Sunday, January 29, 2012

All About Me: "Midlife Crisis" Edition

As I approach the venerable old age of 40, I constantly find myself scanning for signs of the midlife crisis that society says should be bushwacking me any day now. I'm supposedly going to wake up one morning, very soon, go buy a Ferrari and use it to pick up women twenty years my junior.

I can confidently assure any Evas who might be reading this that all is clear on the Ferrari/floozie front. I mean, I'd have to steal the Ferrari, and I can't think of one floozie who'd look at me twice even with a Ferrari, and even if I could somehow finagle a floozie into my filched Ferrari, I'd crash the thing pretty much instantaneously. Nothing says crisis quite like a floozie corpse in a wrecked Ferrari.

All joking aside, I have been through a 'midlife crisis'. Except if my crisis actually hit me at midlife, folks should be planning my funeral along about yesterday.

I didn't buy the sports car, of course...but I did spend an almost equivalent sum on meaningless trifles. Endless meals out. Probably close to a thousand dollars on arcade games. Albums bought just because I kind of liked one song.  Stuff like that. And yes, there were floozies. I had affairs, plural. Not exactly my proudest years, '90-'98 or so.

"The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there"-- L.P. Hartley

I've lost most of the language I once spoke in that foreign country, and I've abandoned its customs. In fact, it's hard even to imagine the state of mind I lived in back then, much less that it was I who lived in it, if that makes any sense at all.

It goes without saying that everything was All About Me. What would make me happy, short-term? I foolishly figured that if I piled up enough of these short-term happinesses, I'd be happy in the long term as well. I was, of course, different from my dorm-mates: they got drunk practically every night. I didn't grasp the obvious truth that I was far more wasted than they could ever dream of getting, just not on alcohol.

I had two relationships in those years, and they were also All About Me. In hindsight, the first was actually more mature than the second, but even so there came a day in that relationship when I decided there was something lacking. A little pizzazz. Okay, Ken, stop mincing words. Sex.
There was sex, but it was perfunctory and put me very much in mind of England. Rather than invest in the relationship by means of honest communication, I spent considerable time orchestrating an affair.I would have hotly denied such an insinuation--the woman I was chatting online to meant nothing, and it was merely a coincidence that she lived all of a block away from Lynne and I. And when I went over there one night just to play Nintendo (like I was ever any good at console video games!) it was such a surprise when Judy just fell into my lap, and even more of a surprise when I--

Yeah. Such a surprise. Neither was it at all shocking that I continued to frequent Judy's place over the next six or eight months. And it shouldn't have been a surprise when Judy and I had a little argument and she threatened to tell Lynne about her existence. I came home from that confrontation with my mind reeling, trying to figure out a way to get through the next week or so with my ever-precious balls intact. One more non-surprise: I got home to hear awfully Lynne-like moans--not that I'd ever heard her moan, but I could imagine--coming from Ben's room. The anger I felt was quashed immediately by the realization that I was the worst kind of hypocrite going. The only saving grace was that it was considerably easier to confess my transgression. I slunk out of the house for a couple of hours and then came home and spilled. Lynne never did; her lack of ball-ripping was all the confession I needed. Lynne and I limped along for another few months, but the relationship was doomed and I think we both knew it.

Enter Cathy. I met her online as well, through the Usenet forum soc.penpals. We were real penpals at first, actual pen-and-paper pals, over the summer where she was at home fifteen hundred miles away and offline. I'm here to tell you that while snail mail is slow, it can work just as well as screen chat in developing affection.  Maybe better. Over a season you can accomplish a lot in that direction if you're willing to write ten or fifteen pages at a time.

She bussed home from Fort Frances--a gruelling trip--and I bussed to Toronto to join her for its last leg. She had prepared a letter, which she handed to me before dropping off to sleep. She told me not to read it until we were almost home. That was difficult, but I complied.
 That letter detailed every flaw I was likely to find in her, said she was more than willing to accept mine, and proposed we get serious. "If you're okay with this, poke me awake".

I did. And we "got serious", after a fashion, although again in hindsight the relationship was childish. We called each other 'Cathybear' and 'Kenbear'--the memory of which is rather sickening, now--and I saw her as a means to complete my life. In other words--just the next trinket.

That was one flaw Cathy didn't bargain on when she said she was willing to accept my flaws, and that was my continuing desire to make everything All About Me. You'd think I would have learned. I thought I had. But when Cathy was diagnosed with clinical depression, I began the process of bailing on her. The only option, really: I couldn't 'fix' clinical depression. As it progressed, it was often as if I wasn't even in the room. So I decided not to be in someone else's room. Again, this was a decision I kept hidden from myself--it said too many things about me, too many things that contradicted the virtuous, goody-two-shoes image I had of myself.

I met that 'someone else' online (where else?) I was so thoroughly convinced of my own physical unattractiveness by this time that I knew the only chance I had to attract and hold somebody was if they didn't have to look at me through the first stages. I may be ugly, but I got the words, yo.

 She eventually came to spend a weekend. Chaos ensued.I had cunningly cultivated the polyamory defence: that I could love two people at once. To be fair, this was an ideal I truly held for a number of years...but I couldn't live up to it in real, messy life. All About Me had failed once again, rather spectacularly this time.

I still feel terrible about what I did to Cathy. I've tried to track her down, not with any intention of contacting her, but just to assure myself she's still alive. That may sound melodramatic, but she attempted suicide at least once while I knew her and I'm terribly afraid she's succeeded since. I don't know, and I doubt I ever will. But it remains my life's only real regret. Hurting people is not what I am about.

Neither is All About Me. I can date at least the buddings of my maturity to the exact moment I realized my life was complete as it was, and needed nothing or no one else to complete it. I learned not to look for contentment, but simply to feel it anyway. And within a week of my writing that the first time, I met the woman I was to marry. She doesn't complete my life and I don't complete hers: we are two people who have joyfully consented to share life's journey together. We're going to hit the thirteenth anniversary of our first meeting in a little less than two weeks, and I'm still amazed that before I met Eva I didn't even know what love really was. I'd thought marriage was a trap. Ha. Marriage is the security that gives you your freedom.

May I respectfully suggest, if you're going to have a midlife crisis, it's much better to get it out of the way early, while your life--let's face it--still doesn't mean much and anyone you hurt is likely more resilient. One hopes. That isn't to excuse hurting anyone, of course--when you hurt someone, you're always hurting yourself--but I think it's better to be immature at a young age...

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