Looking back it was hard for him to imagine what a sucker he had been. He had not yet learned the basic lesson in knowing how to make “Luv” last?
Over the weekend, my cousin had called to tell me how silly he felt, especially at his age, at not being able to get the thoughts of his former girlfriend out of his head. I had met her some years back and agreed that she was a lovely woman on the surface and could be charming and witty if she tried. He was overboard early on, though, and described her as the smartest, the most “with it” woman imaginable.
Unfortunately, he came to realize much later that she had no idea what friendship or love meant. She was just the picture of a physically beautiful woman who was focused almost exclusively on herself.
During his infatuation phase, he simply idealized her and hung on her every word. To her credit, she was a master at seeing the real person behind their mask. She was insightful and could get into someone’s personality within the shortest time, explaining with ease what made them tick and why they should be embraced or kept at bay. On the dark side, though, she also took advantage of what she perceived as weaknesses and vulnerabilities. He had never known anyone with her eagerness to, as she called it, “toy with sick minds.”
What scared him now was knowing that at one point they were a serious couple with real plans.
She was a professor of art history who visited him on weekends from a town a few miles from where he lived. Her academic specialty was more the quirks in the personality of the artist rather than the art itself. From her perspective, she had concluded that most artists were at best disturbed people.
It now pained my cousin that it had taken him far too long to discover that she had just as many problems as the artists she studied.
She dumped him, that’s a fact, but she didn’t realize when she was walking out the door that she had given him a fresh insight into why friendships, not to mention love, sometimes fail. She got him thinking why some of us endure while others just shrivel up and are never even remembered after a few years.
To quote the writer Judith Viorst,
“Losing is the price we pay for living. It is also the source of much of our growth and gain.”
When the time arrived, she hauled his flag down in a hurry.
So what is it that keeps a friendship or love affair alive, still crazy after all these years?
My reflective cousin told me that he had invited her to one last visit so he could make sure that it was she and not he who had the relationship problem. On that day, she showed no interest in his apartment and didn’t note any of the changes he had made. He had even rearranged the place, moved the furniture about, actually vacuumed and dusted, put his stereo system in another room, bought new speakers for that “special” sound, and prepared a gourmet lunch with no help from a processed box.
Diva that she is, though, she swept in without any comment, ignoring all that was different without uttering a word. Instead, she told him of her latest doctor’s reports, how her daughter was delighting her clients in New York City with her fashion design genius, how her entrepreneurial son was now in charge of research at a major West Coast software company, and how her younger sister was on the fast track as a producer in Hollywood. The older sibling was continuing to bedazzle the rich and famous with her trendy foods that she catered at an exclusive Idaho ski resort.
Last but certainly not least on her checklist was the dolt of a boyfriend she was about to marry. She paused ever so slightly to say he was now back on his meds and seemed to be “stable.” He’s the dull and unaccomplished one in her otherwise star-studded retinue, the kind of guy whose main virtue consists of being dependable in taking the garbage out early on Monday mornings. My cousin thinks she was low on energy when she found this guy on some dating service. To the dolt’s credit, though, he provides a bit of needed contrast to her high-maintenance and overly needy husbands and boyfriends of the past. She figured she would have little problem “managing” him.
In getting a word in edgewise, he asked if she had any misgivings about her upcoming nuptials. He knew already that she never admitted to any flaws, but had heard some hesitation in her voice as she talked on about how disaster can lurk in any venture, often evident from the beginning but not seen because we don’t want to see it. And then came the long list of his shortcomings, although they were always “balanced” off by his virtues or assets as she called them.
My cousin had met him once at a less than good time. It had been in winter and on a particularly cold and overcast day. Perhaps he suffered from some form of seasonal disorder, but he was morose and said little. She apologized later about his lack of social skills and described how he really wasn’t much of a self starter and needed some nudging. Apparently, he had more problems in the dark days of winter when she would find him at times sitting in an unlighted room, chin on chest, staring blankly out at nothing.
As she continued to ramble on without pause about those parts of her boyfriend that could be worrisome, my cousin waited for an opportunity to make this a dialog rather than a one-person show. He could see himself wanting to scream in her face to take a breath, pause and ask him something about what was going on in his life. In short, he would have been happy if she would have just been quiet for a short time.
And then for a moment, some glorious enchanting moment, she stopped talking long enough to hear him say that he had made some progress with a medical problem he had been dealing with. She had also gone to the same doctor earlier, but had dumped him due to a misunderstanding with the scheduling nurse.
Before he could blink, though, she grabbed the microphone and started talking again. With her voice rising, she exclaimed how the hell he could possibly continue his association with such a group. In response, he said he had chosen not to be confrontational but rather to befriend the nurse. As a result, he had had no problems in getting done what he needed. Proving to be the attentive and loving friend that she was, she promptly forced the shiv in under his shoulder blade by saying that when all else fails, one could always fall back on pandering.
On that afternoon, my cousin spent the time listening to an endless recitation of her triumphs as well as latest medical woes. And then came the dissection of every move to lose weight, how she counted every calorie and gram of fat. The stories of loneliness, despite an “idealized” life style, followed. He listened to all these tales– empathized, sympathized, verbalized. But after the many repetitions on a theme, he said he was finally growing impatient. At the same time, though, he felt a surge of elation knowing that she would never again awake on the pillow beside his.
So now with some breathing space since their last get together, he said he was still smiling over how much she said, but did not ask. Simply stated, their time together had been a classic monolog, definitely not a “your turn, now my turn” give and take. He was just part of the audience in her stand-up routine. If you were willing to sit and listen, fine. If not, you could be easily escorted out of the performance by bouncers. There was no real show of friendship under this tent.
With the curtain now down on her drama, we could return to the age-old question of how do you make love last. My cousin had called to say he now had some idea. But he was shaking his head wondering why it had taken so long for him to finally wake up and slap some sense into himself.
He said the end of the romance had given him the opportunity to think seriously about why love affairs and friendships fade or downright end. All things considered, he didn’t think it was a question of differences over sex or money or issues over politics or religion. Generous man that he is, he would never challenge any deadbeat who conveniently ignores his share of the lunch tab. He could even live with a braggart who drops names and goes into too much detail over accomplishments or bank accounts. Even when huge egos bounce off the walls, he’s convinced he could roll with the scramble and shrug off who’s the alpha male or female.
In the end, he had concluded that none of these explanations matter when it comes to friendship or love. The clues to the parting of the ways point to the tracks we leave behind. We should all get suspicious when someone feels entitled to croon into the microphone non stop, when that someone special demands that the lights never miss their every step and makes sure that the reporter uses all the precise words in the interview. Bells should go off when they do this without even blinking. We lead ourselves down the path when we start believing them as they keep announcing that their life is just one big self-appointed entitlement.
Up until now, my cousin had just gone with the flow and had enjoyed the spectacle, especially when he was gripped by love. Fortunately, this time around had been the proverbial eye opener, the one that let him see the arrows in the quiver that would have eventually pinned him to the wall.
His bit of advice was to be sure to note whether or not one’s companion actually wants to hear what you have to say or is just pausing for air. Do you really interest that someone else or are they just using their question as a spring board to gather their narcissism together again and head on out, torpedoes loaded and armed, full speed ahead. Destination, ME!
As someone once said about a certain professional baseball player with a great flair for self-promotion and aggrandizement and to hell with everyone else, “There’s not enough mustard in this stadium to cover that hot dog.”