In my new book, Short Stories About Us, the story “Future Love” is set in Miami, Florida. It recounts the dilemma experienced by a married Cuban-American woman who falls in love with her Argentinian-American lover. But she adores her husband and refuses to leave him. When the lovers can’t find a way out, she agrees to clone herself for him — with unforeseeable results.
After writing Future Love, it dawned on me that we’re already cloning ourselves all the time, and I’ve written those thoughts in the below essay, which can also be found in the book.
The Big Dissemble
A friend’s intense and satisfying love story fell apart when she realized her boyfriend had misrepresented himself. Nothing tragic or dramatic, like a hidden wife and family, or that he once went to prison for rape, or that he fights cannibalistic tendencies! Only that the enlightened, smart, and mindful guy she believed might be a soulmate turned out to be solidly smart, yeah, but less caring and mindful than a petulant, me-me-me, full-grown baby la-la (my 4-year-old friend’s term for crybabies). This is not the stuff of nefarious bait-and-switch plotlines, but merely the common surfacing of character failings that the calm, weed-digging of time allows. Sometimes the flaws may be purposely disguised, but just as often they remain unknown even to the heel in question! Usually the lovely commotion otherwise known as “the beginning” phase of a relationship is not fraught with deception — just regular Joes presenting themselves as Prince Charming, and everyday Janes in radiant Captivating Goddess mode. In other words, everyone involved on their best behavior. But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to discuss the Big Dissemble (or the “Big D” for short).
We are all human beings with fairly similar patterns of emotional behavior. I’ve been pondering the way people dissemble: how they dismantle their psyche, create an alternate version of themselves, and then work like mad to squeeze that newly crafted round selfhood into a square reality, all in order to justify staying in a relationship in which they never really fit to begin with. In the end it’s the biggest reveal of all, with you, the discarded partner, typically shaken and in shock, wondering Where did I go? And How did I become that person? It’s kind of like hiring a clone to take over some part of your life that you can’t handle. Technology wet-dreams the possibility, desperately seeking to outmaneuver the attendant pitfalls. But we’re doing a fine job on our own — no human carbon copy needed. We’ve perfected the art of fragmentation.
Becoming someone you’re not (within any context, although I’ll focus here on the romantic relationship): we do it all the time, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. We learn to accept the unacceptable; twist ourselves into curiously altered selves; defend the indefensible; make excuses that we come to believe with zeal — all in the interest of maintaining the status quo, or making peace with an unpleasant dynamic. No matter the justifications for this type of behavior, they read like a laundry list of clichés:
I wanted to try and make it work.
Being alone is so lonely.
There was so much promise!
She made it so easy to stay.
I thought he was just going through a midlife crisis.
A good relationship is worth fighting for. I don’t like to quit.
How will I support myself without her income?
He only acts that way in public. He’s great when we’re alone together.
She had such a harsh upbringing. I wanted to help her through that.
Sound familiar? You become whatever it takes in order to keep the relationship alive: his biggest advocate; her sounding board; the sex kitten (even when you’d rather slip on your giant t-shirt and bunny slippers); his mother; his therapist; her partner in crime; the woman he would like you to be; a vegetarian, even though you dream of hamburgers; a meat-eater, even when the thought of cattle farm practices make you gag. You go to spin classes five days a week because only thin men turn her on. You start eating bread and butter with your pasta because he prefers a woman with curves. You pretend to like chamber music when you’d rather be hip-hopping. You regale friends with your newfound love of classical music and how you so look forward to those weekly concerts. You even feel superior to those friends because you’ve told yourself that’s what smart, sophisticated people do. You love feeling smart and sophisticated, even though you are smart and sophisticated in ways that are at odds with him — ways that would perfectly bookend his approach to the world if given the chance. You discount your innate intelligence because you start looking at the world through her eyes. And when it falls apart, you look at your splintered self in the mirror, fail to recognize the person looking back at you, and begin to develop self-hatred for having been so afraid to be who you are.
Of course, the self-hatred began back in the earliest days of the fracturing process, which is why it sometimes takes a long time to reconnect back to self-love. The longer you beat yourself for having fallen into the Dissemble trap, the longer you perpetuate the self-hatred that made dissembling feel so natural.
Most men don’t have a problem with their inability to intuit or empathize, or being overbearing when they think it is warranted, or feeling confident in their own ignorance of certain matters. And in most cases, they think the big gut hanging over their belts poses no barrier to parading around the house naked and wagging their dicks at you just for fun. No, they double down and defend the right to be their fully male selves. By contrast, most women are good with the tears that flow when we feel hurt or experience injustice; we thank the stars for our organic capacity to resolve conflict by considering all sides of a situation, not just our own; we habitually attempt the healing of our loved ones’ wounds, and juggle multiple tasks — domestic and professional — all while recuperating from surgery! We could learn a thing or two from each other. The Big D never fixes anything. We need to keep moving toward the Big B instead. Because our whole, fully formed self is a thing of astonishing Beauty.
Have you ever engaged in the Big D? How did that work out for you? You can join the conversation at the book’s Facebook page. I’d love to hear your thoughts! Future Love, the individual story is also available here for a mere $1.99! Or you can get the book, Short Stories About Us here!