“Nick you always see the worst in people!!!
“Yeah, because people are the worst!!!”
– New Girl
This shouldn’t be funny. It could be, but it’s not meant to be. This is an epiphany I had in high school and over the years I’ve grown to see how it underpins most of our interactions with one another. This will be a fundamental critique of the human condition, and all of this came from what I believe is one the most important pieces of literature ever written: The Great Gatsby.
The novel is about Jay and Daisy. Jay is enjoying his summer when he meets Daisy. He is poor and she is rich, but he has her believe that he is the same. Summer, like all good things, comes to an end. He is off to war and she is back with her wealthy family. But that summer, that fleeting bubble, is enough to convince Jay that he isn’t good enough for her and he vows to dedicate his whole life to making himself worthy of the woman he loves. He will be rich, powerful and smart. He will be her everything, because she is his everything. Years later, he makes enough money to buy the biggest most opulent house across the lake where they first met. Eventually they meet again, but things have changed. Daisy isn’t the same girl Jay fell in love with. She’s selfish, fickle and irresponsible. But in Jay’s eyes she is still the girl he met that summer all those years ago. She is still everything. Jay’s unwillingness to see her true nature is what eventually leads to his destruction. He doesn’t see things as they are. He has what I call a Gatsby complex.
The Gatsby complex occurs when you magnify the qualities you adore in a person so much that you fail to see who they fundamentally are. There’s nothing to say Daisy wasn’t selfish, fickle and irresponsible when they met that summer. It’s very possible she hasn’t changed at all, but to his own detriment, Jay, blinded by love, couldn’t see it. Perception is Reality. But Objectivism teaches us that there is a “real” reality that exists no matter how we perceive our world. We perceive things as we want to perceive them and not as they are, and this is why we fail. Gatsby complexes, especially when it comes to relational interactions, are a big reason why we don’t succeed. We let our emotions cloud our better judgement. It’s expected, as emotions are irrational. Love is irrational. But as an adult you shouldn’t let your emotions dictate how you live your life.
You think your boyfriend is amazing. No he’s not, he’s an asshole. Wake up. “No you don’t know what he’s like when we’re alone together.” Garbage. Essentially you’re saying you’re cool with dating a schizo. Then you want to act surprised when he cheats on you. Your girlfriend is shallow and materialistic. “Nah that’s not how she usually is, she’s actually very sweet and down to earth”. Okay, just don’t be surprised when she leaves you for a guy who is always on the guest list. You know what you signed up for.
People’s problem is that they invest too much in potential. What you don’t realise is that as much as people have the potential to change, they also have the potential to stay the same. You’re dating a dancer or an aspiring rapper. They tell you how ambitious they are and you believe them. You’re an idiot. Performance is reality. Don’t tell me, SHOW ME. If you really want to make it as an actor, I must never hear about you missing an audition because you wanted to chill with the boys. If you want to be a Chartered Accountant, do everything in your power to succeed. I mustn’t see you at Pigs if you know you are facing failure.
Gatsby complexes apply to ourselves too. Most people are not self-aware. They don’t see themselves objectively. You’re a good person, but are you willing to admit you’re selfish? Are you willing to admit you put up provocative photos of yourself because you know you have nothing else to offer? Are you willing to admit you ain’t shit? Exactly. Having bad qualities doesn’t make you a bad person, but not recognising who you really are leads to a false sense of entitlement. You spend no time in the gym but you want a girlfriend with a flat stomach. You look like Precious but want a man like Michael Ealy to marry you. You have no ambition but want to get married to a CEO. You want your wife to be hot, cook, clean, sleep with you on command, and still raise your kids, whilst maintaining a job. These conditions don’t exist in the real, objective world we live in, nor should they. Wake up.
As cynical as I sound, I truly believe there are more than enough compatible partners out there for everybody. We just need to recognise ourselves for who we are and them for who they are. Don’t fall in love with the idea of a person, fall in love with the person as they are.
Jay sold himself an idea of Daisy and he sacrificed almost everything to make his dream a reality. That eventually led to the ultimate sacrifice. He cultivated an idea of the Great Gatsby for this girl that didn’t exist outside of him. The problem is that the world didn’t have space for both the Great Gatsby and the Real Gatsby.
Written by Lebo Sibisi (@MrImJustSayin) is an full-time student, freelance writer and full-time cynic. He’s not saying anything, but, you know, he’s just sayin.