Last summer – before taking the plunge into the online dating waters – I was doing a lot of international travel, mostly for work. This meant lots of very long flights on which I got to catch up on a lot of movie watching. One of my favorite movies from that summer was “A Late Quartet.” The story follows a cellist after his diagnosis with Parkinson’s and his relationship to his string quartet. The all-star cast includes Christopher Walken, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Mark Ivanir. In one of the opening scenes of the movie is a quote that has continued to float through my mind from time to time. It is from Christopher Walken’s character as he is teaching a group of young musicians:
We begin with Beethoven’s Opus 131. It has seven movements and they’re all connected. For us, it means playing without pause, no resting, no tuning. Our instruments must in time go out of tune each in its own quite different way… What are we supposed to do, stop or struggle to continuously adjust to each other up to the end even if we are out of tune? I don’t know. Let’s find out.
There are many things I like about this quote and its applicability – not just to Beethoven but to life. There’s the nod to how much of life involves “playing without pause.” And how, in relationships, we are on both our own individual journeys and the journey that our relationships are on – sometimes going out of tune each in our own quite different ways. But I think what I like most about this quote is the acknowledgement that we have a choice – to stop or to find a way to adjust to each other (and, implicitly, to learn to be comfortable with things being out of tune for a time). And there is almost a sense of adventure in not knowing and finding out what is to come.
After our first seven hours together, S and I made plans to get together again the following week, right before I left for Detroit for Thanksgiving. Then we met up the Saturday I got back, after he was done playing a show. A couple of weeks later, I went out to the ‘burbs to hear him play for the first time. It was fun and exciting. Spending time together was effortless. We talked. We laughed. We enjoyed good meals. I learned more about beer. He learned more about wine. Finding a way to have time together was at times challenging. We were (and are) very busy people with lots of other demands on our time. But beyond that I was also aware of the fact that, in many ways, we were on somewhat different individual paths. He was coming out of a 13-year marriage, having been with the same person for the better part of the past 17 years. I was the first person he had gone out with via online dating, although he had reconnected with a former girlfriend who was also going through a divorce, and they had seen each other a few times around the time that S and I met.
I am not a causal dater. Never have been. And although I continued to shop a bit in the online dating market place and continued to see Scott-Nuclear-Non-Proliferation over the next several weeks, I knew that the connection I had with S was, well, special. And I knew that I wanted to be with him. But I was conflicted. I wanted to honor where S was in his personal journey – finding his non-married identity, figuring out how to be a single Dad when he had his kids, navigating friendships that he and the Ex had previously shared. And at the same time, I didn’t want to put myself in a position to be a casualty of his journey. I was also aware of the fact that if I continued my online dating shopping, there was a risk of me hurting someone – and I didn’t want anyone else to be a casualty of my journey either. S and I were getting dangerously close to territory where I could be really hurt – not because S would have been intentionally hurtful. That was something I intuitively trusted, largely because he was so transparent with me. But things felt very out of tune. And it was, at times, incredibly uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to express what I was feeling without also feeling like I was pressuring him into something he wasn’t ready for or perhaps didn’t want. I didn’t know how to adjust while also being OK with being out of tune – or at what point being out of tune was just too risky or hurtful for me.
So, we did that thing that I’ve heard some grown-ups do sometimes. We talked about it. It was a hard conversation to have. I felt incredibly vulnerable. S was honest about where he was at the time – not sure that he was ready to stop meeting people but also not wanting to lose out on what we were starting to build. I was able to be honest about where I was too – struggling with not being a casual dater and not wanting to put all of my online dating eggs in this one basket, wanting to give him the space he needed to figure out what he wanted but not wanting to be a casualty. This was a conversation we revisited a few times after that – mostly because I wanted to be really, really, really sure that he knew that I respected where he was on his own journey but also knew enough about myself to know that I was getting in deep.
At some point in those first three or so months of dating, I also came to a different understanding of what it means to have “intention” – something I often hear about in my yoga classes and when listening to Buddhist teachings but that I didn’t really get (for myself) until then. For me, having intention confers the idea of making a conscious decision to put effort into something. And so, I started to think in terms of my intentions about and toward S. First, I made a conscious decision to trust him. To trust that he would continue to be honest with me and that he would look out for me the best he could in this. Second, I made a conscious decision to work toward trusting myself. To trust that I know myself well enough to know when I was past my edge with the risks I was willing to take and when it was OK to settle into a bit of discomfort with things being out of tune. For perhaps the first time in my life, I was living very much in the present, aware of how my own past experiences had brought me to this point and aware of the potential pitfalls of trying to orchestrate things too far into the future. It was thrilling and scary all at once. And there were times that things were out of tune and my feelings were hurt and I wondered if I was past my edge. But, oh, has it ever been worth it… As for what comes next? I think Christopher Walken said it best:
I don’t know. Let’s find out.
A bit of a postscript on this post ~ Making a conscious decision to trust was not a one-shot deal where all of a sudden I was magically transformed, complete with fairy dust, unicorns and rainbows, into this completely trusting being. It is a decision I have continued to revisit over these past months and one I have had to re-make several times. Sometimes just the reminder to trust is all it takes. Other times – when that crazy mean girl in my head is filling me with doubts, fears and insecurities – it becomes a mantra: “I trust S. I trust myself. I trust the ‘us’ that we are building.”