So…Valentine’s Day is depressing. Pretty much as a rule (though I did receive an unexpected box of chocolates the Site Manager apparently felt compelled to give me. Sometimes it’s good to be a girl). I readily admit to the fact that’s because I traditionally lack a partner or am separated from the one I do have. And I don’t care if this makes me a snob. My standard Valentine MO is just to curl up on my couch with some red and a Bond movie. Obviously that option eludes me here, so I’ve spent much of my pre-Valentine week in the morbid past time of watching everyone else wallow in their questionable romantic choices.
The past few months have seen my adoption of a new flirting friend. Ours is a relationship strictly and refreshingly plutonic, as he is utterly devoted to his fiancée. Even so, flirting like mad can be very stress-relieving; he is also admirably good at stymieing my various swains, whom he calls with affectionate derision the ‘puppies’. Outside of his general good humor, he is lately very frustrated, soliciting advice on how to cheer up a girl 20,000 miles away. Watching her depression deepen through a bad semester at school, difficult time at work, and financial frustrations with planning their wedding, all with the constant undercurrent of loneliness for him, he is anguished that the only thing he knows how to do at this point is hold her, and even such a simple option is closed to him.
The ache of missing someone far away is anticipated by the pain of leaving someone behind. I was recently speaking with a civilian theatre couple that is about to break up when one half finally goes home, after three years together on base. His obvious excitement to finally leave Afghanistan behind forever was greatly tempered by the raw sense of loss between them. At one point, as she was describing the beautiful salt cliffs of her home village in Bosnia, the woman turned to her partner and quietly said she wished that she could have shown them to him. The foregone conclusion of love lost frankly astounded me. How do you become involved with someone when you know the relationship has an expiration date?
Of course, monogamy isn’t for everyone, not infrequently leading to complications with various levels of hilarity and stress. The bitter-sweet sorrow of the shortly-to-be-parted-forever couple compares sharply with the romantic dervish that is my roommate. Lately, her tertiary boyfriend is concerned about the potentially imminent return of her extremely jealous secondary boyfriend. This might prove more interesting than the time her primary boyfriend (read: fiancée – they have a house together in the States) visited and the jealous secondary boyfriend staked out the B-Hut for a weekend. All of which she shrugs off with flair. Girl, she once waxed philosophically, I have handled a lot of dicks in my day. It’s about damn time they start working for me. This has all the hallmarks of a good soap sub plot. As long as the shenangins don’t impact my sleep, I’ll be more than happy to pop some corn and see how it all works out.
With all its inherent heartache and complication, I still prefer the imperfect world of Western dating to that practiced by the Afghans. The fellas were explaining to me the other day how arranged marriage (still a popular office topic), while not romantically preferable, is far and away the safest means of meeting your future wife. Dating is apparently liable to end in someone being beaten or shot. One of my co-workers, now married with three children, recounted his passionate love affair with a woman several years ago. Passionate, for him, was taking long, chaste walks during which time he once touched her hand. Unfortunately, her brother spied the love birds one day and, realizing that he could not best my co-worker in a fight, beat his sister so hard she never spoke to her lover again. He sighed as he finished the story, looking past me and into what could have been. “I think I would have been truly happy with her”.
Another one of my office mates countered with a somewhat zanier story. He was able to secure permission to marry the woman of his choice, both from his parents and hers. However he nearly ruined his prospects with an overly-long conversation with her over the garden wall one summer evening. Her brother (why is there always a brother?), incensed at the impropriety of the chat (were there too many sweet nothings? He did not elaborate), took a few shots at the suitor with the requisite household AK (if there is a brother, rest assured he is armed). My colleague was apparently able to buy back his good graces by gifting his fiancée’s father with a dog he had long admired. Nothing says romance like being traded by your father for a hunting hound.
Given some new context, it seems appropriate to re-evaluate my own love life. Though it might be frequently reduced to a good Sauvignon drunk with Sean Connery, the only person to beat me up about my decisions is myself. I think it’s an apt time to misquote Sir Winston Churchill: dating is the worst way of meeting a life mate, except for all the others.