A few weeks ago, I spotted an obituary of Ayn Rand’s paramour, Nathaniel Branden. The New York Times used the word “paramour” in the headline, which tickled me to no end. It invoked a more emotionally nuanced time of lost romantic rituals: seduction scenes on fainting couches and getting tipsy on spirits of elderflower.
I’ve tried to read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead at least a dozen times, but I’ve never managed to finish it. I always give up about halfway through, because her lead character—the idealistic architect Howard Roark—is about as compelling as a piece of tree bark. So, I always abandon the novel before it turns sexy. Apparently, those patient enough to muddle through Roark’s endless treatises on the joys of unrestricted capitalism and the value of ego are rewarded with rough, sweaty sex in a rock quarry, followed by a dizzying soap opera that ends with a rape victim gleefully marrying her rapist.
Who knew that Ayn Rand, that patron saint of pragmatism, had it in her? She of the severe haircuts and opposition to altruism. (What type of monster opposes altruism?) Well, according to the obituary of Nathaniel Branden, Rand enjoyed something other than spending her weekends discussing philosophy with her admirers. She liked having sex with them, too.
There have been suggestions that she dabbled in the dark bedroom arts with a young Alan Greenspan, the future Federal Reserve Chairman and pinup boy for the Reagan administration. And her affair with Branden, who was 25 years her junior, was well documented. They shared a passion for “rational selfishness” and oral sex, so with the consent of both of their spouses, they embarked on a long affair, which eventually ended in a very public fashion.
OK, so why am I writing about this? Well, I’ve been doing some research into the best ways to end a romantic relationship. Lately, I’ve witnessed a blizzard of breakups in my circle of friends, one more ugly than the next. Ever since gay marriage became legal, it seems that every gay I know is rushing into matrimony simply to legitimize their desire to divorce. And, sadly, no one is doing it with any style.
It’s all so obvious and dreary: fights over money and pets; demands that their friends take sides in the split-up; late-night drunken confessions on Facebook about their ex’s sexual inadequacies.
So, I was interested to learn how a bloodless intellectual like Rand handled her breakup with Branden. Surely, someone who opposed democracy on the grounds that the masses were “lice” and “parasites,” would be far more evolved than we lowly vermin and would negotiate a breakup with cool emotional distance. But, I was wrong.
Rand founded a philosophical movement called Objectivism, which maintains that the only virtue is selfishness. She and Branden used this philosophy to justify their adulterous affair: it made them happy, so they did it. However, when Branden began an affair with a fashion model 35 years younger than Rand, Objectivism was tossed out the window.
Rand, a woman scorned, reacted by banishing Branden from her inner circle and publicly denouncing him in her intellectual journal, The Objectivist. So, basically, she did what we all do: she became petty and vicious and demanded that her friends exile him. And then she posted mean stuff about him on what was, in effect, an old-timey version of Facebook.
So, the moral to this column: all the recent talk about “conscious uncoupling” is just nonsense. Breakups are messy and dreadful and no one does them well. So, embrace the awfulness and enjoy the social media rants. And be kind, because when it’s your turn to breakup, you’ll do it just as badly.