Friday, August 23, 2013

Love Is

Love, specifically romantic love, remains an exceedingly complicated entity. While it has been studied from a variety of perspectives from the sciences to the social sciences to the humanities, it is still a mystery. People have killed for it, died for it, sacrificed everything for it and made insane decisions in its name, yet it is still a core essence of human life. It is, perhaps, a necessary evil. And despite all the inconvenience that comes with it, the danger it is fraught with, the seemingly always-bad timing that it occurs with and the major lifestyle adjustments that must be made for it, even when we see it coming, knowing all this, we cannot get out of its way. Once love has us in its sights, it never misses.

Then there are the old clichés, the musicians and the poets telling of the “power of love,” proclaiming that “love conquers all” and how if we have love, nothing else matters. It sounds good. It sounds even better when one is in the throws of love. And while these are not new sentiments (people have been saying such things as long as people have been), also not new is the sheer insanity of love. It makes no sense. It is never convenient, always expensive – and not just materialistically – and the potential downside is pain so uniquely bad that it makes one wonder who ever invented such a thing. Scientists will tell us it is evolutionary. Social scientists might be inclined to view it as a social construct and humanists might view it as a binding factor that makes our existence unique in the universe. However it is studied, there is one thing that virtually everyone agrees upon; this entity, love, is a real thing.

I have been “in love” a handful of times. I have been in love mutually even fewer. In fact, I often wonder about those now failed relationships… was there really love and if so, was it mutual. I also used to believe that once “in love,” that love would never die, even if the relationship did not last. I no longer believe that, however, once love takes hold, it does not go away easily or willingly. At least not for me. My first marriage was like that. So was my second (or, technically, current for just a little while longer). My first marriage lasted less than five years, but the first two thirds of it were pretty good. I still do not know what happened exactly, but it is likely that the rapid and total change in the dynamics of life was more than it could bear. There was much more to it than that, but it is now more than 20 years later – the analysis period is long over.

But, and this is a big but that I tend to conveniently forget (love has a built-in forgetter), it took a long time for the love to fade. A long time. So long, in fact, that I formed the aforementioned belief that love is eternal. Although I cannot pinpoint the exact date or period, I can say that it did, in fact, die. I wish I knew how long it took, but it probably doesn’t matter. I would venture to guess that each and every instance of love is unique and, perhaps, there are versions of “eternal romantic love” that live beyond the end of the relationship. It takes a whole lot of love to make a commitment like marriage, so it makes sense that it would not just go away overnight.

Which brings me to my current experience. After 20 plus years since the end of that first marriage, I met someone and the magic was all new again. I should point out that I was pretty happy in my singlehood; I was certainly not looking for love. I was not “anti-love,” I was not militantly single, I made no vows to never fall in love again, there was no conscious effort to stay out of a relationship, but I was not in need of one. We fell in love relatively quickly (I say we because even though I find myself questioning whether she was ever actually in love, I always come around to believing that our love was mutual), but the timing was all wrong. The love was there, but too much else that is necessary for a relationship – any relationship - to survive never materialized. In the end major trust issues destroyed our marriage less than a year after tying the knot. In the coldest of terms, marriage is a contract and when the terms of a contract are violated, the contract is void. However, unlike any other contract, marriage is based upon this entity, love, that cannot be divvied up in a settlement agreement.

Right now, my future ex-wife and I are not on good terms. Actually, we are on no terms at all. That is probably my fault. In my anger I have said some things that, while true, were not said in a very nice way. I still care, however. But here is the problem: Is that love? Maybe (hopefully) it is just the remnants of it. And here’s a little insight that the composition of these very words inspired… that parenthetically inserted “hopefully” is, at least partially, a lie. The truth is that part of me hopes it is still love – and it’s the part that got me into this whole mess in the first place. Even more twisted is that I hope she feels that, too. She has a new boyfriend now (rant/unrant, I’m not going there today), but I still go through the multiple scenarios in which it would not have ended this way…. in which it would not have ended at all.

I might be inclined to say that I have had bad luck with love, however, the upside of love is that it is so good, so compelling, so overpowering that to fall into it at all is worth it, what ever it is. For me, this is not the end of the world, but it sure felt like it. Occasionally, not very often anymore, it still does. If it hurts that bad, it has to be real.

Thursday, August 08, 2013


It’s an unseasonably cool August morning in Sacramento. At a time of the year when the morning temperature at 8:00 a.m. is usually approaching, or already in, the 70s, today it has not even reached 60 degrees yet. The high today will be a very comfortable 86 degrees. Today’s high and low, in an odd sort of way, are a reflection on my time here in the California state capital. Comfortable. That time, however, has come to an end – for now. I moved to the Sacramento suburb of Fair Oaks in the summer of 2004; I purchased my home here a year later. Since leaving the home I grew up in many, many years ago, this is the longest I have ever spent at the same address. Soon, a new family will occupy that home (as my tenants) and I will have a new home 2,200 miles away. This move represents all that is good in the world, but was partially facilitated by much that is bad. Leaving Sacramento tomorrow morning will be bittersweet, but the fact that it is tells a story that I could not have foreseen nine years ago.

I never wanted to live in Sacramento. Growing up in the sleepy town of Los Altos, nestled snugly in the heart of what became known as “Silicon Valley,” I have lived in suburbia most of my life. While I do not nor have I ever lived in what could be called a “big city,” I have been close enough to San Jose, San Francisco, San Diego (briefly in the early 80s) and now Sacramento to make me realize that it would never be for me. Nice places to visit, but… And as the suburbs that I have lived in became more and more populated, and as traffic became worse and worse, and as “regulations” became more and more stifling, the suburbs took on the same character that made the cities so unattractive. Added to that, California’s Central Valley, generally, and Sacramento specifically does not have a plethora of geographic diversity. True, there are some local attractions in terms of the local lakes and rivers, but the valley is typically flat - really flat. Even with the grandeur of the nearby Sierra Nevada Mountains (where I actually lived for a few years before ending up in Sacramento) to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, Sacramento is only a good place to travel from, not to.

Yet, I have grown to love it here. I have established deep relationships with a great number of people who live here, the type of relationships that turned into life-long friendships. More than that, Sacramento has become my second “home town.” While I am not from here, many of my friends are and through them my ties run deeper than the time I have lived here. It is in Sacramento that my life quite literally began again. My academic achievements began here and were completed here until I maxed out at an MA degree from California State University, Sacramento. To earn a doctorate in my field of study I would have to look elsewhere. The question as to where was largely left up to the institutions to which I applied and the answer came in a letter of acceptance from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge – almost exactly 2,200 miles away from home. For the past two years I tried to maintain my home in California while “commuting” to Louisiana, but the most compelling reason to continue keeping a foot in two states so far apart has literally evaporated into the nothingness it, apparently, always was. I am now free. It was not how I wanted or envisioned my life to be at this moment – it is a different kind of freedom – but it is freedom all the same.

Tomorrow morning I will start my drive with a trailer holding just a few of my possessions. Most of my furniture and other belongings will stay in a Sacramento storage unit for the next two years. After that, who knows where I’ll end up. I hope that I will be able to move back “home,” but home might well become someplace else. The decision will be based on the job market after I have earned my Ph.D. For now, Baton Rouge will be home and I expect that when it comes time to leave there, it will be just as emotional. I have already established relationships there and with my commitment to make it my home – putting down roots, so to speak – I will form bonds that are equally strong. Part of what took me so long to establish these relationships in Sacramento is that I knew (or thought I knew) that it would never be “home.” I was wrong. While I do know that Baton Rouge will not be a long-term home, that does not mean it can’t be equally “home.” Indeed, a home really has nothing to do with “where” it is, but it does have everything to do with who is there. There are very few people in Sacramento I won’t ever miss and, to be perfectly honest, hope I never see again, but the vast majority of people here – even those I have never met, but especially my friends – I will miss dearly. They are why Sacramento is home. 

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Reflection on the Future

Everything is different now. An eerie calm has settled in. For the next few days, nothing much needs to be done. I can relax. Every facet of my life has a freshness to it and while I know well the insanity of the coming semester that is just around the corner, even that will take place in a much more peaceful mental space. This new peace, this heretofore absent lack of distraction, this freedom has not been present in my world for about two years. Coincidentally, two years ago marked the beginning of my most challenging and ambitious professional journey. While I knew the situation, both professionally and personally, that I placed myself in would not be exactly distraction-free, I did not know that these two facets of my world would become incompatible. They didn’t have to be, they should not have been, and others in my position have been able to “have it all,” but it takes more than I could give, and I gave it my all.

Love is a funny thing. It filters otherwise irrational decisions such that they become not only good ideas, but also, strangely, the only logical conclusion. It is only in retrospect that the abject insanity of decisions I made, important decisions that should not be taken without the most serious consideration, becomes crystal clear. I met and fell in love with a girl just months before I knew I would be going away to pursue a doctorate in communication studies. I did not yet know where I would be going, but I knew it would not be anywhere I could “commute” to and from. That place turned out to be Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, LA. My first year there I maintained my home, my “permanent” address and my residency in California. My girl and I were engaged in October of 2011 and in July of last year we were married. During my second year of Ph.D. work, my wife and her two boys stayed in my (then our) home as I essentially commuted back and forth between Baton Rouge and Sacramento. I came home every available opportunity and often when there was no opportunity. After doing the math, when including the long breaks in the school year along with frequent long-weekend reunifications, I spent about half my time in each state. As of this moment, I have not spoken with my future ex-wife in many days and our divorce is in its final stages. Without going into details, it is apparent that the sort of personal strife involved with any relationship breakup - divorce or otherwise - is not conducive to advanced study at a major university.

The “long-distance” nature of our relationship is not only nothing new, it is not even the most extreme case of such a relationship. Military couples and families endure far greater hardships. My own father was away on business frequently, sometimes for weeks at a time. If the commitment and the trust are there, these separations can be a source of strength and, although certainly not preferable, they do not have to be distracting to the point of forcing a choice between one’s personal and professional life. Indeed, that commitment I mentioned earlier includes that sort of support and I certainly do not have to second-guess whether my commitment was there or not. It has been suggested both subtly and directly that the geographic distance between my soon-to-be ex-wife and me created the problems that destroyed our short-lived marriage. However, had the level of mutual trust and commitment been there, the distance would have been nothing more than an inconvenience, perhaps a hardship, but that is all. The distance exasperated what came to light as an already toxic relationship; it allowed indiscretions to occur with greater ease. It did not create them.

These kinds of distractions came to a head last semester when it became clear that I could not spend the time I was “monitoring” what was going on back home and focus on what I needed to do to succeed at LSU. The incompatibility between my personal life and my professional world was at the tipping point. I had to decide on one or the other and that decision, considering the factors involved, the time frames and the various historic realities, was essentially a no-brainer. That does not mean it was easy. I made a commitment that only began with the marriage vows (perhaps the most important of which, forsaking all others, I still live by). And I was in love. If someone were to ask me if I am still in love today, my answer would be unsure; and that, in and of itself, speaks volumes. When asked as little as a month ago, my answer was an unhesitating “yes.” As I learn more and distance myself further and as I focus on the future instead of what could have been the past, I find greater and greater levels of peace. The other option was to abandon my professional pursuit and focus on my relationship. Thankfully certain irreversible events transpired along with massive and unrelenting support and encouragement from friends and family combined with enough of my own rational thought to come to the only decision that makes any sense.

Entering the third year of my doctoral studies at LSU, I have the sort of freedom I have not experienced in many, many years. While I wanted what I had (or thought I had) when I started my work at LSU, and if that relationship had the trust necessary for any relationship to succeed, I would not be writing this. It is, essentially, a reflection on the future. I am just north of 50 years old. There is a lot of future left.