Applied Mathematics

Friday, April 4, 2003
@ Ruta Maya | 7:57 PM

I saw Boston Sarah outside the dorms today when I got back from work. I hesitated approaching, as I often do. I trust the momentary hesitation was the only outward sign of an internal debate raging: At what cost to retrieve my copy of Bukowski’sNotes of a Dirty Old Man and Vikram Seth’s Golden Gate back from her? A stalemate, of sorts, for me, had been silently lurking — so quietly as to go completely unnoticed and not have entered my mind in a long time.

Yesterday, I ignored Leah’s glances in our Honors Issues of Social Justice class. I felt her eyes on me. Only once did I mess up and return her look, but I quickly darted my eyes away. Later, after class, she waited for me as I spoke to our instructor about filling out my study abroad recommendation.

The above two events are unrelated. Indeed, I don’t believe Leah and Sarah even know one another. I take back that initial statement. Maybe they are related. If only by the most tenuous of strands: Myself. (I don’t mean in the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon sort of way.)

I’ve rarely seen or talked to Sarah since prior to the end of last semester and Christmas Break. I think we had breakfast a couple of times at the beginning of this semester, but nothing more. Our schedules are probably complete opposites.

After Spring Break and South by Southwest, Leah went to New Orleans to present some of her research at a conference. (I called and left a message on her machine wishing her luck.) Upon return, she got a new job at Sun Harvest. I called and left a couple of messages wondering where she was, what had happened to her cell phone (it’d been cut off), whether or not she’d fallen off the face of the planet. I assumed she’d either suddenly become really busy or been forbidden from talking to me by her recently on-off-on-again boyfriend.

This is where each situation begins to mirror the other:

I stopped calling her (Sarah and Leah). I stop pursuing conversation with her. I stopped expecting to go out with her on the town. I, for the most part, pushed her out of my mind, forgot about her, aside from the occasional, “That sucks. I wonder why . . . Did I do something?” But, behind it all, there was a nagging hope that she would call and I would be proven wrong.

See, I don’t care to keep score in my friendships, but I am adamant that I not be the only person interested and making an effort in the relationship. I refuse to denigrate or delude myself to the point where I believe that their not calling, their not inviting me out, their not showing, really, any interest of any kind aside from when I force it means that everything is just cool and honky-dory. Even if it is, it isn’t for me.

With both of these girls, I’d mentioned the fact that I felt I was always initiating our meetings. They both expressed regret and claimed they’d change that.

The big difference in these two stories is that, at the end of class yesterday, Leah told me she’d realized we hadn’t spoken in some time and that she both felt guilty for not calling and had missed talking to me. She invited me to a dinner party and insisted that we go out for drinks again soon, her treat.

Sarah, on the other hand, took me up to her dorm room and dug my books out from her stack. At first, little was said save comments on my new haircut (I’m back to the basic training look only with a really short beard). I made my usual lame jokes. She seemed reluctant to answer any questions about herself. She kept talking about me, asking questions and ignoring mine. We talked for a short time after she’d given me the books, and, on my way out, I found myself falling back into my old ways, making my old mistakes: Extending a vague invitation to her for drinks sometime when she gets a new fake ID.

So, ultimately, I know that Leah is interested in our friendship; Sarah most likely is not. That’s fine. It changes nothing. It’s just nice to know. But what about that connection I mentioned before? What did I mean when I said I thought I was that wavering strand between the two?

Simple, really: I am the one constant in both friendships. Thus, if both friendships ended in such a similar way (though, fortunately, my friendship with Leah persists), I’d only be able to correlate that there is something about me that causes things to end in such a manner.

Sure, we may be able to blame the end of my friendship with Sarah on our (apparently) ill-fated (if enjoyable, for me) make-out session last semester. [In her room today, she mentioned having read and enjoyed my “On Sex With Friends” essay.] And, though nothing of that sort happened between Leah and me, I would have probably blamed such a succinct ending befalling our friendship on some jealously-inspired proclamation banning contact with me having been made by her boyfriend. [On one of their first nights being broken up last month, she and I ran into him as we left her apartment on our way to Brian’s First Thursday art opening. She worried he might think something was going on. They have since reconciled.]

What is it about me that leads to these endings? Am I overbearing in some way? Do I pursue misplaced attraction? Do I pursue misplaced attraction in the wrong way? Am I selfish to even demand such reciprocation? Have signals not been received? Girls have told me I’m intimidating and, although I don’t usually believe them, could this be the case? Am I egocentric? (Probably.) Am I not confident enough? Do I talk too much? As always, so many more questions exist than I can honestly answer or even begin to fathom.

Things turn out as they will. I realize that with girls I have little control. In fact, in any relationship, one’s control ends on his or her side of the equation, and I don’t know that mathematical principles — like adding or subtracting from one side of the equality symbol necessarily changes the other side — even apply. I suppose that’s why I’ve left my theories regarding relationships to sort themselves out under a geopolitical frame of reference where actors don’t always act rationally. Not that those theories have helped me at all.

I should make it clear that I don’t blame Sarah. She’s pursuing her own enlightened self-interest and I just don’t fit into that picture, whatever it is. That’s wholly understandable. Daily, we exclude things and people from our lives for whatever reason. Just as one can’t blame the bum on the street for taking our money when we willfully give it to him (and I’m not calling Sarah a bum), a person can only fault him or herself for feeling strongly about another person and, when the time comes, feeling strongly about that person’s exit from one’s life. We exist apart from our relationships. X = XY —> X – Y = X

I guess, to quote my old Air Force roommate, SSGT Anthony Bares, who is currently deployed to an “undisclosed location” while his wife (who’s pregnant) and son remain alone in Florida, I should go to bed and hope I wake up to a better day tomorrow.

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