Good morning new lovers, young lovers, old lovers…
I read Old Love, an opinion piece in the Times by writer Louis Begley when it was just published on August 11th and was bothered by it. I thought, ‘Well, put it down, ponder it, read it again, and the bothersomeness of it will have passed.’ And so I did. And No, it didn’t. Rather it became even more bothersome, and then I was doubly troubled. What is there to be bothered by, after all? It is a thoughtful, honest, and more than elegantly well-written piece about Begley’s relationship to beauty, specifically in the form of the young woman with whom he fell in love and to whom he is still married (the Lady in Question), and his wondering as the years passed whether his love for her might wane if and when her beauty faded.
It turns out that he need not have worried about abandoning his lady love as she withered before his eyes, discovering as time went by that his love deepened and morphed into something that allowed him to become kinder, gentler and more eager to please and indulge her than he had been even in their combined youth. And, Yes, happily he remains as attracted to her as ever.
So what is it then that bothers me, you ask? So many questions raced through my head: Did Begley’s heart grow fuller because of some deep attachment to his memory of her past youthful glory, which he still saw as her gazed upon her older more mature self? Was it her beauty itself that allowed his heart to soften in some way? Would he himself have grown in love were she not so beautiful to begin with? Would he have had the capacity to love a woman not so blessed by the Gods with loveliness? Or did he simply discover that she was as beautiful inside as out, or perhaps even more so, and was it that with which he ultimately fell in love?
I can only say that, as a woman, it is a mixed curse for us to be gazed upon and admired for the all too brief qualities of beauty and youth, only to know full well that those who look upon us for those things will soon enough be tempted to turn their eyes toward more comely nubility elsewhere, unless their loves grows as did our man Begley’s. Or at least that is the fear.
It makes me question whether it is possible for a woman to really feel loved at all, until perhaps the day comes when she herself notices a self-evident withering and, if she is indeed fortunate, notices at the same time that her man gazes upon her still, with all the warmth and tenderness described so beautifully by Begley. What a wonderfully peaceful feeling that must be.
I will never forget something I witnessed on a subway car in New York City many years ago. I was riding to work on the 6 line and a man and woman got on and sat directly across from me. He was Asian with long dark hair and very slight, while she rather towered over him. But half of her face was quite disfigured, not from any kind of accident, but clearly from birth, such that she almost had two entirely different visages. One eye was perfectly round, while the lower lid on the other drooped, and so it went with every other aspect of the left wide of her face, from her eyebrow to her eye to her nose to half her mouth to her entire jawline. It was as though she had been painted by Picasso.
I was angry with myself for staring, but I couldn’t help it, for they were sitting so closely snuggled up together. After they had settled in and the train started rolling, they both pulled out books and began reading. Shamelessly I continued to watch, when suddenly his left hand reached out for hers and I noticed his slim wedding band. I looked at her left hand, the finger ring of which was graced by a matching band and I thought, ‘How beautiful they are.’