The Inability to Quantify Love


“Love” by Nikolai Bashkirev (2006)

At the age of 39, I find myself in a quandary: After years of dating and assembling personal relationships only to have them collapse like a house of cards, I decided to try to quantify what makes people “fall in love.” As you can imagine, it’s virtually impossible to determine a definitive answer. So after surveying the wreckage of my past attempts, I tried to glean from the remaining particles what forms the axis of a potentially solid foundation. In much discussion with friends, I often feel ping-ponged between opposing view points. They often contradict each other in advice and approach, but somewhere between the refractory points of view, I settled on the following factors:

1. Humor: There must be laughter. If no laughter, then what will sustain you both when you’re in wheel chairs with leaky colostomy bags? You better have some jokes for glue. Several friends say that only one person in the relationship need supply the laughs and that as long as the other person is entertained, the circuit is complete. Since I’m a moody bastard, I feel like I need both ends. Sometimes I like being the magician, and sometimes I like being the audience. I am not sure if it is reasonable to assume you can be both. I do know that a good laugh dismantles emotional walls, it coaxes smiles out of the fox hole, and it disarms the nuclear trigger of a raging temper.

2. Intelligence: Not IQ-driven, but a certain level of intellectual compatibility. Everyone’s mind is a satellite adrift in the Nothing, but when transmissions fall upon familiar frequencies a reciprocity is created. I’ve always believed that two people need not work for NASA to communicate effectively with each other. But a similar level of idea exchange turns consonants and vowels into construction material. Can’t cross that violent river? No problem, we’ve got sentences stronger than the thickest bridge cable.

3. Self-Responsibility: I think a lot of people drive their relationships without this one. I find that being with people who are not very responsible is ultimately detrimental to both parties. I’ve also been weary of those who would not provide an equal contribution to the partnership, and I’m not necessarily talking about money. These are the cleptoparasites who will feed on your emotional well-being. I’ve often found that people with a good work ethic, the ones who will do a good job – even if the job itself is not particularly prestigious or profitable – are sterling examples of this cardinal attribute. It may not always carry over to other parts of their life, but it is often a divining rod to a quality person. In my experience, it denotes a person unfettered by obstacles who is willing to work on something, rather than give up at the first sign of trouble.

4. Decent Hygiene: I know this is a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people come up short in this department. No one has to be OCD, or carry anti-bacterial wipes in their wallet, but a modicum of cleanliness is like having a home with good manners. I’ve certainly let my apartment go to hell during a busy week at work, and I get behind on laundry just like everyone else, but there comes a point when even I cannot stand it. I once read a book on playing chess that said, “An ordered system loses less energy.” Well, in my book an ordered house, projects good energy. I think of all these points, this could probably be the one I bend on if the other factors were strong enough. After all, I would be willing to have a pet in the house (if I really wanted one). I just can’t kiss one that smokes.

5. A Physical Connection: Ah, the great differentiator. My mind has a habit of drilling down to the essence of what makes something stand out. I was raised to believe that you seek out someone in life to be with as an extension of the family you are already born into. Of course, in my teenage mind, the physical obligations of a marriage seemed contradictory to that line of thinking – so you add this person to your family except you have sex with them? Seems weird and metaphorically incestuous. However, I think a sexual relationship is quite important (at least for myself) if you’re going to be bound to the Earthly plane for 70+ years. Judging from my more liberated friends, sexual attraction is relatively easy to find and I think that’s probably true. Surface quality is the fastest thing to identify, especially with the Internet’s one billion profile pictures. Unfortunately, many are false advertising for the empty containers they merely decorate.

Despite the accumulations of this list, I still can’t help but think I am missing something. That unknown factor. I am hesitant to call it “supernatural” or “extrasensory,” but I do know that I’ve met people who satisfy all of these criteria and still my mountain within is not moved. The heart is a fickle invention and it excels at cryptography.

Damn you, human heart.

The Silent Fury of a Secret Crush

There is something uniquely painful and delicious about a secret crush. I’ve been harboring one for the better part of two years with no signs of abatement.

"The Ecstasy" (2011) by Martin Wittfooth

“The Ecstasy” (2011) by Martin Wittfooth

I have never been the bold and brash type to throw myself at people and brush it off if they reject me. I am usually quite cautious – like a medical professional – gauging the temperature of the situation, feeling for a pulse of reciprocal attention, and then making an educated assessment on the survival outcome.  I guess you can say that I’m not one to dance in the spotlight of public humiliation (although I have done it on occasion for comedic effect).

Last spring, I made some subtle overtures toward this quiet gentleman to see if there was any interest in the shallow tides of our interactions, but my net returned nothing of substance. But still, to this day, when I see him in passing or when he responds to my random greetings or casual conversations, I experience nothing short of the 4th of July in my cardiovascular system. My synapses align and fire like a 21-gun salute. I am happy for almost 3 full hours simply because he acknowledged me.

He’s not Gerard Butler or anything, but he’s got a quiet power about him. A solid, slightly introverted, state of mind. Hair like crushed coal and mischievous eyes. Regal but with a hint of darkness, like an old Victorian clock or a wounded soldier still keeping watch at the checkpoint. He wreaks of responsibility and work ethic – the cologne of a good man. And trust me, this is truly a rare aura for someone in their late 20’s.

But at the end of the day, he’s beyond my reach for whatever reason. Perhaps he is with someone or not interested in me. Perhaps he’s not looking. Perhaps he’s not “playing for my team”. I may never have the answer, and so I have to swallow my hope. It feels like a grenade gift-wrapped in a cactus. But better that than follow the bread crumbs up the mountain of expectations that I’ve constructed, over the peak of my own hype, and off the cliff into oblivion.

There is no pain greater than that of suppressed elation.

Ok, maybe dental pain.

The Corporate Nanny State

Just the other morning in the office break room, I was overly tired and pouring myself a cup of “complimentary coffee”. A co-worker of mine swept in with some unnatural morning sunshine and made the comment, “Kick-starting your work ethic?”

“I guess,” I offered ambivalently.

She looked a little puzzled and said, “I thought you were really happy in your new position?” To this, I responded, “I absolutely love what I do, but I do not love WHEN I have to do it. I am not a morning person – whatsoever.” She seemed to shrug off my qualitative statement and just had to throw in the sarcastic “one explanation fits all” judgment: “There’s always something wrong, isn’t there?”

"Insomnia Sleeper" by John Jude Palencar

“Insomnia Sleeper” by John Jude Palencar

Normally, I would channel my rage into a cutting remark but I was so defeated by my lack of sleep I didn’t have the energy. However, the longer I absorbed that interaction in my mind, the angrier I became…and the more I inspected the thought of whether or not she may be right. After some careful deliberation, I determined that not physically feeling well due to lack of sleep is a very legitimate reason to not be happy. Aside from possibly winning the lottery or being proposed to by a decent partner, I can’t think of many things that would lift my spirits enough to change the fact that my bones feel like old iron pots and my skin hurts.

My mind made a leap-frog to an even bigger issue: Why the hell do people who have good work ethics and do their jobs well have to be at a prescribed building between certain hours of the day at all? Especially if they aren’t dealing with outside clients? And even if they are and 90% of the communication takes place by email, why can’t this be done from home? Heck, we even have cell phones that could handle the other 10%. Why are 30+ year old adults treated like toddlers in this day and age? I posed that question to another friend of mine who owns a blossoming business and he said, “Well, unless it is like a retail position, I imagine it is just because most employers don’t trust their workers enough to work from home or to work flexible hours. They think those people will fudge the system or take advantage of them, and honestly, a lot of them do when given the chance.”

Ok, fine. I admit some people may deserve the corporate shackle, but I’ve always been of the impression that if you give people a project and an allotment of time to do it, they either perform well or they don’t. And if they don’t, you get rid of them. I mean, if people weren’t actually working and projects were not getting done, someone is going to notice, right? Maybe I don’t know enough about the business end of it but it sure seems like allowing an employee some flexibility would mean a happier employee.

And after all, don’t you want someone who loves their job to do it when they feel their best? Seems like a logical way to improve your business, but I guess we’ll just keep doing things the way they’ve done them for hundreds of years because it’s too dangerous to think what might be actually good for the person could actually be good for your business.

A Better Definition of Having It Better

I had a conversation recently with a friend of mine who has children. She was telling me how her family had fallen on hard times and she was very upset about not being able to “give her kids the things she never had.” I’ve heard this statement a lot from many people over the years, and while I understand the sentiment and where it comes from, I can’t help but think it’s an ideal that warrants refinement. I say this not from a place of judgement but from one of observation.

For full disclosure, I have no kids of my own (nor am I ever likely to) so I do question my place to dispense any advice on the best way to raise human podlings. However, since I was once a child (and a totally bratty one at that) it’s my personal philosophy that a good parent is an anchor and the kid is the sailboat: An anchor is heavy, but not completely immobile. It keeps the sailboat from being swept away by whimsical currents that could lead it to destruction, but it also knows when to rise from the seabed and allow the craft to travel when an appropriate direction is selected. I always thought if I was a dad, I might be a little strict with my kids; the “Great Denier” who would withhold impulse purchases at the check-out or disavow frivolous procedures like throwing a new toy in the path of a crying toddler – the types of tactics so many parents use to quell their offspring.

Of course, I say that but the practical application would be more like the following mental negotiation with myself: “For just 5 minutes of peace and quiet, I don’t mind buying a $20 action figure or video game.” I am guessing this is how the thought process goes for most parents. girlwithbirds

Anyway, back to my original point for writing this piece: My friend seemed to convey a disappointment in herself that she wouldn’t have the quick means to manufacture a happy mood in her children by giving them a material thing. I can only assume this approach had worked as a preventative measure for a very long time. I told her, “You know, my parents weren’t dirt poor but we weren’t rich either and from my own experiences I think what most kids want is just some kind of social engagement. They want something that inspires their imagination. They want to interact with you. I don’t think you need to have the means to buy lots of new things to give them that.” She seemed to tacitly agree but was dwelling on the upcoming storm of expectation she had already constructed – and would now have to dismantle. She seemed to fall back on that old adage “I just want my kids to have it better than I did.”

And that’s when the shit got real. I told her, “When people say things like that, I really hope they mean they want their children to have a better education, a better work ethic, a healthier body and mind. Because as far as I am concerned, more toys, more designer clothes, and more time to play video games didn’t do a damn thing for me growing up. I can’t use any of it now.”

And with the silence I got from that kind of response, I remembered my place. I remembered that I don’t have kids.

So of course, I couldn’t possibly understand.