Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The dignity of alone

Safe in the knowledge that nobody actually visits this site (except Gal, whom I do hereby acknowledge as the first person to post a reply), I thought I would share some feelings on love, relationships etc.


Love: Alone again, or...

First, some background. It occurred to me to write something here when I was walking through the park with my oldest female friend L, who recently got married to my newest Scottish friend J, on the way to L's parents' house for Shabbat lunch. Now L, despite her extensive self-defense training, legendary independence of mind and generally calm demeanour, is petrified of dogs. She also gets very cold at random moments. But despite these awful flaws, I love her dearly, and J is under instruction to take exceptional care of her or expect a Glasgow kiss from me.

So that day a small pack of dogs came bounding up in the park and started running round her heels. L screamed and burst into tears, J fended the mutts and their equally slobbery owners off as best he could, and I stood by helplessly, wondering where I was meant to be and why I felt like such a loose end. Now in the olden days before L found love, it would have been me there fending the dogs off and lending her my hanky.

It was a moment of realisation - I am alone. Not lonely though; just alone. Now everyone around me keeps getting engaged or married, or asking when I'm going to find a nice girl. I have never been in love. Apparently I am supposed to want to be.

Later on at the house, when L had her traditional pre-luncheon chill, J took L's hands in his and warmed them up, and draped himself around her shoulders until she stopped shivering; another duty I have passed on to him. Meanwhile, I got to adopt L's old post on the other side of the table so her sister E could fall asleep on my shoulder before dessert - not bad consolation...

Still, I am having some difficulty with the concept of love and why I need it. I am also getting royally pissed off with a friend who we shall merely refer to here as Bison, who uses the line "you can't know X because you've never been in love/had a relationship" as a get-out every time my fierce and undeniable logic runs up against his fierce and undeniable lust for women.

Maybe I am influenced by the fact that the dappy lovey dovey caring Michael just never really gets to be happy, whereas the cocky, demanding, crude, witty Michael seems to have a ball.


"Zwei Seelen wohnen, ach, in meiner Brust"

Cue some advice from my Volkisches Freund re a friend who I thought was something more: "This may sound like patronising sh*te, but bear with me: The reason you'll go far in business is that you have the mentality of an entrepreneur as opposed to that of an employee. The difference is, the 'employee' type looks for existing (job) opportunities that someone else has created, whereas the entrepreneur creates opportunities for himself (and sometimes employment for others too). He sees himself as a person who can influence what's going on around him, whereas the employee essentially views himself as powerless in a world shaped by others.

Now, the point: Don't be an employee in lurve. Be an entrepreneur. Whether this is a 'lovely friends' thing to her or more, is partly determined by yourself, there is room for you to influence that. I'm positive that you got this far with her due in no small measure to the cool stuff you have pulled off already. Even if you decide that this particular venture is too risky (which I still doubt), make sure you keep that entrepreneurial spirit. It's sexy and I wish I had more of it."

Ladies and gentlemen, my Volkisches Freund took his own advice, became an entrepreneur, moved country and found love with a charming Israeli girl.

Some advice from one of my five most attractive friends: "Although you sound like you're in a bit of a lull at the moment, you actually sound quite clear-headed about where your priorities lie. I think you've made a life for yourself work-wise but possibly the other aspects of a full existence are a bit lacking.

That's not a criticism as I've been known to fall into that trap myself, but sometimes it is worth taking a bit of time out to think about things. I too have the problem that I don't have enough casual relationships, I need to let my guard down a bit but I think we both have the same view that if something isn't going to lead anywhere long-term then what's the point? Maybe the point is to live in the moment and have a bit of fun, let oneself go a bit and not to take life and yourself too seriously. I'd love to follow my own advice but if I could do that I'd be a much better person for it! I guess you can't force yourself to act in a way that's essentially not 'you'."


No man is an island

One of my main problems is that I am dangerously honest about things - I rationalise things at a terrifying pace - opinions, emotions etc. This can be quite lonely, waiting for other people to work out what they feel about events, other people etc, and why, and then trying to communicate this to me when I'm already long moved onto the next challenge. In a work environment it can seem a bit arrogant and certainly intimidating when I announce the "right answer" after appearing not to even be listening to the debate and doodling on a pad, while everyone else wanted to go into nice little teams and work together to find the solution - then it's mutually frustrating when I'm not even sure how I got to the answer.

On an interpersonal level, I tend to sum up relationships very quickly and cut out the "crap" of getting to know people I already know I won't like - or won't like me! Similarly, it's alarming how easily I can fall in and out of fancy/love/lust for people, or cut irritating/feeble friends out of my life without a second glace when everyone else would keep forgiving them and hoping they'd change; and I'm totally sanguine about it. Apparently on the Simmons EQ profile (like IQ but emotional) I score a gazillion points for being accurately self-critical and for learning from my experiences, but pretty shitty at the nitty gritty. Neat ditty. Pity Walter Mitty. Cardiff City. Hmmm, also have a tendency to let my mind wander.

Hence the nice Occupational Health lady said I'd never be truly happy and fulfilled at BP - I needed to be free as a bird, running my own business, getting paid to be me - turning what society has deemed as apparent weaknesses into strengths (and cash). Meanwhile the emotional intelligence bit of me says I'll equally never be fulfilled by a single person - I have come to think that there is no "the one", however hard you look. You find someone you're comfortable with, mix in a bit of passion and some intellectual stimulation, and top it off with a mixed bunch of friends and family to provide for all your needs. No single person can "complete" you.

How easy it is to fall for a notion, then manipulate the nearest person in your mind's eye to fit that notion. Which explains one's often-blinkered sense of feelings being reciprocated. Also makes for a sickening sense of emptiness, not for oneself, but in grim realisation that most people in relationships are probably lying to themselves (and each other!), consciously or unconsciously. The only person who can "complete" you is yourself . Love - and lovers - act as a catalyst. The person you end up with helps you to find yourself.

Have I made sense so far? I probably should have stopped before all the deep crap came waffling out. There was a reason for this. Ah yes, go with the flow, have fun, live the moment et al. See, I did it again, gave a "solution" when the right thing to do was let you spend many happy years working this out for yourself! Minds you, this is the answer that works for me, not anyone else. The whole hopeless romantic thing might just be me forcing myself to act in a way that's not really me. Society's (im)position is that people are weak and need stuff like love and religion to give them a sense of well-being and self-assurance. No man is an island, eh John Donne? Reassuring words, but I'm not buying. I think the BeeGees had it better:-

Islands in the stream
That is what we are
No one in between
How can we be wrong
Sail away with me
To another world
And we rely on each other, ah ha
From one lover to another, ah ha

See, all islands, but interacting, bettering ourselves through each other. Donne was half-right - after "no man is an island, entire of itself" he adds "any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." Now that bit I do agree with.

Ah, now I'm taking life and myself too seriously. You see, playing right into the hands of Donne again. It's worth taking time out to think, but not if you're clever enough to think deeply, and especially not if you might be able to rationalise and express the jumble of thoughts, emotions, instincts that come leaping forth. This is me with my guard down. Me with my guard up, that's the Mills-and-Boon flirty emails. People keep their guard up because they're scared of the Pandora's Box of their own mind.

Classic example (here comes the science part) - allegedly we use only 10% of our brain capacity - a well-rehearsed urban myth totally not borne out by science. This keeps people believing in their own stupidity and inability to comprehend the world or the feelings they have. Let your guard down, and "whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it." That's Goethe, the man with the highest recorded IQ of over 200.

I'm just a believer in people fulfilling potential, as defined by themselves, not others and the mores of this dreadful society. Which incidentally I've decided it is my goal to change. (My word, I could set up my own cult! How cool.)

Unfortunately, so many people are arbiters of what my esteemed philosopher friend Blond has christened "designer ambiguity". People hate to really spell out what they think/know/feel. Political correctness ends up being blandness. As you all know, I don't live my life in grey. It's black, white and very full colour at all times. People who clearly like the greyness react with sheer terror at joining me on the "Bright Side of Life".


"Man is gifted with reason"

And I forgive the Bison all his negation of my opinions - here's his response (quoting from Erich Fromm – The Art of Loving): "“Man is gifted with reason; he is life being aware of itself; he has awareness of himself, of his fellow man, of his past, and of the possibilities of his future. This awareness of himself as a separate entity, the awareness of his own short life span, of the fact that without his will he is born and against his will he dies, that he will die before those whom he loves, or they before him, the awareness of his aloneness and separateness, of his helplessness before the forces of nature and society, all this makes his separate, disunited existence and unbearable prison. He would become insane could he not liberate himself from this prison and reach out, unite himself in some form or another with men, with the world outside.

The experience of separateness arouses anxiety; it is, indeed, the source of all anxiety. Being separate means being cut off, without and capacity to use my human powers……The deepest need of man, then, is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of this aloneness.”

Fromm goes on to say that it is not merely our capacity to love someone that it is important, but our capacity to be loved. We must first love ourselves and therefore ‘complete’ ourselves as much as possible before we can consider a permanent union with someone else. This notion, and the quote above shows that we are totally unable to complete ourselves as we are frightfully self aware - that a lover is not a catalyst but moreover a necessity.

Your admission that there probably is no ‘the one’ out there is true but I fear it has led you to discard future relationships as merely trivial and second best. On the contrary, they are far from it. You have been looking for the ‘perfect package, a commodity to be obtained’ as Fromm described. Try to look for the imperfect package, someone that needs you to complete her. How could someone perfect need you to complete them? By two imperfect beings coming together only then can they realise why they love each other in a totally unique way because of their imperfections."


Better to have loved and lost?

I am incredibly envious people who come to their own conclusions having actually had the meaningful relationship. I buy into Tennyson's "better to have loved and lost" line (pinched of St Augustine) a lot more than Victor Hugo's repertoire of dignified and poignant unrequiteds (Hunchback of Notre Dame, Eponine in Les Mis etc - my word, the man must have had his heart broken a few times). There is nothing beautiful in a love unrequited. It is a solitude no other can understand, a chasm of emotions at once dark hateful black and pure unblemished white. My favourite Welsh proverb is "Loving a woman who scorns you is like licking honey from a thorn".

"Love sought is good, but giv'n unsought is better"? Bullshit. Twice. 1. Go and seek it (sorry, I should source my quotes, I think that's Shakespeare's Twelfth Night). Unless you're at the top of that learning curve in which case you have made a mature and incredibly brave decision to move on. 2. It's irritating when you didn't ask for it and someone dumps it on you, and it takes a lot of courage to get past it (and help the poor bugger do the same).

Have you ever read the Book of Amos by the way? It's very interesting as a commentary on the virtues of looking after your fellow man, being generally decent, affording others the opportunity to grow and learn from you, as you in turn grow and learn from them, and the importance of communal responsibility. Also my view of the key message is that black can be white and vice versa.

By now you have either mashed the keyboard with your sleeping head and are drooling into the carpet, or are about to reply to knock the self-indulgent pop philosophy. It's a wonderful irony that I try so hard to despise Dawson's Creek and yet I am a small part of all the characters - complex, twenty-something, cynical, struggling to work myself out in a stainless-steel corporate environment where I should have been working on something else today...

One thing having a huge ego like mine does, it means you seldom doubt yourself. Coupled with my propensity for unwavering, objective honesty, the only time I have self-doubt and questions over my own worth and worthiness to other people, are when I really have screwed up. The rest of the time I take a happy-go-lucky approach which seems to work - and attracts friends who remain thoroughly loyal even if sometimes I piss them off. You can't second-guess what people think of you. My view is they will think what you think of yourself.

You know in interviews, they ask "if you could describe yourself in 5 words" and/or "if your friends described you in 5 words" - these should be exactly the same, and they should all be totally true. Try it! Mine would be honest, erudite, passionate, lateral-thinking, laid-back. Feel free to disagree! Maybe my friends wouldn't say "erudite"...

My worldview is pretty complex but I'd whittle it down to a very basic underlying philosophy. Each of us has a relatively small sphere of influence. Never worry too much about anything outside this sphere of influence and be honest about where the boundary lies. Work on expanding your sphere of influence if you like - or even contracting it if there's something you simply can't cope with the responsibility for. But mainly focus on things within your control.

Applying this to you:- you can't try to affect what people think of you without being unnatural and untrue to yourself; all you can do is be honest and trust that if people seem to warm to it, it's because you're not a bad person, and they feel comfortable with you, and will learn and grow as a result. Try not to question the cause of a friendship - it's usually very intangible and often irrational.

A fun exercise is to pay a profound compliment to each of your friends - beyond the superficial. I told one friend that he was the only guy in the world where to say he was a simple guy would be a huge compliment. I told another that he had the amazing characteristic of being totally aware of and honest about his limitations. I hope at some point I'll know you, dear reader, well enough to think of one for you. But that's currently outside my sphere of influence, and within yours...