Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Contingency, Romance and the Skeptical Outlook

When I was a teenager, I asked a married woman to go to the prom with me.

Of course, I didn't know she was married. She was a fellow student, one that I'd had a rather large crush on for over a year, and she knew I was working my way up to asking. We were ... more than friends, less than boyfriend/girlfriend. This was entirely her choice, although I didn't know it at the time.

You see, I met her in my one and only keyboarding class. She had the air of the outcast about her, self-imposed isolation from the rest of the class, never making eye contact with anyone but the teacher, last into her seat, first out of it, the whole angsty teenage girl thing from start to finish. But she was very attractive, and I was (probably still am, to be honest) a sucker for a woman in need. So of course I decided to worm my way into her orbit.

The only way I was able to do this was that neither of us should have really been in that keyboarding class. We were both rather advanced in our typing skills compared to the rest of the class, but since neither of us had ever had one before, we got stuck in the intro class. Damn those prerequisites!

Anyway, since we were both so skilled at typing, our teacher essentially taught us a more advanced course. We had separate assignments, separate tests, the whole schtick. The upshot of that was that I didn't have to pay attention to the teacher most of the time, my newest project and I were given lots of self-directed assignments. So I started telling this girl jokes. It started out as a joke a day, just trying to get her to open up to me. Eventually, I got an honest-to-goodness full-blown smile out of her, and I knew that I had my way into her attentions.

Eventually, she and I became friends. And we started to have more classes together. Either that or I just started noticing her more often. Frankly, in a school of five hundred students, its kind of hard to not have classes with all your fellow juniors, seniors or what have you. But this girl had caught my attention, and I paid that attention out as often as I possibly could.

The problem with all this was that all my friends, and even some of my family, started acting really strange when I mentioned this girl. And since I was rapidly falling for her, I talked about her more and more. But I could never get a straight answer out of anyone as to why they started acting all weird when I mentioned her.

So, anyway, prom season comes around and I finally work up the courage to ask her out. And she turns me down flat. No soft landing, no reasons why not, nothing. Just no.

And then a week or so later, I found out why. One of my neighbors (a girl who was trying to get into bed with my best friend at the time) let the cat out of the bag. This sad young woman that I'd been gently wooing for months on end had just gotten married! And what's worse, she had just gotten secretly married to a teacher at our high school, who had been married to another teacher not too many months before, who was slowly dying of a debilitating degenerative disease. Do I know how to pick 'em, or what?

Why she did this is a long, sad and sordid tale that I won't recount, since it's not my tale to tell, really. Suffice it to say, though, that I was hurt and sad and angry and miserable for several weeks afterward. But I was a teenage boy, and these things do heal over, given enough time. Apparently, several weeks and a well-time letter are enough to heal even the hurt of asking a married woman to the prom.

You see, another young female friend of mine and I were in sporadic contact. We lived in different counties in West Virginia (much like living in different cities in other states) and kept in contact the way most people did before the advent of the Internet, by handwritten letter. We had met a couple of summers previously at Governor's School, and had come away as good friends, to say the least. I still have fond memories of the time we spent together that summer. So when prom time came around, and neither of us had a date, it came about pretty seamlessly that we would go to the prom together. I actually ended up going to hers, and she to mine, as well. Both experiences were pleasantly frustrating to my teenage boy mentality, but we came away from them more than friends, but not quite boyfriend and girlfriend, I suppose. Although that's not how either of us viewed things at the time, I'm sure.

Did I mention that I could be somewhat naive, when I was a teenager?

Anyway, I chased this girl to college, where she promptly broke up with me. Of course. But since I'd committed to this school, and had quite a lot of scholarship money tied up in staying at said school, I stuck it out, went through a disastrous two-year relationship with the bitch-queen of southern West Virginia and then was introduced to my someday-to-be-wonderful-wife, Aradia.

And once I got my head out of my ass about said bitch-queen, things have, more or less, worked out happily ever after. At least to this point, and I have to say that things are looking up for us, to be honest.

So, why tell this long, winding story? Well, mostly because it came up at work yesterday, and it dredged up a lot of old memories. But after telling it, I said, "But if none of that had ever happened, I'd have never met my wife!" Of course, that's entirely true. My introduction to Aradia took a torturous path that seems inconceivable to me in its unlikelihood.

But its not inconceivable, is it? I mean, I just laid the bare bones of the story out for you in a (relatively) few paragraphs. That's a lot of history to condense, and I assure you I left out copious details, but still, its not all that hard to see how it happened. I had atrocious instincts where women were concerned and then lucked into meeting one the greatest women on the face of the planet. Then I almost listened to my atrocious instincts and rejected her, but wised up at the last moment, with said last moment only being the last moment because she was extremely patient with me. Frankly, she gave me a lot of last moments to work with, and I finally got one right.

Now, a lot of people would read this post and say something along the lines of "Divine providence led you to your wife." Or maybe "You were destined to be together." In fact, I used to say that Aradia and I were destined to be together. But the more I thought about that yesterday, the more I realized that that was pretty damned insulting to Aradia. It wasn't destiny that put us together, it was her patience. And its not divine will that we be together now. It's a lot of hard work and compromise on both our parts. The path that I took to finding my most wonderful wife was full of contingencies and pitfalls. At any point, things could have gone another way. And if we went back and ran the "experiment" again, they probably would go another way. That's the nature of contigency in systems, after all. But I refuse to lay the credit for our ooshy-gushy, sickly-sweet romance at the feet of some ineffable, intangible agent.

Aradia and I are fully to blame for the wonderful life we live together, and I like it that way.

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"Loyalty to petrified opinion never broke a chain or freed a human soul..." -- Mark Twain

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Fire does not wait for the sun to be hot,

Nor the wind for the moon, to be cool.

-- the Zenrin Kushu