Monday, February 7, 2011

Love without Rules

In the Woody Allen film, Manhattan, Woody Allen’s character is dating a significantly younger girl, named Tracy. Isaac is a 42 year old TV writer while Tracy is a 17 year old high school senior. Despite Tracy’s affections for the older man, Isaac is resistant throughout the movie. He lords his age over her, establishing his superior understanding about the world, love and the future progression of their relationship. In one scene, Tracy asks while lying in bed with him, “What’s gonna happen with us?” Isaac responds, “You’ll think of me always as a fond memory.” He is her paternal and omniscient lover.

Despite his acclaimed certainty, it is revealed through his character that Isaac has no real definitive answers about relationships. His character was twice divorced and dates his best friend’s mistress behind his back. He in fact, admits in the film, “nobody knows what the hell they’re doing” when it comes to love. Even still, it seemed that Tracy had more clarity on her feelings, than did Isaac. She said she loved him, while it took him the whole movie and an intermittent fling to say he loved her back.

It’s easy to assume that staying married was easier in the olden days, but that’s not the whole story. There was a sense of duty and obligation that recent generations have only just begun to shed. Consider the narrative about the princess who is forced to marry a man for political reasons. In our modern society we consider arranged marriages to be either archaic or of the developing world, unless you had my Grandaddy for a father. Then it was he who arranged all marital unions within my family. Progressively people have felt less of an obligation to remain in an unsatisfactory situation, including jobs and marriages. Perhaps with so many vehicles of communication and travel available to us, we are more aware of the opportunities available to us all around the world.

It is also a simple thing to define love in a religious context. My brother once posted on his Facebook, “What is love?” and my Father responded with a Bible passage. I never forgot that moment in Facebook history, because despite the certainty with which my Dad pulled from his favorite text, it seemed my brother’s question went unanswered. I’d say so in the definitive since all of his life’s troubles are girl-related.

What is love and how do we make a relationship work? I won’t pretend to have the answers. I can only live my experiences and reflect on them, if only for your entertainment. We can follow the prescribed rules: abstain from fucking for three to six months, make him pay for everything, ignore his calls for the first three days and only text him after he texts you, blah blizzity blah blah. Personally, I was never given the dating rules. My Dad’s were always too holy for real life application and Ma wasn’t around long enough to impart them upon me. Further, I find that the rules out there only make dating too scripted and inauthentic.

When I first started dating – much later than normal kids – I was quickly frustrated by the kinds of conversations I was having with boys. Everything was so careful and timid, and I wasn’t accustomed to holding my tongue. And when I spoke my mind, the fellows didn’t know how to handle it. I realized that the boys were fully educated a skill that I lacked. They were scripted in dating etiquette while I’d missed a lesson, skipped a grade, something. I was out of sync. We learn these rules by dating in grade school and our parents affirm them, I assume. Dating, like religious belief and political affiliation, is a social custom that we believe is naturally formed. However, dating, like all other social customs, should be challenged and reconsidered. There are things that we accept because they are easy, like a prescribed definition of ‘love’ from the religious doctrine in which we thoughtlessly believe. Having missed out on the rules, I had to become my own pedagogue. I’m on a solo journey where I try to allay my fears of rejection and heartache, in favor of discovery, experience and certainty.

When we subscribe ourselves to a strict set of rules, we inherently deny certain aspects of ourselves that don’t really fit. Also, it makes it difficult to really get to know someone, when he’s mimicking a prototype. I think it’s best to define one’s own rules. Fuck what yo daddy told you. What are your bottom lines; what are the things you can’t tolerate? I’ve learned that I can’t date someone who isn’t at least as intelligent as me. I become horribly and unintentionally condescending and bitchy. There are non-negotiables that only you can define for oneself. You might like being in the position of feeling smarter than your significant other. The guys I date must love it, I guess.

As Isaac in the movie put it, no one really knows what the fuck they’re doing. So before rushing into relationships armed with absolute certainty and a list of ‘the rules’ I suggest we all enjoy the experience of defining what is non-negotiable. I think you’ll find your life was more fulfilling that way.

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