Recently I had a friend ask me what I wanted out of a relationship, so I told him the truth. All the usual things like friendship, support, loyalty, but also that I would like to be in love with the person. As in, I would like to think of them not as the best available option, but the one — of my deliberate choosing. Obvious, probably. To which:
Him: That seems like a lot to ask.
Me: To be in love with someone?
Him: Yeah. Like if you had to choose between being miserable alone and a little bit happy with someone you’re not in love with, isn’t it better to be just a little bit happy?
“A little bit happy.” A little bit happy is that sad absent smile you wear when you’re picking out shirts at a department store, when you buy them some holiday present they should logically like, a new Apple thing or a cashmere sweater, and keep the gift receipt. A little bit happy is eyes-closed sex, afternoons and drug store flowers, a Windexed shellac over something unnameable. A subcutaneous longing that sometimes cuts your breath short and you can’t figure out why.
Right now I’m still saying no but it’s increasingly harder to be sure.
Right now it’s 100% or nothing. I’m completely in love with you, you’re the one, I die with you or alone and that is the end of it. Right now this is so easy to say. But the more I try to visualize future me, the less clear it becomes. I can see myself self-sufficient and happy at 25, 35, 40. It’s a lot harder to see being 60. Being 70, or 80. Being happy at 60, 70, 80. Being okay and being enough for myself.
I had a weird moment this past week, when I was in bed with something that can only be described as Rage Flu. I watched my temperature ratchet up to 101, 102, 102.5, then all the way down to 94. 93. 92. For one crazy minute I was convinced I was dying and I was like…great. So this is what it will be like. No last words to anybody, no final instructions, no impassioned I love you, nothing. Just going cold all over in an empty room.
Then I got my shit together and did something about it, obviously, but still.
What if I’m wrong about all this? What if I — we — do need someone to be a little bit happy with?
Is it okay to be with someone you love a little bit, or you love more as a friend, who doesn’t have you, as this Tom Ford ad campaign puts it, “incandescent with desire”? In comparison to that, “a little bit happy” seems bleak. But then again, the comfort and safety of someone being there, someone to hold a cool hand to your forehead during a death fever, someone to share a small sliver of love with…there are times when that doesn’t seem like the worst thing. Although, Anaïs did come alive with Henry Miller, not Hugo. But still.
I don’t want to settle, but I don’t know. I don’t know.