Friday, February 24, 2006

My Sex and the City

I haven't written in a while because I felt self-conscious about always prattling on about Robert (what is this crazy pebble world called love?) and also because I'm lazy and have had totally handicapped internet access (thank you, people in Apartment 2A whose wi-fi now requires a password -- although, you know, I actually had a great time trying to come up with potential passwords -- "1234" "Mine" "Not Yours" and then I gave up.) Last night, I ate dinner in Chelsea with Suzie and Phoebe (my version of Sex and the City) and they said, "That Happy Belated New Year has to go. It has to go." I said, "I don't think anyone cares enough to read the blog" and Phoebe said, "Sarah, write it for us." Which was such a nice thing to say, it's lead me back to here.

Robert dumped me on Tuesday night, which was so pathetic. The reason he gave? "You don't want me to go on business trips...I don't see how you can co-exist with my work."
What? I said, "Can you give me an example of when I've discouraged you from working in the last six months?"
But wait, I have to back up to the Friday before that, one week ago, on whch I sat down and wrote this letter:

From: "Sarah Norris"
Subject: Oh, Maxwell!

Dear Robert,

I keep thinking about some of the conversations we shared last
weekend, in both Paris and London, and want to communicate to you
what, specifically, has stayed with me. Earlier today, a friend was
talking to me about her fear of commitment that underlies all of her
relationships. I asked her how it was possible to possess the kind of
fear that she was describing when she’d just spent the previous six
years in a committed relationship. She said, “Oh, we were faithful to
each other but after awhile our relationship plateau-ed and instead
of deepening, we just maintained the status quo for a few years. It’s
easy to lie to yourself when it’s happening. I told myself that he
and I were completely honest with each other, that we were as close
as we could be…but the truth is that we were comfortable with the
distance between us. Because we were both afraid of experiencing real
intimacy, neither one of us asked for more. But the whole time,
underneath, I knew that something wasn’t right.” When she said this,
Robert, I felt like a light went off above my head: this is exactly
what I do not want for us. Recovering and maintaining distance—both
geographical and emotional—is becoming a pattern with us (at least
one that I feel is becoming apparent) and it is precisely for this
reason that I’m writing you this letter.

In January, when you took me to Heathrow after our month together, we
were talking in the taxi on the way to the train station and you
said, “I used to see your leaving as a resumption of my life; now I
see it as a cessation of my real life.” I was so touched by those
words because they seemed to be seeds of something growing—some kind
of solid plan for a shared future—and I have thought about them often
in the past month. Your kindnesses towards me when we are together,
your constant thoughtful gestures and words, are what sustain me when
we are apart. I try always to return them, to treat you with all of
the love and affection and worship that I feel for you. Over two
glasses of lemonade, another friend asked
me yesterday if you and I “have fun together” and I burst out
laughing. “Yes,” I told her. “So much of the time, we’re like two
little kids. We play together.”

And it’s true, I think, for the most part; in each other’s company,
we laugh and tease and make love and sometimes I look at you and it
actually brings the sting of tears to my eyes, I can’t believe how
much love I have for you. In those moments, I know how blessed we are
to have found each other and I make these silent promises to myself
to be less demanding, less confrontational. I swear to do better at
being easier, to be better for us, to make you happier. When we are
together, I wake up in the mornings and nothing in the world brings
me more joy than scooting over to wrap my legs and arms and body
around you, to press my lips to your back, to be there with you to
say good morning.

Then, after a weekend or five days (never more than fifteen), we
split again, back to different countries and all the promises I’ve
made to myself—all the progress you and I have made as partners and
lovers and friends—sputter out into a series of daily ten-minute
phone conversations in which we each say, “How are you?” over and
over again until it’s time to say goodnight. Ugh. The only way I know
of to break this habit is to commit to something bigger than a
vacation with you. In some ways, the past three years has existed as
a series of vacations and retreats, some of them impossible to
believe they’ve been so absurd and beautiful. I say that I spent last
summer living with you but if we’re going to be honest, I don’t think
that any real day-to-day living ever got off the ground. We didn’t
spend more than ten days in any one place—much of it was amazing,
parts of it were very hard and lonely, and none of it was
sustainable. As wonderful as our trips have been, the truth as that
our love for each other doesn’t live on the Nile or in Marrakech or
in Paris: it is in the details of the every day. It is in the ways we
turn love into an action, a verb, a behavior that moves us closer
towards sharing a home.

Last weekend, drinking red wine around the corner from your apartment
our first night in Paris, you admitted that the relief you felt about
backing out of our brief engagement wasn’t based solely on the
pressure I’d put on you. You felt relieved at the prospect of not
having to change your life, of not having to intertwine it with
someone else’s, of being pinned down and responsible for more than
yourself. I know that you live a peripatetic life; I know you are
afraid that a different kind of commitment might infringe upon your
ability to pick up one of your passports and fly out of town on a
whim, wherever you want. Though you have not said so in so many
words, I suspect you feel threatened by our making plans to live
together—to be weighed down by my expectations to have you there more
often than not, to be there for the gritty, boring daily goings-on,
the breakfast conversation from opposite ends of the table,
“Apparently, they discovered a new planet” a la Match Point. But last
night, when you called me at three o’clock in morning your time,
after you’d been working, you told me about the Chinese emperor you’d
learned about on television and I tried to listen to you, Robert, but
in my head, I heard another woman’s voice saying, “The only reason to
have a long-distance relationship would be if he was drafted in a
war.” Because it is one thing to have powers greater than ourselves
stand between us; and it is quite another three years on to speak
into pieces of plastic on opposite sides of the Atlantic about our
separate lives (your successful business, my thesis, my family, your
travel plans) knowing that what stands between us isn’t a war but our
own paralyzing fear of commitment and change.

You also told me last weekend that you know, when I threaten to break
up with you and see other people, not to take me seriously anymore.

And here we are looking at apartments in Manhattan to buy without
either of us having a real reason to be in New York, with your
business in London, and my struggling to focus my energies on
business that doesn’t involve you.

Believe me, Robert, when I tell you now that I am miserable with what
the distance between us has inevitably turned into our relationship
maintenance. These phone calls are a chore, and a sorry one at that.
We say we miss each other every day that we are apart but how many
vacations does it take to keep us together when we’re not wearing
swimsuits? Instead of asking you what it will take for you to make up
your mind about me, I am starting to seriously ask myself what it
will take for me to decide once and for all how much I think I’m
worth. Earlier today, I realized that the moment I start asking what
other people think is the moment I begin to go wrong. It’s my own
inner voice I should listen to on this subject, not my friends’ or my
mother’s or a stranger’s. I don’t imagine that you’ve learned anything
from reading this letter (I’m sure I talk about our relationship quite
enough for your comfort) but what I learned from writing it is that I’ve
missed sharing with you like this—speaking clearly instead of whining,
loving you instead of needing your attention.

When we met in 2003, I recall so clearly being struck by what a
wonderful conversationalist you were, how much joy I took when we
talked, how we could talk for hours, about anything. In that regard,
I am interested in maintaining: I want always to take an absolute
interest in the words you speak and write to me. I don’t want to fall
into patterns of small talk that run themselves dry and bored in
ninety seconds. I am as excited by you at the Royal Palace Recife as
I am in the ocean, in the kitchen, lying on our futon mattress,
walking through the East Village, eating a single scone at Podunk,
kissing your lips all over Paris. I don’t want to forget what brought
us together in the first place; I just wish I understood how it is
that the energy and spark that keep us together are part of what
keeps us apart.

I love you.
Your girl,

So I wrote that letter and then...nothing. The next time we talked was two days later, (after I'd wandered into a reading and slideshow by the author of a book entitled "We All Die Alone" and saw that a man in the audience was wrapped in a blanket -- before fleeing back outside into the sunlight and calling my Robert in Switzerland) and it was just a shitty conversation. The expiration date on the long-distance part of this whole thing has expired. When we broke up two days later, I felt like I'd been deflated -- but, finally, I also felt relief. I can't imagine loving someone else as much as I love him. Which is part of why I felt relieved--quite simply, I just don't think I have anything new left to give him.

I don't know what is going to happen. I'm thinking of leaving New York, for reasons not entirely unrelated to a Sarah Lawrence Alumni Writers Panel, during which one of the speakers said, "If anyone here has any ideas about how to make money as a freelance writer, please come talk to me!"

What about Nashville? What about Mexico? What about stepping outside and not getting hit in the face with pieces of garbage that are blowing around at seven in the morning? What about not paying $2,000 a month in rent and $17 for 90 minutes of yoga? I just sent in my resume and cover letter for a job as an editorial assistant at HarperCollins--a job that pays less money than I made three years ago working at a nonprofit. And, I think, life in New York could continue to be absurd and energetic. Maybe Robert and I will get it together, maybe we will get an apartment and a dog and a homelife and I will get a job that I love (maybe even teaching yoga) and I will write and he will go on his business trips, unimpeded, and the anxiety about "the future" that I have carted around for the past 2 years with just...disappear for some time. We will love each other and we will make it work. Or, you know, maybe I will pack up my books and move south somewhere, eat quesadillas every other day and fall in love with someone else and life goes on.

There's a sign downstairs in my apartment building that reads, "EXTERMINATOR COMING ON FEBRUARY 31st" and, next to it, someone has written, "What the fuck?" And every time I walk past it, I'm happy it's still there. I think, "One day, I will miss this chaos." Then I put on my gloves, open the door to the wind, and prepare to be in the face by someone else's flying garbage.


Anonymous camille said...

What are you doing ?
What do you want?
Please show your dear reader some resolve. Please show us that you are growing that you are not exhibiting the same patterns or this no story at all. Narrative has direction. Man vs. the elements, man vs. man, man vs. himself.
You wrote Robert a mini-thesis and never once did you name what you want. Free yourself, speak it aloud, because then and only then will you hear him say in clear and simple terms that he cannot give it to you.
Please come into present time. It is cold and dirty and frightening, but there is possibility here.
With Love from New Orleans,

8:10 AM  
Blogger MaRougeChausseurs said...

whew's Barbara.
this has so much clarity
all you need now is strength, which is much harder to access than clarity.
you know what you want. you wrote it. it's right there.

so when you falter and get confused just read your own words

5:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sarah, it's sarah. I just want to let you know that I love you and miss you and want everything in the world for you and all the small little insignificant seconds that make up the minutes, that make up the days, that make up the years...I want you to cherish the mere magic that has been in them and believe in that the magic will keep coming for as long as you love. some circumstances are out of our control. You and Robert may live in a home together one day and do laundry together and use the same silverware over and over again or you may move on to other things, which we cannot even begin to imagine. The point being is that you're an amazing person, as your own seperate entity, and lots of people love you a lot and you're going to have a wonderful life.
from North Carolina- Sarah
I hope this wasn't too cheesy- I've been living in the south u know!

7:02 PM  
Anonymous suzie said...

sarah (the other sarah) that was a great ad for the south...and i'm not joking. agree--wholeheartedly. you do know what you want, sarah of the blog. and thanks for putting it out there for us to share with you.

9:49 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Thank you, Camille and Barbara, Sarah and Suzie, for your insights and support (not to mention reading that whole, ahem, "semi-thesis". The past few weeks have been a real turning point for me, in terms of thinking about myself first, instead of my partner. It is scary but, I see now, it's also the way I need to think whether or not I'm with someone. It's not a profound thought--but it's enough to change my life.

3:01 PM  

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