Saturday, May 30, 2009

On Knowing the Rare Circumstance of Falling in Love

This a.m., @agahran tweeted a link to a story in the NYTimes by Louise Rafkin on Rafkin's work interviewing couples on how they met. Amy was a bit peeved that Rafkin's assignment didn't include polyamourous couples. Yet poliamory aside, Rafkin's meditation on her work, (as it is more than an essay) and her own troubles with finding love, struck a chord with me on so many levels....

I, too, have often found myself on the outside of love, looking in at the relationships of others, trying to discern what it is that makes their relationships work over the long haul. It's true that some are in a "staying together for the kids" kind of thing, but some of the couples that I've known over 20-odd years have gone thru that and come to the other side with many becoming stronger for what they went through.

Granted, a few have divorced--mostly because one or the other partner realized that she/he had "outgrown" the other. In other words, that their lives and values had changed so dramatically that they were no longer on the same page.

That's the thing--sometimes our values do indeed change from 20-somethings to Middle-Agers. We want more children or less children. One emerges a raging conservative, while the other slides into born-again liberalism. One 'fesses up, finally, that he's gay, while she decides she needs some younger stuff to keep up with her sex drive. One can no longer deal with the penny-wise, pound-foolishness or paranoid thriftyness of the other.

Life happens and changes us, this is true. But what of the whole "love" thing? Rafkin, like me, wonders how we know when we've found it, if so many people have such odd and unconventional falling in love stories.

Some of us just never had a good template to begin with. Like Rafkin, I didn't have good home role models to understand what love looked like in action, let alone what it might feel like. When I did fall in love, with my first husband, as I now know I was in retrospect, I didn't believe it nor did I understand what I was feeling. There was all this fear, all the time--this butterflies-in-my-stomach feeling. We shared so many interests, taught each other so much about art and music and all sorts of things at such a young age (I was 19, he was 21 when we met)but had no clue how to take all this love and build it into something that would sustain us over the long haul.

There weren't any parents to help. In fact, the parents were more willing to break us up than help us stay together....

How could love feel like fear? Well, when you've never really known love, or have seen something that was pretty horrid, and told it was love, then you can easily have a bellyfull of fear when love comes into your life. At least that's what I've figured out about my life in relation to love.

I've sat for a lot of tarot card readings in my life. Growing up with a lot of superstitions and a weird kind of Sicilian Catholicism married with oddbal Fundamentalist Doctrine of Predestination, the idea of fortune tellers as true seers of our life paths was presented as more plausible than the ideas of free will and mastery over one's own life. I've had a lot of fortune tellers tell me I'd have multiple soul mates. That idea doesn't give me the warm fuzzies. And makes me wonder about the veracity of fortune tellers anyway.

Esp. since I believe that if I can figure out what's "wrong" with my decision making on the mate thing that I'd find the right one.

But, like Rafkin, when I hear other people's stories, I'm not so sure that tactic will work any more than listening to fortune tellers.

I'm thinking more about this these days because I've decided to get out there and start dating again--because while I'm very independent and like my own space, I'd really like to share some of my secrets with someone who will understand, and will go crazy wild places with me, who knows pop culture, and may even find rollerball and Blade Runner to be his favorite movies as well. I've had a relationship for about 8 years, but we are a City Mouse, Country Mouse temperament combination that just will not work over the long haul. Lovely man, really, but as I become more comfortable with my essential adventure-geek nature, I see how we can't work unless we're living separate lives, with him on the mountains, observing me appreciatively when I cruise into his world from a drive on Adventure Road.

I've wondered about this, too. If I'm not being too shallow and wanting someone who shares what some might think are "superficial interests." So many of the long-term loving couples I've known share a foundation of religious beliefs, attend a church, and all that. While I studied religion in college, and have a love of it, I'm not a church attender. Church, no matter the denomination, isn't all that welcoming to single folk. And yes, there's the whole church-lady-with-single-son thing, but that doesn't mean he's going to be the kind of guy who can spend hours in funky comic book shops looking for British horror novels and enjoy art books with titles like "Robots and Donuts."

Doesn't mean he's going to go for a good martini and pizza dinner either.

One good thing though that I've learned in all my examination of myself and my reactions is that when I meet certain types of guys, I hear bells. Literally. Now, most of y'all might think that this means I've found that True Love Soul Mate. Hardly. As I've recently discovered about my relationship with my Dad, the bells are really alarms, telling me I've met a guy like my Dad, who's very charming on the outside and very messed up on the inside. The bells mean "stay away!"

At least I know now.

Character is something I know more about, too. I can tell a guy's values through conversation--if he's hard-working and has empathy, or is superficial and judging me by superficials rather than listening to what I'm saying. So, it's a combination of senses and observations....

Knowing all this, and no longer apologizing for who I am and the geeky things I like (although IMO, in some ways, by saying the things I like are "geeky" or "weird", I may still be apologizing) I'm looking at different things. I'm looking at cues of character. I remember meeting my first husband, and there weren't huge clanging bells at first (as there was with the second, which I now know was a big warning.) I thought he was cute, and we liked the same kind of music. It grew from there. (caveat: that doesn't mean it was all peaches and cream and other people's fault that we split up. he had a pot-smoking problem, and I had some other issues, too. marriage was too much for us. so much that love couldn't conquer all.)

So, like Rafkin, I'm wondering if love will ever happen (again) and not when. I wonder if I've examined things too well, and if I'm expecting some kind of perfection. Not really. I'm not looking for a 1970's Robert Redford look-alike who's got a shelf full of collector SpiderMan comics and works as an art restoration specialist, has never been married and exudes empathy. No, not at all. Prince Charming doesn't necessarily exist, and waiting for him is a living death. I also know that, as I slowly careen towards 50 (it's two years away) that the pool is getting more and more shallow (boy! is it shallow in W. Mass), or the baggage is getting larger and larger. We all have baggage, just as long as it's reasonable and not held together with emotional duct tape, then we're good.

Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that I have to get out more. That's something that's very different from when I was younger. I used to be out and about a lot, which made it easier to meet guys. I used to yell at my friend Marge that she wasn't going to meet anyone sitting on her couch in her fuzzy slippers watching a Yankee game with her cats in her lap. Well, I'm not going to meet anyone in sweat pants flip-flops, eating a stake and drinking leftover wine while watching CSI. There's fear of getting out and about, for sure, as I'm not the slimmest or cutest any more (as I once was, trust me on that.) But unless I'm perfectly happy alone, and I'm not, I can't settle for a life of books, tv, and good friends.

There is more to me than that, and I want more.

I have to stop observing. I'm not like Rafkin, where observing and writing is her SF Chron assignment. It's not mine.

I'll never know if I don't jump in.

I have to jump in, no matter how fearful I am, and no matter how much the despair of being "too old" and never finding anyone might grab me by the throat and throttle me into senselessness.

I've got to shake that off like Chev Chelios and keep going...

I have to find my heart too.

That's all there is to it....


Shava said...

I never believed in love at first sight until I met Fish -- and my rational side got dragged kicking a screaming into the relationship. It felt like I had no choice in the matter, but I have to say that the instinctual side of me seemed to have known a bit of what it was doing.

We met at the closing of a well-loved neighborhood coffeeshop. I'd seen him performing magic in Harvard Square before. I walked into the "wake" to find a dapper freak with a black leather top hat at the remnants of the cake (I came in late).

As I remember it, the room disappeared, and we were deep in conversation about many things, very deep, very fast, very intense. There was more than conversation going on. I, who had probably *that day* told a friend I wasn't dating or intending to date, ended up wondering about possibilities.

The evening ended with me giving him my business card (with cell and email) with my Second Life avatar name written on the back. Ah, modern romance. Business Week even posted the machinima of our SL wedding (the RL wedding is waiting on better economic times, rather unromantically...).

We are now also one of those annoying beasts -- the formerly poly couple. Having been through the fire a few times, and now feeling no particular need to fill in blanks (and maybe it's just middle aged wisdom and/or slowing down) we've decided to define our covenants within the relationship as monogamous.

And yes, we've had rough spots, even *are having* rough spots. But I think there's something lasting here.

Wish I could bottle it. I'd make a zillion...:)

Tish Grier said...

Hi Shava! I remember talking to you shortly after you met Fish.....

Your tale makes me feel like all's not lost yet. Just that I have no idea when it might happen. Must be the lack of control and lack of knowing that drives me bats.

btaylor said...

I thought I knew about love .... and realize now that I know nothing at all.

I'm with you though, Tish, it must be possible.