One afternoon, as I was sitting at a table in Kalendar Restaurant + Bistro on College Street in Toronto, waiting for a friend, minding my own business albeit with my ears open to the world around me, the sounds of a conversation from the table across and in front of me wandered over compelling me to focus my listening. I looked up.
Three women, all seeming to be in their late 20s. I was seated in such a way as to be facing two of them. Perfect viewing. Perfect listening. Not that they were quiet. Anyone could hear everything.
“He still wants to have his nights out with his friends,” one of the dark-haired women was saying. I gathered they were continuing a conversation they started earlier. “And hockey starts soon, so that’s two nights.”
The other dark haired woman, the one whose back was to me, asked, “and why is that a problem?”
“We’re supposed to be planning our wedding,” said the first woman. It’ll be hard if his schedule isn’t as flexible as mine. And he just doesn’t get it.”
“Get what?” asked the woman sitting beside her, she with strawberry blonde hair.
Truly, I wasn’t staring I was just…looking around a bit, reading, noticing. The dark-haired, soon-to-be married one looked a bit frustrated at the questions.
“He doesn’t get that I want him to help with planning the wedding. He said anything I want is fine with him, but I want him there to plan with me,” she said.
There was quiet at the table. I heard the cadence of silence. My mind went musical and I started counting out in whole notes and whole rests, silent beats, imagining them on a musical score.
Two whole notes. A whole rest. Then, the dark haired one whose back was to me, said, “Kate, he’s a GUY. Some guys just aren’t into planning a wedding.”
Hmmm. A little twinge at the back of my brain started working its way up through and around landing at the front and centre carrying with it a somewhat similar conversation with one of my sisters from a few years ago … about how a boyfriend (now husband + father to children of some woman friend) was into ice fishing, having beer with his friends, camping, his family and his work and of course loving her to bits, while what she (friend of sister) really wanted was someone she could talk to, who would understand her, be sensitive, kind and attentive, go shopping with her.
Holding those two conversations simultaneously in the middle of my memory clicked open a portal to a flashing neon sign of the word paradox. Now, a paradox is “being any person, thing, or situation exhibiting an apparently contradictory nature.”
The strawberry blonde put her hand gently on her friend’s shoulder, “I’m sure you guys will work it out.”
The conversation at the table across lulled at bit. The woman whose back was to me said, “Liz thinks I should find another job,” said the dark haired woman. “She said this one isn’t really getting me to where I need to be.”
“Where’s that?” asked the strawberry blonde. I liked her.
“I don’t know, but it seems she does,” was the answer.
Beats of silence.
At that point my friend showed up all smiling and happy and I stopped eavesdropping, um, listening to the conversation to pay attention to my friend, and after a while the three women left, and I never did get the rest of the story. But I DID get to ponder paradox for a long while after that day at Kalendar, and started to notice its presence a bit more, initially about relationships. For example:
- a woman I know who says she is all about equality between men and women and yet is quite disparaging and judgemental about a man wanting to stay home to raise the kids, or who doesn’t earn the same or more income than his wife.
- a friend was completely taken with someone who is quiet and thoughtful and now that they are deeply involved, is feeling that there is something troubling in the relationship that is starting to build some resentment in her because the object of her affection is truly and inherently quiet and thoughtful.
- a business friend who is looking for that intellectual equal and sets up challenges for potential partners and is heartbroken when either the intended victim refuses to play, or when someone surpasses expectation, and, upon learning of the game, turns tail and walks away, because of course a smart person would figure it out early.
I wondered if being alive on this planet and belonging to any species that interacts with others (for more than a single occasion) and is in relationship with others means that at some point something close to a paradox is unavoidable. And I wondered what it means to be faced with a paradox, if it opens an internal door, not to confusion but to curiosity to explore any internal knots or limits. Perhaps it’s an opportunity to wonder about some change, establish new wants, new patterns or even new, more helpful paradoxes.
Still, relationship(s) are not the only paradox. They’re just more obvious than many others.
A few years ago a friend and I were talking about choice, and wondering maybe, just maybe (and this IS heresy) that there is too much of it, and overabundance of choice might not be a good thing. We were talking about it because of a book, The Paradox of Choice which essentially says that in the affluent industrialized world MORE choice has not made us any happier and has in fact caused significant analysis paralysis. While the book’s notions are geared more to consumer behaviour and public policy, I wondered if they apply in terms of relationships, because the premise is we have an expectation of reaching perfection, of being able to make a choice of the perfect thing, whether it’s from an array of 40 toothpastes, what medication to take, what partner we will have.
I’m not convinced yet if a paradox of choice informs our choice of partner, but I DO know people who refuse to become involved, or even date, until the right one comes along. It’s called, in the vernacular, not settling.
It’s time for another espresso. I have some more wondering to do.
The paradox of reality is that no image is as compelling as the one which exists only in the mind’s eye.
Most marriages recognize this paradox: Passion destroys passion; we want what puts an end to wanting what we want.
I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.