Sunday, May 6, 2018

Relationships: Exquisitely Complex

Most people expect to settle down when they're older and use youth to explore as many avenues as they can, not minding cul de sacs. People say dating gets easier with age because we know ourselves better, but anyone single and over 30 knows the conventional wisdom is wrong. By the time we are 30 or 35, we respond in different ways to different people based on what happened to us at 7, 14, and 21. Partners having a fuller history of each other are better equipped to deal with conflicts than new occupiers. 

In the past two years, I've searched the globe for answers only for my heart to return to a place I visited sixteen years ago. Realizing my choice couldn't have been a coincidence, I'll share my thoughts so we can both be a little less clueless about love. 

A person meeting a potential partner at 34 will notice certain tics and file them in his memory bank, but he won't know their origin or how to work around them until years later because of incomplete data. At some point, he'll tell himself "Women are crazy," excluding the part about men being stupid. In contrast, a man dating a 19 or 25 years old woman will have an easier time molding himself to her and may even have the exact details necessary to understand her. The earlier man, Australopithecus Ag├ípi, has an advantage: younger women, like younger men, are less sure of themselves and have fewer reservations about opening up to either gender. The advantage of youth is assumed mutual ignorance, which acts as its own truth serum. Meanwhile, a man who stays with a partner from 28 or 35 will know almost nothing about her history, thus having a much worse chance at accomplishing the one thing we all want: to be understood. 

I used to wonder why baby pictures are so captivating. We are viewing a tabula rasa, but we look anyway, trying to glean the history we've missed. A part of us must know each passing year in a person's life is a year of personal knowledge we lack to solve the mystery that is him or her. Strangely, we give children, but not adults, the benefit of the doubt when meeting for the first time, despite our lesser knowledge. And yet, adults in new relationships are forging boundaries just like children who seek independence within protective frameworks. 

Perhaps we've forgotten one of humanity's guidelines: explorers seeking to settle in mature places should enter knowing others have trampled there before, leaving footprints of uncertain providence. Surely we've forgotten because otherwise, we'd be more forgiving and far more frightened when exploring new avenues in adulthood that were so effortless in youth. 

I met a woman when she and I were 22 and 21 years old. When we re-acquainted in our late thirties, little had changed. Of course that cannot be true, but it feels so because I captured three months' of youth's unguarded moments, time that allowed me to upload some of her source code. Every smile, every twitch, and every tear created a Rosetta Stone that still translates input flawlessly decades later. Now consider how few modern couples have three months of continuous, unguarded time together and then research marital happiness rates. For this reason, parental love is often stronger than romantic love because a unique zero-day foundation holds up the relationship, and all parties know it can be repaired but not replaced. The breaking of the parental bond is the worst psychic wound possible because it robs us of the ability to keep a zero-day historian in our lives, someone who can provide an undamaged Rosetta Stone. 
Rossetta Stone in London's British Museum.
I met another woman in her thirties recently, and we felt an instant bond. I can't tell you why we felt a bond so quickly, but it surprised us both. I saw through her hard armor instantly, and she knew she could clang her metal swords and flail around me without judgment. We trusted each other because our subconscious played matchmaker, knowing our hearts were damaged but willing to play to the right beat. Nevertheless, my absence during her unguarded years means she will remain an exquisite mystery. Thankfully, I don't need her source code to know her toughness is matched only by her tenderness, and when she lashes out, it is not to hurt me, but to scare away the tinkerers trying to hollow out her armor. And so it goes between us, many miles apart, she clanging her swords and me shielded by the knowledge her unpredictable curtness and too-polite texts are fear no one will ever be able to write her Rosetta Stone

When older people date today, they are too busy trying to impress each other when all they really ought to do is listen for the sound of armored plates. It is through those sounds you'll discover the level of effort you'll need to complete your journey. The trick, since you'll probably lack a Rosetta Stone, is to find someone whose heart is willing to play with yours. Whom will you ask to dance? 

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