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the diary thing 
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02.16.00
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 valentine
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Qq - queenKATHLEEN WAS SWEEPING SNOW from the front steps when I came home with a huge bouquet of flowers. She was early, and I'd wanted to surprise her with the flowers already trimmed and in vases, but there wasn't much I could do now. I presented her with the flowers and took the broom from her hand. She went upstairs to take care of the flowers, and I swept the walk.

Out of breath, I came upstairs to the kitchen where K. was busy with the flowers and vases. "You cleaned the kitchen floor," she said. Sure -- I'd swept and mopped, cleaned out the cat litter, put away boxes and bags, and tidied up the empty beer bottles. 

"I also did the bathroom floor and scrubbed the bathtub," I said.

She put her arms around me and gave me a kiss.

"That's sweet. You're so romantic."

Believe it or not, she wasn't being sarcastic. Buying flowers and mopping floors, cooking dinner and scrubbing the bathtub; it's all very domestic around here, and clean dishes, a made bed, and an empty sink are all as welcome as chocolate and candles. Considering our tight budget, we're as happy with a tidy house and dinner on the table as anyone else would be with a cruise on the QE2 and a week in Tuscany. Not that we'd scoff at the latter -- donations are welcome.

A READER E-MAILED ME THIS WEEK to plead that I won't turn this diary into a soppy procedural of the wedding process. 
 

"A nesting of monumental proportions has seized many, including myself.   But as weddings and babies are behind me now I watch with a certain fascination of how very edgy people slowly metamorphose into someone else again.   Sometimes it is interesting and sometimes it is the stuff of Bridal/Baby Week Magazine."

I reassured him that, hopefully, my edge will prevail and I'll find a way to describe the next few months with some leaven of humour and irony. I have to admit, though, that I was intrigued, and a bit stung, by his observation of how "very edgy people slowly metamorphose into someone else again", and that he has been witness to "a nesting of monumental proportions".

MY BEST FRIEND PAUL IS LEAVING the country this weekend for a new home in London. With his career in the movies on relatively firm footing, he's finally realized that it doesn't matter where he lives, inasmuch as he's called to work almost anywhere. It's about time, as his wife had to interrupt her career in the movies when she got pregnant, and her career was over there. 

I've known Paul for twenty years, and while I've known this was coming since before Ilya was born two summers ago, it didn't make the tart undercurrent of sadness any less biting. A few years ago, when we were single men, Paul and I were in restaurants practically every other night, alone or with a mutable group of friends -- mostly from Paul's film world. Conversation usually took the form of provocation, emotional dares and rounds of insults. The overwhelming feeling was one of frustration faintly savoured; we knew there was something else we wanted from our lives, but couldn't see where it would come from or how we could achieve it. We were adults, earning adult livings, but somehow lacking the particular responsibilities of adults. We all lived alone, and except for occasional relationships, spent most of our time expressing our desire for some kind of companionship that always seemed just on the border of unattainable.

Of course, it didn't help that our expectations -- of ourselves and of women -- were either impossibly high or ridiculously contradictory. In lieu of anything to ground us, we blew all our money in a variety of restaurants, and compared the pain of our desire for various waitresses. 

Our favorite taunt was in the form of "You'll be the first!" In essence: you'll be the first to fall in love, to get married, to have kids, to settle down with house, car, mortgage and in-laws. The sting of this taunt was the implication that, once this process began, one's freedom to grasp at any opportunity, to live according to the demands of one's "creativity", would be sharply curtailed, and you would end up one of the dreary hacks that populated our respective industries, producing bad feature films, soul-crushing commercials, joyless shoe catalogues and yards of uninspired prose. It was defensive, half-assed bohemianism of the very worst kind.

Of course, Paul ended up being the first, much to our joy, though the sting of the taunt never really made itself felt. His wife was perfectly lovely, his child sweet, and his life, once he was persuaded to eschew the slovenly habits of a thirtysomething bachelor, much more pleasant than before. Of course, the first people to nag him to get in line with the demands of this new life were his old buddies, all happy to see someone take the first step into the life we all secretly coveted.

The old gang no longer gets together anymore -- the last time we were all in the same spot was at Ilya's first birthday party, a collection of coupled adults quaffing good wine and eating blinis with caviar while a little girl in white stumbled around the lawn to a chorus of "awwwws". Almost all of us, it seemed, had coupled in the interim.

I haven't seen much of Paul over the last year and a half, so helping him pack the last of his possessions into a storage locker, sitting down for lunch at one of the old haunts, then heading back to the house they're about to vacate to have a visit with Ilya felt like a day I'd lived before, having anticipated the imminent move for months. Of course I'll miss him, and his wife, who has become a good friend. I'll also miss Ilya, who seemed today, for the first time, to actually recognize me. "Unca Rick". I know it's corny, but there's something harsh about realizing that there are limits to how much you can share in your friends' lives.


 
"These faces are young. I must have been insane to fall for such a part-woman. What is wrong with maturity? Think of the conversations I could have -- about literature and bitterness -- with a forty-year old! Victor has mentioned an interesting optician with her own shop. People say it is the soul not the body that counts!"
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- Hanif Kureishi
Intimacy

 
Don't expect me to get this personal all the time -- it's really draining.

I GAVE UP ON THE IDEA of marriage years ago. It didn't seem to be a particular gift to most of the people I knew, and even the only really happy marriage I knew -- that of my sister and her husband -- was qualified by their certainty that they never would have gone through with the whole ceremony if it wasn't for my mother, and the added grant money married students received at the time.

I remember telling my first serious girlfriend, at the brief, tranquil height of our relationship, that "I'll never marry you, you know." Defensively, she chimed back, "Well, of course I'll never marry you, either." I suppose we thought this was a statement of principle, young people defying the convention of ritual, but it was nevertheless prophetic, if only because, a few years later, we ended up hating each other with real passion.

Following that, years of wildly unsuccessful dating began to convince me that I was better off alone, a sustained state of pessimism and self-pity that began to harden into another statement of principle, articulated as an all-encompassing world view. Relationships were mutual exploitation, and since I didn't want to be either exploited or exploiter, I made a great show of eschewing the whole idea. If I was continually depressed, it was probably because that was my natural state; certainly, the way I inevitably sabotaged every new relationship within two months, if not two dates, was proof that I was ill-suited for any kind of romantic bond. The word that Paul and I used at the time was succinct; we were "busted". 

In the process of becoming an "autonomous male", I suppose I turned into a bit of a prig, but my apartment was clean, I was impeccably dressed, and I turned myself into a decent cook. A few years of decent income allowed me to build my own "Fortress of Solitude" in the old loft apartment, as I painted, bought antiques, and otherwise lived out a fantasy life that was part Fred Astaire (in the moments before he meets Ginger), and part Oxford aesthete, subsiding into a comfortable eccentricity. I was neither as dashing as Fred or as dedicated as the aesthete, probably because I was also burning with an ill-suppressed rage at a world that had left me lonely, horny, and bored. Like almost every other "stage" of my life before the current one, I look back on much of it and wince.

"A NESTING OF MONUMENTAL PROPORTIONS". I don't know why this phrase makes me smile, but it does. Paul has certainly nested, quite monumentally, or at least internationally. Vince and Pat just built an extra story on their house to accomadate their growing family, which I suppose makes it quite a formidable nest. Taavo and Tracy have finally moved in together, into a vast, spacious loft. I could go on. I suppose it's easy to paint this great nesting as a groaning slide into flabby comfort, a farting, sighing retreat from the sharp angst of the single life, with its promise of anguish, eager sex, quick heartbreak, self-pity, and displays of overeager bravado and defiance. 

It doesn't alter the fact that most people don't really miss their single life when they leave it, except in brief, irrational flashes when things aren't going well. When things are going badly more often than not, that nostalgia becomes overwhelming, and they lash out, trying to recapture some of the autonomy and adventure they remember from those days. Most of them are disappointed, and resume life as part of a couple as soon as they can. 

Few people are well-suited for a content life, alone. I know I'm not one of them.

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writing ©2000
Rick McGinnis
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