February 1998
s m u g
by Joe Procopio

Love is Hell

Believe it or not, I spend a great deal of time offering advice to the lovelorn. Especially around this time of year. Donít ask me why this is, I would classify myself as quite possibly the last person to qualify as matchmaker. I just donít have time for that sort of thing. Award shows, celebrity luncheons, club openings, these are my forte. In fact, I take great pride in my role as the lifeguard at the shallow end of the pool.

That being said, Iíve always longed for an easy exit when requests of this type surface. And, lo and behold, Iíve found a way to answer all your little love questions posthumously. Thereís an all-inclusive guide out there, a handbook that describes the entire lifecycle of the human relationship. And itís been around for ages.

Of course, Iím talking about Danteís Inferno.

Thatís right. Love is Hell.

If you arenít familiar with the work, Inferno is Danteís epic poem, circa early 14th century, about his voyage through the supposed nine circles of Hell. But I donít imagine even he could have predicted how closely it parallels a 20th century relationship.

The first circle of Hell, Limbo, is reserved for those who will experience neither eternal suffering nor eternal bliss. These souls just wander, sort of dumbfounded, not knowing whether to celebrate their fate or to mourn it. This mirrors exactly the first stage of the modern-day relationship, a stage that may last anywhere from two weeks to thirty or so years. Joy or pain? Not sure. This is how it all begins. And, in fact, some to most relationships never graduate from this stage.

In the second circle of Hell dwell those who, in their earthly form, had sinned for love. Sure. This is the point where you blow off all your friends. Makes sense.

The third circle contains those consumed by gluttony. This was a tough one at first, gluttony usually being a single-party sin. But thatís the beauty of poetic license. Dante is actually describing the stage when, once youíre comfortable with the other person, you physically let yourself go. This devolution continues as your social skills atrophy and you end up watching television every night and talking exclusively in baby-talk.

Harsh? You bet. But thatís evil for you.

Hoarders occupy the fourth circle. This trait is especially prevalent in married people. I swear, whenever Iím out with these folks, money is always an issue. Letís face it, if youíre going to go out, you have to do it right. Cardinal rule. If youíve dropped $100 on cover charges and whiskey drinks, thenÖ well, thatís just what happens. I donít know, love makes you back up and check your wallet, I guess.

This is also the point at which Dante first encounters demons spouting incomprehensible languages. Iím sure, even taking into account the nuances of the Italian to English translation, some of this gibberish translates to:

"Weíre going antiquing this weekend."

All of this behavior leads one into the fifth circle, home of the wrathful and sullen. You know those friends of yours who get all excited when you mention a night out of debauchery and youthful abandon? And then they call and bail about an hour beforehand? You know the guy or girl who just kind of smiles wantonly when you start telling ďweekend storiesĒ? And they maybe mention something about having repainted the guest room that weekend? Fifth circle. Wrathful and sullen. All of Ďem.

Now, the sixth circle is filled with heretics.

Okay. You got me here.

The seventh circle, acts of violence, is divided into three sub-circles; violence towards others, violence towards oneís self, and violence towards God through nature and art. These are all classics, and thus, the explanations are simple. Eventually, in the modern relationship, thereís violence towards others when one party becomes a big jerk. Violence towards oneís self comes into play when the party who isnít the jerk sits there and takes it. Finally, violence towards God through art and nature is when, in the late stages of the relationship, you forget how to correctly coordinate any clothing you put on. This happens in males a lot. Which explains Dockers. And the Gap.

When we get down into the deepest circles of Hell, we begin to see parallels that closely resemble the end of the standard issue relationship. And Dante does an impressive job of painting, with words, a picture of the severe ugliness that always accompanies the final stages. Beasts, demons, and stink. Thatís pretty much what I remember from my breakups.

The eighth circle holds those who have committed fraud. And if you ask me, and you usually do, this is the single reason why relationships fail. Iíve been on both sides of the procedure, and I can tell you, it all pretty much boils down to ďIíve decided to go in a different direction and Iíd really appreciate it if you got off hereĒ. This isnít so much a sin, let alone fraud. The fraud comes in when the party that decides they want out finds themselves too weak, spineless, or emotionally dependent to inform the other party of their decision. Come on. Youíve been there. Weíve all been there. You get (or give) those little signs that maybe this whole thing wasnít such a good idea. You ask a lot of questions of your mate. You get irritable, moody, anxious...

Welcome to the eigth circle.

Which brings us to the final circle. Number nine. Sins of betrayal. Here, we find merely an extension, or the logical conclusion of, fraud. Youíve left your sig other completely surprised, confused, and bewildered. Score. This is the last and most pathetic circle. Every time I see those guys wearing sweatpants and staring at the walls in coffee shops or witness women running what looks like the third or fourth mile beyond their usual, I shake my head.

Number nine.

You know, the best breakups Iíve ever had were the really ugly violent ones. At least during these, we were both paying attention. Nobody got screwed. And those are the women, oddly enough, that I still talk to today.

So there you have it. Itís all there in black and white. And even if you have a hard time with epic poetry (and who doesnít) or a horrid English translation, I assure you it will make more sense that most facets of your relationship. If you want to make love last, learn from Dante. He knew from whence he spoke.




in the junk drawer:

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