Here’s something I’m shocked I haven’t examined in more than fourteen years of blogging.
On my birthday in 1999 — less than a week before I met Eva for the first time — I wrote a crude litmus test for a relationship I sensed might be on my horizon. I was quasi-dating a co-worker at the time; we both new there was not and would never be any more than friendship in it, but…I still felt like something was going to happen to me and soon.
I’ve had that spidey-sense a few times in my life—most notably the day before Sobeys laid me off. But it’s unreliable: there are times I’ve felt something brewing and nothing happened, and other times when I was hit by lightning without the slightest sense of forewarning.
But five days before I met Eva, apropos of nothing besides that vague feeling, I wrote ten questions I’d ask a potential mate, along with what I considered her ideal answers.
Looking back at this thing now is rather eye-opening, because even though I have changed and grown a LOT in the time between, this set of questions encapsulating my core values hasn't changed very much at all.
I’ll write my ideal answers to these twice, once the way I did and once the way I would now.
“Actually, if I had to select a partner with, say, ten questions, I’d do it this way:
1) Do you smoke?
1999: The ONLY acceptable answer to this is a resounding NO.
2018: No change.
But it’s worth noting Eva smoked when I met her, and for several years after…so right away I caved on my most important question. Go figure.
I hate cigarettes. I hate the smell of them, I hate the taste of them on lips I’m kissing, and I loathe the way they turn the walls yellow. I hate how smokers are able to get out of doing work because they smoke. I hate that smokers are completely uncaring of their health, which puts a huge burden on both them and their loved ones. I hate...you get the picture.
My mom smoked. Like a chimney. She tried everything she could think of to quit, and just couldn’t do it. But I was subjected to secondhand smoke every day until I left home, and I never wanted to experience that again.
Eva will never smoke another cigarette. Kathy doesn’t smoke. If anything my resolve is even stronger now.
2) Name three TV shows you try not to miss.
1999: Here I’m looking for intelligent comedies like Frasier or the Simpsons, or intelligent drama, or educational stuff. Or “TV? I don’t watch much/any at all.” Serious black mark to Beavis and Butthead fans; instant disqualification to anyone whose first words are “Jerry Springer”.
2018: The shows are dated; the sentiment very much isn’t.
I am not a huge television watcher. I never have been, I never will be. A show has to be pretty arresting to catch my attention, let alone hold it, and I LOATHE so-called reality TV. (So does Eva; so does Kathy, so I am at least consistent there.)
I come from a time that's starting to fade from memory to the younger generation: a time when TV was force-fed in single-episode doses. Love this show? Cool. You have to wait a week for your next hit. So TV was by appointment, which gave it a real can't-miss quality. Now, you're regarded as a freak if you only watch one episode of something at a time...you're like a person who eats a single potato chip and puts the bag back.
In all my life, there have been three season-long shows (I'm not counting miniseries) that have been must-watch for me:
STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, at least for most of its run
JOAN OF ARCADIA, which only lasted two seasons, damnit
GAME OF THRONES (I love the popular thing, so sue me)
There are several second tier shows I enjoy very much, but don't NEED to watch. The fact is, I have always considered time watching a television to be dead time. Unlike surfing the net, TV is completely passive: you have no input into the content at all. And unlike reading a book, you have to shut your imagination off watching TV. So TV plays, with rare exception, third banana. And I don't even like bananas as it is.
3) Ever score more than 300 at Scrabble?
1999: A no is acceptable, so long as it’s followed by “but I keep trying”.
2018: Scratch that question entirely on the grounds that holy fuck, Ken, could you have BEEN any more snobbish?
Scrabble is still among my favourite board games, and I love people who play with words, as Scrabblers are wont to do. But both my partners roll their eyes at every pun and neither is an avid player and I love them both dearly.
This is one place I have definitely changed: I have a much better understanding of what constitutes intelligence. I fetishized raw brainpower back then. I have long since grasped that there are some scary smart stupid people out there. Give me empathy, give me compassion, and give me resilience and strength of character. I mean, I'd rather be with somebody who reads something over someone who doesn't....but let's just say that life experience grants wisdom, which is even more valuable (and attractive) to me than than intelligence -- the kind of narrow intelligence I used to favour -- is.
I have Eva to thank for that. I've met individuals who are smarter than her if you're considering any one of seven intelligences. (I've yet to meet a more "nature-smart" person, though I don't doubt they exist). But the thing is Eva scores highly on every single one of those intelligences. Considered in toto, she's the smartest woman I have ever met.
Kathy, meanwhile, is nowhere near the slouch she paints herself to be. Where she's weak, it's only due to a lack of curiosity. She scores particularly highly on the three kinds of intelligence I deem most important to me personally now: interpersonal, intra-personal and linguistic. (She doesn't like puns, but is not above punning herself on occasion...more importantly, she's very quick-witted and articulate.)
Scrabble? Puh-leeze. Not that shallow now.
4) Who or what is ‘god’? Take as long as you like to answer.
1999: Any answer will do here, but strong atheists should be tolerant and “fundycostals” will put me on guard.
2018: “Fundycostals”…I am simply no longer compatible with on any level. I’d go so far as to lump the strongest atheists in with the fundycostals—they behave in much the same way towards people who do not believe as they do, and that is not an attractive quality at all.
I have no problem with a faith in god or gods, however it is expressed; I have every problem with a person who makes it her mission in life to inflict that faith on others.
The happiest Christians in my experience, and the ones I most respect, simply live their faith and let others live as they will.
I'm not going to spill my partners' views on spirituality. Not my place. Suffice it to say we're compatible.
5) What are three things you admire about your mother?
1999 I suspect her answer to this will age her thirty years. I only hope she can SAY three nice things.
2018: I’m pretty impressed I came up with this question back then, to be honest. It also speaks to the level of commitment I had back then and still do: If I’m in a relationship with you, that relationship will last in some form until one of us is dead. As the next question makes even clearer.
6) Is one marriage vow enough, or do you see marriage as a continuing act of choice?
1999: I think most people would answer the former. And I’d bet a good chunk of them will divorce. In making a commitment, I want it understood that I don’t see it as an obligation, spoken of once and then kept only because I said I would. People change. People grow.
That’s not to say there is no value on my word. Actually, there is more value. Because I’ll keep in mind, every day, just why I chose the relationship. And I hope she would, too.
2018: The only change I would make to the above would be to make it a little less clunky. Looking back at that, I can see a core value almost fully formed.
It took Franklin Veaux to restate that succinctly: the people in the relationship are more important than the relationship. Sounds paradoxical, but trying to straight-jacket a relationship into some particular form is a good way to kill it.
7) Are you the hugging type?
1999: The more enthusiastic the ‘yes’, the better.
2018: no change. I didn’t learn the real bonding value of a hug on anything more than an intuitive level until about seven years ago. It turns out that a twenty second hug — a real, number-1 hug, not the abomination of a letter-A that so many hugs look like these days — actually, scientifically, binds two people together.
Hugs have always been important to me. So have cuddles. In many ways I prefer them to sex.
9) Rate the following from 1 to 10 in terms of importance to your life, 1 being totally unnecessary and 10 being completely indispensable
(a) Money. 1999: 4-6 2018: no appreciable change
In the years between we have been comfortably well off and in serious danger of becoming homeless. I prefer the former to the latter, of course. But I will NOT chase money for money’s sake and I firmly believe there is such a thing as too much money. All I have ever wanted to be is comfortable, and my definition of comfortable has not changed in the years between. Comfortable is enough to keep a roof over my head, my belly from my backbone, to pay for music, books, and frequent small outings, with ideally one or at most two larger excursions a year.
(b) Health 1999 7+ 2018: 5-7, not higher
Let’s face it, I am never going to run marathons. And there is no such thing as healthy food that is also tasty. Maybe if I run marathons and eat kale, I will live longer. I will then be old and miserable and wish I were dead. The 7+ in 1999 was a combination of wishful thinking and projection.
(c) Sex 1999: “over 5 but not much” 2018: 7-8, with a proviso
As of February 1999 I had yet to experience good sex...either receiving or giving. Intimacy yes, cuddling yes. And then as now I considered intimate cuddling more important.
In part that was because I had yet to experience good sex. But only in part. Even back then I knew that sex isn't the end-all be-all of any relationship...because, as I've always said, even the horniest people can only spend a minuscule fraction of their time fucking. Also because for most people, the sex drive waxes and wanes and usually poofs altogether along with hair and memory and will to live.
Today that cuddling and intimacy is even more important to me, with or without sex.
(d) Family 1999: anywhere between 3 and 8 2018: no change
I've written several times about how bewildered and wistful I am confronted with a very close-knit family. Cynical, too: "you have to be faking that. C'mon, where are the rifts? Where are the sibling rivalries and parents who play favourites and where are the black sheep? It's all here somewhere, quit the faking."
This is damaging, but I haven't shaken it yet. Because I've yet to find a family that didn't have all those things. Yes, you love the people in spite of it all, but I can't help noticing even the people who profess to love their families keep certain members of them at arm's length or further.
(e) Security 1999 the higher the better . 2018 there IS an upper limit--say 8
I've only met two people in my entire life who relish change. One of them is Eva. The other is my friend Sue. And even those two people seek out change within a framework of security.
But the desire for security above all else is paralyzing. I should know: I've been paralyzed for years and only in the last year or two have I started to learn how to walk. I have a long way to go.
I have the utmost respect for how difficult that paralysis is to break. But someone who is completely and totally resistant to any kind of change...there's a word for people like that. That word is "dead".
A necrophiliac I am NOT.
(f) Music 1999: 7 or more 2018: no change
This doesn't mean someone has to play a musical instrument. Nor does it mean I'm looking for an appreciation of the obscure artists and genres (why is classical music obscure) that I like to listen to.
It means that music of some kind should be a presence in their lives, because it has a very prominent presence in mine.
(g) Books 1999: 7 or more 2018: 5 or more
Yes, I have relaxed that. I don't read as much as I used to. Very few people in my world do read as much as they used to. Eva used to read a book a day on average. Her mom read even more. Kathy used to read a lot as well. Back in 1999 I was averaging 2 novels a week.
Books to me are a shorthand way of gauging someone's empathy quotient. As such, I consider them important...but they're not the only way to gauge empathy. This is related to 3) above: empathy can come from any kind of medium and it can come even more strongly from a life lived.
(h) The world around you 1999: clarify extremes: I want someone who thinks for herself but who cares about others
2018 I don't like this question at all. It's waaaaay too vague and even with the explanation--which was and is true--it doesn't hold together well.
Of course someone should care about the world. Care enough to engage with it, but not enough to let it swallow them. This lesson has been hard learned for me.
10) Want kids?
1999: anything from "no, never" through "maybe" to "yes, but only one".
Okay, well, we tried to have kids, we tried to adopt, and then we settled for being as solid an influence as we could be on any children who peripherally passed through our lives. I'm still pretty wistful about this...sometimes. Other times I'm very happy we didn't have kids.
Truth be told, what I really wanted all along was to do for a child what my stepfather John did for me: to welcome him or her into my world, to take the raw material given me and help the child grow and learn and bloom and become...and to do it all skipping the shit-your-pants-and-scream-for-hours-straight stage. That sounds beastly, I know, but in all honesty I do not know how parents of infants cope.
Looking back at this me-information...it's very easy to see that it is just that: me...in formation. I haven't changed a great deal in many ways...I have evolved and grown.
Next up: the things that HAVE changed.