Life is made up of comparisons. Whether we like it or not, sometimes the larger part of our likes and dislikes come with experience – we like the steak at this restaurant better than that restaurant. We like red better than purple. We like the heel on that shoe better than the heel on that other shoe over there. If life is a game of experience-gaining, then we take our likes and dislikes, apply them to the here and now, and move forward based on the collective sum of our experiences. Whether we want to freely admit it or not, it is human nature to take the yardstick of past experience and us it to measure our current situation– gauging whether what we have now is better or equal to what we had before. Because if it isn’t better, then what we have derived from what we have learned helps us to determine that it isn’t going to work. If we go to the other restaurant, we won’t like the steak as much. We’ll end up with a purple shirt even though we HATE purple. Our feet will be uncomfortable because that heel we didn’t particularly love is pushing our foot up at an odd angle and causing our toes to pinch. Comparisons are how we function.
And whether we like it or not, we do tend to compare everything – not just the mundane stuff like food, shoes, and colors. We compare our satisfaction in our workplaces, we compare our weekends to that of our friends. We compare years – “this year is better than last year but it isn’t as awesome as five years ago.” We compare weeks, days, everything. Yes, comparison is a way of life. It’s how we evaluate our experiences – where we’re at, where we’re going, where we want to be. And perhaps most of all, no matter how hard we try not to, no matter how adamantly we say we are not going to, because this is what we know how to do, we compare our relationships as well.
And I’m as guilty of it as anyone else. Take 1.0 for example. That relationship was a long distance relationship. My first in college, and while not my first long distance relationship, certainly the one with the most distance. He was a good guy, but so very far away. New York City seemed like the end of the world and the limited time that we got to spend together, while fantastic, was simply not enough. Compile that with the fact that he was shorter than I was, he could not keep it up, and his Jewish family would never see me as anything more than a Shiksa and I knew, after a couple of months, that we were doomed. It ended – I was determined that no, no matter what I did, I was not going to make comparisons between this one and the next one. Whenever the next one came along.
Then I met the Professor. I’ll tell you, I tried. I tried REALLY hard not to draw comparisons. I’d love to say I didn’t. I really would. Maybe consciously I didn’t. But subconsciously? The Professor was everything 1.0 hadn’t been – tall (VERY tall), blond, closer in distance (though still not local – I’d had local at this point, local hadn’t worked out very well, I couldn’t deal with the clinginess (more comparions?)) and definitely had no problems in the bedroom. Granted we never did much outside of the bedroom. But it was, truthfully, the extension of the proverbial honeymoon phase. He was close enough so that we could see each other a few times a week and far enough away so that we didn’t see each other all the time and the newness factor didn’t wear off. And the sex was good. I didn’t go to bed frustrated. And yet, at the time, the emotion didn’t seem to be there. I found out years later, actually a decade later, that it had been – he’d just had trouble expressing it. But while all of the physicality was good, I wasn’t getting (or at least I thought I wasn’t getting) the emotion that I needed – that I’d gotten from 1.0.
WASN’T THERE MIDDLE GROUND SOMEWHERE?!
Then I met Mr. Ex. He was local, he wasn’t clingy. He had a job. He was, after awhile, financially stable. There were some bedroom issues – actually “some” would be an understatement. But, I was in it for the long haul. And you know, you’re supposed to deal with those things – it was my job to be sympathetic, right? We worked on the bedroom issues. We never fixed the bedroom issues. And by saying never fixed, I mean it got to the point that I was giving hour long hand jobs because he could not get off any other way. Even after those valiant efforts, even then he couldn’t get off, and would end up crying about it and blaming me which did not do a bloody THING for my self-confidence, let alone my libido. Then there was his temper. Which I won’t detail here. There’s an earlier blog about that if you’re reading this and you’re curious.
And I gotta say – by about year four, it was becoming very, very difficult NOT to make a comparison to someone. ANYONE. I’d visit my friends, they seemed to have a better relationship than I did. They actually LIKED each other. The ones that talked about it were definitely having sex more frequently than I was – BETTER sex, sex where their partners weren’t placing blame, shattering self-confidence, crying late at night. They weren’t dodging flying soda cans or trying to patch holes in the walls or attempting to put doors back on hinges from where they’d been torn off. God I tried everything not to compare – I cut ties with these happy people, I stopped talking to other people I saw myself dangerously beginning to want to BE with, I threw myself into school and put a façade up that said I was satisfied while on the inside I was seething that my first wedding anniversary present had been a vibrator. I’d like to say the efforts toward fixing things, not comparing, not giving myself the opportunity to compare, worked – but as we all know, since I am now divorced, it didn’t. I compared. When I compared I realized that what I had, in comparison to the way things really probably should be, wasn’t working. I got out. Comparison saved my sanity – and the last half of my twenties.
I spent the next year and a half recuperating. I was in Ohio, as I’ve written. I was regaining myself, I was rebuilding self-confidence, I was using someone else to help me do that. I’m not saying it was perfect, I got emotionally involved and I shouldn’t have. But I did what I needed to do. By the time I was really ready to get my ass back out there, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the impotence of my ex -husband was absolutely NOT my fault. I got out there, I dated, I had my mental checklist. Where did I get that, you ask? Comparisons, of course. Yes, it’s ridiculous. But after what I’d been through, I wasn’t settling for less.
I found someone else. On paper, he looked good. He had a good job, made very excellent money. He was ready to settle down, he had no bedroom issues. He had a condo in the nicest area of town – in a gated community, with a security guard. That checklist? Yeah…he’d have fit every last one of them. The kicker? He didn’t have a threshold for emotion. He could not love. He could not get sold. And looking back now at the stuff I’d write occasionally then, I was blind. I was unhappy, and I knew I was unhappy, but I was so blinded by all the pretty stuff he had that I forgot to look at the stuff that he didn’t. I tried to tell myself that I could live without the emotion. I tried to tell myself that the fact that I wouldn’t have to work anymore, that I could live in that pretty little condo in that nice area of town, would be enough. I lied to myself. But it was a good reminder. It kicked my ass back into gear – it reconfirmed what I knew a decade ago – I need emotion. I don’t need someone to tell me they adore me every second of every day – but I need to know there is SOMETHING there. He measured up in every way but that one – and it was a big shortcoming. And, after it had all ended and the dust had settled, I told my friend Mary that I’d decided that I’d rather be with a man who had nothing and yet actually loved me than with a man who had everything but was incapable of loving. That conclusion came from a comparison, too.
I know this sounds like a big rant. It’s not intended to be. The point here is that if I had not been through all of these relationships – some of them worse than others – then I’d still have absolutely no idea of where I want to end up. Knowing where I want to end up requires comparison.
As dirty as it is, as horrible as it sounds, without comparison, there is no direction. Without comparison, we’d enter every situation as virgins, our eyes wide open, running into the same brick walls, tripping over the same hurdles, getting caught up in the same impossible situations. Without comparison we’d never learn. We’d never know that an 8.5 boot fits us better than an 8 or a 9. We’d never understand that we like pork bacon better than we like turkey bacon – and even more importantly, why we prefer one to the other. And as far as relationships are concerned, we’d never quite figure out what we need – we’d be either lucky enough to stumble into something perfect without any effort or we’d end up flailing about, never learning from past mistakes. Learning takes comparison.
Some of us are lucky enough to figure it out the first time – some of us figure it out after two or three tries. Others, I’d say the majority of us, really, are not so lucky. We’re not flailing about – we’re experimenting. We’re trying things on. We’re seeing what works. We’re figuring out from all of these failed, horrible experiences what we can live with in a relationship, and more importantly, what we really need from a relationship to be ridiculously happy. And if that means we have to take a well-earmarked yardstick and hold it carefully, though discreetly, up to the object of our affections to make absolutely sure that person measures up, then so be it. Once we find what we are looking for, and as a result of the trial and effort, perhaps the comparison can result in appreciation.