We Used to Play Outside When We Were Young

by dhaaruni

I’m actually somewhat unsure about how exactly I’m supposed to process “This is How You Lose Her.” Junot Diaz is a very profound writer and the book is profound and heartbreaking and just very human, in the most beautiful and most disgusting of ways. I’ve been in love, I’ve been in hate, I’ve been in everything in between with other people and with myself, and I don’t think I could tell you anything concrete about love except that it’s so individualized you have to figure it out for yourself. I felt like this book was about watching a man realize his callous mistreatment of others was what broke him as a person and I think he got to a point where he came to terms that he wasn’t going to be able to fix himself since the cracks were too deep, and so dedicated himself to preventing it from happening to others. And with the knowledge that Junot Diaz cheated on his wife, I’m inclined to believe this book is an apology that he knows isn’t going to be accepted, even by himself, because you reach a point sometimes where love isn’t enough to salvage a relationship

I don’t sympathize with the narrator for his infidelity and I don’t think I’m supposed to, but I do understand his pain regarding it. For all the chronic accounts of unfaithful men in fiction, I’ve never read an account that’s so self loathingly insecure and acknowledging of the pathetic awfulness of infidelity and its detrimental effect on other people. For the most part, I don’t think infidelity is about the sex, or about the other person involved, but about the cheater himself; it’s about a search for validation that is never going to be received, the search for something new and fresh because they’re so scared people will eventually see them as they see themselves and it’s an almost childishly petulant declaration of power. And, in romantic relationships, an unbalanced dynamic leads to nothing except unhappiness and mutual dislike. And yet, the book wasn’t ugly no matter how ugly the topics inside could be; there was a certain light in the novel that couldn’t be extinguished. In the midst of darkness and death and gloom, the reader is still given the message that love exists in all forms, parental and fraternal and romantic, and the most human of tendencies is to want to love and be loved, so there is always hope.

My favorite passage in the novel wasn’t any of the “famous quotes,” or the content of the last vignette where Yunior acknowledges his failings in love, but a conversation between a teenage Yunior and his girlfriend.

“I wore an eye patch when I was kid, you said. Maybe we met out here and fell in love over bad barbecue.

I doubt it, I said.

I’m just saying, Yunior.

Maybe five thousand years ago we were together.

Five thousand years ago I was in Denmark.

That’s true. And half of me was in Africa.

Doing what?

Farming, I guess. That’s what everybody does everywhere.

Maybe we were together some other time.

I can’t think when, I said.”

That’s what young love felt like, and when reading that, it’s as if I’m looking at my old diaries as a young teenager. It evokes the undying yearning for togetherness and a tie to each other beyond romantic love, a craving for something more than physical attraction and shared interests, the belief that destiny is taking care of us, wrapping us in a blanket and protecting us from the harshness of the world. As a young adult, I’ve been conditioned to abandon that sort of romantic sentiment for a practicality that doesn’t feel entirely natural, and yet, it doesn’t go away. It simply is buried down under everything and everybody we’ve ever known, a craving for the mutually exclusive states of unconditional love and total freedom and may not ever be fulfilled.

But my takeaway from the novel is that in spite of our preoccupations with it, we don’t need romantic love to be fulfilled as human beings. It’s not part of a checklist for being a valid, successful person: wears business suits, can walk in 4-inch heels, eats quinoa and kale, and is madly in love with the person who destiny chose for them. Romantic love isn’t a goal because it’s not about knowing and controlling and achieving, it’s about understanding and acquiescing and listening to others, and most of all, coming to terms with who we are when we’re standing naked in front of the mirror at night, the fluorescent lights are exposing every imperfection in our bodies and in our souls. Because, if we aren’t comfortable with ourselves without a lover, the combined insecurities and neuroticisms of another person will do nothing more than drive us to emotional ruin, and like Yunior says, love is about acknowledging the inherent worth of another person in spite of their numerous flaws, to trace their weaknesses with a tender hand. And, we’re only rendered capable of that by first tearing ourselves apart and putting the pieces back together with the careful tenderness we’d wish for everybody we’ve ever loved.