A Plunge into the Oceans of Most Men’s Minds would Scarcely Wet your Feet.
The National Lampoon: Deteriorata
For nearly all of my adult life, I have labored under a profound delusion. It is unlikely to be the only one, but it is the only one I was able to shatter this summer. For me, apparently, delusions are a seasonal thing. I demolish them in the summer, then eagerly acquire new ones in the winter. During spring and fall, Sisyphus and I pass each other on the hill going in opposite directions.
By the time I entered high school, it was clear to me and anyone around me that I was an introvert. My father, with alarm in his voice, once used the term “loner.” Because he was gregarious and social, that his oldest son was the opposite must have caused him some pain. A part of being a loner involved rejecting the common expectations foisted upon me by society, as I interpreted it. Among those were the generally misogynist glorifications of male physical activity perpetuated and celebrated by the Jock Culture, and finding meaning instead in books, music, and solitude. With only minor modifications, that has continued to this day.
A part of the fallout of this view and orientation of life has been the absence of enduring male friendships and the prevalence of female ones. While most of my female friends through the year have not been former lovers, some have. I would listen; they would listen. We would commiserate. If they were single, they would eventually move on. If they were married, their husbands would eventually insist that I move on. I became something of an emotional transient in a world that seemed to laud stability. Occasionally, I would reach desperately back into the past, hoping to find someone who was still there for me in something like the way she was in the past, but none was. Accompanying this began the pattern I identified in the previous blogs. Failed marriages and fraudulent friendships with women were the only kinds of emotional connections I could cobble up out of the ruins of an otherwise rewarding life.
This summer’s events made me realize something I would never have dreamed possible, and reinforced the feeling I have had for some time that I am something of a dim bulb concerning the obvious. And this was it: I have been engaged, for several years, in at least three wonderful friendships with great men. Men, for chrissake! The delusion I mentioned in the first paragraph was that all my best friends were women. Now I realize what a joke that was; most of the dissatisfying and exploitative friendships, or associations, have been with women. This is not to blame the women involved; Aristotle understood it well. The instability stemmed from the fact that I was looking for completeness when they were looking for someone useful for the time being. It may have been the apotheosis of foolishness on my part to think that any of the women whose moments temporarily filled my life would ever be anything but transitory.
The three men I mentioned but will not name differ from all this past confusion and heartbreak by the very elements Aristotle saw as necessary ingredients for a complete relationship, the most prominent being commitment. I feel we are each committed to the friendship, and each other, to a degree that defies question. We are all very different, from varying age, socioeconomic situations, and cultural interests. I have season tickets to all the high-brow musical activities of this city. I have only been able to coerce one of them to attend one concert I attended. Two have an interest in spectator sports that I lack. All may have voted Republican at one time in their lives. My dirty little secret is that I have as well, but this was back decades ago when Republican candidates actually appeared to be from Planet Earth.
I love these men. Each of them is married and I love their wives too, in varying degrees. And one has a young daughter for whom I would lay down my life, were it needed, without a qualm or question. Two of the friendships have persisted for more than 30 years; one, less than 15. What has created this willful blindness in me for so long that I was incapable of recognizing the beauty and importance of these men, and their friendships? Maybe one day I’ll know, but until that time, I’ll prepare a return to LA to visit one of them, and force some green beans off on another. There is a growing roundness to my life now that is not a reflection of my eating habits.
But there is one piece of unfinished Aristotelian business. He thought that the complete friendship would incorporate elements of the other two, incomplete forms: usefulness and eroticism. That is because ancient Greece accepted the notion that men could have an erotic relationship with one another as an expression of the most profound and meaningful friendship, while still being married and being a father to in every meaning of the word, raising, and supporting a family. That’s not happening with us. Aristotle believed that usefulness to one another would arise naturally as a part of the friendship itself. It was not something a friend has to think about. if you do, as the late Bernard Williams once said, you are having “one thought too many.”
My sensual life is still as arid as Barstow, and that makes my relational life still incomplete, despite the delight of friends in good times and bad. These men were there for me, and I for them, but I was strangely oblivious to how significant it was for my life until I was able to strip away and understand how superficial and manipulative were the female associations I had spent far too much energy and emotion sustaining. This was the great discovery of the summer, and it sustains my spirit more than I ever thought it would. If, in my advanced years, I can find a woman to develop and sustain a creative sensual life with me, Aristotle would smile. But don’t shower with him, that’s all.