A Farewell to Arms?
He puts his arm around me like I’m his.
It doesn’t feel good being wrapped up. It feels like half the air and twice the work. Entertaining this strange ritual. Big arm, little woman. I’m not good at being inside another’s constructed comfort. Why do I hate this so much? I didn’t have to beg or fight to feel wanted and possessed. I’m the Queen of What Every Girl Wants and want the crown on another head. How can he be here already? Caressing my head when he notices that I’m feeling drowsy. Patting my thigh to emphasize jokes or me-directed points. Poignant nudges and that damn arm. The arm that holds and reassures. The arm that says “cool, let’s do this.” Around the girl that says nothing. And looks out the window counting the seconds until she can get up without seeming like she’s making a run for it. Yet I sit and oblige. Entertain and allow.
Maybe the fear of being heartless does this. The fear that it isn’t just this arm. But any arm. Any man. Any sign of unconditional affection. So I nestle in closer and signal affirmatively. Is it a lie? Or do we all warm up like this? I don’t understand non-verbal communication. I can’t say what I want. I just want to talk it through.
“Listen. This arm thing is kind of throwing me for a loop. Do you actually want to hold me close or are you transitioning to something more believable, like a spunky petting session?”
I’m cynical and painful in the moments when a man wants to calm things down to a soft roar. “No, seriously,” he’ll assert and frown at my macho reaction to sincerity. He’s the one that shows up when I pull a typical chick move and yearn for an unreceptive guitar player or cool guy impossibility. He doesn’t realize that the arm, the smile, the nudge of approval equate my version of two steps back. His guard is down too soon. He’s too compliant, too excited to let this work. He’s ready. Which means I have to decide if I am ready. I have to do something. I have to react. Affirm or deny. I’m making things complicated. Because I’m me.
The girl who wants everything at the price of nothing.
Arms included. But arms don’t offer themselves for nothing. Casual sex, kisses, symbolic dancing under neon lights – those do. But this isn’t casual. This is a heavy price and a long arm that wants to be there tomorrow, too. I want it to go away. I don’t want to be “Ok, I’ll see you tomorrow” Girl. I want to be Sara. Not Sara plus man with generous arm. Sara plus one could turn into Sara plus one karat. That’s a life of arm. A life of giving in to public rituals and compromise.
“Relationships are built on compromise, you know.”
He insisted that I let him pay for the wine he didn’t drink, and I refused. I didn’t budge. I might never. But then I’ll have to weigh the possibility of being alone. Alone in the pathetic, publicly rubbing away welled-up tears sense. Alone and sitting in coffee shops pining over new couples sharing a fruit cup with a curly-haired Emma baby. Alone and bitterly flaunting my anti-love movement of the week. Alone in the most preventable manner imaginable. The woman who chooses to be alone. It’s an unnecessary practice. I can’t be her. The bitter single twenty (or thirty) something that pokes fun at public displays of affection and digresses into a compliment-fielding drunk at weddings.
I talked to my Mom today and asked her what prevented her from arranging a marriage for me at birth – considering my inability to pull this dating thing together. She laughed and told me I’d fight tooth and nail to emancipate myself from the concept of having the right I do not practice taken from me. That’s why. Naturally I knew that’d be my way. Give me choices; I use them to an advantage so extreme that my only concern is maximizing me. Give me no choices; I stomp and scream without rest until you wish there was no you and demands are met. I’m impossible. Even the woman who should be advocating for my life of love and relationships has a grim outlook on things.
“I think I ruined you relationship-wise. I’m not sure. Maybe marriage just isn’t for you.”
I date back to childhood discussions and teenage sleepovers and realize that I’ve avoided saying “... when I get married” and have always preferred “…if I get married.” As a result, I fear all things that entertain whens. The when becomes so much more eminent with the initiation of new relationships. Because eventually, if things go well, emotions run wild and me-motivation becomes we-motivation. Each new man is a new chance to engage in the process of stepping one foot closer to being committed to someone. Forever. All I have to do is say yes once to a date, an extended hand, a curiosity that is half-terrifying, and it could happen to me. Things could go well. Things could be great.
I could fall in love.
I could fall.
Or I could count the seconds until being held is over. And let go before he does. So that way he can go home and I can imagine how long he would have held on if I hadn’t gotten up. Rather than waiting to be let go of. To be left. To be without a choice because one was already made. Even if that choice was simply about the removal of an arm around me. I pick when the letting go happens. Just like I pick when holding on happens. Why should I let arms come and go? I come and go. Arms are just there. Men are just there. Relationships are what I say they are, and so far as reality is concerned, my vision is far-fetched. I’m a love-patrolling lunatic.
Yet, I let the guard down and pick less these days. I’ve been letting things slide, like winks and looking chummy in public. To test. To learn. To allow some affection outside of fantasy land. Things are good there. Men aren’t defined by their looks or their personalities there. They’re defined by what I want. When I want it. They’re around if I like it then gone when I don’t. They’re not arms and questions and compromise. They’re disposable. But we all know that people aren’t disposable. And that fantasy is a strange place we go because we feel shame in wanting such a taboo reality.
So I’m trying to be realistic here. I take deep breaths to preserve oxygen until I can come back up for some relief. And I might let him stick around. I might let him hold me longer next time. I might let there be a next time. I make choices realizing that they lead to the same fork in the road that I’ve only imagined walking down. On one side, I make choices that lead to an ultimately successful relationship, resulting in marriage, kids, happiness, whatnots. On the other, I make choices that lead to being alone. Being surrounded by couples with smug looks on their faces while they flip through wallet photos of toothless children and runt puppies. Being independent and free to do whatever whenever with whomever I please. Neither appeals. Neither feels optional. Both feel inevitable. Both force loss. Both require compromise.
I’m working on it. I’m working on it one arm at a time. One reciprocation at a time. Letting feeling like being his mean nothing more than momentary comfort. Not letting myself pair feeling his with the fear that enjoying that emotion means vulnerability of needing that emotion and being lost without it. I’m trying to find a win-win rather than waiting for my win-lose. There doesn’t have to be a loss. I don’t want to be unmeant for marriage. I don’t want to be a relationship leper. I don’t want to be a quitter. Quitters never win. And I can’t lose.
I’m adopting a new if…then philosophy rather than separating relationships into if or when statements. There are no guarantees. There is no merit in hiding behind possibilities, either. Men and women put their necks on the line every day – why can’t I? Maybe I’m not hopeless. Maybe I just need to grow up and accept whatever comes because so far I’ve got nothing to lose. Well, there are a few things to lose - some of which I've been dying to get rid of. I guess I'm already seeing the upside of things.
I guess I'm more of a girl about relationships than I thought.
Who let's an arm wrapped around them invite the possibility of marriage, anyways?