Proust on Men in Love: Young and Old

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“Lord, I’m much too young to feel this damn old.”                         ––Garth Brooks


Enough with these phrases “falling in love” and “failing at life”—better to be “Eros-bound.” In the myth of Cupid and Psyche, the latter falls for the former. The myth tells that Cupid (or Eros) manifested himself as an invisible figure, came in the night, but left before dawn. Psyche pricked herself with one of his arrows, and upon gazing at Cupid with the dart still in her finger, fell in love with love itself (as well as any ideas associated with it).

The sequence must be kept straight: Psyche falls for Eros—not vice versa—the mind falls for love. Love is never lured by a mind, no matter how mighty. Intelligence alone is never sexy, only the power emanating from that intelligence can be considered sexy.

When it comes to being Eros-bound, an older man begins to act passive and astonished once he realizes his predicament, while a young man remains restless, unsurprised at his fortune with women. An older man can love without lust or can be contented it to the point where lust loses its sting. But lust never dulls for younger men. The lust of the young is the belief in a false ideal—the love of the old is the realization that all ideals are false. As Proust’s translator puts it:

But at the time of life, tinged already with disenchantment, which Swann was approaching, when a man can content himself with being in love for the pleasure of loving without expecting too much in return, this linking of hearts, if it is no longer, as in early youth, the goal towards which love, of necessity, tends, still is bound to love by so strong an association of ideas that it may well become the cause of love if it presents itself first. In his younger days a man dreams of possessing the heart of the woman whom he loves; later, the feeling that he possesses the heart of a woman may be enough to make him fall in love with her. And 50, at an age when it would appear—since one seeks in love before everything else a subjective pleasure—that the taste for feminine beauty must play the larger part in its procreation, love may come into being, love of the most physical order, without any foundation in desire. At this time of life a man has already been wounded more than once by the darts of love; it no longer evolves by itself, obeying its own incomprehensible and fatal laws, before his passive and astonished heart. We come to its aid; we falsify it by memory and by suggestion; recognising one of its symptoms we recall and recreate the rest.[1]

The older man may countercheck love with his memory. He who remembers too much is an excellent deceiver. He who remembers too little makes a great instructor.

Nothing but wanting-not-to-wait––this quivering, quickening, quaking angst––drove me to reread my seventy-five pages of notes on Proust then produce the above paragraphs. I see nothing surprising in the outcome of my actions. My restless and impatience indicates I possess the mind of a younger man. For some of us it is nearly too late to grow old. Our next lesson is to learn to get over it.


[1] Proust, Marcel. À la recherche du temps perdu. (In Search of Lost Time.) Vol. I, Du côté de chez Swann. (Swann’s Way.) 1913. § “Swann in Love.”