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The most shocking part about Hell is that Hell is actually pretty nice. Something about this seems kind of intentional. We go into Hell with certain preconceptions handed down over the centuries from people to whom we bestowed untold trust. But what do they know? Disbelieving in Hell and being underwhelmed by it is one thing. Believing in Hell, fearing its torments, and finding you’ve settled far more comfortably than in any other plane is quite another. It’s almost like eternal damnation does its job for us.

Make no mistake: Hell is serious business. Hell has hellish aspects aplenty. Like reversal of fortune. If, for instance, you lived with expansive views, you will be damned to look out at adjacent walls on either side. If, however, you lived in a more cramped situation, you will have all the space you need but nothing with which to fill it. A workaholic will have endless leisure time and access to every — literally every single — streaming service. A lazy person will have to fill out unending and absurd paperwork for permission to use the bathroom, by a certain deadline. If he or she doesn’t meet the deadline, they will be punished and have to start over. A distracted person will have nothing but a Rubik’s Cube. A focused person will moderate Facebook. And so on.

All this seems pretty daunting, but an important, and again very surprising, part about Hell is that it is flexible. You are damned in Hell, not imprisoned. The managers of Hell understand that the logistics of deathless toil are a little loopy. It turns out it is as challenging for them to oversee it effectively as it is for you to endure it consistently. So there are some outs, temporary ones, to be sure, that are not given willy-nilly. They have to be worked for or, even better, discovered when you’re not even looking for them. This is no less true when it comes to dating in Hell.

***

Couple no. 1

Ex: What a lovely scarf.
Oh: Thank you! That is a gorgeous sweater. Is it cashmere?
Ex: Thank you. And yes.
Oh: It suits you.
Ex: Your scarf suits you.
Oh: Never in my life did I think I’d wear such fine clothes.
Ex: Yes, I never managed that myself.
Oh: How does it feel?
Ex: Dismal.
Oh: I agree with you that it feels dismal.
Ex: Very dismal.

They touch hands.

***

So far as anyone can tell, dating was not built into Hell’s original scheme. It was a safe assumption that romantic entanglements made in Hell were directly related to the earthly circumstances that got you there in the first place. For anyone else to engage in them seemed like a glaring enough glitch that, if it wasn’t reported, was certainly noticed. That it continues likely means that Hell’s managers allow it to continue for an end they don’t care to disclose.

Hell’s managers probably understand the human view of dating in the broad strokes. They understand its base difficulty; that it is consistently humiliating, contingently pleasant, and very easy to become wrapped up in its pursuit. There are probably just enough relationship experts under their observation to tell them that. But Hell’s managers are a lot like most other managers. They have their blind spots; they understand things mostly insofar as they are useful. I don’t think Hell’s managers actually know that much about life on Earth. I don’t think they’ve wrapped their head around the miasma of survival, need for security, biological imperative, and personal aspiration in which we bathed ourselves in finding a partner. And in fairness, it probably took the damned a while to realize the extent of their own liberation.

Something you realize not long after coming into Hell: you are a bad person. That hope of redemption inherent in us all did not come for you. Why? I have no idea, what did your caseworker say? That you didn’t believe it? That you believed it but didn’t take it seriously enough? That you thought it’d be easier to get? There’s not much you can do about it now. But once you accept that you are, until the last star burns out at the earliest, a bad person, you find that you are not alone. You are among an endless supply of bad people, a great variety of them, in fact. Bad people from all walks of life and degrees of severity, from the morally oblivious to outright sociopaths. You are now on a multifarious spectrum of badness. Being human, you will want to find your place on it, to compare yourself against others, and, seemingly without even trying, meet new people.

***

Couple no. 2

Ex: This is my lake.
Oh: This whole lake is yours?
Ex: Every inch of it.
Oh: That’s amazing.
Ex: Every day I sit on this bench and look out at the lake.
Oh: The bench is yours, too?
Ex: Yes. My son’s name is on it.
Oh: How sweet.
Ex: If you look closely enough you can see my son drowning in the lake.
Oh: Is that so?
Ex: Dead center of it.
Oh: I’ll be. That’s sort of impressive.
Ex: Sometimes I’m not even mad.

They softly embrace.

***

Dating on Earth, as in politics or really anything in human life, is a language game. It is a process of pitches, propaganda, evasions, quality tests, and countless unsaid sayings to determine the worth of prospective mates and to obscure or dress over anything you felt made you unworthy. It seems all very nefarious when laid out in this way, but it was a natural outcome, about which most of us were greatly ambivalent at best. If you were lucky, you’d find someone who would make all the inevitable sacrifices and compromises you’d never have made on your own somehow worth it. Hell is a different matter. The terrible secrets you’ve long kept in the dark are fully disclosed, and all the pettier embarrassments you worked up your blood pressure to conceal are laughably trivial. Better yet, language is significantly streamlined in Hell. It is a place of few words; in many cases no words at all. Everything you relied on to not be lonely on Earth is entirely superfluous. In Hell, loneliness is the least of your worries.

Some other things mitigated in Hell:

  • There is no actual money. As needed, there may be experiences based on money. One person might be panicked at the lack of it, another paralyzed by its abundance. Hell has no goods you can consume or services you can render. There is certainly nothing to do; there is no amusement or recreation, no ultimate frisbee.
  • There is no need for employment; none in the traditional sense anyway, that facilitates a business and acquires profit. Your business is what’s given to you, it defines you, it’s yours in perpetuity. There are no pink slips, there is no severance, and no retirement.
  • There are no ailments, no health scares, no surprise crises; no debacles over insurance premiums, deductibles, or preexisting conditions. There is no pain in addition to the pain you are already in.
  • There are no children in Hell, which is a plus.

Still, dating in Hell remains somewhat difficult to comprehend. There are issues of compatibility and of long-term cohabitation. Can one damned person and another damned person be vulnerable in a dire situation and then sustain it over eons? A fair question, nevertheless answered in the absolute affirmative. I can’t think of a better place to develop relationships — again, quite by accident in its design. Hell is a place where no one grows, where no one changes or adjusts. No hugging, no learning, as they say. It removes every incentive or obstacle to growth but one, perhaps the most important as it is the most equalizing: our penchant for suffering. If there was one language fitting for this world it is “mutual suffering,” the bond of which is stronger than any walk-up apartment lease or dual checking account.

***

Couple no. 3

Oh: Excuse me. I’m so sorry. But I must use the restroom.
Ex: But you just got back from the restroom.
Oh: I know.

They rupture into maggots.

***

You’ve probably heard the idea that “Hell is other people.” It’s a compelling idea, but pernicious in how badly it misleads, as I have demonstrated. It was put into circulation by a man who knew nothing of Hell and everything about pursuing people. Not lately, anyway. He’s around here somewhere, in serious need of companionship.

“What? Who cares?” –Me

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