The Proxy Marriage
The more loving one
Sentimental types will love this New Yorker story by Maile Meloy (May 21st 2012).
After 9/11, when US soldiers abroad wanted to provide for their pregnant girlfriends in the event of their death, some states allowed a proxy to represent the absent groom at a marriage. Montana even permitted two proxies, so business was brisk for local lawyer Mr Taylor, who paid his daughter and her school friend William, to stand in. You know where this is going.
The awkward piano playing boy dares not declare his love for Bridie, an aspiring actress, so they drift apart, and in her case, into a failed marriage. Soldiers get killed, couples divorce, and William’s mother fears he’s gay before she cottons on. William assumes his love is unrequited and in his depair, quotes Auden, “If equal affection cannot be, let the more loving one be me.” And then Bridie returns home to wait on tables, a couple request a proxy kiss on Skype, the earth moves, and it turns out Bridie never knew he loved her. “It didn’t have to be exactly equal. He would take anything close.”
I did warn you. Here’s Auden’s poem.
The More Loving One
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.
How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.
Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.
Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total darkness sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.
WH Auden 1957