why leaving the “perfect” person isn’t crazy/why i hate love actually

i want to start this blog by saying one of my favorite words:

fuck!

one, because i haven’t written, let alone published a post in three months, and two, because this particular post has been the hardest i’ve ever had to write. it might be because i’m worried about offending people. when you set out to shit on such a gooey movie like love actually, you’re bound to infuriate pretty much everyone.

the idea for this post began two weeks ago while i was visiting my friend in orange county, california, a place where people actually say shit like right on and gnarly! and my pronunciation of the word water sorely sticks out.

wor-ter.

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this is me on the couch-bed sleeping with my friend’s dog.

i sat on her couch/my bed for the weekend and tapped a bunch of random notes on my phone’s notepad. they looked something like this:

movies, reaching for the same bottle of wine

jerry seinfeld dating himself (janeane garofalo)

relationship “résumés”

compatibility vs. boredom

eharmony

cracking knuckles

opposites attract?

and then we were sitting in a breakfast spot called the old vine café, talking about what we always talk about: relationships. we generally take a hacksaw to them and their origins, trying to figure out why most pairings slacken, the honeymoon phase is just that, and boredom can delicately wind itself into our lives in such a sickening, slow way that we don’t realize it’s there until we have been nearly strangled.

i remember a time not long ago when i had vivid daydreams in the aisles of grocery stores and subway cars, and between the shelves of bookstores. i’d think about what it would be like to meet someone in places like these. maybe we would both reach for the last unsweetened coconut almond milk. or we’d both be reading a young adult book no one else had ever heard of, our eyes catching as we finished the page we were on. or we’d simultaneously go to touch a book like goodnight moon, and the first moment we’d both had it read to us would play like a vhs tape in our heads.

i took to heart the compatibility ratings on match, okcupid, and e-harmony. and when i messaged men who i thought i couldn’t go wrong with—

he also likes tennis and lifting weights. he speaks spanish too! and, like you, he’s an only child with the same birth month!

—i took pains in writing first messages and responses, only to be disappointed many times over.

lots of women, and men, too, to be honest, live their lives as if love will—and should—be found and cultured within minutes in a modern fairy-tale setting (i.e., serendipitously in an a&p, the adult equivalent to a child finding a key to a magic kingdom in a clichéd chapter book). we also take common interests and the coincidences of having the same “favorites,” and mistake them for chemistry.

you like unsweetened coconut almond milk too?!

compatibility, sure. chemistry, not necessarily.

for the record, i learned how to crack my knuckles when i was ten because the guy i liked cracked his. i thought having this in common would make him like me. i am sad to admit this.

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in the changing room at urban outfitters

at the end of the day, you can have the same cultural background, religion, political ideology, and fiscal opinions, love red wine but hate white, and be obsessed with curb your enthusiasm, but it can still equal not right. and many people, when they realize this, are dumbfounded. their mate, on paper, is perfect for them. you’d be a 100-percent match in nearly every how compatible are you? relationship quiz in cosmo magazine. you guys just makes sense! your families get along really well! you both like parrots (for whatever reason)! you think ugly christmas sweater parties are stupid and passé! you both think using a word like passé isn’t at all pretentious! he’s a really great guy! he treats you like gold! he knows how to cook and you can’t scramble eggs!

relationships, my friend and i have hypothesized, successful ones, anyway, are less about compatibility and more about not getting bored.

so you’re all like, isn’t that uppity of you to think you know what’s a successful relationship and what isn’t!

probably. so i’ll let this quote from the huffington post online say it instead:

“a successful relationship is where the honeymoon period continues to snowball, not where the honeymoon is but a fond memory.”

one night when i was in college, i was in a car driven by our designated driver and a friend’s then-boyfriend/now husband, and we’d just left one of the two bars worth going to within a five-mile radius of our college. the girl and my other friend, plus another girl (i’ll call her acquaintance for accuracy’s sake) were also in the car, and acquaintance was knocking a girl whom a guy she liked had “chosen” instead of her when the lights had gone up after last call. she was spewing all kinds of nonsense that would have caused a person listening but who hadn’t met the target to think this girl had three eyes and the personality of a baby jellyfish. such ridicule included the following types of statements (types because i was a bit too drunk to remember specifics):

  • “but we both love the mets! she doesn’t even like baseball!”
  • “she’s cute but she’s not that cute”
  • “doesn’t she have kind of a funny-looking [insert arbitrary body part]?”
  • “and we’re both poly-sci majors!”

this rant went on for a mile or so, and while my two friends and i stuffed our mouths with quikchek sandwiches as both a method of distraction and to prevent ourselves from yelling, “shut the fuck up!” my friend’s then-boyfriend finally snapped. at a red light, he didn’t even bother to turn around. he simply said in a calm, rational voice: “do you ever think that maybe he just really likes her?”

acquaintance stopped mid-insult and unwrapped her quikchek sandwich, joining us in food shoveling and quiet reverie.

i was twenty-one. and at that time, my ideal mate would think dashboard confessional wasn’t just for moody high-schoolers; would believe the yankees, steroids and money-grubbing aside, were the greatest baseball team of all time; and would be italian and from new jersey—otherwise you just wouldn’t fuckin’ get it. i looked at guys i liked who chose girls who weren’t, in my opinion, as good of a “match” as i was, and thought, i don’t get it. we’d be perfect together.

which is also what people in failing relationships often say to themselves when seemingly they inexplicably want to leave their significant others.

i don’t get it. we’re perfect together. what’s wrong with me?

nothing is wrong with you.

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a california sunset

with regard to love actually, had i seen it when it came out, when i was twenty-one, i would have adored it. i’d have cried and found myself wishing i could fall in love with someone who couldn’t even speak my language. or someone who i’d never spoken to at all! (the prime minster and his housekeeper—really?) the only good part about the movie is emma thompson.

that’s it.

on christmas day i’ll be with my atheist boyfriend, plus his family and jewish videographer, watching home alone, actually.

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“love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”*

my friend’s polish grandmother, as relayed to us, my group of college buddies, once famously said in her eastern european drawl: “monogamy: it’s not for everybody.”

and then, of course, there’s vince vaughan’s best man character in old school who shakes his head and mutters to the groom, will ferrell, on the altar: “you get one vagina for the rest of your life. real smart, frank. way to work it through.”

oh, boy. so i’m about to talk about monogamy or, more specifically, nonmonogamy (my dad suggested coining a whole new word, nonogamy, but i find this annoying to pronounce and therefore i vetoed it). if i thought my post on telling women to bring porn on first dates was bad, this might be worse. or maybe not.

i’ve been avoiding talking about this topic—even though i’ve been interested and intrigued by it for some time—not so much because i have a very definite opinion and i wish to share it and i’m worried about the backlash, but because i’m not even really sure which way i swing. cue the sexual orientation jokes.

today i was jumping rope on my deck. pre-jumping, i had cued up a handful of songs to last through about twenty minutes of exercise, songs that included such classics as “back that ass up” and “put your ass into it,” mostly for the gluteal motivation. i did add a few recently downloaded tunes (“timber” being one of them, which i’m ashamed to admit to having downloaded at all but am admitting to because i think it’s okay to listen to shitty music if it makes you go faster at whatever you’re doing). cue the sex jokes.

so “back that ass up” had me going at a decent pace, but the newer songs pumped me up more if only for the reason that they’re new. i’m not as familiar with what’s coming next. plus our bodies like new stuff. if you do the same strength-training exercises every week for a year, eventually your muscles say, “this again?” and yawn, stop responding, and stop growing. new clothes are fun too. but wash a shirt once and it’s officially yours, no longer has the department-store-fresh scent, and is bor-ing. new, fun. old, blah. me, tarzan. you, jane.

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a disgustingly rich mutt and his harem of hb’s

i once saw a commercial in which a dog wins the lottery (i know, right? they let dogs play the lottery? i was thinking the same thing), and at the end of the advertisement, the canine, some mutt, is sitting on the backseat of a limo, surrounded by three little white poodles with pink and purple bows in their fluff. you can watch it here if you like. they’re dogs, i know this, but those poodles look happy. they’re with some rich mongrel in the back of a limousine and each one is fine with not being his one and only. and of course the lottery-winning dog is thrilled; he has three bitches to pleasure him. despite my belief that monogamy isn’t the most natural thing, is there really a need to rub it in everyone’s face that men like sex and like it with multiple women and that, if able to buy sex or partners (not directly, but indirectly), they would? we figured that one out ages ago. and, by the way, that dog, on a human attractiveness scale of one to ten, would rate about a four. and previous to his winnings, he was jobless and living in a shack in the backyard, paying some fat dude rent. yet there he is, the object of affection of three hb’s (hot bitches) because now he has, and can offer, a “lifestyle.”

i stole (meaning i asked nicely if i could borrow and then horde for months) a book of my friend’s entitled the myth of monogamy. this was back in late summer, and i’m just now tackling this subject. (side note: my friend also recommended this book, sex at dawn.) anyway, myth was written by a doctor of psychology and a psychiatrist who, ironically enough, are married. there’s a really cute photo of the two of them snuggling on the back cover. kind of makes ya sick, it’s so sweet. anyway, “when it comes to mammals,” they write, “monogamy has long been known as a rarity. out of 4,000 mammal species, no more than a few dozen form reliable pair-bonds.”

then there’s talk of a few things of which i’ve already heard and one that made my brain explode:

  • “males in general—have a lower threshold for sexual excitation and a greater fondness for sexual variety, or, to look at it more negatively, a penchant for equating monogamy with monotony.” so y’all get bored easily, is that correct?
  • “if a female mammal makes a bad choice and is inseminated by an inferior male . . . she pays a substantial toll in risk as well as in lost time and energy. . . . a male mammal who makes himself available for one of many sexual dalliances has invested comparatively little.” typical.
  • there is such a thing as “sperm competition.” apparently, sperm from multiple men can compete for one egg. um. this one, i’ll admit, i didn’t know was even possible. female mammals can, essentially, load up on the sperm of multiple males if they were to engage in coitus a number of instances in a short time span. women can hope that they acquire the sperm containing the best genes. may the strongest swimmer win?
  • “what limits the reproductive success of any given male would appear to be his access to females, rather than inherent limitations of his reproductive anatomy.” in nine months of pregnancy, women can’t get more pregnant. men, on the other hand, can still, uh, go a-sperming.
  • “the potential reproductive benefit of having one or more additional sexual partners is high (if any of these ‘girlfriends’ get pregnant). . . .” so the more partners for a male, the more potential for offspring, the passing along of traits, and continuing the lineage.

okay, that’s enough biology. there are so many variations on relationships (and i mean all relationships here: heterosexual, homosexual, or otherwise). an alpha female who shares her partner with other females who purely satisfy sexual desires. or vice versa. men or women who are bisexual and have an agreement with their partners that they can either go outside the relationship solo with a same-sex partner or they can share the experience (aka a threesome. or some-other-number-some). then there are swingers. or the couples who give their partners hall passes to sleep with celebrities or some pre-agreed-upon dream screw. couples who engage in activities even my gutter brain can’t think up. then the people who just cheat/have affairs, the partner none the wiser, remaining monogamous. and finally couples who, for a lifetime, both remain monogamous.

some folks have notions about how things were “back in the day,” when chivalry ruled and the family unit was very clear. you married young, you had kids early, you lived in a house in the ’burbs, and everything was tidy. this was, though, a façade in many ways. infidelity still occurred, of course. i know for a fact that it occurred in my family long, long ago, and no, i’m not willing to say any more than that. i think it’s silly, however, to look back and think of “long, long ago” as a more simple time, and therefore simplify the relationships that existed within it. human nature isn’t so easily changed.

i will say, though, that is much harder now. we look hotter, longer. i’m not trying to be egotistical. . . . okay, yes i am, but i don’t think that i look like i’m thirty. compared to women sixty years ago, i exercise more, i have a better diet, i am more easily able to support myself financially, i haven’t popped out two or more children—let alone one—and i continue to surround myself with a lot of single, successful, smart, attractive people (that’s the reason i’m friends with you all) in an urban, vibrant environment. everywhere i look there’s stimulation. it’s a far cry from being in a house away from the city, couples and families everywhere you look, encouraging a different sort of lifestyle. neither lifestyle is wrong. but it’s a lot harder to stay loyal when temptation is perpetually in your face.

i once beat myself up for months or, let’s be honest, years, for having cheated on someone. like most of my friends, i grew up in a social environment in which a family consisted of a mother, father, and children. or in my case, child. you mated for life. it wasn’t until i went to college, and even more so in recent years, that i have seen the entire gamut of relationships, and i’ve realized just how many of the relationships i thought were solid were littered, or are still littered, with problems. i continue to feel bad about having cheated years and years ago. then, however, i was the under the impression that i was weird for having done it. that i was unusual for not liking only the person i was with at the time. that there was something wrong with me for not being able to cull sexual thoughts about anyone else. for wanting to see what it was like even just to hold hands with or kiss another person or more. should i have acted on those thoughts? maybe not. but was i wrong to have them at all? i don’t believe so.

in summation, i’m really just looking for the best sperm out there. this post was my way of holding auditions. if you find me abhorrent, your seed is not welcome here. if all this makes me cuddly and adorable, you can print your name on the next available line. the sign-up sheet will be hanging above the mailbox adjacent to my front door. i suggest coming between ten and two. high-traffic time is during a.m. and p.m. rush hour. please bring your own pen. and a one-page cv. and a clif bar.

i’m laughing. i don’t know about anyone else.

one of my friends said recently, about the no-strings thing he has going on:

“right now i’m enjoying having a relationship with someone who doesn’t expect monogamy and neither do i. the hard part is i find it . . . lacking. i miss the monogamy.”

would he miss the no-strings aspect if he were in a monogamous relationship? probably. but i’m assuming that lottery dog has a favorite poodle (i’m betting on the one with the purple bows—the other two have pink bows and are clearly inferior). we may all seek variety, excitement, newness. there is a wonderful and special something, though, about building a life with one person, a person whose food order you know by heart, a person who sets you up for the perfect “that’s what she said,” and a person whose vision of what life should be looks a lot like yours. all this as you gaze ahead at this life instead of at each other, as the famous literary headline of this post suggests. and i think you can have this whether you are monogamous or nonogamous (i’ve decided to give this term a whirl). it’s about what works for you both—what makes you both happy, the definition of which is different—well, fancy that!—for each couple.

barash and lipton write:

“to be sure, human beings can be monogamous . . . but make no mistake: it is unusual—and difficult.”

*antoine de saint-exupéry

“a child can teach an adult three things: to be happy for no reason, to always be busy with something, and to know how to demand with all his might that which he desires.”*

this was written on november 2, and posted from the achilles tent, one hour before i started the 2013 ing nyc marathon on november 3.

i joked before i left for vegas on october 22 that what would happen there could end up in my blog. i was only half kidding about that at the time, but now i find myself wanting to write about the trip, though without baring the gritty details (you can ask me about those personally; and i might tell you).

but the trip, as a whole, allowed me a glimpse into what my life could be like all the time. it was a test for me to see if i could hack it as a club-going wingwoman by night and a glasses-wearing freelance copy editor for children’s books by day. somehow, i rocked both. either i have multiple personality disorder and my late-night alter ego katerina takes over once i hit up the club—i think she just made a brief appearance there—or i’m simply socially excellent and able to easily adapt to any situation. or maybe it’s a combination of both, plus the fact that the person i went to see in vegas, my boyfriend, makes me feel unreasonably (in a good way) capable of accomplishing anything i’ve envisioned. he also makes me feel comfortable with being completely myself, even those parts i never wanted to show or admit to. i was doing pretty well in this department when we met, but it never hurts to have someone in your corner; someone to go to bat for you; more sports clichés, etc., etc. right now he’s in tokyo, and virtually unreachable, and i’m set to start mile one of twenty-six tomorrow morning at 10:30. it’ll be 11:30 p.m. in japan. i told him weeks ago, however, that despite the lack of his physical presence, or even a technological one, just thinking about him gives me the energy and strength to run ten marathons.

okay, okay. sorry. i don’t usually romanticize like this (all right, maybe not so much, anyway), but right now i’m alone, sitting in the empty apartment of my friend in jersey city, my stomach absolutely jam-packed with what i’d estimate to be about a gallon of water and five pounds of food from carbo-loading, and feeling, to be honest, kind of down. when i think back to where i was a week ago, having woken up only two hours ago (it’s four p.m. in vegas), where i was going that night (marquee in the cosmopolitan), and who i was with (see above), it’s not that my life in new jersey is drab or unsatisfactory by comparison. it’s just not . . . me enough.

i watched a plane taking off from newark airport this afternoon while i was on the path. i stared up at the sky-bound vessel’s underbelly, then its tail, and finally what had become just a speck of its body, and i thought, take me with you. this from a girl who used to need practically a sedative to be on an airplane. i’d never realized, not until about two years ago, how much i hate not moving. it’s like that itch a person gets when he or she is inside on a beautiful day, the sunlight yanking on an arm like a persistent friend. come on! i feel that tug all the time now, an insatiable desire to be constantly doing, improving, to consistently be surprised, shocked, and awed. luckily, there is still a lot of world to see, still a seemingly infinite amount of people to meet and learn from, and, of course, more books than i could read in three lifetimes. but it makes me wonder: how in the shit did i ever endlessly loaf on a couch, watching tv and playing words with friends for hours and hours?

someone said to me recently, “you know, you don’t have to be so driven all the time.” ugh. wrong.

so yesterday i googled peter pan syndrome, not thinking it’s actually quite a serious thing (but if it’s on wikipedia, it has to be, right?). though it’s not formally in the dsm, some psychologists do refer to it, characterizing it as “an older man whose emotional life has remained at an adolescent level. . . . [who] leads a provisional life, due to the fear of being caught in a situation from which it might not be possible to escape. . . [who] covets independence and freedom, chafes at boundaries and limits, and tends to find any restriction intolerable.” there are books dedicated to peter pans, and other references on how to school women on avoiding and breaking their addictions to pp’s. well, too late for me with that one, but i thought then, what if i’m the female version? (is there a female version?) and what happens when you put the two of us together?

puella aeterna is a child-woman in jungian psychology, and the characteristics aren’t exactly positive. they aren’t much different from those of the male counterpart, but they include such descriptions as wanting “to be taken care of” and “led through life by the hand,” inciting the notion that there is a danger for a lady of being robbed “of every opportunity to fulfill her intellectual, creative, and professional capacity.” this must not apply to modern female peter pans from new jersey.

i hypothesize that a male and female both “suffering” (or, hello, thriving) from peter pan syndrome would make for an interesting pair. while i didn’t set foot on an airplane until i was twenty-two, i have a feeling any kid of mine will be one of the following: a). born on a plane, b). chilling on a plane as an infant, or c). conceived on a plane. the last one was just to make sure you’re paying attention. but i can see that kid, trailing behind me and toting his or her own backpack on some hike up a mountain somewhere faraway, or knowing his or her way around new york city, yammering on in more than one language, both a book of poetry and a popular mechanics magazine on his or her person. and if i have a kid who doesn’t like to move as much as i do? i’ll just have to develop extra-strong back muscles in order to carry him or her. the little one can jump off when he or she gets too big.

all these crazy thoughts are stemming from one thing that happened on my trip. for the entire week, i was thinking about—stewing over was more like it—the blog post i wrote when i was in costa rica, the one in which i gave myself a cutoff, a self-imposed ultimatum for happiness in which i’d high-tail it out of wherever i was if i wasn’t content. the post was written out of a supreme sadness, the kind stemming from feeling alone in a strange land, having just turned thirty and quit my job and wondering what the hell i was thinking. the kind in which i felt as though i needed to make a promise to myself never to let it happen again. realistically, however, i nor anyone else can make good on that promise, no matter the ultimatum, cutoff, or what have you.

so when i sat in the diner of a casino on my last day in vegas, i said something to the effect of, “i’m just not sure what i’ll do if one day i realize i can’t completely handle all this.”

the response was, not verbatim: “you say that you want to be with me forever, yet you are wondering if you’ll have to leave if you can’t completely handle everything?”

i didn’t have to think. i just answered. i said that i remembered, months ago, making a pros and cons list about the situation, only to have the items in each column cancel one another out. when it came down to it, there were two choices: you, or no you. and the choice, then, was easy. what had i meant in terms of what i’d do? i meant how will i deal with my emotions, my jealousy, however infrequent. what tools will i use to fight the tiny spots of cold dampness to realize how bright the rest of the day is. the question isn’t about being or not being with you, loving or not loving you. and it never will be.

that’s when i realized, as the words flowed out as comfortably as if i were simply saying hello to someone, that i not only love this person, but i love him unconditionally. and, well, shit. to take that one last barricade down? that’s scary. it’s also . . . perfect, however imperfect it might seem.

when i was leaving for the vegas trip, when my plane had been cleared for takeoff out of jfk, i decided to do something i’d never done before. despite having gotten very used to flying, i’ve continued to cling to the habit of shutting my eyes and not daring to look out the window until we’ve reached a comfortable cruising altitude after ascending. but last tuesday i made up my mind that i wanted to see the ground rush away from me, watch the world go from life-size to fun-size. what had used to feel like an agonizing five minutes, my eyelids scrunched shut, my palms sweating, suddenly felt like mere seconds. i watched happily—and, fine, maybe i cried a bit too—as the plane looped around the atlantic ocean, and the mid-morning sun sprinkled itself on the waves. i was still somewhat scared, but i was so glad that i hadn’t let myself miss out. so glad that, for once, like a kid, i had my eyes wide open.

*paul coelho