Last week, I called my dad in Los Angeles and asked him what I should do about my love life. He’s 73 years old and has spent a lot of years trying to grasp the true meaning of the big “L”.
“I find that the one you want to end up with is the one with whom you can sleep well, eat well, make love to well and laugh with.” Already knowing things weren’t looking up, I hesitated before responding, “Is that with or without alcohol?”
Me and my guy are taking “a break.” Valentine’s Day aside, breakups are hard. Even if you’ve only been going out for three months and two days, it’s still like being ripped from the womb. Even though you know it’s time to get out, it still is painful to break free from the co-dependent comforts.
Worse yet is that you know what’s to come: lonely nights with Barry Manilow, pints of Ben & Jerry’s, sappy fantasies about Bruce Willis, glorified memories of good times that weren’t all that good and the return of those long, lonely Sundays in sweatpants.
I’ll have to suffer the mental agony that will send me scrutinizing love and reading Nietzsche and wondering if true love is nothing but a bunch of hogwash. I know it’s hardly original, but how do you know when it’s the one? Is it better to indulge in something that feels great now, but will ultimately leave you drained and make you revisit your childhood trauma?
On the other hand, so what if he’s unstable? Is it really worth it to hold out for the ideal? My friends assure me I already know this stuff: “You’re a therapist for God’s sake,” they say – as though that makes me immune to horniness and heartache.
Sure, there are good things: staying up all night, dancing, talking, anthropomorphizing the crows outside the window. We fit well together. We look alike. We both eat with chop sticks. We come equipped with the same amount of emotional damage, and the zing of our combined attention deficit disorder turns out to be one heck of a B-L-A-S-T.
I find myself thinking he is the one for me because I will stand beside him in the kitchen on Saturday morning and we’ll discuss the ways we can get thin and rich, while he eats leftover buffalo dipped in humus and I forklift Twix ice cream out of the carton with chopsticks. All of this makes me think I really love him and that love is enough.
But then, there are the red flags. For starters, the Victorian pet names: sweet love? angel? More substantially, the lack of common values and goals: One of us is into Scientology. One of us bursts into song in the middle of serious conversation. We don’t have the same taste in electronica.
There are the fights – ignited by the childhood wounds that come roaring back, all fat and happy at the slightest mention of anything, which carries along in its pouch the emotional baggage that no matter what I say or do, it doesn’t move him.
Does he even know I speak Spanish? Does he know where my mother lives? Should I worry that his memory is like the guy’s in “Memento”? I suppose not. After all, I can’t remember how much money he made at his last job or the name of the seaside resort he docked all the boats he used to own.
“You guys are both wonderful,” my cousin tells me over Thai at Sawatdee, “but it doesn’t mean you are wonderful together.” Good point – though this comes from the same gal who keeps a list of all the things she’s looking for in a partner, ranging from hair color to sensitivity level.
Still, how does one know? Sure, I have an idea: I imagine the guy I end up with will be someone who makes me laugh, think, feel good about myself and who has gone to therapy. Someone who will sing campy TV theme songs with me and ride the rides at a middle-of-nowhere roadside attraction (which undoubtedly explains my tendency to fall for gay men).
But even if I feeeeeeel like I love him, do I love him or his back rubs? Do I love him or the fact he listens to my bad poetry and keeps me warm at night? Is it love, or is it merely affection – like loving a pet?
When I was younger, I thought love was where you’d want to do anything for that person. And you could be fearless in front of anyone, because your soulmate would back you up. And the two of you could walk into any room and perceive things in exactly the same way.
Alas, I am no longer co-dependent – we are going our separate ways. It doesn’t matter how or why. Sure, he refuses to sing “You Are My Sunshine” in public and I refuse to sleep with him without a condom. Details, details. What matters is we both know something is wrong.
What matters is we will remember the times we ended our stories mid-sentence because we didn’t think the other was listening – and were right. We will remember kissing on the corner at 1 a.m., beneath that sparkling downtown snowfall, yet feeling deep down something wasn’t right.
I know that someday, while eating mango in the Caribbean or at our corporate desk drinking coffee, we’ll each look back on our relationship, briefly wonder what the other is doing, and then go back to loving the person we are with – as though that, too, will last forever.
I know that even though it’s hard to say goodbye – standing at my door, then sitting on my couch, and then laying in my bed, holding on to each other for dear life – we are really only saying goodbye to something older and addictive that we should have given up long ago.
Amid it all, we try to save ourselves. We entertain the idea of an “arrangement” which soon takes on a life of its own. “No, no, no,” we would interrupt when the other was trying to make a point, “the arrangement says we are not allowed to hold hands when crossing the street, unless it is strictly for platonic purposes like keeping warm.” Alas, the “arrangement” evolved into the “program,” which in turn became the “normal and healthy dating plan,” which ultimately became “the break.” After “the break,” who knows?
When we were knee-deep in love, I told him I want to go to “the big open grass” (a line I save for the ones for whom I feel potential). Tall fields sung about in folk songs, where we lay in the grass and look up at the azure sky. Where we feel the summer on our skin and wrestle in a sea of dandelions and make sweet wishes.
He didn’t get it. Instead he wrapped me in his strong drummer’s arms, looked at me with those big slate eyes, stroked my hair and called me a “quirky chick.” I knew then our relationship was terminal, but I wasn’t about to ruin the weekend. Besides, I began to wonder what was so good about the darn grass anyway.