There is a certain quality to the song “Strangers” by the Kinks which always speaks to the very center of me. The extra beat present after every line of verse puts me in mind of a clumsy yet sincere dance between two people who fully understand each other’s shortcomings. Of course, I am a sucker for any song with a non-standard time signature, but I think it’s more than that. There are some songs whose singers, simply through the tone of their voice, can convey their meaning more honestly than any well chosen words ever could. One example is Johnny Cash in his cover of “Hurt”. Another is Dave Davies in this song. Even someone without a grasp of the English language could listen to this song and, from the voice alone, see a life lived and lessons learned. Through Dave’s singing you feel his pride and rage and love and fear. The lyrics also achieve the feat of being universal while still feeling incredibly personal. “This love of life makes me weak at my knees.” “My mind is proud, but it aches with rage.” “Strangers on this road we are on, We are not two, we are one.”
I’m here, of course, to talk about my relationship.
I’ve been involved with Mark for over four years now, and for most of the last year we’ve been living together. I began dating him as a decent and socially acceptable way to pass the time in college. We met on the patio of some guy’s party where we drank and talked about work and school and the various incarnations of Star Trek. He seemed like such an adult then, with his extra three years and his real office job. I planned on just spending some time with him for a few months, but over time we became attached and dependent on each other, and now day by day my feelings about this union grow more and more complicated. Quite honestly, if it weren’t for him, my life would be free of these existential crises, and I wouldn’t be keeping an anonymous blog in the hopes of finding some clarity.
I’m sometimes surprised when I actually look directly at him. We are always side by side facing the television, or in the same room playing Elder Scrolls, or back-to-back while I make dinner in the kitchen and he fools around on the laptop, but the amount of time we spend actually seeing each other is surprisingly low. I feel like my mind works so hard to keep him in the periphery because he has become the symbol of my weakness. I wasn’t strong enough to fully leave him and pursue my own life, and I hate myself for it. I’m afraid he’s become just another thing my mind tries to lock away in the background to protect itself.
That’s not to say I don’t love him. I am very fond of him most of the time, and, though his attempts are sometimes misguided, he always does things to try to make me happy, and he often succeeds. He is smart, and more attractive than me. He makes me laugh, though less so than he used to. We are comfortable together. For adults, comfortable is supposed to be enough, right? Things started to go awry when I decided to join the Peace Corps. It was a difficult decision for me, but I wanted adventure more than anything. I assumed we would fold up and neatly stow away our relationship while I was gone, and then maybe reunite after I came back to see how we both felt. We wound up having a long distance relationship instead, which was fine with me until I had to be evacuated from Niger. I wanted (and still want) to sign up again to have the full two year experience, while Mark has decided that if I put him through that again I’m on my own. This is the ultimatum that caused me to betray myself. Like Lancelot, who had to betray his devotion to his god and his knightly aspirations for his love of Guenevere, so have I betrayed my personal aspirations for the sake of the love in my life.
Similar to the way we keep from seeing each other, our conversations are once again devoid of any real meaning. We talk plenty about weekend plans and television shows and what happened at work, but any time I try to bring up how I’m feeling about something, I’m met with one of three reactions: he yells at me to stop over-analyzing everything; he tells me to “stop being dumb”; or he totally shuts down and leaves the apartment. We spend much more time giggling about funny words that reference genitals than we do talking about anything meaningful to either of us.
Yesterday I was sitting in my car outside an office building. I could see a man on the third floor, a typical management type in a moderately priced suit, gazing out of his window, and, though the glare and distance kept me from knowing for certain, I decided he was looking over to me. I began speaking aloud, telling him what I imagine to be my story, while at the same time he was clearly discoursing on something important. More than likely he was speaking into a blue-tooth set, but in my mind he was telling me his story as well. Two strangers, each trapped behind a wall of glass, desperately trying to communicate and hoping the other will understand. For what reason? I’m still unsure.
I am almost certain that I love Mark, though it is not the kind of love which consumes the soul like you see in movies and read in books. It is a love based on easy friendship and comfortable dependence. However, if he ever asks me to marry him and I go so far as to do it, I don’t know if we will ever share a dance to “Strangers”. A part of me wants to safeguard that one dance, just in case love really does exist as so many people and media represent it. Safeguard it so that if I discover that kind of love does exist and, against all odds, I happen to bump into it somewhere in my travels, I can dance my one dance with that perfect stranger. After that short time we will have to return to our respective lives and, I’m sure, never look back to what could have been. But for three minutes and twenty-two seconds, we might know exactly who we are. “We are not two, we are one.”