I have been suffering with a cold for the last week - which, for me, is a long time to be sick - and it shows no signs of letting up. Consequently, I've been a grumpus in spite of sleeping a great deal and supporting an entire orange grove with my drinking habits. I've realized over the last 24 hours or so, though, that my crankiness is not due entirely to this plague, which leads me directly to this self-confessional post.
Over the past few months I've been doing a lot of thinking about my life. Well, let's not kid, I've been pondering these same questions for the last couple of years: It's just that only in the last couple of months has my thinking borne any fruit. The questions are (a) What do I want to be when I grow up? and (b) Why do I keep making the same dating mistakes over and over again? (Because, you know, at some point I want to stop dating, and not because I give up in disgust.)
I'm going to be vague about the first question, but for those of you not in academia, part of the issue is that, even if I wish to remain in my current job, that requires decisions - where do I want to take my research, what do I want to teach - and if I don't, that requires me to decide a whole other set of questions. It's only within the past month or so I've actually discovered the answer to that question. The answer came seemingly as a bolt out of the blue over lunch with a friend, but in truth it was more like the result of a long calculation being carried on by various mental subroutines finally completing. I've been contemplating it ever since, but now I am pretty sure of where I want to go and, even more importantly, how to get there.
The second question is a harder one. I habitually date guys who I shouldn't be in serious relationships with. It's not that they're puppy-kicking jerks, but that they and I aren't right for each other, and I should know it from the beginning: I may deserve something else, but so do they. Frankly, part of me knows this from the very beginning. So why do I keep doing it?
I tend to assume guys are out of my league, I'm out of their league, or they're swell people but not the right person for me. (Look, if you're gay, 55, extremely religious, or already married, it's just not going to work out, no matter how lovely you are.) So I settle for one of the latter two categories. I said to myself one day, okay, look do you actually know - or have you actually known - any guys who you do think would be right for you? If there is no one at all, either you are being too picky or too hard or yourself. I have never believed in the idea that we all have exactly one soulmate, so surely in 36 years I should have encountered someone suitable. There must be someone out there that I can happily imagine waking up next to in another 36 years.
When I put it that way, the answer jumped out at me with terrifying speed from the nearest bushes, so to speak. Yeah, I have known someone like that. Now, I am not going to date him anyway*, but the point is, he isn't a unicorn. He's a real person, flaws and all, and if he exists, other men like him exist as well.
People keep asking me how my dating life is going or when I'm going to get back into online dating. The thought of going on dates just to go with dates makes me want to stab myself in the eyeballs. I'm willing to hold out for the good stuff, now that I am confident that it exists.
So, with all this, why am I cranky?
You have these breakthroughs, and you feel awesome for a little while, and then you realize that, in spite of knowing where you are going, and knowing how to get there, you still are standing in the same place. You still have to make the effort to climb the damn mountain. And you have a cold, and a big pile of grading, and you really just want to teleport straight to the top.
I have to stop looking at the mountaintop for a while, and just focus at the step right in front of me. Life isn't really so different from AA, or from completing a dissertation, it turns out.
* Look, there are people you just can't date. Your boss, your best friend's husband, your friend who lives in Indonesia, your sister's ex … the exact reason doesn't matter. The point is that circumstances, not the person himself, renders it impossible.