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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2020

entry arrow3:00 PM | The Love That We Deserve

It must be queer that I have to remind myself, once in a while, that I am loved by people who do love me. But it also takes more effort, and harder reminders, to think that I deserve it.

I know there's a line from Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower that says something to that effect. In the novel, Charlie goes up to his teacher Bill, and asks the question about the vagaries of loving, and Bill enigmatically replies: "We accept the love we think we deserve." What does that mean?

I've been pondering on that notion for years now ever since I came across that line, which struck me as something sad, but also as something true. Does it mean we "settle" for whatever measure of loving we "think" we "deserve"? If I have self-loathing, do I think of the slaps or the taunts of an abusive partner as the undeniable manifestations of the "love" I am deserving? Can we not hope for anything better -- and if we do get better, do we think we deserve it? And if we do learn to think we deserve it, will the suspicion that it will one day be taken from us go away -- because we weren't deserving of it in the first place?

I ask these questions constantly but there are really no answers. If I have to scale all these questions down to one simple thing, it would be this. Each of us are fully aware of who we are as people -- triumphs, warts, and all; and we have been privy to our capacities for lows and darkness; and sometimes when someone comes into our lives and tells us, "I love you," I believe some inelegant parts of us must reply subconsciously, "Why? You have no idea what lows I am capable of."

Today, the s.o. tells me again he loves me, and I feel grateful and I tell him so. "I feel like I don't deserve your love," I tell him, "but I make myself learn to accept it as something true." This is the brief of my compromise.

Last night, I made myself watch William Wyler's Funny Girl again. The movie was plastered everywhere on the Netflix interface, demanding to be seen. And so I did. As the film debut of Barbra Streisand, it is an introduction to a major star of the highest order, from entrance to exit, every frame screaming of the magnificence of the talent we are beholding. It must have been such a rush to see this when it opened in 1968, to see a movie star bloom before your very eyes in a performance so undeniable it garnered Ms. Streisand her first Oscar win, for Best Actress. As an embodiment of the life of the legendary comedienne Fanny Brice, who swept Broadway in the 1920s as a sensational comic insert to the glamour and gilt of the Zeigfeld Follies, Streisand gave the role a lot of depth, pathos, and wicked sense of comic timing. Which would have been enough if they weren't layered over by a singing voice that demanded attention. "People, people who needs people," she croons, "are the luckiest people in the world" -- and we instantly believe her, moved to believing by the lilt in her voice.

And so we get a Hollywoodized biography of a vaudeville comedy genius -- complete with casting the unconventional beauty of Streisand in place of the conventional plainness of its real life subject. [Brice, you might say, is the "ironic" Zeigfeld Girl.] And it also casts the comedienne's life in the pulse of a love story, that of Ms. Brice's troubled marriage to businessman Nicky Arnstein, who was also a gambler, a swindler, and later an incarcerated criminal with ties to the mob. But what a "beautiful" man he was! -- prompting Streisand's Brice to quip, in song, after their shotgun wedding: "It hurt me a little to know that the groom was more beautiful than the bride."

Looking at the movie now, it's not difficult to see the love story as a relationship of vicious co-dependency. They love each other, yes, but they remain wilfully blind to their faults, courting disasters along the way. In the end, perhaps finally knowing how damaging he can be to his wife if he remained in her life, Omar Shariff's Arnstein bids her farewell. And they part. But it certainly hurt to see a talent like Brice willing to give up everything, if ever she's "given a chance to start it all over again" with her husband.

To give up a gift of talent, and tremendous success, for a love that's actually poison ... is this what we can also mean by "accepting the love we think we deserve"?

As the film closes, we get Streisand belting out one last song on a stage. The goodbye has just devastated her, and here she is, singing a sad version of "My Man," tearfully singing out her sense of loss:

   Oh, my man I love him so
   He'll never know
   All my life is just despair
   But I don't care
   When he takes me in his arms
   The world is bright, all right.
   What's the difference if I say
   I'll go away
   When I know I'll come back on my knees some day?
   For whatever my man is
   I am his, forever more.

Great sentiment, and I am genuinely moved by it -- but in the finality of things, I pray for the day all these things prove equal: that I am loved, that it sustains me rather than diminishes me, that it banishes despair instead of invites it, that while it brightens my world this love allows that world which is mine enough space for its own independent light. And finally, given all of these, that when I do get this love -- and I have! thankfully -- there will be no hesitation to make this claim: "I deserve this."

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