I Give It a Year

i-give-it-a-year-poster09We watched their movie the other night and it reminded me of a few things and started me thinking about relationships and how and why they last (or don’t). In the movie, the couple get married after 6 months and at the wedding, the groom’s sister whispers to her husband, I give it (the marriage) a year. It seems a harsh, hard statement to make and cynical at the time but with a high divorce rate approaching 50% it’s not unreasonable. A greater statistics can be used for non-martial relationships. We’ve all had exs! But the facts are more revealing.

The movie set the couple up to fail. They have different approaches to problems. She sings lyrics and gets them wrong much to his annoyance. He empties the bin when it’s completely full rather when needed. She goes to parties to network. He likes to party. She has limits. He doesn’t know when to stop. He is charming but hopeless at times. She is organised but stuck-up.

It reminded me of when I found myself talking to a Japanese marriage counsellor once. Not for any personal reasons, but we simply found ourselves chatting in a café. She informed me there were two main times in life when people get divorced in Japan; either after a year when they see it isn’t working or once the kids have left home and the wife can finally say she has no use for the husband. In the first instance, the marriage is often forgotten and never mentioned when the members get remarried. Being a divorcee is worse than being unhappily married for some. In the second case, the man receives the shock of finding out his wife simply tolerated him and possibly can’t stand him. In both cases, they can walk away from each other. There main responsibilities, notably the kids have moved on themselves and probably wish to see their parents happy.

In relationships, we are quicker to cut our losses. It’s no shame for a relationship to end especially if it simply isn’t working. There are plenty more fish in the sea. How it ends is the key to moving on easily. Relationships are work and the idea you just get along is bullshit. People have different understanding of the same situation and being flexible and non-judgemental is the key to making it work. Constructive advice when something isn’t to your liking is more effective and efficient than criticism. On most issues there are different ways to look at it. If you want to make it work, you have to understand where each of you is coming from.

divorce460The divorce rate across the world from the West to the Arab world to the Far-East is probably the result of two factors. The pressure from society to gain social or religious consent leads to many forced marriages but in these areas of the world the divorce rate was lower. Marriage was a form of economic security sacrificing happiness.  This is now less the case, raising the divorce rate because of the second factor. The more modern ideal of giving yourself a happy life clashes with the first. We live in an era of individualism driven by economics and liberty where we all have access to information, are informed we have our own power, our opinions are important and must seek utility through wealth and Benthamian happiness. We are utility maximisers and masters of our own domain. Our happiness is paramount.

Now the divorce laws have liberalised, women have their own economic power and together with men, they seek happiness, together or not. This also explains marrying later. Further pressure comes from a selfishness linked to individualism which shortened our tolerance to a temporary compromise to our maximum utility. We want it now, all of it when a little compromise is often all it took. The median age of divorce is in their early 40s for men and women after around a decade of marriage.

I’ve often be accused of moving on too quickly but trying to make it work is sometimes just not compatible with everything else I wish to do. I get frustrated when I am unable to read, exercise, write, slob around, watch football, in essence criticised for being myself. I’ve got to this age fairly smoothly by doing what suits me and making the right compromises at the right time. It’s been bumpy but I’ve enjoyed it. However relationships are perfect for us. They just don’t work perfectly. You’ve just got to give it time. Yet we need and strive for them naturally. The shy and the arrogant are both lonely. You have got to move to the middle, again the compromise.

So here is the spoiler alert for the movie. Of course it was never going to work but unlike American movies and, to ruin the film for you, they happily break up but hugging and thanking each other for ‘agreeing to divorce.’ That’s fine in this instance. It made sense for the film and gave it something unique to tell the audience. However in ‘real life, neither in this film or Friends, let’s just try a little harder. Modern divorce rates are the result of liberty and often that is a very good idea. No one wishes to be stuck in an unhappy marriage. The liberty to be who we want to be can clash with the compromises necessary for a successful relationship. It also lend to arrogance, the idea that we are all so special others are simply a burden. But they don’t have to if we treat it all as a synergetic compromise. Try to allow each of you to be the best you can be and be as happy as you can be.

So, sorry for ruining it for you. However it’s still very worth watching. It has some seriously funny moments.

 

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Later On, Somewhere Else

I said something I did mean.

Life and emotions can often turn in a heartbeat. For many, decisions made elsewhere have a profound effect on the lives and opprtunities of others. The world can seem chaotic, depressing and volatile. A sense of helplessness creates a need to make sense of it through reference to a supernatural power, be it a God of nature or of human creation. Refugees of war must wonder why they continue to be at the whim of instability, unable to know why their opportunities are curtailed and sanctioned by greater power, local, national or international. The local they can see. The national they expect. The international is beyond their control and comprehension.

I am fortunate. My decisions in general tend to be my own. Where I am, what I choose to do and live are within my own volation. I am aware of my fortune. As a disciple of Bourdieu, a student of sociology, economics and politics, a long-time traveller to the ‘other places’ and a conversation lover, I’m aware too that not everyone recognises their role in all of this whether it be benefical or negative. There are many shades of grey here.

Sometimes the decisions or choices we make are beyond our control and emotions creating a relative, major dilemma for the fortunate. Maslow would talk of the ‘need factor.’ The more fortunate we get, the shallower our needs become and yet they still seem urgent and essential. Recently a friend I’ve liked for a long time blurt out she felt the same as my unspoken thoughts. I replied in kind. We both sighed wth relief. But now we were somewhere else. Our world and thoughts transformed in a second. What does it all mean and where do we go? Is this viable?

Of course it’s never as simple as yes. Other people and consequences need to be considered and especially in this case. The right decision right now is often not the one you want to hear. And yet following the logic of your heart is not often the right way for the moment as lonesome as that could seem. So it goes on the backburner despite it being all you think about, despite it giving the long-absent logic to your fortunate life. The search continues.

Tom Waits

“We met on New Year’s Eve at a party in Hollywood. I was leaving the next day. I was moving to New York City and I was never coming back here to the Los Angeles area ever again. That was what I said. But I’d said that before. So we met on New Year’s and then I left. I was gone for about four months and then I got a call to do One from the Heart. I came back and I got a little office with a piano in it and I was writing songs and Kathleen was working at Zoetrope. She was a story analyst. Somebody told her to go down and knock on my door and she did and I opened the door and there she was and that was it. That was it for me. Love at first sight. Love at second sight.” 

You gotta like him for this. His new album is out today.

An interview with him here

Rear Window, The Conformist & In the Mood For Love

I’ve watched some good to average to crap films over the last few months. Drive was smooth but not brilliant. The Debt and Contagion were crisp but formulaic. Johnny English Reborned was slightly amusing while The Devil and Daniel Johnston, a documentary about the freakishly talented songwriter and his family’s battle with his bi-polarity was engaging.

I’ve stated before I’m not much of a film watcher in many ways. They get too much adoration when they lack the accessibility, portability and pathos of music and lyrics. But that’s not to say I don’t like them. I got paid to watch Up! the other night. Getting paid is always nice but Up!, a Pixar animation has one scene near the start, an emotion montage through the life of the main character, focusing on his relationship with his lost wife that’s genuinely moving.

Later in the week, that’s this week for reference, a week in which I’ve been paid for having fantastic fun, I was reading some Zizek, the mildy crazy, Slovenian critical theorist. He comes from the Brecht ‘school’ of argument; Nothing is more important than learning to think crudely. This means being direct and to the point rather than hiding behind semantics and often inaccessible academic language. Zizek is a writer you understand and who amuses you. He tackles the modern subjects of politics and economy informing through Marx and Lacan on the underlying power structure and relations in our societies. In short, he tells you things you only suspected.

He also references modern culture to inform you of these subtleties. He admires Hitchcock and in one passage, just after using Psycho to explain the ego, id and super-ego (quite successfully too), he moves onto Rear Window, another Hitchcock film, this time starring Jimmy Stewart. After briefly reading the analysis, I downloaded it (oops) to watch.

And that I did, straight through and without my usual distracted nature. I won’t explain the plot, you likely know it. But with a small cast including Grace Kelly, one set and a simple premise, it builds tension into an obvious but incredibly menacing and exciting ending. And as a friend said Grace Kelly might be the most beautiful woman you will ever see.

A friend Barry, not generally known for liking films that require thought (sorry Baz but its true!) put me onto an Italian film he’d watched. The Conformist is an early Bernardo Bertuloucci film and confirmed his reputation. Its the story of a man tasked by with assassinating his former University professor (we’ve all felt that way!) in fascist pre-war Italy. The cutaways reveal what brought him to this stage but maintain the momentum but what’s really striking is the cinematography. The use of colours, shadow and sunlight immerse you deep into the complex and troubled characters and the finale is truly grand and innovative.

I followed The Conformist up a few days later with Wong Kar-wai film In the Mood for Love. Again I’ve seen this before. The plot and the pace may be different but it’s equally engrossing as neighbours come to the sad conclusion their partners are having affair. The music, the colours and attention to emotional detail stays with you. Tony Leung’s quiet eyes tell many a tale worth coming back to.

Old Friends A-new

Ossie (finger-print t-shirt) came to visit a few weeks ago. He was in Europe for the first time travelling during some free time and made a bee-line to hang out with me in Oxford where I was working. He travelled with a book and his friend Jim, a clear-thinking, intelligent guy. The book was The Human Brain by Professor Susan Greenfield. It was mine but I’d given it to Os 3 years ago in Melbourne when I lived with him on the promise he gave it back to me personally.

‘Here it is mate,’ Os explained in his broad Aussie tone. So now after 3 years, there he was in the Kings Arms on a Thursday afternoon in Oxford, waiting to have a beer again with the book primed for returning.

I like to give books as random presents. Not only to impart what I consider valuable knowledge and awareness (forgive me being presumptuous!) but more simply as a gift that reflects my views on friendship; deep and long-lasting like books. For I take friendship seriously (even when I can’t resist taking the piss). Fundamentally we have a sense of responsibility to take care of each other, to make sure we can be the best we can be. I’ve been fortunate to have friends who have helped me out. I often can’t offer much but I do my best. Some music, books, a touch of knowledge, some humour and the encouragement of an optimistic guy.

How we interpret friendship says a lot about us, most importantly about how we are socialised. There is often an emphasis on difference between groups. It can seem difficult to broach numerous cliques. Talking to a new group and away from your own in a pub is viewed with suspicion in England. Our privacy settings are too high.

Yet having crossed the globe the odd time, I’ve found very little to keep us truly distinct. We hope the same dreams and seek genuine assurance and opportunity. I don’t believe in temporary friends or friends of circumstance. I build friendships and relationships that last, even if its difficult to keep in contact sometimes. And great, long-lasting friends can be made on any night.

So many a-time, I treat people as an old friend from the start, breaking down our entirely false social conventions. In a hostel, get a bottle of wine and offer a glass to those nearby. Once that bottle is finished, the next bottle is sure to arrive. At university, be forward and direct, inviting people in, for no one wants to be on the outside. The eight friends who visited me in Oxford over the last month were all reinforcing our sometime brief interactions. Like most others, before they were simply friends I hadn’t met yet.

So to my old friends a-newed this summer; Mirella after 6 months, Os after 3 years, Pedro after 4 months, the Oxford staff after one year, Rob after 6 months, Hanna after 2 years, Linden after 8 months, Mary after 2 years, Sarah after 4 years, Vedran after 3 years, Jane after 6 years, its been warming to continue without a blip again. And to everyone I’ve met this year including the Nottingham and Oxford crews, if I don’t see you soon, I will be thinking of you. You’ve shaped my existence in leagues. Thanks.

That reminds me: I’m off to the book shop. I wanna get Mary a book.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

(The title is from a Raymond Carver short story)

I had a curious experience recently. While in London in December, I met up with an ex-girlfriend for some lunch. We were previously together for a few years and you could say she was one of the loves of my life. Now we hadn’t seen each other for many years but the power of facebook and mutual friends put us back in contact again 3 years ago. We’d fb chatted occasionally, sent private messages on matters of mutual interest and liked each other’s statuses. Like friends do. But actually meeting up again, even just for lunch still felt fairly monumental.

After a quick hug at the tube station, we wandered to a restaurant chatting but barely making eye contact. Sitting opposite each other we couldn’t avoid looking at the faces we knew so well. Initially discussing the menu provided easy respite from the awkwardness, allowing evasive small talk. By the time the food arrived, we were more at ease, gently investigating each other’s lives, (she is now a TV producer), laughing about people we used to know and smiling at the silly moments we’d had.

The Czech novelist Milan Kundera wrote a book called Ignorance, a story concerning a long-lost affair and how the two protagonists met and recall the affair differently years later. What struck me over lunch was how we too had slanted memories, reminding each other of different events or with alternative memories of the same events. That’s kinda natural of course but it could be indicative of what was important to us, moments that stuck. On the train back home, she sent me a text. ‘It was weird wasn’t it! But lovely.’ I agreed. It was. 

It started me thinking about how our relationships shape us. The band The National ask ‘how can anybody know how they got to be this way.’ Well we earnestly nod about the nurturing power of childhood, family, school or travel but we’re told we’re meant forget past relationships and banish anything that triggers a memory. The past is best left there. Yet these relationships led me to the World Cup in Japan or amazing parties on Queen’s Day in Amsterdam, music festivals in Paris or times where I’ve met some great friends. They’ve moved me to better places. 

Of course a bad break-up can cloud everything for a while. A friend once told me she couldn’t remember the good times she had with her boyfriend after a 5 year relationship. That’s a shame. Sometimes we go on too long. We think we’d be alone rather than seeing it as an opportunity. My friend M mentions she still thinks of her ex over a year later. That highlights the encompassing pull of love. The world may be fickle but love isn’t.

We often ask what was I doing or how did I stay there so long, regarding them as tangents or aberrations. A friend of mine LP once put his friend right about his life. After years being away from Australia he was back and was told by a friend that he was a few years behind them in terms of life, lacking the mortgage and ring. But rather LP explained he was at the same point but simply on a different ladder. These relationships weren’t a detour from the right ladder but in fact a physical and emotional shift to a new ‘you.’

The truth is we never forget and in most cases nor should we completely. Love can be equally uplifting and debilitating, rivalling only jealousy in terms of emotive power. Controlling it seems impossible at times. There is no rational reason to love. You either love or you don’t. Dimension and consideration play no part. But to love and be loved is truly glorious and utterly unforgettable. I’ve always been a near-hopeless romantic and smile at the person I was in those times. It made me more than I am.

So rather than forget, I sit here with a glass of wine writing this (while my unfinished dissertation looks forlornly on), revelling in glorious rapture of the women and the love that’s shaped me, made me think silly, happy thoughts and put a spring in my step. It would be unnatural to blank it out and undermine its importance. It’s what makes us human. You simply move on hopefully improved.

Its late and I may not sleep soon but I do have to end this somehow. So using the lyrics of Dave Berman, ‘the final words are so hard to devise. But I promise that I’ll always remember your pretty eyes.’