In Greek mythology, Sisyphus is a king who, in punishment for being avaricious and deceitful, for killing travelers and stuff, is punished by the Gods. His punishment is that he will roll an immense boulder up a hill only to watch it fall back down again. And he will do this forever. I think when Zeus gave this punishment to Sisyphus, he knew the future. And he knew: this would be a perfect metaphor for modern dating.
Ugh. Modern dating. Double ugh! Dating, in general.
Recently, my parents were discussing throwing me a block party with their new neighbors’ grandkids. The intent was, of course, to find me a suitor. (…) Yes, they were kidding, but still. My Dad offered a laugh. My Mom told me I needed to date less attractive people. Then the conversation melted into my old boyfriends, which is a really fun topic for me. They recounted each one chronologically. Like each had a hash mark on one of those timelines I made on blue and white paper in elementary school.
Lately, there’s been more of this kind of talk. I’m in a sparkly dress on stage, and the game show host opens “Door nummmmmbbberrr One!” Then two, then three. I’ve been dragged here by concerned, elder adults. My grandma who burns sage in little bowls in her house. My Mom, who directs a cat-laser pointer to the wall, telling me she wants me to lower my expectations. A few weeks ago, a family friend at a wedding happy hour eyed me across a table strewn with a white table cloth: “You should meet my nephew, Andrew. He’s a firefighter. He’s 32. He doesn’t quite have his s$*% together yet, but he’s getting there,” her pearls dripped over her black and white polka-dotted dress. “He’s cute,” she said, like that erased the fact that he didn’t have his s@*% together.
When my parents were talking about my old boyfriends, it was like an especially powerful wave churning up sand. So much sand, it gets in your eyes every time you go underwater. And I remembered them all – even the ones I couldn’t call boyfriends. Each was so different. One couldn’t stand being in the inside of a Starbucks because there were too many people. It drove a phobia of his through the roof. One had a penchant for buying whole coconuts on the way home from the bars. For one I drove to an LA Neiman Marcus buying a white, short dress with cut outs of flowers around my waist for prom. I confessed my feelings for someone who didn’t feel the same inside a MacDonald’s in a winter Prague. First kisses. “I love you’s.” Tears. Watching my phone, waiting for it to buzz with a text message that didn’t come. These images swirled together in this cyclone that opened up to nothingness in the sky.
It didn’t feel all bad. No, not at all. But I was very aware in that moment that I’d done of a lot of starting over. Like Sisyphus. I’d pushed boulders to the top, bared my heart, and cried when the boulder fell back down again. But I’d tried. I’d put myself out there. And what I fear, more lately, is that I’m so afraid of failing again, like Sisyphus, I’m so afraid of being hurt, or falling short, that I won’t even try. I won’t trust it enough to let it work. I won’t believe in love, and thus I won’t find it.
And the kicker is, the truth is, I may one day meet someone. Or I may not. It’s not a guarantee. But in that alone, I am not like Sisyphus. I am only like Sisyphus if I stop trusting Life. If I stop believing that things work out for the best. If I stop trying, and believing in the big things that make me feel like I stretch a million miles in every direction. Like writing book. Learning to garden. Like a veil whipping at my head in the wind on the beach. I am only like Sisyphus, doomed and broken, if I start to think small. If I start to think Life isn’t on my side.
And I don’t believe that’s our Fate. I believe that, since we weren’t born as flamingoes or anteaters… Since we are the only creatures who can perceive beauty… Make real plans… We bear this sort of responsibility to do good things with our lives. It sounds silly to say, but I could have been born as a cow in India, who was accidentally hit by a truck crossing the street. Or I could have not been born at all, which is actually very true, because I had a twin who passed away, etc. Had a doctor decided not to do an ultrasound and found my heartbeat, I would never have been.
We are like Sisyphus in the way that we are relentless. We start over. And though people don’t say it much: we suffer. But what I want to remember is something in my heart of hearts. And that’s if, if there is some kind of intelligence behind the wind whipping the pink bougainvillas around in a circular pile outside the library, and it’s the same thing that flows through the hearts of everyone like a worldwide spiderweb, it wants the best for me. And it wants me to do a good job with my life. And in my heart of hearts, I believe there is something. Something. So I will keep going on dates with guys who lied about their height in their profile. And I hope you… no, I hope you don’t do that, but you get what I mean.