unusual brain in an unusual person; a sometimes horrible and unusual person. However, if there is one thing you’re not, it’s hateful. Pitiful maybe. But not hateful. And definitely not scary. Convincing you I was terrified of your brain was what I had to do in order to get you to break up with me. I know that’s callous and nasty-the epitomy of youthtful hubris and righteous insensitivity. I won’t even try to defend it. I know how much you loved me. I know how much I hurt you. But that didn’t stop me, as you know.

I can no longer atone or apologise for that in any meaningful way. I tried once before and wound up disfigured, traumatised, and suicidal. I haven’t fully worked through that experience, even though a decade has passed. In the present moment, I can only choose to follow your lead about not offering up excuses: What I did to you was unforgiveable. I scarred you without considering the repercussions. I was a selfish little shithead; a sadistic and immature prick. You did nothing to deserve the way I let you go. You have nothing to feel guilty about, regards our break up or the lead up to it. I was a cruel fucking bastard, young and stupid, incapable of making the decisions I knew in my heart were the right ones.

In other words, I was just like you the day you shoved a fork in my face and left me for dead. I can understand how hard you wish you never did that. I hate my past too. Like you, I wish I was a better person. When we were together, I wanted to be the person that held you up when life tore you down. But I wasn’t strong enough. I told you even then: You deserved to be loved by someone much better than me. It saddens me that you still feel that I’m the best you can do. It’s not even sad. It’s tragic. Your love for me is the worst thing I ever did to you.

I’m ashamed of it. I’m ashamed you’re still in love with someone who doesn’t deserve your love. It’s not that I’m ashamed because I think I don’t deserve love from anyone, mind you. I’m ashamed because you hate loving people who don’t deserve love from you. And yet you love me anyway. You love me even though it goes against everything you value in your life. I wish I could send that love back to you, accompanied by a hand written apology letter much longer than this email. Your love doesn’t feel like it’s meant for me. I feel like it belongs to someone else, someone more like my younger self.

Speaking of someone else, I can understand if you’ve been fantasizing about sticking a fork into Loraine’s head. Like most human beings, Loraine can be a vile bitch when people take advantage of her. Her blog about me that you brought to my attention was sickening, but what I did to her before she composed it was far worse. I cheated on her, Janet. I broke the most sacred bond a man can have with a woman he loves. Loraine forgave me anyway. That’s how much she loves me.

I can’t blame you for being concerned about me though. If I were you, seeing the things from her that you’ve seen on your screen, I’d be worried about me too. I hate most of the shit Loraine puts on the internet. I cringe at her homophobia. I can’t stand her weird Daily Mail Feminism. Even her mum gets angry when she reads the stuff Loraine writes on Facebook about the poor. And her mum hasn’t even seen the blogs you did. But there’s an important lesson here: Nothing Loraine has ever put on the internet has stopped her from being one of the most saught after dance instructors in the midlands. She makes far more money than I ever did.

Loraine teaches Children’s Gymnastic Dance, Child and Adult Tap, Adult Ballet, Children’s Theatre Dancing, as well as Adult Modern, and Freestyle Dancing for Teens. In the summers, she does Hip Hop and Jazz workshops (which amaze me because Loraine hates both Hip Hop and Jazz). Kids are constantly popping in and out of our home. They absolutely love her. If they have any kind of trouble in their lives, they let it out and she listens. She always gives them great advice. They cry in her arms. If Loraine were a horrible person, this wouldn’t be happening.

I know it’s hard for you to imagine, but in person, Loraine is a sweet heart. Yes, she is a challenge, but she’s the kind of challenge that makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something. We never talk about social issues or her blogs. We normally talk about things that need to be done in our home. Loraine, as you know, is very beautiful. I know you can’t understand this, but her beauty makes me very proud. Don’t misunderstand me. You’re beautiful too. But not like Loraine. I’ve never seen a woman as beautiful as Loraine. Never in my life. There’s nothing that makes me prouder than the fact that I can look the way I do and still be in a relationship with the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. For someone who looks like me, that’s like slaying a dragon. 

I might worry about this pride if it weren’t for the fact that so many other things about Loraine impress me. Loraine is incredibly intelligent (she can do maths better than I ever could). She’s also amazingly hard working, great at motivating people, and incredible at remembering all the details of any task that makes our home run more efficiently. She teaches me so much. She’s taught me a myriad of practical skills (how to repair a boiler, install a toilet, and even build a woodshed). Because of her, I’m actually a decent cook today. She’s the reason I learned how to drive and can afford a nice car. Her career is the reason we can live where we live.

I don’t need to have intense conversations with Loraine. I have friends for that. Loraine stops me from hurting myself. She makes me feel good about the fact that I’m alive. She makes me laugh. She even installed a stripper poll in our bedroom so she could dance for me before we have sex. How many women are selfless enough to actually do that? Probably very few. And even less can do extended butterflies as well as Loraine. Loraine’s coordination, timing, and reflexes are absolutely amazing. But that’s only the beginning of what’s interesting about her.

One thing I know you’ll find quite interesting about Loraine is just how beloved she is in our litte city. People love Loraine on the streets of Leicester. She can’t walk down Granby Street without strangers constantly saying hello. She’s like a local celebrity because of how much money she’s raised for charities that fund community arts projects, children’s health campaigns, and cancer research. She’s been in the Leicester Mercury at least a dozen times. Her dance classes have won awards. Like it or not, Loraine is an amazing person Janet. And as is the case with any amazing person, you can’t reduce them to how they behave on their worst days. Most of the time, Loraine isn’t just good for me. She’s necessary.

Without Loraine in my life, I don’t know where I’d be, or if I’d be. Loraine is like a boundary that keeps all the worst parts of me from overtaking, like the rock that crushes all the waves in me I can’t see. She doesn’t abuse me. She pushes the boundaries of what I’m capable of hearing, what I’m capable of learning from. We don’t have much in common but we don’t need to. Our relationship is about understanding differences, hearing uncomfortable truths. It’s more like art than masterbation, more punk than Pavaratti.

Loraine hates much of what I love and that’s ok. I get exposure to a radically different perspective when I talk to her. I get to see the world through a keyhole that used to frighten me. When I’m with Loraine, I feel like I’m getting the education I wish I had in school. She says all the things every middle class tutor who got off on backstabbing me would never say to my face. And I give her a willing audience for her behaviours, behaviours that never cease to fascinate and perplex me. On top of all that, she tells me every day that she loves me. As you know, I never got that as a child. 

Of course, that doesn’t make our relationship a breezy stroll through the garden path of putrid, rom-com bliss. We’re flawed, not psychopaths. We love each other no matter how much we hurt each other. We love each other even when we hate each other. We love each other unconditionally, like two halves of a broken mirror, overlooking the wilderness. We don’t need to be smooth and perfect. We don’t need to be society’s fantasy. We don’t need to be a “healthy couple.” We can be ourselves and love each other for that. I’ve never had love like this before, especially not from you.

With you, I never felt love just because I was Joe. But you got my unconditional love, not wanting it. You wanted to earn my love. That makes me sad for you, even now. You’ll never know what its like to be accepted for who you are. You can’t accept yourself. You live like you owe people things. You live like romance is just money-money in exchange for doing shit that delights people and keeps their crushes burning. There’s nothing more tragic to me than someone who believes the things you do. Nothing sadder, really.

I hate to tell you this Janet, but you’re an incredibly fucked up person. I’m not blurting this out because I’m trying to be mean. I’m trying to get you to see something: You need love you don’t earn as much as I do. No adult is completely an adult from head to toe. There’s a little selfish child in all of us that needs forgiveness and understanding. That little child in you is the reason I’m spending the rest of my life with one eye. You, of all people, need empathy you don’t deserve. That’s why your email is just a wee bit ironic.

Behind all that verbiage is a truth you won’t say: You want me to love and forgive you. You want to be loved in the very way you spent so many paragraphs denigrating. You want to be loved and forgiven in a way that’s too painful for you to even admit. So as punishment for being such a flagrant hypocrite, I’m going to give you half of what you want. I’m going to forgive you-and I hope it hurts. I hope you learn from this pain.

I forgive you for disfiguring me. I forgive you for not calling an ambulance or apologising. I forgive you for leaving me alone to bleed to death. I forgive you for all the cruel things you said to me before you nearly killed me. You don’t deserve forgiveness for any of that–you deserve contempt and you know it. But you’re going to be forgiven anyway. Like I do with Loraine, I’m choosing not to define you by the worst things you’ve done. I’m allowing you the potential to transcend all of that and be lovable anyway.

I should hate you. I should be frightened of you. I should have pressed charges against you for what you did to me. But I can’t feel anything for you other than affection. It feels physical, like my body can’t feel anything other than the deepest sadness when the mere thought of you rolls around my brain. What the fuck does that say about me? I don’t even know. But I do know why I hurt you. I know why I made you want to hurt me as badly as you did.

When we were in love, I was very happy. It was probably the happiest time of my whole life. That was the problem with it. There were absolutely no challenges. You were perfect in every way: beautiful, intelligent, interesting, kind, funny, charismatic, and so sexy it was freakish. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, I didn’t want to be in the perfect relationship. I wanted to be in a relationship where I could face challenges and feel like I’m accomplishing something.

I reacted the way I did to your diagnosis because it was just an excuse to break up with you. Something about our relationship didn’t feel right. It felt too idyllic. Too incredible. Too much like what every geekboy dreams about when they imagine the kind of life partner they could have if life were perfect; the way life would be if every woman were like Jane Fonda in the movie Barefoot in the Park. If I was religious, I would say being with you was like owning a brothel in heaven. When you fall in love with a person who seems so much like an angel, that’s when you know you’re fully dead inside. I’m only happy when I feel alive, Janet.

In my day to day existence, I’m a teacher and a poet. But when I come home to a woman, I want to be a wild caveman. Because that’s so different to every other side of myself, it’s something I struggle with. I thrive off that struggle, like I thrive when I try my hardest to earn a decent living. I find great joy and relief when I can accept rather than judge my base brain, my lower self, all the grimier sides of my humanity. I spent too much of my youth beating myself up over imperfections. I don’t want to fight me anymore. I just want to accept who I am and live my life the best way that I can. I’m trying to be self-reflective, these days. Part of that involves being honest with myself. Not the hypocrite you still are.

I am not civilised. I’m selfish. I’m unhealthy both physically and mentally (and I look it). That’s why you will never find a pic of me on Facebook again (unless Loraine puts it there). I’m a nasty, ugly and self-harming pig. You are not. You are an extraordinary person because you have the brain of the ultimate pig, the deadly pig. Yet you have trained yourself to act in a way that makes everyone else look like pigs in comparison. You are very civil that way. Maybe the ultimate expression of civility. But that’s not me. I am a naturally civilised person who wants to be a pig.

That’s the reason we were never a good couple. You want systems and I thrive off of chaos. You want to write books and I want to marvel at them. You want to use people and I want to accept them. You want to live a long life and I’d prefer to die young. That’s what we are. That’s what being honest with myself has taught me. I always knew I wasn’t good enough for you. Now I know why.

Unlike you, I can still love myself-in all my failures and successes. I couldn’t do that when I was young and cute. It’s very liberating to no longer be the dashing and chiseled young bloke you fell in love with. It’s honestly a relief not having to be a pretty boy who girls fawn over. When women are attracted to me now, I know its because of me. Not how I look. So I don’t have to fuck them. I don’t feel obligated to anymore. I can fuck Loraine instead. She’s more attractive than all of them put together. And she has the courage to be proud of that. She’s not just proud of being beautiful, Janet. She’s proud of being MORE beautiful than most women.

Loraine is not afraid to say this to any woman she befriends who is self-harming. She’s not afraid to get angry at women who start lecturing her about body diversity. If any of her students gain weight, she tells them off in front of everyone else. She says things to them that, for me, would be incredibly humiliating. You’d think Loraine would have been sacked by now, but amazingly, she hasn’t. I think it’s because of how much her students respect her. They can see that she puts herself at risk, socially. She’s not afraid to make other women hate her. She’s not like me. She’s not weak. She won’t allow women to make excuses for not doing their best. 

Loraine is proud of the fact that she’s a fighter; she fights to be as beautiful as she is. She’s proud of the fact that she’s not a typical Leicester girl; she doesn’t eat kebabs; she’s not self-pitying; she doesn’t settle for looking like anything other than what she wants to. She self-creates with exercise and healthy eating. She’s like a sculpture made of iron will; the ultimate expression of feminine energy. I know it’s easy for you to scoff at that. It’s easy for you to look down on the Loraines of the world; the people who actually fight to get rid of the physical insecurities the rest of us tolerate. Loraine isn’t bothered by this kind of snobbery. She looks down on the rest of us. She certainly looks down on me and has every right to. 

At the end of the day, Loraine has made her body the opposite of mine. She has the most beautifully toned and limber thighs, Janet. She’s created, bar none, the most perfect abs on any woman I’ve ever seen. Her ass is hard, shapely, sculpted like fantasy made flesh. Her tits aren’t like tits; they’re like the pair of breasts all tits are an imperfect imitation of. She loves herself for that. She’s not afraid of being envied. Loraine is a woman who will tell you to your face how proud she is of her tight pussy. And why shouldn’t she be? She worked hard for that pussy and isn’t afraid to talk about it. Loraine can talk to you for hours about why you should do the kegel exercises she does. She doesn’t care if that’s not lady like. She doesn’t care if it makes you uncomfortable. Loraine is fierce. She’s fierce in her individuality. 

Loraine doesn’t want to live in a world where women let themselves down. She thinks all women have a responsibility to have a harmonious relationship with their bodies. Body confidence, for Loraine, is what helps women defend themselves from rapists and street attackers. It’s what makes women feel like they deserve to be in the beds they fuck in. It’s what allows women to be good role models for their sons and daughters. Loraine thinks there is nothing worse than a parent who doesn’t model self-care in their dieting and exercise habits. I don’t agree with Loraine about all of this, but I’m happy she thinks these things. And no, its not because I’m drowning in endless nights of amazing sex. Sex with Loraine is mediocre most of the time.  

Loraine’s beauty and the importance it has to her is what’s not mediocre. It’s the reason receiving her love lets me know I’m good enough to keep living. It’s not just society that tells me I can’t be with someone who looks like Loraine. It’s also Loraine. I’ve overcome even her rules, Janet. It’s not just that I’ve made the most beautiful woman in Leicester want to love an ugly fat bastard like me. It’s more transformative than that. If I can make someone who values beauty as much as Loraine love all my rolls of fat, I know I’m worth loving. I know something about me MUST be lovable. Because I’m lovable, I’ll never have to worry that becoming fat or old (or even disabled) will one day make Loraine go away. I can just be me and that will always be enough. Loraine hates people like me and loves me anyway. That’s the greatest compliment a woman can give a man. I feel like I’ve done something impossible: I made a beautiful woman who hates fat people love me. 

This is what gives me hope in life. You can never trust your own lovability if the love you receive comes with conditions. That’s why I don’t want a relationship with my best friend. I don’t want a relationship even with someone I consider my equal. I want a relationship with someone I’m not supposed to have; someone mysterious to me, someone dangerous, someone I can master. Maybe this is because of how my mother made me feel, growing up. Or maybe it’s because I worry I can never really know people. Maybe its because I was in a relationship with my best friend before and that didn’t turn out so well. 

Whatever the reason, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life having a deep romance with interesting conversations and predictably hot sex. I don’t want to be with someone who is always working so hard to treat me with kindness, respect, and dignity. I don’t want to be bored again. I don’t want the banal luxuries that come with being “the happy couple.” Most of those priviliges make me want to be sick. In our home, there are no pictures of me and Loraine on our shelves. We don’t need pictures when we see each other every day.

Our relationship doesn’t need to be freeze framed in a smile. That’s cold and inhuman. Our relationship is like fire. With Loraine, I thrive off of feeling like I’m winning a violent and brutal war, like I’m burning people alive so they won’t decapitate me. I’m addicted to the adrenaline rush of this; its absolutely intoxicating, like nothing in my wildest dreams. Other people don’t understand my thrills and I don’t need them to. To me, most people seem like empty holograms and I don’t have to hate them for that either.

I don’t need society to approve of me. I need to do what makes me feel passionate. There’s nothing that stirs me like the moments when I can’t predict what will make a woman incredibly angry with me. It’s better than the biggest orgasms. It makes even the best sex feel like a trivial afterthought. I never got that pleasure from you. You were always so kind, so witty, so intelligent, so seductive, and if I’m honest, so boring and reasonable.

I felt like an indulged child. I felt like you knew me inside out and always delighted me with surprises I didn’t ask for. Every day, I felt like I was getting everything I ever wanted from a woman. For me, that literally feels like decapitation. Especially if none of it’s genuine. I’ll take anger over kindness if there is truth in the anger. Truth is far more exciting than placation. And Loraine is far more exciting than you could ever be. She’s far more exciting than you, even though she’s far less sexy. That’s how much sex matters to me now. Erections are a poor substitute for adrenaline rushes.

What excites me these days is love, truth, honesty, loyalty, support, passion, and forgiveness. And on that front, Loraine soars like an eagle. You were more like a beautiful snake-a snake I’m wise enough to not let near me again, a snake it’s a relief to consign to my past. Or at least it was a relief. Now I don’t know what it is.

Probably 80% of my brain is happy you are part of a past that’s long gone. Probably 90% is happy I now have the relationship I’ve always wanted. 95% of my brain knows it should hate you and it really really wants to. But I’m not strong enough. There’s another weakness in me you can take advantage of. I’m so so angry at you… and yet hearing you describe your feelings for me had me sobbing. I don’t understand why such a small part of me has so much power over all the rest.

What I do understand is that I still like you, though not in a romantic way. You can relax-this like for you is conditional. I like you because you aren’t like anyone I’ve ever known. You’re more like a piece of music than a person; a music too cool for us mere mortals to really hear without years of repeated listenings. I know that doesn’t make much sense, but neither do most of my feelings. That’s another reason we were never good together.

I was never really on your wave length. I was in awe of you. I still am, even though it’s wounding to admit that. I love your insight and creativity, but those aren’t the parts of you that make me jealous. The parts of you I wish I had are your strength and bravery. Even more than that, I wish I had your self-love. I fell in love with you because I was a young fool; I didn’t have good boundaries with people. I had never met anyone who could be so caring and yet stand up for themselves so easily when they needed to. I can’t follow your example but I’m glad I got to see what it looks like. I can’t be like you but you do inspire me, even now. How odd is that?

Don’t waste your time trying to understand it because you can’t. I can’t understand it anymore than you. It’s a much more worthwhile endeavour to be honest instead of trying to understand everything in great detail. In the spirit of that honesty, I can only say again how horrible you make me feel. I feel horrible because we hurt each other so badly. I feel horrible because I can’t really see things turning out any other way. We needed to end. I know that doesn’t mean we aren’t both still hurting very badly.

If it makes you feel any better, you’re not the only one who has feelings they have to shove down. Despite everything that has happened and everything you have done to me, you can erase all my ambivalences with a few strokes of your keyboard. Like an orchestra conductor, you can make me miss you on cue. I miss you badly, Janet. I miss talking to you. I miss cumming in your mouth. I even miss being terrified on roller coasters, squeezing your hand. For better or for worse, I wish you could hurt me one last time. I’m an idiot and I self-harm. You do neither of those things. And so I miss you the way I breathe. I can’t help it. 

Maybe that’s why you’re still magical to me, even though I don’t believe in magic. You might be the most magical illusion in the world: the psychopath who can learn to love and be as normal as anyone else. Maybe better than normal. I can’t say whether or not you’re a good person. But I can tell you this: You’re better than Hitler. You’re better than Jimmy Saville. You’re better than Katie Hopkins. You’re better than George Osbourne. You’re better than a boring and miserable bitch. You’re better than my mother. You’re maybe even better than Jane Fonda. But none of that matters. Love isn’t about what you deserve. Like, however, is a different story.

I still like you, Janet. I like you so much, I want to cry. I’m so sad I can’t like you more. So unbelievably sad I am who I am. But I can cope with the sadness for a change. I can even cope with once having loved you, although that love was just a product of deception. But hey, that’s how the human being blossoms till it burns out, like everything else in the fucking stars.

Feelings are shadow play, nonsense, a good night out under too many mojitos and a thumping bass line. Feelings can cloud your judgement, impede your vision, distorting the lense that should be pointing you towards your higher self. I’m not sure I have one of those but I’m positive you do. So regardless of how it makes either of us feel, we both have to face reality: we are over. You have a life you should value. I damage lives, not just eyeballs.

As fucked up as you are my dear, you’re a few paces better than yours truly, a few rungs higher on the consciousness ladder. Even though you’re officially a bad person, you’re still too good for me. I can’t repeat this enough. I’m ok with it and you should be too. It’s an odd stroke of luck, a little pathway upwards, a gift wrapped courtesy of the universe. Or whatever.

For my sake, just try to be be happy and live your amazing life. You don’t need me in it, the way you once did. Don’t let your memory of me stop you from living in the present, living at your best. Love is blind but you can open your eyes. Don’t let your memory of me stop you from opening your heart to someone else who can love you far better than I ever could. Don’t miss out on that because of me. You honour your memory of me if you can lead the best life you can without fear or hesitation. Your life is too precious to sabotage over an ex-boyfriend who was far too flawed to love you the way you needed to be loved.

So please, on behalf of that ex-boyfriend, find someone you deserve and grab him. Love him conditionally. Fuck his brains out. And charm him enough so that he doesn’t see all the self-interest rotting underneath your vivacious personality. Don’t try so hard not to hurt him. He might like how powerful and strong you are. I certainly do.

I’ll write you a poem you can read aloud at your wedding. It will be short, pretty, and have nothing in it but the most polite and bland lies about love. Like the Corinthians poem you love so much; the one that expresses shame at the way love actually works. But if shame is what works for you, I can play along. But not in this email.

Love, my darling Janet, is impatient. It’s not kind. It’s boastful and proud. It dishonours the memory of others, it’s self-seeking. Like Loraine, it angers easily. And like you, it keeps record of wrongs. But its not all bad. Like you, it doesn’t delight in evil. And like Loraine, it rejoices in the truth. Of course, love doesn’t always protect and trust. It doesn’t always hope and it certainly doesn’t persevere.

But you do. And I love that about you so much, Janet. I don’t have the words to tell you how much I love that about you. And that’s why I’m choosing love over you. I need love right now. Not what you give me. What you give me is better than love but I can’t handle it. It’s too powerful and I’m too damaged to be able to take it with grace. If you allow me to take centre stage in your life, even as a friend, I’m certain I will make things much worse for you. Let me be in the background.

Let me just write you that poem when you get married. Let me love my memory of you, the memory of all the things you were before I hurt you.

That’s all I can give you, apart from my forgiveness. That’s all I have left in me.


After finishing the email, Janet rolls her eyes. 

Joe’s words are drenched in three things Janet hates: hypocrisy, inconsistency, and self-pity. There are also remarks in Joe’s email that Janet finds unfair, delusional, stupid, reactionary, self-destructive, and incredibly insulting. Janet can tell Joe is trying to make her angry; he’s trying his hardest to push her away from him. However, Joe’s email contains an additional quality that makes the above elements seem comparatively unimportant to Janet:

It makes her feel loved. Janet can feel love for her in Joe’s words.

Janet feels love that Joe doesn’t even know is there. This is because there is no emotion Janet can recognise quicker and more accurately than love for her expressed in the words of another human being. Because of this, Janet knows it is not love that is blind; it is Joe.

Janet knows that Joe’s description of himself as a wild caveman and pig are self-delusions. She understands that Joe hides behind these identities so he doesn’t have to face up to the fact that he is only comfortable in relationships that are abusive. Janet also knows that Joe did not use Janet’s diagnosis as an excuse to break up with her. Janet knows Joe was genuinely terrified by her diagnosis. Janet also knows that Joe was quite comfortable with the happiness he experienced when he was Janet’s lover. Janet can always tell when Joe is lying to her because when they were together, he never did.

Janet intuitively understands many more things about Joe. She understands that Joe is emotionally unhealthy at this point in his life. She knows this is what explains his interminable self-loathing, as well as the many hurtful comments directed at her. Janet understands that Joe isn’t pushing himself hard enough to be the best person he can be. However, Janet also knows there’s a good chance he would push himself with a supportive and inspiring lover who could help him. Janet saw first hand just how healthy Joe could be when she was that lover.

Janet believes Joe can be healthy like this again. It appears on the surface that Joe is pleading with her to move on from him because he doesn’t believe in himself. But Janet believes in Joe. She believes in him very strongly.

She believes in him enough to doubt that he actually believes much of what he believes he believes. 

Janet believes in Joe, even though she hates so much of what he believes he believes about Loraine. Joe’s description of his relationship with Lorraine makes Janet feel very disturbed. Janet can tell Joe is describing a cruel and abusive woman he is attracted to because he confuses being hurt with personal growth. Joe’s description of Loraine is very similar to the way Joe described his mother in the email where he told Janet he wanted to carry on his mother’s legacy by having children.

After thinking about the reasons Joe believes he loves Loraine, Janet concludes that her worst fears have been realised: Joe loves Loraine unconditionally. Janet thinks Joe has brainwashed himself into believing that unconditional love will protect him from, rather than make him vulnerable to, abuse and self-harm. However, Janet can also tell that Joe doesn’t like Loraine. If he did like Loraine, he wouldn’t have described Loraine to Janet in the manner he did. Joe would have described Loraine in a way that would have made Janet like her. He deliberately chose not to describe her this way. 

Joe talked about how emotionally supportive Loraine is of her students. He mentioned how she lets them visit their home, how she gives them advice when they are troubled, and let’s them cry in her arms. Joe said that if Loraine were a horrible person, this wouldn’t be happening. However, Joe did not say which students Loraine offers emotional support to. He didn’t say Loraine will offer emotional support to any student who needs it.

Joe didn’t exclude the possibility that Loraine is only emotionally supportive of students she likes; students who are slim, extraverted, attractive, popular, athletic, hard working, and who excel in her classes. This is no accident. Loraine would never be emotionally supportive of any kids who weren’t like this. She would never emotionally support kids like Joe or Janet, if they happened to be in one of her classes. This is because Loraine doesn’t care at all about kids who aren’t like her. She especially doesn’t care about kids who cry because she happens to berate and humiliate them. If she did care, Janet knows Joe would have talked about this. He didn’t. 

Janet shakes her head and smiles to herself. She knows Joe wants her to rescue him from his relationship with Loraine; a relationship he is both addicted to and without the emotional strength to leave. Janet knows Joe wants this from her very badly, even though he doesn’t yet understand that this is what he actually expressed to her with his words. Unbeknownst to him, Joe is pleading desperately with Janet for help. Luckily for Joe, Janet would never turn down a plea for help from him, even though it comes from his subconscious. Like she told him in her much longer email, Janet loves Joe too much not to help him when he needs help. 

Janet is fairly certain she can get Joe to leave Loraine and go back to her within three to five weeks. She knows Joe won’t be able to resist opening another one of Janet’s emails. He won’t be able to resist starting a string of long email correspondences, correspondences he will initially hide from Loraine. These correspondences will eventually help Joe understand the obvious: It’s not selfish to want to love a lover who is like yourself. It’s not selfish to want to love a lover who, at least much of the time, you very much enjoy. Just because good people need love, that doesn’t mean other good people who don’t enjoy them are obligated to be their lovers.   

If it turns out these things are selfish, that just means relationships are selfish. 

Janet will also help Joe understand that its not important to him whether he or his lover can fix boilers, install toilets or build woodsheds. She will help him understand that he can’t thoroughly enjoy sex with a woman he doesn’t enjoy talking to, a woman whose personality doesn’t delight him. Joe doesn’t want to become a parent because most children irritate him profusely. He doesn’t want to be in a relationship with a woman who wants him to become a parent. He doesn’t want to be in a relationship with a woman he irritates in the same way children irritate him. He doesn’t like women who hate most of the things he loves. He doesn’t want to love women who are shallow and cruel. He doesn’t want to emotionally abuse them either. But getting Joe to see all of this will be about as difficult for Janet as writing a good book. Janet has already written seven, one of them in less than three weeks.

Janet can tell from Joe’s email that the abuse in his relationship with Loraine is not something that only comes from Loraine. The way Joe describes Loraine, it sounds to Janet like Loraine is a woman who hurts others because she’s in pain. It sounds to Janet like Loraine doesn’t love herself. Janet can guess Loraine will experience a lot of pain when Joe leaves her. Janet doesn’t care. However, Janet also knows she is giving Loraine a great gift-the chance to leave an abusive relationship, and learn to live in a way where Loraine doesn’t tolerate persistent cruelty from either herself or her loved ones. Janet doesn’t know she is giving Loraine a second, more life changing gift: the chance to learn how to love. But whether Loraine accepts these gifts is up to Loraine. 

Janet takes another sip of her tea and decides to buy some DVDs from amazon.co.uk. She has made a list of films she wants to watch with Joe after they reunite; films she hopes will help him understand just how much she loves him for being Joe; films like Throw Momma from the Train, Brazil, THX: 1138, Blade Runner, Eraserhead, And Now for Something Completely Different, A Clockwork Orange, O Lucky Man, Bell de Jour, Persona, Marnie, Fellini Satyricon, Performance, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Pink Flamingos, Mondo Cane, Shadows, Peeping Tom, I Want to Live, West Side Story, Barefoot in the Park, and Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

Janet is very much looking forward to watching these films cuddled next to Joe on her settee. She works hard to visualise this whenever she can’t control the urge to think about Joe. If she visualises the image her mind naturally prefers, she sees herself hugging Joe in St Martin’s Square, crying because she’s so happy she’s finally able to hug him after so many years of only being able to hug him in her dreams.

Janet works very hard not to visualise this second image, as it almost always makes her burst into tears. Worse yet, Janet finds it difficult to control when and where this image pops in her head. At more than a few speaking engagements throughout the past year, Janet has had to make up elaborate lies about how she has allergies. Janet is uncertain of how believable these lies are.

Janet is uncertain of many other things. While she thinks it highly probable that Joe will enjoy most of the DVDs she is purchasing, she’s uncertain of whether he’ll enjoy every single one of them. This bothers Janet (slightly).

Janet is also uncertain of whether the help she is giving Joe is not also manipulation. Janet doesn’t know whether she is, in fact, manipulating Joe to leave Loraine. She knows manipulation from her is something Joe would very much disapprove of. However, Janet doesn’t know whether manipulation is something that only she does; it could be something that happens in all relationships. Even the healthy ones. 

Janet is much more uncertain of whether Joe’s psychological damage will ruin their relationship. She’s uncertain of whether Joe will reject her a second time. She’s uncertain of whether she will always be able to reign in her destructive impulses. She’s even uncertain of whether she will be able to consistently project kindness and sensitivity throughout her second relationship with Joe.

Yet none of these uncertainties bother Janet. This is because Janet understands that loving anyone is a big risk. She understands that choosing to love Joe is an even bigger risk, and despite all the uncertainty, she is certain of the fact that she is unafraid, and that’s why she and Joe will reunite.

Joe will once again be in a relationship with Janet. That means Joe will once again be in a relationship with a thrill seeker who has completely self-interested motivations. Janet will once again have to cut Joe a lot of slack. She will have to allow him days when he is grumpy and isn’t good company. This is because she knows she can’t have a second relationship with Joe unless she is very patient with him. Joe has a lot of work to do on himself. Much of that work she will help him with. Some of it she won’t. If Joe wants to continue losing weight, she will not, like Loraine, give him incentives in the form of sexual favours. Janet wants Joe’s motivation to be physically healthy to come from within himself. 

If, after some time, it becomes apparent that Joe is making no effort to do any work on himself, Janet will not hesitate to leave Joe. If Joe does this work but still stops giving Janet the things that make her happy being his lover, she will also not hesitate to leave Joe. Janet will try her hardest not to give Joe good reasons to leave her. Janet knows that when she behaves selfishly and uses people, this makes Joe dislike her. Because of this, she will mostly behave in a way where she doesn’t appear selfish or like she is using anyone.

On a few occasions, Janet will show Joe some selfish behaviour. The amount of selfish behaviour she shows him will be comparable to the amount of selfish behaviour he shows her. Joe isn’t a psychopath. Nevertheless, there is still the possibility that Joe will once again feel uncomfortable with the fact that Janet has been diagnosed as such. There is still the possibility that Joe may once again feel like he can’t trust Janet. Joe may once again choose to leave Janet and break her heart. Joe may also choose to stay with her.

Janet will only want Joe to stay with her because he feels he is choosing to stay with her. Janet knows Joe can only make this choice if he has the freedom, self-belief, courage, and emotional strength to leave Janet. She wants these things for Joe. She believes she can help him acheive them. If Joe is strong enough to leave Janet and chooses to stay with her anyway, Janet will know for certain what she has always wanted to know:

She deserves love.

Inside, Janet feels like she doesn’t deserve love at all. She feels like a complete failure at all the things that matter most in life. She feels like she will always be a horrible person, despite how hard she tries to be loving and caring. Janet feels like no amount of work she can do will ever stop her from being dangerous to the people she is close to. She feels like she should be rejected and die loveless and alone.

Joe didn’t make her feel this way when he first broke up with her. Janet has always felt this way. Ever since she was a child, she felt like an animal that should have been put to sleep. Even today, she often feels like the world would be a better place without her. Janet feels a lot of shame over her feelings of self-hatred. Joe is the only person she has ever shared them with. She never shared them with her therapist or his team of clinicians.

Despite these feelings, Janet chooses to love herself. This is why she is still alive. This is why she quit smoking. This is why she never knowingly chooses to self-harm. Janet’s self-love is also the reason Joe has never fallen out of love with Janet. This love is the reason Joe chose to love Pamela and Loraine; women Joe didn’t particularly like; women who could never compare to Janet.

For both Janet and Joe, the love they have for each other is an extension of the love they have for themselves. Joe doesn’t know himself enough to know this. Janet knows it very clearly. Joe has always been frightened by this aspect of Janet’s love for him. Janet knows this fear exists because her love for him is no different to the love he has for her. Joe disagrees, but deep down, knows this disagreement is unimportant compared to the sheer depth of his love for Janet: a love so deep even he will never fully understand it.

Unbeknownst to Joe, Joe loves Janet more than he has ever loved anyone. Joe also doesn’t know that he loves Janet more than he knows himself. Janet loves Joe because knowing herself allows her to understand just how much she loves him. Because of Joe, Janet was able to attain this level of self-awareness. Hence, Joe is the reason Janet can love anyone at all. However, as she has said many times, Janet does not love Joe unconditionally.

But she does love him in a way which is like unconditional love. Janet knows that Joe is a very damaged human being. She knows he sometimes believes stupid things and makes bad decisions. She knows he sometimes hurts himself and other people. Unlike Loraine, Janet loves him anyway. But this love happens because Janet believes Joe is a good person, a very flawed and troubled good person, but her favourite person nonetheless.

Joe, on the other hand, does not know whether or not Janet is a good person. Joe knows Janet disfigured him by stabbing his eye with a fork. He knows she nearly killed him when she did that. The day she did that, Janet told him she would have killed his mother if she could get away with it. Years later, Janet told Joe that she nearly killed her own aunt and uncle. She also told him she’s responsible for the deaths of two other people she went to school with. And many years before that, Janet told Joe she was a clinically diagnosed psychopath. To this day, she maintains that this diagnosis is an accurate one.

That means Janet is officially a bad person. An evil person. Joe isn’t supposed to like Janet.

And neither are you. 


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