“You don’t know what it’s like when someone you thought loved one, goes away and does the same things with somebody else”
Pieces from a jigsaw of relationships
Here’s a blog from a volcanic island for anyone who wants to be love again. I’ve just finished reading Sybille Bedford’s autobiographical novel ‘Jigsaw’, and I can’t stop thinking about love. Maybe it’s the Sicilian heat, or possibly my medication, that cost twice as much as last night’s dinner. Whatever. Bedford’s Proustian narrative about inconstant, and unforgiving lovers, has got me thinking about my past relationships: what happened, and what I contributed, often, to make a difficult situation worse.
Patterns of behaviour
I need to make sense of the pieces in Bedford’s ‘Jigsaw’. What messages does she have about love and life? Imagine a real jigsaw depicting a French mediterranean town, north London, and Finchingfield, Essex. If you look at the whole picture, you can see small groups of people, in twos and threes, involved in different types of relationships. Take a closer look, and you will see patterns of behaviour that, for me, are uncomfortable.
The Pursuit of Love
In ‘Jigsaw’, Bedford describes many different relationships. I’ll try to summarise five of the most prominent.
A young woman and a young man have a one night stand. Later, the young man becomes increasingly abusive towards the young woman, because she does not want to sleep with him again.
A young man marries a young woman because she is very keen to marry him, and, having been engaged for a year, he feels it is the right thing to do. Once they are married, the young woman makes a habit of sniping at her husband, while cultivating admirers in a very public way.
An older man has a long term unacknowledged relationship with a young woman. They live separately, and go on holiday together, once. After a number of years, the older man commits suicide over gambling debts.
A married woman divorces her husband after he tells her that he is having an affair with someone else. The married woman insists on a divorce, saying: “Jamie has done wrong…he must bear the consequences.”
A young man marries a much older woman. After some years of living happily together, the young man has an affair with a younger woman. His wife starts to drink, and becomes addicted to morphine. The young man still loves his wife, and wants to stay married to her. Eventually, he leaves, because he finds it too difficult to watch her self-destruct.
What can we learn?
What is Bedford’s message? If she had written a book called ‘How to be Happy in Love, and in Life’, perhaps she might have said this:
The young woman in Relationship Two wanted to be world class tennis player. She didn’t succeed, because she was not physically strong enough. The narrator of ‘Jigsaw’, on the other hand, becomes a writer. Despite her many ups and downs, she is one of the few characters in the book who achieves some kind of lasting personal fulfillment – Maslow’s ‘Self-Actualisation’.
Learn to forgive, avoid jealousy and blame
Taking positions, making demands, and blaming other people, is what leads to the failure of four of the five relationships. In Relationship One, the young man blames the young woman for not wanting to sleep with him again. In Relationship Two, the young woman blames the young man for many things, including not being good at business. In Relationship Four, the young woman blames her husband because according to her principles, he did wrong and must suffer. And in Relationship Five, the older woman blames the young man for having an affair. Only the young woman in Relationship Three does not blame her lover.
Be kind, be empathetic, try to see things from the other person’s perspective
The older woman in Relationship Five has moments of seeing things through her husband’s eyes. However, she needs increasing doses of morphine to manage her rage. What if the older man in Relationship Three had asked himself what it was like for the younger woman to be his lover? He did not even know how she traveled to his apartment every night.
In ‘Jigsaw’, Sybille Bedford pieces together what she has learned about love and life. It's good learning, if only I could put it into practice...
Stromboli and London, 25-28 July 2013
PS Listen to Sybille Bedford on Desert Island Discs broadcast on 5 July 1998