I was in a philosophy class once, Philosophy of Sex. We were talking about the feeling of being in love, the way it consumes you, the way it doesn't last. I said something about how it is good that it doesn't last, because it wasn't real life. I was married at the time, had been married for years, was at the point where I'd given up waiting for my husband to lead, given up being a good wife who nurtures his ego and had instead marched back to school and found the quickest path to a degree and a middle-class job so I could stop crying over my taxes. I loved him, but he was a child for whom I had decided to care, no longer did he impress or thrill me. There were lots of romance-killing emotions in our relationship by that time - my pity for him, a bit of shame, a sense that I was more powerful than him. I still saw the marriage lasting at that point, I still shared everything with him, came home from school and teased out all the intellectual discussions with him, talking for hours, analyzing everything, sharing my reading assignments and pulling his viewpoints into my own, carrying them back as pollen on my legs to my classes, where my instructors wondered in comments scrawled across my papers about whether they should be giving him a grade.
My philosophy professor smiled, asked me to explain. I thought back to when I was in love, really consumed by my husband. I thought about how nothing else mattered, how school and making money and talking to other people were exhausting chores. You can't live like that, I said. We'd starve to death.
Even as I said it, some little voice inside my heart, young and idealistic, was gagging at myself. Are you 85 years old?? What is more important than pleasure, intimacy, joy? Who gives a crap about getting anything done? Think of pre-contact Polynesians, eating fruit and having sex and laughing and totally unprepared for getting-shit-done Europeans to show up - do you really want to argue that that's NOT your ideal?
But there was another part of me that did feel very righteous for my "getting shit done" attitude - plowing through my degree requirements, summa cum laude, thank you very much, working full time, check check check. No time for being in love. That leads to weeping over the taxes.
After the divorce, there was a while when I thought that I'd just have to keep rotating partners so that I'd always have some new prospect of "in-love"ness on the horizon. The romance only lasts a few years, so keep 'em coming.
I started to notice that after a while, almost without thinking about it, I would take a new romance and start trying to mold it into Something Traditional. Something Responsible. Without really considering whether I wanted Responsible. And then I'd get bored, and miss my romance, and start looking for excitement. And the personal growth that comes from me reconnecting with my messy emotional self.
I don't know if I want Responsible. I don't know what I have, if it has Responsible potential. I still have lots of freakouts, about Expectations and The Future and Worst Case Scenarios and Someday I Will Be Old and lots of other fun channels with similar names.
I'm beginning to think that part of what kills romance for me is a sense of having conquered. Being more powerful. And yet somehow at the same time also, surrendering. Not the scary deep bits, but the parts I like, the messy emotions. Halting my growth. Setting up, settling down, leaving the road. Ceasing exploration. Getting shit done instead of figuring shit out.
I've told him before that one of the parts I most love about him is his strength, the way he pulls against me. He says he knows what I mean, though I do fear that he interprets it as "Don't make a commitment" or "Don't ever give in to me or show weakness." He smiled and said, "I got it." I hope so.
Because it is different. It is how he is always himself, how well he knows himself, how he is always internally consistent, how I can pull against him to find my way and trust that the line is always going to be taut. He changes, he adapts, he listens. But he doesn't give up, let go of the line. He doesn't accept everything I say - he makes me prove it. It enrages me, because it makes me vulnerable. I can't just blow smoke at him. He demands my best work. It forces me to know myself better, to go back to my core, to stop taking the easy way through.
Learning, learning. The growth is a good place for me. Ask me about the status of my relationship and what can I say? It doesn't fit into the categories I thought I knew. Laura said that relationships made of two whole individuals will always look strange from the outside, because we aren't trained to see the union of whole people as romantic, because individual growth can seem "bad" for a relationship, because we value self-sacrifice, togetherness, advancing lockstep at the same pace. Because if you are individuals, you'll be independent, apart, and yet if your relationship is healthy you will also have a persistent intimacy - which must surely confound observers trying to determine if you are either estranged or a storybook. It confounds me. This isn't how it is supposed to be, I thought. Am I being lazy, or fearful, that I don't feel like doing anything to fix it? That I'm not taking charge and commanding my battlefield?
I know I really like myself a lot more than I ever have, and I know I'm having a hard time getting shit done, though its not always because I'm with him but also because I'm exploring alone. Sometimes the fruit knocks me on the head, and sometimes it falls right into my hand. But if I can make peace with my fear of invading conquistadors, I am standing where I wanted to be. Or rather, lounging.