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.