the lava game

I recently had a conversation with a newly-single guy friend, who made a comment about going out and finding the next girl. "Jesus," I said. "Relax for a bit. Take some time to be by yourself." The relationship he'd just ended wasn't exactly the epitome of health. He let himself be lied to and hurt, for far too long. "Figure out what's going on with you, that you'd allow yourself to be treated that way," I recommended. "Shore up the holes, so you're good and strong and ready for the next healthy thing that comes along."

I accused this friend of jumping from girl to girl to girl. "It's not the fucking lava game," I said. "You can touch the ground and not die." He understood my metaphor.

The truth is, for as long as I can remember, I've played the lava game with men. In fact, sometimes it feels like I've had a boyfriend, a husband, or at some Person of Interest in my life nonstop, since I was sixteen. It's something I can refer to, tongue in cheek, as a "vice", but it's a behavior I'm aware of, and am working to understand.

I can look at it a few different ways. I can conclude, generously, that I find happiness in relationships with men, and that's why I enter into them with regularity/frequency. Framing it that way puts the reins in my hands. I'm choosing it, because I know what makes me happy. I'm empowering myself to get what I want from life. Or, I can be harsher on myself and say, I must find some kind of validation in relationships with men. There must be something I need from them, that I feel compelled to always be involved with one. Because there have certainly been times when I've let myself get sucked into something that didn't feel quite right.

It's probably a little bit of both. And I'm ok with that. I'm ok with copping to the fact that, yes, being the object of someone's affection/adoration/desire feels good to me. It's something I'm good at, too. And at a point in my life (post-divorce, and pre-professional stability), I can't help but take some comfort in that, however misguided it is. But don't get me wrong. I know I'm good at other, much more important things. I know I'm smart and creative and funny, and those are traits much more worth cultivating than my ability to make doodz like me. Intelligence and personal, professional achievement are things no one can take away from me - that's where I need to put my energies.

And yet. And yet.

Relationships, even short ones, give value and meaning to my life. I know that they do. If I enter into something with someone even knowing that it has an expiration date - if I walk out of it somehow improved, having learned or experienced something new - even just having some great memories to show for it - I don't consider that a "failed" relationship. That's life. That's the human experience. That's part of why I chose not to have children, to be open to and available for that exact kind of experience.

When I crawled out of this travesty late last year (as one of my friends put it, "You didn't just 'end a relationship.' You just fled a burning building. He was right.), I finally, finally gave myself a little time to reflect and catch my breath. To do some very intense self-examination. And I'm in a good place right now. Once again, for the first time in years, I'm 100% ok with being in the company of only myself. I'm perfectly content being alone in the evenings - watching movies, walking with my dog, reading, blogging, running - whatever. Self-soothing if need be, when the occasional fear or sadness surfaces. And for me, that's a small miracle. I look down and I see that the ground is not lava, and that I can stand on it.

But I like men. I like meeting them, and getting to know them. I like being around them, and I like falling in love. I don't like the pain that comes with falling back out...but that pain shows me that I'm alive. That I'm human. That I'm an active participant in life, and that I'm not afraid to keep participating. Some day - could be tomorrow, could be ten years from now - maybe I'll meet someone together with whom I'll finish up this crazy ride called life. But in the meantime, I like what men bring to my life. What I learn from them. What they have to teach me about myself.

As long as I remember how important it is to spend some time on the lava ground in between spending time with them, I think that's ok.