In Charles Dicken’s 1843 novella “A Christmas Carol”, Jacob Marley was Scrooge’s corrupt business partner who died seven years before the fateful events of the novel. He is the first ghost to visit Scrooge wearing chains which he forged through his own misdeeds and mistakes in life for all of eternity. Despite scaring the wits out of his old friend, he seeks to try to save Scrooge from his fate by trying to scare him into changing his ways, or at least being receptive to the three spirits who are going to do so. I always was fascinated by this segment if only because the idea of a ghost being tormented by chains he forged in life through misdeeds is very close to the Buddhist concept of “karma” which was far more common in the east than it would have been in 19th century England.
(For the record, I am not exactly the biggest fan of “A Christmas Carol”, not merely because I am a curmudgeon myself, but because its’ lessons about the follies of greed, especially around the holidays, have virtually been ignored by society in general for over 150 years. Hell, “A Christmas Carol” itself has become a commercial empire with no end of film and stage versions dedicated to it.)
I bring this up because throughout my life as I interacted with peers and even with younger people, I often sought to inspire them to be better than me, to escape my fate. It is for this reason I used to issue advice I had no right to offer during high school and college to people. I do like to help people, and for a brief time it was even my profession. Yet I always came back to Jacob Marley, that I was becoming a living version of him.
It happened again at my current job, which could have been the turning point for me starting this blog. I’d been at this job for roughly three years, and while I’m not management, through sheer experience I have an unofficial place above most newer workers. One of them, a tall lanky youth in his 20’s, has seemed to take to me as a mentor. He often asks for my advice not only on the job, but often random bits about life and relationships. In so many words he told me he’d “never been in a relationship” and I took that to meaning he was either a virgin as well, or very close. It was an uncomfortable topic for me, but I didn’t want to be rude and as I said, I stubbornly like to help even when it gets me nothing but complications.
My job often employs more men than women by a 2:1 ratio at least, and most of the women employed are senior citizens (or close to it), while the men are usually in their late teens to late 20’s on average (with some notable exceptions). Due to the nature of the work, people come and go, and one new worker is a woman who is roughly in her early-mid-late 20’s who is quite attractive (at least by my standards). I don’t like applying “rating numbers” to women like they’re appliances but I will say that she is full figured with short hair, but still very much “my type” (which is more broad than “blonds” or “LOTR fans”). My usual response towards being in classes or work places with women who were “my type” is to come up with any excuse not to try talking to them unless I have to, because I am too shy and nervous. No, that’s not it. It’s because I expect any attempt at trying to ask them out would be awkward and wrong, and fail, and create tension for her and me. In fairness, such concerns are more appropriate in a workplace than they were in college, or high school. But we’ll get to those stories later.
This young woman has caught the attention of my unintended “apprentice” as well. Now, Dateless-Man works alone; I wasn’t looking for a sidekick. Yet through sheer proximity we would talk and I would have to choose my words carefully to not give away my own secret shame of being a pathetic, dateless virgin. Yet I can recognize that my younger peer is in a similar place I was in at his age, and I’d rather he not share my fate. I’d rather he not be over 30, still a virgin, and be reduced to spilling his guts on a blog because his shame has become too much to bare.
Unfortunately, this has now placed me in the position of giving advice to someone in a similar boat that I was once, including whether or not to make advances towards a coworker I myself am interested in but wouldn’t dare approach in any way besides functional small talk. I have once again become Jacob Marley, trying to spare some poor soul my fate of floating through the afterlife bogged down by chains of shame.
And that’s how I feel as a man, in more ways than relationship experience but related to it. I feel like a phantom with no hope, wrapped in chains I’ve made through my own mistakes, errors, lapses in judgement or just poor luck. Yet I exist to steer others towards better fates, but despite my inability to ignore their pleas it isn’t enough. I get joy when I see a friend or peer succeed where I have not…but also a mourning longing. Is this being selfish?
Being Jacob Marley sucks. I wish I could be free of my chains and live once again. Instead I feel trapped in a world I can see but never touch, as Mr. Freeze once said in an episode of “Batman: the Animated Series”. I don’t know how this situation will turn out and I do wish my unintended “student” better than I, as most teachers do. But is it evil to want something for myself? Just once?
If so, then maybe this very blog can spare some other soul online my fate.