It’s the time of year when everyone flaunts their perfect love. Everyone in a happy relationship enjoys seeing everyone else in a happy relationship…and everyone who is single WANTS to enjoy seeing them, but if you’re like me, sometimes you just want to watch something crash and burn. Or at least take a nosedive before it levels out. Hit some turbulence before reaching cruising altitude, et cetera. You get the metaphor: we want you to keep your perfect love to yourself, but we can’t tell you that because then you know how salty we are, and then we feel bad about being an unloveable killjoy, and it perpetuates the cycle of singleness.
To keep you from spiraling into a dark place like I just did, I’ve listed my top five novels about love that are tolerable to single people. Now you, too, can find refuge in them instead of actually sabotaging real relationships.
What to read when you’re…REPULSED.
“Do we resemble each other enough that people suspect we’re father and daughter? Do we sit too close to one another? Does his hand on my arm betray his intent? And why do we cling so, as if our parting will be as final as death?” —The Kiss, Kathryn Harrison
This book is a memoir of a woman who fell in love with her own father. You can read it in one sitting. You can’t help but read it in one sitting. It’s compelling and horrifying, and it won’t make you sad because you’re not in love. Because, my God, who can help who they fall in love with? And look at what a risk you run! A human fell in love with her own father! This is not Game of Thrones. This is the real world.
So maybe you’ve dated someone kind of shady. Maybe you’re repulsed by yourself. This read will give you some solace.
What to read when you’re…SPITEFUL.
“He married me because although my skin is brown he thinks I look like a Frenchwoman. Sometimes he tells me I look Oriental: Korean or Japanese. I console myself with this thought: My family tends to darken and darken as we get older. One day he may wake up in bed with a complete stranger.” —In Love & Trouble: Stories of Black Women, Alice Walker
This particular story in the collection deals with body image issues and colorism in a romantic relationship. Can we as a culture agree to stop pretending like the politics of dating don’t include race? It exists, okay? I particularly like this story, and this passage, because I identify SO HARD with that racial ambiguity and significant others offending, fetishizing, or just not taking the time to understand what they hell they just said. And then, because you love them, you just have to deal with it. Or not deal with it. But even if you don’t identify with that feeling personally, the stories from In Love & Trouble will leave you deeply uncomfortable and/or vindicated. The rest of the collection has a delightful array of vindictive motifs. Like, for example, root working witchcraft vengeance.
What to read when you’re…DEVIOUS.
“People talk easily to me. They think a bald albino hunchback dwarf can’t hide anything. My worst is all out in the open. It makes it necessary for people to tell you about themselves. They begin out of simple courtesy. Just being visible is my biggest confession, so they try to set me at ease by revealing our equality, by dragging out their own less-apparent deformities. That’s how it starts. But I am like a stranger on the bus and they get hooked on having a listener. They go too far because I am one listener who is in no position to judge or find fault. They stretch out their dampest secrets because a creature like me has no virtues or morals. If I am “good” (and they assume that I am), it’s obviously for lack of opportunity to be otherwise. And I listen. I listen eagerly, warmly, because I care. They tell me everything eventually.” —Geek Love, Katherine Dunn
This protagonist has an anomalous body and she uses it to her advantage. After all, she was born into a freakshow family who intentionally made their children freaks in order to utilize their “deformities” to their own advantage.
If that’s not enough to sell you on this book, the protagonist has a deep romantic attraction, almost obsession, with her limbless brother, a headlining act in their sideshow. I won’t tell you how it manifests because part of this novel’s appeal is knowing that something horrifying is about to happen, knowing WHEN it will happen, but underestimating exactly what the horrible thing will be. Just trust me on this one, and know that I really can’t oversell it.
What to read when you’re…UNAPPRECIATED.
“During my eight years of going to the Keskins’ for supper, I was able to squirrel away 4,213 of Füsun’s cigarette butts. Each one of these had touched her rosy lips and entered her mouth, some even touching her tongue and becoming moist, as I would discover when I put my finger on the filter soon after she had stubbed the cigarette out; the stubs, reddened by her lovely lipstick, bore the unique impress of her lips at some moment whose memory was laden with anguish or bliss, making these stubs artifacts of singular intimacy.”—The Museum of Innocence, Orhan Pamuk
This novel takes place because the protagonist is engaged, but he has a love affair with his cousin who cheated in a beauty pageant. When he doesn’t break off the engagement, his cousin (and one true love, somehow) disappears. Then he breaks off the engagement and spends his life first relocating her and then stalking her and stealing tchotchkes from her life to fill the museum he is making as tribute to win her back.
First of all, yes, there is a lot of incest in this list that I didn’t notice until just now. It’s one of the only qualifiers that universally makes a relationship a nonstarter since one can take an explanation for just about any other situation.
That’s not why I picked it for the list, though: I picked it because it shows the polarity of attention. According to the theme of this novel, you can either be unappreciated and taken for granted, OR you can be obsessed over in a way that seems very unhealthy, but still a little flattering and empowering. You either get it all or you get nothing, and both are equally infuriating, am I right?
What to read when you’re…HOPELESS BUT JUST WANT YOUR HOPE BACK FOR A SECOND.
“The heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and thanks to this artifice, we manage to endure the burden of the past.” —Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
This novel is also about a true love that waits literal generations to be acknowledged. The best part about it is that although Florentino Ariza never stops loving Fermina Daza, he doesn’t let his love for her keep him from doing other things/people. Which, even though dismal, is not a narrative of totally unrequited love…it just takes a lonnnng time to be requited. In my experience, that’s what really quantifies love.
For real though, Love in the Time will give you hope and instill you with patience. Because that’s what all us single, unloveable folk need in these trying time also known as cuffing season, patience. So while you wait, enjoy these books, and to quote Liz Lemon, happy Valentine’s Day, no one!