Monday, March 3, 2008

On Romance, Kicking & Screaming

I have a problem with romance. O yes. Miss Perpetually-Single over here has a problem with romance, what a shock! Somebody, call CNN, this is breaking news!

Seriously, though. Blah. I know I don't normally write about such things in this blog, which was intended to be more firmly committed to purely spiritual and philosophical (and sometimes poetic) ponderings, but if there's any spiritual path that happily and eagerly includes sexuality, sensuality and romance in its endeavors and concerns, surely it's Paganism, right? Right. And even if this particular Distressing Damsel here doesn't officially consider herself pure Pagan, well... we can overlook that fact this one time, especially in light of recent news that puts her more firmly than ever outside of her mother tradition. So.


I'm a bit behind on the Valentine's Day Blues, clearly, but the sequence of events is as follows:

[a] About three weeks ago, Ali decides she wants to get a tattoo commemorating her initiation into Apprenticeship with AODA, just as she got her first tattoo to commemorate the beginning of her Candidate level work the summer before last. She gets it into her head that she wants a Celtic-knot armband around her upper left arm, one evocative of ocean waves, out of which the Salmon of Wisdom jumps, etched echoing a crescent moon on her shoulder, all in blue. (Very sexy, she swears, or it will be, anyway.)

[b] Upon deciding this, however, she dispassionately examines her arms in the mirror, only to discover they are in fact quite flabby, not the best or most shapely canvas for such meaningful body-art. This won't do.

[c] Ali begins working out regularly, a simple repetition of push-ups and sit-ups that soon expands into a regimen of aerobics and stretches, as well. ("Regimen" is, by the way, a fun word to say.)

[d] Regular exercise, after initially leaving Ali expectedly sore in all sorts of flabby places, also has the unexpected result of thawing out her crush-muscle. The crush-muscle, for those of you who aren't already aware, is located in the pit of the stomach and is shaped like a pink-and-white lace Valentine heart with angelic and innocent-looking butterfly wings (these tend to flutter excitedly for no apparent reason). The crush-muscle is often mistake for the heart as the Seat of Love; understandably, as it is indirectly connected to the heart via the brain's frontal lobe, which it must shut down in order to circumvent. Ali's crush-muscle has been frozen stiff for quite a long time. (A long story, involving misdirection, sleight-of-hand, regret and autonomy.)

[e] Thanks to her slowly-thawing crush-muscle, Ali soon discovers she has a romantic... shall we say "infatuation with"? No, too strong. Let's say a romantic... thing for someone she works with. This causes problems for several reasons, not least of which is that there is a guy with whom she has been exchanging emails over the past few months who seems much better for her and more obviously into her. On paper, at least. But, as the interwebs will tell you, this is an increasingly paperless world.

O, what to do? Let's stop being clever for a moment.

Clever Girl

Wouldn't that be nice? The problem, of course, is that I have only two ways of responding to romance: being coldly clever, and being moonfully idiotic. The former reasserts the frontal lobe (which I happen to think is a rather sexy part of me, if I do have to say so myself) and, through it, the more sincere aspect of emotion, as well as my self-respect and my respect for the other with whom I'm trying to engage, ostensibly flirtatiously; the latter hands the butterflies the wheel. And they don't steer very well.

There was a time when I could balance these two responses and come off as mildly attractive to the opposite gender, who seems to appreciate flattering attention (from the right person) when it's coupled with a playful hard-to-get detachment. Now, however, things are grim. I'm up against quite predatory women who seem to have this combination of availability and disinterest down to a science, mostly because sincerity and intimacy take a backseat to just having something (or rather, someone) to do. My priorities are different. Romantic predation has always struck me as a bit demeaning. Metaphorically speaking, I love the thrill of the chase less than the exquisite harmony of the dance. Romance, to me, should be a communal and communicative art, rather than a calculated science. But dancing takes grace, a basic familiarity with the steps, and a good ear. I always seem to be jamming to punk or waltzing to the wind, while everyone else is busy grinding to R&B. I am not what you would call "easy," not euphemistically and certainly not literally. I am, in fact, rather difficult and odd.

Which brings me to another stumbling block between me and romance. The truth is that, even though I like who I am and I have worked very hard to become the person I've become, I am really quite odd. Part of me worries that a romantic relationship would somehow make me... normal. Not because only dull, mainstream people have romances, but because my priorities have always been so clearly aligned to the concerns of love--whether that love be spiritual, familial, romantic or the love of friendship--that such a relationship would naturally change the foreground of my psychic landscape. Am I willing to welcome such a change? I say, quite often, that I would very much like a partner, a companion, to travel with me through life, however briefly. Someone to pass the time with, to talk with, to cuddle and to cherish. Someone who gives me butterflies when he makes eye contact, someone who can do me in with casual silliness, someone who isn't just a strategic "smart match" on the proverbial paper. But if there were such a person, he would certainly change me--there would be no point to a relationship if he didn't or couldn't.

The thing about some of these predatory women is that they're very good at throwing themselves elegantly at the latest Hott Guy (even if, two weeks ago, they didn't give him the time of day). They're so good, in fact, that it makes me wonder if maybe they just don't have much to lose. Being single as an adult has forced me to develop a strong sense of self, to individuate, to become my own person. I'm heavy, dense with character. It's much harder to throw myself around these days. I find letting gravity and natural attraction take their course works much better, but just like in chemical bonding, it's hard to form lasting connections with others when they're all bouncing about and throwing themselves around excitedly. (I just called my best friend to check on the chemistry metaphor, and it holds. He says it's like two bowling balls covered with glue: ease them gently together and they'll stick, but send one slamming into the other, and the force of the ricochet will overcome any sticking-potential the glue might have had. So goes chemistry, so goes the world.)

Fearful Symmetry

Which brings me to my last but not least romantic trip-up: bad luck. You have not seen a girl with more bad luck. Take a random customer at the diner where I work, one who has been regularly showing up at 7:15 AM on the dot for breakfast for years and years. I need only mention casually to a coworker that I think he's cute, and he'll never be seen again. (That's a hypothetical, as most of our regulars are creepy old men, who never seem to go away no matter how much you might want them to.) Or another example, this time directly from real life: young man leaves shy waitress his number; shy waitress loses the number, much to her chagrin; two weeks or so later, young man returns and shy waitress has a friend approach him about the lost number, exchanging emails; young man emails shy waitress later that week to say that when he left the number, he was single, but since then he's become "unavailable" and happily involved. Oooo, so close!

If you're thinking perhaps this is just paranoia, all in my head, a manifestation of fear or bitterness--o ye of little faith. As part of the Divination Spiral of my AODA Second Degree work, I've started casting Ogham readings on a somewhat daily basis. The other night, with these romantic matters on my mind and my crush-muscle aching slightly like a joint that has only just come in from the cold, I decided to cast a three-few (past-present-future) reading regarding the question, "What do I need to know about my romantic life?" The fews I drew were:

Huath, Nion, Straif,
Whitethorn, Ash, Blackthorn.

The ash tree is associated in various mythologies, including Celtic and Norse, with the axis mundi, the World Tree. Its straight-growing branches and high-reaching trunk were employed in the making of spears and staffs, and its expansive root system often keeps other plants from establishing around it, so that it tends to grow alone in its own space. Both the whitethorn (or hawthorn) and the blackthorn are prickly shrubs or small trees, often used in hedgerows to protect, guard and bar the way.

It's hard to escape the astounding visual symmetry of this reading: the single, pole-like tree reaching deep into the earth and high into the heavens in the present moment, but bound on both sides, past and future, by foreboding, low-lying thorns that complicate and wound. But the associated meanings of these fews are even more striking: while the whitethorn symbolizes obstacles and stumbling blocks to be overcome with patience and indirect progress (a good fit to my romantic past, which for the most part has been at least fulfilling even in its difficulties), the blackthorn symbolizes pain, damage, separation, division, and downright warfare. Meanwhile, the ash is a tree of transformation and manifestation--personal evolution directed by the magical will, but also with a heavy emphasis on the role of Fate. Drawing the Nion few, Mountfort suggests, "counsels you to regard this continuous unfolding of events as signposts" pointing you towards your unique destiny. With the future few of Blackthorn, I wonder just what kind of romantic destiny I am being guided towards.

All of this leads me to wonder, also, what to do now. With both bad luck and the sticks belying a future of romantic difficulty and hurt--can I avoid it? And even if I could, should I? Isn't despairing of romantic, personal love just as much a wound as the pain of rejection and failed connection? I remember that excellent movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, that raises not just the question of why some people just seem drawn naturally together, despite all the conniving of others, but the equally important question: if you knew it would all end badly, would you risk it anyway?


  1. At age 24, I dare say you have alot of "perculating" to do, from which a more seasoned, settled, and self-aware person will emerge. At your age I was certain I knew myself, my world, and yet I could not fathom my place within it, and even now, I question ever direction I ever took. I am where I am supposed to be. You are on your way. Enjoy the ride.

  2. From a personal, nonphysical side, that may well be. ;) But speaking as a woman who wants a family someday.... I can't help but feel that dreaded biological clock ticking. I don't want to have to meet, marry and mother the children of a person all in a span of three years just because I was too busy "percolating" into my thirties. After all, isn't the best part of a partner or companion having someone to "percolate" and grow with?

    I mean, me? I just have trust issues, is all. :) That's where all this "can I allow myself to be changed" stuff comes from. I need to trust that my companion is as willing to grow and change and "percolate" as I am, willing to work towards self-betterment and the good of the community, all that.

    Eh. Whatever. It's late and I'm rather tired of thinking about it for now. :) Thanks for the response, though.

    (Now I have that line from Twin Peaks stuck in my head: "There's a fish in the percolator!")

  3. You mean "fish in a blender", right? grin......

  4. Speaking as another of the *odd* people, even the conscientiously *odd,* YES, romantic relationships do push one toward the average. The average of circumstances, expectations, behaviors, conformities, world views, activites, pursuits.

    Romantic relationships seem to mobilize (in my life, at least) things my parents passed on to me and things I picked up from lowest common denominator pop culture and the inner impulse to become more *normal* than I had been.

    My romantic relationships have not survived my own kinds of oddness. Even when I've delighted in the relationships.

    I get what you find in the divinations.

    Have you tried the Myers-Brinks types. In that assesment, I'm quite introverted, which goes some way in accounting for oddness in today's USA. Mary Greer, from whom I got my interest in them, ties them strongly to Tarot types.