The Painful Truth Is It Might Be Worth It

Written by Mark Scarola

"I merely stir, press, feel with my fingers, and am happy,
To touch my person to someone else’s < br />
is about as much as I can stand."

— Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"

So, having been informed that the topic of this issue is the ever-elusive
"perfect love" (or, as Winnie-the-Pooh might say, "the emotional
Heffalump"), I sat down and took pen in hand. Oddly, I simply couldn’t
bring pen to paper. At first I thought it might be fear that my current
companion would take offense at something I wrote and abandon me, forcing
me to rewrite the entire essay. That certainly wasn’t the case, so I stared
at the paper for a few minutes, and then it struck me. The problem is that
"perfect love" does not exist.

You see, "perfect love" is an oxymoron. Anyone who has experienced
love can testify that it is awkward and clumsy, ill-timed and clammy, embarrassing
and demeaning, elevating and debasing, and yet there is no greater endeavor.
To expect love to be pure joy and elation is to miss exactly what makes
it so wonderful. Love allows one to experience the full range and scope
of human emotion. The highs give you nosebleeds, and the lows set you up
for the bends. Even the time in between is filled with interesting emotional
spasms. (Personally, I enjoy the moments following a phone conversation,
when I realize I’ve said something very inappropriate, and verbally thrash
myself out loud for the next few minutes.) If one experienced only the euphoria
and not the nagging doubts, then one is not truly in love but truly moronic.
If only the exaggerated moments of self-loathing are explored, then once
again, it is not love but phone sex.

True "lovers" are deaf, blind, and mute. They hear the intonations
of voice and carefully chosen words of their companion, but are unable to
register the meaning of these things, leading them to ask questions like
"What do you think he meant when he said he really likes me?"
and the inevitable follow-up: "Do you think he really likes me?"
One in love sees his lover’s face in microscopic detail, yet is completely
incapable of reading its countenance. "What in the world is she staring
at?" asks the man who cannot fathom that another might find him attractive.
The one in love presumes it is a physical deformity that is being assessed,
rather than the beauty he possesses.

Of course, the greatest disability of a person in love, and the one that
causes the most pain to those who surround him or her, is the inability
to semicoherently express feelings through the use of language. Some try
anyway, which is why we are tortured by such songs as "I Can’t Smile
Without You," "I Honestly Love You," and "Hey, Did You
Happen to See the Most Beautiful Girl in the World?" (not to mention
"Georgy Girl"). A lover who happens to possess a simulacrum of
taste chooses instead to say as little as humanly possible, for fear of
blurting out something like, "Hey, you know, Debbie, I just wanna let
you know that I got all these feelings and stuff that I got for you and
I wanted to let you know because sometimes I think you know but I really
don’t know if you do, so I figured I’d tell you."

Trying to deduce the feelings of your possible mate is perhaps the most
anxiety-provoking part of this enigma we call love. And for those of you
who need a bit of assistance, I offer an ancient piece of wisdom that I
have just recently concocted. My theorem states, "The strength of one’s
feelings towards another is directly related to the number of segues used
in normal conversation with that significant other." One who has been
smitten by another is often over-cautious when approaching a conversation,
especially if the conversation is of no interest to the listener. Rather
than directly stating what needs to be said, the conversation is characterized
by the use of particularly awkward segues. For example:

Woman: I was thinking that we might see a movie tonight.

Man: That sounds good . . . which reminds me that I just saw a preview
for that new John Waters film, Serial Mom, and I got to thinking
that I’d call my Mom because I haven’t talked to her in a while, so I did,
and then I started to feel bad because she hasn’t gone out much since Dad
got his goiter, so I invited her along with us tonight, if you don’t mind.

Here we clearly hear the nervousness and hesitance in the man’s words, because
I would have rewritten it if we couldn’t. His verbal constipation is demonstrative
of his desire to please his companion. Compare this with the speech of a
man who has little concern for his prospective mate’s feelings:

Woman: I was thinking that we might see a movie tonight.

Man: Quit yapping, I’m scratching myself.

My theorem is correct! Just as I would have hoped!

Love is buoyant and unsinkable. No, that was the Titanic. Love, in
fact, is fragile and easily corrupted. Into each relationship we carry the
weight of all our past relationships. We expect love to raise our disenchanted
and world-weary spirits and we simultaneously expect it to heal old wounds.
What it really does is create new and more painful wounds — so painful that
we simply forget about our old scabs, which eventually fall off, leaving
us with only the new ones to tend to. Much like a good parachute jump, love
must be approached with great fear and determination. (Note: the elderly,
those with heart problems, and pregnant women please be warned.) In fact,
love is like falling into a bottomless pit with Astroturf walls: one simultaneously
feels the euphoria of freefall combined with the intense pain of rug burn
when one accidentally brushes the sides.

Despite my obvious wisdom and level-headedness, I would hereby like to let
you know that you should discount all that you have read so far. I’m an
idiot. I know nothing. I’m in love.