The Diet 7-Up of Happiness
Of the things that I don’t know about, this would be a big one of them.
So, I’ve been dating a guy for four months as of June 13th. (He will no doubt read this at some point, i.e. when he remembers that I have a web site to which I sometimes add entries concerning the things that are happening to me in my life, so keep that in mind, though it only means that I will not mention his name because it’s not important in the context of this journal entry and that I will walk daintily around certain subjects and opinions that I feel free to discuss with him in private but which I believe should only be discussed in private unless both parties are weird enough to have web sites they devote to themselves and decide it would be a way to boost traffic to have a sort of soap opera digest version of their love life in public so the voyeurs in the audience have something to keep them interested, namely sex.) This is my longest relationship in the world ever. And boy, am I confused.
He is now being referred to as my boyfriend in the circle of friends which both include and exclude him. You know how that is? When you are introduced to a “friend of a friend” and then you discover, because it’s a small world after all, that you know that other guy and so does he but you know him because he’s your masseur but he knows him because they occasionally do drag together and you call him Michael but he calls him Precious and you keep referring to him until one day you discover they are the same person? I’m sure that happens to everyone.
Anyway: boyfriend. Boyfriend? Boyfriend. I tried it out for size, that word, the other day, attempting to just toss it off like I was using the word “shirt” or “coffee.” You know, an everyday word you use every day. “So, I was down in Union Square with my boyfriend on Saturday and…”
Caught. “You know, [name] and I. We were…”
“You said ‘boyfriend.'”
Ignore that. “Anyway, we were…”
“Is he what?”
“I dunno, I guess so. Anyway…”
“Wait, you can’t just start calling him your boyfriend unless he’s your boyfriend. Have you had The Talk?”
The Talk. You know how this works? The Talk? The Talk is the “where are we and what are we doing and is it just you and me, now, and no one else?” Talk. Before I fell into this relationship, my dating life consisted of a lot of juggling. I would see two, three, maybe four guys at the same time. I would go on two, three, maybe four dates. Sometimes they’d involve sex, sometimes not. Sometimes we’d eat dinner, sometimes a movie, sometimes just have sex. Sometimes, both of us knew that the only thing going for us was the sex. Sometimes, one of us would realize that the sex wasn’t working, but we liked each other as friends, but was that enough, and what did that mean? And you practice the art of not minding very much. And the other art, the very refined art, of selective ignorance.
That’s where you know that the other guy is doing the same thing you’re doing, only neither one of you ever talk about it. You’re both juggling, you’re both weighing your options; Will someone better (e.g. funnier, smarter, more attractive, etc.) some along? Do I like this guy enough to ignore the flirtations of other guys? Do I want to stop fucking around and just fuck around in one bed? Do I enjoy the game, or am I tired of it, yet?
“Which talk? About who bottoms and who…”
“No, God no. The Talk about exclusivity.”
“Oh. Sort of.”
“So are you?”
“I am, too.”
“So, you’re both exclusive.”
“I believe so.”
“To each other.”
“As far as I know.”
“You’re being awfully cagey.”
Time passes quickly, for one reason or another, and I suddenly find that I’ve been dating the same guy for months. Months. And I ask myself, okay, is this love? Am I in love? In the immortal words of Howard Jones, what is love, anyway? Does anybody love anybody anyway? Is it some overwhelming feeling that swells up from inside you and engulfs you and surrounds you and swallows you whole? Or is it the comfort of knowing he’s there, simply that, and the difference isn’t reliability, like a Honda, or omnipresence, like television. It’s the he of him, the total of him, him alone, whatever that thing is, the difference, the value, the piece you were missing only you didn’t know it.
The good thing, for me, is that I think (I think) he understands me. It isn’t that he “totally gets me,” because even I don’t totally get me. That’s what therapy’s for. But he understands me. He calls me on my shit. He leaves me alone when I need to be left alone. He has his own things which he does and which do not include me, and I have my own things which… include him more and more. And vice versa, if I think about it.
My therapist is in a tizzy about the whole affair. Overjoyed, enraptured, surprised and jolted would also fit in there. Because, you see, this is so out of character for me that it’s insane. I mean, really, this is insanity. This is a leaving of senses and a roaming outside the lines. Protective me? Self-conscious me? Afraid of intimacy me? With a boyfriend?
“I think it just sort of happened.”
“So you didn’t have The Talk.”
“Wait, this isn’t something you can be ambivalent about. Either you did or you didn’t.”
“So you’re exclusive.”
“I said that, didn’t I?”
“You’ve agreed to be exclusive.”
Most people, I guess, have learned long before they turn 40 what it means to be in a relationship. Me, see, I’ve avoided having any relationships of any depth of any sort at all. My friendships barely scratch the surface. My immediate family and I barely speak. I allow my cat to have her way because I’m a little scared that if I chastise her for breaking a nearly-full bottle of my favorite cologne that she’ll leave me. The closest thing to lasting relationship I’ve ever had was making sure I watched every episode of Twin Peaks without failure, until it left one day and never came back. Oh, I see it once in a while, in passing, but we don’t talk anymore and it’s just not the same as it was when we first met.
So maybe you’re asking, ‘Lance, how is that possible? How could you go your entire life without once, even once, getting close to someone. Surely there was someone you were intimate with, shared feelings, had something going on? How can a person, a seemingly normal (seemingly) person who has encounters with other people every day and isn’t, like, an ogre or a hermit… how can they never be in a relationship?’
And my answer is: It’s easy. Being in a relationship takes time, energy, patience and coordination. You don’t fall into it, you work your way into it. A relationship isn’t your most comfortable pair of flannel pajamas going in, it’s the tightest pair of jeans you’ve ever bought, but once you get into them you look damned good and want to keep them on forever. A relationship isn’t taking a deep, luxurious drink of your favorite beverage at the perfect temperature. A relationship is lifting a mug to your lips and swallowing a draught without knowing what’s in the mug in the first place.
A relationship takes effort. If you never expend the effort, you avoid the relationship. If you put no time and energy into pursuit, there’s no chase scene. You simply stand there, alone, looking off in the distance to wherever they just went without you.
“We talked about it, and we both agreed that we weren’t ready to be boyfriends.”
“So, you’re not boyfriends.”
“Yes. And no.”
“Does he call you his boyfriend?”
“Not to my face. Why would he? I mean, what, he’s going to be standing at the counter at Starbuck’s wondering what I want and say, ‘C’mere Boyfriend, tell me what you want’?”
“No, well, yes… I mean, okay, do you consider him your boyfriend?”
“I think so.”
“You’re not sure?”
“Not entirely. I mean, what if I consider him my boyfriend, but he doesn’t consider me his boyfriend? Does that mean we’re not, because there’s no mutual agreement? Or does the fact that I think he is make him my boyfriend, even if he doesn’t consider me his?”
“Can you just shut up right now? You’re giving me a headache.”
So here we are, wherever that is. Feels good, I know that much. Sometimes, we actually talk about things of meaning rather than comparing our wealth of Pop Culture References and that feels good, too. Boys being boys, neither of us have uttered the “L” word, and I’m not talking Lesbian. Me, I’m scared shitless of that word. It has power and it has depth and it’s huge and unwieldy. I have never, in my life, told anyone that I loved them. Like that. In that way. You know, the bigger, overwhelming, just you and me way. Unqualified, open, selfless and scary as shit love.
I asked him once about who he loved. He’s a lot more fearless than I am, though he would probably deny it. He has his anxieties that I don’t understand, but he’s… him. He’s very, very him. You get all of him whether you want it or not, and I still, sometimes without realizing it and often regretfully, hide myself away. I filter myself and feel bad or uncomfortable or self-conscious and shut down. Anyway, I asked him, and he told me about the people he loved, or thought he did, and the struggles he had and the feelings and sensations of it all. It was really quiet in the room, because we’d had a sort of argument, because I had done something that hurt him and I was learning how and why and what that meant to the us we were slowly becoming.
He asked me about love, then, naturally. It’s how these questions work. You trade your stories because you want them to understand you and you want to understand them, and you can never be inside them to understand it all, everything, so you grasp at the glimpses of their lives before you, and the tales they have, and the feelings buried deep. And I had to think for a long time about my answer. The silence grew thick and heavy, or seemed to, as I considered the answer.
Because I knew what the answer was, but I was afraid to say it. As I am often afraid of my emotions. And I was afraid he might want to comfort me, or judge me, or keep pressing me for a better answer, but I could only tell him what I just told you.
I have never been in love with anyone, and no one has ever been in love with me.
And he didn’t do anything at all. He didn’t look at me, and he didn’t make noises with his tongue or struggle uncomfortably in his seat as the pronouncement fell down over him. And I think I knew it then.
Yes, that’s when I knew. I would never have to be afraid when I was with him.
“Do you love him?”
“I’m not entirely sure what love is. What it feels like.”
“Bullshit. Everyone knows what love feels like.”
“You’re just avoiding the question. Afraid of commitment.”
“Well, what do you feel, then?”
“I feel good. He makes me feel good.”
“Is that enough?”
My therapist is having a field day. During our last session, she said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’d make such a great case study.” She’s intrigued with how I’ve managed it, and she keeps inviting me to bring him to a session. I think she wants to see for herself just what sort of person would actually agree to get into a relationship with me.
I don’t think she realizes it, but on at least four separate occasions she’s asked me to relate ‘three times in your life when you were happy.’ She’s very up on happiness, thinks it’s a worthwhile goal or some such nonsense. And I must confess that I am stymied each time, because I tend to think of happiness as being on a sort of emotional high. As if emotions were roller coasters and you have enormous ups and downs, but my roller coaster has a lot of straight, flat areas during which I feel neither up nor down.
So I think of childhood Christmases, or the winning of awards, or that time when my father swung me around in helicopter spins on the front lawn.
But the last time she asked, I had a different answer because it had happened only a day before: “I bought him a Diet 7-Up. He drinks a lot of it. Or, I guess, it’s his preferred drink. I mean, I don’t want to imply that he’s addicted to it and drinking liter bottles one after the other… anyway, I brought one home and put it in the fridge because I knew he was coming over. And he came in and said, like, first thing, ‘I couldn’t find an open store to get any Diet 7-Up,’ and I said, ‘I got you one.’ And he looked all surprised and said, ‘You did?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, it’s in the fridge,’ and he said ‘You are so sweet!’ And it was the way he said it, and the smile on his face, and really it was nothing special, but he made me feel… really happy. Just because I got him his Diet 7-Up.”
Someday, I shall wipe that knowing grin right off her face.
June 22, 2004