Friday, February 11, 2005

My Favorite Hax Column

Hi Carolyn:
I believe in "the spark"; the spark is a good thing. But I must ask, by when should it happen? I do believe it has to happen at some point, but I am not sure, now that I am dating someone who is kind, thoughtful and shy, how long I should give it.
– Sparkless So Far

Dear Carolyn:
I am a guy in love with my roommate, also a guy. We've been friends for years and actually dated in the beginning. It was a short, hectic romance that did not end bitterly. We are both very mainstream, all-American guys. I think part of the fascination for me is that we make the quintessential gay suburban couple – busting the stereotypes. Now the tricky part: He may not feel the same way and I am petrified about trashing our friendship. I am twisted sick with not knowing if this could work out.
– Never Learning

Dear Carolyn:
I'm about to be married after a five-year courtship. My fiancee is wonderful and very pretty, but I'm not attracted to her right now. Is this just "marriage" come early or a sign of problems down the road?
– Maryland

Dear Carolyn:
What do you think about being friends with exes?
– Missouri

If "the one" is the mother of all romantic ideals, "the spark" is her beautiful, maddening, free-spirited sister with the infectious laugh who brings extravagant gifts for everyone and then goes off lemur-watching in Madagascar and doesn't send so much as a postcard until three years later when she blows in for another surprise 36-hour visit.

But isn't she great?

I can't conceive of a life commitment where there never was a spark. Imagine wondering, all your life, what you've missed? Even if it doesn't burn brightly ever after, the memory of it alone generates warmth and light.

But don't even try to plan around it. It happens, it doesn't happen, it's instant, it takes years, it makes a muttering dork of anyone who tries to outwit it. Some say if it isn't immediate, it'll never happen. Some say the immediate spark is the first to flame out. Some say it's overrated. I've given days, weeks, months full of profound and tortured thought to the elusive concept of spark, and I have come up with this:

Isn't it great?

These four letters, fresh off the forklift, suggest you guys haven't done a whole lot better in the profound-insights department. But I do see patterns, some basic properties of electricity:

1. Spark trumps logic. Quit thinking, "Sparkless" et al, and take each date on its own merits. Did you have fun? Yes/No. Do you want to see this person again? Yes/No. Do you want to date this person at the exclusion of all others? Yes/No. You don't work toward electricity, you just get hit by it, and you're not going to get hit by it if you're holed up with the first person who seemed sorta nice. You've got to be out in a field twirling your umbrella at storm clouds. Date! date! date! as many people as you can, offer to pay occasionally, keep your clothes on and see what crackles.

2. Spark trumps friendship. To Mr. "Never Learning" and the rest of you who are pining in private for your so-called pals: One more melodramatic refrain on preserving the friendship and I'm going to hurl on your violin. A "twisted sick" person who is using every ounce of self-control to suffer quietly through the motions of friendship because he's afraid that's the only way he can stay close enough to breathe the giddy air that surrounds his One True Love is not my idea of a friend. So out with it – say it, show it, whichever feels right. (Note to Never Learning: Please get your motives straight first.) And if you fail, take it like a man. That goes for women, too.

3. Love trumps spark. Lightning gets attention, but compatibility holds it. You know you're in crush when someone hangs on every word of your third retelling of the Great Show-and-Tell Incident of 1982. You know you're in love when, 10 years later, that same someone still thinks it's the funniest thing ever – and you haven't slept together in weeks. Electricity has to give way to staying devoted and staying interesting to each other, or it'll just snap away to nothing. "Maryland," are you still in love? Can you see life with anyone but your fiancee? Is this low-sex deal what she wants? Talk, think and decide what you want – together – or "down the road" will be off a cliff. Speaking of which . . .

4. Sparks die. Thus the romantic-cliche proximity of "rekindle" to the word "flame." But I have it on discouraging authority that when sparks go pft, they tend to stay there. That authority is a sex therapist friend who found that, couple after couple after couple, she was merely doing a volume business in helping people face the friendly, low-voltage truth known as "marriage." (Obviously, some marriages stay sparky – but if yours is one of them, I'll bet your friends don't want to hear about it.) The ones who grasp Rule No. 3 make it, she says, the others don't.

Which makes the phenomenon of The Friendly Ex all the more impressive. The Friendly Ex is the former lover, now buddy, who allegedly harbors the awe-inspiring, physics-defying, pft-proof spark that makes new girlfriends and boyfriends quake with jealousy and fear . . .

Because they just don't get it. Onetime couples who've lost the spark can make great, safe friends.

Onward to something else? Please?


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