The Lithium of Experience

Mortality is measured in increments of lowering expecations

A trail of smoke.

Don’t look for happiness in other people.

I think that like a mantra to stop myself from feeling sad. I just got a message from a woman I know, and by know, I mean, I used to sleep with until she decided that was over. But it wasn’t like my blow up break ups of the past. She faded and disappeared from my life, and I was okay with it. I used to feel constant loneliness so that I would drive myself insane at home by myself. Knowing that was the reality that awaited me, I clung to relationships way longer than I should have.

But I don’t do that anymore because I don’t feel that absence of love any more. I feel fine, by myself. When I’m not dating, I don’t think about the dates I’m not on anymore. I think about the stories in my head.

She got in touch again recently, drifted back into my life as easily as she left, and let me know that the guy she’s currently fucking is just leading her on. She wants marriage, and a child, and he’s making promises that two years from now he’ll feel that way too, but she knows he’s just saying that so that he can have sex with her now, while she’s still so beautiful. It’ll always be two years from now.

She’s manipulating me, too. She knows I’m attracted to her, and she’s being flirtatious enough to make me think there’s a chance we’ll fuck again, which keeps me in her back pocket, another option if Mr Future Kids doesn’t work out. Or one of the other men I don't know about that I assume she keeps on a different string than me.

If I were in my twenties, and up to embarrassingly recently, the deliberate flirtation without any particular end would frustrate me, maybe even anger me. Why tempt and tease on something you have no particular intention of following through on? I would take it to be a form of sadism at worst, or a complete lack of empathy at best. But now I don’t mind. I get flirtatious messages now and again. It feels like harmless fun.

So long as I remember not to actually hope for happiness from someone else. So long as I don’t expect anything of it.

Which makes me sad. Sad because I’ve evened out to a point where I feel the absence of the histrionics of teenage love.

The first time I kissed a girl, in her room, on her bed, it took forever to get to the point of our lips touching. Signals that are obvious to me now were entirely obscured by my complete lack of self confidence. When we finally kissed, we did that for what in my memory was hours, but was probably as long as one side of a cassette tape. It wasn’t a lack of desire for more that stopped anything from happening, it was so much uncertainty about how to go about it. Did she want to go further, did I? A lack of clarity about everything that was going on kept us hanging in a moment I’d love to have again with someone else.

Now, if I invite a woman back to my place, there’s no uncertainty. There’s confidence and understanding and consent. There are delicate moments of advancing, and if either one of us feels it isn’t right, we hold a pattern, maybe move back, maybe try forward again. The process is delicate and careful, but with a momentum of certainty. Either of us can stop it, either of us is free to initiate anything. We know exactly where all the branching paths lead, we’re not exploring a dark forest, we’re on a sunny hike. There are no mysteries, only questions that have readily available answers.

I just realized that the first kiss that I’m remembering as my first kiss wasn’t my first kiss. My very first kiss was with a girl who just wanted to show me what a kiss was like, or something like that, on high school grounds. It was exciting, the way that having a cigarette behind the cafeteria is getting away with something.

The first kiss that was with a girl where I felt the gravity of wanting to be as close to her as possible was late at night, in a park, sitting inside an empty wading pool, clinging to each other because we were freezing by losing our body heat through the cement around us. It was a ridiculous place to spend any amount of time, the kind of decision you’d only make as a teenager.

As an adult, I’d just say, let’s go back to mine.

It seems like a recipe for failure to recreate that. It’d be the premise for a mundane comedy in some lukewarm movie about middle aged people to try and recreate the kind of mysteries and fears and uncertainties that made those teenage moments so romantic. You could stay out in a park in the cold and make out with someone, but you’d only end up being aware of the choice you’re making to not simply be warm in your own bed.

But that was still not the first kiss I remember as my first kiss. Even with her, the girl in the park, she was someone I ended up going out with for about half a year after trying and failing to be with another girl I had a crush on previously. Sometime after I broke up with six month girl, I ended up being with the girl I had wanted for longer, and the emotional impact of finally being with her puts some kind of more significant firstness in the first time I kissed her. With her, it wasn’t just achieving a kiss like finishing a level in a video game, it was connecting with her in particular, something came back to me through her.

It’s so exciting to receive a transmission that’s on the same channel you’re broadcasting that it’s dangerous. I became addicted to that feeling, and pursued it too hard for too long and made way to many sacrifices of my own development. It’s taken twenty years at least to make it so that I don’t waste time in my life suffering the hope of making that connection again.

I’m so emotionally stable, I’m unaffected, I don’t want to kill myself when there’s no one to hold, that I feel the lack of highs that balance out the lows. Isn’t this what people on lithium complain about? That being even is as boring as death? Is this how you come to accept mortality, by evening out to the point where there might as well not be anything at all?

I wish her flirtations, the woman who recently drifted back into my life, stirred something in me more than whatever mild entertainment I get out of it. I want to message her and own up to my own manipulations.

When we last met, she let me know that if I were ready to have children, right now, then she would do that with me. She knows I want to write stories, and she painted a picture for me of being a stay at home dad, writing my novels with our child in a crib nearby, while she worked at the high paying job she was aspiring to. It sounded fine.

But it’s not something I particularly aspire to. I have complicated feelings about whether or not there will ever be kids in my life, and all I really want from her right now is passion and lust and excitement. I want to message her and tell her that I don’t want to be like the guy who is holding out a promise he will never keep. I’d like to be a more honest person than that. If we’re going to have a heated romance, great, if we’re not, that’s okay too.

The reason I don’t send any confessional texts isn’t even because of any weakness that keeps me addicted to the softly sexual messages she sends me now and again. It’s just that suddenly out of the blue writing about how I don’t particularly want to be the father to her children right now and I can’t say what the future holds, I just want be on fire with her, seems just weirdly abrupt. And I suspect that if I did it, she just wouldn’t respond. I would never hear from her again, without any particular closure of knowing how she felt about my strange outburst of honesty.

And I wouldn’t mind.