In Search Of A Spotless Mind
2004-03-20, 4:23 p.m.
(Warning: many spoilers for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind farther down in this entry.)
One of the things I've been wondering about lately is, how do people still keep being interested in having relationships? Well, I know they want to get laid, sure, but beyond that, how does one still keep having that dewy-eyed optimism that The One Is Still Out There with each and every guy, even when there's been a long, long list of guys you thought were The One and weren't.
I was flipping through The Between Boyfriends Handbook some weeks ago and found this quote that I have been wondering about: "The reality is that breakups (like shoe shopping) get harder as we get older, mainly because we're not dating wildly inappropriate men as often. Instead, we're dating men we genuinely thought could be The One, and when they turn out to be just the twenty-fifth, it's understandably depressing and annoying."
I usually feel so disilllusioned in both the person and the process when we're through. I don't think I was ever a completely innocent, uncynical, world-comes-up-roses person. I distinctly remember thinking in first or second grade that Mr. Rogers's whole schtick with the taking off the clothes when he came into the house was stupid- I mean, duh, he didn't just get home from work, he's on a stage set! However, being a nerd, I was pretty naïve about relationships. And the more times I date, the more naivete I lose.
I feel the loss of this innocence and hope pretty keenly. I am more diminished with every guy that's been through my life, because each of them took something from me that the next guy will never get. I am especially pissed off at Previous Ex and probably always will be because he walked off with a large chunk of my passion and belief and love, that he only got because I didn't know any better not to throw it all at him like he was my hope of heaven. I was the highest I've ever gotten because I had no mental concept of this ending. I had what I wanted all my life, without major, major disillusionment, and I will forever hate him for teaching me that sometimes things just fucking end out of the blue. Nobody that I've dated after him has gotten quite that high out of me, not even Dave, because I've learned to always doubt and wonder in the back of my mind, to leave a door open in case of escape. No wonder I'm doing so much better post-breakup this time, I knew what was coming. And I learned another major lesson too: even if the guy claims he wants permanence, that still doesn't mean that's going to actually HAPPEN. That's another big fucking chunk of my beliefs gone. I've learned my lesson: guys don't last.
Fine. That's life, that's how it goes. You're supposed to have guys in your life for awhile and have them leave. Everyone's meant to be single, at least part of the time. Okay. I get it now. But how do the rest of y'all stay motivated to keep looking for someone who you think will last, those of you who don't date guys with temporary expectations? I don't get it. I suspect that one needs to somehow maintain that naivete in order to keep on dating with the same expectations that disregard prior experience to some degree.
Pardon the Salon link, but I was reading a letter to Cary Tennis about the issue. Oddly enough, I'd been thinking about writing with a similar question myself.
"There's a woman I love (we've been in a relationship for a while). Sometimes I think I love her more than anyone I've ever loved, but other days I think of a woman I loved in college and cannot believe that I ever loved someone so completely. I can no longer imagine the sort of trust and abandon I once knew. I feel that over the years I have been losing the ability to trust naively. I used to fight the loss of this naiveté, but now it just seems like a waste of energy: I am broken and will stay this way, I suspect.
I once was capable of complete love, but I think I had bad luck, or bad judgment, about what relationships merited that level of investment. And others have had bad judgment in trusting me, since I had come to lose my ability to trust naively. Now that I know so clearly the consequences of unwise love, I feel I am capable only of what one might call wise love. Not a bad thing -- in many ways a very good thing -- but not the stuff of passion either."
Cary's response was kinda long-winded and meandering, but here's the gist:
"Yes, it makes sense that experience would make you more cautious and less naive. But whether experience dulls your ability to feel, I do not know. I do not think so. I think that experience hones the judgment and increases the awareness, so that you are less likely to make certain mistakes or to trust certain people in certain situations. But I do not see why judgment and awareness should impede one's ability to love deeply. Perhaps you mean not just deeply but crazily, dizzily, insanely, passionately, obsessively, as one loves when one is young. Yes, that kind of love does seem to diminish. Because one grows less crazy as one grows more sane. What can be done about that? What should be done about that?
I don't know.
And that's the thing, see: with every breakup, you learn something. You get warier of hopping into the same situations. You lose your illlusions so you can protect yourself and date new mistakes rather than old ones. It's a necessary process, to lose that innocence and total enjoyment, in order to protect yourself from total devastation. It may turn you into someone you don't like, though.
So what do you do about that?
(Spoilers for the movie begin here.)
I went to see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind today for just that reason: I wanted to see what they did about it.
This was my first time actually going to a movie by myself. Usually I'm not that into seeing movies on the big screen, other than (a) it's something to do in social groups when you're bored and (b) you get to see it sooner. I'm not all that into sitting in the dark doing nothing but staring, so my normal practice is that if there's a movie I want to see that nobody else I know wants to see, I just don't see it (and wait for Netflix). But this time, I thought, "You know, I'm not going to have anyone to see movies with in the future most of the time. I should just suck it up and go." So I went to an early showing, which wasn't bad. I could park myself in the back row wherever I wanted, and nobody was close enough to hear the smartassed comments coming out of my mouth at times. Hah.
So, anyway, is that enough space for the spoiler purists to not see anything? Well, then, here goes. Spoilers abound!
Here's the plot: Nerdy, quiet, "nice" Joel and kooky multi-colored haired Clementine randomly show up on the same beach on Valentine's Day. They like each other at a distance, she approaches him, they talk, she asks him not to make jokes about her name and he says he doesn't know any, she's all "Where have you been?" They hang out, they call, they go play on the ice, she asks to sleep over at his place. While Joel's waiting for her to get her stuff, this random dude knocks on the window and wonders what he's doing there.
Turns out this is not the first time Joel and Clementine have met. Hell, they've already gotten together, lived together, had it go to hell, and broke up after a fight. Joel went to give her a gift at her work and not only has she acquired a new boyfriend, she doesn't know him. Turns out she went to this company that erases your memories of a person, which then sends out cards to all your mutual friends saying not to bring up the relationship again. Joel heads to the clinic and looks into getting it done on himself as well. Despite it being the busy time of year for this work, "just before Valentine's Day," the doctor gets Joel in anyway, and sends his trusty techs, Stan and Patrick, over to Joel's house to wipe his memories while he sleeps. The next morning, he'll wake up like nothing happened!
Of course, nothing's quite that easy. The process involves them mapping where in the brain the memories are, and then having you relive them as they get zapped from your brain. Then again, it doesn't really help things when Stan and his girlfriend, Mary the clinic receptionist, get drunk, stoned, and laid while things are going on. Or that Patrick takes off to be with a mysteriously distraught Clementine, who he's now dating after wiping her brain and swiping Joel's mementoes of her so he can get her to love him instead. But while Mary and Stan are fucking around, Joel is remembering Clementine...and realizes halfway in that he doesn't want to lose the good memories of her. He tries to wake up and tell them to stop, but that doesn't work, and then he starts trying to hide her memories in with his childhood where hopefully nobody'll look. Clementine and Joel become conspirators in his head, not wanting to lose each other even as she keeps being deleted from him. They even make some kind of agreement to meet on the beach again (though don't ask me how that happened when this is all supposed to be in Joel's OWN head).
Now here's the interesting thing for me with this movie: what happens to the deleted?
When things start going wrong on the brainwipe, Stan calls the good doctor from his bedside to come in and get things working right again. And he makes the mistake of leaving Mary and the doctor alone...and she comes on to him. It's obvious she's got some crush on him even before tonight. And of course, both Stan and the doctor's wife see the two kissing. The wife's reaction, however, is, "You haven't told her? You can have him, honey. You already did."
Yup, the doctor and Mary had an affair, and "agreed that it would be best" to wipe her three or so months ago. This freaks her out no end, and she goes back to the office and finds the tape they made of her pre-wiping. And things are scarily familiar- Mary's wanting to impress the doctor by quoting and feeling nervous then AND now. The memories are gone, but the same feelings went on for her then and now. She's still attracted to the guy when she sees him, only this time she doesn't know how it'll end. This prompts Mary to make off with everyone's files, and mail them back to those who don't remember them.
Likewise, Clementine seems to know that something's off and missing. She impetuously demands that she and Patrick go to the beach, then to go play on the ice. When Patrick tries a line on her that Joel used, it only makes her run off. How does she know what she's missing?
So Joel and Clementine hear each other's tapes, where Clem makes fun of Joel and says she's become a person that she doesn't want to be because of him, and Joel says Clementine sleeps with people to get them to like her and that she doesn't read and likes magazines... basically, all the stuff we say about someone who doesn't love us any more. The list of things that somewhat annoyed us back then and that we cling to now to keep us from wanting them back. What are they going to do?
Date all over again. Whether it ends badly or not.
I have to admit, when I first heard of this movie, I thought, "Great idea! Wipe them out of your head so you can get back to being your old self again! Awesome!"
But then there's the dreaded repeat factor. Even if you sort of vaguely remember what you're missing, there's the attraction factor. If you ran into the person again, you'd be attracted to them just the way you were before, and make the same mistakes you did before. You wouldn't know not to avoid people with mental illness, or whatever the problem was with them. You'd never learn.
I guess you have to keep your disillusionment, in order to save yourself. Even if you keep losing parts of yourself, too.