I woke up to my fourth decade of life at 6:08 yesterday morning next to a familiar girl still in her 20s. I remember those days. I used to practically jump out of bed, ready to grab the day by the shoulders and bend it over.
Instead, it took me 20 minutes to motivate myself to walk 20 feet to the bathroom and brush my teeth. Still in a daze at the gym, I could not complete more than five consecutive pull-ups. OK, I could only do four at a time but would have pushed myself to five without the knowledge of having to finish three full sets. Plus my hands kept slipping because I had applied some Aveeno lotion earlier to soothe a recurrent patch of dry skin on my left index finger. So really, I was doing like six straight pull-ups. I also have extremely long arms, so really it was more like seven straight.
What does it matter — what am I trying to prove? Why should I waste irreplaceable time trying to validate myself in your eyes when I am going to die soon anyway? One-fifth of my life is over now. I only have roughly 120 years to live, and in the face of that reality, it’s hard to care about how many pull-ups you think I can do in a row. I do, however, care that you take me seriously when I project my life span to be a century and a half. Look at the length of my life line, the one closest to the thumb:
God’s UX designer ran out of room on my palm and probably considered spiraling up my arm. But set aside the common preoccupation with length. Everyone knows girth is more important, the range with which your mind can wrap itself around thick concepts like relationship.
For the first time, I changed my Facebook profile picture to one of me with a romantic interest. Other folks might do this all the time, but this is a big step for me because I read into these kinds of things. To break down the mechanics here, I am choosing to define my identity within the world’s most expansive social reality in terms of my girlfriend. I am declaring that she is a part of who I am, or at least the image I want to project. This is a huge deal, right? It takes balls to chop off your own balls, to trade the invincibility of pretending not to care much for the vulnerability of going all in with somebody else. I needed my entire 20s to get there.
Even more momentous, there is a live dog in this profile picture. If you don’t know how I generally feel about canines and their owners, read Chapter 7 in the sidebar. Yet here I am, smiling like a chump while she holds Zoey as if this were some sort of interracial, interspecies family portrait. Most people who see it don’t know that Zoey is not even our dog. She’s just my favorite of the ones encountered so far, and truthfully I have liked several recently. They are so dumb and sweet and cuddly. It’s like hanging out with a hybrid of Forrest Gump and Mini-Me, which I think we can all agree would indeed be any man’s best friend.
As for my human best friend — not including family or strangers sitting next to me when I am drunk — I realize that role goes to my girlfriend for the next decade and beyond. Not just because she gave me a sweet tennis racket last night that evenly splits the tradeoff between power and control, knowing that I struggle to accept opportunity costs. I am confident in our future together because we passed a classic litmus test.
To assess the fitness of someone to be your life partner, date the person long enough to learn all the basic information and for the trivial pleasantries to fade. Then go for a long drive without the radio and see how you two get along. The exercise sounds too simple to be of value, but those two qualities often coexist in life, as evidenced by the In-N-Out menu.
So the lady and I drove back from San Francisco without music, per my request. Hey I love jamming out to N Sync’s “God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You” as much as the next guy, but this road trip presented an unignorable opportunity to examine our connection on a deeper level. The great journalistic trick in play here was silence. To get a feel for what makes someone tick, you don’t rattle off a rapid-fire interrogation. You let silence work its magic. People will eventually try to fill it, and that’s when you truly get to know them. Robin Williams did this with Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting.
The technique certainly works on me. Because after a while, with so much uninterrupted time and so few distractions, nowhere to look or listen or go, I tend to start saying ridiculous things and asking inflammatory questions. Depleted of the energy needed to maintain my layers of facades, I stop pretending to be the person that I want my companion to think I am. And that can cause problems.
But no fighting, tension or hurt feelings flared up at all on the way back to L.A. Six hours of barren landscapes flew by so effortlessly that I was left trying to remember what we even talked about. Kind of like how 30 years passed sneakily enough for me to wonder how I got here. Suffice it to say, I am grateful to have made it this far because unfortunately not everyone does. And I am thrilled by the prospect of exploring the next stage with my partner and occasionally our borrowed dog.