The Avenue

It is Sunday morning, and I’am walking up Columbus Avenue. Couples are coming at me on all sides. They fill the street from building line to pavement edge. Some are clasped together looking raptly into each other’s faces; some are holding hands, their eyes restless, window-shopping; some walk side by side, stony faced, carefully not touching. I have the sudden conviction that half these people will, in a few months, be walking with someone else now walking on the avenue as one half of another couple. Eventually that arrangement will terminate as well, and each man and each woman will once again be staring out the window of a room empty of companionship. This is a population in a permanent state of intermittent attachment. Inevitably, the silent apartment lies in wait. 

Who could ever have dreamed there would be so many of us floating around, those of us between thirty-five and fifty-five who live alone. Thirty years of politics in the street opened a door that became a floodgate, and we have poured through in our monumental numbers, in possession of the most educated discontent in history. Yet, we seem puzzled, most of us, about how we go here, confused and wanting relief from the condition. We roam the crowded streets, in naked expectation of the last-minute reprieve. 

-Vivian Gornick

I was reading Vivian’s work, this particular excerpt she included in another piece, originally part of a different work that she has not yet published, and admits may not. Once the delusional years of youth drain away, is this everyone’s fate? Is this what awaits? At some point in your life you come to the realization of who you are, separate from any sort of role you are supposed to fulfill. You can only fail so many times at fulfilling these roles until you must admit your own inability, and then you have to understand that it is not so much an inability, but an unwillingness, deep seated, that makes it impossible to continue ignorantly participating in your own loss of self.

But what do you do with this new knowledge? So now you know what you want, and who you are. And you don’t want to be foisted into another’s expectations of who you should be. And you have to wonder, which was better? The bliss in ignorance, or this new-found facet of self? In recognizing yourself you can no longer ignore the flaws, the fact that at any given point you can boast more baggage than an international airport on Christmas eve, your own selfish desires that simultaneously include and have nothing to do with another person, and the fact that you don’t want to be lonely, but you want to be left alone. Yeah, just *try* making sense of all that.

Others around you have also come to know themselves. I think it happens to most people eventually. But they haven’t the slightest clue what to do with this either. So you have a multitude of people understanding themselves while trying to live parallel lives with someone else, not necessarily fulfilling roles, but existing together, pleasantly. That is the ideal, not reality. The idea of having to be something to someone else is too ingrained, and these parallel lives begin to converge, too much for comfort.

I don’t mean there should not be compromise, because even the most superficial friendships demand a certain level of it. Yes, compromise is a prerequisite, and healthy in and of itself. But how much of yourself are you supposed to give up? I don’t necessarily think there is an answer to this, and it differs, relying on the idea of picking your battles. There might not be a universal answer, but each person has their own answer. The problem is for two people with complementary answers to actually find each other.

How often does that actually happen?

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