I’ve always been drawn to complex women. Intelligent, opinionated, philosophical, not-so-perfect childhoods, maybe a little crazy. They say it’s foolish, even dangerous to date that kind of a woman, but when is it not risky to expose your heart?
I don’t know why I feel this way. Thoughts and desires just come to the brain randomly, like specks of ketchup sprayed from packets being stomped by curious children. I can have an epiphany that enlivens the spirit, another that disturbs the soul, but there’s no controlling any of it.
Something was born inside. As a kid I would hear a sad song and relate to it before I had the experience. How could I know what it felt like to be broken hearted before being broken hearted? Why am I more comfortable with drifters and outcasts than I am with regular folks? Why do I feel uncomfortable in expensive homes and high-end restaurants? Why do I enjoy watching holocaust documentaries? Why am I happy eating the same meal of rice and steamed vegetables for hundreds of days in a row? Why, if I’m in a store and hear an unknown song and become mesmerized by the emotion-laden guitar work, do I spend weeks, months, sometimes years feeling inadequate about not yet discovering who does the song?
Can one perform an act of civil disobedience against one’s unhealthy thoughts? Sit at the lunch counter, lay down in the street, throw bricks through the window, go toe to toe with the cops, tell the man to fuck off, storm the castle and kill the king. Cruise the back streets of your mind, have Viktor Frankl ride shotgun and watch out for the authorities while you remedy the travesty of your thinking.
Maybe I like complex women because stable women are boring; they only talk about TV shows and think 1980s new wave constitutes good musicianship. Complex women are interesting and intense and unpredictability is the price I pay. There was one a few years ago, she was pensive, quirky, funny and could stand her ground in any debate. Her apartment was filled with paintings in various stages of completion and books by obscure psychologists. Devastating blue eyes, long, flowing brunette hair, a walk/strut that oozed sex. But what really put me under her spell was that she wasn’t afraid to reveal the darker fragments of her inner life.
That’s how we connected during our first date. Within 20 minutes, we were sharing some of our most vulnerable stories. She talked about the trauma of witnessing a murder, how it took a year to recover. I told the story of my father’s cancer, how he died within 3 weeks of getting the news. The bond was immediate. After I ordered the second round, she leaned in and momentarily touched her lips to mine, the most gentle, electrifying kiss in the history of western civilization. An hour later, as we walked out of the bar, up the street to the neighborhood where we both lived, I felt a warm, total body buzz, as if I was on a constant oxycodone drip, schools of opiates swimming in my veins.
When it comes to love, we all live as if we’re in a movie, or as if we’re characters in an epic novel. Working toward our goals day to day, we believe that inevitably the hero (you) will conquer his foe, overcome some real or self-created strife, and meet our soulmate in the next scene, the turning of the page. A character is introduced and bam, everything comes together. The plot will thicken, the story gets resolved, and we convince ourselves that we’re responsible for writing the script.
As the months piled up we became closer and closer, and when I looked at my past, all of my failures with women seemed like worthy and necessary steps on the path to finding her. Our future together flashed before me in a series of rapid-fire images. A mental storyboard of road trips, listening to records at my place, laughing in bed, her being by my side at my mother’s funeral. We agreed that someday we’d leave competitive, aggravating American city life and move to Paris; she’d paint, I’d write, we’d live on wine and baguettes and be okay without having access to a decent burrito shop.
But the complexities that drew me in were what caused her to push me away. She wanted me with her heart but couldn’t have me with her mind. A fence was built around her, she could lean over and touch but wasn’t able to fully embrace me. As it happens to many women, men had done things to her that prevented her from being whole. She couldn’t connect to the very thing she wanted to connect to. And it’s this tragedy that fully awakened me to the fact that the longer you’re a man, the more you understand the horrible damage so many men do to so many women. Stillborn flowers in the wind. You catch a glimpse of beauty and in a flash they’re gone.
Friends could say I should’ve seen the signs. The emotional ups and downs, one moment she says she loves me, the next she breaks it off. There was the father who wasn’t violent but constantly scared her. Maybe I did see, but I didn’t want to because I felt that rare connection. We all want the person who’s fully formed, fully arrived, always ascending and never descending. But people are flawed so we delude ourselves in order to obscure the unsightly parts. We go for it because the reward can be so wonderful. And that’s the thing about being alive: all poor decisions begin as good ideas. Lousy draft picks, failed businesses, bad investments, a worthless bachelor’s degree, at least half of all marriages. That’s what we humans do – we try, screw up, sometimes we catch a break, but ultimately we’ve controlled about 3% of the reasons why we end up where we end up.
If our species is anything, we’re a species of failure, victims of chance. Meteors plummet to earth, a tipped pass lands in the hands of the defensive back in stride as he dashes untouched to the end zone, a choice parking spot appears as you round the corner again and are just about to give up and drive back home completely pissed off. We get zero credit for anything. The angels, demons and wizards sit at long wood tables and do the choosing for us. Puppets on strings, that’s what we are. According to Socrates, all we know is that we know nothing, which seems to be all we need to know.
I have a friend who during an 8-10 year stretch probably went on 4,000 online dates. If you were a single woman between 35-45 in San Francisco between 2000 to 2008, you probably had coffee with him. This friend, now happily married, who now gives constant dating advice, recently said to me, “I just want you to be happy.” Funny. He never said that before he got married. He’s become one of “those people”. You know the type: forever single, obsessed with dating, determined to find the one. Then one fateful afternoon he meets someone, they connect and a deep, authentic love flourishes. Soon they’re spending most of their time together, “they” become “we” as their lives become so intertwined that it feels like destiny brought them together. Now your friend, suddenly enlightened like the Buddha after meditating under the bodhi tree for eight days, has all the wisdom. Now he’s telling you what you need to do, what you’re doing wrong, how you need to re-think your expectations, be more open and less judgmental. Move to a new neighborhood, expand your horizons, do things you wouldn’t normally do, try some volunteering.
So let me understand. Love is all that matters, it’s what every human being wants yet it’s the most mysterious thing to attain, it’s the topic of nearly every song and café conversation, and you’re telling me you’ve figured it out because you got lucky? Are you insane? It’s like someone who won the lottery telling you how to win the lottery. Or the pint-of-vodka-per-day alcoholic who hits rock bottom, he becomes a born-again Christian and starts doling out self-righteous judgment. See, I’ve discovered happiness and contentment totally on fucking accident. Just do what I did and you, too, will have this same accident.
I wish these people would shut up. It’s enough to manage the voices in my head that confuse and spread doubt. I don’t need real people shoving their imagined, worthless instruction booklet at me. Be humble my friends. Remember where you came from. Don’t forget when you were alone in your dark apartment, crying out in the quiet night to a world that wouldn’t listen to your plea to please, please send somebody to love you.
Stop giving advice. When it comes to arrogance, to the most distilled form of self-delusion, you’re equal to those born into privilege who criticize the less fortunate for not working hard enough. You’re the same as religious idiots who know, without question, that their faith is the one and only road to salvation. You believe that while being boyfriend/girlfriend is a medium-level pledge, during a marriage ceremony some sort of hocus-pocus magic dust gets sprinkled over the couple, elevating their commitment to bullet-proof status. But if you can’t simply look each other in the eyes and make a promise over a cocktail, if instead you need to wear certain clothes, walk down a certain aisle, print up invitations and spend lots of hard-earned money to make a vow, I’d ask, what kind of commitment do you really have?
Sorry, but there’s nothing exceptional about getting married. It’s no mark of great character. We all know unevolved, stupid, mean, lazy, narcissistic or dull people who found the right partner. For christ sake, Charles Manson tied the knot – while he was in prison. Just as absurd is the smug claim by the divorced, “At least I’ve been married, at least I took a chance.” Yeah, and the Hindenburg went for a flight. Sorry, you don’t get credit for making a bad decision.
Besides, any relationship is only as good as its last day. People lose their minds, their jobs, their desire to sleep with you and be with you. We get sick of each other or grow apart, we leave or cheat or start hating each other because that’s what we’re capable of doing. We can’t control what happens. So what do you do?
Go camp in Big Sur, sleep on the cold ground and look up at the black sky filled with a thousand stars and understand how futile it is to even wonder what to do. You’re in the perfect place at the perfect time. You have all you need, your thoughts and two fully functioning eyes. Feel the cool Pacific tradewinds on your face, your woman’s warm mouth around your cock, and as you ejaculate your brain empties and everything feels right in the world. You laugh like a crazed lunatic and fall into the deepest sleep, the tranquil sleep of a child. In the morning you go to the roadside café on highway 1 and enjoy hot coffee and freshly baked wheat toast with homemade raspberry jam. You read the sports page cover to cover and recall those beautifully crafted Jim Murray columns you read growing up. You scan the transactions, the box scores from the previous night’s ballgames. Those transactions were great, full of surprise before ESPN killed the fun by telling you about every trade the moment they happen. The bill for the hot coffee and freshly baked wheat toast with homemade raspberry jam comes to $7.83. You leave a twenty dollar note on the counter and walk out of the door.