Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
– Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge
I was talking to my mother the other day and she said: It worries me that you’re so down on relationships.
To which I replied: I’m not. I just don’t think I’m cut out for them.
This upset her. I changed the subject, and we didn’t speak of it again. I hadn’t told her at the time about this dating experiment I was doing.
The dating thing — it’s more experiment than experience. I decided that I would try dating for the month of August, and I find myself strangely relieved that August is nearly done. However, this uncomfortable foray into meeting strangers on the internet — ostensibly for the purpose of real-time romantic interludes — has reminded me that I wasn’t always a shut-in.
Otherwise, it has confirmed what I already knew: The internet is a weird, weird place.
It also made me wonder what attracts people to each other in the first place. The system floods people with choice, but makes it virtually impossible to select a partner because, as decades of scholarship will attest, humans are not equipped to deal with too many options. Our circuits overload. When faced with prospect of attraction to everything, we find ourselves able to select…nothing.
In the strange bits-and-bytes wasteland that is Internet Dating, men say: I like how you look or I like how you write. Both of which are horrible indicators of my personality. For one, I haven’t always been a blonde, fit, thirtysomething.
But more importantly, I won’t always be blonde, fit, and thirtysomething. And as to my writing — this is an edited reality. So what makes for attraction beyond the headshot and the pen, then?
In a tangentially related story about human attraction, a few years ago, I was visiting one of my sorority sisters in Pennsylvania. I was freshly back from Asia, Africa, and Austria, and I hadn’t yet gone back to work. So I had all the time in the world to do things like spend a week in exotic places like Philadelphia.
My sorority sister had gone to her office for a few hours, and I’d gone out to run some errands before I was to meet her for an event in the evening. Between my errands and our meet-up, my friend’s husband and I grabbed a late lunch.
I was still married at the time, though by then, my marriage was in tatters, and I had dealt with that largely by running away (see Asia, Africa, and Austria, supra.) I had also begun to acknowledge The Obvious Thing About Married People Who Travelled, which was that some married people travelled because they had to — they did it for work; they did it grudgingly. Maybe they even went with a sense of adventure about the whole thing, but given the choice, they wouldn’t prefer it.
But for other marrieds, like me, leaving was like hair-dye — permanent or semi-permanent — and travel filled (or created) the space necessary to feel sexy, alive, and human again. That was, until travel became more than just boarding passes and hotel reservations — it became keys to a new apartment and a whole separate life.
(But for me, in 2009, that bit was still half a year away. I was only in Philly at that point. I hadn’t yet made it to Las Vegas or Washington or Monterey.)
So my friend’s husband and I were sitting in a pub somewhere on the Main Line and we got to talking about marriage; relationships. He had previously been married, and I think the stench of what was soon to become my first marriage was rising off of me like green, animated squiggles from a cartoon trash heap.
During his prior life, he had lived in San Francisco; he’d proposed to his first wife near the Palace of Fine Arts. He said: When it came down to it, I think she only loved me because I kept film in my refrigerator the same way her father did.
What brilliance; what madness! What…romance and reality — choosing someone in the days before we were all presented with vast oceans of choice. Our lunch ended, and I went on to the event. I forgot about the film story until very recently. I was moving my bookcases because I bought a new desk, and the slip of paper on which I had scribbled the story fell out of an old notebook.
That scrap of paper transported me back to my San Francisco; a dinner at One Market three years ago; watching the Olympics with Legs in 2008; my adventures there in my early 20s. I thought about the view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the lawn at Fort Mason, and the roll of film in the bin in on the top shelf of my closet, under my sailing vest — the yellow canister’s contents a complete mystery, but it might’ve been of the drive across the country I took with an ex-boyfriend when I left California for good.
It struck me: it wasn’t so much that I wasn’t cut out for relationships. Perhaps it was just that I wasn’t made for the fundamental loneliness and longing of too much choice, and maybe I had failed to see what was beautiful in the snapshots I had and hadn’t developed over time.