Sunday, April 02, 2006

In Which I Reveal That I'm a Terrible, Awful Person

So there's this guy. He is nice and smart and funny and liberal and has a good job and plays soccer on the weekends and carries pictures of his niece in his wallet and takes excellent care of his aging dog and is just the kind of person you'd want to marry someday and have cute little kids with.

Except that I don't.

A few years ago we dated, but that ended when I committed to someone else, and then he moved and I moved and blah blah blah. We e-mail on rare occasions. We see each other even more rarely. But when we do, things are nice and pleasant and I always leave him wanting more (the way it should be, right?). I think the last time there was even a hint at a proposal. Not really a topic I wanted to pursue, so I changed the subject. My, this Diet Coke is delicious. Mmmmm.

I e-mailed him this week, just a quick "Hey, how are ya? I still exist, do you miss me?" kind of e-mail (of course without actually asking "do you miss me?" because that would be, well, just plain mean). And he replied, appropriately missing me and wondering when he'd get to see me again. I demurred, because I don't have a good answer, other than it probably won't be any time soon.

A friend and I were having a lengthy discussion about relationships and aging and life and whatnot. I mentioned that, while I was quite all right with the notion of turning thirty, thirty-five is the birthday on which everyone around me should be prepared to duck and cover. (You've been warned.) But I had to clarify, that, actually, thirty-five in and of itself doesn't scare me. What scares me is turning thirty-five and being single. Not technically single, as in "unmarried," but really single, as in "without a prospect in sight." You know, like my life today. And it's not even the potential singleness that's worrisome; it's that being thirty-five and single-without-a-prospect-in-sight greatly diminishes my chances of having children. Forty may be the new thirty, but when you're talking about bearing children, it is decidedly not.

In this discussion, this guy came up. My friend inquired as to why I wasn't pursuing something with him. After all, he has all these wonderful qualifications (see above) and there's clearly some interest, so...? I explained that, while we could date, and hell, even marry, and it would be "good," it would never be "exceptional." And I could love him, the way you love anyone who's a major part of your life for a decade, but I wouldn't be in love with him. Ever. Sure, there's a spark, but that's not enough. I leave our encounters feeling empty, like a hollow shell of me. And I've experienced enough to know that's not what I'm looking for.

Naturally, the follow up question was, "If you don't want to date him, then why bother e-mailing and getting together?" (Damn my friends for asking such probing questions! If I wanted to be grilled like this and held accountable for my answers, I'd agree to talk to Morley Safer. He's been hounding me for years.) It's a fair question, especially directed at me. In general, I don't keep people around once our relationship has run its course. Time is valuable. I don't like it when people waste mine, and I try not to waste theirs. If we're not meant to be together, fine, let's move along. Separately.

I laughed, and said, "Well, I have to have someone around when I'm thirty-five, single, and hitting the Panic Button." (The Panic Button? Is JUST LIKE the Easy Button -- you push it and the good people at Staples will ship a spouse to you. Expected delivery: one business day.)

And while I meant it as a joke, it occurred to me that there might be more truth in that statement than I care to admit. Here is where I qualify for Terrible, Awful Person status. (Similar to Most Favored-Nation status. Which apparently no longer exists, so perhaps they're not all that similar.)

I ought to do better by him. I ought to live up to my own standards for me. But instead, I choose to play the game that seemingly everyone else plays. A game of hedging bets and being willing to settle for less than "exceptional." A game that nobody wins.


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