Love for the Post-Modern Girl
A couple years ago I made a wager with a friend of mine that he would be engaged by 2014. A few months ago he told me (although it’s not official) that he is quite likely going to owe me some money. After I gloated about my victory and promised to use my winnings on the dress I’d wear to the wedding, he inquired about when I was going to “settle down.” This, of course, is the perennial refrain from my friends and loved ones even if it isn’t always overtly expressed. Occasionally I wonder about the answer to that question myself. And, hell, I’m not sure I even know what the term “settle down” means as it might apply in my life.
A few months ago I started to think that there was a prospect. A loaded statement given that in this love life of mine there is almost always some sort of dalliance afoot. It seems I have a talent of sorts for attracting men with whom I don’t necessarily have the wherewithal to engage in long term relationships with for one reason or the next. I have countless stories and while nothing but laughter and incredulity comes of 95% of them; after about a decade or so of having one ridiculous situation or another — frankly I’m tired of laughing. It feels like this is different. I don’t know if it is because it is really different or if it’s because I am different, or both.
The older I get, the more I realize that the somewhat rigid, traditional definitions and prescripts for what a romantic partnership should look like are faulty. Sure it’s a nice thing to want flowers and chocolates, to be swept off your feet into love undying, unyielding and so on. I’m a huge fan of “warm & fuzzy,” but if we are honest there are a myriad of problems borne of the ideas most people have about romance, sex, and “proper” manifestations of love. These ideas, grounded in power dynamics and socially constructed gender roles (both based on culture, influenced by religion) guide — and in so many cases misguide — us about love and its functions. So many limitations created by popular attitudes that really don’t serve to enrich our lives. I know too many women who refuse to even approach men because they believe that it isn’t their “place,” or is taboo to do so; people of both sexes who won’t date a person who has children; women who won’t date men who don’t make a certain amount of money. I could go on and on but suffice it to say the so-called rules of engagement get in the way of us feeling.
Is it as simple as feeling? “He” said it is. In a lot of ways I agree, so I have done just that.
This thing that I have with him cannot be named. I decided a few years ago that naming these sorts of things can be the kiss of death — even if only in your own heads. “He” lives on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in New York. Depending on your perspective that could be a terrible thing; I have come to believe that it isn’t. It’s just enough space for me to be vulnerable and yet just enough distance for me to still be safe. Safe from what, you ask? Myself and my occasional hyper-sensitivity. By no stretch of my very vivid imagination could I call this a long distance relationship; certainly not in the traditional sense in which people use the term. He is a person with whom I can, and often do, share a great deal of my thoughts. Sometimes, through this distance, I can tell how he will respond to something. Sometimes I can even feel him.
He isn’t new but rather someone who has been on the periphery of my life for, at this point, about half of it. Could I say we were good friends a year ago? No, but somehow within the last year the relationship has deepened considerably. If I’m honest I’m not sure I can pinpoint when or how, but I can say without hesitation that he is among my confidants. Conversation topics range everywhere from spirituality, international politics and law, the anecdotal minutiae of our everyday lives, Hip-Hop, sociology, and sex. He sends me articles and videos of lectures and so on, and I do the same to him. There is an almost constant push for expansion of consciousness, knowledge and pleasure. I can’t say that I’ve ever had an experience — platonic or romantic — with anyone that was quite like this. I have wondered about how much of this is really him, versus how much of it is me projecting this vision of an ever-so-slightly out-of-reach but perfect partner on to him. Whatever the truth is, it is something that I neither take lightly nor view as ordinary (both things which I’ve laid out to him in no uncertain terms). More importantly, it is a thing over which I know I have very little control, as such I realize that the best I can do is manage my expectations. He has made the observation that I “have the capacity to feel very deeply;” I often do and at times it is a heavy-lift to make sure that ability does not become a handicap. I have been in too many situations where the force caused by the weight of my hopes ended up boomeranging into me causing a sting unlike any physical pain I have yet to feel. I have learned not to hang my heart further than my arms can reach and to be prepared for any given thing.
While there were conversations about all manner of things, there were a lot of things that we weren’t discussing. Namely, what — or really who — we were doing in London and New York respectively. In my head I had gone over the scenario of what would happen if I asked him about it. I considered the question to be the equivalent of a nuclear missile launch sequence getting into the wrong hands. It had the potential to blow the whole thing apart. I try to practice a high level of self-awareness as it helps me to be clear about the source of my actions and feelings — if you can’t be honest with yourself how can you expect it from anyone else? I already knew what his response would be: “why did it matter?” “It doesn’t, but your willingness to be honest does,” would be my retort. One day, we managed to be on the phone for something like six hours –a somewhat herculean task given the time difference. In the beginning of the conversation, the topic of his dating life in New York came up quite organically. As always, he was honest. It wasn’t painful or startling or any of those other things that it could have been had I been unequipped. In fact, I listened and felt relieved.
Although my non-reaction surprised me a little, I know the reason for it. There may actually be a few of them. Chiefly, there is the fairly precarious nature of our relationship. The truth is that I am certain of very few things as far as he is concerned — including even my own feelings at times. One of the things that I do not question is our connection. Whether that connection is emotionally and physically tangible doesn’t give me the right to make demands of his feelings, mind and/or body, especially not from thousands of miles away. Many of us construct our relationships based on the idea that we have ownership of people, or that by virtue of us having feelings it means that the other person must acquiesce to whatever demands our hearts or minds make. I know I do not own him even if there are times when the teeny tiny part of me that is still ensconced in the prevailing wisdom on romantic relationships wishes I did. Feelings are not static, nor is our perceived connection, and thus it’s fine if I want to see someone here or if he wants to see people in New York. Right? Well that’s how I feel today. Or that is how I thought I felt earlier today because as I write this I have a knot in my stomach. And tomorrow if I don’t feel any differently there is nothing that I can do short of getting on a plane. And even after that there is no guarantee that will mean or change anything.
The intangibility of this particular situation makes it that much more difficult to reconcile. It is all ether and essence. Holding on to him and my feelings would be like catching fistfuls of air. This all leads me to a question — what is the ontology of feelings? Of intimacy? Of the connectedness that we often feel in our personal relationships? Ontology is a part of a branch of philosophy — metaphysics to be exact — that is grounded in questions on the nature of being or existence. Without being too clinical about this, what are the building blocks of my feelings? Are there limits to how they are borne, and by extension how they are expressed? I thought, in my case, that the lack of physical proximity wasn’t necessarily a mitigating factor but on second thought I realized that may be it was. Removing the ability to see (and touch) him every day (face-to-face) made our interactions feel a lot more substantial because — really — it was all there was. Because the words were the source of everything, every one may have had just a little more weight than it would have otherwise. The gravity of the words did not come from the distance they traveled but from the fact that we have never needed to explain their meanings to each other. Despite the literal geographic distance of 3,796 miles between us, there isn’t necessarily emotional or intellectual distance — two distinct things that as I write this I realize I have blurred quite a lot. So now that I have this I have no idea what to do with it.
My sort of new age attitude toward all of this underscores a point for me: even if I handle and understand my feelings in a sort of different nuanced manner than most people, at the basest of levels — I still long for a lover’s touch and intimacy just like anyone else.