“Two words,” she said. “Amal Clooney.”
In the form of my personal Christmas miracle, A had made an unexpected emergence from two days of bungled holiday travel, turning up home in New York twelve hours before my return flight to Minneapolis.
We sat by the window of a midtown pub.
A’s expression did not appear to include evidence that I’d shared with her the best compliment I’ve recently received: a suggestion, given around Halloween by a man with whom I’d gone on a few dates, that I might dress up as Amal Clooney–one that I opted to interpret as proof of a striking physical resemblance and with prompt, smug incredulity, shared with most people I’ve met. Somehow, I’d failed to include my closest friend.
“You didn’t tell me,” she said, shaking her head as she sipped her vodka martini and gave me a look that I understood to say, simultaneously, you look nothing like her, and, I’m exhausted, let me get on with my more important point.
Her point being: by the time she (Amal) met her husband (arguably, then, the world’s most desirable unmarried man) she had become (extremely) accomplished herself–as an international human rights lawyer who just happened to possess perfect hair and an exquisite couture wardrobe. She was so desirable because, not in spite, of her achievements.
I needed to hear this.
I needed to hear it for a few reasons.
The first, lesser reason, relates to an exchange I had this Fall with a new-ish writer friend. We were mounting our bikes en route to a literary festival in St, Paul, volleying, as new friends are wont to do, first date-ish sort of questions. I asked whether the bulk of her friends were coupled or single; she replied that nearly all of them were paired off.
“I guess my only single friends are you and…” She ticked off a few other names. “…I guess all my smart writer girlfriends…”
We proceeded to trade eyerolls and a series of stories about men we’d tried and failed to date because they don’t read books; men we’d tried and failed to date because they do read books, but prefer to be the person in the relationship that (euphamistically speaking, kind of) reads more. I told her about the (book-reading) guy who’d once told me about his friend’s observation that I was “too smart for him”–how at the time I’d heard it in flirtatious jest, and now understand it to be a sad statement of fact.
This–the tendency of some men to feel threatened by women who might intellectually outdo, or even match them–is a real (and sad) problem; unfortunately, it is one I can do nothing about.
So, on to the second reason, about which (theoretically) I can.
Let me back up.
A and I have been getting together (in bars and living rooms and lately, mostly, over iPhones) to discuss dating (and all else) for most of our adult lives. Throughout, we’ve coached one another through our opposite, equally unproductive patterns: for all my exuberance to be vulnerable and careen my heart around assorted urban enclaves, A is cautious, wary, reluctant to approach intimacy.
(A snippet of dialogue from last night: Me, ”I need to take a break from dating in January. I’m going to need so much support.” A: “I really need to date in January. I’m going to need so much support.”)
Lately, however, our conversations have taken a more formal turn.
To be specific, we are, together, reading a book. I’d tell you the title, but then you’d judge me. Okay fine, it’s called Calling in the One, and, despite the rather tacky cover illustration, it’s brilliant. “The one” is in quotes, and it actually has nothing to do with going out and meeting people, but everything to do with the kind of holistic, mindfulness-oriented self-reflection on which both A and I depend.
We have a Google doc.
Also, weekly debriefs in which we go over the lessons and exercises (sometimes meditations, sometimes journal entries) contained in each chapter.
Among the recent subjects: making commitments.
Which includes: recognizing what your purpose(s) are in life, and committing to their pursuit–with or without the romantic partner that you (if you are reading this book), are, also, committed to seeking.
I’m fortunate to feel clear about my purpose: to write. I also want to teach and build community and attend regular boot camp classes at the Blaisdell Y (and, oh yeah, find a husband), but these endeavors are secondary. I know they must remain fluid in order to enable what’s primary.
This doesn’t mean that I need to sell a lot of books before I meet my husband. (Or, hopefully, even publish one…or, you know, resolve some Thai-Cambodian border dispute…) What it does mean is that I mustn’t, in any way, temper my ambitions or goals–essentially, my life–because I haven’t yet partnered.
At the moment, I do.
I feel more committed to staying in Minneapolis than I have to anywhere else; which is to say, not committed enough to sign a lease, buy a decent car or refrain from discussing, each time I visit NY, whether I should move back.
I feel more committed to teaching than any other path; which is to say that each time I walk in to a coffee shop a part of me wonders whether I’d be better off working as a barista.
And over the course of the (admittedly, extremely overwhelming) fall semester, one thing that felt abundantly clear is that, on those days when I stopped from hurling myself along a mental bungee cord, I felt better. I probably did a better job.
It makes sense: to invest in your life as it is enables you to be present within it.
I want to be present within my life.
I don’t want to carry around a constant, low-lying hesitation to commit myself–to a place, to a career, to a half-healthy Subaru or pricey winter sport–as though I am waiting for someone else.
Yeah, I do want that person: I want that deep, soulful connection, that partner with whom to share stories of my students and days.
I am human; and of course, I want that very much.
But I need to teach myself to know, to really, deeply in my bones know that there’s nothing I can’t do without it.