Friday, July 17, 2009

Curiosity Killed the Relationship



Whenever I go for too long without producing an entry on love or relationships, I receive feedback that establishes how much my awkward prose on these subjects is appreciated.

The fact that anyone takes what I say about relationships with anything less than an entire hill of salt is amazing to me. Insufficient luck has followed my course through these waters and whatever I have to say should be taken merely as a lighthouse placed upon precarious rocks: a lighthouse shows what to avoid as much as it shows what to follow. But, I suppose people must make do with what they can get, as none of my friends who are happy in relationships tend to write about them. Terribly selfish of them.

With that out of the way, I wish to tell you a story...

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Once upon a time (defined here as between now and five years ago), there lived a man. The man had already been in (and back out) of love, so that many of his expectations of hand-kissing romance had been modulated to accommodate a more mature outlook. He had made a list of things he learned:

1) Getting into a relationship because a person NEEDS you isn't fun in the long run.
Your body NEEDS oxygen. Without air, you will not function. Consequently, when we are deprived of things we NEED, our bodies revert to a bestial state to obtain it. If someone is holding you down and preventing natural breathing, you flail your arms and kick your legs wildly in order to restart the flow. On the other hand, if the store runs out of the type of cookies you WANT, then you simply make do by grumbling. Unless you're an Oreo-powered robot. Perhaps it's connected to the Florence Nightingale effect, but people tend to think that because needs are stronger and truer, that love should of necessity be a need.

2) People can tell emotional untruths as easily as verbal ones. There's a long-standing romantic ideal that the heart is always truthful. Unfortunately, the people connected to those hearts can be willfully devious, even over their own emotional presentation.

3) The belief that people may genuinely wish to change their bad habits can be a false one. There are some who know of no way other than their tried-and-true bad habits. A change from those damages their sense of self and independence (or dependence).

4) It's best to avoid people who find their own security in disturbing others' wobbling plates. Isn't it fun how many places we can apply the Golden Rule?

5) Seeing parts of yourself in your partner can pull you into love. Or pull you out.

6) Exuding (or faking) a sense of self-certainty is very attractive.

7) Be wary of "post-ironic" statements, defined as voicing an opinion that sounds ironic but is actually sincere. "Oh yeah: I'd really love to go feed the penguins. Pshh." Also watch out for the kissing cousin: false irony.

8) Find the things you can't compromise on to build stronger foundations.

The man found that the list ran on and on. "I must have been very much in the dark," he thought while committing it to paper. Still, he felt good putting it down. Most of the entries were not things that came from the beginners manual of self-help, so he felt like less of a dolt for falling prey to them. For example, he was relatively sure that one should go into relationships expecting truth, but was now better armed for the ways "truth" can be distractingly clothed.

The man eventually realized that the pain he was feeling wasn't the loss of a previous relationship, but the loss of any relationship. It was the loss of not having a partner. Someone to discuss the news with, someone with a second car to make maintenance appointments easier, someone to install a shelf while he was making dinner.

His friends were pleased. "Good for you," they said. "You wouldn't want those previous times you tried, failed, and caught fire to scar you!"

The man blinked. "Umm...thanks!" He laughed genially, knowing that (in spite of the words), his friends wished him to be happy.

And after a while, there was a woman who was closer than others. The man had started to pay more attention than was otherwise normal. It was not near the amount he would pay to someone he was actively interested in, but it was enough above the median that it caught his attention. The realization of that confused the man.

He was confused because he wasn't sure what he thought. There were external forces pressing in. Never oppressively, but occasionally he would feel the slight motion. Friends were encircling the two. It was never malicious and perhaps not even conscious. It simply attracted viewers and attention the way a single speck of dust does in a planetary birth, gradually pulling in the outsiders.

The friends gave off a whisper of hopefulness that the man and the woman would fall in love. "The right amount in common," the whisper said. "They'll always be on sympathetic ground." Other whispers said, "The right amount of differences. Wouldn't want to be too similar." Additional threads commented on the compatibility of the personalities, or the ease of the repartee, and the wouldn't-it-be-cute angle. All zephyrs coalesced to agree that it would be very nice if the two did fall in love, but simultaneously resolved that even if the two didn't, that was also ok.

The man furrowed his brow. "Am I in love with her?" he thought, attempting to reason his way through the unreasonable. "If I think to ask that question, does that mean 'no', or does it mean 'yes'?" He went to his problem-chair and sat in it, fixing to think his way in.

"It's her smile, I suppose," he thought. "That's the physical part I like. Makes her beautiful, though she doesn't do it as often as I'd like," and he frowned, wondering if that last bit should be thrown on the "dislike" pile. In the end, he decided against making piles, because that leads to numerical reckoning. After all, something like "convicted child molester" is just one thing, pile-wise, but it carries a LOT of weight. He frowned again. "I need a gestalt-love metric," but then frowned for being nerdy even in his own head. "Oh, and I like her hair," he helpfully thought.

"Boy", he reflected, "thinking about physical attributes does make you sound shallow. Though, those parts sure are easy to bring to mind." With a what-can-you-do snort, he thought, "How like an Animalia, to be thinking about plumage."

Striving for a declaration, he posited thusly: she is not unattractive to me, and she is not plain to me, so that must leave attractive to me. Given {X, Y, B}, if new element A is not = to X or Y, then A must be B. The man was pleased at being able to use (or mis-use) high school set logic.

The man started running through traits she exhibited:

Kind.
Sarcastic.
Talented.
Driven.
Accessible.
Thin-skinned.
Righteous.
Opinionated.
Fun-loving.
Sentimental.
Private.
Intolerant? Maybe of failure.
Self-disciplined.
Realist.
Decisive.
Cozy.
Loyal.
Inflexible.
Unpretentious.

All the positive traits had negative aspects. All the negative ones had positive flip-sides. It was a list the man could love.

Another good descriptor came to him, and he tried to fit it into the list:

Curious.

But he failed. No matter how he twisted it, pushed the letters together, spun it like a Rubic's Cube, or chopped it into pieces. It always bounced off the list and came to rest at his feet. It was the one thing unlike all the others.

"Surely not!" he thought with rising excitement. "I've got to remember some instance of her being curious. She's bound to have shown some inclination for learning and understanding at some point in the time I've known her!"

But he couldn't think of one. He was pacing now, angry at the nonsense of the situation. "Everyone gets curious. Surely she's shown some desire..." But nothing came to him.

She was cozy and not curious.
She was unpretentious and not curious.
She was kind and not curious.
She was private... and not curious.

The man's brain raced to follow his train of thought. Suddenly, everything on his list offered a commentary on her. There was a gleaming negative side to every attribute he had placed on her. She wasn't curious. Everything now passed through that lens. Sure, she was driven - but she wasn't curious about what drove her or why. Sure, she was opinionated, but she wasn't interested in why other people thought differently. Sure, he was accessible, but she wasn't wondering what other people were thinking and dreaming about.

He couldn't stop thinking about it. Every conversation he remembered offered him another example. Every greeting that had him saying "how are you?" and her never returning the question. Every time he talked about what he was feeling and why he was angry, sad, hopeful, desirous, amused... and she had responded with "I don't know."

"I don't know," said with an inflection that flowed straight on into "and I don't care."

He had to sit down. It was like watching the puzzle pieces come together at the end of The Usual Suspects, only instead of thinking "What a clever bastard!", all the man could think was: how could I have never thought about this before?

It only made him feel slightly better when he realized in the next moment that he had thought about this before. Every time it happened, every time she said something that made him wonder, he had put a little mark next to it in his mind. A little "flag for follow-up" that indicated that something had... caught his interest. Sometimes he had even frowned, feeling at the time like he was trying to remember something he'd forgotten.

He consoled himself with the thought that maybe he was making too big of a deal out of it. Maybe it wasn't that important. After all, she was all of those other things! Besides, all those romantic poets didn't go on and on about how curious their immortal beloveds were. Shakespeare doesn't have sonnets about curiosity and love. Was curiosity so important that its absence tainted a great thing?

And he didn't know. That was a question to which he had no answer. More than that, he had no way to even begin to formulate an answer. All that he could do was think about it, hoping that new information and experience would eventually help him. He had found something he didn't think he could compromise on, number eight from his list - something to use as a common point of reference for a serious relationship.

And it had only made him feel more alone than he could remember.

3 comments:

  1. Anyone ever tell you that you have a very analytical mind?

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  2. People have mentioned that, yes. As both praise and indictment. :-)

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  3. It does seem like a story written by an analyst, I'll give you that. Long lists and things. Next time, maybe I'll add a dragon.

    It will breathe a bit of fire and then explain proximity avoidance curves.

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