12 April 2010
Day 16: Smoke and Mirrors
Looking for the Girl, pages 163-175.
Despite the fact that I started listening to Chuck Palahniuk's Haunted on audiobook yesterday, I don't think I'll be reflecting on that publicly, especially since the first "story" grossed me out so much I had to fast forward through it. Let's just say there are some forums I would prefer not to talk about auto-erotic asphyxiation (and worse), and this is one of those forums. But to keep it a little smutty, because god knows I'm not shy about sex, I'll go ahead and tell you what I've been thinking about this particular bit of porn-centric writing.
Our narrator is a man obsessed with his first "perfect woman" image, which he comes across in an issue of Penthouse. Time passes and the girl keeps showing up periodically during usually important transition periods; she's always the same girl, the same age, but with a slightly different look, new hair color, grooming, etc. By the end of the story the narrator is left with a sense of disappointment because this "perfect woman" is no longer obtainable, and in truth never has been, because even when he's in the same room with her she isn't actually real.
It's not the woman that gets him excited, it's the idea that he's found a perfect mate: someone he thinks he can relate to and be satisfied with. But the truth is you can never be satisfied with anyone based on what you initially expect from them based on their appearance or even from phone or IM conversations. I was definitely a victim of this mentality; there's no room for the person or the relationship to change.
When I was eighteen and still in the process of changing constantly, I fell in love with a man who was eleven years my senior. I was young and did not understand the impact that his image of me would have on our relationship, and until the relationship was coming to an end, I didn't even realize he had this idealized version of me in his head. Since we met when I was still in high school, I didn't have the brains to call an end to the romantic relationship when I left for college, and he sadly wasn't mature enough to just let me go.
It probably won't take you a lot to realize that I made some drastic changes in my ways of thinking (although this was somewhat stilted by my hanging onto this guy), but I was a different enough person that it became one of the things we fought about. Rather than standing up for myself and telling him, "God dammit of course I'm miserable because I love you and I want to talk to you and you're making no effort to communicate with me," I let him blame me completely for the mistakes I made. But you know what, I owned up to those mistakes and admitted them to him, and if he had called me a day earlier it wouldn't even have been an issue.
To this day I am sometimes furious to think about all the opportunities I might have missed out on during that first year at college because I was wrapped up in him and all his bullshit. There were parties I didn't go to, and boys I didn't kiss, and people I was rude and acerbic to because I was too involved in a toxic relationship to know what I was doing. Oddly, those were the three hardest semester I ever had at Antioch, not that the others were necessarily easy, but at least the only person's emotional mess I had to deal with was my own, and I liked it that way.
How do I feel now? My fiance has his problems, and we certainly fight about them, and we fight about mine too. But there's an understanding that our identities as people are fluid and constantly changing. We aren't pictures in a book, where there might be new things revealed by looking at it, but it's still the same static image and there's just not much depth no matter what. We know that there are times where we will feel closer to each other than others, where one of us might be a little too clingy for the other, that we might not even be sexually or even emotionally attracted to each other for our entire relationship; but we think our relationship is important enough to stay together and work to rebuild those attractions. We know that we can wait for the other person to be just as clingy and give the necessary space in the meantime.
And maybe one day, we'll look at each other and realize that we don't love each other anymore, or not enough to stay together, and as calm rational adults we'll go our separate ways. That's a risk of being in an adult relationship, but because I know he sees me as a person, I know he will communicate any problems with me and we will figure out what to do about it. I won't find out one day that all of a sudden I don't meet his image of what I'm supposed to be and now he just can't love me anymore because of that.
I hope it's a lesson that people learn a lot sooner than I did, regardless of whether they stay with the person who taught it to them.