Some years ago a cynical friend remarked to me, “I thought I fell in love once. But it turns out I only stepped in it.”
I almost laughed. But I could see he meant it.
Eric was a really sweet guy who’d subjugated himself entirely to a willful woman. He bowed to her wants and never challenged her. He had believed that was the best way to get along with a woman. And, truth be told, I thought so too.
I grew up with five sisters and a doting mother and it was made abundantly clear that when a woman says no, she means no. My mother and father cultivated in me the traditional behaviors of opening doors, paying compliments, presenting flowers, and all the courtesies and kindnesses attendant to gentlemanly behavior.
But my dad shared an insight with me the day I left home to strike out on my own.
“Michael”, he said. “There are two things you need to know to understand women…… and nobody knows what they are.”
That time I laughed. It was only years later that I realized he meant it.
Spending a couple of decades in the same house surrounded by that much estrogen meant the man knew from whence he spoke. I still don’t know that much about women. It’s likely they’ll remain mysterious to me and, of course, that will always be part of the attraction. Romance isn’t romance without mystery.
Being a fairly even-tempered fellow, friends have had occasion to confide in me. A lot. And I’ve learned something about men from these late night laments over beer and self doubt. It turns out the same two things you need to know to understand women are the pretty much the same two things you need to know to understand men. The upshot of which is that nobody really knows anything.
I am getting better at picking up signals. I’m listening more. Especially to women. One of them recently shared that, “Yes, a woman wants a partner who isn’t afraid of tenderness. But she also wants a MAN who can stand in the fire of our emotional changes.”
That’s an intimidating way to put it. Still it brings me to a slightly higher level of understanding. But only slightly.
There’ a good deal of bob-and-weave involved in courtship. So much conflicting wisdom. And yet I persevere. I expect the fighting now, but I’m looking for a fair fighter this time. Love may be a battle. But love is also a growing up.
My parents, it turns out, were fair fighters. They enjoyed 62 years of the greatest love story anyone has every been audience to. Now that mom is gone, I recognize one more thing I learned from my father — you don’t get to really know yourself until you know yourself in a relationship. It is revelatory to see yourself in someone else’s eyes.
Victor Hugo once wrote: “The greatest happiness in life is the conviction that we are loved. Loved for our self, or rather loved in spite of ourselves.”
To be so entranced is an honorable conviction and one I deeply aspire to. To be elevated, even levitated, by a swooning rush of delight and filled with wonder and a sense of enchantment — that is the aim of the human heart. It is among our baser instincts to defy loneliness.
I believe and desire all of this. But one must also consider S.J. Perelman’s take on the matter as well: “Love is not the dying moan of a distant violin; it’s the triumphant twang of a bedspring.”