"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, February 18, 2019

It’s Not What I Signed Up For–Dealing With Bad Choices As A Bad Metaphor

gPeter Hargrove had married twice, once for love, the second for convenience.  The first was not unusual, for most men deceived by naivete, are left with an empty suitcase on the curb or on the way to anywhere but where the marriage ended.  In Hargrove’s case it was Bayonne, New Jersey, as good a place as any for the end of a love affair.  A bad place in most people’s minds – oil refineries, train terminals, bus stations and urban blight – but no worse than Weirton, Livingston, Wethersfield, or a thousand other places where one tends to end up.

It was a marriage of true Romeo and Juliet adolescent love – the kind that never exists or can exist except in pulp romances and Shakespeare, but one which had to be given its due.  Regardless of age, immaturity, and inexperience, a love affair with profound expectations is worth something.  And Peter and Laura did indeed expect to be happy, to live a long life together, and to die happily.  There was nothing wrong with the dream – such idealism is necessary to float the waters of the bog.  It was, as usual, the realization of it which was troubled and flawed.

Image result for images romeo and juliet

For one thing, Peter and Laura were from different sides of the philosophical tracks.  He, even at a young age, was a pessimist thanks to his mother who had never got over the slights and insults, real or imagined, of her childhood and who was vengeful and suspicious of anyone and everything.  Laura of equally modest background inherited the best of her gene pool.  She was open and aggressively happy.  She was a diva, a queen, a prima ballerina to his rather dowdy, insecure, corporate accountable self.

That alone was enough to doom the pair, but Laura’s sexual unconventionality and Peter’s stubborn refusal to commit to any social grouping whether party, nation, neighborhood, or marriage were oil and water.  No amount of conciliation ,counseling, or better judgement could have saved a marriage with such antipodal partners.

They were young enough, childless, and with ample professional opportunities head of them for the divorce not to be disruptive.  They parted amicably, spoke regularly, and despite multiple marriages for both, confessed love for each other.  It was a shame, both admitted, that they had been too young to accommodate to each other, to have been more tolerant and accepting; but neither believed that fantasy.  They loved each other like all first lovers; and because of the inexplicable nature of that particular delirium, would carry with them the regret and remorse of a marriage dissolved for no good reason until they died.

Peter’s second marriage, while not quite on the rebound, was certainly an anodyne for the first.  Not only did he want to put Laura’s theatricality behind him, but wanted a mate of just the opposite composition.  Martha was the anti-Laura – calm, reserved, centered, practical, and accepting.  Finally a woman who would be a partner rather than an adversary – a calm, fiduciary asset rather than an emotional gymnast.

Soon, thanks to Martha, Peter’s world became fixable, predictable, and logical; and as remote from his illogical, intemperate, chaotic former life as possible.   He could never have  imagined that Martha’s unflappability was a function of something far more than simple equanimity – which is all he wanted - far more than the influence of her simple upbringing; but an outlook.  A philosophy encoded in her genes and only coincidentally encouraged by her Iowa farm past and her Calvinist parents. He had made, despite his best intentions, his second bad choice.

Despite a positive beginning – it was the 60s after all, and even the most tailored and fitted person would be interested in tie-dye and communal living and their life together was the perfect blend of carefreeness and emotional security he had hoped for – Peter soon realized his misjudgment.  Martha had little of the hippy and all of the solid, familiar, American values of husbandry, planning, and resolution.  In fact he soon realized that what mattered to Martha was not the end result but the process itself; but he also realized that when ends and means are the same, the journey is endless and pointless.

Image result for images naked hippies

As much as he hated to admit it, Peter found himself asking where his first wife was now that he needed her.  All her deceptions, outrageous sexual margins, vaudevillian theatricality would be forgiven and forgotten if only she would show up.  A vain, fantastical thought since she was long gone and buried, but it was the principle of the thing, the essence of what marriage should be that counted.  He had traded unpredictability for predictability; and, like everyone who has made bad choices, regretted his own.

Peter was betwixt and between with no one to blame but himself.  Foolish to fall in romantic, comic book love with a woman who was the antipode to his ordinariness; foolish to divorce her even when they were more suited to each other, despite superficial differences of character, personality, and background than he and Martha ever could be; foolish to marry Martha in the first place; and foolish to stay married despite increasing age and many, many danger signs.

Image result for image thomas hobbes

Peter’s marriages were not unique or even that noteworthy.  Many men have fallen head over heels for the wrong woman, and then on the rebound opted for someone different but no better; but such bad choices are by no means restricted to marriage. Everyone jumps the gun on flimsy assumptions, convinced that she is right, it is right, they are right only to find out that nothing is the way it seemed.  Irrational, emotional, bad choices are to be expected.

How can anyone expect someone of scrambled, assorted genes, influenced by parents who had made their own bad choices, and cast – regardless of makeup or upbringing – into an equally random environment not of his own choosing make good ones?   We think we are making the right decisions but are more often than not disappointed, seduced by irrational ideas, hooked by lines randomly thrown into the water, and never able to quite free ourselves. Peter was too hard on himself. Bad choices are the rule rather than the exception in a Hobbesian life.

The tragic dilemma is man’s presumption of free will in a doggedly predestined world – not Calvin’s idea of a divinely preordained life, but one determined by genetic, social, cultural, and environmental factors is as old as Jesus Christ who left his followers to decipher his words about faith, the divine absolute, and free will he spoke to the Devil in the Wilderness.

How do we deal with the dilemma and out bad choices? We make do.  Inertia is the operative term.  We get by, sort things out, and if we’re lucky meander in the right direction to a not completely unhappy end.  The older we get the fewer regrets we have about bad choices because we are impatient we are to sort out the future – where, in God’s name, are we headed?  Another dilemma but one without choice.

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