Monday, April 12, 2010

Sin Nombre

I forgive the world right now
Still I play the chump’s role every time
My world’s the surface of the moon
My heart’s down in a diamond mine

Like the black stars of Memphis, moaning on,
When your white Lexus comes
To drive
Me out
Drive me to the edge of town
Try to feel nothing on command
When your white Lexus comes
The thrill
Be damned
Damn it to the last damned man.

--Mike Doughty, “White Lexus”

Have you ever been in love?”

It’s a question I’ve been asked more than once.  It’s generally not the sort of question that’s asked in a vacuum, either.  See, people who learn of my history with relationships for the first time often learn that I’m far more jaded than they ever suspected.  This is the nature of things, I suppose.

The interesting thing is that I’m not jaded in the traditional sense.  It’s not that I have that stereotypical, “All women are bitches,” attitude so prevalent in men who have had a string of failed relationships.  For that matter, I haven’t exactly had a string of failed relationships.  I’ve had two.  I’m less than two months from my twenty-ninth birthday and I’ve had exactly two relationships.  One was an ill-conceived relationship with someone I didn’t actually like very much.  The other, well, it was ill-conceived, but because I wanted so very much for it to work even though I knew it wouldn’t.  I knew it couldn’t.

Have you ever been in love?”

When I’m asked that question I hesitate.  No matter how many times I’ve been asked I don’t know what to say in response.  My hesitance is generally taken as a, “No.”  But it’s so much more complicated than that.

The fact is that, yes, I’ve been in love.  I’ve waited with breathless anticipation to hear that one voice on the phone that will make everything better.  I’ve felt my heart leap at hearing from her that she loves me.  I’ve counted down minute after expectant minute until I could see her again.  I’ve stared at my ceiling in the dark, lost in wonder that this most amazing person wants nothing more than to spend her time with me.

Me.  A guy who’s a bit overweight.  A guy who’s massively geeky.  A guy who’s never, ever dreamed of being noticed by someone as amazing, much less appreciated.  Much less loved.  There’s a moment of realization in any random, torrid love affair.  You’ve got this person -- this amazing, unbelievable person – who you can’t get enough of standing in front of you and all of the sudden the realization hits.  “She feels the same exact way you do right now.”

Is there anything better in the world than that feeling?  Could winning the Lottery or getting a big promotion come even remotely close?

Have you ever been in love?”

I don’t know.  I couldn’t tell you.

See, I know those initial weeks and months of bliss.  But I also know what came afterwards.  There were the fights, the arguments, the moments of petty name-calling and agonizing silence.  There were the times I wanted to storm out just to see if she’d give a shit.  There were the moments I wanted her to storm out so I could show her that I didn’t.

There’s the knowledge that I could have avoided all of that if I’d tried.  There was a moment of clarity when I knew it wouldn’t work.  I just knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that all was over save the epilogue.  But I didn’t want to believe it.  I wanted to fight.  I wanted to try.  I wanted her to try, even though I was pretty sure she wouldn’t.

Have you ever been in love?”

Don’t hate me
But I wish you were still a fool for me
I just want the chance to show you
What a total fool I could be
I fucked up the day I let you go
And I know I deserve to be on my own but
Everything you are to me is etched upon my life

--Scott Lucas & the Married Men, “You Put a Spell on Me”

One of the most beautiful women I ever knew is from Houston.  She came up to Wheaton and – coincidentally – in to my life, for college.  As far as I knew, she went back to Houston afterwards and never left.  Or she never went back.  Or she went back and has since gone elsewhere.  But in my mind she’s in Houston right now because I don’t know anything else of her life since we last parted company.

I think I once thought I was in love with her.  It was, as most love is, unreciprocated.  If she ever even noticed I have no way of knowing.  I imagine she did, since I didn’t exactly try to keep it secret.  But she most certainly didn’t feel the need to lead me on or help me entertain any thoughts that she felt the same way.  I’m closer to her now than I’ve been in six years, at least assuming she’s still in Houston.  For that matter, I’ll be in Houston in less than a week.  I imagine that maybe, just maybe, I’ll see her while I’m there.

But – chances are – I won’t.  The universe doesn’t work that way.  And even if it does, it won’t matter.  She’s probably married now.  Or, if not, she’s probably close.  It’s been nearly six years, after all.  I highly doubt that she’s managed, Penelope-like, to avoid the suitors who have undoubtedly lined up to try to take her hand.

Even at that, it wouldn’t matter.  I met her in church while she was attending Wheaton College.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, more than anything about her I admired her faith.

Have you ever been in love?”

There’s a passage in Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling where he describes the Knight of Faith.  In broad strokes the Knight of Faith is one who exists in both this world and the next, treading lightly on the ground of this base, fallen world and ready at a moment’s notice to pirouette and spring in to the next.  In my mind she was a Knight of Faith.

I was not.  I was nothing.  I was base, fallen, unlovely, unlovable.  It was little wonder, really, that she wouldn’t deign to feel about me the way I felt about her.

When I headed off to Western Illinois University I wanted to be a different person.  I’d decided to start losing weight the spring before.  See, my idea was that all of my problems were because I was fat.  And because I couldn’t see past my own weight issues, I assumed no one else could, either.

When I wanted to stop fighting, stop trying, give up, I imagined that the people in my life were mocking me, telling me I’d never succeed.  She was one of the people whose mocking laughter I’d imagine in an attempt to call up the strength to keep going.

By the time I hit WIU I just wanted to forget about her.  I finally found the one person who could make that happen.

Have you ever been in love?”

Absolutely.  Unquestionably.  Without a doubt.

It didn’t matter, though.  The one time I loved someone who actually loved me back it ended terribly.  Beyond terribly, really.  To the point where I decided it wasn’t worth attempting to fall in love again.

So here I am in Dallas.  A thousand miles from the person I once wanted to love for the rest of my life.  A thousand miles from the one person who made me forget everyone who came before.  Two hundred and fifty miles from the one person I thought I couldn’t forget before I met her.  And none of it matters.  Not even a little bit.

I wonder what’s become of her.  And her.  Both of them, really.

I wonder, too, if either ever wonders what’s become of me.

I suspect not.  I don’t think I mattered much at all to one of them.  I think I hurt the other too much.

This, I think, is why I hesitate.  Have I ever been in love?  I don’t know.  Is it really love if it’s unreciprocated?  Is it really love if it ends with nothing but pain?

I decided when I moved to Texas that I wanted my life to be different.  I think that’s why the idea of buying a new car caused me so much stress.  It was that pull between the comfortable known and the stressful unknown.  Choices, especially the choices to find those things that cause the greatest happiness, are difficult.  They require effort.

They require faith.

Have you ever been in love?”

It’s the wrong question.

Yes.  I’ve been in love.  I’ve been in love with women who didn’t reciprocate.  I’ve been in love with women who were in love with me but, ultimately, didn’t want to follow through.

Their love doesn’t matter.  My love for them doesn’t matter.  The question isn’t, “Have you ever been in love.”

It’s, “Do you want to be in love again?”

The answer to that question is as simple as it is terrifying.



Anonymous said...

I sometimes tell my friends -- and they think I'm cynical but I think you might get this -- that every relationship you ever really care about is going to end in either unspeakable pain, or death. Others tend to view this as a negative observation. Personally I find it quite relieving.

It takes all the pressure off. Everytime you start to fall for someone new, you already know that it's going to end, and that it's going to end badly. There is nothing you can do to prevent the massive hurt that's gonna land on you when it's over. So, you know, why not take a few risks? Why not dive in feet first? I've been timid and cautious in some relationships, heady and reckless in others. They all ended, and it sucked every time. But which ones do you think I don't regret?

Just an observation, and one I still don't articulate as well as I could. Thought it might be germane.

Janet said...

Falling in love isn't something one decides to do. It blindsides you while you're looking the other way. It overwhelms you and sweeps you off. Love doesn't ask permission, and it doesn't come when called.

The first time it happened to me, it didn't work out. There was no reason for it to last. We were too young. We thought we needed to wait, to grow up a bit. What we didn't realize at the time was that in growing up, we would grow apart. I see now that growing apart was inevitable, living our separate lives. Five years, and we had drifted too far away from one another; the string snapped.

The second time I fell in love, I was ready. I knew myself. I liked myself. I didn't need anyone... but did I? It happened, and very quickly we were no longer living separate lives. We were living the same life together, and traveling 60 miles between our homes and jobs to do it. The string was tied short this time.

One thing was evident. The question was no longer "are you in love?" That much was obvious. The question was "have you found the one?" It wasn't a matter of deciding to marry. It wasn't a matter of being ready to live our lives together. It had already happened. We were just admitting the inevitable.

But on Anonymous's point, our time is limited. To love is to lose, and you don't get a choice. We knew that waiting didn't make any sense anymore. Wait for what? For it to be too late? For us to drift apart? For death to take us? Love is fleeting, but it can grow into something stronger if there is a commitment.

Here we are, five years and two children later. There have been disagreements, and hurt feelings. By all reports year two is the hardest, and ours was no exception. A relationship requires honest effort and kindness. We survived it together, because we were dedicated to the task.

You will fall in love again, Ged. You've proven that you can, and the stats show a high percentage of repeat offenders. We don't really get a choice in the matter. But it always waits to catch you off your guard. I think the next time it sneaks up on you, you'll know how to take it by the horns. Because you know yourself. Because you like yourself. Because you don't need anyone, but you're willing to try. Next time you fall in love, you'll be asking the right question.

Nick Kiddle said...

"Is it really love if it’s unreciprocated? Is it really love if it ends with nothing but pain?"

This reminds me of trying to tell the psychotherapist about the guy I was in love with when I was 18. She turned round and said it wasn't "real love" because I didn't really know him, which didn't seem to make a lot of sense to me. If that's the definition of "real love", I've never experienced it and I never will.

Geds said...


Fear not. I get exactly what you're talking about. Oddly, I tried to articulate much the same thought through the concerns of buying a car right after I moved.

I believe that I came to much the same conclusion...


What we didn't realize at the time was that in growing up, we would grow apart. I see now that growing apart was inevitable, living our separate lives. Five years, and we had drifted too far away from one another; the string snapped.

That's the big thing. I'm extremely far from who I was not so long ago. So all of the women I knew then wouldn't be a good option for me now.

It's actually fascinating on some level for me to stop and think, "It still could have worked with her if only..." and then think through all the utterly absurd changes that would have had to be made. Oh some level it's an interesting way to take stock of the changes.


Yeah. I still don't know the answer to my question, though.

On one level, I know what it is to love someone who doesn't and won't love me back. On another level, I know what it is to love someone who does love me back, but both of us love someone who only exists in our respective minds.

I keep going back to Ivanova's response upon learning that Marcus sacrificed his life for a love she never gave him.

"All love is unrequited."

Janet said...

Ivanova got all the best lines.

Well, no, perhaps Zathras did.

W.H. Auden had his own opinions on unrequited love:

Geds said...

"Zathras is used to being beast of burden to other people's needs. Very sad life... probably have very sad death, but at least there is symmetry."