Sleeping With Money: Love in the Time of Cholera
I was hesitant to join in on the Sleeping With Money series. The first things that came to mind when I considered it were not exactly pleasant, so, to the old adage, I thought it best (for once) to say nothing at all. But now I’m reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ Love in the Time of Cholera. I’m about half way through, and it’s brought a lot to the table in regards to my nasty thoughts.
A brief synopsis for anyone who hasn’t read it (and I firmly believe that every literate person should read at least one of his books; he’s a master): it’s a love story, or more of a love triangle actually (at least I think; it’s kind of hard to tell who’s actually in love, who’s under the spell of habit, and who’s just psychotic at this point. I guess those could all be considered love at its finest.). Early in the novel, Marquez depicts the marriage between a wealthy, highly esteemed doctor, renowned for his work in suppressing the cholera epidemic, and his wife, Fermina Daza, a woman who married “up” socially and improved her stature as well as her quality of life. They seem wonderfully happy after several decades of cohabitation and the raising of children, although also strangely and severely codependent. (Is there any way not to be after half a century with someone?) For example, she helps him dress every day even though he is fully capable.
Then, the doctor suddenly dies, and this third point on the triangle enters the picture. He was Fermina’s first childish love, and she his unrequited. He’s never married, has made a pledge of faithfulness and undying love to her, and really isn’t good at much other than playing the violin. At this point, he’s trying to woo her directly following the funeral of her husband, which seems entirely disrespectful but is also, understandably, the marker of his breaking point: 52 years after she married the doctor and crushed his innocent and delusional hopes of having her.
It’sprobably good that I haven’t completed the book, or I’d be spilling the ending here for anyone who might actually be interested in reading it. I also tell all Christmas presents in advance. In addition, it gives me the opportunity to put out for viewing my vulnerable reader status, how torn up the book has me right now. This third wheel person, Florentino, is not poverty-stricken. He has a comfortable life; his mother has enough assets to offer out small loans to local strugglers; but he is not of the top social tier that the doctor occupies. During his attempt at courting Fermina, her father calls Florentino aside to deter him.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez writes of the father’s attempt to secure a higher socio-economic status for his daughter, “Then he liquidated lands and animals and moved with new impetus and seventy thousand gold pesos to this ruined city and its moth-eaten glories, where a beautiful woman with an old-fashioned upbringing still had the possibility of being reborn through a fortunate marriage. Florentino Ariza had been an unforeseen obstacle in his hard-fought plan.”
The father’s solution to his problem: he says to Florentino, “Get out of our way.”
The problem with being a poet who makes stabs at successful polyamory is that I historically end up in these triad situations where, no matter how hot the sex is, I am the leg with the lower net worth. The poly pretense starts to bend toward gifts and dinners and social flare, and the sugarer figure ultimately and figuratively gets me up against the ropes. This has happened several times. The last time it happened it was a bit of a relief, a convenient and tidy excuse to wrap things up on my part and hers. However, the two times prior to that, I fell ridiculously for the women in question and each time was left for someone much richer and much less aesthetically pleasing. My friends tell me the problem is not in the economics of the situation, but in the women I have been known to select. This might be true. I’ve been trying to pursue kinder avenues lately.
The strange thing is, when I read Fermina’s father’s words, I felt for the first time not like the Florentino character, but like the one speaking, “Get out of our way.” I was a bit shocked by that recognition and have been trying to talk myself down from the dollars over love ledge for the past 68 pages of Love in the Time of Cholera. I’ve been considering my most recent lovers and have come up with nothing even bordering the notion that they might be in my way, certainly not financially but not in any other way either. Neither of them even skirt that possibility and are actually some of the most supportive individuals I’ve ever known. They are highly ambitious and self-sustaining, self-supporting people.
I think this get-out-of-my-way feeling isn’t about individuals; it’s about engaging in relationships that are, by nature, unequal. While these relationships can be fun temporary games, engaging with people who don’t want to bring equal amounts of resources to a relationship has its limits. I’m not just talking about money. I’m talking about those who want more delivered than they want to offer. While money is definitely a blatant example, dollars are also one of the easiest to measure and exchange for other resources. Things like emotional attentiveness are not. The princesses I once dated and the princesses I now date are of the same variety of spoiled and demanding. The difference is in the ruling of the court; the current aren’t easily persuaded when in comes to love and loyalty. Also, probably I am at last getting out of my own way, no longer confusing the various types of “net worth.”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez is hinting here — at this halfway point — that Fermina Daza, almost fifty-two years after she snubbed him the first time, might be interested in the ever pursuant Florentino, that they might have the love affair she wrote off to naivety half a century earlier. That just makes my stomach hurt.