Thursday, April 03, 2008

Perspective at Heart

I am a relationship pessimist. Not all the time, I suppose, and often, it’s a philosophical struggle between my heart and my head just to maintain the party line, “Get out now before it’s too late.”

I imagine that reads tragically and causes many of you wonder what the hell is wrong with me, similar to how I wonder the same thing and, in all likelihood, more often than you do.

I’m also bizarrely sentimental and dramatic and a host of other adjectives primarily reserved for women. And, I regularly suffer from a sort of emotional tourette's syndrome.

Maybe it’s the great Chicago thaw of 2008, which we are currently experiencing, or the reappearance of the sun after it spent a long winter hibernating behind a cloud, or perhaps, it’s the hangover I keep waking up with everyday despite the marked lack of booze in my life, but rather than do anything productive, I’m in the mood to write. Or Internet stalk old flames. Or re-read my old posts, just because sometimes, I like to shake my head and think “Damn I’m good,” and give myself mental pat on the back for a blog well done.

Like this one. Or this one.

But really, I’m just reminiscing about this time, last year.

We haven’t hit an anniversary yet, but I’m itching to relive it, for reasons I can’t quite verbalize (the pessimist insists that it’s “the beginning of the end”). But, it was this time, last year, that I met MM at Nerds at Heart.

Look for mentions of “that guy who got in touch with me” or similarly vague and nondescript language in the aforementioned posts. Clean cut. Not my type.

All true. Unfortunately I was suffering from the disease cumbersomely known as “Your type is all wrong for you.”

I remember meeting him that night. MM and I had been placed in the same board game group. He sat next to me and when I turned to talk to him -- about nothing notable -- he just short of starred with goofy grin on his face and never really responded. I thought he was weird, and I was mildly shocked, but nonetheless unenthused, when I received a message informing me that he would like to get in touch. At least, I reasoned, it wasn’t from the weird insurance salesman suited up in polyester.

After a lukewarm attempt to set a date through a series of bland email exchanges, I brushed MM aside with nary a thought. Of course, I had started seeing someone else. When I told Someone Else that I had been asked out by another guy and turned him down, he responded, “Whatever. If you had actually been interested in him, you would have gone out with him,” effectively washing his hands of the sad fact that he did have something to do with my response to MM.

That should have been my first clue… or my fiftieth.

The timing was undeniably better, for a multitude of reasons, four months later when MM and I re-met at another Nerds event.

So, for those of you who watch Oprah and are into things like "fate," there you go.

I love how we met. There are details I know now that are just too cute not to share… like that MM had been to two events prior to the one we met at and he had never contacted anyone… or that he was dreadfully nervous to email the event organizers and pass his information along to me… or the night we re-met was the first time either of us had been back. I love recounting April and August, our first dates, the first time he looked at me and I knew he was in love, the first time I knew that we felt exactly the same way about each other... those moments when it was all mine to give and to take.

But things change, if only for the sheer fact that when you're in your late-twenties and early-thirties, you can't maintain a level of constant emotional overload. You can't spend all your time in bed, studying each other's faces and waxing poetic about being "in love," because eventually everyone will hate you, not to mention that you have errands to run and an apartment to clean.

It’s as if, sometimes, I feel like I’ve never been in a relationship before and I don’t know how to behave myself. Or maybe that this is just a better relationship, or a good relationship, and I don’t know how to behave myself when there isn’t spite or anger or guilt or malice or even cynicism involved.

The Pirate and I were a good match at times, but we bickered often and we were very young and often separated by bodies of water and miles of land, a set of circumstances that begged pain and passion and all the emotions one confuses with love. I was 20-years-old at the time, but I still can conjure up the tragic image of me lying on my bed during the summer in Athens, Ohio, starring at a picture of him and crying for what seemed like hours on end, but in reality, the whole thing was probably far less dramatic. But it seemed like, at the time, I could almost taste the distance between us.

Then, after college, there was a guy named Brian, who is so far removed from my life, I feel comfortable using his real name. We dated for more than a year, and even lived together at one point, and yet I remember nothing of the relationship except that he basically sucked and we barely got along. I realized after the fact that it was a relationship based on the most basic of conveniences -- same place and time, no other prospects -- and that a key ingredient necessary to make a relationship work is actually liking the other person as a person sharing space with you on this planet, and quite frankly, we did not.

Near the end of graduate school, the Pirate contacted me, and we convinced ourselves, after a series of phone conversations and one journey halfway across the country (Chicago to Boston), that we should give it another shot. The reasoning was sound, “We were young,” “Things will be different now,” and all of the other rationalizations made to convince oneself that what didn’t work before will work now because everything is different. We’re different.

We failed to recognize, of course, that that is a lie.

I packed all of my belongings in my Corolla and drove Boston after graduate school to live with the Pirate while I looked for a job. During my stay, I often found myself alone with Jen, a roommate of his, tall and blond in her mid- to late-thirties whose sole occupation was being a clown, during normal business hours because, well, I was unemployed and apparently clowns don't keep a regular schedule.

Jen rolled me cigarettes in the basement where she had set up a “smoking den,” really just a futon and a few plastic chairs separated from the furnace and the washer and dryer by psychedelically patterned threadbare sheets. We smoked while she imparted to me her conspiracy theories (something about air travel and wormholes), and I realized she was totally out of it and probably had been for some time and hoped she was on medication. I pray now that she didn’t take a liking to me because I reminded her of her “at a young age.”

One day, Jenn felt it her duty as my elder to criticize my undoubtedly flawed relationship with the Pirate. “You don’t lift each other up,” she observed. I distinctly remember her motioning with her hands as though she was placing a glass in a high cabinet, or making an offering to some alter. Apparently, her boyfriend, who was named Rick and did something terribly manly, like welding or pipe fitting, lifted her up spiritually, or emotionally, or maybe physically, perhaps all three -- I don’t know. But not the Pirate and I, we bickered, and made jokes at the expense of one another, and peppered our conversations with sarcasm and wit. Every time I remember her critique, I wonder if maybe she was right. Of course, her relationship with Rick ended too.

I left Boston shortly after arriving when I was offered a job in Chicago. I like to believe that my second attempt at a relationship with the Pirate just sort of fizzled; no one said it was over, the calls just stopped one day, and there was a mutual understanding. But that’s not what happened, and the real story is tied to too many other stories to tell here.

Finally, Drama and I, after a decade-long friendship, dove headfirst into the shallow end of love. The relationship, which began with an intensity that convinced us to tie up all lose ends and uproot our lives to make “our life,” ended nothing short of hateful. He blamed (and probably still blames) me for everything. He moved away and I moved away, only he moved farther, which somehow made him a martyr. We were all wrong for each other. We had different values, different goals, different lifestyles, and eventually it became evident that neither of us would compromise… on anything… ever.

I recognized a few months ago, that no matter how long it lasts at this point, my relationship with MM is the next big relationship in my life. Sometimes my heart knows that this is "it," whatever “it” means. And sometimes, my head argues that we’ve reached a tipping point and it could be over at any moment despite no real evidence that things are headed south except a couple of stressful days during which we bickered because we were tired, or hungry, or both.

I don’t know who to believe.

I remember saying to a friend not too long ago, “A couple of bad days does not undo an overall good relationship,” or something to that effect, and yet, I have a hard time believing it myself. And the funny part is (and my use of the word “funny” here is loose) that he doesn’t know anything is wrong. And neither do I. Perhaps, it’s just a feeling that needed 1,500 words to describe.

But what I imagine is actually going on here, is that sometimes, when I read a book -- especially a book of essays -- and I really relate to the author's voice, my inner monologue takes on that voice and persona and suddenly, there's all of this... stuff that needs to be written down. I'm sure other people do that too, writers and wannabe writers. I'm not different. I'm remarkably the same.


Lindy said...

Three words of warning and wisdom:

Don't. Have. Toddlers.

@ said...

Good writing should inspire you to write.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane to the land of the nerds. I can't believe it's been a year.

MMG said...

This is great writing, Lou. I'm inspired.

Roisin said...

I echo the sentiment. Truly good stuff, and it made me sit back and think about the same things. *le sigh*

Will said...

When I hear someone describe love as some pinnacle of our existence, I just sigh. The tall blond smokers of the world that are looking for someone that "raises" the spiritually are going to be dissapointed because love can't do this at infinitum. Sure it sometimes raises you up, but most the time it is about bringing you back from the dead after a bad day at work or such. In a lot of ways love is a coping mechanism for all the shit we have to go through in our lives. I get up almost every morning and pack a lunch for my girlfriend. Trust me I would rather have the extra sleep, but it is one less thing she has to deal with during her day. She returns the favor by getting most of the laundry done, so I don't have to think about what is clean to wear in the morning. This is some pretty mundane shit and but we do these things because they are easier to do everyday for someone we love rather than just for ourselves--because indeed we have grown to care for someone elses happines more than our own. I guess that is the rub--if you find someone that you care more about their happiness than your own and they feel the same way about you, the you will be much more happy together than you could ever be on your own. The test of a loving relationship isn't how high it raises you, but instead how it helps you make it up the next step.

I think most people are afarid of "How do you know how they really feel about me?" question. This is the reason I hated dating so much because it felt like most women were looking for some relationship mecca--when really what fleshes out a relationship is someone who when you complain how shitty you day was, listens. It is someone that tries to make you life a little easier. It is someone who comforts you partially by the things he does and partially by just being there.

So there are my two crietria for a relationship...Do I care more about her happiness than my own? Does she demonstrate through her actions that she cares about me?

Gawd that sounded un-manly...On a side note if you don't already have it check out the weight watchers cookbook. I think it even has a veggie section.

Sorry for the long URL...but I have found it is pretty good shit in most of it.

L Sass said...

I love this post.

And, go with your heart. I think a non-dramatic beginning to a relationship bodes very, very well. (At least it did for me--three years later.)

Lou's Sister said...

Next time you're feeling inspired about love, please don't leave out my favorite of the bunch..."The Janitor."