May 20, 2004
The Safe Unsafe
You date. You go to dinners. The beach. A friend's showcase. You retell your charming story until you hate every polished detail.
You laugh, you listen, you communicate varying measures of maturity and audacity. You venture forward as sincerely as caution allows and then one day, you meet someone utterly different and caution is blown to smithereens.
You don't know why, but within an hour you know everything important about her. Sooner than that, she knows everything important about you. Small talk becomes impossible. Every word is big talk. Banter fades. Soul-baring emerges as your mother tongue. You're not thinking about a second date but what she'll look like at 70. The cozy castle of your constructed self crumbles, rampart by rampart, until you discover that, despite all your highfalutin ideas about yourself, you are an exposed space, vulnerable to every direction.
You are exhilarated and terrified. This is what you wanted and now finding it, you dread being here. This is the Great Unsafe.
People clamor for the safety of couplehood. Not me, not recently. For the past three years, I've been reveling in singlehood, the heady invulnerability of it. As I was married just a pup's stride after the teen years, becoming single at 39 was like waking up as Superman. As long as the kryptonite of marriage was kept at bay, there was no bullet that could stop me. I could be pummeled, slowed, rejected or shanghaied, but, ultimately responsible to no one but myself, I knew I could dust myself off, uncrease my cape and walk away from anything.
But you know what? Superman was actually Superman. And imagined emotional invulnerability aside, I'm not.
Time, it turns out, is my real kryptonite. It's hard being the father of two boys for half the week, to run a household, a love life, a business, projects, endless financial decisions and indecisions, blood sugar, insane dog, immune-deficient car, leaky washing machine, self-filling sinks, etc. Okay I'll go one step further -- it's &$*'&% hard! I began to want some help in thinking out, handling, ordering my life. But the last thing I wanted was to have a "relationship" that would add more, well, work.
I successfully navigated around the clingy, the overtly wounded, the haughty and the plain old messed-up, and met a serene, sexy, smart-as-a whip and loving woman. With her, the storm of my interior life -- the thundering emotional surge and ebb of having my family split -- found a safe harbor.
But you can't seek safety from a storm when the storm is you.
Safety felt good. Safety was necessary. But, call me Gemini or Jew, I realized that safety wasn't what I needed most. I knew I needed to venture into unsafety. What I didn't know I needed was what I found sitting across the table from me one evening at The Newsroom framed in raven hair and gazing from wise, seasoned eyes. Something far beyond The Great Unsafe. Something rare, something thrilling, something that requires courage, confidence and unambiguous articulation. I needed The Safe Unsafe.
I couldn't have predicted her. I am Topanga and Northface. She is Beverly Hills and Neimans. But joy recognized joy. She brightened the room with her laughter, surprised me, taught me. She got me. And within a few dates, she pulverized the turgid comfort of my safety with two simple declarations.
First -- the sexiest thing any woman's ever said to me: "I don't need you."
Bam! Starbursts. Wow! In four words I was absolved of the obtaining another dependent. I already have kids. I have a Labrador. Here was a woman who sat comfortably at the wheel of her own emotional world, and wasn't eyeing the passenger seat of mine.
Second -- she said what every guy wants to hear on a date: "You have flaws." Oddly arousing you say? It was, when followed up with, "Everyone does. I expect it. I don't judge it. I won't judge it. And besides, trust me, your flaws are small."
Now that's how to start a relationship! Seeing each other through reality-colored glasses. What a concept. What a foundation.
Snicker-snack. In two swift strokes, this woman, this oracle in Oscar de la Renta, released me from Neediness and Judgment, the two lead horsemen of relationship apocalypse.
Simply put, she made it safe for me to feel unsafe. I was only too happy to return the favor, to let go of my own set of reins and let the ghastly gallop fade into the past.
As those hoofbeats dimmed, what felt like a storm now felt like a rainshower. Things could grow. Divorce's admonishing inner thunder revealed itself to be an echo that had played itself out. Time to come out of the harbor.
A friend recently said couples should retake their marriage vows every five years. Suddenly, that seems lazy to me. There is a transcendent scene at the end of Adam Sandler's "50 First Dates," when Drew Barrymore wakes up, as we know she does every morning, with no short-term memory. There is a rose waiting for her and a video marked "Watch me!" which she pops in. The video tracks her life with the cuddly Sandler from dates to wedding to childbirth to co-parenting a toddler and the look on her face has got to make you cry. For it is the pure, the holy delight of discovering that your life and the people in it are, in fact, every day, a gift of infinite measure.
Barrymore's moment was the best cinematic incarnation of the traditional Jewish blessing upon waking I have ever seen -- "Modeh ani l'fanecha." "Thank you," we are supposed to proclaim when our eyes open in the morning. I want to wake up every morning and say an additional Modeh Ani, this one to the woman waking in my arms. "Thank you for being on my side for ups and downs, for allowing me to be on your side for ups and downs, for knowing and for trusting that the Safe Unsafe is the true seedbed of love."
Adam Gilad is a writer, producer and CEO of Rogue Direct, LLP. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .