When I met him he evinced many qualities which I admired, or enjoyed, and a few qualities which scared me, or which I did not understand, or which I found annoying. Some qualities made me draw nearer to him, and some made me recoil. As we grew to occupy increasing amounts of time in each other’s presence, I found myself emulating many of those qualities which I admired, or enjoyed, in part because I thought it might be enjoyable to have others draw near to me, in enjoyment, or in admiration, the way I drew near to this man. With regard to those qualities I was afraid of, or confused by, or annoyed with, I told myself I had heretofore been perhaps too closed-minded. I began to justify these qualities, because I believed this man was a person whose experience and life were just as valid as my experience and life, and who was I to pass judgment on any of his qualities, enjoyable or otherwise, and of course vice versa (though of course one does, all the time). Soon, by this man’s differences from myself, I believed (judged) that he was more than me, most especially because he seemed untroubled by such judgments and recoilments as troubled me (although it is true, I never asked). Perhaps, I told myself, I had been existing for years as less of a person than I might have, and if I now expanded my understanding of the range of what qualities were enjoyable, or admirable, then by so doing I would become more, which would make this man and me equal.
So as we continued to occupy time together, I grew used to being scared, or confused, or annoyed, and then to immediately chastising myself for being timid, or for being slow, or for being intolerant, such that where I had previously felt only one negative emotion in response to certain qualities evinced by this man, I now felt two. And although I was able to successfully emulate many of his admirable or enjoyable qualities, I was not able to emulate those scary, or confusing, or annoying ones which I was telling myself might not actually be so scary, or so confusing, or so annoying. No matter how often I told myself that emulation of these qualities would increase me (both by enlarging my understanding, as well as expanding my repertoire of evincible qualities) and make me more, which would make me equal, I failed. I began to accrue incidences of lessness. In this way, even as I attempted to draw nearer to him, we began to separate.
As I decreased with every inability to emulate this man’s possibly-not-scary, possibly-not-confusing, possibly-not-annoying qualities, I began to notice persons who did evince these qualities. I began to suspect that this man, in spite of no statement to this effect from him, ever, could not be content with someone such as myself, because the fundamental qualities which must be shared, in order for a relationship to succeed, or even endure, were, in fact, not those qualities I had initially drawn toward, but rather those ones from which I had initially recoiled. If this man had not, heretofore, said anything about our fundamental inequality, it was only because he did not recognize this lack as a legitimate source of dissatisfaction. Had he recognized its legitimacy, he would have exercised his discontent. Unless, of course, he recognized our inequality as a legitimate source of dissatisfaction and yet was not saying anything because of—again—his moreness. Perhaps he trusted me to increase, given enough time and practice. Perhaps he trusted himself to understand inequality as complementariness (which understanding I myself had attempted, and found confusing). Or perhaps he was deeply insecure, and willing to be with someone who was so dissatisfyingly unequal to him, simply because he could not bear to be alone. This possible quality frightened me; I could not even attempt—let alone fail—to emulate it. I became convinced that this man was weary of my inability to be more, and I also decided that, whether or not these other persons could evince the same admirable or enjoyable qualities evinced by this man, because these persons evinced the fundamental qualities required of a successful relationship, they (these persons) therefore held out the promise of more, or even, at least, some sort of fractional (by which I mean: with regard to the more important subset of allegedly not admirable, or not enjoyable, qualities) equality. Which promise I was ever less capable of holding out. And which promise I decided could only cause one, such as this man, to draw near. Which would be, from me, away.
This man, as some men will, seemed to have no opinion as to whether or not I possessed any scary, or any confusing, or any annoying qualities, with the exception of my chastisements, which he said he could not understand, and I took his almost-total-opinionlessness as further evidence of his moreness, and I found his opinionlessness frightening, I did not understand it, and to be honest, it annoyed me. But of course, these reactions were all examples of my lessness. Neither did this man attempt to emulate any of my qualities, admirable or enjoyable or otherwise, and I understood his nonemulation for the verdict that it was: the qualities which I evinced were lesser than those he already evinced, not only in number, but in type and degree. Although he did not recoil (and it is true, I never asked), neither did he draw nearer in the way that I had drawn nearer, which would have, I was sure, also made us equal.
Soon the entire relationship with this man was: these qualities, which when we first met, had been scary to me, or confusing to me, or annoying to me. Every time he did something that made me recoil, I despaired that this was not a thing I would ever be able to equal, and I despaired also because I imagined all the persons who were, beknownst to me and un-, evincing these same qualities and causing this man to draw near (to them). Now I had three negative emotions where before had existed only two, and before that only one. The times filled with admirable or enjoyable qualities were understood as times of unreality, and the reality was: all those points at which we were unequal. These unreal times of qualities formerly understood to be enjoyable, or admirable, I now also filled with both chastisement of my stupidity at ever having believed (judged) these qualities to have been the substance of the man, and the linchpins of the relationship, as well as with dread, haunted as I was by the imminent reality of the qualities formerly understood as scary, or as confusing, or as annoying. In this way I acquired two more negative emotions, although one could also say, in a way, that I was acquiring positive emotions, since, as these possibly-not-scary, possibly-not-confusing, possibly-not-annoying qualities revealed themselves to be reality, during the times this man evinced these qualities I was, in fact, on solid and confirming ground, which was: the security of my correctness, not that these qualities were actually frightening, or confusing, or annoying, but that they were the thing that would eventually make this man and I impossible, at which point, we would become, in a way, finally, equal.
As I gave up hope of ever emulating the fundamental qualities, and as I began to give this man over to the inevitability of a discovery of his disillusionment and disappointment, I could again understand certain of this man’s qualities as scary, and as confusing, and as annoying. And as I gave up hope of being equal—that is: evincing the same number, type, and degree of qualities that this man was evincing—or even fractionally equal, so also did I give up evincing even most of those enjoyable or admirable qualities I had previously successfully emulated. And although I couched our breakup in terms of my not being enough for him, when we had long been separate, and a couple of years later I found myself sitting at a milk-and-sugar-sticky table, and facing a man in whom I found many admirable or enjoyable qualities, and however also noting qualities which seemed scary, or confusing, or annoying, and while also, additionally, noting that as I drew near I smiled, and that when I recoiled I composed what I hoped was an expressionless face, I wondered if, a couple years ago, I might somehow have been too open-minded, and if, a couple years ago, I might have saved myself a little time and much emotional torsion, had I only been content to be less, and able to say, at the time: you scare me, I enjoy you, you confuse me, I admire you, you annoy me.
Michele Fialer lives in San Francisco. This is her first published fiction.