January 15, 2014

Love, Tornadoes, And Magikarp

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What is the issue?

A lot of people’s go-to diss is something like “This is why you’re single.” Other than the dumb implication that participation in active monogamous relationships constitutes your success in life, this ignores something obvious about relationships that everyone forgets when they need the “you’re single” quip, but acknowledges in any other context: you’d rather not settle. It’s insulting, delusional, and probably counter to your goals anyway.

So what the fuck is “settling”? There’s the bitter trophy wife kind of settling, where someone has unrealistically high expectations and thinks they can continually date up until they’re with someone who meets every checkmark in a list of impossible dating criteria. But I don’t think that’s practical. People get married way older now, and ‘settling’ is an applicable concept long before you get married. Isn’t College Sweetheart becoming the new High School Sweetheart, anyway?

I’d like to offer an alternative definition: settling is when you pursue a relationship knowing you’ve had better. Not believing you could have better, mind you, but knowing specifically that you’ve felt more elated and more satisfied with someone else, while continuing to remain in the binding dyad you’ve developed. Breaking up would require that you admit a mistake or spend nights alone. Who wants to do that?

Settling is accepting ad hoc love; ad hoc love is hormonal, chemical love. Love created because your body wants to love, not because you do love. Absent magnetism or chemistry or electrifying attraction upon your first interaction with someone, you can force love by just … being with that person. Showering with them; smelling them; sleeping with them; sleeping with them without condoms; sleeping with them literally. Your body will improvise a laboratory to make you like this person, because your body is an asshole on top of the one it already has.

Non-settled love is more like a tornado. The kind of person you can fall in love with is the kind of person for whom your presence is a mutual binge. Not long after your first conversation, you’d rather they be your oxygen. You’re struck like a tornado’s touchdown, because you don’t kind-of wonder if you’re in a tornado. You’re either not in a tornado, or shouting “holy shit, I’m in a fucking tornado.”

If you know this – if you’ve experienced tornado love – what incentive is there to waste your time with non-tornado affection? I can’t think of any. Not only does the relationship pale in comparison, but you’re constantly reminded of the reality that you could be having something more fulfilling.

But tornado love comes around maybe once a year. Super-compatible connections are like a high IQ society for two people, but replacing IQ with compatibility. It’s rare. It’s a shiny pokemon. You can’t say there are other fish in the sea if it’s a shiny Magikarp! You only have one of those, another one would take *forever* to catch and you’re just not that dedicated. If you lose it, say goodbye. You’re not getting over this.

I was made hyper-aware of how it felt to fall for someone this way when I had a 3-day marathon date with a person over the 2013-2014 transition who was set to return to school in January. We had spent around 40 or 50 hours in contact over a 72-hour period. I probably could have fallen in real love if not for stupid mistakes on my part and physical constraints on the universe’s part. It was in huge contrast to love created by intimacy; I enjoyed every interaction from this rush, no matter how destined for cessation the larger set of interactions were.

One interaction stood out in particular. We got Vietnamese for lunch, and she’d intermittently complain that I took the seat against a wall. I love wall seats and hated this conflict of interest, but I gave up my seat halfway through. From this angle, the window light illuminated a new brilliance to her multi-colored scarf, which led to a conversation about clothes and a donation center for students she managed at her college in Boston. She described a female physician who died at 40, whose entire collection was there by the husband’s donation.

The level of conclusion my date was able to deduce from this woman was exceptional. Not only were the conclusions far-reaching, these were conclusions she could reasonably infer, which was even more impressive. There was no intellectual arrogance or sense of bullshit. From the look of the physician’s shoes, my date reasoned about how the woman allocated time in those shoes, went out dancing in those shoes, loved in those shoes; it must have been tragic, my date explained, for someone to die so early. The physician doubtfully even went out much, given her job.

Her way of thinking and empathizing intoxicated me. Her character became a gestalt – her voice, the way that her lips moved, and her gestures while she explained this were a single incident. Until that point, I had forgotten what it was like to be slapped by someone else’s existence.

That’s the sort of thing that I don’t think you can replace or reproduce. There are a lot of people who are smart, and there are a lot of people who are good at banter, but a person who thinks uniquely in a way that you are enthralled by is pretty special. And it sucks when people like that fall from your contact. You can’t just Masuda method those kinds of shiny people back, as it were. When they’re gone, the gravity of their absence is final. You can deal with it, but “other fish in the sea” is simply wrong.

But there is a benefit to the loss anyway: it’s easy to be single when you have this kind of contrast to work with. Opting out of singlehood knowing well that you don’t have this kind of spark supporting your leave is doing a disservice to yourself, if not your view of reality. Being single is hardly a downside, especially if you know what kind of indication it’d take to not be single. If anything, knowing you have this kind of interaction to look forward to will empower you to appreciate the solitude more.

I realize that tornado-style love doesn’t exist for everyone, though. It exists for a certain person capable of lapsing into fits of passion, but others may not be so intense. Other people may know the feeling, but feel like real love comes after the tornado wears off, when two lovers can begin to foster mutual respect and devotion. All of these are good perspectives.

What I’d like to suggest is not that tornado love is what you need to feel, or that you need to love a certain way similar to it, or that being single is great all the time. I am neutral on singlehood, and I am neutral on relationships. Rather, I’d suggest that settling is horrible, and this tornado analogy exists in contrast to what settling feels like. A relationship with someone whom you seem to like a lot – on the edge of tornado love, but not quite there – but who doesn’t excite you as much as you know someone else could is a constant cognitive torment. I would not want to put myself through that, and I don’t know why anyone else would either. TC mark

image – Ken Sugimori
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