On love and thai food

Or, self-inflicted madness of the first degree.

“It’s not like I haven’t been trying,” she says to me. “It’s not a university degree where you work hard for six years and at the end you have something to show for it.”

Love just doesn’t work like that.

We’re at Chin Chin for dinner, nestled up against the bar. A cocktail waiter with a sponge of curly hair who looks far too young is slamming down glasses in front of us and filling them with colourful concoctions.

My friend and I try to solve the mysteries of life, love and changing generations over four courses of expensive thai food. We’re no closer to any answers at the end of our popcorn ice-cream and coconut rice dessert than we were from the first cocktail.

I was about to turn 23, and not a small number of middle-aged women had told me: “I got married at 23" or, “I was already married.” It was said in the spirit of ‘gosh haven’t the times changed’ but sometimes it was accompanied with a tinge of ‘gosh what have you been doing with your life’.

As my friend explains methodically over a shockingly green cocktail, it’s not that we’re more averse to commitment these days, as many adults will have you believe.

A report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics entitled ‘Young Adults: Then and Now’, found that in 1976, 67 per cent of 24-year-olds were, or had been, married. Only 14 per cent of 24-year-olds in 2011 could claim the same. However, a study on “Young adults’ attitudes to marriage” by the Australian Institute of Family Studies indicates that most young people do see marriage as part of their future.

But what has changed? Were our parents simply searching harder for someone to settle down with? What do they know that we’ve glossed over? Has our emancipation confused us to the point of making all the wrong decisions?

My friend and I wade through the questions. Why has love never worked out for me? Why didn’t it work out for her? It’s not because either of us didn’t try, and it’s certainly not because she didn’t do it the right way. (I, on the other hand, never live up to my own expectations of myself.)

I would agree that I look for love in all the wrong places. But I know I’ve found it before — it just hasn’t found me; at least, not at the right moment. I know what it was like to sit opposite the object of that love, exploding with the vastness of the universe and your feelings; suffocated by the smallness of a moment. It is the literal embodiment of seeing the world in another person.

Back at dinner, the dessert has been cleared away, but the confusion still remains. Her and I; we have a lot to live for: youth, intelligence, fantastic friends and loving families. There’s a nagging question in the back of my mind: do we feel down sometimes because we don’t have a partner, or do we feel down because society tells us we should feel that way?

Many months later, slowly but surely, I began to understand more. “We shall not cease from exploration,” TS Eliot once wrote, “and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.” Here I am, coming full circle: after all this time believing I was just a stone tossed down a mountain, I know that each choice I made was my own. Love (in this sense of the word) is not a force disconnected from our intellect. Perhaps attraction is, but love — love is something different. Feelings and preferences we cannot choose to possess, but love we can choose to give.

Reckless and ill-informed choices have been the course of my life, and now I choose to construct my existence on something else. I choose to take my heart from my sleeve and tuck it safely into my back pocket, to save for an opportune moment.

Because that’s often all life is: a series of opportune moments and good and bad choices.