Sunday, March 21, 2010

immediate gratification, or, overused idioms and how to learn them

There are degrees and then there are degrees of needing immediate gratification.

I was thinking recently about an icy-cold Saturday back in January of 2007. I had been rather unceremoniously dumped the week before and was not, as a result, in a particularly good place. John and Cindy, my beloved Cindy and her quirkily whiskered John, knew this and insisted I spend the day with them. They were living in Brooklyn at the time but were just beginning both a pregnancy and a house-hunt, and so took me with them up to Cold Spring to look at houses.

We got an early start that morning and arrived in time to meet Arielle (who drove all the way down from Catskill just to make sure I was doing okay) for breakfast. We breakfasted at the Cold Spring Cafe, looked at a couple houses, nearly froze to death while sneaking cigarettes in between realtors (just Ari and me, not the happily pregnant couple), and eventually drove to Cindy's parents' place for a quick visit before heading back down to the city.

Sadly, what I remember most vividly isn't the boundless warmth and love that these three people gave to me that day. What I remember most vividly, most viscerally, is a shortness of breath, and a disconcerting compulsion to get to the next thing. I remember staring out the window of John's cute little Volkswagen bug on the drive north thinking to myself that everything would be fine as soon as we got to Cold Spring and Arielle. I remember staring out the window on the drive south thinking everything would feel better just as soon as I got home.

This sense of urgency, of needing constant movement to the next person, the next place, the next thing, lasted a few months. It was ridiculous and frustrating and a little bit scary, and I was relieved later that spring to realize one evening that things were actually okay; that maybe it wasn't all that horrible being who or where I was; that instead of panic between one breath and the next, there was beginning to be a semblance of peace.

I have a new boyfriend now, three years later, though we've known each other for a long, long time. I have a new boyfriend, and a wonderful and intricate and amazing tapestry of new and old friends, and a family I wouldn't trade for all the riches in the world.

And I have an old friend with whom much has been shared, and much has been lost, and who seems to have decided recently to befriend this new boyfriend of mine. I'm trying to be alright with this, despite being prone to fits of pique even at the ripe old age of 33. I sent this old friend a letter last week, a simple letter saying that though it is nice of him to want to hang out with my new boy, it also breaks my heart that he and I have reached a point where our friendship consists predominantly of awkward cheek-kisses at social events. I suggested that we get together, that we perhaps try to discuss some of what has happened between us -- the family history dating back over twenty years, the troubles in our more recent past.

His response was that he cares about me but is busy these days and it might be nice to get together in a month. I've mentioned this to a few of my core girls, my Erica and my Jill and my Lauren, each of whom has asked in her own way, "What in the world were you thinking? Of course he couldn't say he doesn't care about you anymore, but if he did, he'd make the time to see you now."

And of course they're right, and so it begs the question, what was the immediate gratification I was hoping for this time? Honestly, other than the undeniably romanticized hope for a tearful reconciliation, an outpouring of remorse, I don't know. A huge part of what I've been trying to learn since that January three years ago is how to more easily let things go, how not to feel devastated by events large and small, by interactions that become eerily repetitive.

What's the old adage about insanity? Doing the same thing again and again but expecting different results?

I may not harbor that desperate need for immediate gratification anymore, for that next great thing that's going to save me. But I've also come to realize that when someone you once adored says maybe they can squeeze you in next month, it's probably finally time to let that particular sleeping dog lie.

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