Sometimes I despise myself; is that why I despise others too? I am no longer capable of noble impulses; I am afraid of appearing ridiculous to myself. Another in my place would have offered the princess son coeur et sa fortune but for me the verb “to marry” has an ominous ring: no matter how passionately I might love a woman, it’s farewell to love if she as much as hints at my marrying her. My heart turns to stone, and nothing can warm it again. I’d make any sacrifice but this–twenty times I can stake my life, even my honor, but my freedom I’ll never sell. Why do I prize it so much? What do I find in it? What am I aiming at? What have I to expect from the future? Nothing, absolutely nothing.
In fear and trembling, I think I would fulfill my life
Only if I brought myself to make a public confession
Revealing a sham, my own and of my epoch:
We were permitted to shriek in the tongue of dwarfs and demons
But pure and generous words were forbidden
Under so stiff a penalty that whoever dared to pronounce one
Considered himself as a lost man.
It is important to note that the fear of appearing ridiculous is not some personal fear of vulnerability arising from the supposed characteristic weaknesses of males, but from a troubled society. Nobility, sincerity, generosity, affection – these are all punished harshly in the dating world. Men have a natural fear of being good in a bad world, a fear that by being good they are being ineffective and are being taken advantage of. A man who has suffered for taking a noble if foolish action is likely to be the subject of mockery, while a woman in the same position is lauded as a heroine.
Milosz wrote of the destructiveness of totalitarianism on the soul, but we have created the same conditions with moral relativism, social atomization, and a culture of instant gratification devoid of responsibility. Under these conditions, it can be no surprise if we say with Pechorin, “Mon cher, je méprise les femmes pour ne pas les aimer, car autrement la vie serait un mélodrame trop ridicule.”