223. cacography

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Darcy“My good opinion once lost is lost forever.”

This past weekend my friends Adam and Jesse got married. They’ve been together fourteen years, which is a number I can barely grasp as an amount of time spent with one person. Aside from my family, very few of my relationships have lasted even remotely that long.

As expected, the weeks and days leading up to the wedding were difficult, partly because I was putting together all of the music for it, as is often my job. I wrote (and performed) a song for the occasion, something I haven’t done since college, a setting of an excerpt from Walt Whitman’s Song of the Open Road—”Camerado! I give you my hand.”

It’s tough participating or working on weddings when it seems like it will never happen for me. It’s like someone who works for minimum wage making products that they’ll never be able to afford. Now that I’m past my half birthday and virtually thirty-two years old, it seems even more unlikely that I’ll ever find a boyfriend, let alone one who might someday become a husband…

Weddings are also difficult right now, seeing as one friend after another has been getting into relationships, engaged, or married of late. Relationship statuses change, and friends post pictures of themselves with their partners, seemingly happy, doing things together, participants together in life. Which leads me to wonder if I’m truly living, and what that even looks like. Because it still feels as if I’m picking up the pieces of the remains of my pre-atheist, pre-Seth existence.

A few weeks ago my friend Sarah returned to the States after several months abroad in Europe. Sarah is a fellow graduate of Northwestern College (now the bizarrely re-named “University of Northwestern,” which led a friend of mine to comment: “That’s awfully specific”), and a fellow apostate and ex-fundamentalist.

To make a long story short, at the end of her sojourn abroad, she inadvertently found herself in a relationship with an Austrian fellow who she’d met at the beginning of the year and had been building a friendship with over the course of her travels. I got the whole story at the beginning of the month, and my initial reaction was like this: “How is it that this is so easy for everyone else?” Because it truly feels like my universe is shrinking.

Part of her story was Sarah coming to the realization that her lack of interest in guys was not so much that she wasn’t into guys (or girls) but rather that she hadn’t met anyone on the same level, with whom there was a mutual respect. She likened her relationship to Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

This struck a note with me, as I’ve been feeling similarly adrift, dating-wise. And for a long time I’ve felt like the problem is me, that I’m the one who is broken. Now I’m starting to think that maybe I just shouldn’t be dating American men—at the very least, not Midwestern men.

For me, the “Darcy” comparison seems particularly accurate (aside from not being worth $14 million). If you’re familiar with the novel, our initial impression of him is one of aloofness, coldness, and haughty pride. It’s only later that we discover his depth of feeling, fierce loyalty to family and friends, and the deep insecurity that drives him to keep most everyone away.

Most of my character faults can be traced back to a fear of rejection and failure. At the wedding this weekend, I watched everyone else interacting with a seeming fluidity and natural ease. It always confounds me how most gay men seem to flirt with blithe nonchalance. Of course, that may just be my perception, and that I’m only seeing extroverts.

The reality is that I find it difficult to interact with most American gay men. The stereotypical enjoyment of popular culture and trivial conversation is mostly lost on me. As a friend of mine once observed, I don’t suffer fools. Does that come across as Darcy-like arrogance? Probably. But as an introvert who finds most human company exhausting, I don’t understand the need to fill every moment with noise. That seems to be a defining characteristic of American gay culture.

The sense of dissatisfaction in my dating life up until now seems to come from the lack of any potential romantic partners who I can respect as an equal. That probably doesn’t sound very flattering, which is where the Pride & Prejudice metaphor comes in handy.

Elizabeth is perfect for Darcy because she is a strong, independent-minded woman with her own opinions (contrasted with her sister Jane’s demure, more compliant personality). She stands up to and challenges the men in her life, even supposed authority figures. Like Darcy, she is fiercely loyal to those she loves, to the point of disregarding social proprieties when she walks to Netherfield Park after learning that Jane has fallen ill.

Towards the end of the novel, Elizabeth asks Darcy what attracted him to her when they started as rivals. She suggests: “The fact is, that you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused and interested you, because I was so unlike them.”

And that’s what I’ve failed to find in dating American men—a man who distinguishes himself and challenges me. (There’s also the stunting influence of Puritanism and internalized homophobia, a rant for another time.) American gays seem caught up in the rush of culture, fashion, hookups, and fetishes, and I’m not into any of those things. Whatever happened to the likes of Gore Vidal, Oscar Wilde, Benjamin Britten, or Christopher Isherwood? (They were seemingly replaced by the likes of Perez Hilton and Ru Paul.) That era was no cakewalk and they were all flawed people, but that’s the ilk of man I’d want for a partner.

Now, to find him…

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9 thoughts on “223. cacography

  1. Yes yes yes! Stay true to yourself. The more I have embraced who I really am, the less I can relate to humans as well. I am such an introvert, and so deeply fulfilled by having a life partner. Don’t doubt your desire for this and especially don’t doubt the possibility of finding him just because you are in your 30s?! Age is only a barrier if you decide it is.

    • David

      Count on it! 🙂 The more I’ve brought this anxiety into focus, the more I’m seeing that it’s less about age and more about getting a late start in life. I came out gay at 25, and atheist at 28. (Better late than never, I suppose!) So the frustration is about having to do all the things that most people do in their twenties, all while having to deal with the challenges of being a thirty-something, and trying to keep all the plates spinning.

      Part of the anxiety, too, has come from the perception that so much of gay culture is obsessed with youth and appearance, that thirty is “gay 40,” and that I’m not exciting or shiny enough for most guys–which has led to the conclusion that maybe I shouldn’t date Americans. But it’s mostly about feeling like I’ve shown up for class only to discover that it’s the day of the big final, and that somehow I completely missed all of the reminders…

      • I totally get it. I recently wrote a song called ’18 Again’ about taking back the last 18 years (I’ll be 36 in dec). Because of Christian brainwashing and addictions I feel like I lost my 20s, like I was sleepwalking through them. So it may sound silly, but in my mind I’ve just decided that I’m 18 again and that I have all the time in the world to pursue my dreams . It helps me to not feel bitter for the lost years.

        • David

          For me, most of my life pre-coming out seems like it was spent trapped beneath the ice of the façade I had to wear to be “normal.” Life seemed like it was happening to someone else, as if my physical body was just an avatar being pulled along with whatever current was strongest at the moment. Finally coming out atheist was like breaking through that ice, and the last couple of years have been spent learning how to breathe again. Have you seen James Cameron’s film The Abyss (1989)? There’s that awful scene where Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio drowns and has to be towed back to the oil rig by Ed Harris to be resuscitated. My teenage and early adult years felt like that–a long, slow drowning.

          So no, I don’t think it’s silly at all to pretend to be eighteen again. We tell ourselves stories all the time to make sense of the world. So why not use fictions to heal ourselves? Are you familiar with narrative therapy? That sounds like a similar approach.

  2. I can’t disagree with you there. I went to school in the Midwest for a while and my experience was not satisfactory. I just didn’t click with the American gays of my age group.
    My partner is British and older than me, that suits me very well.
    More specifically, a fellow schizoid is ideal. We can spend a whole day together in silence- many days, even. We only interact when there’s a point.
    I wouldn’t worry to much about your age. You can have a good time on your own until something that works well comes along.

    • David Philip Norris

      Friends of mine have recommended that I should date older men, which is curious seeing as my sister’s husband is about ten years her senior. My siblings and I have always interacted with older peers better than those our age. A fellow schizoid seems like a wise choice, although I’m also open to a more extroverted fellow to compliment my withdrawn introversion. We shall see. Finding a British (or Irish) partner is something of a fantasy of mine, although the logistics of actually making that happen seem impractical.

      What has troubled me the most about being single is not knowing “how to have a good time” on my own. My “fun” tends to be either solitary (reading, practicing the piano, cleaning, composing) or communal (cooking, meeting friends at a restaurant, rehearsing a piece of music). I’m contemplating going to Seattle for a few days at the beginning of October. It’s something I’ve never done — stave out on my own — and could be a good growth opportunity.

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