I told my latest girlfriend that she is my last attempt at a long term romantic relationship. Opening your heart to something as clumsy as a human (in hopes that they will leave it in a better state than when they arrived) is frightening, irresponsible and exciting. Every exhilarating sky dive comes with the fear of a malfuntioning parachute. Every soccer match comes with the excitement of playing your best game, or a crippling injury. I’ve injured both my left eye and my left knee, and I would sooner play more games of soccer than give another human free reign with my emotional well being. At the moment.
Before my latest girlfriend, it had been 5 years since my last long-term attempt. I made a choice, after that, the choice to be alone. Still played a lot of soccer though.
The reason I pursued this latest one was the feeling that I matured over the years. I could recover faster from a range of extreme emotions — anger, jealousy, sadness, hurt and rest back into solitude. Or so I thought. I decided it was time for me to understand what it was to fall in love with someone you were still getting to know. To fall in love regardless of what you will learn. To love without condition.
Then she came, she seemed perfect. Attractive enough to remind me of my insecurities. So full of love that I learned a new capacity to love back. Open to the world, open enough that I could share my idiosyncraties without fear of judgement. She still is everything she has always been, but we are not together anymore.
Everybody has something great about them. A great body, a great smile, intelligence, humor, toned legs, a tight ass, warmth, wisdom, etc. But they also have some undesirable features: anger issues, jealousy, selfishness, tardiness, smell, sizes of certain physical features, ill disciplines, melancholy, etc. It’s the desirable things that attract you to the person, and it’s how willing you are to accomodate the undesirable features that decides how long you stay. The accomodation of the undesirables is a learned behaviour; you may have seen such behaviours in your parents, siblings, friends, etc. They’re awful, but like the delicious bitterness of a good beer, they are acquired tastes.
We could not accomodate the undesirables. So much for unconditional love.
And so, here I am. Single once again and wondering if this should be a permanent state.
I took a walk the other day to figure out the next steps for my romantic career. During that walk I came to realise that I had not defined what either option meant. This post, is an attempt to do so.
Let’s start with the reality of loneliness. The one I am most familiar with.
With loneliness I am the master of my free time. Apart from work there’s few places I must be. I can be home reading a book, writing, watching a movie or sleeping. I can go out at a moments notice. Play soccer often or watch soccer (even geeky vidoes about soccer tactics of teams I don’t even support). I can go to gym, go to the sauna, watch a movie, have a drink, eat. Anything I want, the only constraint being my budget.
With loneliness I am the master of my playlist. It seems trivial, but the first thing I have to give up is the control of the music on my car or home stereo. Loneliness gives me time to listen to podcasts or audio books, without interruption. I can listen to my liquid drum & bass playlist. My outdated hip hop. My “chilled” playlist with songs that tansport me to a sunfilled day with nothing but the feeling of weightlessness on the surface of a pool and a cocktail in hand. Most importantly I can listen to my Adele, Damien Rice, Keaton Henson, Counting Crows, James Blake, and all the other experts in rythmic depression. All the more popular now because, sadly, I can relate.
With loneliness I am the master of my activities. I can watch the most depressing movie and see the most depressing play without judgment. I can find a classical music concert (which I am looking forward to — this is the first time that I will attend one of these). The only person I can disappoint with my choices is me.
It’s controlled, predictable, calculated. In my comfort zone.
I don’t have complete control of my free time. I do, but not choosing to be with my companion has future consequences. Most free time requires doing co-operative experiences. Sure, we can read a book together but a warm embrace accompanied by any movie (even loathsome horrors) is more intimate. If she has an event she would like us to attend, I cannot refuse the invite too often. What I get is an experience I may have never had, I meet people I would have never met (carefully filtered by their proximity to my companion), I find something novel — especially about myself.
My playlists no longer exist. I don’t get the uninterrupted space to focus on the words spoken in a podcast or audiobook. Forget the sad songs. The “chill” playlist is still used — after Netflix. My old audio habits usurped by new songs, new favorites, tastes yet uncovered, genres unknown, artists never heard of. Adele makes way for Post Malone, Damien Rice for Anderson .Paak, Counting Crows for Rihanna, James Blake for Rhye. Not that they can be perfect replacements, but they all become part of “our playlist”.
Activities while still novel, become shared. While I treasure the warmth of my favorite blankets or pockets in my favorite jacket, they pale in comparison to an autonomous, contoured and heat-generating body. Even though you find yourself in places never having revealed themselves in thoughts of your future, places like waiting rooms, studios and restaurants playing movies on the ceiling. And doing things you never saw yourself doing like karaoke at home, analysing poetry on an air bed, reading scripts, understanding characters and even auditioning. You feel as though you stepped in this chaos and realised stories worth telling.
Loneliness is control, seldom disrupted. Loneliness is the perfect habitat for modern day success. If that definition does not involve a family.
Companionship is chaos. Where in the peaks and valleys of our most extreme emotions lies the discovery of what you did not know. And the rediscovery of what you knew, but through another’s eyes.
My loneliness sounds depressing; accompanied by depressing music, movies, plays and books. It’s not depressing. Those interests are a desire to understand humanity (me) at it’s popular extreme. A lifelong and treasured endeavour.
Companionship sounds chaotic, but it’s also an opportunity for self discovery. To understand my capacity to love, to understand love and why it’s often prefaced by the unnecessary prefix — “unconditional”. It’s also not always chaotic, it creates a new order, a new being, something called “us”. That “us” being the yin and yang of you two.
I know the options. Both choices heavy in pros and cons. Maybe I’ll just stick to soccer.
Maybe the best way to think about it is how Woody Allen phrased it in Annie Hall:
Alvy Singer: [narrating] After that it got pretty late, and we both had to go, but it was great seeing Annie again. I… I realized what a terrific person she was, and… and how much fun it was just knowing her; and I… I, I thought of that old joke, y’know, the, this… this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, “Doc, uh, my brother’s crazy; he thinks he’s a chicken.” And, uh, the doctor says, “Well, why don’t you turn him in?” The guy says, “I would, but I need the eggs.” Well, I guess that’s pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y’know, they’re totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and… but, uh, I guess we keep goin’ through it because, uh, most of us… need the eggs.
Compliment this with a reading of a man trying to calculate what love costs. Read by Matt Malloy, from Lydia Davis’s book ‘Break it Down’.