Treading Water

My heart just sank the moment I saw you,
You’re the image of a girl that I used to know.
Don’t be alarmed, if it seems hard, for me to explain,
But every detail of your face makes me recall the name.
Hmmm treading water, I keep, Treading water.
Maybe it’s another chance,
To mock myself again.
Maybe it’s another chance, I’m sure I’ll fuck things up in the same way.
— Alex Clare, Treading Water

It took me 24 years of my life to become a person who runs. I won’t say I’m a runner,–I will never be a runner–but I am someone who uses the physical activity of running as a form of exercise. I slowly picked it up since graduating college to the point where I now run 10-12 miles per week. Actual runners scoff at this number, because it’s barely enough for actual runners to break a sweat, but as a swimmer with an unfortunate lack of cardiovascular strength on dry land, I am simply a person who runs a little bit. I like running because it affords my brain time to think about other things. Usually it’s a load of gibberish, a bit like a waking dream, with thoughts like Oh he looks like Jesse Pinkman or Is sea water air harder for lungs to breath than fresh water air? Occasionally I find myself on an interesting path that makes the run go a little bit less torturously slow.

The other day, I was running when the above song came on. I am desperately in love with Alex Clare right now, because of this song and because of the way it makes me feel about my dating life. I’m not sure if anyone else has noticed it, but I’m just starting to: I have been dating the same person for years. They don’t always look the same (but they have some distinct physical similarities), but the behavioral pattern of the men I date is alarmingly similar. It certainly provides for some interesting points of reflection, I can assure you.  Particularly as I’ve tried to change and grow as I get older.

I was wondering though: how different would it be to date someone from my past now? If you took away the constraints of that time of my life and replaced them with the constraints of now, would the relationship fare differently? Would I still fight with the college boyfriend if I didn’t live in a triple-dorm common room and we actually had privacy? Would the high school boyfriend and I fall apart spectacularly without the confines of living with our parents, then long distance, and the inability to form real intimacy because of those things? How different would life be with one of these men if they met me now, as I am? If the baggage wasn’t there, if I had managed to learn from someone else what I learned from them, would the things that made each of those relationships worthwhile be present again?

When I mentioned this to a friend, she told me it was a rabbit hole. There is no way to know, and there never will be. I can’t delete history or remove baggage, and I would not be the woman I am now if not for the somewhat admirable trail of spectacularly failed relationships in my past.

To wonder what if? is one of the most powerful questions in the human language: it can inspire the greatest innovations and the most spectacular ideas, but can also create doubt, breed insecurity, and poison a mind. What if? is the question that haunts break-ups, and digging into that old wound undoes all the work it took to heal in the first place. What if? is on the black list of questions most humans learn to block from their minds, preventing the pain but also stifling the creativity. It’s a tradeoff, but if I’m already out for a run, I don’t really want to torture myself more by putting extra weight onto my heart.

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