Mark and I watched Once the other night, and it was all kinds of brilliant. Possibly my favorite film of the last year, for a whole lot of reasons I won’t spoil the film for you by listing.
It reminded me that I’ve been struggling for some time to figure out a piece for Scarleteen addressing the fact that relationships can have great importance even when they don’t go on for years or even months, and when they’re not sexual or even romantic. Obviously, this is super-pertinent for young people who are often having watershed relationships that also don’t tend to last long periods of time. During them, they’re hyper-aware that they’re important, but there are so many messages that pivotal = long-term that often when they end — or even throughout them — they discount something so huge, or diminish it, and all just because of that misconception. As well, we also have this funny cultural idea about romance that says that anyone who doesn’t stay with you is rejecting you, or feeling you weren’t worth their time, and it’s an idea that discounts the complexity and multifaceted nature of our lives and the value of every single moment.
It’s a big deal for me, too. Even when Mark and I were watching that film, the two main characters have, on the day they first meet, one of those first-meeting-days that turns into this long day and then a long night, mostly of talking, sharing common interests, and suchlike. I was telling him that I just LOVED days like that — we had one when we first met, too: those meetings that just stretch on and on, and there is a certain energy to them that’s all about meeting anew. I’ve had a bunch of those in my life, and sometimes you do continue seeing the other person, and sometimes you don’t, but the import of what happens on those days just isn’t determined by anything BUT that one day.
In college, for instance, on a flight to Oxford-via-Amsterdam in 1990 — back in those halcyon days when there was a smoking section on international flights, and that section was often like a cocktail party — I wound up sitting beside this poetry professor from Iraq. This was a double boon, since previously, I was sitting next to a male schoolmate who had teased me all the way to the airport about the fact that I was a nervous flyer, only to immediately vomit on my feet twice during take-off. So, being able to move at all was a lifesaver. But there I was reading my Blake, preparing for my Big Blake Immersion, and there was this professor reading over my shoulder and sighing blissfully. We wound up in this amazing 7-hour-long conversation, punctuated by an awful lot of wine and the distribution of many cigarettes; about poetry, art, death, poverty, racism, world peace, love, longing, the whole enchilada. We laughed, we cried, we even yelled once or twice, we held hands. When we parted ways, we exchanged things of great value to each of us, so thankful to have made that connection: I gave him a bunch of stones and crystals I always kept with me for my back (I used a cane for walking for six months in college due to an injury), and he gave me this heavy, woven gold ring. I still have and cherish it: I call it the world peace ring because not shortly thereafter, the first (though technically the second- we’re really in the third now) gulf “war” started and it struck me as so tragically silly that if two strangers, from the U.S. and Iraq, could get along so quickly and easily and talk about difficult subjects so freely and openly, surely world leaders apparently schooled in diplomacy could freaking work it out.
I don’t even remember his name. He wrote it in one of the many books I had with me, but I haven’t yet run into which book that was again yet. It’ll be a fun day when that happens. But it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter that I don’t remember his name, it doesn’t matter that that was our only exchange, and likely the only one we will ever have. It is the connection and the moment itself that matters. We both left different than we came. (And after I left him, I had a long layover between flights, so I took this great solitary walk through the city, hit a couple bars, ate half a gingerbread house by myself in a park, and, having my dulcimer with me, played street musician in my traveling pajamas for an hour or two. I was so dazzled — and okay, a bit dazed, too — by the time I got to Oxford, and so high on the conversation, sleep deprivation and alright, the hash, that I slept for nearly three days solid when I arrived.)
The point is, you have that meeting, however short, something happens, you leave it transformed. It is incredibly important, and it’s import is in no way determined by time. I’ve had an awful lot of instances like this in my life, romantic, sexual (one of the many reasons I have always very much enjoyed one-to-two-night stands) or otherwise, and I consider myself blessed in that. As a Buddhist, there’s also an extra-special sweetness to things like that, which is that without any attachment, even the hint of possible attachment, there’s a certain magic that can happen that isn’t the same as in exchanges which you think or know are not temporary.
I’m always torn dealing one aspect of with young adults and relationships, and this is part of why. I never want to keep them from enjoying that feeling that strong feelings and relationships are eternal. It’s a beautiful thing, and I think it’s very developmentally valuable and poignant. I also think it’s okay to think that and find out otherwise. It hurts like hell when it happens, sure, but I often say that I’m much more worried about young people who never get their hearts broken than those who do. I think we all need some heartbreak to grow. But at the same time, they can get in some weird emotional spaces where I feel the need to explain that realistically, their teen relationships will likely NOT last forever, and even when they do, will rarely be the same relationship later that they are now; that it’s far more likely if they sustain a YA romantic relationship it will become a platonic friendship, for instance, than it will stay a romance. That that love and mad like does feel eternal, and it’s even possible those feelings may be eternal in some respect, but that isn’t the same thing as spending your whole life in a romance with the person you’re dating at 15. And part of me thinks that some of why those relationships are so watershed is expressly because they are fleeting: two people will meet, connect, share something unique, then take it with them as they move on to the next place. Clearly, you gotta walk a fine line to explain things like that without raining on their parade. For as long as I’ve done this work, I’m still not sure I get it right with them when it comes to this.
But again, some of that is this issue of time, and battling what they’re told about what makes interpersonal connections and relationships important — an issue of quantity over quality, really — out and about. Adults will often make clear, overtly or covertly, that young people don’t understand love or that their relationships aren’t meaningful because they won’t be marriages of lifelong romances, and it’s bollocks. Or projection. Or both. (Maybe wishful thinking? I seem to see a lot of parents telling their kids that it’s what lasts over time that is the biggest deal, of the most emotional import, but whose long-term relationships are clearly substandard at best.) I tend to think that there are aspects of love which we probably understand best as children or adolescents which we either forget as we grow older, or which our disillusionment — particularly if we have been given the idea that the shorter a relationship is, the less worthwhile it is — poisons. If we’re lucky, we get the chance to relearn it.
Anyway, food for thought for me over the next few days, that. Mark just spun off to Austin for a couple of days for his day job, which gives me two days and nights completely to myself that I hope to use working on things here like a maniac. Because of the holiday, I’m not back at the clinic until Wednesday, so I have some time to play catch-up, per usual, here at the home office and at the house in general.
(Perhaps hilariously, we realized last night that one issue for us in our sex lives is that because we started out long-distance, we’re both most amped up when one of us is leaving or coming back home. We never fail to have the best sex then, and sometimes struggle to have sex outside of that context as amped as it is within it. I guess we need to go away more often. Heck, maybe we’re grooving on the exact kind of thing I was just looking at: the feeling — even though in our case it’s not a reality anymore — of what is fleeting and potentially temporary.)