Are You Pro-Choice on Love?

Recently, I’ve found myself thinking about the past. Not my

own past, although I do that, too, but a time when things were simpler-in some

ways. Thousands of years ago, humans lived in a world of brutal ice and

excessive body hair, but on the flip side, they didn’t have to hear things like

“It never happens when you’re looking for it.” In the days when a ripe old age

meant 40, people made decisions. You didn’t have the luxury of saying, “I like

you, but I need to focus on my career as a wizard.” And if a man were to say,

“I can’t have a relationship now,” it was followed by a reasonable excuse, such

as ” … because Attila needs me.” 

Things have changed.

Mine is a generation inundated with choices. Women are choosing to wait to have

children, while many men are on the Tony Randall plan of conceiving in their

70’s. For some, getting married has all the urgency of buying your Christmas

presents in April. 

Others are choosing not to choose. “Men have taken the verb

‘to choose’ and replaced it with the verb ‘to react,'” a friend said recently.

“If you say, ‘I’m leaving,’ they might say, ‘Don’t go’-but that’s it. Men

refuse to choose.”

When I’m asked why I’m single, I say, “By choice”-meaning

I’ve made the choice to be asked constantly why I’m single. The truth is,

because I’m long past the age I thought I’d be married at, I’ve decided to wait

for the real thing. While I’ve always been a proponent of the lightning-bolt

kind of love, which is how it’s happened for me in the past, I’ve come to

wonder if, in this city of many choices, something I considered the ultimate

force-love-has become a choice as well.

“Everything is about timing,” said a man who markets energy

bars. “I’ve met women I could have married and fallen in love with, but I

wasn’t ready to go there. It is a choice.”  

A former diehard bachelor who’s now in love agreed. “At some

point a guy might have a family member die, and that might make him think about

his place on the planet and what it means to connect with another person,” he

said. “Or a feeling of loneliness or confusion or boredom that combines with meeting

someone that doesn’t threaten or repel you.” 

A film producer, who said she put her career first for

years, agreed. “I was ready to find a person I could make the choice to love,”

she said. “I thought when I found love, things would work themselves out, but

the truth is the exact opposite. 

Everything is a decision about how much it’s worth to you. Love is a

choice at every turn.” 

Several women said that “timing” was another way of saying

“when the man is ready.” A novelist who’s become used to “low-grade

disappointment” said: “I think it breaks down along gender lines. If they’re

compelled by getting their career going or being externally validated by the

world, love becomes a choice.” 

“Men’s ideas of themselves are more important than any

woman,” said a woman who spoke in energetic bursts. “They say, ‘I’m a lawyer

now, and I must pick a wife.  I’m at the proper place, so it’s time to get

married.'” 

A man who just happens to be a lawyer said, “I want to be

done and find the one.  I don’t want to

go to the Hamptons and live with single people. I’m bored; I’m ready to go to

couple parties and have couple friends and kids.”             

Some people said that while they wished they could succumb

to the power of love, their minds got in the way. Take, for example, “the

checklist.” “Does she work out? Does she sing, challenge me intellectually,

have a nice family; is she good in bed; would she be a good mother?”  the lawyer said, reeling off his list. “I

think the checklist is a defense mechanism. It’s a good way to find things

wrong with people so you don’t have to marry them.”  

An impassioned chef called the checklist “a way to Agent

Orange you and de-leaf your tree. As things they don’t like become apparent,

they freak out.” She continued:  “Men

want a woman who’s ready-made, like slice-and-bake cookies.” 

The novelist was ambivalent about her checklist. “I need

someone deep, sexy, edgy-but at this point, I’m so disillusioned with my past

choices I hope I fall in love with a nerdy businessman,” she said.

One man said his checklist got him into a relationship. “She

was smart, Jewish, attractive, and I thought, ‘Wow, I should want this.’ But

she wasn’t the one.”

“I’m totally ready to fall in love, but I won’t accept

anyone who doesn’t have everything I want,” said the energy-bar salesman. He

took a moment to reflect on his words. “But I also know that if I had the  ability to worry less about making

concessions and more about working on me, I’d be more successful in love.”   

Many who believe love is a force think there will be certain

ways to recognize it.  For example, my

father always said that the second he saw my mother, he knew she was “the one,”

so I’ve always believed the same thing would happen for me. The transformed

bachelor questioned the wisdom of parental mythology. “It’s not about what’s

true; it’s about the life a story has taken on in your life and your heart,” he

said. “Your idea of a successful life is infused with this myth.”   

“People rewrite their

own histories so much,” said the energetic talker. “Many people say they knew

their spouse was the one, but they didn’t really.” 

Several women said that while they once thought they’d know

immediately, they’ve been disillusioned. “As you get older, knowing what you

want gets harder because you’ve learned that terrible lesson that love isn’t

enough,” said the weary novelist. 

“I think you do know if it’s the one, but that doesn’t mean

it’s going to work,” said the chef.

Many people who were pro-choice questioned the force. “When

someone says it’s ‘an irresistible force,’ they’re saying they want something

else to do the work for them,” said a chipper banker.

A woman in a long relationship agreed. “A man will realize

at 41 he has no straight, unmarried friends, and he’ll see some woman and

decide he’s in love and rationalize that it’s ‘a force.'” 

The good news is we do have choices.  For example, last year I was dating a man

and had to choose whether I thought he was active-slash-passive or

passive-slash-active. He did the Charleston of wooing: kicking forward and then

stepping back. He would charm me with phone calls and dinners and then

disappear for a week. I made the choice to proceed with caution.  Other times, I’ve had the choice to wait by the

phone for a guy I like to call or eat an entire jar of peanut butter. But the

real choice, for those of us who struggle with cynicism and sentences like “All

the good ones are taken,” is whether to believe that love will happen. As a

romantic at heart, I have no choice but to believe. 

“I think when you talk about the simplicity of the past,

you’re really talking about a time when people weren’t so jaded,” my friend

said. “Love should be the ultimate act of faith. People should have wars over

it.” Are You Pro-Choice on Love?