At The Centre of Things

head in hands
Photo credits – David Goehring, Flickr
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All I remember from the immediate aftermath of hitting the red button which terminates the FaceTime conversation I have been having with G is a feeling of reeling and of sinking, how I imagine the driver of a car suddenly swept off a road into the icy depths of a lake might feel – disoriented, numb and perhaps too taken aback to have any real appreciation of the import of what has just happened. There is good reason to feel this way, given the act – symbolic as it were – is one that brings to an end what has been a good year of sorts, and that only for the third time ever. To reach this place, where what is a painful, hard fought decision has been taken, has required months of agony and wrestling – weighing the pros of trying to save face against the cons of loss, of time and sunken investments. That G and I work, by and large, has made the decision even more difficult; that a milestone birthday of sorts for me has just passed complicates things even more.

Three is a nice tidy number I think, a sample just big enough to allow the trends and patterns of behaviour – good, bad or indifferent – begin to surface. The trends which are beginning to surface here are ones I can not bear to countenance. When the sum total of my its-not-you-its-me conversational experience was two, it was easy to chalk them up as learning, and somehow decouple myself from the act of tearing things up. In my mind, I was not that kind of guy, the kind who blithely broke things up without considering the impact on the life of others. Now, as I navigate the aftermath of conversation number three, I can no longer hold on to that belief, at least not without lying to myself.

The sixty days since then have not been an unbroken stretch of numb, morose pain though. With the release from the expectations and commitments implicit in a relationship comes some sort of freedom – false as it may be; loads of time suddenly are freed up, and the willing mouth can gain feast at the plenteous h’ordeuvres on offer – all 3.5 billion of them as it were, in theory at least. Reality only hits, in my experience, when with a little bit of life to share – a new success, a hard fall or even the most quotidian of events – the lack of an ear one can call on without much fanfare rubs the reality of aloneness in; which is what happens when I hear the first real not bad news about work in June. That for me is what has hurt the most.

With the benfit of time to reflect, it has become obvious that I do gravitate to a certain type of woman. G was very similar to girlfriend #2 – both ISFJ, both from the same part of Nigeria, both very Christian and both were liasons I entered into with more ambivalence than I cared to admit at the time. The one outlier amongst the three was EJ, I suppose the intense physicality that was the hallmark of those 11 months meant the foundations were shaky, and we were doomed form day dot.

A lot of the main blocks fit perfectly with G; in the end it was the intangibles that proved a straw too heavy for the camel’s back – the lack of an emotional connection from me, our widely differing pressure handling/ coping strategies and subtle differences in how we lived out our largely convergent worldview. Amidst all that, work happened as the final element of a perfect storm which exhausted my capacity for dealing with change, leaving me scrambling for the the position of least turmoil – which unfortunately, selfishly I’ll admit – did not include her.

One of the big questions that has looped over and over in my mind in the month since then is if I loved her. I was sure I did, we had great conversations when they managed to happen and there certainly was a sense that our meet ups across town were looked forward to. I also put my money and time where my mouth was on several occasions. Where we fell short was in the effervescence stakes, I didn’t love her in a wild, fizzy, over powering way. My 11 month dalliance with EJ proved that loving that way was something I was capable of; what was unclear in my mind was if this stable, sensible loving without the fizz was sufficient in and of itself.  In the end I decided it wasn’t, that clarity has to count as one of the neccesary if unpalatable learnings I have had to deal with from this nearly year.

Helen Fischer, in what I think was a fantastic TED talk, postulates that there are three brain systems that govern how we bond and love – lust, romantic love and attachment. In my case, my head felt there was sufficient common ground for long term attachment to flourish eventually, I just didn’t have enough lust and/or romantic love to get there.

The Christian tradition I come from – I came of age in the generation that binged on Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye and sang along gustily to Rebecca St James’ Wait for Me – is one which tends to lend itself rather easily to placing beauty and attraction in opposition to character, Proverbs 31:30 being the bumper sticker for that. In that worldview, beauty and attraction pale in significance to character and sensibleness. Granted there is a sense in which building a long term relationship on the fuzziness of fizz is somewhere between stupid and foolhardy, but I have come to believe that the opposite position, going into a long term relationship with the head but no heart is equally as dangerous. Thankfully since then the likes of Leke Alder and Matt Chandler have weighed in on the subject in a way that lies somewhere between supporting my position and proposing a third way.

I doubt there are any coherent arguments that entirely support my decision – the cold harsh reality of two months certainly have not brought those to the fore yet. But it is back to real life now. The enduring image, one that may well haunt me for some time yet, is one where we are face to face, separated by the portal that is FaceTime, with the linger of an awkward silence between us, neither one of us wanting to be the one that ends the call. Something broke that day in May, and at the centre of everything is me, vacillator-in-chief. I can only hope somewhere down the road, there is redemption, and if not, that the lessons learned may yet save the future.

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