The Nondating Life

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Part Four: Spark It Up

Or... Torturing an analogy to death

(Previous Post)

I sat across from her, my second beer going warm in my mug, trying to find the right words to let her down. It was one of those situations. She was an attractive girl but I wasn't attracted to her. Not really. A friend of mine had been attracted to her, but she'd used him to infiltrate our circle and get at some of the rest of us, including little old me. And, damnit, that just wasn't right. But it's amazing what a couple of hours at $2 Crown Night will do to your judgment, odd how you find yourself on the hood of her car, you breathing heavy, her getting wet, both of you getting really close to crossing the public indecency line. But we stopped short, went our separate ways. I chalked it up to booze and figured it would go away, take care of itself.

That's the guy's way of dealing with relationship issues. Cross your fingers, close your eyes and just pray to God you won't be required to have an actual conversation.

But she wasn't allowing me to do the fade-away. Further, all her ballsy talk about just wanting to hookup had been a lie.

We were sitting in Bennigan's (of all places) and she'd just confessed to me that she liked me. She really, really liked me. And she wanted to--say it ain't so--talk about it.

And my mind was processing a million and one different kinds of let-downs. This wasn't something I'd dealt with before. And I don't know if I've dealt with it since. At least not as honestly as I did that night.

"There's no spark," I said. "I just don't feel it. Not from my end."

"But the other night?" she asked.

"I don't know. I'm sorry."

"But you think I'm attractive, physically? We get along?"

And she started to tear up. And I started to stammer--and not the charming Hugh Grant sort of stammering either. Still, I explained. There was no spark. Sure, I thought she was funny. She was obviously smart. And she attractive. But there was just something, that undefinable thing necessary for a relationship to get going, missing. The spark.

Which didn't clear things up for her any. She tried to lay out a rational argument for her case. It was almost admirable, in a way, to witness a person making a cohesive, logical argument against being put out to pasture in the friend zone. (Much more dignified than getting drunk and writing awful poetry about unrequited love, at any rate. Not that I'd know anything about that)

But logic has nothing do with that spark.

If it did, we'd all be married and living happily ever after. And those of us who weren't would be living happy lives with four or five friends-with-benefits--and there'd be no hangups, no guilt trips, no worries.

But that ain't the way life works, now is it?

I wish it were otherwise, but I'm a firm believer in the spark. I used to explain it to more rational, able-minded people that you could take six desks, say, and put a smart, beautiful and funny woman at each one, but there'd only be one that I'd feel that certain something, that instantaneous "Gee golly, I sure like her" thing.

And chances are she'd be the craziest coot in the room. Of the six choices, she'd be the worst one I could choose. But that's a story for another day.

The romantics, the idealists, the fools... we're all big fans of the spark. We're the ones convinced that you know ... you just do ... within five minutes of sitting down with someone. (We're the people who SHOULD be going to speed-dating, but are typically too prideful because that seems to cheapen the whole thing.)

And the spark gets you into a lot of trouble. Because it almost always seems that in--let me make up a number here--9 out of 10 first dates/encounters only one person ends up with his or her little pile of kindling ablaze. And this causes problems.

You know the feeling, of course, overly romantic fool or not. You go on the date and, from your point of view, everything just seemed smooth sailing and you walk away with a huge smile on your face, a skip in your step and you start telling all your friends about how great this person is. And when they roll their eyes, you say, "No, but really. This one is special."

And you'll recognize the absence of the spark as well. You'll go on the date, have a horrible or even an okay time, but still, you sort of feel like shrugging your shoulders afterward. Your friends ask how it went and you say, "I don't know. I guess it was fucking okay." (And then they accuse you of being too damn picky. At which point you get into another argument about romance vs. realism, really high standards vs. recognizing your limitations.)

Easy enough. No? You feel the spark. You go back for more. You don't feel the spark, you should walk away. Really. It's the humane thing to do. Only you can prevent forest fires (in the ravaged minds of a neurotic obsessive who may start showing up outside your window holding a jam box over his head because you made ONE silly comment about Lloyd Dobler).

Now here's the hard part: recognizing that while your spark has budded into a steady little flame, the other person hasn't even struck a match. Hard to see through the smoke-screen of hope isn't it? (Stick around, I'll torture this analogy even more!)

To be honest, I think this might be a little harder for guys. Unless a guy's just looking to get laid (and sometimes they are), if there's no spark on the first date, that's pretty much the end of the story. But women? Women, for some reason--out of indecision, boredom, financial necessity, a pool of pure fucking malice at the bottom of a black, black heart--will drag out the dating process.

I have friends who'll go on six or seven dates with a guy and the best they can muster is "Ehh, you know. He's not awful." I'll never in my life be able to understand that, especially if it becomes clear that the guy, you know, really, really likes you. And they'll say, "Well, something COULD happen. It could develop."

To which I say: "Bullshit." You KNOW. You know by the end of the first date--even with the nerves and the stress and all the other shit--whether you're set to a simmer. And you know what else? Most of the time, you know, deep down inside whether that other person's is flaming for you or if it's just a cold little spot where a fire never started.

Oh, you know. You might not want to admit it to yourself, but you know. That little voice is whispering to you. And when your cheerleader friends come around and make it sound like you have a fighting chance, that little voice is saying "Bullshit. You know it's bullshit. They're just telling you what you want to hear. Not even your own mom ever did that for you."

And that's always the hardest part, listening to that little voice, especially if your paramour just DOES it for you. It's always easier to douse a smallish flame for someone you find moderately attractive. But if the spark got out of control and you have the hots for your intended? Some woman who, when you think about her nekkid, makes it impossible to stand up in public? Some guy who makes you a little moist in the muffin? Forget it. You'll make a laundry list of excuses for that person. That little smoke-screen of hope from your kindling will be magically transformed into a billowing-black tire-fire of false hope. (HA! The analogy has just died from torture. Somebody call The Hague and bring me up on crimes against metaphorical humanity.) But you will make excuses. "Well, he didn't return my 16 emails because he's busy." Or, "She didn't call because she's pre-occupied with the abortion from her last relationship." Or, "He only calls at 2 in the morning while drunk and in my neighborhood because he has a weird calling plan and doesn't want to get hit with overage charges."

Hey, can you hear me now? Wake the fuck up, will ya?

If you're the type who lives and dies by the spark, you should respect it. If you don't feel it, walk away. If you feel your own spark, but can see that the other person isn't feeling much at all, walk away.

If you both feel the spark, well then congratu---HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, that never happens. Just fucking with you.

Of course, this, like all of the rest of my advice, is the kind of advice I usually don't take. I am getting better about the older I get, though.

The younger Ken would fan his spark into a flame and go set it out on a woman's windowsill, whether she wanted it there or not. He'd be happily miserable sitting out in the friend pasture for months, hoping she'd come around. Sometimes he'd even get drunk and push the candle from her windowsill onto the floor, setting a garbage can or a curtain on fire, in essence demanding that his passion be recognized. (God, if you could only see the smile on my face as I kick the corpse of this analogy. If one of you doesn't enter this into some bad-writing contest, I'll be heartbroken.)

But older Ken? He tries to hide his flame a little better, doesn't stick to the chase for months, and if he sees that he's being herded out into the friend pasture, will just go let himself out of the "Fuck you, I have enough friends gate," and walk away. (Okay, maybe he'll leave by the "Uh, see you later, I got things to do gate" and just be done with it).

Okay. I'd better stop. I've mangled an analogy, wrote two paragraphs in which I referred to myself in the third person and now have this really strong desire to go set things on fire.

(Next post in series)


  • Hey, Ken:

    Just found your series - really good to see some of this finally in print somewhere! I wanted to comment on this one, though, because there is this slight historical question that comes up in situations like those you describe about the woman you, um, let down easy.

    Marriage didn't used to be based on the "spark" - the zsa-zsa-zsoo, to quote the infamous Carrie Bradshaw. It used to be based (incredibly enough) on logic and common sense. The whole "have to be in love" thing is a recent invention.

    People used to marry so that they would have financial security and stability, and so that they would have a good family. They found (or didn't find) the "spark" after marriage and spending their time developing and nurturing each other in the relationship.

    Remember Fiddler on the Roof and the song between Tevya and Golda? They fell in love after they were married - and that is still true in lots of cultures all over the world.

    Remember: the most powerful sexual organ we have is our brains - not our genitalia. Believe it or not, we can decide whether we will commit to one person and decide to act as if we feel those feelings even if they don't come along on their own all the time. That commitment is what keeps people married for 50 or 60 + years.

    Women, ultimately, want men to cherish them - to love them, to respect them, to want to take care of them (and that doesn't necessarily mean financially).

    I suspect that most men want women who will respect them, admire them, tell them when they've been wonderful, and occasionally call them on bad behavior (which incidentally women need to hear, too).

    Perhaps, too, most men want someone who won't withhold sex from them out of spite - if you think about it, getting married and agreeing that you won't pull that kind of trick would actually be a pretty good deal, eh?

    Anyway, thanks for your treatise on dating - um, not-dating! It's a fun read!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:16 PM  

  • Anonymous,
    You bring up some very good points, but it should be clear as you read this series that, in terms of relationships, "logic" and "common sense" and Ken Wheaton are rarely, if ever in the same room.
    Embarrassingly enough, I've never seen Fiddler on the Roof, so I can't comment there. But yeah, ultimately, a relationship is going to need respect and friendship and that other stuff if it's ever going to last. I already get enough flack for being somewhat conservative and for being horribly inconsistent in my (non)dating life, so I figured I'd stay away from that annoying fact that arranged marriages probably work just as well as "romantic" marriages.
    Because, sometimes, that spark was just that ... a spark. And it burns out easily.

    By Blogger Ken Wheaton, at 7:17 PM  

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