I know because I am one. I am a sentimental man.
I don’t know how I became sentimental. As long as I can remember, I’ve been that way about most things; objects, places, old friends, even specific times or eras. I remember being a kid and thinking, “I’m going to miss 1993.”
But natural. Humans associate good feelings with the items that generated those feelings. Sentimentality is when you smell spring and are torn back through time to a specific moment in your childhood. In the same way that we might attach a feeling to the song we were listening to when we most profoundly experienced that emotion, we also attach those emotions to more tangible objects.
Cigarette smoke is nostalgic for me. Wednesday nights with my mother at the bowling alley. My grandmother babysitting with my brother and cousins. Card games with the extended family. Laughter. Lots of loud laughter. I experience all of these things when I walk through someone’s cloud of cigarette smoke.
For a long time, I’ve loved staying in hotels. I have no specific recollection as to why, but there is a good feeling associated with it for me. When I am in a hotel, I do things I never choose to do at home. I take 12 showers. I cook dinner in the kitchenette every night because it is so much cooler than the full size kitchen I have at my home. I go swimming in the pool because it is there. I try to sprawl across every square inch of the bed when I sleep in it. When I leave a hotel after a week’s stay, I look at the empty room just before departing and reflect how I will never stay within its walls again.
I develop attachments quickly. I suppose the more extreme case of a sentimentality results in hoarding, like you see on the TV shows. I believe sentimentality is a sort of mental illness. In trace amounts, it allows us to empathize and experience what it is to be human. In larger quantities, it is a danger. Not only because of the potential for hoarding.
Ernest Hemingway once said of his father, “He was no wolf, my father… he was sentimental, and like most sentimental people, he was cruel…”
Years ago, I would not have known what Hemingway meant. In my life, I would not have been able to relate. That has long since changed. I am now able to see exactly what he meant about his father, because I saw it in myself.
The sentimental man suffers from a failure to reason. When he looks upon a childhood toy, he is unable to see that it is functionally useless to him as an adult. He merely recognizes it as an item that, at one time, provided him pleasure. He knows that it cannot do the same tricks for him anymore, but he keeps it around anyway. Merely gazing upon it gives him comfort. It is completely irrational, but he does not remove it from his life. The idea of it being gone is a horror to him.
This failure to rationalize is also what allows the sentimental man to “fall in love.” He thinks he is experiencing that nebulous emotion called love, but really he is simply ascribing pleasurable feelings to a person instead of just an object. He is treating his lover like a childhood toy; he is objectifying his mate. When that mate is no longer functionally useful to him, no longer adding value to his life, and perhaps has even started to damage and detract from his happiness, he will still be remiss to remove it. The prospect of the object leaving his life terrifies him. It terrifies him enough to bring his mind to concoct prophecies of a life without that object, which in this case is another human being. He is often brought to tears by the prospect.
Thus, a sentimental man will always believe he is in love. He will even believe he can be (and is) in love with multiple lovers. He will be convinced by his own tears, and by the break in his heart. He will always be able to convince himself that he honestly loves the people he hurts. He will usually be able to convince others, too, because his emotion is real and is plain for all to see. What he truly loves is himself – his tears are for himself. He is thinking about the pain that will be inflicted upon him if the object is gone. The sentimental man is a selfish man. He is a pitiful man. He is a dishonest man.
And as such, he is a cruel man.
The sentimental man will keep his lover around like an old toy. He will not provide her the proper care and treatment, but he will keep her just within reach. He will be incapable of telling her that he does not love her (because he believes he does), and so will hold onto her merely as a comfort to himself, as a safety blanket. He may even cheat on her with other women he has become sentimentally attached to, and he will do it with little compunction because he has convinced himself that his heart is honestly torn – he is not acting out of cool disinterest, but out of intense passion, so he is justified. The emotion is real to him. He believes he can love everyone. He believes he does love everyone. It is inconceivable to him that he is in fact rather wicked.
Men should destroy the sentimentality that manifests within them. It is better for a man to be honest and cause only a pin-prick of useful pain to those around him, than to be dishonest and ruin someone’s life and demolish her propensity to trust and love. Men must come of age and throw away their childish things. One of those things is his sentiment.