Once upon a wine-soaked time, three brilliant, gorgeous honours students sized each other up warily. We made introductions, we jockeyed intellectually, we impressed each other with our edgy feminist-post-feminist critiques. We pretended to be bohemian even though our parents had good houses in good neighbourhoods and political connections and at least one of us had a credit card paid in full by Daddy every month.
Later, came passionate, often liquor-addled friendship. There were blazing political discussions in French and in English; a shared house; earnest, impromptu poetry readings at the tail end of house parties; smoking and making sexually-fraught conversation in the kitchen with a sexist prof at the end of the term (the same one who made me cry the first week of school); anguished discussions about the ethics of abortion; an even more anguished confession; shared stories of rape and abuse and sacrifice for undeserving lovers; tales of kinked-out monogamous adventures; and a collective coming of age as we made sense of our families, ourselves and the world.
Which is to say we knew it all.
Which is to say, of course, that when I look back at this rioutous, self-righteous, seemingly tawdry time, I am touched by our naievete and how little we knew, really.
What we did know was how to convert the raw stuff of our lives into passionate essays and dissertations and debates. One of us was a star debater; the other defended a thesis on how porn can be empowering to women; I wrote about the mixed legacy of romance novels and dance films: great for white women (they always win) but based on a disturbing cultural narrative about the brooding, menacing, dark man. (Even when every character is white, which is usually the case.) This was a quirky approach to scholarship in a political science department that was not friendly to cultural critique. You were supposed to write about wars and the science of political inquiry and if you were going to get meditative and non-empirical, then you’d better be leaning hard on Isaiah Berlin and George Orwell.
So we didn’t know shit about shit and thought money came easy and the suburbs were for plastic people (of course we were from the suburbs). And if we had known anything at all, I would say that we were brave. Maybe we were. But the core truth of that time – and this is the latent purpose of an arts education, besides being a marriage factory and delaying our entrance to the labour market – was that we knew nothing but we were on a mission to experience it all and learn something from it. It was tender. We worried about cognitive dissonance. and betraying our ideals. We bought fancy cheese and good wine with our inadequate tips from the restaurants we toiled in. We interrogated monogamy even as we realized we were soft-hearted, attachment craving fuck-me feminists. All of us. Especially the one with the cheating boyfriend and the nerve damage and a paralyzed leg, the result of a particularly fucked-up sex game. (It was mercifully temporary. It was not me.)
There are many things I learned from these two beautiful, amazing, fierce women. But the one I think about most often, especially when I am meeting new people, or growing in a new relationship, is this:
we love each other because of our flaws, not in spite of them
One of us admitted that she wouldn’t have been able to talk to the other if her mascara had not been taking a slow jog down her cheek; she was otherwise just too blonde, beautiful and brilliant to be approachable. As we got to know each other, the chinks in our armour let the light – and the love – in.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
– Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”
Perfection is the enemy of communion. Building up the carapace of easy-breezy-beautiful-brilliant you means that no one can touch or taste the peeled plum that is your heart.
Those things that are “wrong” with you – your intensity, your passion, your oversized heart, your rebellious hair, your clumsiness, your painful truth-telling, your weird and wonky tics – these are the reasons why people love you. This is how you let people love you.