Monday, November 15, 2010

Fishbowl : A Meditation on Love and Family Life

I saw an ad on MySpace today: "9 secrets to get your boyfriend positively addicted to you for life". Why would anyone in their right mind want such a thing? "Boyfriend addicted to you for life" sounds a bit like "psychopathic stalker". How romantic.

I wonder why I still have a MySpace account. Really, no one uses it anymore. Except for John Foxx. Well, not John personally--his management runs the site. Still, that's the only reason I stay on MySpace. Because John doesn't have much of an official presence on Facebook. Yes, there is a Facebook page (run very competently by my friend Gem), but it's at least second or third-hand with regard to official information. This isn't anyone's fault; that's just how it is. MySpace still has the advantage of allowing you to preview songs and put them on your profile. The best that Facebook can do (thus far) is iLike. So, it's not surprising that musicians would prefer MySpace in that regard.

Back to the original quote--I was thinking about the condition of jealousy today--particularly jealousy in relationships. (That would be part of a romantic "addiction", I would imagine?) I've noticed that certain men try to gauge your interest in them by your level of jealousy. I'm not talking guys who are douchebags; I'm talking nice, respectful men. I've run into this a lot, whether in an actual relationship or not, and it's puzzling. Why would you torment someone who's interested in you--and who takes great pains and risks to see you--by trying to make them jealous when you do see them? It seems like a form of sadism.

On the flip side, these same men--who, I should add are not your boyfriend--in fact, are someone else's boyfriend--get very jealous when you either talk to other men or about other men. They indicate this by obvious cock-blocking when you strike up a conversation with a single man in the same room, or by pouting and making snippy remarks when you mention ANY other man that they don't know. I can almost see the cartoon, with the "WTF??" bubble appearing over the woman's head.

In relationships--there's sometimes the weird "power play" that goes on. The relationship starts off normally enough, but then the guy starts acting weird, and letting you know that you're not going to control HIS life. And you start wondering if you have a doppelganger dating in your place, that is evilly trying to control this person. Because it's definitely not you. No sarcasm here--it's definitely not you. And if there's no doppelganger, you have to wonder what their mother was like.

In any case, men have always been a puzzle to me, because they are so Quixotic, fighting dragons that are only windmills. Are they really that insecure about themselves? Or have they just been lucky enough to have only evil, controlling wenches for girlfriends, and therefore in abject terror when they get emotionally involved with a new woman? The pattern I've seen even in the most intelligent and mature of men is one of emotional superiority. They must feel more personally secure and confident than the girlfriend--if she's comfortable, then they're uncomfortable, and have to do something to make her doubt her sanity. As if they need to keep her on her toes.

Maybe this is why such nice men end up with bitches. It's really the only way for the woman to survive--by keeping the upper hand for herself.

But why does anyone need to have the upper hand? Is there such a thing as mutual respect and love? Or is that something made up, or only attained by sages and gurus? Who are not, I might add, in relationships? I'm guessing such a thing must exist somewhere, but it's a bit like the Loch Ness monster--we've only seen grainy photos of something that MIGHT be it. And even then it might be a hoax. But even if it is, it might still exist somewhere.

Can love exist in marriage and family life? I'm sure it must, at least in some families; I do have friends who are quite content with their marriages and family life. But it's not a life I could imagine for myself.

A few weeks ago I was in my old neighborhood, the one I grew up in. The neighborhood has changed a lot; it used to be a lot of vacation bungalows and colonials; now, most of the bungalows have been ripped down, and their yards totally overtaken by these huge McMansions that are at least 5,000 square feet. There are few trees, and almost no yard; it's all house. And the houses all look the same, with that faux brickwork and beige vinyl siding, along with huge windows and doors with tacky brass fixtures. I see the tenants of these homes get into their cars--bleach blonde women with day-glo nails getting into their white SUVs to go pick up the kids from soccer practice, yammering away illegally on their cell phones as they back out of their driveways without looking. I watched such a scene as I was at a stop sign, and I was suddenly filled with horror at the banality of it all. These women were probably the popular girls in school in their time. And this is what happened to them?

I just finished reading Muriel Barbery's "The Elegance of the Hedgehog", a book I highly recommend even though it's heartbreaking. In the beginning of the book, one of the main characters, Paloma Josse, talks about suicide. She is twelve-years-old, and already recognizes that adulthood is a "goldfish bowl"--there's no escaping from the life plan made for you. She comes from an affluent family, and is sure that the course of her life will be planned; her thoughts of suicide are her attempt to beat the plan and free herself. Because what do we grow up for, after all? We have big dreams as children--and then become soccer Moms with cheating husbands and garish, pre-fab houses?

I remind myself that I did escape from that, so it is possible. Like everyone else, I believed the myth that this was what I wanted. Then I got married and had a panic attack, realizing that for me, nothing could be worse than life as "Mom". It is true that I have to struggle financially since my divorce (not that my marriage was much different). But I largely get to do what I want to do. I work with old books. I write. I get to teach religion in a liberal arts context. I go to England often, get invited to interesting parties, and have interesting friends. I have a rambling old house with creaky floors, oak bookcases, purple glassware, shelves of occult grimoires, religious histories, and other eclectic books, and a big black cat for company. For me, all of these things are satisfying, and I wouldn't trade them for any boring, rich contractor husband and a brood of kids. It would be nice to have a partner to share my travels with, to have intelligent discussions with, to drink wine and enjoy wonderful foods with. But I also do well enough on my own, and the other will follow if it's meant to happen.

I feel the need to reiterate for the benefit of my married friends with family that I don't think such a life HAS to be banal--and I've seen many examples of very happy families. But it's definitely not the life for me.

I don't think I have a real point here. But then again--neither does anything else we do. That may be the point.

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