As someone with a tragic tendency to view just about every situation–from first dates to avocados–with a lens of maximum complexity, the notion of living life according to a pithy few words holds no small appeal.
The New Year is a popular time for such phrases. So, they’ve been toggling around in my head.
Let’s start with the first.
“I’m just trying to have really low expectations,” I said to A recently, explaining how I was not going to get imprudently emotionally involved with some guy. (Right before, needless to say, I got imprudently emotionally involved with said guy.)
“No, you’re not,” A corrected. Sometimes A is uniquely capable of correcting my emotions. “You’re going to have no expectations.”
That’s, I think, when she started talking about Oprah or Stacy or some other pop culture maven whose wisdom she sometimes urges me, with requisite irony, to embrace–I was too preoccupied plotting how I’d later blog the distinction to listen too close.
“You’re not supposed to go in thinking things will work out badly. You’re supposed to go in without any expectations at all.”
“Right,” I said, as though that was what I had meant to say in the first place, and as though I thought what she said was as terribly easy and obvious as she made it sound, even though I’m pretty sure I knew, even in the moment, that it was neither.
For a minute, though, I went with it. I shrugged off the temptation to replace fantasies of long-term love with those matching projections of disappointment and hurt–the conviction that a guy would disappear because that’s what guys like him, in the past have done; the negative attitude, going into an online first date (a ritual I have come to think of, roughly, as our generation’s Smallpox) sans the assurance that he will be far less funny in person and have overtly thinning hair.
And then, lo and behold: another girlfriend, another conversation.
(Sidenote: sometimes I consider renaming this blog something like “Travels in Extreme Impressionability”–I could easily blame most angst on my ability to absorb other people’s wisdom with the extreme enthusiasm of stale sourdough.)
But anyhow. This conversation happened to take place on New Years Eve, at a table crowded with attractive young people and fattening dishes we were finally drunk enough to consume, and the gal–one I haven’t seen in a few years–and I were catching up.
“I really think it’s all about being positive,” she told me, by way of explaining how she’d been able, in the time since our last visit, to maintain vivid happiness amid a cascade of hardship. “I realized that I had a really negative attitude about things, and I just decided to change it. To be positive. And it made all the difference.”
I nodded emphatically, our eyes locked above three-cheese pasta and peels of gruyere. “That makes so much sense,” I said.
Champagne aside, her words did resonate: not that my life has changed course dramatically, as hers evidently had, as a result of such an internal switch. But the idea of thinking optimistically, of recognizing that everything comes and goes in waves, that things will get better, and some people might to, is certainly something that has helped me weather these tempestuous twenties.
She had such a glow (one complemented, festively, by her shimmering gold shirt), that I didn’t have the heart to present her with the conflict her words incited. Actually, maybe I did. Again, champagne.
But regardless, there it was, and here it is: how are you supposed to bridge the two? To Be Positive at the same time that you have No Expectations? How are you supposed to feel optimistic about things, about men and dating and the Knicks likelihood of ever winning a championship, while also not building up any expectation that a particular guy won’t be smelly or boring or that the whole escapade/smallpox will soon be over or that Carmelo will really, finally, come through?
If you know, please share. Otherwise, I am shaking off the annual urge to over-simplify, entering into the New Year with simpler ambitions: to brightly color my hair (done), to drink more whiskey (going great), to actually cross things off those lists I habitually, nocturnally write (working on it).
Perhaps 2014 will be the year of the Slick, Pithy Phrase. Til then, cheers.