On Neil Young, Not Panicking, and Not Knowing a Thing

I won’t tell you that it’s always important to listen to Neil Young.

Just, a lot of the time.

There’s something about the quality of his voice: it’s so urgently sincere–I can’t help but believe him just as urgently.

Another benefit of attending an out-of-town conference post-breakup is the opportunity to go for a long, solo drive and play your favorite road trip albums and sing along to them with as much volume and facial and vocal expression as you desire.

Personally, I feel that nothing tops Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” for this purpose. But Neil Young’s “Zuma” is a pretty close second.

And so it happened that, last week, I drove to Taos and listened over and over again to the song “Lookin’ for a Love.”

If you’ve not heard the first verse in a while, allow me to remind you of the lyrics: they’re important.

I’ve been looking for a lover but I haven’t met her yet/She’ll be nothing like I pictured her to be/In her eyes I will discover/Another reason why I want to live and make the best of what I see.

I know, I’m a cliche: whatever stage of romantic ecstasy or despair you find yourself in, it often seems that each and every song you hear resonates with the singular specificity of a horoscope. Whatever: originality is overrated.

Anyhow, back to Neil. So here’s the thing I’ve been thinking about lately that made that lyric ring so, beautifully, true: the more people I date, the more relationships I experience, the less I feel as though I know what I’m looking for.

I thought it was supposed to the be opposite. It’s one of those platitudes people try to comfort you with when you’re broken-hearted: “At least you’ve learned,” they say, because god forbid you should just be sad for a few seconds, or months. “At least now you have a better idea of what you want and what you need.”

At least, except, not at all.

The last time someone asked me what the essential thing I look for in a partner is, I drew a blank. The only thing I could come up with was that they must adore me absolutely and unconditionally. (A requirement that is either extremely basic or extremely grandiose–I can’t tell which.)

In the moment, this made me feel terrible. I’ve written about this before–this idea of knowing, or not knowing, what you want. I write a fucking blog about relationships. For Christ’s sake, I’m going to turn thirty in less time than it takes some people to complete a graduate degree. And still: I can’t articulate what I want in a boyfriend?

But of course, I can. There are qualities–curiosity, humor, warmth, to name a few–that I’m pretty sure I require from everyone I care about.

But what seems more significant is the realization that–as Neil puts it–I have no idea what my next lover will look like. Or be like. How he will act or think.

In many ways D was far from the image I had of the type of guy I go for, and he turned out to be a great companion: someone who satisfied and intrigued me in ways I couldn’t have been predicted before I knew him. Same for the person I’m (slowly, cautiously) seeing now: he’s totally different from me and from my expectations of who I’d be compatible with. And turns out I completely enjoy my time with him.

I swear: this is not code for I’m-panicking-about-my-age-and-need-to-get-knocked-up-so-will-dare-to-date-anyone. (In all honesty, that’s a panic I might, sometimes, exaggerate: growing up in New York, I only recently learned that anyone gets married before thirty-five.)

And it’s not about lowering standards, or settling. It’s just about knowing that there are different sorts of people out there who I can connect with in different ways.

And that I have no idea what they’ll be like until I meet them.

1 Comment

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One response to “On Neil Young, Not Panicking, and Not Knowing a Thing

  1. Elizabeth,
    What I have learned from dating can best be described by a quote in Vicky Christina Barcelona. “If you asked her what it was she was gambling her emotions on to win, she would not have been able to say. She knew what she didn’t want, however, and that was exactly what Vicky valued above all else.”
    Throw out the checklist and resign yourself to the fact that you have no idea what that person is going to be like. Take note of all the things that you didn’t like in your previous relationships and be very wary of those people. Don’t repeat your past mistakes and you’ll be on you way to finding someone worthy of you soon!

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