Partner in crime

I’ve always had a weakness for the canon of friends crossing that line and becoming more.  You know, that moment in romantic comedies when they decide: “I want to ruin our friendship.  Let’s be lovers instead.”  They are not exaggerating; when you risk taking a perfectly good platonic relationship to the gutter by deciding to bet on something more tenuous, you are rolling the dice.  Sometimes, no matter how much you fight it, there is no choice but to take it to that level.

Now, you might ask, how can this person who has only ever dated one person be going on and on about love?  Really, what would I know about that?  People forget that even though Andrew and have known each other since we were 14 years old and been romantically involved for 18 years (jesus christ!), we have had our fair share of ups and downs.  Honestly, I would have been more worried if we hadn’t had these struggles when we’ve been in each other’s lives for longer than some marriages.  At all of these emotional crossroads of course one of the options would have been to let go.  Making that choice was even easier when we didn’t have two kids.  But each and every time we chose to try again.  In my opinion that is more romantic than anything you ever say to each other on your wedding day.  When you decide to forgive and have another go, that party in a big white dress just pales in comparison.

There are a multitude of reasons why couples may choose to say together.  A lot of my issues and fear of commitment were rooted in never having been with anyone else.  Andrew and I have very similar life histories from having attended the same university and graduate school.  When you build a life together, the representation of your bond starts to have similar friends, streets and places.  What I realized though, when I had the chance to be away from some of these comforts on the other side of the world, is that I didn’t need to actually be romantically involved with anyone else to see how much better my partner was.  It’s only when you are in a foreign country, and you meet people of a similar age but vastly different backgrounds and outlooks, that you know there would always be another individual out there for you.  But, it’s important to make the distinction that what is possible shouldn’t necessarily be your future.

Can things change?  Of course.  I believe that love can shift and end to no fault of the parties involve.  Sometimes you grow apart and decide that being amicable is the next step.  It is not a failing to decide to be happy another way when there is a limit to our time here.  People are able to salvage these ties when faced with such circumstances because they remember the love that was there and is still there in a different form.  Even in other cases where you might meet someone new who will offer you something else it’s important to be mindful that the initial excitement will cool.  Are you still compatible when you have to be two adults making your way through life?  My advice to someone in that situation, seriously, take a year, at least 6 months to be alone.  Do not be with the next person till you are a bit less broken.  They will wait till you are whole because I’m telling you, if you jump right in, that relationship is not going to last.

Being with someone from such a young age ensures that you grow up together.  There is no one in this world who understands me the way that Andrew does.  There is not a single other person who I want to continually give more to.  He is the person I want the best for and I want him to count on me to be there even when it’s difficult.  The reason I don’t fear the unknown is because I know that I have my partner, a true intellectual equal to work through what is ahead.  We don’t really celebrate Valentine’s day because this is the commitment we make to each day every single day.  We have a resilient love and that is truly romantic.  And god forbid, if it should ever end, because you know I never tempt the fates by feeling like I know everything that will go down, we will always have the friendship.

P.S. Let me add some gossip to your Valentine’s day.  I have a deep affection for a certain Canadian ice dance pair whose names rhyme with Lessa Curfew and Dot Lawyer.  If you go through my archives for pieces around spring 2014 I wrote about them a few times expressing my confusion about the state of their relationship.  Well it turns out that I was not a crazy person and they did have a “thing” around that time.  Actually, they’ve been on/off since 2012 but speculation even runs further back than that.  They are a perfect example of two childhood friends turned elite athletes and business partners who have had to define their relationship over the years.  After a couple of false starts rumour has it that they’ve been quietly seeing each other since late 2015.  In fact, their Free Dance is about second chances.  Watch it here it’s gorgeous.  Fingers crossed that one day all of Canada can breathe a sigh of relief that the two people the entire nation wanted together figured their shit out.tumblr_oh9u18r7dg1tvcpffo1_1280

So you go

In my mind Before Sunset is the most romantic movie ever made because you know, that’s what I would want in an encounter, to talk talk talk talk talk.  Seriously though, what is left unsaid, especially when the situation is complicated, is absolutely delicious.  It’s even better than acting on it because there is a tension.  A tension because you feel something and can either stack it up to a thing of your past or firmly place it in your future, fully aware of the damage that it will cause.  There’s the scale right?  To judge if it’s worth it?

I think different people will measure the stakes differently.  It’s clear that Jesse and Celine try very hard to be realistic and careful but they cannot help themselves.  I mean they couldn’t help themselves the first time.  You only get off a train with a perfect stranger if you’re up for those games.  And those are the best, most exhilarating games that you remember much later on when you have the “good” life.  Who doesn’t love the beginning when you don’t know someone very well but just know how much you like them?  Before Sunset is the best of the trilogy because those fantasies are more grounded.  At this point they’ve had some lovers and are more self-aware so they feel like they can be as objective about the dilemma as possible.  And so they go.

While I say it’s the best though, it’s certainly not the most real.  If you want honesty, as raw as it comes, then watch Before Midnight to see what true intimacy means.  Building a life with someone always results in scars and resentments right up there with the love.  It’s just the way it is.  So when you’ve been married and have had two kids, talk talk talk talking can be dangerous territory because you may not want it all to be said.  But I’m an optimist and like to think that they re-group and try again, precisely because of those moments by the Seine, when they were brave enough to say what they felt and not what they should have.  You do not bulldoze over your life for just anyone.

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Cosmic

I have a photograph on my Tumblr blog that states “what if the one that got away came back?”  Ten years ago, heck three years ago, a statement like this would have made me swoon.  I keep it on my blog now to remind me not to be a fool.  He is never coming back and if he got away, well, maybe it was for the best.  Forget chasing and dodge that bullet.

I’ve smartened up because I’ve learnt the hard way that pining over something in the past is so completely useless.  It’s probably the very opposite of being productive and you end up not loving individuals around you like they so deserve.  But I see the pull.  The past is so much easier to figure out because it’s already happened, the present is what you’re working through now.  The bigger picture is mostly granted with experience but the good news is that we almost always learn to live with whatever plays out.

Don’t worry, being less naive has not made a cynic out of me.  When I say that he’s never coming back, I just mean maybe not this lifetime.  If you’re one to believe in karma like I do, you probably also subscribe to the idea that souls are somehow linked.  Now this is not soulmate with a capital S where there is only one person in the world who can make you happy.  How absurd is that, especially when you are growing everyday?  No, I believe that you only get that surge of energy when you meet someone, when your entire body reacts towards them because you’ve met before.  I believe that a couple of us circle each other lifetime after lifetime and the relationships are not always romantic.  Sometimes you’re siblings, platonic friends or enemies and because of your karma it might take a few tries to actually be together.

I’ve felt that seismic jolt a couple of times like I’m sure we all have.  There’s happiness in knowing that we’ll probably meet again no?

“See you next lifetime brother.”  If you watch Lost you’ll get the significance of that statement.  God, Desmond was my favourite.

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Dear John

Amidst all of the celebrities having their nude images leaked I said to Andrew, “how many times have we done long distance and there is not a single naked photo of me?”  Where are all the photographs of all the male celebrities without their clothes on?  Trust me, they exist but would never cause such a stir so what’s the point of releasing them?  Do not even get me started on that.

Andrew and I have been in a long distance relationship so many times that I’ve lost count.  And it will happen again.  He is in a field where you go on sabbatical every six years.  If I’m not in the position to leave my job for months at a time he will be living elsewhere on his own.  Plus, after a certain age you can’t pull your kids out of educational institutions to enroll them in international schools abroad.  So there you go.

But I feel like we’ve almost mastered it.  I spoke too soon when upon returning from my year in Thailand I said that we would never be apart again.  We’re sticking to those promises as best we can because I am currently living with him in the States where his tenure-track position is located.  Not that I would have it any other way.  There are few things better than adventure.  But soon enough I will have my own obligations and be fully to committed to my career.  I’m confident that it won’t break us though and here’s why.  The secret is to live your life and have faith in each other.  The days pass and then bam, you’re together again.

The fine print is that there has to be a time-limit.  If there is no end-point in sight you do run the risk of wanting someone else.  I’ve never been particularly good at long distance and the only person I would work at it for is Andrew.  I have no desire to wait by the phone.  So eventually this may wear on you and begin to fragment what you have together.  Here’s the reality, short and sweet.  Eventually you may get tired of waiting full stop, especially when someone could be there in your everyday.  Because the best part of the distance is that it makes your relationship have urgency.  The catch-up after a lengthy time apart is always passionate and exciting.  But there is also something to be said for waking up next to each other and being able to speak to someone about your context and them actually getting it.  Of course there are exceptions but overall one of you may have to make the move to make the relationship sustainable for the long run.  Sunday brunches every weekend never gets old but jealously sure does.

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Light my way

You knew the night out in undergrad was over when they turned on the ugly lights.  The lights that allow you to see your runny make-up, precisely how intoxicated you are and question if you actually want to go home with the person you’ve been dancing with for past half hour.  This is all hypothetical of course because I always went home with the person I was dancing with, my longterm boyfriend at the time, my husband now.  But it’s strange how this form of illumination makes you recognize how the alcohol, hip hop and darkness made you feel so free.  A moment in time when no one cared.  It’s the signal to get home that brings you back to reality, whether it’s that you have the class to get up for the next day, a paper to finish or that you fully regret that last pint that you’re going to pay for tomorrow morning.

I find similarities between this and the process of settling somewhere new.  Even if it hurts you kind of just have to look life in the face.  It’s always the mundane things that you do, little by little, that makes it hit home that you actually don’t have a home anymore and that your current surroundings are half-finished versions of a place to belong.  That there’s still a ways to go.  Eventually the light goes on that things have changed.

My realization hit me through metal objects of high practical value: when I changed up my keys and emptied out my change purse.  When I placed my new keys onto my ring they were so heavy.  So I thought, I certainly do not have a need to open any doors in Toronto the near future, so why not just put them away for now.  And that’s precisely what I did.  I put them in a place where I would not to lose them: in the pockets of my luggage.  That’s when I knew that I would never need them without the gear to take me back, a temporary vessel of my belongings for my temporary visit.  That place was basically gone from my day to day life and that was fucking sad.  Secondly, I kept going into stores and struggling to give exact change to purchases.  This was not just annoying but again, cluttering my wallet with weight.  So I emptied out the currency that I did not need into a ziploc to use on my next visit.  Just like we sold or gave away everything we could before boarding that flight, we were dropping weight every chance we got.  Physically I might have felt lighter but the emotional baggage will take time to shed.

Now this is my nostalgia talking and I know that it will go away.  The longing will lessen with a schedule, new friends, new plans.  Just like how I explain to my son that his grandparents live in a different city that we have to take an airplane to, I’m constantly reminded of not just the physical distance but the emotional one.  Lives always go on and in the best of ways.  After every month long visit to Burma where I savoured every last minute with my family, my grandmother would always chide me at the airport when I would get too emotional.  We were raised to be stoic and an outpouring of tears was the furthest thing from being dignified.  She used to say, “we’ve had our fun right?”  And of course we did.  And we will again.  Just like goodbyes are always made worse by prolonging it, you just have to do it.  Like Neil Patrick Harris’ character on HIMYM always used to say, “fact, when I get sad I just be awesome instead.”  So be awesome and if you’re sad, buy a ticket.

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The path

I picked up Cheryl Strayed’s memoir “Wild” precisely because she does the exact opposite of what I would do if I was having a tough time: she takes a hike.  No, literally she hikes the Pacific Crest trail.  God, I wouldn’t do it voluntarily much less when I’m trying to sort through some issues.  But this was Strayed’s path to reemerging from her destructive engagements with drugs and toxic relationships.  After losing her mother suddenly to cancer and having her personal life fall apart, those tactics of heroin and meaningless sex were an attempt to numb the pain.  “Wild” is how she found her way back.

There has been so much praise and press over this work but I was reluctant to commit to reading it.  Perhaps it’s because she takes on a task that is both daunting and completely unappealing to me.  Sometimes I don’t post certain images onto my Tumblr account because even though they’re pretty I know that I wouldn’t actually enjoy it.  You know those really grey pictures with cliffs and the ocean?  I know that in real life I would want to look at it for a total of 2 minutes, be cold and want to get back into the car to drive back to the inn.  If I needed the space to regroup I would either overcommit to work or be somewhere warm and uncomplicated.  In both scenarios I would be comfortable.  Even after forcing myself to give the book a shot there were sections where my eyes glazed over.  Really, it’s meaningless to me what material her sleeping bag is made of or what type of purifying salts she used.  But then as her story progressed I completely understood why she was providing her detailed shopping list.  She took on such a goal to return to the very basics.  Her life had become so full of distractions she needed to only focus on survival and keeping herself alive.  And those very material goods were what kept her from falling off an edge and disappearing for good.  By saving herself numerous times she was ashamed of her reckless behaviour previously.  She begins to respect her body again.

The hike itself is a metaphor for her personal journey and the plot twists make you wonder how it will all end.  In grade 11 we had to fit the life a famous person into the hero’s journey.  The whole purpose of this exercise was to teach you the elements of this type of narrative to incorporate into your own original work.  But tropes become that way for a reason: we all like to think that we are on a hero’s journey, that we will triumph in the end.  The pattern was pretty straightforward: there’s the beginning and childhood that’s fairly uneventful, a calling or talent that brings fame and notoriety, happiness, a setback and then the triumph.  I chose Billie Holliday and it was really difficult to fit her life into this design because she had had so many problems, the resolutions were not definite victories and her last few years weren’t exactly a triumph.  Then again, her art is her triumph and that will always remain right?  But still, this assignment taught me more about the ambiguities in life rather than how to write a good story.

Many of us hope for a long and happy life where at the end there will be a lot clarity.  Perhaps in our last years we’ll have so much time to reflect on how our life resembled the hero’s journey.  We’ll also be at the life stage where we’re more forgiving of ourselves and can rebrand mistakes as simply tests along the way.  Even if tragedy strikes and you don’t get this type of ending, those who loved you most will see your story in this way.  They will remember all of the good.  But if we all took on the attitude that it all gets sorted in the end would we have taken more chances along the way to live a bigger or grander life?  Perhaps we would chase after more of those dreams.  Maybe we wouldn’t give up so easily.  And that’s the best part of Cheryl Strayed’s story, she has the skill to use words and phrases to properly butcher people’s hearts.  She is raw, honest and forthcoming of all the ways she diverged and digressed.  But the best thing she teaches us is to keep on walking.  That we all end up somewhere.

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Sweetheart

I’ve been with my husband for such a long time that I sometimes forget that my thoughts aren’t automatically transmitted to him.  “What, you never told me that,” is a common phrase in our household and the level of exasperation varies depending on the severity of what I failed to communicate.  He is many things but a telepath is not one of them.  This is just one example of what happens to many longterm couples, when you become inextricably linked beyond the marriage certificate.  It’s also where the potential for push-back happens when one or both of you might want a different version of yourselves to try on for size.  Often the healthiest way to counter that is to have lives outside of your union, different interests and hobbies that allow you to bring something back to the table.  When you don’t exist solely for each other.

I can’t believe I’m actually about to write about figure skaters but whatever, it’s something that came to mind recently and I want to see the thoughts through.  The Sochi winter olympics has decreased my productivity precisely because a certain Canadian dance team piqued my interest.  If you don’t know whom I’m speaking of, they had a reality show, they are beautiful, talented and are mostly known for how they interact with each other.  It’s safe to say that in their sport they will be remembered far beyond their amateur or professional careers because of how they changed the game.  That and the fact that everyone and their mother wants them to be together.  I’m pretty sure that all of Canada would break into song and dance if that ever happened.  I get it.  They are two physically attractive individuals who clearly adore each other, however they deem to label their relationship.  We all want the rom-com ending of after knowing each other for seventeen years and being business partners, they end up falling in love.  I mean, Andrew and I have been romantically involved for fifteen and we get the same reaction when we tell people our story.  Their eyes light up as if our life is one long Nora Ephron script.  Shortly after marriage our friend M stated that we were proof that love lasts.  The fact that we’re high school sweethearts give us street cred.

But here’s the real deal.  That type of history makes it tricky and taking it to the next level either works or it doesn’t.  Even if you decide to try, it can be hard to maintain a spark amongst such familiarity.  For the said pair that I speak of, they met each other when they were babies, fine not infants but 7 and 9 are close enough.  After having to become adults at a young age by committing to being high performing athletes, they probably understand each other in a way that no one else can.  However, finishing each other’s sentences does not mean that you would work as a couple.  History cannot always hold its own against distinct socio-economic backgrounds and temperaments.  Sometimes stories like these are best left in the platonic zone, where you can be best buds forever.  That’s so much more sustainable.  So all those romantics, myself included, need to sit the hell down.  Because why muck up such a beautiful connection with messy feelings?  They and their story are far too pretty for that.

Also, no one knows what’s precisely going on with them so me and my gossip radar are calling it a day.

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New

I find that cliches become honest when they are spoken with such heart.  Especially when they are attached to earnest and articulate 22 year olds.  “I figure I was born alone, I’m not afraid to die alone either,” said a fellow commuter on why he wasn’t looking to enter another serious relationship, for now.  Who knew that riding the subway would provide such richness.  Wow, I certainly did not have this grounded sense of self in my early twenties.  The only thing of consequence I did at this age was get my essays in on time and even that was sometimes a challenge.

At the core of his contemplation is something that we all fear: to end up on our own.  There is such stigma attached to not following the normative timeline for life’s goals.  Having a hard time finding a partner to love and one to love you back is often deemed to be a huge misstep.  But what are we willing to sacrifice, what parts of ourselves are we willing to compromise to not look like a fool?  Which you aren’t by the way.  The reminders mostly come through social rituals of holiday dinners where you’re told to celebrate in packs.  The greetings arrive with matching sweaters, smiles and altered teeth.  These are the postcards that some long to send and are willing to commit to empty relationships to obtain that facade.  They long to put up the appearance of the perfect life.

Gwen Stefani in the song “New” begs, “don’t let it go away, this feeling has got to stay.”  The lyrics are relatable precisely because we all know that the electricity of discovering someone new will not remain.  All new things eventually become old.  I don’t think we could survive that form of excitement for the long run.  Passion becomes comfort to be more sustainable, to allow your heart to pace itself.  Wouldn’t we all end up in padded rooms otherwise?  How much fighting and make-up sex can one really take?

But asking the “what ifs” is perfectly common.  When the urgency wanes you wonder if someone else could help you reclaim and maintain that spark.  It’s the tail of the dragon that we continually chase.  That first hit.  Like the protagonist in the Italian film The Last Kiss realizes, the hard way I might add, that exploring those questions can make you end up with a wreckage where your life had been.  Kissing that young, reckless thing was not worth losing someone who actually understands you.  History builds the rapport and unconditional support and losing that hurts like hell.  You also ask yourself, who exactly is left “out there”?  Is there someone who you would actually want to devote yourself to?  Are you equally worthy of each other?  Maybe.  But I think that’s the gamble you take.  If you do decide to leave and make your own way, you know that there is the chance that you might end up alone.  That there might not be a whole lot of other people whom you want to take your clothes off for.  Cause really, if you don’t want to see each other naked what is the point?

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Guy

There is nothing more valuable than having a guy in your life whom you don’t want to sleep with.  I’m so busy wanting everyone to fall in love that I forget that there are more stable options.  Without the complications of romantic feelings your guy friend can be your greatest asset and this type of connection can always remain.  Well, as long as you don’t make-out at a party and things become awkward.  I’m not saying that lines cannot be blurred (yuck, Robin Thicke).  I can hear the naysayers now, guy and girls can never be just friends.  I see it more like a colour gradient.  There are some that you could cross the boundary for and others that you just do not see in that way and never will.  For example, my friend S once asked me in undergrad, a couple of beers into the evening, if I would ever sleep with a certain mutual friend.  I replied, yes, if I was drugged.  I honestly don’t mean to be rude or unkind, nor am I making light of the date-rape drug.  These are just the kind of flippant things you say in the your twenties.  But the material point is that I just am not attracted to him in the slightest.  And that’s great, he will always be in my life as a buddy.

I’m all for having girlfriends, the bond you have together is limitless and unconditional.  You can engage with them in a way that you can never with your partner and they will be there far longer than any boy.  These are the individuals who were witness to all of your lapses in judgement and still spoke to you the next day.  They have your back.  But a guy friend can educate you in a different way.  They can shoot the shit.

I often feel that my view of romantic relationships will forever be stuck in 1998, frozen at the age of sixteen.  It’s not that this idealistic naiveté has not been stomped on in several slightly mortifying instances, just that it seemingly cannot die and therefore is probably here to stay.  But along the way I’ve become smarter and I mostly credit the men in my life for this knowledge.  So here are three integral things that I’ve learnt from my platonic man friends.  Dudes, I’m grateful.

One, guys play the game just as much as we do.  Jesus Christ, how many different types of “hanging out” can there be?  It hurts my head how many definitions there are to sleeping together.  Sorry for my simplicity but I much preferred the clarity of high school when you were with someone or you weren’t.  You like them or you don’t.  What is there to figure out?

Two, in spite of the nuances of their intentions, men act in fairly straightforward ways.  If they want to be with you, they will be with you.  So often we believe that difficulty signifies a deeper relationship.  But the more of I’ve seen of this dance, the more I see the choreographed steps.  It really should not be that hard, and if it is well, there might be a reason.

Three, it’s all about timing.  Who you were a couple of years ago might not have made this match a compatible one.  Many a pair are formed later, when conditions are right.  Finally you are both at a similar place and phase of life.  When you’ve both seen enough.  The sweet spot.

Although valuable, these lessons have just strengthened my resolve to be romantic.  What’s better than feeling that while so many factors do go into making a partnership work, at the end of the day it’s just about being with someone.  It doesn’t get more simple than that.

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Fundamentals

My husband likes to pick things up off the street.  I don’t like to pick things up off the street.  You know when people leave their old toys or furniture on the curb for treasure seekers, or in my humble opinion, garbage day, Andrew has no problem inspecting its quality and taking it if appropriate.  I would rather die than touch any of it.  Upon discussion one day I said the following:

 

E:  That is where we fundamentally differ.

A: Right, and that’s why you’ll be bankrupt and I’ll be living in a mansion.

E:  Please, if you’re not living in a mansion by now you won’t be living in a mansion 5 years from now when you divorce me.

 

For a married couple we use the “D” word a lot in our banter.  Hmmm, is it a problem?  I’m not sure so I’ll think about it later.  But what this conversation does illustrate is that we are two very different people.  We approach life in distinct ways that is grounded in our upbringings, histories and personalities.  I almost feel sometimes that we are held together more from our common experiences than our compatibility as a couple.  When you’ve known each other from a very young age your lives begin to build around each other and these roots either serve as a solid foundation or they start to strangle you.  I really dislike binaries because they are so reductionist but for certain aspects of our marriage they actually describe us to a T.  He’s heavy, I’m light; he’s careful, I’m not; he’s emotional, I’m in my head most of the time.  Basically, on a spectrum of reincarnation he’s an old soul and I’m fairly young.  These variances can bring about friction and there is more room for heated debates about our next steps.  Do I think that a relationship with someone with more similar character traits be easier?  Yes, of course.  There are few things more exhausting than feeling like someone doesn’t quite “get” you.  But I think there are positive aspects to this type of partnership.  It all depends on how you frame the resistance that is bound to result from two different people choosing to make a life together.

When you think of your partnership as being a team it’s much easier to smooth out the rough edges.  I honestly feel that we make up for each other’s weaknesses.  If Andrew was not a part of my days, months, years, I would make so many more rash decisions and would be in a continual state of rebuilding and repairing my life.  If I was not a part of Andrew’s world he would be married to his work, be so frugal and not have the levity to also enjoy the simple pleasures.  I feel like we can do so many more productive and exciting things precisely because of our fundamental differences.  Basically, we can get much further together than apart and that’s worth investing in.

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