The first time you screw up it’s a mistake, the second time it’s by choice.
I never thought I would find myself in this situation again. After all, I have my rules—clearly-defined, hard-worn, time-proven rules – the kind you accumulate over a lifetime of mistakes. Rules such as never eat the last spare rib on the buffet and always wear a cup when playing paintball.
Every rule tells the story of an old mistake. Getting hit by a ball of paint, encased in a small rubber sheath, moving at close to 200 miles per hour will teach a lesson. And in my case, it resulted in three days on the couch with bags of frozen peas smothering my wounded little love soldier. As a result, I established Paintball Rule Number One: always – ALWAYS – wear a cup.
Nothing drives home a point—and a lesson—like pain. I made a mistake, and I got hurt. A smart person allows his self-preservation instinct to take over, and makes a note of what to do differently next time. Thus, if I take a second paintball hit to the jewels, it will only be because I made a choice not to wear the coveted cup.
After getting our hearts broken once or twice most men harden. Men create a buffer, a protective cup, around their heart and we always – ALWAYS – wear this cup too…until we forget the lesson and choose not to wear it.
Women are both dangerous and powerful. As a friend joked recently – boobs have power. Men learn early women can wound both the heart and privates. Unfortunately no one makes a protective cup for a man’s heart (well maybe Budweiser but that is a different lesson), but over time the Pragmatists in us learn to protect it in other ways. After the first painful lesson, we make a habit of keeping our guard up and the cup on.
As a result most wise men create a specific set of rules for intimacy. Occasionally, and under the right circumstances, even the best man sometimes breaks his own rules. Women hold untold power over men, especially men like me. They have the ability to break a man’s heart—the emotional equivalent of getting kicked in the nuts.
This week I made a choice that I am paying for dearly: I broke the rule. As such, I am on the couch in the fetal position with a symbolic bag of frozen peas covering my aching and wounded Pride. Historically, that has resulted in the symbolism being translated into Greater’s Black Raspberry Dark Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream, Guinness and weeks of self-flagellation and shameful remorse. By writing it out, I’ve discovered I can skip the later two parts but the aching remains.
People in a long term relationship often forget how exciting it is to fall in love with someone new. If the relationship is less than perfect, there is an added ache for companionship and understanding. The result is we are all vulnerable – in some way – to romanticism and passion. As men, we forget how potent and powerful the attention of a new love makes us feel, so when it shows up it often strikes like a camouflaged sniper: we feel the heat and the blood long before we hear the shot.
This is my vulnerability: I love the power, the elegance, the fun, the challenge and the risk that is the essence of a woman. From my Poet’s perspective, a woman is the result of universal alchemy – combining chemistry, gravity and witchcraft result in something baffling Mystical.
Romanticism, idealism and poetics, the misguided muses of youth, repeatedly left me vulnerable. Because of the influence of these Youthful Muses, I naïvely maintained a belief in soul mates, twin flames and the Karma Sutra. Beliefs that should have been abandoned with the beliefs in the Easter Bunny, Santa and the free-market. However, I learned through pain the rewards of being a lover not a fighter often results in more fighting than loving. Often these Muses led me to Heartbreak Ridge…sometimes they misled others.
Honestly, I have a way with words sometimes resulting in my ego writing checks that result in me being morally overdrawn. It is one of my two superpowers. This power has periodically led me into situations I have learned are not situations I want to choose for myself, my loved ones or my Mystical Ambitions. Muses be damned. As such, my Pragmatic Rule of Self-Preservation requires me to maintain strict areas of emotional and spiritual separation from women, limiting my vulnerability…and theirs.
The solution is simple: stuff my Romantic, Poet and Idealist into the proverbial closet and adopt a life of pragmatism. It’s like being a priest but with the occasional benefit of oral sex. This lifestyle works as long as I occasionally let the Poet, Idealist and Romantic out of the closet to listen to a child’s laughter, watch a sunset or smell the flowers.
We all seek opportunities to find a connection. To find someone who listens. To connect with someone who sees us. When we bump into that person sometimes it gets away from us before we realize where it is going. It happens despite the rules or the consequences. It happens for lots of reasons. It can happen out of loneliness or ego or hormones, but the reality is it does happen.
The Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy, states that someone is having an affair in nearly 80 percent of marriages. It is naïve to believe one person can be everything we need for 60 years. Not that this is a defense. But again, it is apparently reality in 80% of marriages.
All too often we are walking zombies in our lives surrounded by people who stopped seeing us – and we stopped seeing – long ago. We simply go through the motions of loving and living.
The reality is I recently made a choice to ignore my rules, my gut and my values and there is no one to blame. This doesn’t make me a bad person – although you are entitled to your opinion – but rather human. You have your sins – I have mine.
As a result, for a brief time someone brought this zombie back to life… I remembered what it felt like to be alive, to be seen…to be heard. It felt good to be vulnerable. It felt good to let the Poet, the Romantic and the Idealist self out of the closet to run naked through the surf with another Romantic and Poet and Idealist.
However, there is a reason my Pragmatist carries the keys and locks away the meddling muses. The world is not safe for them. They are misunderstood. Reality, by virtue of its nature, tends to stalk the Poets, the Romantics and the Idealists like a tiger shark waiting in the shallow surf for its bloody, wounded prey.
Here is the hard cold truth: the poets, romantics and idealists are idiots. They exist only through the virtue of the pragmatists’ protection and mercy. And truthfully, I am an idiot.
The Pragmatist in me made the choice – despite the lessons of past mistakes – to let the Poet and the Romantic and the Idealist out of their safe room; to take off their well worn, and deserved, straightjacket.
My Poet shared my heart with someone who is both safe and unsafe. My Idealist shared my Visions and Fears in a way that was both appropriate and inappropriate. My Romantic, my naive little Romantic, loved someone who loved me but would not love me. I ignored the truth and embraced truthiness. Ah, the duality of life and love. Ah, the pain.
In the end, after all the poetry and romanticism and idealism, I ended up being bit in the balls by a tiger shark.
But do you want to know the ironic truth? For those three days I felt alive. Free from the shackles of the Pragmatist, the Poet, the Romantic and the Idealist wrote, felt and expressed a lifetime of pent-up demand. For those three days they remembered passion and desire and love. They drank from the fountain of creativity, they rolled in the warm tide in a gluttonous embrace and danced naked in the surf…and the Poet wrote and the Romantic loved and the Idealist dreamed and were happy…and for the first time in a long time, so was the Pragmatist.
So today I am sore and bruised and humiliated and bloodied. But it was worth it. Now that they have tasted freedom again, I’m not sure the shackles will ever completely restrain the Muses. I’m not sure the Pragmatist will be able to keep them in the closet.
By the way, do you have some frozen peas I can borrow?