Righto - sorry to have been so quiet. I've been having fun.
This here is a story I did for the lovely folk at REMIX, you should buy their magazines.
In the next issue I have stories on Kinsey and Simon Gault, which will end up here in the fullness of time.
This story below was given to me to write whilst happily in a relationship and written while rather unhappily not in one, so that may explain the tone.....
How does one define true love? Can you, as with light and dark, define it by that which it is not? Or can you find it through examination of how it failed? What the hell are we looking for?
I’d like to know. My stories are probably just like everybody else’s, well maybe a bit dirtier. Like most people of our generation my tilts at true love have been a series of cycles of search, then destroy. And then on again to that process of pouring yourself into a person to try to see if this one is going to be ‘it’.
More likely however is that it will end like the last ones with custody battles over the toaster and a whole bunch of her friends who still won’t talk to you after they found out that you not only told her to lose weight, but that you thought her mum was hot. Anyway. Most times, most often, it isn’t true love and it doesn’t work. But it is as gamblers we stay in spite of this. Lower odds than lotto but we keep plugging away.
I reckon, having given it the odd go myself, and having found brilliant, varied and brutal disappointment, I reckon that the very best relationships are when both parties are high on compromise and low on expectation. In fact, I reckon that looking for true love at all, or believing it can be found, is simply a recipe for disappointment.
Although, I have thought before, ‘I’ve found it’. As often we do, in that first stage of mutual fascination and infatuation, when everything is going fast, so fast and neither of you are even thinking it might have to slow.
But then, inevitably, there is the period when you realise that she isn’t perfect. And every fault and obstacle and niggling concern eats away at your confidence that ‘this is it’.
And then, well then things get messy. Boundaries emerge then boundaries are broken. And with them those last romantic feelings. The battle of optimism against odds is lost, and the best idea is to make sure that you are not the one left holding more stakes in the lottery.
So why do we keep doing it? To what possible advantage do we endlessly put ourselves on the line in order to disappoint or to be disappointed? What is this true love that we expect to find?
The very notion of true love has changed considerably, and our generation is the first to feel the effects. So, as with many modern neuroses, lets blame our parents.
When our folks and their folks grew up things were different. Back then through a combination of social, legal and religious mores there were very few divorces. This difficulty in-changing-horses-during-the-race coupled with the fact that populations did not move so much meant that most kids fifty years ago grew up in a two-parent home and in one, or, tops, two places.
These complimentary forces meant that the kids grew up thinking that the ‘big idea’ was to find one person and stay with them. It also meant that all families lived, to degrees, a constant compromise to maintain it. Some compromises these relationships made obviously were worse than others, as in the less-easily-reported-and-escaped domestic abuse of the past, but it is also arguable that it was this greater willingness, or, depending how you are looking at it, obligation, to compromise that kept these relationships together. And together longer, more often, than we see today.
Because today nobody compromises. You are not meant to put up with anything. Fat? Don’t put up with it, take Xenical. Sad? Don’t put up with it, take Prozac. Wife not putting out enough? Take your secretary. Husband doffing the secretary? Don’t compromise, take a lover, then take half.
The whole culture is geared towards having what you want when you want it. You know, all that ‘not taking no for and answer’ and ‘always doing what is best to number one’; it is how we live.
Which is fine, in the worlds of make-believe, of marketing and philosophy. But in relationships, in our ideas of what is true love, and if we need it, there are costs.
The thing is this obsession and sanction for the never-ending new that is our legacy, passed down from our parents who blazed this trail, is having its costs, taking its toll you might say. This lifestyle and this unattainable ideal of true love are unsustainable.
The problem is that although the new and the self-indulging are exciting and alluring, are shiny shall we say, the problem is that relationships and love affect other people: they are zero-sum games.
A zero-sum game is when whatever is taken by one partner is therefore lost to the other. So, in love and relationships, the more things are favoured toward the interests of the self, the less is available for the benefit of the other. And, if you extrapolate it back out to that family situation, this indulgence of the self will come at the expense of the interests of those you are (technically) caring for.
And this is how the world has operated all our lives. This is how we have grown up observing the world, receiving our cues and following our role models as how to act, interact, love and most significantly for our generation, how to leave.
Our parents were the first generation to break in these rules. And at quite a cost to themselves, because they have the more immediate displacement of feeling that they are missing the lives they thought they would lead, those like their parents. Instead they have been the first to live in a time of emotional flux. It is now, in direct opposition to the norms of our grandparents, commonplace for a family to move often, a far away proposition than the rigid self-regulating communities of their day. It is normal to not adhere to religious codes of conduct that prohibit divorce. Indeed it is normal to divorce. In fact, oddly, it is now normal to have both these world-away scenarios of fifty years ago happening in tandem – a divorced family living across two houses in different areas, perhaps even living with other divorcees.
Just thirty years ago this idea that families might be split and then two split units might merge was so odd they made a sitcom on that premise –The Brady Bunch. And because divorce was so taboo they were split families because of death, not choice. Yet now it is not the slightest bit unusual to us. It is our normalcy.
Which is why true love is like a regressive gene, it is like, and about as welcome as, baldness inherited from your grandfather. It is a hangover of another time. The idea that there is just one person for you, that you will find them and you will be happy is merely the passed down illusions and delusions of another world. The world of fifty years ago.
The very notion of ‘true love’ is a romanticised ideal. It is an idea that conjures up ideas of solidity, ease, constant and continued bliss. The thing we look for, because we will know when we find it, and if we do find it because it is true it will be perfect, will seamlessly fit with our lives. Nonsense. Every word of it. Nothing good is easy. Nothing that comes without work and effort is lasting or rewarding. Everything has its opportunity cost.
Opportunity costs are the possibilities that become closed to you when you choose a certain path. In economics they are very easily stated, as in by choosing to spend your ten dollars on cigarettes you no longer have ten dollars available to buy drink. It is something we are all aware of, even if we don’t use that term, as all the time we make decisions knowing that by doing one thing our opportunities to do other things are shut off. But this reality is constantly being subverted. At the risk of sounding like a Sociologist, which thank God I am not, media and advertising really do work very hard to try to make us forget that our resources and time are limited. We are always being implored to have more things, even though every further small item we have stops us from attaining the larger items we wish for. Manufactured demand is what bores call it.
And we can see this in the way we today approach relationships, the search for true love. We have forgotten that in order to have true love we have to forgo other opportunities. It is the cost of tempered happiness. If only that illusion of an easy and uncomplicated love did exist. It does not, and that is why you are never going to find true love unless you are ready to compromise, ready to accept the opportunity costs of being with only one person.
And that is the hard thing. One person. That is our traditional idea of true love. What if you want simultaneous true love with multiple partners, what if they do? Potentially every trip to the dairy is riven with temptation. What if all of them are my chance at true love? See, it is rubbish. Show me true love and I will show you ten reasons that it is true, mutually beneficial compromise. But it doesn’t have quite the same zing to it does it?
So, seeing that we are the first generation to grow up thinking of true love as something that happens only in a Meg Ryan movie, how on earth are we meant to find it?
Well we find it exactly the way that our parents and theirs did. But now when the lustre dulls we don’t keep trying. We quit. Like magpies we keep chasing the shiny things, and like magpies we build, briefly protect and then discard nests, ever moving to the next one.
Now, with a shift in simile, if you don’t mind, the danger is that while we endlessly burn through and move on, like GIs in Vietnam, we leave no houses that can harbour things. And when the glow dies down in your relationship, and you head out to reclaim the fun, to try to find again with someone new what you once had when the two of you first started, you lose the whole house and everything it contained, everything that belonged to the two of you.
But that is how we do things these days.
We find true love, if we are lucky enough, and then we let it go, to see if we can find it again in a way that might suit us a little better. But it is better this way, no compromising see. Careful though, with true love, unlike all the other things that we continually make obsolete, there is no guarantee a new one, a better one or a shinier one will come along. Although, apparently, these days in our consumer world we are conditioned to discard. Not our fault like, why should we care what we throw away?