My Dearest Hemlock: on “Marrying Up”

My dearest Hemlock,

Obviously the first thing I noticed in your patient’s report is that she’s recently married. (You can’t do much about the fact that she professes now to belong to the Enemy, still less that her husband says the same. Of course you’ll need to be working closely with Simmersulk, who works with the husband. But he should already have been in touch.)

There’s much fun to be had here, Hemlock. Marriage in itself is not something we approve of. It’s disconcerting, I know, when you must listen to the vows the vermin make to one another and you start to have dizzying thoughts of what would happen if they actually kept them. (What heinous claptrap! “Better” and “worse” and “richer” and “poorer” and “honoring” and “obeying” and all that.)

Thankfully, they seldom do.

So even if you still have a sick feeling in your stomach from having attended the wedding and heard a lecture about the Enemy and his disgusting plans to “marry” his own bride (which just goes to show you how little personal pride he has, to not only allow himself to be mentioned in the same sentence with this charade that is the human marriage, but to actually design it as a picture show for his own long-term plans of “love” and “self-sacrifice”), never fear. The tide usually turns very soon and human marriage often has all sorts of delights in store for us.

In the case of your girl, I have an easy trick to suggest; she sounds like the ideal candidate.

When you have a pretty woman marrying a nice, average, hardworking young man, I’ve had much success by inviting her to think often of how the young man “married up.” You might think this a vulgar, economical phrase that has no place in her mind when it comes to marriage. Marriage is supposed to be this exchange of free love and commitment, after all, not an exchange on the stock market.

But the thing is, most humans think of marriage exactly as we think of it: an exchange of goods and services for other goods and services. They don’t know that they think this, because many of them nowadays are in the heightened emotional state called “being in love” when they get married. But for most of history, they believed it and they knew that they believed it: marriage was a kind of “buying in.” You hoped to buy in as high as you could—someone with as many pigs as possible, as large a hut as possible, as important a family name as possible, etc.

Now the humans don’t admit to themselves or others that they believe they are “buying in.” This is what we’ve achieved with all the (otherwise odious) language of love and free choice. But they still believe it. They want someone with as much commodity as possible—the commodities being physical attractiveness, social clout, money, exciting conversation, hobbies, and so on. Without these commodities, none of them would be induced to marry; even when they say they “love” another person, what they generally mean is that they love the qualities in the person that make them feel important and special to have been chosen by that person, or that they love the life the person will probably give them, or that they love the person they have fun with whenever the two go out to dinner in their best clothes.

So with this kind of setup, there are all kinds of delightful possibilities. One obvious result is that they are both surprised and disappointed when they do marry and carry on living together through ordinary life. Everybody knows about that one.

But another fun thing is to get one of them to believe deeply that they have “married down.” In this case, I think you should try for it; your girl is more foolish than the man and she’d go for it. Also in your favor is the fact that, like most women, she’s pretty.

Oh, I love this trick! We’ve been doing this for years, but it’s never been better and easier than right now. A hundred years ago, when we saw photography getting big, we immediately began working out the immense potential in it. Human beings, routinely being turned into images at the touch of a button! And then moving pictures came, and then something we immediately started calling “fame” (which was a pleasingly borrowed word from one used to describe the Enemy, as you know).

You remember that story from one of their authors, Steinbeck, something about mice and men? There was a character in that story who shows exactly what I’m saying. She was dressed up to the skies and mincing around the family farm, “looking for her husband” in places she knew he wasn’t to be found, and instead finding other farmhands to flirt with. Once there, she’d give them a little speech that revealed what she was always thinking about: “I could of went with shows,” she says. “Not jus’ one, neither. An’ a guy tol’ me he could put me in pitchers… Went out to the Riverside Dance Palace with him. He says he was gonna put me in the movies. Says I was a natural…. Coulda been in the movies, an’ had nice clothes… an’ I coulda sat in them big hotels, an’ had pitchers took of me…”

You see? The fact that a girl is pretty is exactly the setup for her to be told once she could be [fill in the blank: a model, an actress, a dancer, a singer]. And then, that idea can be encouraged to take hold in her mind until it undermines every normal job she ever has. And this is one of the truly wonderful things about the time we’re living in today.

A hundred years ago, this lady in the book had a seed planted because something new called “the pitchers” had been invented, and she’d heard of something called fame. Before then, we had to rely on the dream of a better marriage to a rich man, which of course worked well, too. But not as well if she’d never seen a rich man before and hadn’t had a brush with this other imaginary life.

With the fame dream, a pretty woman can treasure in her heart something that seems possible to her because she sees it every day of her life. She sees images of women on screen and in print who are famous. If she’s pretty, you can bet that once in her life someone told her she could be one of those women, and even if farfetched, she can be made to always wonder. But the precious thing about her dream is that in most cases, it is a decided impossibility.

Now of course, we have still another incredible development. “Social media” (as the humans so entertainingly call it) has made it possible for any foolish woman to really be within grasp of the fame she desires. Now almost every woman we work with is actually “in the pitchers”! Only she’s the one taking the pitchers, and she’s usually the main person looking at them.

This makes the illusion of fame, just beyond grasp, so incredibly, satisfyingly sustainable! (Talk about sustainable energy!;) Instagram alone will show you what I mean—it’s a feast, an absolute smorgasbord, of desperation, false hope, and wasted energy. You’ll see.

Anyway, I’ll return to this in a future letter. But for the moment, let me tell you what it means for her marriage.

It means that you must play on the chord in her heart that says “the eyes of my husband are never enough.” And she’s right. The eyes of her husband aren’t enough—she lusts to be lusted after. She lusts to be admired. In the sexual realm, it means myriad possibilities for flirtation with real men or very productive fantasy about being married to an imaginary one who is more “her level.” But aside from her desire to be lusted after, there is her simple desire to be important. Her husband will never be important enough, if you can get her on the track where she’s seeking her whole sense of security and superiority from the man she’s married to.

She must never be allowed to suspect that in fact, her husband’s eyes aren’t enough because she desires to be seen and approved by the Eyes that Matter, the eyes of the Enemy. Instead, she must be encouraged to dwell on her husband—why does he continue to fail in making her feel admired enough, seen enough? Why did she marry down in the first place? Why didn’t she hold out for better?

After years of this delightful circle of thought, I have had patients in my care walk away from marriages 20, 30, 40 years long, sure they’ll find something better. Suddenly, out in the wide world, they either make exactly the same mistakes over again with a new husband, or they suddenly, tragically see a long list of wonderful qualities in their former husband that they never saw before. (They never seem to see the value in a “steady” man! It’s incredible how they miss this one!)

The thing is, women are wonderfully good at finding out what the missing qualities are in their man. It really doesn’t matter what kind of man your girl is married to; she will already be equipped and ready to discover the opposite qualities to his, and to imagine how desirable these qualities must be in a husband. If he is a steady, plodding worker, she will think of the excitement of being married to an entrepreneur! If she has a fun, life-of-the-party man, she will think longingly of the serious, brooding, intelligent type! If she has married the easygoing man, she’ll wish he would just show his authority now and then—and if he ever shows his authority, Enemy help him!

It’s delightful, the endless iterations of this game. And then, if he is well in hand and sins against her in some truly spectacular way—infidelity, abuse, etc.—we have several very satisfying directions open to us.

More on this later.

Madame Helvétius

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