from The Obstacles

Context N°19

by Eloy Urroz

“Look at it this way,” Ricardo continued. “A young man calls up a girl and asks her out. He saw her at a party, asked a friend for her number, and called her up. She accepts, delighted, because she thinks it’s someone else entirely asking her out. In fact, she doesn’t even remember the guy who actually called her. On the day of their date, he goes to pick her up, and when she comes to the door, he discovers that she isn’t the one he thought he was meeting either. Whoever gave him the number was either mistaken or playing a practical joke. But in any case, as soon as he sees this girl, he goes quiet, same as her. What I’m trying to say, Roberta, is that they’re both mistaken, both smiling, and both lying to each other at the same time. They keep quiet, out of respect or whatever you want to call it. Still, though, neither of them considers that they might be in for a wonderful evening. And that’s just what happens. They fall in love, and—in time—they marry. Then, maybe a year later, they go out to a restaurant, and notice another couple sitting at a nearby table. She recognizes the man: it’s the one she was expecting to go out with the year before. And her husband recognizes the girl too: she’s the one he thought he was calling up for a date. They end up engaging in a bit of good-natured small talk. They laugh, if a bit nervously. But tell me, do you think that their relationship is over and done with? Of course not! Quite the opposite. Do you really think that—whether they’re in love or not—they would confess all of a sudden to their mistaken expectations and offer to switch couples? What I’m trying to say is that love is a string of probabilities, either for or against. A can be with B, but also with C. It’s all about the circumstances. It’s about chance. True, attraction has a lot to do with it, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. And why is that?” Ricardo paused for a second in case Roberta was drifting off, but she was still listening, even if with half-closed eyes. “Because you can be attracted to more than one person. Many people, in fact. Not everyone, of course, and not everyone will be attracted to you, but nevertheless it’s a great big sea out there, and there are quite a lot of fish in it, Roberta. I realized that when I left Laila. There’s no such thing as a soulmate, as a ‘better half.’ It’s a fallacy: the grumblings of someone deeply wounded by love, or—on the other hand—someone on the verge of getting married. Love is not exclusive; in other words, loving someone doesn’t rule out the possibility of loving someone else, however much the one in love might want to believe it. Love disintegrates, vacillates, and is—unfortunately—the most relative thing on earth. Perhaps A and B will never be in love with me, or I with them, but this in no way means that C is the only one put on this earth to love me. It may well be true that I’m not much taken with A or B, given that they don’t love me, or perhaps I’m simply not attracted to them anyway. But that doesn’t matter, because we’ve got D, E, F, G, H, and many others to consider. It’s just that they haven’t happened to cross my path yet. If that’s the case, who’s to say that I can’t fall in love with one of them? For example, say I’m walking back from C’s house after breaking up with her. On the way home, I bump into D, and—without planning to—we hit it off. Of course, it’s also equally probable that I would have bumped into E or F. Who knows? Maybe none of this would have happened without C’s help; maybe I owe her a debt of gratitude. And here’s another example: say I’m on my way to meet F for the first time, but—two blocks before I get to her house—you and I have a little fender-bender and end up shouting insults at each other. Half an hour later, I’m knocking on her door, still unaware of the coincidence I’m about to run into. Maybe we’re embarrassed or we apologize to each other or whatever . . . but the point is that any potential love there could have been shattered by the earlier events. Understand? So it’s possible that F and I fall in love, but it’s also possible that we don’t. It’s all the same, Roberta: one long string of probabilities, either for or against . . . that’s all. And I can understand if you find what I’m telling you unpleasant or if it makes you skeptical of love as something worthy of our attention as rational creatures. But whether you believe it or not, this much is true: love is pure animalistic coexistence: fortuitous, ephemeral, and circumstantial. I learned that after leaving Laila.”

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Translation by Ezra Fitz
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