What You Want?

Here is a sampling of some of the criticisms I received from peers in my workshop last week:

“I’m still not sure what you’re looking for, Elizabeth.”

“It’s unclear to me what you want.”

“The narrator is looking for an ideal relationship–but what would that ideal relationship look like?”

You get the idea.

The funny thing is that I actually sat down, several times, in the few days since with the completely sincere intent of integrating this theme of “what I want” into my essay.

As often happens when I sit down to write or revise, I distracted myself with various, obvious, internet activity: mindless Facebook browsing, food blog checking, nytimes.com scanning.

I just figured it was the usual lack of motivation and discipline that was obstructing me from penetrating this clearly crucial theme. I thought I was just too unfocused to sit down and articulate my basic, evident desires.


And then, tonight, I spoke on the phone with my mother’s best friend D–a woman who actually features in the essay as the font of much life and relationship wisdom.

I told her about the critique: that I don’t sufficiently express what exactly I’m looking for in a relationship.

“The thing is,” I said, “I’m not sure I really know what I’m looking for.”

To which she  replied: “Well, that’s been colosally clear to me for years.”

“Oh,” I said. “Right.”

It should, by now, be colosally clear to me too. Even more extraordinary than the fact that I have no idea what I’m looking for, it seems, is my ability to forget the fact that I have no idea what I’m looking for.

Because it’s plainly, painfully true: I don’t know what I want.

For a while I was actually quite concerned with this–this project of trying to articulate what I’d like to find in a man or in a partnership. I tried making mental checklists. Had I put on paper what I came up with in my mind, it would have looked something like this:

Tall (Is it that important? I’ve had crushes on short men…)

Smarter than me (In certain ways, but in certain ways not…)

Not Flakey (But what does flakey even mean? Who isn’t a little bit flakey? Am I ever attracted to anyone who isn’t a little bit flakey? Are nonflakey people always boring?)

Funny (Okay, but everyone says that. If I met a man who was profoundly kind and generous and intriguing, would I really not be interested because he wasn’t always cracking me up?)

Again, you catch my drift.

I mean, there are clearly certain basic expectations that I can sign onto: not an alcoholic, for example. Or, older than twenty and younger than fifty.

But when it gets more specific, I start to wonder if enumerating a phantom partner’s essential qualities is really something best done in hindsight.

Recently, I talked to my mother a bit about how she felt when she met my father. She said that on their first date, she recognized that he was “a grown up”–and that that was important to her. I asked if she knew that’s what she needed before she met him. She said no–but that once she did it was clear.

Perhaps finding a successful relationship isn’t actually all that different from going shopping at Bed Bath and Beyond, or Walgreens: you don’t really know what you desperately need–for your house, face or long-term relationship–until you see it.

So no, peers: I don’t know what I want. I only know that I want to figure it out.



Filed under Love Life

4 responses to “What You Want?

  1. Suzanne

    The desire to “know” is what starts the quest. Look at the name of your blog: “Odyssey” itself is the very word for journey. Odysseus seeks “home” even though it cannot be even close to what he has imagined it to be when he gets there. After the tumultuous journey, he arrives, and no one has expected his return. Things are worse than imagined, however, through cunning and imaginative problem solving he reclaims what he feels is his. Sometimes even if we know what we want, (like Odysseus) the journey doesn’t end when we get there. Odysseus’s heroic identity exists because of all the hardships he has endured. You are on your way to having an epic heroic identity. Who wouldn’t want that?!

    • I do! I do! Can it be an Epic Elizabethan Identity? I don’t know what that means, but doesn’t it sound kinda catchy?!
      p.s. how much more tumult does this mean I have to endure?

      • suzanne

        Hey You Elizabethan Warrior,
        I don’t want to alarm you, but it seems that Odysseus was away from home for about 20 years…

        But listen, maybe you’re not only dating in the odyssey years, but you’re dating “the odyssey” itself. Every other person you encounter on this journey is on their own, and I’m willing to bet more confused than you. Thus, the hardship.

        Odysseus spent a good 8 of the 20 years on islands with other women-even though he pined for his wife and “home.” I’m not saying the journey is logical. I’m just saying it’s real.

  2. galen

    yea. progress. i have just realized that the thing i am longing for does not even exist. somehow that seems to be strangely liberating. a little bit of acquiescence goes a long way…now i can actually be present to the longing as an experience instead of letting it cloud my judgement and obscure my vision.

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