Early this morning, a memory disguised as a dream emerged and demanded my attention. After thinking about it for a few hours, I realized that the memory surely had influenced my perceptions of the way relationships work.
Around 4 AM, I remembered a voice, a booming voice, a man’s voice; and his words came out of his mouth whole and smooth and cheerful. There was not one false note.
The memory then morphed into an image. I began to peel back each layer of memory; it was like peeling an onion, each layer leading to yet a more remote but still sharp reverie.
I saw that the man had a moustache and wore a straw hat. He wore a red jacket with vertical white stripes. He was a man of immense proportions. A thick leather belt secured his trousers; but wide white suspenders were necessary to hoist the pants above his belly.
The carnival had come to this small town in Massachusetts. It was one of many that toured the country after the War. It was time to smell popcorn, taffy apples, and cotton candy. It was time to hear the spiels of the carnival barkers and the con men, the hustlers and ladies selling enormous chocolate chip cookies from the basket on their bicycles. It was time to see wide-eyed boys unaccustomed to exotic acts and well-rehearsed come-ons. It was time to see giggly girls as they sought the attention of the muscular fellow who sold ice cream at a concession stand.
And, it was time to learn the lessons of a lifetime.
For truly, the carnival pitchmen, all trained and confident, all versed in the methodology of seduction, all self-assured in their approach, taught us at that early age much more than we realized.
“You look like a baseball player” he would say to some young guy on his first date with Sally or Myrna. “Win a doll for your girlfriend (Sally or Myrna blushing by now). Three balls for $.25. Just one quarter of a dollar! Knock down one bottle and be a hero. Just one…it’s easy! You’ll be her hero forever. Don’t you want to be a hero young man? Don’t you want to be someone special? It’s easy,” he repeats, “and she’ll think you’re someone special.”
Another man, brawny and strong, grabs my friend by the arm and urges him to come over to a display of balloons. “Break a balloon, pal, just one, and win a stuffed animal—your choice—any one you want. It’s easy,” he croons, “just one balloon. Show your girlfriend how smart you are. She’s a special girl. She deserves the best. I can see that right off the bat.”
And then there is a real smooth operator who manages to get my money five times before I give up. “Come up here,” he says to me, “I can see you’re a pretty strong guy so I don’t really know that I want to challenge you…but, hey, what the heck. Tell you what, young man, swing that mallet over there and send that tiny ball up high enough to ring the bell, and I will give you a baseball cap personally autographed by Ted Williams himself. Show that pretty little gal how strong you really are. Give her a prize. She’s special, that one is. I can tell. It’s easy peasy.”
“Hold onto your hats, Ladies and Gentlemen, right here for your enjoyment!” says another barker, “presenting Maggie, half woman and half fish. Born that way. Horrible condition. Doctors from fifty countries have studied her. No cure.”
Now the coup d’grace: “Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m sure you understand that we aren’t allowed by law to let everyone in to this tent of oddities. There is so much excitement! There are liability issues! Someone might have a heart attack and die…it happened just last week. You must sign a waiver releasing us from all liability. Please see Miss Margaret at the door and she will determine whether you are one of the few who can withstand the shock and excitement of our entertainment this evening.”
Let’s switch back to 2014. There is a different pitchman in town. He represents one of the hundreds of dating sites on the internet. He is polished and sophisticated. He sits across from a young woman, perhaps 35 years old. “You must be exhausted,” he says to her. His eyes are moist and glistening and he is saddened by her plight. His words are dipped in honey.
Yes, the woman is thinking, all this dating! All this texting and calling and being nice and living up to expectations! Yes, she agrees, she is exhausted.
The pitchman reaches over and pats her hand gently. “You deserve someone special,” he tells her, “you deserve the best life has to offer.
It’s all hers for the asking: she is special and she deserves someone special. But, she has to join the club. The introduction to the right guy will start within one week after she signs a contract and tapes an interview men or women will use to screen her potential as a companion or mate. She will feel like a new person.
The pitchman is brilliant. She is hopeful for the first time in months.
Which brings us back to the lessons learned at the carnival. Here’s what we need to be happy in a relationship—at least initially: (1) someone who can make us feel special (2) someone who we can rely on to be there for us (3) someone who brings excitement into our lives (4) someone who makes us feel exclusive and (5) someone who offers the magnificent feeling of “We-ness” and hope. (Hey, it’s easy…)
“Living, Loving and Letting Go”, this author’s new book, is all about people—people trying to become part of the most important concept of our generation: the concept of “We”, an idea that healthy people crave a sense of belonging, a sense of being part of something bigger and greater, a sense of being warmly welcomed into someone’s world. The topic has been researched for hundreds of years. Early psychoanalysts suggested that at its root this search might reflect any of the following: the universal fear of loneliness, chemical attraction, electricity, magnetism, unconscious mate prototypes, toxic and diseased brains, odors that attract perspective mates, archetypal genes in the male and geographic proximity. Notably absent from each of these processes is the free-will version of love, presumably the dominant reason for coupling—at least in the industrial nations.
Ah, love! How ironic that life’s most complex and beautiful emotion has been reduced to fear, magnetism, brain disease, odors and geography.
So, the search begins with an emotional and/or physical itch of sorts. We begin to weigh the qualities of people who might be able to scratch that itch. Are they attractive? Are they available (emotionally and geographically)? Are they compatible with our levels of vitality, energy, communication and style of life? Are they intelligent and humorous? Are they affectionate and warm? Am I attracted to them sexually? Do we resonate as a couple?
Finding the potential candidates for our affection is no simple matter. Our pitchman with the honeyed tongue and moistened eyes, contrived or not, knew this. His covenant with the young woman was that he would make the process easier. After all, there were so many considerations! It was so complicated! And internet dating has been the response.
Whether that is your approach of not, the material contained in “Living, Loving, and Letting Go” will give you, as one reader described it, “a master’s course in the psychology of relationships.”
But that’s enough for now. Next week’s blog has more to say about the subject. Drop by and say hi.