I am in this spectacular position in my life right now. This rare and unique place that allows me to stand at the precipice of what's to come, while also looking briefly, with definitive clarity at what has been before. A brief and fleeting moment to be certain, so I am attempting to breathe it all in and appreciate the colors, bright and muted, all. I am allowing this to provide a fresh perspective and I feel all the more lighter for doing so.
As I start to determine the way of my journey and carefully consider the path I want to follow, I have been enjoying a brief look backwards. It has come by way of an old relationship, revisited. The ability to reach into my past to contact old friends, past romances, peer at gossip hounds, and join the run of the mill web-based stalkers, does have it's advantages. I'll focus on one old romance here.
I am in the process of a divorce and have been trying to make sense of my relationship choices, to learn from my mistakes and value and cherish what shall remain treasured. When I look back at my relationships, I can suddenly see certain patterns. I have been trying to understand some of my choices, make some sense and also make peace with the outcomes. I also have the luxury of retaining copies of some curious and beautifully comic, as well as beautifully rendered passionate pleas and promises from a time long ago, when letters were written and mailed from afar. Anthropologist's fodder, and deep insight into the way a certain heart and brain may have operated and developed.
One early relationship that had a huge impact on me and perhaps, ensuing choices afterwards had always been somewhat troubling to me. The first “big” relationship I had took place in college. The man/boy of my dreams was playful and light. Fun. Everything an early relationship should be. Right? Sort of. For a brief time, it was light and fun. He made me laugh. He laughed at me. I, in turn did the same to, or for him, I believe. Co-ed dorms- the place where dreams are made! Whispering I love you's, finding secret places for our free-loving explorations, occasional real dates, school, work, dancing, fifty-cent beers, and more love. We played, a bit. And then, I think, we play-acted. Only I failed to recognize this feature in myself, as well as in him, and so I felt heart-broken when it ended. Devastated even, dramatic does not justify my feelings of that time. An old roommate has suggested there may have been a bench removed from the front of the dorm due to my tear stained caterwauling fetes. I wanted so much for this relationship to work, I was sure. I was determined to believe in the promise of forever. What went wrong? It ran it's course, we were very young, that's all, the end.
Instead of trying to determine what went wrong, I should have been asking, what was I thinking? All the feminist power and possibility awaiting me in the early 80's. Why would a relationship at this point in my weight-fluctuating, pimple-producing late adolescence, (sure 18 still qualifies) determine to some extent what might come next? I think I wanted to believe a relationship could work more so than the relationship with this particular fun guy was working. He wrote deep letters vowing his love for me. I wrote in kind. He wrote that he would love me, forever. The ultimate promise. Silly, now, to think about it- or even re-read the letters. So much love and adoration and promises. When he stopped loving me in that forever way because, he realized, I think, there were loads of girl/women out there to have fun with, I was crushed. I fell hard. I didn't get it. Or I didn't want to get it. It wasn't so much that I was ready at 18/19 to love someone forever or he would be the the man/boy to do that with, it was more the idea of the forever love, and the fact that he could state forever love and retract it or renounce it. I couldn't come to terms with the possible fallacy of these feelings. They were mere words to try on and try out.
It turns out, in relationships between men and women, young men are more likely to say I love you earlier than young women. Although women are socialized from birth about the importance of romantic relationships, they tend to try them out a bit more and have a few more practice relationships. By the time young women are becoming interested in committed love, they have been through a few, at least minor, relationships. Saying I love you tends to carry more weight for women and they typically wait for the man to say it first, believing that when it is said, it is meant. When young men say it, they aren't at the same stage as their "so-called" love interests. They say these important words with meaning, because they lack the language and communication skills to say much else that will convey importance and attraction. Young men do not have many experiences that promote or support the expression of feelings. They are socialized not to express so many of their feelings. The one experience they have with attachment and bonding typically comes from their mothers who express love for their children by saying "I love you." Young women talk and socialize and share intimate feeling with friends. They talk about crushes, and dates, they try on their feelings by talking with best friends and parents on a regular basis. They have many different ways to express and communicate their feelings.
"Forever", apparently means something very different to the male brain. When it comes through his mouth it may sound the way a woman wants to hear it. It isn't quite the same as eternity. It may be helpful to consider the second entry for the definition of "forever" according to The American Heritage Dictionary; at all times; incessantly. I think men, especially young men, may be expressing their feelings related to physical desires and sexual urges. Forever: at all times, maybe in all places, positions... When they say I love and whisper forever, they may be saying I want this feeling to last forever. I want to make love to you in all places, at all times of the day. Women are hearing the first definition, forever: without end, everlasting. Forever, the dream, the goal. I love you forever, means, he wants to marry me, right?
I had dated, kissed and enjoyed a few passing fancies in high school. I even believed myself to be quite adept at not being so typically gushy and girly, I had been attempting to master aloof. In at least this experience I was for once, on target. I felt a bit in control of these early relationships. The key word might be felt. I was young and so had, the somewhat limited experiences of youth. So much of that inflated sense of self in the world is such a boost. The fun guy might have really loved me when he said those words. He more likely believed, the feelings he was having were so exciting and they were reciprocated, and well, what else can one say? We have not as a society, or species even, so much as figured out how to say much of anything that many of us can agree on. But we think somehow that love is that universal language that we all understand. Saying I love you and hearing I love you is after all, pretty darn special. How does one express all of that thrill and dopamine-delivering activity without suggesting long-term, eternal, commitment? The alternatives probably wouldn't have gotten this fun guy very far; I like you? I want you for a little fun? I have a burning desire to make my body move on yours and then let's see where it goes, or doesn't? C'mon, are you in or out? Would you bang me, or bang my gong, get it on? (It was the early 80's after all.) Should I stay or should I go now... (Maybe for laughs I might just try these terms out in my next phase of attraction or love, but I'll update the song lyric come-ons.)
While I wanted to emerge a woman in control of my destiny at the young age of 18, 19, 20, I had also wanted to be desirable, lovable and loved. And suddenly, when we broke up, I believed I was no longer any of the afore mentioned and didn't seem to have a clue how to remedy the situation. Worst of all, I believed this fun guy was able to determine whether or not I was attractive and of value. I gave it all up so easily. Damn, he must have been good! And he was definitely fun. I started seeking less fun and more serious. I ended with serious. I really miss having fun.
I recently read this quote from Marlo Thomas, “I wish someone would have told me that, just because I'm a girl, I don't have to get married.” It resonated with me. I never considered not getting married. I never imagined that not getting married was a choice to consider. I fell right into figuring out how to be desired and valued because that would certainly ensure marriage. I jumped a bit too enthusiastically at all that forever talk. When that "failed", I jumped back in and tried again, and again to be loved forever, as though it was some activity or event to master or win or prove. I don't regret getting or being married. I regret the determination to get it right somehow, the approach to keep it working way past it's life-span. The forever of certain relationships have different life-spans, I believe. I have realized, I sometimes keep things going way past their prime. I don't particularly like how disposable relationships, objects and countless other experiences have become.
Looking back, I think I went right into auto pilot when forever was written and whispered. Forever. I saw marriage and rainbows and all the dreams little girls are spoon fed from an early age. I went into auto-pilot and I wasn't even interested or ready to be in the driver's seat the passenger seat or near a moving vehicle. Forever meant this is it-game time. I wish that we could stop telling girls about their weddings as though they were inevitable, of utmost importance and necessities. We don't raise our boys with this as the first and foremost goal in life. Marriage is an option, it can be a valuable option and a worthy option, for many. I wish that getting married, being married and staying married did not seem to equate just so much success or failure. Maybe most of all, I wish we would tell our children to have some more fun, real, lively, experienced fun from living a life and participating without too much thought about tomorrow, forever, and eternity.
When I was around 9 or 10, that strange time when girls are suddenly aware that they will soon start becoming different, I knew it was a loss as much as some sort of transformative biological rite of passage into womanhood. The loss meant I had to suddenly "be" different not just "look" different. Around the same time, Marlo Thomas produced this groundbreaking album called “Free to Be, You and Me.” It offered the notion that girrrrrls, like boys, could have power, be equal, go forth in the world. I liked me. I wanted to be free to be me, yet I was moving too quickly away from the catchy children's sing-songy tunes towards a world where Mick Jagger was grinding to “Let's spend the night together”. The freedom to be a girl, woman, equal was being thrust all around me. A free girl/woman just bursting to be. What? Who? I loved that I had potential and possibilities. I never considered any possibilities about marriage, except that I wanted to grow up and get married the same way I wanted to grow up. And so the choice was made, and hah! I got to make it. Now what? How to make that choice... huumhh, hey maybe, I'll fall in love and decide to get married and have children and have a career and live happily ever after...
I am pretty sure I would have chosen marriage and motherhood, regardless of the choices offered. I imagine I might not have made them so quickly or for all the same reasons. I don't think I even considered that there were other choices. Or that I could wait and live and figure out me for a little bit longer. I don't think we do a very good job offering options to our daughters, still. I recently attended a forum about Gender and Politics. I ran into a fellow mother and we shared a few pleasantries about our daughters and ended up commiserating over the heartbreak and suffering caused by recent break-ups and boyfriends. So afterwards I thought, why? Would us mothers of sons even care about the somewhat insignificant love interest or developmentally appropriate break-up of some minor relationship that our sons were in? How do we move away from this? By the time these very young women have started college or have a couple of years under their belts, they seem to feel ready and open to the possibility of love and a meaningful relationship. Are we still pushing and prodded them into this?
I am pragmatic, by nature. I am a productive worker, a problem solving, doer of sorts. I tend to build trust and take people at their words. Words like I love you and forever have meant a great deal to me. But I have not been very successful at getting these words to mean much from the speakers of these words. I am finally realizing that is ok. I can't assume that Mr. Fun, Mr. Serious, Mr. Honest soul-mate man is going to be in sync with my forever thoughts. Rather than seeing relationships, and idealistic romance as fluid and possibly temporary, I seem to have been going at them as rigid and literal truths or facts, and then problems to solve, as opposed to fun to be had. A marriage of these ideas is necessary for me in the future. Know when to throw my head back laugh wildly and not take myself or others so seriously and know when to bid adiu forever or for a brief break.
This man/boy from long ago has remained somehow deep in my heart. He was at ease, with himself and in the world. I was, and remain; serious, confounded even, and at times, fun and occasionally light. I have been looking for light amidst darkness. The ultra cool shades he wore seemed made to dim the darkness and let only the light in. Lately, my coke-bottle glasses seem to first register the darkness, in order that I may carefully step over the piles of debris and disaster that I can see before others. I have become the dreaded canary in the coal mine, he finds the diamonds and whistles whilst he works. We were never truly compatible. We didn't love each other forever. We weren't meant to. When I long for a relationship that works, however, this is the one that I long for. Or at least the concept of this one. I think he was so important because he showed me light, and he often brought it out in me. Fun, light, possibilities and ease. Above all, laughter. When he speaks of his wife, who unfortunately and prematurely, died of breast cancer, that is how he describes his relationship with her. Fun, light, not too serious and able to enjoy each day. They must have shone brightly together. I imagine she was truly blessed and lucky to have experienced this love.
Marlo Thomas' quote evokes the possibility that girls have choices. The marriage plan for girls does not really need to be started in utero, kindergarten, middle school or even college. I don't know any boys that are giving any thought to the color of the cumberbund they would like to wear at their weddings. They don't promise their locker room buddies that they are going to be their best man. Marriage can be some kind of wonderful but it needn't be set up and searched out and procured by the time we are old enough to legally enjoy our first champagne cocktail.
I am ready to discover new and different options. Right now I want nothing more than light and easy fun. I am even enjoying some funny tips from my light and easy, friend. We occasionally write or text from time to time. He is very funny. Just the way I liked him, so very long ago. We probably didn't really need to try on the love. But what the hey- it lead me to where I will eventually be, again. Light and easy and fun. At any time, at all times would be best of all-but, nothing lasts forever.