I’d like you to meet my new boyfriend. He’s quite the little multi-tasker, and is equally multi-talented; he’s an excellent marksman, he rescues babies, readily risks his life for the protection of others, he’s stealthy, agile, highly observant, surprisingly well-read, fearless, and, oh yeah, a stone cold fox.
Of course, we don’t know each other. Nor does he actually exist. But none of that matters. Not when I slide into the tiny, fictional world where he is a real thing. The man who plays the part? A good man, I’m sure, but a married man, a devout catholic, and someone who opposes stem cell research. However, I can let all of that go while I watch him galavant around New York City on my thirteen-inch laptop screen for an hour or two each day after school. I shamelessly pause the show when he looks extra alluring (to snap a few photos, duh, how do you think I got the ones above?), and happily replay scenes where he’s either especially tender, or especially aggressive. It really can be an intoxicating combination.
The first fictional character I fell in love with was Conrad Jarrett in Ordinary People. I read it in ninth grade and, being a book, could imagine whatever facade I wanted. But with Conrad, it was more his heart and mind that captured my interest, rather than his actions or looks. There have been countless others in books and television shows since. But lately I wonder: why this man? And why so rapturously?
I mean, obviously, he’s gorgeous. But I know that ain’t all it. Do you, dear reader, ever look back on your life and try to make sense of the men or women you’ve chosen to be with? I do, sometimes, and usually, it’s a pretty senseless landscape. To be respectful but also honest, I can say that only one out of the four men I’ve (seriously) dated really and truly had my best interests at heart. Only one of them truly cared about my feelings, and cared for me. Only one didn’t regularly insult me. Only one actually treated me right. All the time. Things fell apart because we grew apart; there was no drama, other than that dark pit of heartbreak when I realized I’d have to lose him forever, even though I knew it was for the best. So many sad poems. So many nights up late, together in bed, eating Oreos till our fingers turned black while watching re-runs of our favorite shows. Anything to delay the inevitable. I wish I’d handled it with more finesse, but I was younger and stupider, too, once.
But anyway. This man, my new fictional boyfriend. He is everything that all of the other men I loved were not. I’m not sure I’d actually be terribly compatible with someone who owns a sniper (among other firearms), but I sure as hell would love to find a man who looks out for me, who would fearlessly protect me if need be, who cares, truly, about the well-being of others, who has real courage and drive. He also says what he means and does what he says–always. And being a woman of relative extremes, I admit that his polarity–cradling a baby and whispering sweet nothings as he rescues it from an industrial freezer, and then gunning down murderers with some automated weapon–piques and maintains my attention and desire. I want a man as diversified in his activities, interests, and ways of being as I am. I’ve always loved surprises, and I suppose I like being full of them, too. Predictability and routine are terribly boring; maintaining some sort of image, even worse.
I’m also a capable and competent woman. I’ve been alone a lot as an adult, and I’ve lived all over the country and on another continent (in a very dangerous city) on my own. I don’t need someone to take care of me, protect me, or rescue me. But if someone is willing to do those things, it means, first, that he’s as capable as I am. It also means sometimes I can kick back and let him take care of things, knowing I am in good hands. Last, it means that I matter, truly, to him. I can’t tell you for how many years I’ve not mattered to the men who mattered a lot to me. My TV boyfriend doesn’t do anything that doesn’t matter to him; he’s almost crazy with conviction. So I know if he were with me (in the complex web of fantasy I’ve dreamed up), I’d matter a hell of a lot. And that would feel so… nice.
To be perfectly clear, though–I recognize I’m not exactly easy to be with. I demand a lot: total honesty, presence, integrity, capability, purpose, transparency, both independence and healthy dependence, a heavy dose of self-awareness, and the ability to be vulnerable. (All things I demand from myself, too, of course). I don’t hide anything and if you try to hide stuff from me, I’ll run you down. I don’t lie and if I catch you in a lie I’ll question you until the sun goes down and then comes up again. And god help you if you try to manipulate me; I might not realize it at first (I’m still so naive about some things), but I’ll never rest in my attempts to catch up, and to catch you; I’ll probably drive you to the edge of your sanity. I can be a real fucking maniac in the wrong relationship, and I can only hope in the future, that instead of running men down for being evasive liars, I just leave them. But that’s not my track record, at present. Nobody’s perfect, but I really hope I’m done dating men who get into the habit of treating me poorly, acting selfishly and being irresponsible or dishonest.
Not too long ago, perhaps five or so years, I used to believe there were perfect matches for people. I believed I would find mine. I had this little image of him in my mind, and I believed he’d be artistic or literary or both, a lover of nature, intellectual, dreamy, kind, handsome; I thought he’d meet all of my needs. But I’m not sure that’s the recipe for success anymore. I’m not sure such a thing exists, or if I even want it. I think now that perhaps the best kind of love is a little surprising, and involves an equal amount of analogous and complementary qualities. I hope I find a man who loves learning and exploring as much as I do, takes a genuine interest in my art and writing (even if he’s not artistic or literary himself; no longer a requisite for me), is caring, courageous, intelligent, self-aware, and can take care of shit that isn’t easy. Maybe he’ll be some foxy, empathic ex-fighter pilot who also paints… but that’s a stretch, and I can live without those things. Probably.
It never occurred to me that there was even a chance that I’d be single at age thirty-three (it was once my “emergency! run to a sperm bank if you’re still single!” age), but I will be (and I won’t be running to a sperm bank any time soon). I’ll be honest: it isn’t exactly ideal, but I’ve made peace with it. Freaking out about such circumstances does nothing to change or ameliorate them–things are what they are. However, there are, as always, silver linings. I have a lot of freedom to do what I want, pursue dreams, and make changes in my life. And being kicked around a quite a bit in the realm of love has rendered me pretty fearless. I’m also more discerning. Last, in the end, I arrived at such a dark and confusing place that I had to reach out for help, which allowed me to better understand the reasons and patterns behind many of my poor choices. I’m hoping this means I make better choices in the future. Of course, there are no guarantees. And while this man, my fictional beau, may not actually be out there, his fictional existence still inspires me to live better, namely more bravely, and with less fucking around. All of my relationships–real, imagined, romantic, platonic, long-lived or fleeting–teach me things and bestow me gifts I’d otherwise never find on my own.
But, even though I’ve got my fears, and my fair share of bruises, dents and gray hairs… I’ve also got some brass, class, and sass. Both inborn, and born of experience… even and perhaps especially from unpleasant or difficult experiences. So, it’s not hopeless… not yet. Till then, I’ve got Mister Conviction over here to keep me company… running around in the fantasy in which I’m also a successful writer with my own arts studio where I teach classes according to my own rules. He’s a mean cook, too, ya’ll. At least in my world 🙂
[a quick footnote: the “other three” men I dated were not terrible people, nor were they consistently ill-intentioned, but all of them, at least at the times I was with them, were flawed in their ability to truly give, be honest and forthcoming, withhold insults, and care about/look out for others, including me.]