A friend who lives ten blocks from me texted the other night to say Hey.
"Hey Frank, how are you?" I asked.
"Very reflective," he wrote.
"What are you reflecting on?"
"Why I'm bad at relationships..."
Before I could ask if he'd come up with any possible reasons, he sent me a list.
"I have a few theories in no particular order:
I seek the unattainable
I'm overly focused on sex
I'm impulsive and impatient"
"Sounds fair - for many of us." I said. "Remedy?"
"I'm not sure but I think the remedy is changing the approach. Probably the friends first approach is effective but the problem is I always want the physical first."
"We all do. I guess it's about discipline," I wrote.
"Which I lack," he wrote.
"Practice! You'll be great."
Maybe he could be great. And it occurred to me later that night:
If even 10% of the single men in New York who are even 50% interested in entering into a committed relationship would begin to reflect on thoughts like these -- or, actually, those exact thoughts -- there would be much less loneliness in this city.
Yes, we look in each other's faces and chat and walk with each other -- and sometimes sleep together - and feel energized and connected at times. But we're still -- I feel it -- lonely. I see it.
And the truth is I've spent years on self-reflection like that. But what's come of all of it - all my thinking and thinking about what I may doing wrong, where I should put my focus, how I should handle myself around men, where my heart had better dwell and what I need to earnestly seek, and generate, in order to come to a feeling of contentment, alone or in a partnership.
The work was meaningful, but those hours -- years -- could have been shorted, I'm convinced, if even 10% of the single men in New York who were even 50% interested in having a committed relationship - some real fulfillment - were reflecting consciously on the thoughts my friend asked himself a few nights ago, after many sleepless nights. (He told me a few weeks earlier that he'd suddenly been having trouble sleeping.)
I'm not saying it's all the fault of the men. I'm aware there are men who whole-heartedly engage in this kind of work. And I'm aware that there are women who don't.
But women do far more than their share of brooding, self-correcting, crying, adjusting, mal-adjusting, going to therapy, reading self-help books, rewriting themselves over and over, in search of love and connectivity.
And, for myself, I wonder: How long ago did I reach the point of diminishing returns?
How much of what I've done has been wheel-spinning?
What real good can I gain, if, say, less than 10% of the single men in New York who are even 50% interested in having a fulfilling relationship have suffered enough sleepless nights to begin reflecting on important, productive questions about love, connection, and commitment.
I'm far beyond the point where I have trouble sleeping; I've adapted to the solitude, and that frightens me. I believe it's a good thing that I still wake up feeling sick some mornings, with the worry muscles working on my brow. I've adapted, but I feel the disconnect more deeply and urgently than ever. My friend's texts were a glimmer of hope.