The Pursuit of Happiness
Ask yourself whether you are happy and you cease to be so.
— John Stuart Mill
If only we'd stop trying to be happy we could have a pretty good time.
— Edith Wharton
The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.
— Blaise Pascal
Sometimes you have to give up what you want in order to get what you need. [Ed. note — Gee, I guess I could have used a Rolling Stones quote for this one, huh? But that would have been pretty low hanging fruit and lately, I've been expecting a little better of myself. ;-) ] Anyhoo, what I've wanted over the past few years is pretty obvious to anyone paying attention. I long to have someone to share life with. To share the joys, to bear the pains. To be vulnerable with each other, to encourage each other to be more than we could be alone, and to grow together in the love of God. To walk with and dance with and have snowball fights with. To know and to be known. In short, to love. What I need, however, is a little more basic. I really need authentic connections with people. And that's missing. Just about everything else I can do without. Actually, I guess those two are really kind of related but they manifest in very different ways.
But while I miss being in a loving relationship, I could do without that if I had some really close friendships. Well, that's not actually fair, I suppose. I've mentioned before that I have some great friends to whom I can turn if I ever need anything. But they all have families which have to be their priority and I'm not willing to take their attention away from that for the sake of myself. But we no longer spend time together like we once did.
I need other men in my life with whom I can talk openly and honestly about life, problems, hangups, and what have you. And to just kick back and be loud and watch a football game and call each other stupid nicknames. And everything in between.
In truth, I suppose it doesn't have to be limited to men. I've been privileged in my life to have had some very close friendships with women that I've valued greatly. One of my best and closest friends in college ("Hi there, EEMcH") was female and we were able to talk honestly, openly — even bluntly — and I think we provided each other with perspectives that we wouldn't have otherwise had. I know for certain that I was better for it and I like to think that she was as well.
Anyway, I don't have any relationships like that in my life right now and I hate it. I'm rather miserable.
When I was married, it was natural to socialize with other couples and we did so on a fairly regular basis. Dinner, poker nights, brunch, riding horses. Whatever. I haven't seen or heard from most of those people since my divorce. Not once did any of them ask how I was doing or invite me to spend time like we did when I was married. While my kids were still living here with me, they played the important role of getting me out and doing things. Now that they're out and on their own, I don't go out much because I really hate going places alone. I've never been extremely outgoing — although I was better in my college days — and these days I don't really mingle well with strangers. It's not that I don't mesh well or get along with people. I'm just particularly lousy at breaking the ice. And now that I am very self-conscious about my speech patterns, it's a whole lot worse. Add in the fact that I don't really fit in well in my little rural town — I was raised in the city and, after 18 years here, I still feel like an outsider — and it's pretty much a perfect storm of isolation.
But the biggest issue isn't just that I don't like feeling so alone, it's actually unhealthy. A few months ago, the Boston Globe ran a piece called "The biggest threat facing middle-age men isn’t smoking or obesity. It’s loneliness." It's a sobering read and I recommend it for both men and women alike. We (that is, men) tend to do this naturally as our focus shifts from our own needs to those of the people we are responsible for and have dedicated our lives to. But if we're not intentional about it, we often lose the connections which have been so important to us and sustained us thus far.
I'm trying to do better. I'm forcing myself to get out do things on my own even if I don't feel like it. I'm looking for new social groups that I actually share some interests with. And, now that my friends' kids are growing up and becoming more independent, I'm trying to renew some of the connections that we used to have and set up some regular times that we can hang out and do life together.
On the flip side of that is the romantic relationship. Where does a middle-aged, single, Christian man go to meet middle-aged, single Christian women? In small town America, there's only one answer. Church. But when there are none at your church, you're pretty much out of luck. Well, there is one woman at my church that I'm friends with and would like to know better but she's fresh out of a break-up and not interested in starting something new right now. Maybe someday. The only other option is to stumble across someone in the course of daily events but my daily events pretty much only involve work and grocery shopping. As a general rule of thumb, I don't date people I work with so the largest portion of that is off limits and I'm way past the age where it was cute and endearing to hang out in the grocery store and ask cute girls which aisle the toast was in. And, yes, I realize that I was recently willing to make a huge exception to the work prohibition but she was a special case. The exception that proves the rule, if you will.
"So??? What about that one?" I hear at least three of you asking. "Where does this elusive Len that we've read so much about fit into all of this?" Well, in short, she doesn't. And this is where we get to the "giving up what you want" part of the above equation. It has become increasingly apparent over the last few months that she simply isn't interested in pursuing a relationship. And faced with that, I have to lay down the torch that I've been carrying for her. "It's about time, you moron!" I hear the same three of you say. "We've known that for the last two years." And yes, you're right. If I'm honest with myself about it, I've known it as well. But, as Emily Dickinson said, "the heart wants what it wants" and when you have nothing else to hold onto, you hold onto hope — probably for much longer than you really should have.
Look, I get it. I know who and what I am and that's not everyone's cup of tea. I'm not what she wants. Quite frankly, I'm not what most women want. And that's ok. I'm geeky and weird and quirky and I have an offbeat and pretty dark sense of humor. And I like it that way. I'm not going to change who I really am in a vain attempt to appeal to someone who doesn't like who I really am. But maybe someday, my weird will be somebody else's perfect. And it will be absolutely amazing! Whether that actually happens or not is, of course, unknowable. But I can guarantee that it won't happen if my vision is blocked by someone else. In order to open myself up to the possibility of a real relationship, I have to let go of the one that I know isn't going to happen no matter how much I may want it to.
So where does that leave me? At a new beginning, I suppose. In a way, I'm starting over as far as social interactions of all sorts go. I'm looking for new people, new experiences, new interests. Hold me accountable, please, dear readers. It's far too easy for me to drop into a rut in spite of my best intentions. Don't let me. The occasional poke in the ribs or kick to the head as needed is welcome. No spiked heels or metal boot tips, please.
Update: I initially wrote this about two weeks ago and, since that time, Len and I have been able to talk face-to-face and it was…… good. We confirmed that this isn't going to go anywhere. I knew that already but I needed her to say it. And we also affirmed our friendship. It's too important to both of us. But I told her that I need to be absent for a while and I need to relegate her back to being someone who I used to know. My feelings for her won't fade away quickly but they will fade. They have to. We hugged and said goodbye. She got in her car and I walked away.
And I forced myself not to look back.