Last weekend, when I was catching up with E, I told her about the guy I’ve been seeing. (You remember, the one I’m not blogging about.)
I mentioned something, it must have been a little hesitant, about the pattern of our correspondence.
“Huh,” she responded. “How long do you think that’s gonna last?”
“You know, the whole game-playing thing.”
Now might be a good time to note that in a few weeks E and her boyfriend will celebrate four years of being together.
I wasn’t sure how to respond to this for two reasons:
1) I hadn’t really considered whatever anxiety I expressed to be part of any sort of “game.” To me it just felt a natural aspect of the regular early courtship routine. You know, my life.
2) Assuming that it could be construed as “game-playing”–whatever that means–I have no idea when, or even whether, it does end.
The feeling that it might not probably comes from something I recently read: specifically, a nonfiction essay by Brian Doyle that is one of the best pieces I’ve come across in a while. (Not surprisingly, I read it in this year’s Best American Essays.) It’s called, “Irreconcilable Dissonance,” it’s about divorce, it’s about 1000 words, and each sentence is around 100.
The narrator marvels at all of the absurd explanations he’s heard people give for getting divorced: nose-picking, property taxes, compulsive watching of “The Wire.”
But the saddest reason he’s heard someone offer, he says, is that they are “tired”–because being “tired”, he writes, is simply, well, “the very essence of marriage.”
Having never been married, I won’t comment on that characterization. (Having lived with someone, though, I see where the man is coming from.)
But his conclusion is what fascinates me:
Every marriage is pregnant with divorce, every day, every hour, every minute. The second you finish reading this essay, your spouse could close the refrigerator, after miraculously finding a way to wedge the juice carton behind the milk jug, and call it quits, and the odd truth of the matter is that because she might end your marriage in a moment, and you might end hers, you’re still married. The instant there is no chance of death is the moment of death.
In other words: the only thing that sustains a relationship is the possibility that it will end.
It’s hard to argue that this is a somewhat cynical view. But, I think, it’s also a smart one.
Today a friend I spoke to on the phone told me about hooking up with a guy she liked, but who she knew wasn’t particularly interested in her.
“Don’t you think that’s crazy?” she asked. “To have such a crush on someone that you know doesn’t have a crush on you?”
I could barely comprehend her question. “Crazy?” I said. “It’s incredibly basic. We all want what we can’t have.”
Which is true, except that most of us, sooner or later, decide we’d rather have something we can have than nothing at all.
But the vague, minor mystery of whether we really can might just be an essential part of what keeps those things going.
So there is a sense in which, when it comes to romantic relationships, the game doesn’t really ever end. To be with someone is always a choice–and there is always the possibility that you, or your partner, will make another.
Of course, that possibility seems a lot greater in the beginning of things–when neither person is sure of what choice has been, will be or won’t ever get made.
The stakes are lower than they are later on, but the rules are more complicated. Because, of course, you haven’t figured them–or each other–out.
Which, it would seem, is where I’m at right now. And I’m bewildered as ever about how to play.
Last night my friend V nearly swiped my cell phone–nearly knocking over my wine glass in the process–when I casually suggested I might send the-guy-I’m-not-blogging-about a quick text.
“Should I?” I asked, pre-swipe, expecting her to respond with an approving shrug and “Sure!” or “Of course!”
Instead, she didn’t miss a beat before declaring: “Absolutely not.”
“Oh,” I said. “Good thing you’re here.”