Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Enmeshment: The Story of Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake, Part I

Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake. Completely in love. Completely devoted. Completely enmeshed. Singletude's two-part series examines their story and what they can teach us, as singles, about the dark side of relationships.

They were the antithesis of the singletude philosophy, a couple so entangled in each other's joys and, ultimately, sorrows that as one faltered in the grip of depression and possible psychosis, they both plummeted into an abyss from which they never found their way out.

Their cautionary tale is in Vanity Fair this month despite the fact that its tragic ending is old news. When Blake undressed and walked into the sea less than two weeks after Duncan ODed on a cocktail of over-the-counter drugs and alcohol, every life and style section ran its own investigation into the motive and method of their double suicide. That was in July 2007.

But for some reason, the media is still captivated by the intellectual belle and her rising art scenester boyfriend. Each profile lights the story of the star-crossed lovers in a different thematic hue--mystical union, all-consuming passion, heroic devotion, merciful sacrifice, and, more darkly, pathological envy, paranoia, and midlife crisis. But what everyone seems to have missed may be the key not only to why their deaths are so compelling but to why they were compelled to death.

Who They Were Apart

Duncan was the girl from the wrong side of the tracks who made good. She was raised in tiny Lapeer, Michigan in a poor, working class family amidst vague rumors of abuse and more concrete ones of mental illness on her father' s side. Duncan rebelled against her upbringing by fiercely cultivating her intellect, reporting long hours spent in the library to escape her dreary life.

Like many young girls who grow up in troubled homes, Duncan seemed to have an unquenchable thirst for attention and admiration as well as an abiding distrust of "the system." She dressed provocatively, involved herself in the punk movement, and was known for displays of abrasive bravado. Initially, her self-confidence and raw talent rocketed her to fame as an up-and-coming video game designer and landed her several Hollywood film deals. But the deals fell through, and her career became a glamorous facade shielding long dry spells of unemployment.

Blake hailed from suburban D.C. His father died of AIDS when Blake was a teenager, and relations between him and his mother were said to be distant. A friend, Malcolm McLaren, described him as a "troubled soul" who was "screwed up."

Nevertheless, he was the far more successful member of the romantic partnership dubbed "Theremy" in art circles. As a prominent painter and digital artist, Blake was known for work that was inventive and moody and was hired for such projects as Beck's album Sea Change and the critically acclaimed film Punch Drunk Love. More laid-back and self-effacing than Duncan, Blake was sometimes seen as her sidekick despite his greater achievement.

Who They Were Together

Duncan and Blake met when she was 29 and he was 24, a five-year age difference that may have enabled Blake's emotional dependence. The two became instantly inseparable, to a degree that some found romantic and others found odd or off-puting. Where one went, the other followed; they claimed that they'd never spent a night apart in their twelve years together. She promoted his work ceaselessly, never missing an opportunity to mention him in interviews, and he was always quick to defend her from critics, with startlingly out-of-character threats of aggression if necessary.

As Duncan became increasingly convinced that her lack of success was due to a Scientology conspiracy, these threats intensified. Soon, the couple was demanding that anyone who wanted to work or even associate with either of them should sign a contract of loyalty to both of them. In an outburst of paranoia, they began to harass their own friends and neighbors and were eventually evicted from their Venice Beach, California home. They moved to New York City, but peace eluded them there, as well. They became reclusive, had shared precognitive visions of disaster, and alienated more friends. Finally, at the age of 40, Duncan committed suicide in their East Village apartment, and Blake, despite declaring himself ready to move on, followed suit almost two weeks later.

The real life story of Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake isn't very glamorous. It's a story of failed ambition, obsession, and probable mental illness. Yet it's also portrayed as the height of romance.

To its detriment, our culture can't distinguish between the healthy love of two individuals and the enmeshment of floundering souls who can't maintain stable identities on their own. The biblical phrase "two become one," so often intoned at wedding ceremonies, has entered our collective consciousness as the ideal towards which we should strive. That's where enmeshment enters the picture.

Tune in tomorrow to find out what enmeshment is and what the suicides of Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake can teach us about its dangers.

Other Sources
The Independent
LA Weekly News
New York Magazine
Theresa Duncan Central

Fun Link of the Day

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