Monday, November 28, 2005

Listen to the hand

On average, an American man will fall in love with 8.6 women before he meets the one who will love him back*. We don't know the comparable statistic for women, since the male sociologist conducting the study fell in love with his statistician, who spurned his advances and left the collaboration before they could wrap up the work. Oh, well. Today's Smart Bitches Day post has a couple of inspirations. First, Deloney got me thinking about my time in college volunteering at Napa State Mental Hospital, where every last patient suffered from unrequited love (at least, those who weren't able to slip the watch of the psych techs and duck out into the shrubbery for a bit of "mush therapy"). The second inspiration came last night, when Karen and I were watching a bit of Four Weddings and a Funeral. You'll remember that Hugh Grant has a thing for Andie McDowell, and that a month before her marriage to some git in a kilt he stammers out in oh-so-cute fashion "I love you," which she counters with, "Oh, that is so romantic." And you'll remember how, at the wedding, Grant's ex-wife confesses that she still loves him. Hmm. All of this unrequited love. At the mental hospital, most of the guys whom I interviewed fantasized about (1) getting out of the hospital, and (2) hooking up with their girlfriends, and (3) taking care of business. That's when they weren't fantasizing about being an Elder God who wrote Robert Plant's music for him, although that became a muddy issue, because (didn't I know) there were many Robert Plants, at least one per generation, with at least eight or nine in our generation. Or something like that. Then there was the guy who had become mental at Cal Tech, who showed me pages and pages of densely scrawled mathematical formulae that looked like the real thing, and, omigod, I sure as hell hope it doesn't prove what he claims it proves, because if it does, we're all fucked. Back to unrequited love: Every week, five of us drove up to Napa: me, Debbie, Mike, Laura, and Tracy. Tracy had a boyfriend who lived far away, Mike had a thing for Laura (which was never reciprocated), and I developed a powerful crush on Debbie. She had the loveliest, softest cinnamon red hair, a wicked sense of humor, and a strong hint of pain in her eyes -- something that really used to hook me back then. She also had about six inches on me in height, but I wouldn't let a little thing like that stop me. Debbie lived with a couple of gay women, but she had a thing for cowboys. She told me she loved gushing about her male conquests to her roommates, just to gross them out. One day, she invited me over to watch Gone With the Wind with the three of them, which was a hoot, and after the movie, she invited me up to her room. I'd pulled a Hugh Grant on her earlier that evening. I hadn't exactly confessed my love -- I was still too bee-stung from GFv1.0 to use the L world lightly -- but I had made it clear how much I cared for her, and that I wanted to start seeing her, you know, that way. When she took me up to her room, saying, "There's something I need to show you," I figured, Ooh, this is progress. On her bedroom wall, she'd tacked up a pencil tracing of a man's hand on a sheet of 8.5 x 11 typing paper. The paper wasn't big enough to accommodate this guy's fingertips. Half of his thumb had gone off the page. "That's the kind of man I fall in love with, Dougie," she said. "Sorry." I'd never been put down more artfully. I've never forgotten her kindness.
I don't know much about writing romance, but I imagine unrequited love is a powerful engine for engaging and holding the reader's interest. We can all relate to it. Each of us have a library of memories to draw from, wherein we can sit and wonder, What if it had gone the other way? Romantic fiction can be the ultimate in masturbatory fantasies. Through identification, we can play it through to the end, casting ourselves and our long-lost 'others' in the starring roles. We can see how it might have worked, how we might have arrived at that happily-every-after. Or not. Debbie, she would have left me for a guy in a pickup truck named Hoss. (The pickup truck, not the guy. His name would have been Ty.) D. *Totally made up bullshit. But you believed me, didn't you?


Blogger mm said...

The depressing thing is I thought I got Del's poem until you chimed in and made me question my mental health.

Nice story. I have a grade 7 unrequited love story - I think I'll dash it off tonight.

11/28/2005 12:55:00 PM  
Blogger Robyn said...

Actually, no, I didn't believe the study. Men usually run screaming from the L word like hapless Tokyo citizens from Godzilla.

To be fair, I think when men really do fall in love they tend to more committed than women. And when those relationships fail, men seem to be more devastated. Just from my experience watching my friends, the girls bounced back a little faster than the guys.

11/28/2005 05:07:00 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Doug. When I was in college, I took a psych corse and we went on a field trip to Napa state mental hospital ... small world :-)

11/29/2005 02:25:00 AM  
Blogger Pat Kirby said...

>She also had about six inches on me in height, but I wouldn't let a little thing like that stop me.

In college, this one little short guy--think oompa loompa--told me "Height don't matter when you're horizontal."

I agreed and married a man much taller than me.

11/29/2005 09:14:00 AM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Pat, you're a heightist. (Actually, that guy sounds like he could be played by Danny DeVito, reprising his Louis DePalma role from Taxi.)

Robyn, I recall reading a study that said exactly that. Guys take these things much harder than women.

11/29/2005 09:33:00 AM  

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