Love in the Line of Fire

Friday, 01 April 2011 17:32

The Guardian

24th October 1997

Love in the Line of Fire

If you're following the Sondra Locke story do not be distracted by the term "to floss". It is not, as I thought, a new form of sexual titillation but merely a form of dental hygiene. Her story of her life with Clint Eastwood is more important than that. It's the story of revenge, and every story of revenge tells us something about ourselves.

Clint, a man of few words, used to indicate his state of sexual desire by asking Sondra as she prepared for bed, "Sweetie, did you floss?" How romantic! Sondra, like all women who fall in love with silent men, thought Clint's silences indicated that he was thinking profound thoughts. She was wrong. Silent men are silent because they have nothing to say. If they do think, it's not about the great love they have for the woman at their side nor is it about the meaning of life. They are merely thinking about themselves.

A woman in love with such a man projects on to his wall of silence all her own hopes and wishes. She wants a warm, loving relationship and she hopes that he does too. She creates a picture of herself and him, their life together, their future and their world, and believes that this picture is real. Everything he does she tries to fit into this picture, but his actions don't always make a good fit. So she has to make allowances. For instance, Clint was faddy about his food and used to make his own concoctions of vitamins and amino acids. When these concoctions didn't turn out the way he wanted he flew into a rage. She wrote, "Slowly, I was getting more familiar with Clint's temper which seemed at first harmless and funny."

That's what women do when their man's behaviour doesn't fit their picture. They call his behaviour quaint and funny, but such behaviour can easily go beyond anything which could be called joke.

Clint, of course, had his picture of himself and his world, and whenever reality refused to conform to his picture Clint got very angry. That's the big problem for rich, powerful men. They seem to be able to make a great deal of reality conform to their picture, and so they come to expect that every bit of reality will do so, even sliding doors and television remote controls. Clint, it seems, has never grasped the truth that reality never conforms to our wishes. When things go as we want we're merely being lucky.

Clint's picture of his world and Sondra's picture of hers had little in common. However, Clint and Sondra could get along together for as long as there were parts of the two pictures which complemented each other. Clint's picture included a sexually attractive woman who did what she was told, and Sondra's picture included herself as a sexually attractive woman devoted solely to Clint's welfare. But this couldn't last. Sondra was having increasing difficulty in fitting his behaviour into her picture, while Clint's picture couldn't encompass Sondra's desire to direct her own films rather than co-star in his.

Clint's method of maintaining his picture was to dump the non-compliant woman and get another. But for Sondra there was no simple way she could save her picture. Too many of her assumptions had been disconfirmed. Her picture fell apart.

This is perhaps the worst experience anyone can have, when you discover that there is a serious discrepancy between what you thought your life was and what it actually is. I would guess that anyone old enough to read this article has gone through this experience at least once.

When you discover that you have made a serious error of judgement in one area of your life you immediately question every judgement you have ever made. Everything becomes uncertain. You feel yourself falling apart, shattering, crumbling, disappearing. You feel absolute terror.

That is, you feel such terror if you don't know how we all operate as human beings. Then it can seem that you are falling into madness. However, if you do know how we all operate, the experience is still unpleasant but you know it isn't madness and that it will come to an end.

We are, in essence, meaning creating creatures. Every moment of our lives, from the moment when our brain at about 20 months gestation becomes capable of creating meaning right through to the moment when our brain dies, we are creating meaning, interpreting, making sense. Of course the sense we make isn't always sensible, as when we're drunk or dreaming, but all we ever know and all we can ever know are the interpretations we create. We are so constructed that we cannot know reality directly, but we make pictures of what we think reality is. The sum total of these pictures - our perceptions, ideas, opinions, conclusions, beliefs - give us our sense of identity. You are the structured collection of all the meanings you have ever created.

If nothing happens to surprise us we can come to think that our picture of reality is reality itself. However, when we make an error of judgement our picture no longer fits reality. It falls apart, and, because we are our picture, we feel ourselves falling apart. One woman, on discovering that her ex-husband had betrayed her yet again, ripped up his clothes, broke his pictures and framed photographs, destroyed every possession of his she could find, and then piled the pieces into what she called "a big sculpture" of her ex-husband's life. She said, "I wanted to make a terrible mess like he'd made a mess of me. I wanted a representation of the devastation he'd caused me."

Of course, when we have made a major error of judgement, our picture needs to fall apart so we can construct another picture which might be a better representation of reality.

Errors of judgement can arise in many different circumstances. You can miscount the number of steps and fall down a flight of stairs. Your picture of yourself might be of a healthy person, and then you become seriously ill. However, most serious errors of judgement arise from being betrayed by someone on whom we depend.

As we feel ourselves falling apart we ask ourselves, "Why has this happened to me?" This question, "Why in the whole scheme of things has this happened?" has only three possible answers - it was someone else's fault, it was my fault and it happened by chance.

We don't like the answer "It happened by chance". That makes life far too uncertain and scary. Sondra wasn't likely to say to herself, "Oh, well it's just one of those things that happen." Wisely she didn't choose the answer "It was my fault" because that answer provides the doorway into the prison of depression, a most horrible experience, worse than any physical illness, and a complete waste of time unless from that experience you learn the wisdom of being kind to yourself and never get depressed again. Sondra chose the third answer, "It was someone else's fault," and blamed Clint.

The problem about choosing "It was someone else's fault" is that you then have to do something about it. In some situations the law provides a remedy. Where it does not revenge becomes the answer.

Whatever the revenge, the person is saying, "How dare you do this to me!", and behind that statement is personal pride. In the discovery of our error of judgement our pride has taken a terrible battering. We have to do something which will reassert our pride in ourselves. What we do depends on our wisdom and opportunity.

Stupid people choose a form of revenge which leads on to further and further disasters. Witness Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Israel. Murdering the betrayer does not enhance the life of the betrayed. What is needed is something which will cause the betrayer the maximum amount of discomfort and pain but is still within the law. If it can also amuse the onlookers it's an extra bonus. Remember how Sarah Graham-Moon lifted the hearts of the nation when she cut for four inches off the left sleeves of each of her husband's Saville Row suits and delivered his vintage wine to village doorsteps.

However, going public with your revenge, however effective, can lead to difficulties. Sarah Moon might have been applauded by the public but her family deplored her outrageous behaviour. Hence many people keep their revenge a secret between them and their betrayer. For instance, if the betrayer wants to believe that you treasure the memories of the two of you together, pack up all the artefacts associated with that time and send them to him with a note saying, "I don't want this rubbish cluttering up my home."

Writing a book about the betrayer allows the betrayed to have a very public revenge while appearing to do a public service. Sondra is saying that she wants to tell the truth so that we'll no longer be hoodwinked by such a hypocrite. Of course, some people won't want to be disillusioned with Clint, and others will think that a woman should suffer in silence, and most won't take sides but just enjoy a good gossip. Though, perhaps, her story will cause some people to stop and think about why we seek revenge and ask whether it is really necessary. If betrayal and errors of judgement do wipe you out, who is this you who knows that you've been wiped out and then seeks revenge? Perhaps all we need to know is how to adjust the picture.

Dorothy Rowe Wanting Everything HarperCollins.