Is it Safe to Look? A Love Story
Was it love if it didn’t radically shift your mind and rip your fucking heart out in the process? If it didn’t ultimately cost you hundreds of hours and dollars in therapy, medication, holistic “medication,” and “holistic” self-help books that you attempt to inconspicuously read on crowded subway cars before shoving them faced inwards back into your bag at your stop, was she special? If a literal decade can pass and you still observe her words coming out of your mouth, her nuances existing as your own, and you still question whether she wasn’t the one, then wasn’t she the one?
I hope that a sign of maturity is that cliché I used to judge as pretentious humility: The more I learn, the less I know — because surely I’m either maturing or becoming a pretentious asshole.
Many things I once knew to be right I now know to be wrong, and other things are still right, but less objectively so, as they wax and wane in subjective degrees of “rightness” depending on context. It took me a long time, but I’ve finally become less judgmental — which is not to say I’ve become not judgmental, but just for the first time in my life I am less judgmental than I was previously. What is the point?
I notice just about every girl on the street. Girls 10 feet away, 20 feet away, 100 or even 200 yards in the distance I notice. I hear their higher pitched voices or laugh,s and cannot not look — my animalistic brain immediately shifting into autopilot, a Terminator field of vision scanning for checkpoints, pluses and minuses to figure her proverbial final score. Breasts plus ass, divided by face and hair (not a real formula), most of the time equals: “No,” she’s not interested in me anyway, as girls have superficial formulas of their own.
I look at white and black girls, Asians and Hispanics, as well as all of the “Others,” regardless of which is most my type. I look at mostly girls around my age, but older and younger also, plus admittedly some women too young to qualify as women, from which I turn quickly away, shake my head and laugh at each of our hormones. I notice girls dressed scantily, but never overlook the more conservatives. I look while desperate, the pathetic loser gawking at everything he is not handsome or clever, confident or successful enough to attain; but also during more fulfilled times, through the opposite lens of possibility. What does that make me, a piece of shit? A modern day metropolitan peeping Tom, un-needing of any tree branch or binoculars, as my whole world is a runway where the trends trend more in the direction of reveal with every year that passes (most recently the bottom of the butt exposure has become acceptable, which seems more inappropriate itself than subsequently staring at it), and whole articles are dedicated to their appreciation. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/recycled/2010/07/a_dandys_guide_to_girlwatching.html. I wished I wasn’t afflicted by this reality when I met Sara, and began to fall in love with her midway through our very first conversation.
I could immediately tell we had a lot in common; not just in the pedestrian sense of shared interests or favorite movies. Instead, she felt fundamentally the same, like we’d been on matter-of-factly converging paths since forever, in spite of her growing up in Harlem and I in a [white] suburb 18 miles north.
Facially, Sara favored Jennifer Lopez, and she was the smartest person I’d ever met. A like-minded hip hop head, but not “ghetto” at all, conscious, but not formable into any box; and I was so impressed to learn that she didn’t like Talib Kweli or Kanye.
“No,” she once responded. “I loved Wu-Tang… and M.O.P.” — and at that moment I fell madly in love (or “mad in love,” if you will).
I was in awe of her. Sara was funny without trying to be, neurotic incidentally, a nerd without referring to herself as such (thank God), and just the most eloquent, charming person I’d ever encountered. She was first girl I’d heard address spirituality in a way that sounded logical, not some pretense of character she aspired to portray. Unfortunately, it was this same paradigm I ultimately felt she exploited to rationalize her own issues of jealousy and anger in doing her part to perpetuate “our theme” of conflict (the antidote to “our song?”): Distraction.
One night we were logging our typical second or third hour on the phone (a lost art in romance?) when the subject came up and Sara casually inquired: “Do you do that? Do you turn around to look at girls on the street?”
Across the world of romance, no matter the culture, most themes never get fully resolved, but instead play out in one of a few ways. Some courageous souls grow increasingly cohesive via mature communication, but most of the time they are repressed, shoved beneath the surface and ignored, ultimately expressed in the form of petty bickering characteristic of most American couples. Themes usually first rear their heads in the start of a relationship, and eventually become the final straw for termination, and we kick ourselves: How could I be so stupid?
Such logic is illogical in its attempt to apply logic to that which is inherently illogical: Love and karmic lessons and/or whatever you believe in. It was meant to be… because even if you don’t believe in such things, it still obviously was. Discerning between signs of imperfection and those of incompatibility is next to impossible, even in the clearer-headed state of not being swept off of our feet. I digress.
Do I turn around to look at girls on the street?!
“I mean… yeah… sometimes.”
Had I lied? Sort of, I suppose, though at the time I saw it as at worst a half-white lie (and Sara was half white!), consistent with the half-façade most of us put on while getting to know someone, ironically. I had lied, I suppose.
“Oh,” and I felt her pull away. “I guess I thought you were more focused than that.”
The male brain must look hilarious when it suddenly enters the state of panic induced by the first sign of possibly losing the girl. The brain, the penis and heart all conjoined in desperation as the quicksand of disinterest sinks our hope for connection, and too often we respond like the monkeys we are.
“Focused?” I responded. “I’m mad focused. I’m like, the most focused dude I know.”
Apparently I was also still one of the dumbest dudes I knew, as I’d taken her definition of the word out of context and reapplied it per its significance as a then hip hop cliché, perpetuated mostly by Jay-Z.
“I’m focused, man,” reinforced to the listener that he was set on his goals, hard working and unflappable by extraneous interests, and that was exactly my identity. At the time I was working 40 hours a week at a day job, plus doing comedy shows four or five nights a week. I was so focused! That wasn’t what she meant at all.
At the time I was also masturbating to porn six or seven times a week and turning around to check the ass of nearly every girl I walked by on the street. I was stealing every possible glance at every inch of cleavage, and ogling the girls in rap videos like each time was my first ever seeing a woman. I was focused. In the summer my friends and I used to go to Orchard Beach in The Bronx to watch the fly Puerto Rican girls in bikinis on the boardwalk, one time even bringing our video camera to capture those of life’s most precious moments (we weren’t the only ones — I once saw a group of guys with a Goddamn tripod). In the winter we’d frequent the ghetto strip clubs where most of the girls would dance with the customers and most touching was allowed. I was so focused.
Sara was highly perturbed by dating “one of those guys,” and my egocentric, 25-year old brain just could not understand.
“Isn’t that all guys?”
“No!” she impatiently reacted to the surfacing of the resounding flaw in this otherwise dream boy. According to Sara some guys are “more evolved,” too “spiritually mature” to be so consumed with such urges. They aren’t prudes with no sex drive, nor gay or uninterested, but instead “real men” with better things to do with their energy than constantly attach it to tits and asses. I’d had no idea. I also had no idea that something like this could possibly be a deal breaker in a dynamic that was otherwise so potent.
In contrast to her spiritual principality, Sara’s temper was unlike any I’d ever seen, and worse, she was blessed with the intellectual tools to use it to her advantage. She also happened to be an experienced boxer and Karate black belt, which all combined to make her wholly invulnerable in any form of confrontation [and I was not the only victim of her wrath during our time together].
She flipped out on public bus drivers for being too impatient in requesting her fare, and “fat, ghetto bitches” who stared at her for too long on the street. She flipped on unfair teachers in school, people on the train for violating her personal space, and family members over old themes of conflict. She was most infuriated by any potential sign of disloyalty, usually firing first, asking questions later. She flipped when she saw my [“Best of”] porno VHS tape in a different location, indicating that I’d recently watched it (I had), and lost her mind when I told her I’d almost attended a live sex show while in New Orleans on business.
We were in her mother’s house and she began raging, immediately stifling any of my attempts to explain. I sat on the couch, afraid. Afraid of her, afraid her mom would think less of me, also of the situation my life had landed in. How did I end up with one of these girls? Obviously she was wondering the same.
Eventually her mom came in and attempted to calm her down, but Sara’s fire was never deniable, and their verbal battle quickly turned not into one of those messy arm grapples between loved ones. Feeling panicked by the whole scene, also entitled to my freedom, I chose flight.
I made a sprint for the door and Sara swung at me, her manic arms only weakly flailing into my back, though I lost a shoe in the process. I jumped down their front stoop and sprinted down the block, half-relieved, half crying, fully terrified. It was not a fun Sunday. It also wasn’t the last time I would literally run away from her.
“David!” I heard her mother call me from behind.
I turned around and the coast seemed clear. Her mother’s energy was warm.
“Are you okay? I mean, I know you’re not, but you’re okay, right? Physically?”
“I’m okay,” I said. “I just want you to know, because I care what you think of me, that I didn’t cheat on her — that I would never do anything like that.” This also wasn’t the last time I felt compelled to tell this to someone.
Sara’s mom retrieved my other shoe for me and I left, but only for the day. I couldn’t leave, nor could she me, as apparently there was more within us for one another to experience, more to learn, or maybe just more suffering to endure.
Once our storms were over we excelled in communication. Our resolutions were intelligent and aware (if I do say so), courageous and vulnerable (even on her part), and of course the make-up sex was insane.
Sara’s charm and sharp wit, and eloquence in verbalizing her rhetoric had won me over her obtuse perspective and untenable temper. Eventually I became a converted “Sara-ist,” more than “pussy-whipped,” I was brainwashed, not necessarily with inaccuracies or intentional malice, but guzzling all of the Kool-Aid. I observed the apparent difference in integrity of the man walking down the street unfazed by every piece of ass walking by, and the man behaving more like a 16-year old virgin seeing his first ever Playboy magazine, easily intoxicated by every visual sip of femininity. Finally, I genuinely aspired to be the former.
I quit drinking and joined Sara’s martial arts class, also began meditating at home with the intention of evolving my spiritual frequency, not only beyond T & A, but also my own anxiety issues I’d been dealing with for four years. It was a holistic project (before I’d ever heard the word “holistic”), which means it should rectify multiple problems in the restoration of one fundamental imbalance, however it was also a long-term project that required great patience and support.
“Spiritual evolution,” or however best to coin it, is an obstacle course-marathon with interims of going backwards to race forward again, thus rarely clean or sequential in its process. Some pattern or behavior of mine would surface and trigger Sara’s temper, and she felt [unconsciously] justified in berating me, attacking my character, often for entire nights until her anger was fully vented.
We would sit on opposite ends of the apartment’s living room that doubled as my/our bedroom, me cowering in guilt over the apparent wrong I’d committed, secretly resenting how she was handling it. She perched on my couch, smoking strong weed (did I mention she did that everyday?), feigning indifference as she held [my] remote control and flipped through the channels on [my] TV, filling the small Manhattan space with sharp words of hatred and thick clouds of smoke, intermittently extinguishing her blunts for later.
Sara was as uncompromising in her posture as she was in her philosophies, and she insisted on always looking like a lady, no matter how ignorant her present behavior. Between fear and anger I’d look over at her sitting with the perfect S-curve in the small of her back, leading into her lovely widening hips, which perfectly complemented her beautiful breasts, and silently wonder: Doesn’t every woman kind of want a man susceptible to this “distraction?”
While at peace and together I was overwhelmed with love. But whenever I was alone in public I grew more self-conscious, consumed to the point of obsession with the idea that I was living a lie, incidentally manipulating Sara’s heart and disrespecting her freedom to find someone better. I was noticing [pretty] girls more than ever before, only now my notices were perverted (no pun intended) by the neuroses of noticing myself. I would force myself to look away, either forging disinterest or straining to find flaws in samples of the most incredible specimens one could imagine (summer time in New York). I was driving myself insane, ironically perpetuating my tendency to neuroses while attempting to meditate in a room that was frequently less than 24 hours removed from a torrential downpour of romantic warfare. Meanwhile naively convinced that after a certain number of “good meditations” I could elevate from Cycloid B voyeuristic, American bro to Chi Gong master monk not so concerned with the frivolities of the female body, in some iphone-speed attainment of spiritual enlightenment. Ugh.
Eventually the first scenes of our movie proved to foreshadow its ending. In a two-year relationship that felt like ten, and played out less like a romantic comedy and more like one of the psychological thrillers Sara would request I accompany her to on Saturday nights, our original theme was also our final straw. She would no longer stand for my issues of immaturity and distraction. I could no longer tolerate her temper and abuse, and in 2006 we finally said goodbye.
For months in the wake of our break up I searched online for themes of “distraction” as it pertained to girls’ bodies, and to this day it was probably the fewest results Google has ever given me. Consistently I found nothing, and had to venture out into the world of spiritual literature. Again, almost nothing — vague allusions at best — and finally I directly inquired with whatever teacher I was studying under at the time, whether martial arts, meditation, yoga or a chi gong instructor who I once had lunch with and observed checking out girls in the restaurant almost as much as I was. Answers were always subjective and convoluted in dichotomies typical to most insights around existential questions, not unlike my ultimate conclusions here.
For years I consumed myself with this bewilderment. Was Sara right, and if so does that mean she was the one? Is there a one, and if so, am I even worthy of her if I am unable to evolve to become the man Sara would hypothetically want?
Three years after our separation I enrolled in the same graduate school for Traditional Chinese Medicine that Sara had graduated from. I know, I know… but hey, where does one draw the line between pathological mimicking of someone else and answering the calls sent to us by the most integral players in our lives?
Beyond learning a more progressive paradigm for medical practice, I learned the principles of yin and yang, the five elements and how they relate the macrocosm of the world to the microcosm of individual physiology. My personal “pattern” of illness is one around excessive “heat,” expressing in tendencies to anxiety, anger and insomnia. Those of us with “heat patterns” should beware of excessive stimulation, which includes everything from coffee to spicy foods, overwork and aggressive forms of entertainment. It also includes over-charging one’s libido, which logically happens ever so subtly each time we focus in on some wonderful cleavage.
A teacher of mine relayed to us a story of his former martial arts teacher once scolding him for breaking a bone in class. “No sex for you! One year!” And “no sex” didn’t just mean no sex. It meant no variation of intimacy, no masturbation or looking at women in public. My teacher made it nine months, which would have won Seinfeld’s “Contest” by a landslide.
To most people this sounds ridiculous, impossible, not to mention pointless. What does sex have to do with broken bones? In Chinese Medicine, the kidney channel is in charge of bone strength, as well as brain health and hair fullness, and too much sexual stimulation weakens the kidneys. You can call this bullshit, and it’s possible that you’re right, but unless you’ve extensively studied Chinese Medicine, all we can be sure of is that you have no idea what you’re talking about.
I began this article figuring to conclude with a dual dichotomy, if you will. I anticipated concluding in the same position of open ended curiosity around whether distraction is wrong, also whether in spite of her flaws, I should unblock Sara on Facebook, reach out and suggest that we have no choice but to reunite. Instead and thankfully, I’ve been left with only the former, as recounting some of those more painful experiences while writing this, I was reminded that I deserve better. Sara’s verbal abuse, as well as marijuana abuse were both easily as criminal, if not more so than my infatuation with fat (phat?) boobs and butts. She was wrong, even if she was right, as it was for all the wrong reasons and addressed in all the wrong ways. Our last contact was a text from her in March of 2013, after she’d read a blog of mine in which I’d mentioned her.
“Thank you for reminding me of what a disgusting, vacuous loser piece of shit you are.”
BLOCK THIS NUMBER.
Finally, I am left only with questions around the issue of “distraction,” and in the modern metropolitan world of Feminists’ understandable degradation of cat-calling, I remain conflicted between instinct and integrity. Is it okay or not, and/or where in the gray area of its behavior is okay? Is it more okay for single men and/or married men while they’re alone in public than while with their significant other? Then again, wouldn’t such dual behavior be somewhat dishonest, thus symptomatic of a low frequency dynamic? Then again, is it just common courtesy to one’s lady’s ego (which we all have) to not challenge her self-image while concurrently tarnishing her outward image by showing interest in strangers in public? But then again, aren’t such challenges healthy for the sake of growth along the journey of human love? Apparently I don’t require a crazy woman to drive my own mind crazy.
On some days I am my old self, no different at 37 than I was at 17, staring at every fly chick, undoubtedly making facial expressions to myself that would cast me in the infinite romantic comedies that still elude my career. Other days I am my former Chi Gong teacher in his nine-month phase of abstinence, disciplined and focused, surely aware of every gorgeous girl, but decidedly avoidant of following my id’s instinctive steps in scanning her entire being. It isn’t to contrive some spiritual maturity, but more for my kidneys, my bones and brain, and to cool the systemic heat that is the root of my own pathologies. As the question pertains to a romantic dynamic, I truly have no more idea of what is right than the day Sara and I split up ten years ago, nor do I know if “right” even exists. Your thoughts?
Originally published at davidfostercomedyblog.com.