HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
Sunday, August 19, 2007
If I took all the girls I knew when I was single
And brought them all together for one night
I know they’d never match my sweet little imagination
‘Cause everything looks worse in black and white. — Paul Simon, Kodachrome
I had been sitting before my computer for two hours, thinking and staring and turning my chair around and around, truly stumped about what to write for today’s column. At the same time, I was chatting via the Internet with my wife Lydia, who is in another continent. When I asked her to give me some ideas, she suggested I write something personal since, she said, my most-appreciated articles have been those that I wrote about our marriage, our children, my parents and siblings, our household help, and our friends.
But I felt I had exhausted that topic, and there was nothing more I could think of that would be of interest to my readers.
I could hardly believe what came next. She actually suggested that I write about lessons I have learned from my ex-girlfriends. When I told her, only half-jokingly, that I could not believe the suggestion was coming from her, she laughed.
I am guessing that she feels comfortable with it since she has benefited from whatever positive lessons I have learned from the women who came before her. And, of course, I have by now learned infinitely more from her than from all of them put together. But I will save those lessons for another column.
I have four sisters, and growing up with them was a learning experience. They taught me a lot about what women are like and how they should be treated. But it was far more interesting learning those same lessons from girlfriends, since even just getting close to members of the opposite sex was much more exciting than being with family members.
Pursuing girls and getting them to be my girlfriends was very educational, to say the least. They not only taught me many things about women, romance, courtship, passion, and control, they also affirmed me as a man and as a human being many times over by just being with them.
One of my more memorable “teachers” was a beautiful fashion model who traveled extensively and was no stranger to the glamorous life in the capitals of the world. During one of her shows abroad, before we even met, their group was billeted in the same hotel as a world-famous pop band that was also on tour. One of the lead members took a fancy to her and gave her a gold Dunhill lighter as a souvenir. She told me this story with great excitement, so I knew how much she treasured that gift. And she brought it everywhere. Like most everyone else, we were smokers then; the link between death and cigarettes had not yet been established.
She was great to be with. We hung out for a few months — enough time to establish a meaningful relationship. But, sooner than we expected, she had to leave for one of her travels. The prospect of losing her, even only for a while, broke my heart. It was a big bad world out there, and there was no telling what would happen to us.
The night before she left, we had dinner, and amid a lot of romantic sentimentality and copious tears, she took out the lighter and, looking into my tear-filled eyes, she said, “Here, have this.” I was floored. I refused her gift, knowing she really was attached to it. But she said that it was precisely because it meant so much to her that she was giving it to me. If it was not valuable, what was the value in giving it away?
I was astounded. With that single, simple act, she taught me something about giving, and if only for this alone, I continue to treasure having met her.
I met a girl in college who was quite precocious compared to her peers. While many girls her age, though very attractive, seemed childishly cute and girlish, she exuded a mysterious womanly demeanor. She didn’t try to attract guys by wearing short skirts or heavy makeup. She was quietly beautiful, but though her beauty was unspectacular, she had a feminine mystique that could lure her prey. If she could corner you for even 20 minutes, you were a goner! And that’s how it all began.
I had met her before, but we never went beyond saying “hi” to each other. I never thought I could be attracted to her until that 20-minute window one night when there were hardly any people left at a party we were attending. It was 1 a.m., and she was waiting for her car to pick her up. I casually sat down beside her to keep her company, and we struck a conversation. I realized that she liked to talk about stuff that was different from other girls’ usual conversations, which enhanced her mystery. She was interested in Siddhartha and artsy movies! And she answered questions with just the right amount of coyness and charm to make you want to see her again. In other words, she could seduce you without you even knowing it.
Prior to meeting her, I thought I knew women. And from what I considered to be my vast experience in my previous relationships, I assumed that I belonged to the stronger, more dominant sex. To my surprise, when I started going out with this girl, it was almost always the other way around. She could have her way with me without my knowing it, and even when I did, I allowed her to, with my full consent! She defined what “cool” was in music, clothes, books, and lifestyle, and I readily followed.
Our relationship was powered mostly by her agenda. In many ways, she stretched my limits and introduced me to primal aspects of myself that I never suspected could ever matter to me. She could arouse jealousy, and awaken a sense of “sexist ownership,” which I did not know I was capable of.
We did not date for very long. I felt she was changing me too much, maybe into a person I did not want to be. But she did teach me an important lesson: that women can be very powerful — indeed, more powerful than men.
One of the longest relationships I had in my youth was with someone I met in senior high school. We went together for six years, and our relationship went through the gamut of teenage angst, “attitude” and discovery amid the backdrop of “flower power” from the late ’60s to the early ’70s. I describe those times as the Wonder Years of the heart.
To this day, when I hear certain songs, I remember the purity of the experience of post-adolescent joys and aches. Its Il Postino-like magic was both wonderful and devastatingly painful… or so it seemed then to the tender teen that I was. Perhaps it was because we were novices in matters of love and relationships that our experience was instinctive and instructive.
We fought a lot, which was painful, but we invariably reconciled, which was always exhilarating. At such a young age, feelings are oceanic and can totally engulf one’s being. We were young and we were foolish. It was probably the kind of relationship that inspired Shakespeare to write, centuries earlier: “Love is blind and lovers cannot see the petty follies that they themselves commit.”
Young love is truly unforgettable. But thank God, it is possible to get over it. Like everything else, the feelings pass, and you can get on with your life. What I learned from that relationship was that the taming of young love itself is necessary if one is to grow up. All that intensity is simply not sustainable. The fire can become a conflagration that consumes everything in its path. One eventually learns that the hearth of lasting love burns more slowly and surely.
We eventually broke up, and she left to study abroad. I went to see her when she returned for a brief visit home a year later. I remember an embarrassing but hilarious moment when she mistakenly called me by the name of her current boyfriend. This prompted her wise old dad, who was sitting with us in the living room, to drop the magazine he was reading, and tell her, with a wink, to call everyone “angel,” so she would never make the same mistake again!
We continue to be friends and get in touch occasionally via e-mail during birthdays, Christmas, and other special occasions.
I had other relationships with accompanying lessons, but all these happened so long ago, and the memories, though pleasant, are now far removed from my present reality. What remains relevant is what I learned from these women about women. As teachers go, girlfriends are the best source of learning for men about women.
I am forever grateful to all the women I’ve gone with for being the “angels” that they were, who taught me, each in her own way, how to understand women and how to love the one I am spending the rest of my life with better.