On (in) Love

I have been thinking about this post for weeks now. Amidst fevered sickness and echoing despondence and nearly equal resonating Happy Moments, because if you capitalize words they become more than just fleeting things but an actual class of Things, and, with life and all feeling so schizo-frenetic recently, I can’t say from whence this comes; the wistful or the joyful. Or, as I am sure others might suspect, perhaps there is no separation of the two for me but rather some interwoven strands of emotional DNA that make up the code of me. Though that’s a silly analogy. But I do find my brain living right in the middle of nostalgia sometimes; even present-sense nostalgia; nostalgia for a Thing as it’s happening; nostalgia from the recognition of a moment as it is momenting, which isn’t a word at all, but when you start to talk about Living in the Moment, you get into the kinda of huggy lovey bullshitty pseudo-psychological phrasing of the Western Yogi, so I’m actually going to be proud of inventing the word “momenting” in this exact moment.

Personally, I like what I did there.

Sometimes it feels like giving up on a thing. Other times it feels like letting go of a thing. Its the same Thing. Its always about perspective. But there’s a resonating idea right now, backed up by conversations with Cam, about love. Changing perspectives on love. Evolving ideas of what love is. Bear with me here …

Love was a thing that had a definite shape and smell and taste. And it happened. Christ, but it happened. And it looked and it tasted and it smelled exactly like love was supposed to in every imagined, hopeful, longing moment of my oft-misspent youth (misspent on pining for love above all else). I spent a long time in love, and trying (and failing) to cultivate and perpetuate that love. And it is sad, though perhaps not as Personal Failure as I can attribute on my worse days, that love was, indeed, difficult and fleeting and that thing that I imagined, some idealized version of it … it didn’t really stick. It didn’t keep.

It looked like this: Man and Woman, preferably the Man being me, like each other, spend time together, then grow to love each other and then end up together and get a dog and buy a house and have children and lean on each other and grow old together and, on some desperate, saddest day of all, one leaves the other behind to depart this life, leaving the other with a lifetime of memories and a remainder of longing and mourning and that type of sadness that always feels to me like the good kind of sadness. This is what we want. The movies told me so.

Except it wasn’t. It wasn’t what either person really wanted and, after the mess, life looked incredibly different. That thing right there, that ideal, that goal I’d had in mind for years. That wasn’t what I wanted.

Or maybe this is all some hindsight rationale. Because sometimes, on those worse days, sometimes it feels more like I don’t get to be that, that I am incapable of that.

It goes like this: I visit my college town, and I head to my favorite bar, and I pass a specific house. I was just describing the Ghosts to a friend this past week – they haunt the places I’ve lived. I pass a specific house, and I think “This is where one of my best friend lived. One morning she swore she saw a morning dove, and I kept teasing her it was a pigeon, and then she graduated, and I’ve only seen her twice since. One night, one year later, in the exact same room, this is where I had sex with someone for the first time, and then it got weird and emotional and we didn’t speak to each other for 2 years.” And I cannot, without fail, I cannot pass that house without thinking of both of those people, and how much I miss them, and how differently I would handle things if given the chance. There are ghosts everywhere I have lived. They aren’t the regrets of the past, but just deep engravings; permanent fixtures; tattoos rather than scars.

I think I’ve been stuck on it recently because, after 3 years of dating, I’m beginning to see Ghosts here in DC. Which is where the connection really began – these Ghosts, the reddit user whose name appears in orange because we’re ostensibly reddit friends because one time we had sex and then it didn’t work out but we definitely proved we were both mature adults by maintaining our reddit friendship. Or the Facebook profile I hide from my feed because I don’t want her to know that seeing pictures of her life, the choice she made to live that life without me, is too much for me to see in my feed. The young woman I tried dating and it didn’t stick and then I saw her on the metro and I was too chicken shit to say hello because I felt like such a failure. The myriad young women who I never called back, or never called me back, which is a passive but joint decision that We’re Not Right for Each Other. Which is fine, its just a grain of sand, and those don’t tend to pile up into something larger, right? This is where I had dinner with the nuclear physicist, and there was no chemistry. This is where I got cocktails with the non-profit lobbyist, and there was no chemistry. This is the picture I took and sent to the NIH doctor who was in Africa when we first started talking, because she didn’t believe I was real, and so I asked her to name a number, and I sent her a pic of me holding up that number, and we laughed a lot, and we talked every day for 3 weeks, until suddenly we just didn’t, and she just disappeared.

This is where and this is where and this is where and suddenly there’s a pattern emerging, a pattern full of absolutely nothing at all, which ends up having a surprising amount of weight to it. Some people get to fall in love. And the truth is, I already did, right? And so you end up wondering if this is something you deserve, or if this is something else.

But then there is Love. And I think I first thought of this not in terms of the evolution of Love in my mind, but rather in simpler terms of the flipside to those Ghosts. And that part goes like this:

I love life. Perhaps the thing I am mostly playfully/lovingly mocked for is how over-excited I get when I am in one of those moments. So how is it that I consider myself this version of incapable of love? What is it I am missing?

It is exactly those moments. Its the times when I love other people so richly and so deeply that it, too, imprints upon my heart. And I think about times in these last 4 years when things have been so exciting or so profoundly felt. I think about all of the love that I have seen and I have experienced.

And this is where it feels more like letting go than giving up. Because maybe love doesn’t work that way for me. Maybe I don’t end up paired off and raising children and living in the suburbs and getting old with someone else. But that doesn’t mean I am not in love. It doesn’t mean that I haven’t experienced moments of being in love with other human beings in these last 4 years. Quite the opposite.

I loved you when you left your shoes behind at my place, because you needed more room in your luggage and you planned on coming back. I loved you when you agonized over the dinner you cooked for me, thinking I was going to judge you, and then we sat and you read poetry to me. I loved you when you left your plans early just to show up and have one drink with me and my friends, because you were so interested in being part of my life. I loved you when you invited me to Thanksgiving with your family. I loved you when you help me find a job. I loved you when you found me a place to live. I loved you when you set up a network of checking in on me, because I had just lost Love and you all knew how to take care of me, because you Loved me. I loved that you didn’t let me know that was happening when it was. I love that you and you and you and you all text me to ask about my health or just to let me know about yours; I love knowing the mundane details of your life and I love that you ask about mine, because that makes me feel like I am a part of your life. I love you for sticking around. I love that, after all of these years, you still aren’t gettin’ tired of my shit, and you still have an uncanny ability to recommend books and music and movies to me. I loved that day when we went to Eastern Market. That day we went to Union Market. That day you took me to the greatest meatball sub in the city. I loved you on that day when we were the only people at Hogo, and the bartender put on a sad Fugees song, and the whole place either shut the fuck up or sang along. I loved that you invited me to your wedding; you didn’t even know me that well. I loved you when you invited me to Halloween, to Thanksgiving, to New Years Eve. I loved you when we were very similar people. I loved you when you started our first gchat of the day by using my name in all caps. I loved you when I walked into your house and your children knew me by name, and were actually excited that I was there. I loved you when you insisted we were going out for my birthday, even though I considered it just another Saturday night dance party, because secretly I wanted it to be for my birthday but I was sad because my friend had just died and I didn’t want to ask to be the center of attention. I loved you when I didn’t think I was going to get through something, and then I did, and I never told you that it was because of you.

That’s the thing; the concept of love that I had just doesn’t fit my life anymore. Maybe I am broken and incapable of that particular thing. Maybe looking at love in those terms is something outdated, or perhaps I have simply grown away from that, not as a punishment for being me, but as a reward. Or maybe I am in the wrong place and time to find it right now.

But Christ! I am so in love right now. And it turns out I was the whole time.

How to be an Old Man

I’m in the middle of a couple of unpleasant things right now, but after writing this out in an email, I decided its better to be able to laugh about things than to wallow. So here’s a funny little anecdote for you (and apologies to those who have already heard it, but this is quickly becoming one of my favorite Stories)
 
So my leg was in shooting pain and my foot numb for a couple of days last week. No triggering incident, mind you – I just started having shooting pain in my leg, a swollen ankle, and numbness in my foot. My PCP referred me to an orthopedist, and in the interim, I was taking pain relievers and basically elevating my foot all night while at home. Not exactly state of the art care, mind you, but I was trying my darndest!
 
So on Saturday morning, I was hobbling about my apartment, puttering if you will, but mostly sitting on the couch taking in some Netflix and trying not to make things worse until I saw my orthopedist. Doc figured it is related to my back, given the fact that I have a history of back problems from my car accident years ago.
 
So anyway, coming back from the bathroom, I spot a squirrel on the fire escape …
 
Now, this is noteworthy for two reasons. The first is simply – what the actual fuck is a squirrel doing on my fire escape? That’s not a tree! There’s no snacks to sniggle from here! City life is weird. I think a rat would have surprised me less.
 
The second, though – I have some delightful fire escape herbs now. Parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, chives, and basil. The basil and parsley are both growing incredibly tall already, but I have noticed that the basil has been looking a little chewed on and ragged.
 
So as I walk back to the couch, squirrel makes his way towards outside my kitchen window. I head into the kitchen incensed, years of deer eating my mom’s azalea bushes outside our front window coming back to me. So I head to the kitchen window, and that little fucker is sitting there with his face in my GD basil! So I tap on the glass, he stops and looks at me, and I mumble some kind of curse at him. He just continues to stare at me. So, I open the window, and he moves off a bit.
 
At this point, I obviously need to have some kind of final threat, so I lean out the window, watching the little bastard head down the stairs and run like a coward. What should have happened next was something ominous, like “Yeah, you BETTER run Mr. Squirrel! And you tell all your squirrelly friends –  I AM WATCHING YOU!”
 
… instead, I leaned out the window and HOLYMOTHERFUCKINGSWEEBABYJEBUS! My back!
 
So, backing out an a 45 degree angle from my waist to my head, I proceed to hobble around the apartment in excruciating pain in my back, my foot numb and my leg experiencing shooting pain. When I was finally able to sit, it was a long time before I was able to get up again.
 
But did the squirrel really win?
 
After all, he totally got off my lawn.

I just need to write this down

The thing I lost was my own little family. A wife and a dog and a cat. Maybe that’s why I became so close with my parents, my siblings, my nieces when it all came down.

This weekend taught me that I adore my family. I need them. They need me.

This weekend also made me feel like I am part of a community here, and I am loved as much as I love. I have such an extended group of amazing people. I am never alone.

This weekend I realized that the only family I have is somewhere else, and life doesn’t really seem likely to provide my own little family again. Not here.

And maybe I don’t want my own little family again. I wasn’t very good at it to begin with.

I just needed to write this down. I miss my family more and more. That’s not the same as being alone.

A Life, Alone

A few years back, when I first moved to DC, I was living alone for the first time in my life. To look back on it, I can admit it was incredibly frightening, and sad to me. I didn’t like it. I had been rejected and spurned, and I felt rather useless to other people. I felt like being alone was a punishment.

As I was going through the pics on my camera, I realized that I take a lot of pictures by myself. I do a lot of things by myself. I do a lot of things to entertain me, and only me. See, e.g., Unicorn Mask and Unicorn Cat. I am glad other people can find enjoyment from it, truly. But looking at this ridiculous mess of selfies and other things of interest of only to me, it occurs to me: I really like my life. I really have found a way to enjoy the time I spend alone.

So … these pics are of no interest to anyone. Its incredibly mockworthy and egomaniacal to post a bunch of selfies and think anyone will care.

But I actually think, looking at these … I think I actually have found some kind of happiness in being alone. Which is a complete disservice to all the people I have the honor of spending my life with. But I think I am doing really alright.

And also, I make me laugh.

 

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On a Time Now Passed

Ended up down a gchat rabbit hole tonight. Made a yeast starter. Needed to kill time. Somehow, this lead to an iTunes playlist of all 2002-2004 hits.

I am a nostalgic, sentimental moron. Acknowledged.

But I played some Postal Service, some Flaming Lips “In the Morning of the Magicians,” some Wrens “Ex-Girl Collection.” And I sang along to my cat, sitting in the chair next to my computer, staring at me.

And every time I leaned in to sing a harmony to her, she rubbed her face against mine.

Some part of me thinks she wishes she was there when we were that thing.

Another part of me just appreciates the non-judgmental affection for the staleness of my heart.

Are you eating chips?

On vanity

I reopened the OKC account last night right as I was going to bed. By the time I woke up this morning, I had 16 new visitors and 11 new “they choo-choo-choose you” notifications. And it felt good.

I am not even interested in meeting anyone right now. That’s the truth. Between just coping with life, trying very hard to get over a romantic entanglement very short-lived but incredibly intense (and leading to me being rejected)[and why do I keep getting thus entangled](and why does it still sting to think about it?), some part of me needs the superficial validation.

There’s this scene in Soapdish where Sally Fields, an aging soap opera star, goes to the mall “in disguise,” gets recognized, and is suddenly stormed for autographs and photos. Its done as a way to remind herself that she is still a star, that her fans still love her. It is completely feigned and affected and self-serving and deceitful. And it makes her feel good.

Four messages so far today, and that’s just from the pre-work and lunch rushes. Most of the time, these things happen in the 5-6 hour and then after 10, when people are drunk and lonely and start recklessly sending messages out to strangers who look attractive … or attractive enough when you’re drunk and lonely and its 10:00 and you have no plans for the weekend.

I have no interest in dating right now.

But the validation of feeling attractive to another human being …

Sometimes, at 10:00 on a weeknight, when you’re drunk and lonely … sometimes that feels good.

Sage Advice

I was just having a lengthy conversation with a Jewish friend of mine in which she analogized a recent dating failure in my life to the excitement of Christmas throughout all of December, followed by the reality that Christmas has come and gone, and all you have left is a bunch of toys whose brilliance and luster fade every day. Yes, she is Jewish, but I think she clearly knows about Christmas.

And yes, in this analogy, Christmas was the excitement of someone else meeting me for the first time. Sigh.

We bantered back and forth about these sorts of things, coming to the conclusion that I may have misread a situation, but I also may have read it completely correctly, and there was no way to know now. It reminded me of a little tidbit I learned one time while getting dumped.

I now say that, even if we’re all using English, some people text and chat in a different language than others. The last young lady I fell into whatever-emotion-it-is-that’s-not-love-because-I-am-a-robot with started out strong right out of the gate, because we were texting, I made a fairly dubious reference, and she latched on right away. We spoke the same language, and everything was easy and fun (until it wasn’t).

All the way on the other end of the spectrum, I was once dumped because a text joke I made was not read as a text joke, but instead as snark, which lead to awkwardness. When I finally explained myself, and what the joke was, and how we were both being silly, she told me this: “Even if that’s true, look how confusing the whole thing was. It shouldn’t be this hard so early on.”

Stung like all hell, but she was right.

So I started thinking about some of the things I have learned over the last couple of years of dating, breaking up and getting dumped. And while much of this might seem trite, or obvious, its the difference between lessons learned and lessons earned.

These were lessons earned, each a permanent mark upon my sleeve.

  • No matter how much you believe someone is The One, the sheer fact that they do not believe the same makes it true: they are not The One.
  • It does not matter how shitty someone is being to you. Even if they fully acknowledge how shitty they are being to you. You do not get to put words into their mouth as to why.
  • Waning interest is in fact the surest sign that you are not actually interested at all. Sometimes you need to take the old dog out behind the barn.
  • The Fadeaway is a tried-and-true method for ending a relationship – just stop contacting them, and maybe they’ll take the hint. It is a terrible way to treat another human being, a coward’s way out. It is probably the most commonly used method of all.
  • Your bullshit is your own bullshit and no one knows what it is unless you tell them. You don’t get to decide how someone else is going to react to it, and you deprive them of any real chance of being anything other than what you predicted by not letting them see it all.
  • It is incredibly easy to take a seemingly innocuous thing that someone did, turn it into a big deal, and use it as grounds for dumping them. Especially if you were already going to dump them and were looking for the right way to explain how you actually felt.
  • Do not drink and text. No one wins.
  • Some people are looking for someone special. Other people are just looking to play. Each group is not particularly sensitive to the needs and desires of the other.
  • Sometimes the thrill of the chase is significantly more fun than the reality of how messy another person actually is.
  • When you go on a first date with someone, you’re not just going on a date with them: you’re going on a date with everyone they’ve ever dated, and everyone you’ve ever dated, and probably your parents as well. Its only fair to expect people to be human.

Its tough out there. Rejection at 34 feels exactly like rejection at 17, and years of accomplishments and tough life lessons in between do nothing to make the hurt any lessened.  And sometimes, you don’t even realize that you’re the one doing the hurting. You’re the one rejecting someone else. And its not an enviable place to be either.

One friend, coaching me through the first time I had to break up with someone in my life (yes, in my 30’s and yes, I felt pathetic) explained that, in an absolute truth, when you go out on a date with someone, unless they are actually the one with whom you’ll spend the rest of your life, someone is going to get hurt. Maybe they like you and you don’t like them. Maybe you date for 3 weeks and then meet someone new. Maybe you date for 3 months and then they decide this isn’t going anywhere. Maybe you date for 3 years and then you cheat on them. Point is, at some point, at least one of you is getting hurt. And you have to know this if you want to date, to find someone you can stand long enough to let them learn to stand you.

Its a dark view on dating. But I believe it is true. That which doesn’t kill us, and all that.

But I choose to look at it from a more positive perspective, which is to say this: even with all the hurt going around, even with the odds so stacked against me, even with the times where it feels a little bit like I don’t want to play anymore … I keep trying. Which means that I still believe in … I dunno? Fucking magic? Did Sisyphus ever get the boulder up the hill?

I do these things, and I learn from my failures and from my mistakes. And I am a better person for every lesson learned. The saddest day of all is the one when I decide I no longer wish to try to be a part of life, no longer think the risk is worth the reward.

But that’s not me. That which doesn’t kill me, and all that. And maybe I do still believe in magic.