Longform quotes from Peter Watts’ Blindsight every Monday! Here’s last week’s post. Today’s quote is about why relationships are strategies/competitions, viewed from an evolutionary perspective; I posted about this before (also from Blindsight, but Ph.D. zoologist Suzanne Sadedin’s highly-upvoted Quora answer to “what’s the evolutionary purpose of menstruation?” also makes an appearance).
“I just want you to be happy, Cyg. True happiness is one hell of a gift, and I can give it to you if you’ll let me.”
“You don’t want me happy,” I said pleasantly. “You want me customized.”
She mmm’d into the hollow of my throat for a moment. Then: “What?”
“You just want to change me into something more, more accommodating.”
Chelsea lifted her head. “Look at me.”
I turned my head. She’d shut down the chromatophores in her cheek; the tattoo, transplanted, fluttered now on her shoulder.
“Look at my eyes,” Chelsea said.
I looked at the imperfect skin around them, at the capillaries wriggling across the whites. I felt a distant bemusement that such flawed, decaying organs were still able to hypnotize me on occasion.
“Now,” Chelsea said. “What do you mean by that?”
I shrugged. “You keep pretending this is a partnership. We both know it’s a competition.”
“You’re trying to manipulate me into playing by your rules.”
“The way you want the relationship run. I don’t blame you, Chelse, not in the least. We’ve been trying to manipulate each other for as long as—hell, it’s not even Human nature. It’s mammalian.”
“I don’t believe it.” She shook her head. Ropy tendrils of hair swung across her face. “It’s the middle of the twenty-first Century and you’re hitting me with this war of the sexes bullshit?”
“Granted, your tweaks are a pretty radical iteration. Get right in there and reprogram your mate for optimum servility.”
“You actually think I’m trying to, to housebreak you? You think I’m trying to train you like a puppy?”
“You’re just doing what comes naturally.”
“I can’t believe you’d pull this shit on me.”
“I thought you valued honesty in relationships.”
“What relationship? According to you there’s no such thing. This is just—mutual rape, or something.”
“That’s what relationships are.”
“Don’t pull that shit on me.” She sat up, swung her feet over the edge of the bed. Putting her back to me. “I know how I feel. If I know anythingI know that much. And I only wanted to make you happy.”
“I know you believe that,” I said gently. “I know it doesn’t feel like a strategy. Nothing does when it’s wired that deeply. It just feels right, it feels natural. It’s nature’s trick.”
“It’s someone‘s fucking trick.”
I sat up next to her, let my shoulder brush hers. She leaned away.
“I know this stuff,” I said after a while. “I know how people work. It’s my job.”
It was hers too, for that matter. Nobody who spliced brains for a living could possibly be unaware of all that basic wiring in the sub-basement. Chelsea had simply chosen to ignore it; to have admitted anything would have compromised her righteous anger.
I could have pointed that out too, I suppose, but I knew how much stress the system could take and I wasn’t ready to test it to destruction. I didn’t want to lose her. I didn’t want to lose that feeling of safety, that sense that it made a difference whether I lived or died. I only wanted her to back off a bit. I only wanted room to breathe.
“You can be such a reptile sometimes,” she said.