Earlier today, I got a phone call from my friend Nicola. Now here’s the thing about Nicola: There are times when it appears she is the most intelligent woman on the planet. At other times, she seems like some kind of alien, or saint, or mutant. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that she is all of these things.
Nicola, who lives in Brighton, does not date. She does not have one-night stands, meaningful fortnights or month-long affairs. It is not that she does not like men; it is not that she’s a lesbian, and it is not that she can’t find anyone. She simply chooses not to. She has weighed all the dating options, lifted them one way and the other, tested their density, volume and surface area, put on gloves and checked them for lice, asked them to cough. And she’s just decided that this dating world is not something she wants to be a part of, thank you very much, next caller.
Nicola has been through the wars. She’s been through all the blood and piss and shit and mud and pus and grime too many times, and enough is enough. She’s retired.
“But Nicola,” I ask her, “don’t you ever get lonely? Don’t you miss having someone who will listen to you talk about your day? Don’t you miss that close contact? Don’t you ever just want to throw somebody down and rip his clothes off?” (This last question was not a come-on, I swear.)
She manages a smirk. “Listen… I have my own life to live. It’s just too much trouble… and it usually ends up badly, anyway.”
The difference between Nicola and me is that she is honest, and she is smart.
Nicola sees what happens when you give yourself up, when someone gives himself or herself up for you, when the balance is tipped one way, when it’s tipped the other. You end up hurt, or you end up hurting someone else. Someone ends up sad, or bitter, or just changed. She’s been there before.
Alas, I agree with Nicola, but selfishly, foolishly, I choose the other path. I simply opt to ignore the logic and try anyway. I know it’s stupid, and I know I’m a danger to others and myself (and them to me)… and nevertheless I just keep forging blindly forward, like a Godzilla-sized baby, waddling around aimlessly, causing destruction.
My old friend Karen, whom I haven’t spoken to in about a year, once explained to me what she called the “cool quotient” of dating. According to Karen, no matter the relationship, no matter how healthy or happy it seems, each partner deep down knows the inherent inequality. One person is always “cooler” than the other — that is to say, one person always considers the other somehow in a different league, Premiership compared to Championship — in some social way. It doesn’t mean that they can’t get along or that such things are even all that important. Just that they’re there.
Karen always used this analogy to describe my relationship with ex-girlfriend Laura, who she felt was above me on this unscientific scale and therefore was destined to leave me (Karen never pulls her punches). Therefore, it was counterproductive to be involved in any relationship whatsoever because, regardless of the circumstances, one partner was either going to feel woefully inferior to the other or think that they were slumming. Hence everything was doomed. I believe Woody Allen’s line was, “It’s the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Sooner or later everything turns to shit.”
You waltz into these relationships, and everything seems happy and fresh and new and clean. You’re flattered someone you admire will even talk to you, that they don’t dismiss you out of hand. You see problems, but you’re convinced this time such little things won’t matter. It’ll all be good this time, promise; the fact that you don’t really like pop music and she doesn’t get Woody Allen, that she’s too young or too old, that you don’t like her cat, that she’s your cousin, none of it will make a difference. Why should such silly matters get in the way of us?
Then you find yourself worrying. You find yourself thinking that she is right, and that you are wrong, and that you are stupid for not being more like her. A little pop music never hurt anybody. You think that she should be with someone better, someone not so cynical, and this thought invades you, and you sabotage everything, and you drive her away. Because she is better. They are all better. And she is sad… yet you’re convinced she’s better off without you. Thing is, you’re right.
And yet, and yet, and yet, we keep trying. It should go without saying that my friend Karen, inventor of this injurious theory, is now in a serious, allegedly happy relationship. And off we go.
I think about how my parents did this, how my grandparents did this, how their generations pulled it off. Was it that much simpler? You just got married, you started a family, and if you had problems, you just dealt with them. Stop your bloody whingeing. No self-loathing, no twisted sabotaging of your own happiness. You paid bills. You went to the store and got milk. You attended parent-teacher conferences and grounded the boys for getting into fights after school.
I think of the line from Arthur Miller’s The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, in which an elder man tells his young wife, “The difference between our generations is that we got married young to prove we were adults, and you do the exact opposite for the very same reason.” I think the older guys might have had the right idea, though.
But whinge, whinge, whinge, bitch, bitch, bitch. Enough!
So I look at Nicola, and I see that she’s right, and I look at Karen, and I think she’s right, too. Yet I continue to search, sleepwalking into a mess, hoping the ground doesn’t turn to shit beneath my feet.
Oh, I almost forgot, I started this piece with that phone call from Nicola earlier today: “I just met this really cool guy,” she started excitedly. And off we go. Sigh.