Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Jinx Gene

I love Dan Savage. I know that the odds are good that he'd despise me if he ever met me, but I have been unwaveringly grateful for his existence since I first became aware of who he is. He's obnoxious and uncompromising and funny.

So when I recently read a book for book club that made me think about the nature of marriage, it was only natural to finally read Savage's The Commitment. I'm still only partway through it, but I knew he was a kindred spirit. He explains that a huge part of his reluctance to get married, even as gay marriage became legal here and there, was rooted largely in a superstition about joy that's rooted in his family's experience of Catholicism:
We share the jinx gene, my mother and I, although in her case it’s more explicitly Catholic. When your life is going along nicely, when things are looking good, the correct posture to assume is one of gratitude, absent of any hint that you expect your good fortune to last. It’s kind of a defensive crouch. Good Catholics don’t presume. The moment you start to expect things to continue going along nicely for you—the moment you begin to believe you’re worthy of the good things in your life—God gets all Old Testament on your ass and does something vicious, something insane, something totally uncalled for. He gives you lupus or He allows Satan to slaughter your children and cattle or He delivers Ohio to George W. Bush.
I have had this superstitious attitude for as long as I can remember. It has actively sabotaged relationships. One ex-boyfriend chastised me for saying something like, "if you're still around in November, we can...."

"If I weren't planning to be here in November, I wouldn't be here now, dammit," he'd say.
"I know, but you can't just say stuff like that in front of God."
"I didn't know you believed in God."
"I believe in God's ability to suddenly realize that in spite of life's efforts to make me totally crazy, I've found an awesome boyfriend who's in my kitchen making coffee and...oh my God, did you take out the garbage?"
"Yeah, well, last night there was fish, and I thought..."
"Ssssssssh! No one must ever know how happy you make me! You can never tell anyone, ever, ever, ever!"

Try as I might to explain my superstition, he never took it as the compliment it is. The more important something is, the more incredibly critical it is not to take it for granted, because then if it's rescinded you'll feel incredibly stupid. The more conversational immunization you get ("it might be nothing," "sure, he's nice, but who knows how long it will last" and "he seems perfect now, but I'm sure I'll be single by Christmas") the more fabulous the guy is.

This has several unfortunate results. First, the person in question starts to feel like he's dating a crazy person. Which, let's face it, ain't wrong. But it's not that I'm actually expecting the bad stuff. It's just that I'm certainly not going to start expecting the good stuff, because dude, don't you know the bad stuff considers that an engraved invitation? So far no one's cracked the code. Maybe another former Catholic is the answer, but Dan is the first guy I've ever heard of who gets it, and he's gay, taken, and, as I mentioned, would not like me much anyhow.

Second, if you believe that your intention has any effect on reality, I'm screwed for sure. I have friends at work who remind me of that all the time. "Katy, think positive." I am. In here where it's safe and no one can see me. I'm not nearly as cynical as it looks from the outside. But there's a lot to be said (although I think The Secret is BS) for committing to the life you want clearly, audibly, observably, and intentionally. If nothing else, other humans are often more than happy to help you, but they're a lot less likely to try to help a get-off-my-lawn curmudgeon who seems to second-guess every break she's ever gotten than to help someone who seems positively focused on their own future.

But I think the worst thing is that people--the people I care for the most--often have no idea how much they mean to me. I recently surprised a friend of mine by telling him I loved him (when someone's going in for surgery, the bad stuff pretty much already has its engraved invitation, so you get an automatic exemption to say what's on your mind). I'm not sure whether he was surprised that I cared--I hope not--but he was certainly flabbergasted to hear it. I'm glad the surgery went well and gave me a chance to fix this totally messed up dynamic.
Not that it'll be fixable. Like most things I'm sure it will stick around being a voice in my head that tells me not to be happy too loud, telling me I can't do things, telling me not to be too outspoken about my hopes and dreams. But I'm hoping that one of the dividends of age will be some ability to power through all that and act in accordance with my beliefs. And in the meantime, Dan Savage's voice is pretty loud, so maybe he can drown the other fuckers out once in a while.