Thursday, April 30, 2009

Twenty Five Per-cent

“It is the quality of our interactions which defines our humanity”.
-Desmond Tutu

As an artist, you start a project, thinking you know what you are going to get out of it, or thinking that you know the answers to the questions you are asking. The good projects change your perspective in a way that results in additional questions. As I look back over the handful of dates I have had, the people I have met, my original hypothesis regarding our need to connect and our tendency to distance ourselves from each other with technology has been sidelined. As I have met these men, and I have taken the time to talk to them and get to know them in a short amount of time, I realize more and more that my perspective has been slightly flawed and perhaps oversimplified. I started to see this as I spoke to my friends about my interactions with my dates. The questions regarding how I could handle some of the harsher comments about my beauty, my age, my intelligence, have always yielded the same response: these comments have much less to do with me than they have with the people who have said them. A couple of my friends have tried adamantly to dissuade me from this project, telling me that either there is no good reason to do it, or that it is a part of a thrill-seeking tendency that could end up getting me hurt or killed. While I appreciate the concern, I also believe this is more of the same; a concern that has less to do with me than it has with the person who said it.

After my fifth date, one quarter of the way through my experiment, I realize that the interactions I have considered “good” have been with people who share my world view, and not surprisingly, the others have been with those who have not. The question then becomes, how good is it to surround ourselves with people who are just like us, and how healthy is it for us to marginalize those who are dissimilar from us? On each date I have been on, no matter how different any of these guys have seemed from me, I made it a point to pay attention to them and listen. Of course, they were not operating under this same directive, and at the end of each date I was exhausted because I was not used to this practice. Does this mean that most of the time I am an arrogant bastard who does not listen to my friends when they speak to me, or that I assume I know what will be coming out of their mouths next? Am I surrounding myself with people who are like me because it is easier to get through the day? Do I shy away from putting real effort into my interactions with others?

I have come to the conclusion that while it might not be pleasant, the more I am challenged by conflicting perspectives to my own, the more I examine why I believe the things I do and the more I grow. The young man who wanted to be a cult leader served as a mirror in that his tendencies to control every situation around him brought to light my own tendency to do the same things, on a lesser scale. On the surface he seemed very different from me, but our similarities were what struck me most. After he read the blog I wrote about our date to me over the phone, he asked, “I sound kinda psychotic, don’t I?” The first gentleman I dated sent me an email that stated simply, “I am such an asshole.” I too have been accused of being an asshole, and this is not far from the truth. I am an insensitive, judgmental, irrational woman who is searching for meaning by meeting complete strangers through Craigslist and exposing these experiences publicly on a blog.

Due to a number of major shifts in my personal life, I am searching for meaning in the eyes of strangers. I am looking at people, alone in their cars, and wondering if they are thinking of anything other than themselves. In as much as I am looking into the lives of others, I am uncovering my own and measuring my endurance. One of the men I have been exchanging emails with leading up to an eventual date has referred to my experiment as my “Dating Marathon”. I ran a marathon. Once. It was all I needed to know that I would not be running any more, and that I could have read the paper that Sunday morning while drinking tea and eating a Voodoo maple bacon bar and been just as satisfied with the use of my time.

This does not feel like a marathon. While it is long and requires stamina, I feel like I am gaining more from it than I originally predicted. I am more aware of my shortcomings, as well as my potential, and in this way, the potential of everyone I meet. I recognize that I put about twenty-five percent of my energy into my relationships, fearful that if I decide to put more energy into them, there will be no additional input from the people in my life. How much will I continue to hold back, dubious of reciprocation, until the amount of effort I put into my relationships consists of nothing more than a few messages sent via text and a couple of emails to people I am supposed to go out with in order to postpone the dates? Will I find myself at a table one night with my boyfriend, texting to someone else about how good the food at the restaurant was? Will I be more confused about my place in the universe, if I even possess one? Will I realize this was all just a process I undertook in order to distract me from more pressing issues, like the failing economy, swine flu, or the occupation in Afghanistan? Will I ever feel the need to put more than twenty five percent of my energy into any relationship I ever undertake?

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