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By July 28, 2010Myth or Reality

Tremendous author alert:

Her name is Kate Chrsitensen and her writing is. Just. So. Good. I was in deep need of a book that wasn’t anxiety-inducing, scary, deeply upsetting, about business or annoying. Her book, The Great Man, landed in my lap (thanks, Orly)…and now I want to devour everything she’s written.

I have five bullets for you:

  • Excellent prose: luscious and so smart.
  • Hilarious. In that witty, kicks you in the ass kind of way.
  • Drenched in NYC-ness.
  • Picks people and all of their ooey, gooeyness apart—as if with steel-tipped toothpicks.
  • Strong female protagonists. (One that I love, two that I tolerate.)

But it was page 67 that got me. Reached out, grabbed my eyeballs and poured in this gem. Ready? (and I promise this won’t spoil anything…):

My mother was the lover and my father the beloved. From watching them, I drew the conclusion that it’s best to be the lover, the one who adores and pursues. Love is tangentially about power, and the beloved has less power than the lover, all appearances to the contrary…One person is the adorer and cherisher and the other is the adored and cherished. Whenever Mom (the lover) distanced herself from Dad (the beloved), which was rarely, believe me, he sort of fell apart.

Oh, how I love the word ‘tangentially’.

Now, I don’t know about you…but I had this reversed in my befuddled brain. I thought when you were the lover, you had less power because you wanted more than you could have. You were tortured, without, in need.

After I read that paragraph fifty-three times…I realized not only was Christensen’s (character’s) sentiment spot on, but that I already knew it to be true. I know both sides. When you are the lover—even though the pain and torment threaten to consume—you do have the power to stop at any moment…and walk away. That’s actually true.

But, sitting on the other side of the table—as the beloved—all of that love could disappear at any moment. And you have no control over it whatsoever. So there you are, beloved by this other person, wondering (in the back of your mind somewhere) when and if this magical spell you have over your lover will evaporate—as mythically as it appeared.

And if it does, it could send you into the tailspin of suddenly being the pursuer or it could just leave you all alone. But, in the meantime, it always hangs over you, like a spider on your bedroom ceiling, watching you, scurrying around, occasionally disappearing, then showing up again, soundless…ever threatening to fall.

Just look at the words themselves. Beloved is a noun, passive, sitting, lame duck. Lover is active, moving, doing, momentum.

How wrong I’d had it. And how much power I’d given up as the lover. Such a waste. A brutal waste.

And then I started thinking about other instances where I’ve assumed a lack of power—where maybe there was some. Or lots.

  • Employee v. Boss
  • Writer v. Publisher
  • Child v. Parent
  • Patient v. Doctor
  • Mind v. Heart
  • Dream v. Reality
  • What else???

Oh. How I love good books. Written by fabulously smart women.

Image credit: Esparta

Join the discussion 15 Comments

  • Lindsey says:

    I’ve always had this backwards too. Thank you for so brilliantly elucidating it here – wow what truth. I haven’t read any of Kate Christensen’s work but I will seek her out!

  • Kim Lucas says:


    What I love most about your blog is how you are able take a paragraph like this and amplify it for everyone. When you find, grasp and share your insight in this way,it is a wake up call to me that I really need to slow down and pay more attention to the little things.


  • Siddhartha says:

    You really got my brain going this morning. Thanks for introducing me to Kate Christiansen too, I like this snippet and will definitely check out more of her writing.

    On the subject of power in relationships though, I wonder if it has more to do with the availability of supply than the dynamic of the relationships themselves. It seems as though the lover has more power because for most of us it’s easier to find someone to bestow love upon than to find someone who will love us.

    But one can imagine a situation in which an extremely desirable person had an abundance of waiting suitors and could easily move on to the next should we attempt to withhold our affection. This only occurred to me as I contemplated the relationship of employers and employees and writers and publishers.

    If publishers are abundant and writers scarce, the writers have the power. But where writers are ubiquitous and publishers are limited, the publishers can be more selective.

    • Julie Roads says:

      Very wise, Siddhartha. I actually thought hard about putting some of those relationships down – and actually about the whole post, because I know how easily it could be seen in a completely different light.

      There is no one right answer here…just the illumination of about a billion possibilities.

  • Kip Durney says:

    It’s a cyclical tale… the beloved loses the lover who becomes the beloved until such time he/she decides to be the lover again. The meandering intricacies of love, passion, and power.

    I gotta read this book. :)

  • Ron Miller says:

    In my view, the writer got it wrong. The whole premise that true love is a battle for power one way or the other is wrong. As i see it, when you find the right person, neither person cares about such things. Bruce Springsteen put it this way:

    We said we’d walk together baby come what may
    That come the twilight should we lose our way
    If as we’re walkin a hand should slip free
    I’ll wait for you
    And should I fall behind
    Wait for me

    Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic though.

  • I’d say my jaw is hanging open but I’m eating so that would be rude. This is one of those things that never occurs to us until it’s spelled out, then we wonder how we never realized it before. I get this. But I have to tell you, my 20-something self would have argued it. I was sooo stuck in the lover as powerless mentality back then.

  • Ari Herzog says:

    You sparked me to search my blog for the word, “tangentially,” and found one occurrence:

    I like it too.

  • Andi says:

    Sounds like such a good read!!!

  • Andi says:

    Have to get this book, I love books with strong female protagonists and that passage has intrigued me! Also I have been on both side but have also never thought about the power paradigm in this light!

  • Poster says:

    actually, the one who cares less is the one with the most power in a relationship.

    it’s all written down EXTENSIVELY in the PUA (=pick up artist) literature. google it. you will be surprised. the paragraph you cited sounds like a (nice) rewrite.

  • Ron says:

    I found this interesting. I had some issues with the whole power thing though. It could just be that I am misreading or misunderstanding the concept itself. It would seem though that any relationship, especially marriage, that seeks power over another is doomed to fail. Love should never be about power (power leads to control) over another. Would any of us want to be with someone who takes control in love or any matter? In marriage it has to be a shared journey & an understanding that each person brings different personality traits to the table.

    Sure we may decide that one is better equipped to handle the finances or other family matters. But even there decisions need to be joint decisions. But if we try to take power over the other in love then that would feel like we are being played by the other. It would cause resentment & eventually a decision by the powerless to find somebody who doesn’t try to control us with giving love when THEY want to. Like I stated though I may just be misunderstanding the whole concept. It wouldn’t be the first :-)

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