I have scars on my forearms. Both forearms. They stitch their way to my wrists like sloppy zippers or flesh frozen centipedes. They were once open and bleeding. Now they’re tattoos I sometimes forget about, but can find myself unthinkingly stroking when anxious. I was really scared to explain that I did this to myself to my first girlfriend after that bad night. I thought I’d be as ugly to her as the action itself was. Instead, she held both my arms in her hands like one would a sacred item and she started to kiss my forearms. Even though the scars are thick and I couldn’t feel her lips, she filled me with something both simultaneously soothing and enlivening. I think it was a little bit like love.
She hasn’t been my only girlfriend since that night, and she has been the only girl to kiss my forearms. I thought, cynically, that it would only feel good or be special that first time, but that’s not true. Every woman that’s put her lips to my arms has made me love her and myself in that moment. It doesn’t fade with repetition.
I have this starved attitude when I date, like, if I don’t make it work with whatever girl I’m on a date with then the jig is up, the apocalypse is in, she was the last person on the planet and I’m going home alone for good. I don’t really fully get why I think that way because, frankly, it just doesn’t jive with those intimate moments that refuse to be anything but life giving, the ones that never get old.
Dating is fucking weird for everyone involved. You take two people, each with their own labyrinth of neuroses and turn ons and hang ups and histories and funny bones and then expect them, with in a couple hours, to navigate the odd turns of some stranger (not to mention their own unexplored alleys) in hopes that there’s some kind of “chemistry” (a word that denotes a strict science, but might better be understood as alchemy).
But there’s something else. When Nietzsche lamented that God was Dead, it was the lament that some great spiritual dearth had descended on us. Who was to know that, at least in popular culture, and many of our own private wishes, another single human was supposed to pick up the slack (if you doubt me just think about the implications of the phrase “You complete me” and how easily G-D might fit in there).
And also, of course, if you guessed I’m intellectualizing to delay some inevitable tale of hope and woe, you would be right, but there’s been a bunch of them so lay off while I get my playlist ready.
There was that time I met a woman for coffee and we talked for four hours and towards the end of the date had nothing to say so just furtively glanced at each other and looked down and beamed then laughed about how awkward and non-awkward it was and both just kind of glowed. And, in a burst of enthusiasm I’ve come to fear and expect from myself, I wrote a journal entry that was just a wedding speech I’d give to our eventual marriage audience (they weren’t vows, and I don’t think grooms give speeches themselves… so I don’t know what I was thinking there). And I was so sure it would work because she’s smart and beautiful and sensitive. Until it turned out she had some stuff she felt she needed to work on and I probably definitely texted her too much.
Or that other time when I finally got to go on a date with this woman I just knew I liked (from her online profile) and the date was great. We sat on the lake shore in the budding spring and laughed and talked about serious stuff and she was playfully touching my leg when I teased her and I asked her what she looked for in a guy and she described basically me (I thought) and said she’d go on a second date when she vibed with someone and said we should definitely do that and when I texted her “So what do you think? Did we vibe?” She just said, “No, sorry we didn’t vibe.” OH, and I had already written another wedding speech about how my first one was dumb and this one maybe I was being foolish but I was pretty sure this was the right person. That was a shot to the ole ego. Lots of long bike rides in the rain and Sufjan Stevens after that one.
Oh! Or that time when I went out with that woman who was smart and funny and pretty and we went to a movie, then a restaurant. Then we did the same another night. And another. Then finally she brought me back to her apartment… Actually I’m gonna keep that one for myself. If I’m being piggish it both did and didn’t work out.
Look, there are plenty of other stories despite the fact I’m about as much of a Lothario as George Castanza. The point is, there is a kind of rinse wash and repeat cycle to all this that in some ways seems to directly contradict that sterling label of LOVE and INTIMACY, both of which sit so high up. And frankly it’s hard not to get downright cynical about the whole fucking thing, all of it: dating, women, society, humans, existence. I do not want to become some jaded misogynistic prick that’s too scared to get hurt again so he arms himself with the kind of dehumanizing attitudes that all this is just a game instead a really intricate dance no one knows the moves to (except we know a bad dancer when we see one). Because that’s what this is about. Can I be open enough to let myself be hurt in a very real way again and again until I’m not? It’s easy to say yes, it’s harder to live yes and in a lot of ways yes does not make sense, especially as an overly sensitive dude that used to drink a lot when things when wrong.
I’m not a person that believes I need someone else to become happy. In fact, I don’t really believe in happy, at least not as a consistent state of elation that last years. And yes we are in the land of clichés, but this is an important one. I would not want that. Can you imagine how out of touch someone has to be to live that way? What a drag it might be to be around them? If at every moment they were so emotionally frozen so to be incapable to reaching out to you when you were having a rough day. That’s what you might lose with that idea of happy: connection. Happy doesn’t keep me sober, connection does.
And really, I have to think that’s all any of us are looking for, really, when it comes to dating. That might look entirely different for different people, but isn’t that the goal? Not to find happiness in another person, but to be less alone in a tangible, consistent, and fluid manner? If that is the case, then no wonder dating is so Goddamn weird. How can any of us be expected to take such a huge leap of faith that some stranger might receive our weird labyrinth with grace and understand? A labyrinth (remember) we probably don’t full get ourselves.
I had this one date that was kind of a game changer for me. It was actually our last date, but at the time I didn’t want to believe that was the case. Because, she finally opened up to me. I thought we were connecting. She was beautiful and smart and successful, and we were talking as we walked down towards the setting sun (an orange and pink that evening) at Lake Champlain’s picturesque shore. And she told me that she was afraid to tell me what she was about to tell me. But I wanted her to. And she told me that she’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder a few years back and she fought hard to get her arms around it and would have to be on meds for the rest of her life and assured me she had a handle on it now and that things were so good and as she was telling me this her eyes started to drift out towards the lake itself and she stopped looking at me, or really even talking to me. She was just talking. And I tried to assure her I was entirely comfortable with it, there was probably little she could scare me away with when it came to mental illness, and I was so involved in my own effort in sincerity it took me a moment to realize how distant her gaze was. And I asked her why she was so distant. She said, “Sometimes you’re used to getting a certain response and when you don’t get it you don’t know how to handle it” a kind of monotone flattening the pitch of her otherwise lively voice. And when I asked her what she meant she said that her ex had belittled her for her disorder. Called her crazy. I tried to tell her I’d never do that. She broke up with me the next day. And what stands out to me her is the real core of dating. That, whether we want to or not, we are putting some of our essence up for grabs, and have no idea really how others will react to us or us to others. And that, every date, as buffoonish as it might seem, as bull-in-a-china-shop-awkward, there is some gentle element we must treat in kind, even if it just means we feel hurt, especially because we know what its like to feel hurt.
But look, I’m not trying to give dating advice. What I’m saying, if only to myself, is this: what if my first girlfriend had seen the scars on my arms and recoiled. I’d probably be wearing long sleeves as we speak. Instead the best I can do is continue putting my arms out hoping that eventually someone might hold them again and kiss them again. That it is important that I hurt when I date, and I understand everyone else has and will too. And I try to be as amenable as possible. Trite? Maybe. But the scars on my arms and her long gaze into the distance, a gaze away from me, one seeking comfort from itself we encouraged by someone who refused to realize what kind of hurt they could inflict.
It occurs to me that there’s something really bizarre in approaching dating as a kind of duty to another person, but I don’t know how else to see it, how else to deal with my own hurt and the confusion of it all, how else to remember the delicate balance of these oddly intimate moments, but with a kind of diligence about some (possible) importance to it all. Could be I’m heavy handed, which would explain why I don’t vibe to much with others. Who knows.