Day 235: The Man and the Assembled Life; ‘Quicken’

pont-des-arts

I was out on Sunday having brunch with my cousin in Hoboken and afterwards we were walking along the waterfront admiring the view of New York. There is this wonderfully scenic and relatively new waterfront walkway with a few parts that go directly out and over the water. Like the Pont des Arts in Paris, some local couples have begun to make it a custom to write their initials on a lock and affix it to the wire grills at these spots along the walkway and throw the key into the Hudson. We were going to walk to the edge of one of these spots to admire the locks but there were two couples at the end so we instead took a seat a bit away just to watch.

I got to see three very interesting, very real, and depressingly accurate depictions of modern-day life, all in the span of about five minutes. Here we go.

Event 1: Cousin and I are shocked and excited to see the man in couple 1 get down on one knee. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an actual marriage proposal unfold in real life and so proposalclose, too. The couple looks to be in their late twenties; the woman has a stroller and running around their legs is a young child, maybe 3 or 4. The entire event is being recorded by someone I assume to be a friend of the couple, who is filming it all on his smartphone. There is something extra honest and ‘real’ about this couple. You imagine they’ve had to grow up and grow close and grow strong together very quickly. They’re a young, unmarried couple raising a child together. The proposal is understated; there’s no extra pomp or circumstance, no a cappella group emerges from the waves to serenade them, this isn’t a clickbait YouTube viral attempt with drone footage and letters bursting into flame. He makes a simple, honest speech about wanting to marry his best friend and provide for his young family, and she isn’t hamming it up with screams and tears but there is laughter, ‘oh my god’s, and even, in such a modern way, a ‘you’re so awkward’. She of course says yes, he slips the ring on her finger, and they kiss.

I am honestly and genuinely happy for these two. I admire the simplicity and sincerity of his proposal and am overjoyed by her joy. I just feel happy and lucky to have been there at the right time to witness this happening. It makes me feel excited, eager, energized.

Event 2: Literally two feet away from them is couple 2 who looks to be around their age. I hate to sayinstayoga it but there’s something too…’curated’ about them. Their clothes are expensive, her bag is designer, their sunglasses are gaudy. Both of them are too busy manipulating their own phones and angles and selfie faces to notice the special occasion that their duck faces are, frankly, impeding on. There are countless photos of selfies with pursed lips as if about to kiss but no actual kisses. Pose this way, pose that. The ultimate horror of the entire situation is when they, completely lost in themselves and oblivious to their surroundings, ask the friend recording the proposal to stop and take pictures of them. I am flabbergasted. The only bright side is I now have a completely legitimate reason to be able to say ‘flabbergasted’. At no point does this couple seem to display any sort of awareness beyond themselves. The friend is too accommodating and agrees to stop recording for a second to take a few more of the same constructed photos the couple were already taking themselves.
I wish I was more shocked by this behavior but honestly, it is a true sign of the times. The ‘oversharing’ generation. Aren’t we at least in part responsible for this? We put ‘like’ buttons on too many aspects of our life. This kind of behavior is lauded. Anything in pursuit of the perfect shot. There has to be a moment wherein any responsible social media user really has to stop and ask internally, ‘do I need to share this’ or ‘is this worth sharing’. And I still also maintain that your good story is worth more to me than your semi-constructed photo.

Event 3: Couple 2 eventually takes their leave and we are now left with just couple 1. My ‘real’ couple. The simple, understated ones who have more pressing matters to attend to than their social media feed. Wait what’s this…oh no…no…don’t…come on man…I vouched for you… Goddamnit. Displeased with the shocking (though to me also humorous and humanizing) interruption of couple 2, the man in couple 1 asks his friend to re-record the whole thing so they can ‘get the right video’. They reset to their positions, and I have to watch as he once again gets down on one knee. Once again delivers the same speech (although, is it my imagination or are there more sobs and half tears and dramatic fluff in this version) and the woman once again feigns surprise, shock, delight, and delivers that oh-so-real-and-honest reaction of ‘oh my god, you’re so awkward’. Real life take 2, the realler life.

I’ve lost faith in humanity at this point. I feel betrayed by my ‘real’ couple. I know right now it must seem like such an inconvenience and taint on an otherwise perfect proposal, but in the long run I think I and any couple would appreciate that little humanizing part of the story. The part you can’t make up.

My parents didn’t have a picture perfect proposal. My father basically asked my mother instamealover the phone if she’d want to join him in the US and get married. Their wedding reception took place at a Chinese restaurant, and not the gourmet kind. The Christmas Story ‘deck the harrs with bars of forry’ kind. It was ‘general Tso’s chicken or sesame beef’. Everyone got a fortune cookie. They’ve come a very long way since then. Both had long and successful careers in their respective fields and now they’re business owners. I asked them, if they had the chance, would they redo their wedding, or maybe do it over now that they’re much more comfortable and established. You know, they really honestly wouldn’t want either. They said how it happened is how it was supposed to happen, and it’s a funny story and a reminder of what they’ve been through. They want to remember it exactly as it was.

Nowadays it seems like if it isn’t manufactured, it isn’t real. People are so obsessed with presenting only the best and most perfect versions of themselves. You can’t possibly fool yourself into thinking that is the truest and most natural state of things, so either it’s a shared delusion or we’ve all just accepted that we are almost always lying to each other. Results are faked. Progress is quickened. Opinions are constructed. I was a bit disappointed that the first couple felt so imperfect in their real and honest lives that they had to redo the whole proposal. I know which memory they shared. But I wonder which one they’ll eventually keep. I hope most people aren’t afraid to share the less than perfect sides of themselves or their lives. If it helps, I’ll always encourage, welcome, and embrace the good, the bad, and the ugly. Just, no selfies, please.

Day 235

Man: 202 Loneliness: 33

Day 41 Supplemental: The Man and the Social Media

In an attempt to reach beyond my own self-interested and self-centered experiences, I want to try and reach out through the very self-indulgent surface of memory to extract some value for you.

My experience with all this can be summed up into this.

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After a breakup, social media is the devil.

Cut all ties.

Don’t go where you don’t belong.

Let’s break this up into parts.

Part 1) What is true does not matter. What matters is what is now.

  • This is the first thing I must learn to reconcile with the breakup. After we broke up and I read those posts about her and her ex, my reality was upended. I questioned what I believed and what I knew. I remember all the sweet words and promises she and I made to each other. I remember all the things she told me about him and what she needed and was not getting. Was it all lies? Because if it was true, then I must be worth even less than that. I was wracking myself with worry and self-doubt. How could she want him again? Didn’t she tell me this, and that, and didn’t it all mean he was bad and I was good? I concerned myself with the possibilities. Either a) she lied to me about him or b) she told the truth and ultimately it just didn’t matter to her. I never considered c) which is…
  • It doesn’t matter. What you have to understand now is that whatever she said before, whether it was true or not, is the past. What matters are the words she says right now. It is not your job to investigate the truth. It is not your job to convince her or yourself of what is reality. The reality is that you two are not together, and the words she speaks are now not for you anymore.

Part 2) There is nothing here left for you.

  • The second part of social media and breakups is you sometimes wish to see some sort of signal from your ex. You want to see some sad post about how poorly they are taking it. Or maybe see some clearly over-compensating pictures of some crazy party they went to to try and get over you. You want to believe that there is still more to the conversation and that your ex will somehow convey to you that this was all a mistake. So you spend more time on their social media than you did when you were together. Every picture, every word, you wonder if it was somehow meant for you.
  • It wasn’t. It isn’t. It won’t be. You know what, in fact, leave social media altogether for a while. Let the little buzzing of third-degree acquaintances gorge themselves on the corpse of your relationship while you go out and remind yourself of the things you did before the relationship. The truth of the matter is there is no secret code to get someone back. No one is going to get back together because of a tweet. And the more you visit, the longer you stay, the higher the chances of you seeing something you shouldn’t, or wouldn’t want to see, and it causing more harm than help. Believe me, because this leads us to

Part 3) You are better off unfollowing each other on social media. Because

  • No matter what happens, you’re going to feel like crap. Is your ex’s life going terribly? Is their feed now filled with despair and sad memes? Are they going out each night trying to drown their feelings in cheap vodka and even cheaper thrills? Do you think this is going to make you feel better? You are watching someone you once loved and cared about self-destruct. You will either feel shitty because it hurts to see someone you care about hurt themselves or you’ll feel REALLY shitty because of the brief moment you let yourself actually enjoy watching that. You’re better than this. You’re a good person.
  • You lack the genuine capacity to be happy for them. The truth is, in a breakup, what is essentially being said is that these two people will have better lives separately. And the truth is, usually at least one of you does not want this to be true. So you do not want to see how happy your ex is with their new job. Or that they are moving to a new city. Or even worse, you do not want to see them happy with someone else. I know this from personal experience, but even from third party observation. One of my friends is friends with her ex. Who recently got into a new relationship. Do you know what we talked about that day? ‘God this is so typical of her. She’s not good in a relationship. It’ll end in flames. But I wish her the best.’ Yo. No you don’t. Don’t kid yourself or me. Noble gestures need noble actions. If you want to honestly wish your ex the best, do so and then never concern yourself with what her best becomes, because it isn’t you.

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Listen, do as I say and not as I do. I wish I could tell you that I do not still sometimes check her blog to see what she says. I wish I could tell you that I do not sometimes quietly relish that while I am trying to move on (albeit recently with much trouble) she is mired in regrets of the past, even though her writing also reveals how little she is cared for. It does hurt me that the man she has lost herself to did not even remember her birthday and that it characterized her special day more than the efforts of her friends, family, or even me. I wish I could say that I do not still sometimes think back to the words she only spoke to herself and compare them to the words she so freely shared with the world about him. I am a work in progress. And if you take these words to heart, I promise you I will too.

Social media is the devil.

Day 41: The Man and the Confession

I have a confession to make.

I am not a good person. I am likely to succumb to all the same base moral flaws and shortcomings of any man.

One of them being vanity.

I would like to think I am above all this, but I am undeniably human and therefore prone to all the follies of man.

I like to think that there are others who think of me, speak of me, and I would like to know what they are saying.

Beautiful always kept a diary. In fact at our one year anniversary in college I gave her the diary that she uses right now. I never asked her, nor did I pressure her or even insinuate I was interested, but she willingly and enthusiastically gave me the special privilege and honor to read her diary once a week. It was like being given the keys to her inner world, one that I was interested in as one who loved her and wanted to take care of her but doubly so because it was also a world I found out I inhabited. I reveled in reading about my adventures in her mind. I saw how she saw me, I counted my victories and my losses. I knew exactly how she was remembering our relationship. I was the hero in her story. No one had ever written about me before, and I loved the version of me she had created for herself. As much as I wanted to make this not about me and more about learning how best to be there for her, I found myself spending most of my  time reading and re-reading every one of our interactions.

Beautiful’s voice had always been soft and light. She had yet to learn how to assign weight to her thoughts and desires. Reading her diary helped me to take a temperature reading of our relationship. The deepest, heaviest, most transformative conversations of our relationship were between me and the pages of her book. I would read, absorb, inhabit, her thoughts and then speak to her. In this repeated manner over the years I became able to anticipate her thoughts and needs. No one knew Beautiful better than I did, and my words spoke directly to her heart. I had made her heart second nature to mine, and I could read her heartbeat in her eyes, her voice, her touch, and yes, especially her words.

Words that, when we met again last year, seemed to tell me she was unhappy. That she was in a relationship that did not understand or satisfy her and that she did not have the voice to leave. I want you to understand that all I saw was her unhappiness and dissatisfaction. There was nothing that made me think she wanted me back and I said nothing to tell her to leave. I told her, as I always have, the truth of what I saw in her heart. That she wanted more, and felt she was receiving less. That she needed to be reminded of what she could be worth and could demand of one who loved her.

When she appeared at my door, in the rain, the night she left her ex, I was in my bed clothes. I had no idea whatsoever what had transcribed or why she was here. But I let her in, and she spoke more than I think I’ve ever heard her say about the truth of her heart, and for once I did more listening than talking, and then I held her close to me, tightly, through the night, as she cried for him, for me, for herself.

Then we got back together. And I was surprised to see how much of her voice she had found and developed. She was clear, eloquent, direct with what she wanted. I didn’t have to try too hard to know how she felt because she had learned to give of that freely and openly. Our relationship blossomed and grew fast in the past year.

I was surprised, but excited, to find out that through all these years she had kept her diary and had kept up writing in it regularly. But this time, because she was more able to speak about the relationship, and because we were different people, this was to remain her diary. It would have chronicled everything since our breakup. Every bad decision. Every failed attempt at romance. Every shameful hookup. And the story of her three year-long love with her ex. Things that were vital to her growth. Scars that needed to be felt and growth that needed to be fulfilled. And thoughts and situations and memories that she did not want me to know of.

I think you know where this is going. I told you I was not a good person. I am vain and self-interested.

One weekend while her family was away and we were sleeping together at her place, I took her diary and read it in the middle of the night while she slept.

Yes, there were the nitty gritty of things she did not want me to know about. Yes there were memories and stories of her with others that hurt me to read. But honestly, all I really wanted to do was to hear more about myself.

I went to the dates that corresponded with our reunion. And, I am ashamed to say, I read her diary. I voraciously took it all in like I did back in college. The words were so similar. The emotion so familiar. She told of how over the years the one thing that never changed in her life was how she felt about me. How excited she was for this second opportunity. How different it felt to be with me. Both familiar but also better. She acknowledged how different our passions and hobbies were but she was appreciative of how enthusiastically I was willing to try out her interests and accompany her on some of her excursions. She talked about feeling wanted again, feeling like a priority, being with someone who understood her so deeply and profoundly.

I broke a key part of her trust for my own vain purposes, to hear the words she spoke to herself about how much she loved me and how happy she was to be with me again.

Publicly, she also now maintained her own blog. It was primarily pictures and videos of her pet bunnies and food she made/ate. Nothing ever really about relationships, so it was just a fun read.

Until we broke up.

And then, one day, it just…poured out of her. Some sudden wave of inspiration and want drove her to write publicly and openly.

About how much she loved him.

About how much she missed him.

About how, through everything, he was the man she truly loved, and how everything had been a mistake.

Post after post, day after day, from here to Australia, so many beautiful and eloquent and open thoughts about him. Words she had never said about me to herself or to anyone.

And I am a vain man.

So I read them.

So my second confession must be that I have to admit that a good number of these wounds that I now suffer were self-inflicted.

I was vain, and thought she would ever still want to write about me, and I hunted down her words, and I opened up the possibility for me to be hurt because I openly and willingly looked up a place where I did not belong to read the words of one who did not love me.

I couldn’t understand it. Words that she would only ever say to herself about me, she was saying the same and more to others about him. Were her words about me ever true then? She didn’t even want to let people know we were back together so soon after out of respect for him, to let others believe she was going through the appropriate grieving process. There are people who never even knew we had gotten back together and broken up because of how delicately she managed our relationship. But she wanted the world to know about the man she loved. The man who, she told me in private, in person, and in her diary…no, you know what, it doesn’t matter what she said. That’s not the moral of this story. And if I keep focusing on that, I’ll keep driving myself crazy.

I confess that I am a vain man. That I would betray someone’s trust to feed a need to fuel my ego and believe that there are others who think and write of me. And I confess that my vanity has caused me my own great pains and that I do not know how to take control of this self-inflicted pain.

Day 41

Man: 25 Loneliness: 16