it may very well have been otherwise

I finally finished reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a book that has been important to Z for some time now.  Grad school and other excuses led to me not reading it until recently. He began reading it to me in bed. Then, he left and I finished reading the rest of it on my own. In the first part of the book, I just knew that Tomas was going to be the only truly developed character, and I scoffed that Tereza and Sabina (the women) would be the typical flat, neurotic female characters. Don’t we have enough representations of those in literature? By the time I put down the book, I’d changed my mind. In the last half, Tereza was as well developed as Tomas was in the beginning, if not better. The book has become important to me. The conflict of commitment, of committing to spending one’s life with another or in a certain way, resonates with me. Tomas tells himself, Es muss sein (it must be!) when it comes to his love for Tereza. Immediately, he develops a committed “poetic memory” about his love for Tereza. To him, it feels meant to be. Although he is driven to great lengths to maintain sexual affairs with countless other women, he is always emotionally loyal to Tereza. For Tomas, when it comes to Tereza: Es muss sein. Occasionally, when their relationships causes one or both of them pain, he thinks, Es könnte auch anders sein (it may very well have been otherwise).

I am often conflicted with trying to shape my future into something worthy of fate, of Es muss sein. I love the idea of fate, especially in love. “The Origin of Love” is one of my favorite love songs, after all, but committing to fate is not something I’ve been able to do. In the end, I am not the trembling, jealous, and co-dependent Tereza. In fact, I have a hard time placing her love for Tomas. I don’t relate. And yet, I did relate to some aspects of Tereza and could see myself in her loyalty, her intense passion, and the security she creates for her and Tomas. I could also see myself in Sabina—the free spirit, artistic type. She’s independent and self-assured. I mean, she’s flawed too—don’t get me wrong—but I see myself in her in that commitment to one man is not something that has come naturally to me. I have a wandering eye (that does not control me), and I love to spend hours on end alone, writing, thinking, reading—doing the things that are difficult to do in the presence of someone else.

Since reading this book, I’ve wondered if I want to be these two different women to two different people. At least for a time. The relationship between Tomas and Tereza lasts. Sabina’s relationships do not. I think I would like the freedom that Sabina has in her relationships, the independence. I think I would also like the deep bond that Tereza and Tomas have, even though it comes at the cost of each of them wondering how they’ve held each other back. I can stand being accountable for my own life, but the successes and failures of someone else’s life? No thank you. I see myself in all of these characters—Tereza’s fear, Tomas’s lack of control, and Sabina’s constant running. While I like to imagine experimenting with these different parts of myself, and the possibility seems somewhat exciting, in the back of my mind I can’t help but wonder if it’s all being forced upon me anyway.

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