Equal and Opposite

Today, I read a question: “How can you regret what you don’t have?” I want to respond, How can you not? Most of my regret revolves around the loss of things I’ve never had, possibilities that have been stolen or have not yet arrived. Isn’t this the very definition of grief? When someone dies, we don’t mourn our past experiences with them. We lament over the loss of every moment that, from now on, we’ll never get to share.

Of recent conversations with two men, the first goes like this: He asks, What’s your dating life like? I laugh. He says, Is that funny? I say, No. Well, yes. In order to have a dating life, one must date, must be willing to put one’s heart on the line and then know how to revive it from rejection and scorn, the latter of which I have never learned to do. Instead, I say, I’m busy. He says, You keep yourself busy. I don’t disagree.

What I wonder every time I watch a couple get married: How do two people manage to find each other on this vast and lovelorn planet? How do they overcome their demons enough to make a mutual commitment? How can you ever know if you’re with someone who will fight as hard as you will, until you see him do it or learn he won’t too late?

The second conversation goes like this: He says, You seem like you have it all together. I tell him, I put on a good show. Because, when you are a sensitive soul, raised in an environment of unflinching practicality, and taught that being passionate and unbalanced does not excuse you from also being a productive member of society, you learn early to hide the fact that, most days, you could cry at the drop of a hat, for no reason and for every reason at all.

Everyone who knew me as a child—family, friends, and relatives—has a story of how I wailed when leaving their house, carrying on as though I’d never see them again, which was rarely, if ever, the case. Though my outward expressions of this sentiment have changed, I have never stopped feeling this way. I have always loved too much.

I say, It’s difficult for me to have people in my life without caring for them deeply. He says, Is that a bad thing? I say, It can be, when I get into situations of love me, love me, love me, but not that much. He says, Ah, and I hold my tongue instead of asking whose side of this he understands.

If for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, then it stands to reason, each time a person is created, another of equal and opposite proportions should be created right alongside it. Opposites attract, and if the world were right, we’d be drawn to our partners like magnets, and that would be the end of it, no questioning required.

Do your friends try to set you up? he asks. I think, My friends don’t really know what to do with me, but I say, I think my friends have given up on me. He says, Have you given up? I don’t remember what I say, but I think, You can’t give up on something you never believed would happen in the first place.

I once read some advice that said, “If you find yourself in a story you don’t like, leave it,” as though it’s as simple as that. As a novelist, I can tell you there’s no such thing as an easy escape, that when you try to whisk a character out of a difficult situation, it feels hollow and contrived because reality is not so kind. Can it be that, no matter how hard we try to alter our storylines, they’ll find us wherever we go?

My mom keeps asking me when I’m going to get married, he says. Like it’s just that easy. Like I can say, okay, I’m getting married, and it’ll happen. I say, I know, right? Sure, I’m getting married, too. We look at each other a moment, and I think, Maybe it is that easy. But then, there’s always the catch: someone has to choose you back.

Something happened to you, he says. I say. Yes. Well, many somethings. I lost everything I never had, and these were the very griefs that brought me closer to God. I cannot explain it—how tragedy actually deepened my faith instead of forcing it away—or how I know I must now be in the thick of an important lesson, because of how hard I’m having to fight.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes, “It is very different for…the passionate, sensual, unbalanced people…It is Christ or nothing for them. It is taking up the cross and following—or else despair. They are the lost sheep; He came specially to find them. They are (in one very real and terrible sense) the ‘poor’: He blessed them.” Blessed are the poor in spirit, Jesus said, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

He doesn’t ask me what I want, nor does he offer up his own list of demands and desires. He only tells me, You should be yourself, and for once in my life, I believe this might actually be what he wants.

“Others have said that He sends sorrow to test you, yet this is not the case. He sends sorrow to educate you,” George Matheson writes. And I cannot explain this either, but I know that it is true.

Is this something you want? he asks, “this” meaning “marriage.” Yes, I say, without hesitation, and if you know me well enough, you’ll know that this is something.

At the office, we have Chinese food. I crack open my fortune cookie and read, “There are big changes ahead for you.” I place it on my desk and stare at it, consider throwing it in the trash. Instead, I take a picture and send it to the two friends I know will agree with its prophecy, and they do, with more enthusiasm than I could ever muster. At the end of the day, I slip it into my bag, then place it on my desk at home. I leave it in plain view from where I’m typing, as if to say, All right, go ahead. I dare you.