Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Isn't that the payback for being indiscreet?"

I've been thinking about something a friend once said. In London one day, a bunch of us were sitting around the dining room chatting about—what else?—love. The question on the table was "What have you learned about love in the past year?" and each person who walked into the room was asked to answer. The group had gotten rather large, and lots of good advice had been offered, but what I'll always remember is what Paul said when he walked in and was asked. Paul was pretty much the coolest guy in the house, so we were all anxious to hear what he had to say.

"Be discreet," he said, and then he shut up. (So clever!)

Someone asked what he meant. He explained: "Whatever feelings you have about a person should be between you and that person."

This was quite different advice than we had heard thus far. That was quite a different position than most of us were apt to take; it seemed every other conversation one overheard among our group was about crushes and signals and possibilities. 40-some-odd girls and 7 boys on a bus together twice a week was a recipe for giggling. My own brother had captivated the crew when he grabbed the bus microphone one day and told an epic of love. But Paul, now that I thought about it, never shared his own love stories, past or present. He had been silent on the matter of his own love-life.

So here is my reasoning:

Paul = cool
Paul = doesn't talk about love


Cool=not talking about love

This makes a lot of sense to me, on the one hand. I mean, I have a lot of stories about love. About failed love (all past-tense love stories with living protagonists are failed-love stories, more or less). Some days I feel like I'm walking around with a lot to regret. But here's the thing: I'm not so sure my future lover will care. When I was younger, so much younger than today, it seemed like every third or fourth date was the "life story" date. The one where you tell each other all about the clubs you were in in high school and about the trouble you caused and about the epic birthday parties and, of course, about the long list of boy- or girlfriends you've had. It seemed necessary for two to understand each other, for two to have proper conversation. But when I think about it, I don't really see any couples I know talking about all that stuff that happened to them before they got together. I don't see them worried about the string of relationships leading up to the present. Rather, it seems like those failed relationships, those "mistakes," never happened at all, or, it you insist on bringing them up, the person just shrugs them off as part of the process—but who would dwell on that when I've got her now? It's like all the hurt and scars have been healed by finding "the one," yadda yadda.

Sorry, I'm grossing myself out a bit with all this lovey-dovey vocabulary. But you get the idea. No in-love person I know is worried about the past very much, and as I've gotten older, I think I see why. So rather than wait for the moment when I too will feel no more shame at my love-mistakes, I feel like maybe I should take a page from Paul's book and shut up about them. If they come up I should just smile and let the mystery stand.

On the other hand, I'm a storyteller, and I don't have many better stories than the ones in which I'm a fool for love. I mean, you should've seen me last week telling J and G about that one time—I was on fire, and they were cracking up. I had them feeling all the passion, pain, embarrassment, indecision, and every other emotion I felt went it all went down that fateful night. I'm not sure I'm ready to give that up. Perhaps this is why writers turn to fiction...

A Whole 'Nother Question: How come I can't seem to talk around my own family? I'm all smarm and charm around my peers, but as soon as I get home I can't seem to put two words together.


Gillz said...

You were about to break into the lyrics of a Beatles song there, weren't you? "Help!" of all titles.

I think past love stories told in a comical way are endearing and bring a special blend of hilarity and comfort to an empathetic crowd. Past love stories that focus on the love part are harder to swallow. You end up looking either tragic or pathetic.

Also, I think fiction is just creative nonfiction with a heavy emphasis on the creative. I could be wrong. I've never published anything so I'm not really legit.

Julie Bradshaw said...

I just had to laugh about you telling J and G about that one time, you're on fire, laughter, yadda yadda yadda. Every few months I resolve that "I'm just not gonna tell that story again," but then something else happens and I just can't help myself. Anyway, I think you have to do whatever works for you, you know? Some people work better with being discreet. Then there are those of us who function better, process better, etc. when we share our failed love with a slam-bang story, because we are storytellers. We say what everyone else is thinking. We help others not feel alone. Our friends love us for this.

As far as the fam, I know that sometimes I don't have the same on-fireness with them as I do with my friends because they simply don't give me the same kind of audience and attention. They're used to my schtick...Sometimes I get a laugh or two, but only when I'm not trying...

Sarah said...

I'm glad you said what I was about to say because as I was reading that I knew J & G could in no way be members of your family.

It's interesting to me that you feel a "final decision" needs to be made in this area. That your decision will somehow speak to who you are and what your about. I don't understand how your brain works a lot of the time but it sounds to me like you feel that only one decision is inherently right and your weighing the pros and cons to see which one it is.

I've been married for 10 years and I have 6 kids so maybe I'm too old and out of it to have a valid opinion but here it is anyway. If the person I'm with thinks that my life up until the point I met him is no longer worth mentioning then I would have to disagree. All of my experiences, good and bad, make me who I am today and I am allowed to think about them, laugh about them and share them without it taking anything away from how special they were to me or how happy I am now.

Maybe that's not even what you were saying. We all know you are smarter than me but that's how I feel about what I thought you were talking about.

Liz said...

ditto to dog!!!! deciding to be discreet about any part of your life makes you more of a carrot-dangler! Do you want to be viewed as cool and mysterious or do you want to have true, meaningful relationships with friends and family? Obviously, you could throw some of that love-analyzing energy into those relationships th since, well, families are forever, and mysteries are not.

Jennifer said...

Alright, I agree with Julie about the love part.

And perhaps what Paul was talking about was the more emotional, private parts of a current relationship. Maybe even applies to past relationships, I don't know. I do know that there are public aspects of my relationship with Andy, and then there are ones that are too intimate emotionally to go there. For example...JUST KIDDING! That would've been funny, though! Furthermore, most people in a relationship have either already pranced through their partner's past or just take it as it comes up in their relationship. I've known Andy too long for him NOT to know my entire past. I've known his, as well. So, we don't talk about it. I'd say more, but we just hit the privacy fence in my relationship :) Julie is right, though. Some of us are sharers. Sure, you may regret a few of the things you put out there, but, as a sharer, I tend to get more from sharing than holding back all the good stuff!

Which brings me to your family. I don't know who those people are, but you gotta find a way to let yourself go around them! I mean, I've heard they are some incredibly awesome, hilarious, loving folks, and you are missing out! Even more, they are missing out on you!

Dude, I know we've been told by people that we are intimidating or too loud or too jokey or talk too much, blah blah blah. Maybe we don't quiet down and wait long enough for your two words to combine. But we ARE interested in what you have to say as long as you are being your real self. Whoever that is. KIDDING! I think it is easy to be smarmy charmy on a blog b/c you can think it out, edit, proofread, and mold the world's perception of you. Not enough time for that in real conversations. Maybe our lives are in very different places and it is hard to relate.

Ok so you see I don't know, but I have lotsa ideas :) Tell me what you think about it. Also, I love you, but don't tell anyone - I'm being discreet.

Janssen said...

Some of my best London memories are Andrew's stories on the bus. You Grovers have the gift for storytelling.

And yes, Paul was pretty much the definition of cool. But so were you and Andrew.

Mary Arlene said...

I think Liz just likes to use the prase "carrot-dangler". I also think that maybe it is hard to talk around family because we all care what family thinks even though we know they love us regardless. I don't know your family but they are probably the funnest, coolest, people ever and they would love to hear everything you have to say. Plus, they can give great advice (ex. all these blog comments) if you share.

Melanie said...

Hi, new commenter here.

I do see some value in being discreet. It really bothers me when people speak flippantly or lightly of intimate parts of their relationships (both physical and emotional). Part of what makes a romantic relationship so special is that the bond you have with that person is different from the bond you have with other friends. I would venture to say that it is a sacred bond and it's something that you should honor whether or not you are still with that person.

On the other hand, there is a great degree in humor in relationships, and, as long as you're speaking respectfully of the other person, I don't see any problem with sharing your experiences.

But thank goodness that some people are storytellers! My life would be completely hopeless if I couldn't live off of other people's romances right now.

I guess, for me, the bottom line is that there are some things which are fine to share, but others that should remain in your heart alone.

Erin said...

Well, you told me it's creepier to read your blog and NOT comment, so here I am.

I think the real message of this post is not about love but about Paul. And how everything he does is cooler than anything you or I or anyone else does, because Paul is all about cool.

I am not cool like Paul is because I'm too open. I'm not mysterious at all. Anyone can ask me just about anything and I'll tell them. Including love stories. But this truly was inspiring. Maybe I'll try my hand at mysteriousity and see how it goes.

Jennifer said...

who the crap is Paul? he cannot be cooler than Gibbs. Gibbs is surely discreet. And alone.

Liz said...

No one is cooler than Dog.
The end.

JSK said...

Sarah and Erin, you are so wise! I did a little "right on" dance when I read your comments.

But, since I don't want to be called a creeper, I'll add my penny in too.

Maybe in matters of love it isn't about being discrete, but instead is about using your discretion. How you deal with love is a decision that only you can make. But, I've been with the same person for 15 years, so I'm really out of touch with the dating scene and what's cool or not. Plus I'm a poet, so I'll talk about anything to anybody, so probably shouldn't be giving advice about anything!

Drew said...

I love how the most meaningful things we said while we were all together this last week were phrases at the level of "shabba shabba" and "honkly donkly", and within a day of our seperation we have initiated such a deep discussion.

I just want to put on the record that this mysterious and discreet Paul is the same Paul who instigated a late night, boys-only activity in which we were all provoked to spill the beans about the girls we were crushing on while sharing a room in the hostel at Ambleside. I believe it was the same fateful night we awoke to a fire alarm and had to evacuate in our pjs at three in the morning (I've always wondered if there was some connection).

Paul was and is mega cool. And I do believe he kept quiet about his own feelings that night. However, he sure was encouraging about us revealing ours.

peregrine said...

I think Paul makes an excellent point. Most of the self-destruct buttons in my past relationships have been hit due to the involvement of too many questions from people outside the relationship. So I rarely talk about them now. Plus, if you all share the same group of friends, it's just a little bit classier to be discreet, though admittedly less fun.

Jennifer said...

Drew, I love you.