“Are there any physics terms that imply 'cooling off'?” It was a text message from my friend, Gina. She's been seeing an engineer named Sebastian for a few months and occasionally hits me up as her physics Cyrano de Bergerac.
Recently, Gina and Sebastian had the conversation about sleeping with other people. That is to say, Gina told Sebastian she wanted to be exclusive. His response was not what she was anticipating -- he explained he'd just gotten out of a relationship, and he wanted to take it slow and not commit yet.
“Should I break up with him?” Gina asked me when we spoke later. She was in Manhattan for work and it was hard to hear her over the roar of the city.
“You want to break up with the first guy who's been honest with you about his emotional situation?” I asked her. “He hasn't said he doesn't want to commit, he just asked for some time. I think that's reasonable.”
“What if he is never ready to commit?” she screamed over a cacophony of honks.
“That's the risk. You have to decide whether your need for control is greater than the possibility of eventually having the relationship you want with a man who is otherwise everything you want.”
“Gina, what's greater – your fear or your faith?”
I find it ironic that my girlfriends often seek me out for relationship advice considering my track record. If I wanted relationship advice, I'd probably ask someone who had been married for a while, not someone who was known for the explosive endings of her affairs. I do what I can, often noting, only half-jokingly, “I can tell you a million ways to get a man, but I don't know the first thing about actually keeping him.”
A couple of weeks ago, I started seeing someone new. I wasn't really looking to become involved with anyone. Last year had been turbulent and the vague thaw of spring and miserable excuse of a summer had brought me no closer to stability. Most recently, a man had cut through my life and nearly spun me off my axis. Like Gina, he had been faced with the choice of waiting or moving on and he had decided to go his way.
I don't blame him. Despite what he may have said, I believe he does ultimately want a family. I don't. That's not something either one of us should try to negotiate.
So, now, Rodrigo. There was no strategy because there was no intent. We knew each other, confided in each other about the trials and tribulations of living, including the excellent highs and catastrophic lows of romance, and hung out with some frequency. Then one day, we decided we should try dating.
Slightly awkward. Not because of him, but because friends are friends and lovers are lovers. The relationships are forged in different furnaces. There are different processes at play, there -- oh, why overextend the metaphor? The bottom line was that he had a lot of information and it terrified me. The situation struck against every principle of mystery and seduction I thought I knew.
Worst still was that I enjoyed spending time with him, so I couldn't make any space. I didn't want to suddenly impose space. But space is essential -- it defines erotic tension.
I couldn't reconcile the two things. I had a mild panic attack. My first impulse was to jump on a plane. Go somewhere. Anywhere, doesn't matter. Just get out and clear my head.
No, I couldn't leave. You can't just take off -- what if you decide you want to come back? You can't just shut someone out and take off when you have established fluid communication. You need no words at that point. The message is clear: it says “peace out.”
That afternoon, I smoked an entire pack of cigarettes while pacing my apartment. I thought about something I'd written not too long ago, about soulmates:
We’re two rivers that have met, different but now flowing in the same direction. We don’t know what will break our trajectory -- or if anything will. It doesn’t matter: eventually, we’ll all feed the sea. The beauty of romance isn’t in an elusive forever just as the beauty of humanity isn’t in an elusive heaven. It’s in the fact that right now, at this moment, it’s me and it’s you.
This morning, I woke up with my chest resting against your shoulder blades. That’s monumental because I might never wake up with you in my arms again, not because I think I will.
It's easy to say these things about a lover. A lover is a lover. A lover will be lost. But a friend is forged to stand the test of time.
Suddenly, I was struck with a realization. Underneath all the elaborate dialogue about erotic obstruction and over-intellectualized star-crossed motif was a simple truth: I'm afraid. I counted previous relationships, most of them with people who were unattainable, who enabled an affair with a natural end. And those that were attainable still found their end somehow, bludgeoned into the pattern I had created, the pattern that made sense to me. The pattern of great intense love with a clear, definite, explosive end. Painful, yes. But their predictability gave me a sense of control.
I'm not some kind of heroic emotional survivor, or a warrior for love regardless of the painful consequences of loss. I'm living out a familiar pattern, with lovers that fulfill my script, and spin with me through its acts.
I'm terrified. And to add insult to injury, I have become incredibly redundant.
Rodrigo and I went out to brunch the following day. I was still shaken up by the realization of the previous night and I knew he could tell.
“I don't want to take you for granted,” I said, without prompting, completely aware that I sounded like one of those hysterical women all of us say we'd never become. “I'm terrified I will.”
“There's a difference between taking someone for granted and being able to count of them,” he responded, without the slightest hesitation. “Do you know that difference?”
“Respect,” he replied. He took a sip of his coffee, then looked at me. “Do you know what the worst part of a fire is?”
“When it's blazing through Malibu?” I asked, jokingly.
“The coals,” he said, simply. “The coals burn hottest, they burn the longest -- even if you bury them, they still burn.”
“You can't be fire all the time. It doesn't last.”
I don't know how to be a coal. I know fire. I know burning through something until everything is bright. I know the heat that has no control and respects no boundaries. I don't know steady warmth. I don't know hearth. And I have no idea what coals are supposed do other than sit together watching television.
“Are we coals?” I asked.
“We're getting there.”
“I'm scared.” I said, amazed (and slightly appalled) at my honesty.
He kissed me.
This morning, I happened to stumble on something my friend Jack wrote some time ago that reminded me of my conversation with Gina:
The warrior class of feudal Japan has been romanticized in film and literature for good reason. Sublime martial artists, the samurai warrior embodied a way of life that embraced dichotomy. Bushido, ‘the Way of the Warrior’, tempered the violence of their profession with the serenity of Zen mastery in their personal lives. From childhood onward, they made a daily practice of honing both physical and mental acumen to an edge comparable to the katanas they bore.
A samurai meditated on death daily, in both a specific and general sense. They would carefully consider not just the gruesome manner in which they might meet their end in battle, but existential concepts of mortality. They learned to cultivate the ‘no-mind,’ the state of being where you were so keenly focused on present that neither future nor past held sway over your thoughts. Literacy and culture were extolled, and they excelled in fine arts such as calligraphy, rock gardening, haiku, and of course, the elaborate tea ceremony.
Espousing these ideals didn’t just make them fearless in battle. Equally dangerous, righteous, and sophisticated, they were vibrant human beings. Every moment was a moment to be lived fully, as it might be your last. So it’s with great hubris that I associate my approach to love and sex with that of samurai culture.
“Love as a life and death experience.” That's Jack's motto, and we often joke that if this way of thinking were a religion, we would be its clerics.
“Is your fear greater than your faith?” I'd asked Gina. It was time to ask myself.
No script. No armor. No ploys to create erotic tension. No artifice. Is my fear greater than my faith?
The knowledge that nothing is certain or eternal pertains to those who will be driven by this knowledge to pay more attention, to feel more fully, to enjoy more deeply and kiss more passionately.
This knowledge is not for the weak, those who will become crippled by it and refuse their own unfolding lives and everything and everyone in them out of fear that they will lose them. They will lose them. Everyone does.
The difference is whether you have the courage to embrace things while they’re in your arms.
I'm a writer, but I will not write the end of this story before I live the beginning. This is where it starts. I don't know where it's going. I relinquish control in favor of the moment. My faith is greater than my fear.
Photo Credit: Matt Day.
AV Flox is the editor of Sex and the 405 -- what your newspaper would look like if it had a sex section.