That lamentable period

A man may give his fortune and even his life for a woman, and yet know quite well that in ten years' time, more or less, he would refuse her the fortune, prefer to keep his life. For then that woman would be detached from him, alone, that is to say non-existent. What attaches us to people are the countless roots, the innumerable threads which are our memories of last night, our hopes for tomorrow morning, the continuous weft of habit from which we can never free ourselves. Just as there are misers who hoard from generosity, so we are spendthrifts who spend from avarice, and it is not so much to a person that we sacrifice our life as to everything of ours that may have become attached to that person, all those hours and days, all those things compared with which the life we have not yet lived, our life in the relative future, seems to us more remote, more detached, less intimate, less our own. What we need is to extricate ourselves from these bonds which are so much more important than the person, but they have the effect of creating in us temporary obligations which mean that we dare not leave the person for fear of being badly thought of, whereas later on we would so dare, for, detached from us, that person would no longer be part of us, and because in reality we create obligations (even if, by an apparent contradiction, they should lead to suicide) towards ourselves alone.

Suffering, when we are in love, ceases from time to time, but only to resume in a different form. We weep to see the beloved no longer respond to us with those bursts of affection, those amorous advances of earlier days; we suffer even more when, having relinquished them with us, she resumes them with others; then, from this suffering, we are distracted by a new and still more agonising pang, the suspicion that she has lied to us about how she spent the previous evening, when she was no doubt unfaithful to us; this suspicion in turn is dispelled, and we are soothed by our mistress's affectionate kindness; but then a forgotten word comes back to us; we had been told that she was ardent in moments of pleasure, whereas we have always found her calm; we try to picture to ourselves these passionate frenzies with others, we feel how very little we are to her, we observe an air of boredom, longing, melancholy while we are talking, we observe like a black sky the slovenly clothes she puts on when she is with us, keeping for other people the dresses with which she used to flatter us. If, on the contrary, she is affectionate, what joy for a moment! But when we see that little tongue stuck out as though in invitation, we think of those to whom that invitation was so often addressed that even perhaps with me, without her thinking of those others, it had remained for Albertine, by force of long habit, an automatic signal. Then the feeling that she is bored by us returns. But suddenly this pain is reduced to nothing when we think of the unknown evil element in her life, of the places, impossible to identify, where she has been, where she still goes perhaps during the hours when we are not with her, if indeed she is not planning to live there altogether, those places in which she is separated from us, does not belong to us, is happier than when she is with us. Such are the revolving searchlights of jealously.

Jealousy is moreover a demon that cannot be exorcised, but constantly reappears in new incarnations. Even if we could succeed in exterminating them all, in keeping the beloved for ever, the Spirit of Evil would then adopt another form, more pathetic still, despair at having obtained fidelity only by force, despair at not being loved.

To allow Albertine to go by herself into a big shop crowded with people perpetually brushing against one, provided with so many exits that a woman can always say that when she came out she could not find her carriage which was waiting further along the street, was something that I was quite determined never to consent to, but the thought of it made me extremely unhappy. And yet it did not occur to me that I ought long ago to have ceased to see Albertine, for she had entered, for me, upon that lamentable period in which a person, scattered in space and time, is no longer a woman but a series of events on which we can throw no light, a series of insoluble problems, a sea which, like Xerxes, we scourge with rods in an absurd attempt to punish it for what it has engulfed. Once this period has begun, we are perforce vanquished. Happy are they who understand this in time not to prolong unduly a futile, exhausting struggle, hemmed in on every side by the limits of the imagination, a struggle in which jealousy plays so sorry a part that the same man who, once upon a time, if the eyes of the woman who was always by his side rested for an instant upon another man, imagined an intrigue and suffered endless torments, now resigns himself to allowing her to go out by herself, sometimes with the man whom he knows to be her lover, preferring to the unknowable this torture which at least he knows! It is a question of the rhythm to be adopted, which afterwards one follows from force of habit. Neurotics who could never stay away from a dinner-party will eventually take rest cures which never seem to them to last long enough; women who recently were still of easy virtue live in penitence. Jealous lovers who, to keep an eye on the woman they loved, cut short their hours of sleep, deprived themselves of rest, now feeling that her desires, the world so vast and secret, and time are too much for them, allow her to go out without them, then to travel, and finally separate from her. Jealousy thus perishes for want of nourishment and has survived so long only by clamouring incessantly for fresh food. I was still a long way from this state.

(Marcel Proust, In Search Of Lost Time, Vol. V, pp. 121, 128-9, 130-2.)