27 April, 2012

That could have gone better. (Part final.)

‘I wonder if another reason it’s hard to tell a love story is not so much that it’s hard to describe a first or subsequent love experience, but that it’s difficult to listen to that experience. Maybe people have some sort of unconscious bias against hearing other peoples’ stories of how they fell in love, and how this was wonderful and transcendent and the details of that wonder and transcendence, even though it seems pretty clear that this is something people should want to hear a lot about.’


‘Almost as if we worry – or indeed we know – that it’s in our nature to want things that we don’t have or that we didn’t have, and so if I hear about your being in love and listen to anything but the most basic and superficial details (which, as abovementioned, are likely to be extremely tedious and banal, or deploy vapid blighted hyperbole, or both) then I risk hearing in your experience something that sounds deeper or more special or poignant than my own love experience, which becomes, as a result, somehow less important or special.’


‘I realize this runs sort of contrary to what I said a minute ago, about how the experience of being in love is hugely subjective and abstract, which means it’s almost by definition impossible for your experience of being in love to somehow trump or exceed my experience. It’s like even though we can talk about our experiences of love and how and why we think we felt the way we did, and other people can understand what we are saying, at least in part by reference to their own experience, nevertheless any two experiences of love are going to remain fundamentally distinct. I just can’t walk that mile in your shoes, as it were, so I’m not really missing anything because I didn’t.


‘Which that’s another thing that’s maybe relevant, the fact that a big part of what makes a love story interesting and coherent is the potentially long and convoluted and in no way clearly relevant lead-up to the actual start of the relationship. In other words, the reasons why two particular people happened to be open to meeting someone at the time they happened to cross paths, and then subsequently had the time and interest to devote to a relationship with each other.


‘It’s definitely true that a lot what at least starts a relationship is coincidence or serendipity, but I think it’s often overlooked that any two people in love have huge and intricate back-stories that precede the relationship, which stories go a long way toward explaining why these two people might be getting along as well as they do, and behaving the way that they are, and so on. And so the point is that another reason it might be really difficult to talk about being in love is that the story requires a not insubstantial preface, at least the details of your own pre-relationship life, to give a listener or reader some idea of why you were primed for getting into a serious and in-love relationship, even if you didn’t realize it at the time.


‘But then the problem with this, of course, is that such a preface involves a level of navel gazing so prolix and extreme that either people just don’t want to go there, in which case their love story is going to seem fated and unrealistic, or they do go there, in which case the story is now doubly or maybe even triply tedious.’ 



It’s interesting to think how what Fench is experiencing might be the inverse of what his maximally beautiful girlfriend experiences when she thinks about whether a guy she meets is really interested in her or just wants to score with a smoking hot bird. At first she can just play a bit of the waiting game to see whether the guy will stick around through a few dates without scoring, or whether he quickly gets tired and moves on. The problem with this approach is that A--- is so stupendously gorgeous that most guys would give their left arm for a chance to score with her, and so are willing to wait an inordinately long time, and invest in dinners and drinks and Sunday afternoons in the park and even like walk her dogs for her while she’s off teaching yoga and so on. Plus also A--- sometimes doesn’t want to wait ten or five or even three dates to score with the guy.

The other problem with this strategy is that what if the guy’s interest is genuine but he gets tired of waiting, which if you think about it is probably what’s going to happen with a genuine guy who’s made to wait as part of a kind of trial period. The fact that he’s hanging around for reasons other than A---’s epic beauty means that once he realizes he’s being made to wait per A---’s S.O.P., and has thus been demeaned in a similar way to how A--- is concerned about being demeaned, well any guy with any kind of integrity is going to take his custom elsewhere. 

Of course, A--- could just score with the guy and then see if he sticks around, assuming she wants to score with the guy in the first place, but all else equal it’s just easier to break things off before rather than after there's been scoring.

Then of course there's the problem of a guy like Fench, who even as he’s falling in love with you remains uncertain about whether he’s really falling in love with you or more like the effect of you, [FN12] or at least enough of the latter that he can’t really say he’s in love with you in the ordinary sense without any strange or unusual qualifying language. In which case he’s not really being himself when he’s around you, even when you first meet and both of you seem to just say all this ridiculous stuff to each other, [FN13] but neither of you call the other out on it for fear of marring the beauty of an unguarded exchange, which for reasons you don’t quite understand or even realize at the time both of you seem to be open to and interested in just this kind of exchange, [FN14] and to enjoying the exquisitely beautiful feeling of floating away from the world with this other person, even in the totally lame and utilitarian surroundings of the LATX studio’s multi-purpose room, which person finds your authentic and unmediated self just absolutely perfect for them, and vice versa.

And in fact the more Fench thinks about this initial meeting and all the subsequent time he has spent with his ludicrously beautiful girlfriend, all of which time feels consistently good and safe and uncomplicated, he starts to realize that it’s only after-the-fact and alone that he is able to parse these moments to the point of the moments’ being even potentially fraught, and that it takes increasing amounts of time to think his way through the relationship to the point where he can start to even think about worrying. It’s hard for Fench to say just why this is, and whether it is a sign of how perfectly and utterly beguiled he has become that the only way to express even to himself how he feels pretty much all the time now is it’s like the sun is shining just for Fench, and whether that’s something that should give him pause. All Fench can really say is at the moment he and his girlfriend are walking through the park in a light drizzle to get some groceries for tonight’s dinner and whatever is on Fench’s mind is certainly not how impressed the grocery clerk is going to be when Fench shows up arm-in-arm with this vision, whose very aura of beauty seems to keep the rain from touching either of them as they walk aimlessly along, or at least Fench doesn’t notice that it’s raining, or at least not in the way he usually notices ordinary standard-issue life stuff like that. 


[FN12] Maybe the reason centre-of-the-sun hot girls like A--- more often than not end up with guys who are themselves extremely attractive (although not in any way comparable to the way a girl is attractive), is that these sorts of guys are already accustomed to being the centre of attention (both M and F), in which case there is no effect for the guy to find novel and appealing and so possibly confuse or let distract him from his actual feelings for the C-O-T-S hot girl. It’s sort of like how celebrities or athletes or even really serious and busy professionals (like lawyers or doctors) tend to date each other by dint of always finding themselves in each other’s company.

[FN13] Including especially when this average looking guy at your friend’s birthday party introduces himself as ‘Fenchurch Baume, but everybody calls me Fench’ and smiles at you in a totally uncalculating way – if anything he looks kind of tired – and since it was your friend’s party and nobody else would really talk to you (which always happens when you try to go to ‘regular’ events with ‘regular’ people who aren’t used to Hall of Fame good looks and so totally clam-up or get hyper-territorial and bitchy in your presence, M/F respectively, which always makes you feel complexly sad and lonely because to be honest you’re pretty intimidated yourself by uber-attractive people and anyway have a terrible time figuring out what it even means for someone to like you for you and whether it’s just too awful or conceited to impute to another person some non-genuine or dishonorable motive) that you maybe come off a little too eager to hear the story behind the name and feel kind of silly for asking so earnestly but then you’re glad you asked because the story turns out to be replete with humour and pathos. To wit: Fench’s parents’ were Swiss immigrants who upon arrival to a small town in Ohio (don’t ask, he said) in the late 1970s bought a small storefront and together built a pharmacy business from scratch, his mother even making her own perfumes in the old fashioned way for sale to the more fashionable ladies in this small Ohio town. These perfumes were eventually taken outside the town and the state and even the country by several of these more fashionable ladies, which when the out-of-town, -state and -country fashionable ladies got a whiff of these perfumes the demand was immediate and seemingly insatiable and a lucrative mail-order cosmetics business was born. This business accumulated for the young couple a substantial fortune, largely administered by Fench’s mother, whilst his father toiled away in the successful but comparatively small potatoes pharmacy business and nursed a slow-burning jealously at his wife’s success and the shadow being cast upon him thereby. This shadow chilled the husband to his very bones, which is why he had such frequent recourse to cheap grain alcohol and prescription narcotics, the latter being obviously his wheelhouse but both of which simultaneously fueled his feelings of self-pity and emasculation and humiliation, which as a pharmacist he really should have seen coming. These feelings eventually became so great that the husband one night in the warm Ohio spring actually set fire to the pharmacy in a drunken and self-medicated rage and then set fire to his own house (his wife being away at the time on one of her frequent business trips), which dual conflagrations caused such widespread damage to other businesses and homes and property in the town, including the deaths of three people living in apartments above the storefronts adjacent to the pharmacy, that the collective legal defense costs and settlement payments in two dozen lawsuits actually bankrupted the husband and wife. Subsequently the husband agreed to seek treatment in a facility upstate (which was required by the plea agreement that kept the husband out of prison on a triple count of criminally negligent homicide), and after the husband emerged from treatment in much improved physical and psychological health the husband and wife together built a new mail-order cosmetics business. It was about this time that Fench was conceived and subsequently born. He was given the name Fenchurch after the name of the street on which the new mail-order cosmetics business was located. In fact, the name was mostly the husband’s way of honoring his wife’s commitment and love for him (the husband) to give him the second chance he knew he didn’t really deserve, and to serve as a symbol of the beautiful and happy new life he and his wife were looking forward to building, together, of which Fench was considered to be a pretty darn good start, as his father liked to put it. 

[FN14] It had been almost two years since Fench’s last serious relationship, which had ended, tragically, when his then-girlfriend had fallen overboard a cruise ship after leaning out over the railing of her and Fench’s Premium Standard Class room’s balcony to get a picture of what looked like (and even more tragically) turned out to be a shark swimming off the ship’s starboard side. (There ended up being two sharks, Fench subsequently explained to the ship’s crew, which crew was initially quite skeptical of this claim, which skepticism you will understand if you know anything about sharks and their status as apex predators ensconced at the top of their food chain; except of course Fench was then able to provide photographic evidence because his then-girlfriend’s camera’s strap had actually gotten caught on the railing as she fell overboard and Fench thought he should at least save something.) In the wake of the relationship’s gruesome and farcical end Fench had been taking it easy, relationship-wise, basically waiting for something to fall into his lap, which is how things seem to go for average looking guys that are more than a little self-conscious.

Speaking of which, the reason Fench’s brain didn’t just implode when he realized who he’d bumped into at the drinks table was that that afternoon’s broadcast had featured back-to-back-to-back interviews, with especially ornery callers to all three interviews, the screening of which Fench found exhausting and stressful because if you think the callers who get through are ornery just imagine how offensive and belligerent must have been those whom Fench had to screen. 

A---’s back-story is that she had moved from a certain East Coast city to the decidedly more low key East Coast city in the suburbs of which Fench lives as a way to literally move-on after the end of her previous relationship, which had its origins in what for A--- was a tortuous year on that certain East Coast city’s Beautiful People Circuit, which experience left her so beaten-down and bereft that she hadn’t been really sure she even liked her then-boyfriend but was instead just looking for a ticket off the Circuit. To deal with her conflicted feelings A--- started doing yoga pretty heavily, which eventually lead her to a sufficiently calm and centred space inside herself where she could decide that she needed a change including of personnel. When she broke things off with the guy she felt just terrible, especially after she told him that she really only went out with him as a way to get off the Circuit, which her yoga friends all told her she had to do, i.e. hurt the guy with this fairly brutal disclosure, because thinking you were saving his feelings was really just a way to let yourself off honesty’s sometimes sharp hook. As a way of coping with the subsequent discomfort and self-loathing A--- threw herself into starting a freelance yoga business here in Fench’s town, also her new home, with unusual enthusiasm and alacrity and hadn’t really thought seriously about or even missed dating for almost a year. At which point her business started to go well enough that she allowed herself a few dates, which were OK but nothing special. The guys she initially dated were almost universally awkward and seemingly emotionally ablated, which was starting to get her down again (because while these guys were OK-looking they were definitely not even close to being in A---’s league and to a man were visibly discomfited by all the gratuitous attention A--- received even while on a date, which discomfiture was the main reason she had gone on the BPC in the certain East Coast city in the first place) and she was feeling a bit of this sadness at her friend’s birthday when she bumped into Fench.

26 April, 2012

That could have gone better. (Part three.)

‘Maybe another reason it’s so difficult to hear or read about someone falling and being in love is that the experience is extraordinarily subjective. The whole thing’s a hugely complex and intricate emotional scenario that's exquisitely and intensely beautiful, but also personal, while the language we have to describe the experience functions by reference to a shared or public understanding of the meaning of words. Not to mention that being in love is for any one person a comparatively rare experience, so most of us don’t have a lot of practice describing these feelings.


‘So for example, think seriously for a moment about the level of abstraction involved in explaining how it feels to be ‘in love’. It’s basically impossible to do without using a metaphor or simile – It feels like… – in which case you’re already once removed from the substance of the experience you’re trying to describe, and instead describing some other experience that’s more or less like the experience of being ‘in love’, at least for you.


‘Even if we just agreed on a definition – the OED defines ‘love’ as ‘a feeling of intense affection’ – and said that’s what it means/how it feels, well then how intense and what counts as affection and you can see where this is going.’


‘I’m not saying that it’s impossible for two people to mean the same thing when they both say they are ‘in love’ – that we could never be sure that what you’re feeling is the same as or at least similar to what I’m feeling – just that the feelings at play are so intense and unusual and overwhelming and… sublime, that it’s extremely difficult to articulate the feelings in a way that makes them clear to another person, let alone ourselves.


‘So of course what ends up happening is that we face-off against the dual threat of bewildering empathy and vertiginous abstraction and just fail utterly. We fall back on the stock and hackneyed phrases that blight Valentine’s Day cards and movie scripts – You mean the world to me or I love you from the bottom of my heart – which are to varying degrees sickeningly sweet and cloying and are in fact so hyperbolic that it actually is impossible for two people to mean the same thing when using these phrases. Which means that using these phrases not only fails to describe our emotions with anything close to perspicuity, but also allows us to not even try to describe our feelings in the first place.



Another way to think about Fench’s problem, basically, is that he’s having a hard time figuring out whether his desire to continue to be on the receiving end of so much wonder and envy [FN8] is making him unusually accommodating of his current girlfriend – indeed, Fench can’t even figure out how he could even figure out… etc ad infinitum – in which case Fench envisions himself as possibly having fallen into one or maybe even both of the following scenarios, neither of which is really very appealing at all:

A) It’s possible that Fench is trying in some way to be ‘On’ whenever he’s around his girlfriend, or talking to her on the phone, or even just sending her a witty and mildly flirtatious email, which emails he sometimes revises three or even four times before sending, and which phone calls he often begins with an affectionate salutation that he has previously worked-out in his mind if only a few minutes before making the call. By ‘On’ Fench means however he must have been on the night he met his girlfriend at his co-worker’s birthday party, which co-worker was also friends with Fench’s girlfriend. The party was held in the radio station’s multipurpose room, which room is spare and exceedingly functional, with white walls stained like plaqued tooth enamel in the corners and along the drywall seams, and carpet the colour and texture of crushed gravel. The only furniture in the room were two folding tables with veneered tops and metal legs, which tables were both pushed up against the wall opposite the multipurpose room’s only door so that you had to walk through the whole crowd to get a drink on arrival, which was a thinly veiled attempt to encourage socializing amongst the radio station’s normally recalcitrant and introverted staff. [FN9] One of the tables was for chips and nuts and popcorn and vegetables with salad dressing dip, the other for beer and wine and store brand vodka and gin and big two liter bottles of store brand cola and soda water and juice, and red plastic cups, and there were no chairs whatsoever because the radio station’s GM thought that meetings (which is what the multipurpose room was mainly used for) were much more productive and efficient when attendees had to stand, especially as those attendees were recalcitrant and introverted. [FN10]


(B) That Fench is more or less compulsively laughing with and encouraging and agreeing with whatever his girlfriend happens to think or say, as appropriate,[FN11]
again in order to keep her interest and enjoy all the ancillary benefits of her attention to him.

In either case, Fench knows from the kinds of adolescent experiments that all average looking guys inevitably conduct when they find themselves, inexplicably, the fancy of some unusually beautiful classmate or neighbour and they (the guys) really like all the attention they now get from their friends and peers and so basically just do whatever it takes to preserve or maintain the girl’s attention, that this semi-conscious but very real subterfuge ends up being either horrendously tedious – because even if the girl is unusually cosmopolitan or intelligent and so always has brilliant or incisive things to say or hilarious jokes to tell or really avant-garde and hip ideas about what to do during the lunch period or after school, that everyone else will shortly start to copy and imitate, eventually a guy just gets tired of going along with someone else’s suggestions and longs to strike out on his own – or spectacularly difficult to maintain – because being ‘On’ all the time just wears a guy down, not to mention it’s hard enough to remember and be consistent in your own positions on current events or books or the latest homeroom relationship gossip or what you generally find funny or interesting, let alone what someone else might think or say or find funny or interesting, which latter is required for anyone trying to impress or ingratiate themselves with some other person.

Plus, not only does Fench know these paths become progressively dark, lifeless and debilitating, by which time he may be so far along that it’s impossible to turn around or extricate himself with anything that could be described as ease or painlessness, he also knows that it would be horribly demeaning and awful to tell his girlfriend that he loved her when he was reasonably unsure about whether he meant ‘love’ in any standard use of the term, because even though the meaning of ‘love’ is notoriously slippery and indeed fraught, it pretty clearly doesn't gesture towards anything like ‘I love you because of the way you make me look in the eyes of others’.


[FN8] (…most of which comes from guys, but Fench is also very much aware of the increased female attention he seems to be getting now that word is out about his transcendently beautiful girlfriend. For reasons already given this attention causes Fench no end of discomfort and complex anxiety, as it now seems a real possibility that e.g. the cashier at the grocery store will reach around the debit card machine and unzip his trousers, which of course Fench fantasizes about continuously but in reality has not one sweet clue what to do if it actually happened. In fact, there was recently an incident where Fench became so unnerved by the amorous stare he was receiving from a particularly lithesome and comely cashier that he accidentally entered his PIN code incorrectly and had to ask the cashier, now practically hyperventilating with lust and desire for Fench, to cancel and re-enter the transaction, which procedure required the cashier (whose name was Clarice and whose braces had alternating blue and yellow elastics in support of her high school football team’s regional championship bid) to reach around the debit card machine and enter a special cancellation override code, at which point Fench nearly lost it in about four different ways and has since made it a point to pay cash for his groceries.)

[FN9] Why do you think they worked in radio?
[FN10] The point being not so much that Fench was particularly ‘On’ that afternoon and evening when he had literally bumped into the smolderingly attractive woman who was now his girlfriend at the drinks table, making himself a gin and soda whilst she was getting a beer (!!), but rather that he’s constantly got to be some particular way whenever he’s with his girlfriend, instead of just being with his girlfriend without thinking about being with his girlfriend, as it were, in order to sustain her interest and so keep open the taps of chest-swelling pride and accomplishment. In actual fact, the whole first meeting is a kind of blur to Fench: after they bumped shoulders at the drinks table, Fench said ‘hello’ very politely and she smiled and said the same and that her name was A--- and Fench said his name was ‘Fench’, which of course sparked a bit of a conversation about the story behind his name. As you might imagine this is a story that Fench has much practice telling and indeed he has over the years crafted something of a minor epic so far as name-related stories go. The story of Fench’s name got his now girlfriend laughing in a friendly way and asking him questions about certain parts of the story that seemed particularly fantastic or interesting, for which Fench also has reasonably polished and witty responses and on it went from there; although do note that Fench’s now girlfriend asked for his number at the end of the night and called him later in the week to suggest dinner and generally took the lead on most of the early relationship-type activity. This included initiating the first kiss after more-or-less dragging Fench to the rooftop of her condo building, which rooftop has a very nice communal deck space, and dutifully walking around the perimeter twice to give Fench a chance to make his move under the stars including long-ish pauses to admire the view and looking over at Fench during same until she decided to take matters (i.e., Fench’s face) into her own hands, to Fench’s great relief.

[FN11] More solid data backing up this strategy, this time from the field of organizational behavior and various sub-fields of sociology, that people tend to like other people who agree with their own views, find their jokes funny (N.B. this is not the same thing as just laughing at the person’s jokes, which is a fine but critical distinction the maintenance of which makes being an effective sycophant much more difficult than most people seem to think), encourage their ideas, etc.

25 April, 2012

That could have gone better. (Part two.)

‘I wonder if the reason love stories are personally gripping but just excruciating in the retelling is that much of what makes the experience so poignant and memorable is the intensity of the feelings and, at least for first love stories, the feelings’ newness, which together make everything you experience whilst being in love – including the most banal and standard-issue stuff – just glimmer and shine.


‘Do you know the old sitcom sketch where the really square family will invite over the cool/hip family and subject the cool/hip family to slides from the square family’s vacation to the Grand Canyon? The idea being to underline the contrast between the two families, with the really square family finding the slides absolutely riveting, watching spell-bound even though it’s obvious they’ve all seen the slides a half-dozen times already, while the cool/hip family struggles to stay awake, and looks at each other like How square are these guys? and even pantomimes to each other like they (the members of the cool/hip family) are hanging themselves by tilting their head over to one side and jerking their opposite hand upwards, like they were holding a rope, and not having to be very discrete about this at all because that’s how compelling the square family finds the slides?


‘So the story of being in love is maybe kind of like that. You have to be there. Maybe the best part of being in love is precisely what makes it impossibly tedious to recount the experience to anyone else: the feeling that everything is better with the other person. Walking the dog, studying, talking on the phone, making dinner, shopping, you name it. The way that being in love makes you understand what people seem to mean when they say that the best pleasures in life are simple and free. The pleasures come not from any activities that are themselves interesting or noteworthy, but from doing these things with the other person.


‘It’s like you don’t go for coffee with a friend and talk about how you made dinner the night before and cooked the pasta while your GF heated-up the Prego spaghetti sauce on the stove, whilst also making a spinach salad with those little mandarin orange slices that you like so much, and little flakes of almonds. Or like how you went to the grocery store together and picked out the ingredients for your dinner of pasta and spinach salad and then walked home in a light drizzle. That kind of day-to-day stuff only ever makes it into an anecdote or a story if something strange or hilarious or unexpected or ironic ends up happening, in which case what you’re actually doing – making the pasta, walking home in the drizzle – serves kind of like the setting for the real story, which is the quirky surprising funny thrilling twist.


‘Maybe another way to get at what I’m saying here is that you know how when you meet the person you end up falling in love with, you’re usually kind of nervous during the meeting, and you feel like you’re saying stuff that’s just completely ridiculous and stupid. Everything is cringe-worthy. But then for whatever reason the other person seems not to notice or finds this funny or endearing, or maybe it’s that they’re not about to call you out when they feel exactly the same way you do, that they can’t say anything right. And then after a few dates or just hanging-out you stop worrying about it and start to just be yourself, and part of what makes being in love so incredible and formative, especially your first love, is that it’s one of the only times most of us feel like we could be totally ourselves without any pretence whatsoever, and have that be just exactly right for some other person.



To be fair, initially Fench was a little unsettled by all the attention his girlfriend received compared to himself, and the as it were quality of that attention (i.e., from supremely attractive and (what Fench therefore imagined must be) interesting men), and the question of how could Fench’s girlfriend really choose him over all these other guys. It wasn’t as if Fench’s job or intellect were anything to write home about: he was a producer at a local talk radio station, working on two different sports talk shows, both of which  included listener call-ins and live studio interviews with athletes. As it happens, these live interviews could have been a minefield for Fench, insecurity-wise, because even AAA-level hockey and baseball players (which comprised the majority of the shows’ guests, from the local teams and their visiting opponents) were extremely good looking, with broad shoulders and V-shaped torsos and just about the most pronounced masculine facial dimorphism you could imagine – most of these guys looked like non-smoking versions of the Marlboro Man, to give you an idea – and it turns out these guys tend to bring their wives or girlfriends with them to the studio to coo affectionately in the corner or distract the host or whatever, [FN3] which served only to reinforce in Fench’s mind the very real but also amorphous inequality between his own level of physical attractiveness and that of his Hall of Fame calibre girlfriend. [FN4]

But so this worry about what could Fench’s girlfriend possibly see in average-old Fench wasn’t something upon which he dwelt for a very long time, largely because he hadn’t really been able to see what any of his previous girlfriends (three of them) had seen in him either, and when he’d asked they’d all said basically the same thing: variations on the theme of You make me laugh and feel special and safe. Through a curious sense of pride or dignity Fench felt it would be unseemly to press for further details – to ask for specific examples, say, of just how and when he made them feel special [FN5] – and since his own explanations of what he liked and eventually loved about these three girlfriends had been more or less along the same lines (i.e., laugh, special and safe), he felt comfortable trusting that they were being honest and recognized how it could be difficult to articulate something so complex and nuanced and subjective as emotional and physical attraction.

Which articulation, it turns out, is really the nub of Fench’s problem with his current girlfriend, the substance of which is perhaps best conveyed by anecdote. About a month into the relationship, Fench and his girlfriend had plans to have dinner after Fench finished a broadcast. His girlfriend was going to meet him at the studio so they could walk together through a local park to a grocery story and buy some bread and meat and cheese and maybe a tetra-pack of wine and then walk back to the park and make a picnic. [FN6]

It just so happened that the show being broadcast on this afternoon was an interview with the captain of the local AAA hockey team, the A---ville Assassins, who’s wife was also present and looking like she regularly launched a thousand ships into battle. Fench’s girlfriend arrived in the studio just as the broadcast was finished and so after kissing Fench hello was duly introduced to the guest captain and his Helen-esque wife and then also said hello to the host, whom she (Fench’s girlfriend) had met on several previous occasions. While the host cleaned up his mess and the captain’s wife and Fench’s girlfriend chatted about the local yoga scene, the captain sidled up to Fench to express his congratulations and not insignificant envy at Fench’s having snagged such a smoking hot bird, which filled Fench with an immediate and unexpected but definitely pleasurable feeling of pride and accomplishment, which feeling seemed to concentrate in Fench’s chest, causing it to swell and fill-out and give his torso a definite indication of a V-shape.

After a number of similar incidents – basically every time someone expressed to Fench how jealous and envious and even, in the case of Fench’s parents, how proud they were of him, all of which made Fench feel great and affirmed and triumphant – Fench started to wonder what it was about his current girlfriend that he really liked. More specifically, he wondered how it would be possible for him to know whether he liked, or maybe even loved his current girlfriend for the same ineffable reasons he had liked and eventually loved his previous girlfriends, or whether he was just attracted to the as it were effect of his current girlfriend’s literally stunning beauty, without which he wouldn’t find her nearly as interesting and funny and engaging and charming as he seemed to think he currently did. [FN7]


 [FN3] It’s actually S.O.P. for the host in these situations to make an early ON AIR comment about how distracted he (the host) is by the guest’s searingly hot wife/GF in order to ingratiate himself with the guest, which never fails to work and make the interview go more smoothly and get the guest to open-up more than he probably would otherwise.

[FN4] One way to make sense of at least part of what’s going on with Fench’s fantasies being sort of backwards to what he knows he likes or enjoys in real life is to think that maybe the fantasies are not just about how it feels to be the centre of some hot girl’s attention, especially in public, but are also about Fench being the sort of person who attracts that kind of attention and revels in it. It’s unclear why the second part of the fantasy is so little noticed, at least by Fench – the part about being constitutionally disposed to enjoy and cultivate the attention of beautiful women – but possibly it’s because this part of the fantasy requires the assertion of some sort of agency or responsibility and not simply just sitting back and enjoying. So for example in the real world Fench couldn’t just stand there pretending to browse the tabloid magazines whilst the cashier at the grocery store starts to unzip his trousers. He needs to get involved. Which maybe that’s part of the reason people always want what they can’t have, or at least what they think or say they can’t have, because that stuff comes with a built-in excuse for why you couldn’t make it happen. In any event it will be a few years yet before Fench realizes even the possibility that he is maybe just not the type of guy who enjoys doing everything his friends and the popular culture suggest he might or even should in terms of sexual conquest and a whole lot of other stuff, in which case maybe it wasn’t really a loss to him (at least not one that he needed to worry about) that he wasn’t more popular or successful in various arenas. 

[FN5] (Fench knew better than to ask whether they found him attractive)

[FN6] Fench’s girlfriend’s schedule is pretty flexible, no pun intended, because she teaches yoga (!!) on a freelance basis at a few studios in the local community and also downtown. So it’s not a problem for her to meet Fench at odd times for little romantic local outings, which they often take in the early afternoon between broadcasts of his shows or, as on this occasion, in the early evening after Fench is finished work for the day.

[FN7] More extremely annoying verisimilitude: while Fench was definitely chuffed when the hockey captain privately expressed to Fench his envy and admiration, it subsequently transpired that the captain’s sentiments were rephrased and repeated once the ladies joined the conversation for the sort of collective goodbye that couples often like to have; at which point Fench’s chest caved like a leaky balloon and he blushed uncontrollably and stammered something that sounded like ‘well you know thank you’ and then pretended to suffer a coughing fit until the captain and his wife had left the building. It thus appears that Fench’s acute discomfort re proximity, sexual or otherwise, to female beauty (q.v. note two, supra) includes situations where his own GF is publicly acknowledged as like scaldingly hot stuff. It’s as if her being publicly acknowledged like this transforms her back into the purely untouchable Beauty at which Fench shudders even from afar, whilst in private their relationship has somehow moved beyond or like transcended this initial state of incompatibility. Thankfully, since most men share Fench’s debilitating shyness around beautiful women, the thing with the hockey captain almost never happens. In fact, it seems like the only guys who can ever get it up to tell Fench’s girlfriend how drop dead gorgeous she is are old men sitting alone on park benches or in restaurants, whose attention and forwardness Fench finds endearing but sort of sad.

24 April, 2012

That could have gone better. (Part one.)

‘Why do you suppose it’s so difficult to tell a love story? For example, the story of your first love. Not the puppy dog kind, two kids on a teeter-totter or a swing-set sort of thing, but the Real Deal. The first time you said ‘I love you’ and meant it, and even though you’re still not sure what that really means to say – I love you – you knew at the time just that you wanted it to mean something enormously big, and it did. And you were thrilled and terrified from the moment the words left your lips and washed over the other person, who might have been only inches away from your face, lying on the couch in your parents’ front room, or on your bed in your college dorm, or maybe you were walking somewhere outside and holding hands; until the words came back but in another voice and now ending in ‘too’.


‘But now with a story like this what quickly starts to happen – what’s probably already happening – is that you begin to realize someone is actually proposing to talk without any irony whatsoever about two people falling in love – as in not a romantic comedy or a love story embedded in a more prominent narrative of action deceit suspense drama or intrigue – and you start to think something like big boring banal cliché. As in Love Story = . Maybe you even quickly turn over the book and check the top right corner of the back cover where the genre is sometimes indicated, to see whether it says Romance instead of just Fiction. Or the conversational equivalent of this – QED – that your eyes roll back in your head and your attention starts to dissolve.


‘In other words, the way most people nowadays react to the proposition of hearing about or watching or reading a straightforward love story, myself included, is to quickly lose interest and have trouble taking the story seriously. Which I submit to you is strange. Because the experience of falling and being in love is not only poignant, as in it feels searingly and indelibly real, but also formative, being one of the major ways we figure out what we care about in the world, and really just how we work as humans. And so you’d think, or at least a reasonable inference is that people should be hugely interested in hearing about how it went down for other people, as a way of understanding their own experiences of love more deeply and complexly; of refining and complicating their own impressions and feelings with those shared by others; and of reinforcing their understanding of themselves as part of some large subset of the broader human community, with shared cultural expectations and folklore.


Fenchurch Baume has a problem that most guys wish they had but almost no guys think they actually have, even if other guys think that they do. And maybe that’s part of the reason why it can work when it does, Fench thinks, instead of the thing feeling like it’s a problem.

Fench’s problem is that his girlfriend is a Showstopper: the kind of beautiful where if you showed your mother a picture and said ‘This is my girlfriend’, she (your mother) would call you a liar. Fench’s girlfriend is six feet tall and glides around the room on legs that end above his waist. She has very pronounced facial features, especially cheekbones. She is skinny but not even close to emaciated-looking, and her breasts, as it were, walk softly but carry a big stick. Her hair is long and blond and perfectly straight and soft and full and lustrous.

Fench’s girlfriend causes actual traffic accidents just by walking down the street, and more frequently drives men and even women to such distraction that they (the men and even women) trip over sidewalks or walk right into lamp posts. When Fench’s girlfriend walks into a room there is a collective intake of breath, a vacuum that she fills immediately with a bright sensuous tingling light.

Strictly speaking, the problem is not that Fench’s girlfriend is outrageously beautiful; the problem is this, plus the fact that Fench believes he is much less beautiful than she. As a physical specimen, Fench is ordinary in almost every way. A veritable Everyman: of average height and weight and shoulder width for a man in his early thirties; who is trim in the way that guys who mow their own lawn and shovel their own snow (but do not go to the gym or play even loosely organized sports), and eat and drink in moderate amounts a diet that is unintentionally close to balanced, are trim; who doesn’t smoke or usually stay-up past midnight; and who goes to about as many live sporting events (mostly baseball and hockey) as he watches from his couch in front of his average size flat screen television in his one bedroom house on a quiet suburban street. In short the kind of guy with a ‘John Smith’ sort of appearance, utterly and immediately forgettable, and which would be precisely this if it were not appended to a name like Fenchurch Baume.

One of the problems with Fench’s problem, which Fench definitely recognizes, is that male beauty and female beauty are basically incommensurable. Leaving aside your more exotic-type preferences for hyper articulated musculatures or extreme androgyny, the features that make a female beautiful, at least to males, are very different from the features that make a male beautiful (or, if you like, ‘attractive’), at least to females. [FN1] So it is difficult for Fench to even articulate what makes his girlfriend so much more beautiful or attractive than himself – it’s not as if Fench would feel better if he looked more like his girlfriend – or precisely how and to what degree his own appearance would have to change to balance the scales – and so he ends up falling-back on the proxy of how much attention each of them respectively attracts when walking down the street or entering any room, which as previously described is pretty outrageous for Fench’s girlfriend and as not previously described but should be fairly obvious is basically the inverse of this for Fench.

Under the circumstances, you might expect Fench’s real problem to be that he is some combination of insecure and jealous and so unable to reconcile his staggeringly beautiful girlfriend’s attraction to himself with her apparent indifference, at least romantically, to the legions of supremely attractive men that constantly approach her, in many cases apparently not even considering the possibility that the man she is arm-in-arm with (i.e., Fench) could be her boyfriend and not just her brother or friend or someone who made the winning bid in a charity bachelorette auction. In other words that Fench can’t figure out what she sees in him and so is unable, despite her repeated and genuine assurances, to accept that she really likes him or even loves him or that he really might be something like the luckiest man alive; all of which completely short-circuits what are indeed Fench’s real and truly beautiful feelings for his girlfriend until his self-pity and -doubt spiral out of control and he breaks-off the relationship before his girlfriend (he can just tell) breaks it off with him, first.

But that is not really Fench’s problem. [FN2]


[FN1] There's actually a lot of hard data, mostly from evolutionary biology, backing this up: females tend to go for narrow waists, V-shaped torsos, broad shoulders, and height (relative to their (the female’s) own), as well as prominent masculine facial dimorphism, basically guys with really guy faces rather than effeminate faces. Males, on the other hand, go for symmetrical faces, full and symmetrical breasts, and a low waist-to-hip ratio, in addition to an overall youthful appearance. In both cases the preferred features are rough proxies for skill or ability in producing and caring for offspring. In what remains something of a lacuna in the evolutionary biology literature, it turns out that gay men find the same sorts of men attractive as do straight women; which is no surprise to Fench, who, as a child of the early eighties living in the suburbs of a medium-sized East Coast city, has a half-dozen gay male friends none of whom find him physically attractive but all of whom have made no bones about the fact that if they were straight they would be all over Fench’s girlfriend.

[FN2] Be apprised of some annoying and confusing verisimilitude in Fench’s character, which is going to get described here and a few other places but never really satisfactorily resolved or tied-off because that’s life, really. To wit: like most men Fench is, on the one hand, discomfited in the extreme by the presence of beautiful women, while on the other hand he constantly fantasizes about being with just these sorts of women. In Fench’s case most of these fantasies are sexual in nature and involve either a stunning woman of indistinct visage or more frequently some woman in his life that he finds attractive: co-worker, neighbor, etc. The standard script is for one or more of these women to become desperately attracted to Fench and for this attraction to begin to play-out in some sort of public place: Fench’s date to a formal dinner is gorgeous and can’t keep her hands off him at the table; the female cashier at the grocery store reaches around the debit card machine to unzip Fench’s trousers while he’s punching in his PIN code. (It goes without saying, or should do, that these fantasies continue unabated even though Fench is currently in a relationship with, if anything, a woman even more beautiful than he had previously imagined.) The point is that Fench’s desires seem to be entirely schizophrenic: he imagines for himself and finds reliably pleasurable the kind of scenario that he knows in reality causes him significant and pleasure-ablating angst, and in fact continues to cause him such angst except in the case of his current scorching hot GF.