Knowing What Matters, Sooner or Later

There’s a particular memory I always associate with the collision of music and romance.

Back in St. Paul I knew a guy who was the singer in a local rock band that played out a lot. He and his bandmates were all various, aggressive shades of cute, scruffy and jaded.

For a short time he dated a friend of mine, and as I recall it didn’t end particularly well. A while after that I ran into him at some show at the Turf Club or Big V’s, the two divey venues on either side of Snelling Avenue between which our crowd alternated evenings, and he told me that he was dating someone new–someone he’d met through work.

“I like her a lot,” he announced, beaming. “And it’s crazy. She doesn’t know anything about music.”

I looked at him, trying to discern why this declaration satisfied him so.

“I mean, she has no idea what bands are cool or trendy or whatever. It’s so awesome. I’ve realized it totally doesn’t matter.”

For him, it was a revelation: as though he’d spent his whole life thinking that taste in music and other such trivialities were of primary importance, when really there were other things–like values, maybe, or sex–that could render people compatible.

I don’t think I ever thought shared taste in music the only thing that mattered–or even mattered that much. But still, I always recall this conversation when I start dating someone and conversation turns to “favorite bands.”

“Oh geez,” I think. “Why should I care if we both like Cat Power? Just because you also love Paul Westerberg–that doesn’t mean we’re meant to be.”

Forgive me: in truth, I do think that because you also love Paul Westerberg, we probably are meant to be. (It’s that line from the David Brooks article I wrote about a while back–we all have an inflated sense of our uniqueness.)

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Love and Sex and Parents: Some Notes

My parents, as I’ve mentioned, read my blog. Also, as I’ve probably also mentioned, I talk to my parents. A good amount. We talk about our daily routines. The latest subway delays. The latest in family gossip. What meals we’ve eaten and cooked. We talk about the weather.

We do not talk about my blog.

Occasionally (and with diminishing frequency–though, to be fair, my posts have diminished in frequency, too), my mother will comment that she found something “funny” or “cute.” Also occasionally, my father will leave a cryptic comment using the pseudonym of one of their chocolate labradors’ names.

But besides that, the subject of my writing–or, more broadly, my dating life–does not really come up.

Now, I don’t blame my parents for this. No one wants to think their parents or children have sex at all, much less know the particulars.

And yet, I, and perhaps one, would think they’d have gotten used to it. It’s been about eight months since I’ve been writing this thing. Longer since I began publishing essays about love and sex. I would think, by now, they would have grown accustomed to the enterprise: that my dramatic openness with the virtual world about my romantic life would have–at least, a little bit–expanded the openness I can have with them on the subject.

It has not.

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What I Learned Watching Cable

For all of the negative effects of watching a lot of television–wretched lack of productivity, indoctrination with evil, unattanable ideals of skinniness and wealth, the inability to move for hours on end because you must find out how Eva wins Season Three of America’s Next Top Model even though you Wikipedia’d the outcome three episodes ago–I have come up with at least one positive.

You see, it’s hard for me not to feel somewhat sheepish when I tell people what my blog is about. (“I’m getting an MFA in Creative Writing.” “Oh, what do you write?” “Well, these days, mostly a blog.” “Oh, what kind of blog?” “Well, um, it’s about dating…relationships…but not really. You know, it’s like, my thoughts on those things.” Befuddled facial expressions and awkward conversational transitions ensue.)

I feel sheepish about making this admission for a few reasons. But basically, I fear that I will come across as someone who a) is not a serious, literary writer and b) is obsessed with relationships. Both of which, of course, are more or less true.

But back to the cable: these hours of bingeing on mainstream television have, if nothing else, served to remind me that I’m not alone. All of us–all of you!–are obsessed with dating, romance, finding love…the whole thing. I don’t care if you want to get married or wear white when you do or you’re still finding yourself, whatever. You’re obsessed. You just don’t write a blog about it.

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Bonita and Me: An Update

Bon Bon attempting to cuddle while I blog

I know, it’s been a while: besides the new pup (on whom I have decided to henceforth blame every form of tardiness in my life) it has been simply too hot to blog.

Too hot to do anything besides drink Diet Cokes in the daytime and beers in the nighttime and fantasize about nonexistent bodies of water to the hum of an insufficient ceiling fan and the drone of a rather inept swamp cooler. Welcome to summer in New Mexico.

Anyhow, I’m sure you’ve all been waiting with baited breath beside your own (hopefully more efficient) cooling device for an update on the progress of mine and Bonita’s relationship.

And I must say it feels only appropriate to declare–after less than a week of knowing one another–that I am quite confident she is my perfect match.

I don’t mean that in the sense that we’re meant for each other, or that we’re soulmates–I don’t believe in that even when it comes to canines. But as far as her capacities as a lover are concerned, she is essentially my equal.

All she wants, after all, is to give and receive love. There would seem to be no one, person or dog–save the occasional hyper-agressive German Shephard around the corner–on whom she is not absolutely desperate to jump up and smooch.

Okay, so I’d like to think I’m a bit more discriminating.

But seriously, she is about as friendly a dog as I’ve ever encountered. And while she does like to follow me from room to room, from bathroom to couch, even in the middle of a nap, she would do the same for you if you happened to be nearby and breathing. (The other day at the dog park, she nearly went home with another woman.)

Okay, so I’d like to think I’m a bit more faithful.

She also, though, takes after me in stubbornness. Just try getting her to eat her breakfast when she’s still got to pee, or roll over off her back without at least a small session of belly scratching.

And yes, hopefully, I need be told fewer times to get out of a car’s front seat or, as the case may also be, someone else’s bed.

Having already been chided for attempting analysis of our budding companionship, I will resist the temptation to venture further comparison.

But I simply had to share how heavenly it is to find myself in the suddenly constant company of a being whose thirst for love and affection just about matches mine.

Even if said being is one who, every once in a while, eats a flip-flop.

On Remembering Why

Does extreme heat make you lethergic? It definitely has that effect on me. When I got off the airplane in Albuquerque last Sunday it was 100 degrees, and I realized the whole spiel I’d been delivering about how the heat is really not so bad when it’s so dry is really a load of crap when you’re walking to campus and you have your laptop on your shoulder and the biggest patch of shade is across the street and about two and a half feet long.

Also, I spent too many hours within too few weeks on airplanes, and I’ve caught a full on runny nose/congested/sore throat sort of cold–which, I must say, feels dissonant to the point of surreal amidst these extreme temperatures.

Don’t you love it when I don’t write for a few days and return only to whine about my perfectly lovely life by way of excusing my absence?

My life is perfectly lovely, by the way: I’ve got this nice sunny space to myself for the summer, I’ve got a splendid selection of local friends to drink very cold beers with (what else can one consume in this heat? oh, yes: frozen grapes. so many frozen grapes.), and endless shelves of mine and S’s books to pore through in the 22 and 3/4 hours of every Monday-Thursday when I’m not teaching. The other three days of the week, that’s pretty much all I’ve got on my hands. Also, today I made a lovely herby-eggy brunch for J and I and the weather is actually lovely and relatively mild.

And yet. And yet, people, I’m feeling uninspired.

Amidst my hazy malaise of of sniffles and self-pity, as you’ve noticed, I’ve not been posting much. But, I’m sure it will relieve you to hear, I have been talking about blogging–or rather, being a blogger. The moniker has gone and affixed itself to my introduction: “This is my friend E, she writes a blog.”

I can’t lay all the blame on friends, either: just as frequently, I meet someone, tell them I’m in school for writing, they ask what I write, and–it being the easiest and most tangible answer–I reply that I write a blog.

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The Question of Opposites

I just finished reading an incredible book called “Truth and Beauty”:  a memoir by the novelist Ann Patchett about her friendship with the late poet Lucy Grealy. Lucy, who had cancer in her jaw since childhood and was perpetually undergoing reconstructive surgeries, was probably best known for her own memoir called “Autobiography of a Face.”

Lucy also had an extremely extroverted, gregarious and difficult personality–unlike Patchett, who represents herself as being quiet, shy and conventional by contrast.

As the woman who recommended the book to me observed, it is basically a love story: theirs was not a sexual relationship, but it was every bit as intimate. She also remarked, rather insightfully, that Ann and Lucy’s friendship worked because they were such opposites: someone with more personality than Ann, she said, probably couldn’t tolerate–much less embrace–someone with quite so much personality as Lucy.

I thought of this today as I talked with my NY best friend S–who is, in many ways, my opposite. (Also, with whom I am now quite fortunate to be on vacation with in London for a week.) We have endless things to talk about–literally, she is probably the person in the world to whom I can, and do, talk on the phone most endlessly–but we have contrasting personalities. Namely, I am more of an extrovert and she is more introverted.

This came up during a conversation about the fact that every single man she has dated has been an extrovert, and almost every guy in my history is an introverted type.

“Maybe that’s why we get along,” she remarked.

We laughed. But it’s made me wonder: is it? Why is it that outgoing people do so often pair off with those who are more outgoing, both in friendship and romance?

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Be My Number One. Or, Number Two.

Back when S and I took that road trip to LA, we planned on amusing ourselves during the car ride with a game called “Maybe We’d Find Husbands If…”

The idea for this came about during a jog shortly before we left when we discussed the difficulty of not always being on the lookout for a husband, and we (okay, mainly I) thought the game might make good car ride entertainment–not to mention potential material for the blog.

Both hopes quickly dissipated when it became apparent, as it soon did, that our only ideas were: “Maybe we’d find husbands if we lived in LA,” “Maybe we would find husbands if we did not live in LA,” and “Maybe we’d find husbands if we dated more men who vote Republican.” (More on that last idea later.)

By the time our game resorted to “Maybe we’d find husbands if we spent more time at Knife City”–a roadside outlet barely across the Arizona border–we knew it was time that we give up, embrace our singledom, and blast mainstream hip hop.

Among the tracks in heavy rotation was a melodic R. Kelly tune called “Be My Number 2.” Which, if you haven’t heard, you must: it is a truly amazing song, on a number of levels, in which R. croons to a potential lover about all the things that he would like to do to and with her that do not include revealing her existence to his Number One.

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To Love, or Be Loved

As I may have mentioned, I have a writing professor who likes to harass me relentlessly about my love life.

He gets away with this for a couple of reasons. One is fairly obvious: that I am singularly open about it.

The other is that early in our relationship he made clear that he, a gay man, is similarly plagued: he likes to label both of us “tragic romantics.” (Also: “narcissists”– a characterization that my therapist disputes and I alternately reject and embrace.)

In class last night we workshopped a short story I”m (struggling to) write about an older woman who has a long-term affair. One of my classmates raised the (very legitimate) question of why it is that her husband knows about it but doesn’t leave the marriage: what sort of person, he asked, stays in a relationship in which they know they are loved less?

According to my teacher, people like him and me. There are lots of us out there, he said, who would rather love than be loved. He brought up that W.H. Auden line: “If equal affection cannot be, let the more loving one be me.” (And then he made me blush–not a difficult feat, mind you–by calling me out as I furiously scribbled it down. “An open book, that one,” he sighed–joking, but not.)

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Thoughts on The Person vs. The Story, cont.

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.”

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On Monogamy, and Love

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.

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