Reflections on Aphorisms #97

Today was a good day overall. Not a hyper-productive days, but I give myself a reprieve on Sundays. My morning was not particularly a high point (I need to stop getting in arguments online), but the rest of the day proceeded more or less amicably.

The best part is that I feel like I am going to be very well-prepared for tomorrow, which is a good feeling to go to bed with.

Aphorism 136

There may be good but there are no pleasant marriages. (Maxim 113)

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

One of the things that I am convinced of is that we have a false association between that which is good and that which is pleasant.

Of course, there is something to be said for the idea that good things often lead to good outcomes; on a certain level this is naturally inherent, whether it is because you believe that good actions are in line with God’s will or because what we define as good is in line with what has been evolutionarily advantageous (or, if you’re someone like Carl Jung, both).

I’m not a married man. I might be a marrying man, but I’ve never really committed to relationships. This doesn’t mean that I look down on commitment; I actually respect it quite a bit, but I haven’t found within me the spark I need to do so.

Rochefoucauld’s point here speaks to me in part because some of my hesitancy with long-term relationships revolves around this notion. I’ve been blessed enough to have a generally pleasant life. There have been some interludes of misery, often quite profound misery, sometimes misery that has scarred me and sometimes misery that I can’t even remember. To give an example of the latter sort, I did quite a number on my foot this morning, for instance, swinging it back into a plastic hard-shell case and then forward into the runner of an office chair, which I was pulling toward myself. Only when trying to recall this sort of insignificant misery did I remember it, so I don’t think it’s worth mentioning.

The profound and awful misery, the kind I can remember, centers around the worst treatment I’ve ever received. I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with unkindness (in small doses), though I also believe that it tends to be counterproductive, but there’s a point at which one crosses the threshold to deliberate destruction. Only upon reflection do I look at some of the examples of events in my life which could reasonably be called unjust. A “mentor” who took every opportunity to condemn and tear down. Companions who were quick to coerce with fists and manipulation, but slow to provide support. 

The thing that scares me the worst out of everything in the world (except perhaps dark outdoors spaces) is that in these situations I was incapable of seeing the damage I was sustaining. I knew on an intuitive level, but I never was able to communicate what it was. I sustained tremendous losses both on a practical level (thousands of dollars of wasted tuition, months of wasted life) and a psychological one (exaggerated feelings of inadequacy, a lingering block against looking people in the eyes).

I guess that this pain, although not the sole factor, is a major block in me developing serious relationships. As much as I hated receiving it, I would hate to become that thing which brings profound misery into other peoples’ lives. I want to believe that we can call these things evil, that they can only stem from malicious intent; Jordan Peterson has an excellent working definition of evil which can be paraphrased as “the deliberate causation of harm” if you don’t recall his much better way of saying it. 

I’m not sure that all suffering comes from evil, or at least not conscious evil.

In this sense, I think that one of the difficulties in having a good relationship is that it’s painful, because you need to rid yourself of the things which make you evil. That’s not possible, because we’re flawed and victimized and broken and incapable. But if you do it right you get most of the way there, which is really all we can ask for.

With that said, I think that Rochefoucauld is wrong.

There are good and pleasant things in the world. That’s part of the reason the world exists, at least according to my faith in God. We’re given this sandbox to explore, and sure sometimes the sand is made of dead things and we’re responsible for a great deal of harm, but just because we suck doesn’t mean that we’ve been rejected and sent to a sort of grand cosmic penal colony. Actually, it might, and given my fairly dour take on things like original sin and the total depravity of man I suppose that I kind of believe that. But that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing good in the world.

And if there’s one thing good, it’s two people coming together in a union that makes something more than 1+1. Marriage is a tool for the creation of families, and the creation of children, and there’s something divine in that.

I’m also from the sort of sect that is totally fine with marital relations and doesn’t make you feel guilty about them. I don’t know what the rules were back in Rochefoucauld’s day (Rome was sometimes a bit of a stickler about these things), but at least in more Protestant sects marriage is a pretty good deal on that front. We read the whole “be fruitful and multiply” commandment as being a free pass, basically.

Yeah, the moment to moment may sometimes suck, but it’s that passing sort of misery; the “accidentally slam your foot into something behind you then compensate by trying to fracture your toes on a chair” sort of misery. It’s not something that you’ll look back on later and even think about, because unless you let it become pathological and obsessive, you’re not going to care. The good parts will win out in the end.

To wrap up, because I’ve gone longer than usual:

  1. Marriage is generally unpleasant because we’re unpleasant.
  2. Connecting to people means opening yourself, and you can get hurt (or worse, you can hurt them).
  3. I’m going to remain happily single until I work out some of my issues.
  4. Man, marriage could actually be a good thing.

Resolution

Be the person someone would marry in their right mind.

Recognize that there is no perfection in a person.

Don’t let scars eat at my soul. That’s a stupid way to give the wicked what they want.

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