It was a long conversation, one of those that sneaks up on you; you think it's just a question or two, and it ends up being hours-long. And it drifted over to exes.
I imagine I have a lot fewer exes that most people my age (at least if you were to put all the 27-year-old unmarried guys in a holding tank and asked each of us individually, to which the only proper response would be, "Um, would you mind letting us all out of this tank now?"), mostly because through the end of high school and a good chunk of college, I was in what the grownups call "long-term relationships."
But I had enough experiences in between those relationships and after college that I think I qualify in relatable experiences. That and I've always had close women friends, and I get to hear all of their horror stories about dating.
I also read The Catsitters, a bad book that is nevertheless a very quick fun read, so I've been in this mode all week, picking apart relationships, and offering barely welcome advice to anybody who'll listen.
What I realized, the master stroke of non-insight that I gleaned from the conversation, is that I've been different people in different relationships. I've treated people differently, I've acted less like myself with some people than with others, I've gone into different modes, maybe dooming relationships to end sooner than they should have.
Or maybe it's just the opposite; maybe they were prolonged by agreeability and adaptability -- pushed past their natural lifespan by simulated shared interests.
The main character in Catsitters is a New York actor. He's advised by a female friend of his on how to date properly. And because he's an actor, he's much more open to change and adapting to these situations than most men; and a lot of what he does meets with success.
I wonder how many men do that. I know that a lot of men lie, or exaggerrate or feign interest in a woman in order to date. But once you're in a relationship, once you're past the, "Fine, you'll do, come to bed" stage of getting to know someone, how long some men keep up the charade of pseudo-soul-matism. I guess some of it depends on acting ability. Maybe some men forget their pretending after a while and actually turn, over time, into the very thing they were trying to emulate, like scientifically enhanced Silly Putty.
I like to think I've grown up some and that I don't do that anymore. I like to think that that's what growing up really is -- getting comfortable enough in your own skin that you knock that shit off. You stop being Mr. Outdoors or Mr. Party All Night Despite My Failing Liver or Mr. Really Doesn't Mind Watching Chickflicks or Mr. Doesn't Mind Shopping For Shoes With His Woman. That you gain the confidence to just be who you are and live with the risk of being alone in hopes that someone will find you, accept you, and that you will be Enough.
But I know people who are dating in their 30s and they're still sussing out what's a game and what's real emotion. It's disheartening. You figure out that there are great, genuine people who don't find love, not because there's something wrong with them, but because they don't play the game. They don't chameleon themselves to fit a bad situation; they don't laugh at jokes they don't find funny; they don't feign interest, try to establish common ground where there is only poison weeds, blubber inanities, put up with pretentiousness, settle for incompatible mates for the sake of dating and sex.
I see myself in a lot of that stuff. I did a lot of that, especially right after college. There are those wandering years, when you look for love, any kind of love, seeking and searching, thinking that the train is leaving without you. It's a lonely time, when you're in danger of losing pieces of yourself by desperately shedding layers of your personality, hoping that some piece of yourself that's left will match what the person you desire will want.
I know a lot of people who got married in those years. Some of them got lucky; they found the right person. Others looked back from the end of a lot of pain to realize that they'd left themself on the other side of the gulf. There was so little left of who they were that they had to go back. They had to find the long-abandoned pieces.
trying really hard in my life to learn to be myself. It's not easy;
the temptation is to please others, to adapt and change to fit each
situation. In love, or at work, with family, on my own. It's a tough
thing, convincing yourself that you are enough.
Hey, look at this! Stuff to buy! Haaawwwt-Damn!