We were having dinner at Elio's on Second Avenue in Manhattan. Me, my parents and my sister and my brother-in-law. When out of the blue, Julie turned to my father, not exactly known for his soliloquies, and asked him what he thought made a marriage work.
It was an interesting question, coming from a young woman just three years into her marriage and looking to start a family soon. What was he going to say? What was the big secret?
His answer? Chemistry.
It comes from feeling a connection to your partner and having the desire to make things work to be with them, to struggle through the bad times together, because whatever it is that causes that spark, those butterflies, as they say in Sex in the City, you are all-in. Feelings. Emotions. The Intangible and Uncontrolable.
Its like when my old therapist answered my question on how therapy worked.
And in a lot of ways, it really is.
There's no good reason why someone you think is perfect on paper or who looks good in a photograph turns out to be just blah when you're actually sitting across a table from them pretending to enjoy dinner. Just as there's no good reason why catching someone else's eye turns your knees to jell-o and makes you do things that Sane-You would consider crazier than bat shit.
We really have little control over how our eyes and hearts wind up figuring things out for themselves. The plainest person could be beautiful to you, or the most attractive simply a bore. I have wonderful, spectacular friends who I think are just perfect, but who I have never wanted to kiss. My mother always thought I'd wind up with someone who I'm obviously not with, and I told her I just never wanted to kiss him, and she said, "Oh. Well that wouldn't work then..." Of course not.
I have been thinking a lot about what connects people and what makes us choose whom we're with and how we make our decisions about friends, lovers and spouses as I've made new friends, forged new relationships and made a few mistakes along the way.
How do we choose the people we keep in our lives? What draws us together? What is it that makes you feel those butterflies when someone smiles at you? Why is that the feeling we're all willing to live and die for?
And then... What keeps us together? When does someone cross that line from stranger to acquaintance to intimate? And when things go wrong, what are we willing to forgive? Why are they worth it to us? And what makes us decide its time to walk away?
I think about these things as my friends and I make transitions - some marry, some are having children, some I have had to leave, and others struggle. Some have ended relationships. Some have begun new ones. We learn when to stand our ground and when to compromise or surrender for each other. We learn who loves us and who we can trust. We learn who we are and we are constantly marveled at how we manage to persevere every time we are challenged, injured or wronged. We have each other's backs. And we are not kidding.
For a long time after my friend Phatiwe's death, I kind of shut myself into a closet and kept close what I knew and refused to engage in anything that could hurt me. I made new friends, but I wasn't open to putting my heart on the line.
Participating in a slow, painful death is a soul-crushing experience, and it takes many years to learn again to be really open to people who weren't part of your life before. My first year in New York, I started a book club to make friends and I tried to date men I met online, but I abandoned the dating when I found it too trying and it took a long time to really connect with new friends.
However, time passes and hearts heal. And its our instinct to make connections again. Its what keeps us alive and what, in the end, makes this crazy game of survival such a glorious, ecstatic, clusterfuck. We're all doomed but God Damn, it's sublime.
This year, I missed the third anniversary of Phatiwe's death. May 12 passed, and I didn't even notice. And I was proud of myself.
I was in the throws of planning and plotting and dating and kissing and laughing and cooking and smiling and watching It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and remembering how awesome those things are... And I forgot to be sad for what I had lost. And I'm pretty sure she forgives me 1000 percent.
Because my sadness was something she tried so hard to shield me from, even though we both knew it was impossible. It was hard to have someone love me that much. And it was hard to love her that much. My dear sweet girl, an only child who learned what it was to have sisters. As it will be hard to love my other friends, my future children, my eventual husband and my wonderful family that much when things inevitably end.
I don't mean this to be dark. But sparks and lust, and shared smiles and that instinct that makes you think someone is on your team, lead to love and commitment, and those things are not always sunshine and roses. But something makes us stay. And keep loving. And keep kissing. And keep sending birthday cards. And forgive weak moments and hurtful barrages and silly mistakes. And love as fierce as a supernova. And as soft and steady as your breath when you're sleeping.
And hold someone's hand, and tell them that you didn't keep secrets from them, so given your last words, you have nothing to say except, "I love you."