October 1, 2001
Push pull. Call wait call.
by Diana J. Wynne
meet a new man and enjoy that feverish excitement, all potential, as long it lasts; I day-dream about him, toss and turn all night, eat Lucky Charms out of the box. My shoulder accidentally brushes his at work. We go somewhere together, with other people, see only each other. We gaze across rooms, exchange embarrassing details of adolescence, confess private thoughts.
I wish I could stay in this discovery stage forever, but I know it only lasts about three weeks. Nothing sordid may develop, but that intangible, pure attraction is nearly impossible to maintain. At which point, all warmed up, he usually makes a commitment to someone else. Perhaps I am destined to always be an appetizer, a mistress: exotic, classy, unnecessary. I, who scorn being a girlfriend or a wife, yearn for a perfect balance, an equal partnership.
I ask friends for advice. 'What should I do about Mr. R?' The attached women have not done this for so long that I instantly disregard their advice. The single women have unimpressive track records.
Should I call? I wonder. Ask him out? It seems reasonable enough.
The refrain from the women is constant, however, a Greek chorus: 'If it's meant to happen it will. Don't force anything.'
I imagine running a business this way: 'I wonder if we can get this book to the printer on time.'
'Well, if it's meant to happen...'
Still, wherever I go, I look for signs to interpret, a kind of cosmic poetry. I love to wish upon things: shooting stars, eyelashes, pennies I find continually in the street, sometimes dodging cars to retrieve them. I have a real hit-and-miss success rate on these pennies. It is of interest to me simply to find out what I am wishing for. I never wish for anything within my control. They say you can't tickle yourself.
My penny wishes tend to be concrete: a parking space, an end to the rain, but often the name of the man of the moment, perhaps accompanied by a wish that he will take a next step, give me some indication of where we're headed next.
How did boys survive those terrible years of junior high school? How, in twenty years of dating, have I managed never to make a first move, never to ask a man to dance, practicing instead how to look like I don't want to dance in the first place?
After Chinese dinners, I invariably get fortune cookies that assure me I will always be successful, never have problems with money. I toss them on the table in frustration. Tell me something I don't know, I think. What about that lover?
The palm reader at my 30th birthday party alarmed my friends with her predictions. She told one woman she would survive a car crash in the coming year, and others how long they would live, how many children they would have. Then she looked at my palms and said without hesitation, 'A great career line, but a complete absence of love in your life...'
I asked when there would be lovers.
'When you want them,' she replied.
I worry about what this means; that I don't want them enough. I attribute my professional success to an unshakable belief in free will: Nothing is given. Seize what you want. Look out for yourself. But as I've achieved much of what I wanted professionally, I find out where this fails, particularly in the area of love. It's not just up to me.
I try harder, but it doesn't seem to matter. So I waver. Push pull. Call wait call. It's not like me to hesitate. Perhaps as a result, I attract passive-aggressive men, men I mistake for being subtle or dreamy. Men who leave Post-its on my doorstep, refill the ice cube trays before they leave in the morning. Men who believe in falling in love at first sight, which didn't happen when we met and which they will later blame me for. Men who never take responsibility for making something work, because it wasn't meant to be.
(Of course this sounds like the women I know, waiting to be discovered, waiting for the phone to ring. Never calling, but instead going somewhere they hope they'll 'accidentally' run into him. When the phone finally rings, do they accept whoever's on the other end of the line, simply because he called first?)
I went out with one such fatalist for a couple of years. Despite (or perhaps because of) climbing mountains with me, seeing the tallest, oldest, and largest trees in the world in my company, he was still ambivalent about our relationship. No matter how I tried, I could not seem to prove myself to him. In the end, we parted because he was not in love with me.
We would have these ridiculous fights: 'I'm not in love with you,' he'd say, hanging his head.
'So what?' I'd shout back, 'I'm not in love with you either.'
That last year, I took him to my cousin's in L.A. for Thanksgiving. I was feeling pretty good that he'd even agreed to come. After dinner, we took the turkey carcass and some leftovers back to the apartment where we were staying. I wanted to break the wishbone. Maybe it would help me figure out what I wanted from him. It was better than fighting over whether I needed a new car or what we should do the rest of the weekend.
He didn't want to break the wishbone. He thought it, like many things I wanted, was stupid.
'Oh, come on,' I said. 'Humor me.'
'I know the secret,' he said.
'Secret?' I said, looking up. I was still trying to decide what to wish for. I had been breaking wishbones for so many years, mostly losing. Wishbones were like horoscopes; it was safe to lose and then discredit them.
Finally he agreed to play. I watched as he chose a side. No strategy that I could detect. Both bones looked long and greasy to me, equal. A perfect match. I gripped my side wishing with all my might. I just wanted to win.
'The secret,' he said, as it snapped into his hand, winning, and he walked away, 'the secret is not to pull.'
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