As I was leafing through one of the best short story collections by Stephen King – Graveyard Shift, I came across a peculiar and intriguing piece named ‘I know what you need’. Long story short, the ever-gorgeous Elizabeth met Ed, an odd but sweet guy who seems to fulfill every single one of her secret desires/wants. With the death of her fiance and Ed’s ability to comfort or mollify her at the darkest hours, they started a relationship that seemed to quasi-perfect.
One of the greatest questions raised in the short, and I quote, ‘He’s made you love him by knowing every secret thing you want and need, and that’s not love at all. That’s rape.’
So what exactly is love? What are the elements that constitute love? Is fulfilling wishes a vehicle of forcing others to fall in love? Is it mental manipulation?
First of all, just to clarify, I am currently single and deem myself as a ‘forever alone’ prototype, thus I am nowhere qualified to state what exactly is love, but am doing so just to throw out some of my thoughts. Love, in my opinion, has a three-fold structure: Passion, intimacy and commitment (we are excluding polygamy in this discussion unfortunately) Passion originates from the attraction between the two, be it mental or physical, also the element that is considered as the rudimentary one. Intimacy refers to the closeness/proximity between the partners, the amount of communication and understanding that flows between the two. Commitment, on the other hand, is about the trust and confidence either have in each other. It should also be noted that loyalty happens both ways, needs both time and concrete evidence to sturdy their faith in each other.
Secondly of all, fulfilling others’ wishes or appeasing the other is, what I consider as, a form of understanding and a way of showing love and care. Yes, a relationship should be a two-way process with both of the participants willing to sacrifice themselves or strive to make the other happy. It is by making both of the people jovial in a relationship, but not one.
In the story, Ed is adamant in making Beth happy, peppering her with gifts, fixing chairs in her beloved positions, appearing in the moments of her life where she needed him. In my perspective, Beth is in need of the emotion support that Ed offers. My line of logic runs as follows:
- There is no fault in Ed, whose talent in detecting and deciphering other’s thoughts is natural – his gifts should not be deemed as sin. I think it is an agreeable fact that he has no wrong in possessing the talent that he was blessed with.
- Secondly, Ed’s acknowledgement and his actions bring no tangible harm to Beth herself. In fact, Ed is offering emotional support at the RIGHT times, when he knew she needed someone to come by – he actively took up the role of taking care of her, making sure that she wasn’t emotionally lapsing after the staged death of her fiance. As their relationship blossomed, he tried to perfect every little detail: the softness of the chair, the way she liked the house to be tidied, the level of physical intimacy she aspires to have. At her pace, at her liking. Ed never did rush her or force her into being intimate or into a relationship in the first place – as he clarifies, he wanted her to be with him when she’s comfortable, unforced and willing.
- Thirdly, his intentions. Sure, he did use voodoo magic to cause her fiance’s death – but one point to note is that Beth herself was forced into marriage with her then fiance, who also stated that she was unwilling and unhappy with the relationship. Instead of allowing her to go with a decision she would regret, Ed used malicious methods to save Beth out of the relationship crisis she was in. Not saying that Ed was right, just stating that he did try his best to cast aside things Beth dislikes, and in coincidence, his best interests are also vested in the death of the fiance coincidentally. One thing we can be sure of is his desire to be with Elizabeth – which has grown since kindergarten days. It is one thing labeling it creepy and unwanted, and another to say that it is a strong, unwavering desire. He definitely never overstepped his boundaries, given that he knew WHAT SHE WANT, and he fulfilled all of WHAT SHE WANTS. By realizing her wants, he gains her love and trust, which in this case, is a win-win situation. It may sound like a contract, but it is of unspoken terms, and furthermore, even if Ed can predict Beth will fall in love with him by doing those actions, what’s wrong with that? Many people endeavor to win the heart of others – some by buying flowers, peppering their crushes with attention and many more other tactics that work. Once this unsigned contract breaks under the condition that Ed can no longer satiate Beth’s desires, Beth can still choose to love him or not – at the end of the day, she is not bounded to Ed, but to her criteria in men and her own choices in everything that Ed is able to perfect.
- Fourthly, is it psychological manipulation? If he acknowledges what she wants, and fulfills her wishes accordingly – does it count as forcing her to love him? After all, many people wish to find a partner completing a set of criteria, ticking box after box of ‘handsomeness’ or ‘niceness’. In real life, should dreams be realized, it is an undeniable fact that some can fulfill absolutely every single wish the other has with extreme measures. So what exactly is Ed’s fault for accomplishing everything that Beth wants and needs? I personally think it can only be manipulation when he actively controls what she wants and thinks of, but fulfilling the wishes she thought of under free will is a disparate thing. By definition, Ed would have to change her behavior or perception to things to qualify himself as a cheap, nefarious con of emotions – but he never did. He created an image of himself that was sweet and caring, and as long as it didn’t falter or cease to be true, it is very possible that Beth will continue the relationship since she likes her boyfriends to be able to make her happy – a very understandable requirement. Ed was willing to change himself, to alter his own image to make Beth happy, and there is nothing wrong with that unless Ed uses this image to abuse Beth’s emotions and then reveal a horrific personality later on after gaining her trust -which is untrue in the story. He fit into his character seamlessly and was actually willing and happy to do so, and I see no fault in that.