Yesterday I heard from a former writing professor: the one who I worked with all of last year, and the one who likes to tell me that he sees himself in me because–according to him–both of us are narcissistic and because–according to life–both of us are incapable of sustaining a man for longer than three weeks.
Both of us, it turns out, are also poor correspondents. So it was a pleasant, if abrupt, surprise when his name appeared in my gchat yesterday morning.
“How are you? How’s the MFA? How are those other creatures S and D?”
“Good!” I wrote back, initially enthusiastic. And then: “You know, same as ever.”
“Oh,” he replied. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
As we all know, the medium of online chatting is such that you can never be exactly sure how someone might have said something were they to speak it out loud. I’d like to think that he would have uttered this line, then, with a strong dose of sarcasm. But, knowing this man as I do, I can imagine that–while we surely would have laughed to leaven the moment–had we been face-to-face, his tone would have been more-or-less sincere.
A couple of months ago, I published an essay on NPR.org about how many of us “fall in love with the story” of a person or relationship, rather than the person themselves. In response, I got a lot of enthusiastic notes from friends and readers who identified with my dilemma.
And then, there was one person–one of my best friends from college, in fact–who wrote to tell me that they could not relate.
Like me, this friend has a tortured romantic soul that is frequently, tragically, getting trampled upon: we understand one another.
But not, evidently, on this.
“I guess you’re more mature than me,” my friend wrote. “The story is still way more important than how I actually get along with someone. That’s stupid, but at least I admit it.”
The term “serial monogamist” has always bothered me.
I mean, I use it–like everyone else–to describe people who go immediately from one relationship into another.
But I’m not sure what differentiates those people from those of us who go spans of time out of relationships. I often think I’d like to be a serial monogamist, if only I could find people I’d like to be serially monogamous with.
But then, as came up over beers last night with S and A (I realized, by the way, that an odd preponderance of my male friends have names that start with D; this is another one, who I’ll call A instead for differentiation’s sake), there are people who really are not interested in, or perhaps capable of, monogamy.
Each of them described someone they know who is frequently in relationships, but who is always cheating.I don’t think I have any friends who fall into this category. I’m fairly sure, though, that the person I once, for five minutes, was an “other woman” with, does. I think he really cared (and, I’m pretty sure, cares) for his girlfriend. But he simply couldn’t help himself from indulging his wandering eyes. And hands. And various other things that one should not indulge when one is committed. But did (and does) he truly love her?
I’m not sure.
In response to my blogging, I’ve gotten numerous emails from friends telling me how struck they are that I’m comfortable being so open about my personal life. I haven’t known exactly how to respond to these notes: I appreciate the kudos, but I’m not sure how to describe or explain what it is that allows me to feel okay with putting so much of myself in the world.
Today, I may have come closer to an answer.
My friend, colleague and drinking buddy D asked me to be a “visiting writer” in his undergraduate Creative Writing class. This meant giving his students an essay of mine–I sent them the one about my ongoing battle with insomnia, also the one I’d given my best friend to read with the conceit that I exaggerate my insecure, love-obsessed persona–and attending his class today to answer their questions about craft, process and product.
One student observed, from the essay and my rambling comments, that I seem highly concerned with being percieved as a “good writer.”
“Why are you so preoccupied with that?” she asked. “Couldn’t you just tell yourself you’re good enough and not worry what people think?”
I told her if that if I was able to do what she said I would probably be a more well-adjusted person and thus have nothing to write about. Moving on.
I’m pretty sure the second most disconcerting thing my current therapist has said to me–the first, of course, being when he offered his prayers on my behalf–was his off-handed declaration that I should never live with a man to whom I am not married.
“You’ll never do that again, right?” he asked, when I referenced having lived together with my ex.
“Excuse me?” I responded, fairly dumbstruck.
“It’s just a bad idea,” he said, going on to cite data that men and women who live together first are less likely to stay married.
“I’m pretty sure I don’t know anyone who would marry someone before living with them,” I declared.
“I know,” he said. “That’s the problem.”
Seriously, I am wondering if I should change the name of this blog to “Happily Single In the Odyssey Years.” Because, I have to tell you, I cannot recall a time when I felt so completely okay with my singledom and disinterested in dating as I have in the last week and a half. I recognize the irony that obsessing about relationships should make me less preoccupied with finding one. I’m sure it will pass. Wait, I think I just felt it pass–just now, as I was writing these words. There it goes: it’s gone. Nevermind.
That thought, though, is what went through my head yesterday as I was walking to my therapy appointment. That, and how pathetic it was that I felt genuinely eager about bragging to him about my new blog and NPR commentary: that, I thought, is why I have a mother. What can I say. Not unlike another writer whose name we shall not mention, I am a sucker for validation.
It had been several weeks since our last meeting: I had a lot to catch him up on. The last time I saw him, I was in the throes of agonizing over The Guy Before My Latest Hiccup (don’t worry, I won’t make it an acronym–I’m not giving up on him yet). And of course I had to fill him in on MLH–about whom I have now been commenting for longer than we were actually seeing each other, which is just embarrassing. Last post, promise.
My therapist was horrified by my stories. This is why I like this therapist: he discourages me from blaming myself (I have my writing teacher for that), and encourages me to find fault with the men I date. Once he said he would pray for me. My friend S couldn’t believe that I didn’t get up immediately: I explained that it’s okay because he makes me feel, well, validated.