I. The Allure of Strange Tongues
I used to sleep around with languages.
It was always so exciting at first, learning the irregular verb "to be." But pretty soon, the past imperfect shows up, and I'd lose interest.
I've gone to bed with Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic. Played doctor with Danish; did it in a car with Turkish; flirted with Finnish *.
I got pretty serious for a while with French and Latin. I can enquire after your aunt's current (but not past or future) health in my high school French; and, with a BA minor in Latin, I can still recognize Latin phrases in books by former British public schoolboys.
But I never rented the U-Haul for any of these languages.
It was when I was taking community-college Arabic seven years ago that I realized the thrill was gone. Even with its sexy lingerie of an alphabet and the possibility of learning to say, "I want to buy a one-eyed camel," the new language just didn't turn me on. I didn't even finish the eight-week course.
Around that time, I realized I felt the same about dating.
When I was newly single, it was fun to go on dates. Men were a new language to me (my ex of thirteen years was a woman). Each one came with a whole new syntax. Or so it seemed.
But of course, there are only so many ways a language can be structured, and after a while they start to repeat.
I knew I had lost interest when a friend offered to set me up on a blind date and my spontaneous response was, "Do I have to?" It just seemed like work.
Of course, this all reveals way more about me than it does about love or linguistics.
The way I most enjoy other people is through words--in print or over coffee. Someone once said that my idea of going to bed with someone is lying down to talk.
II. Living Friction-Free
Living alone, as I have for twelve years now, fulfills my childhood wish for getting to do what I want, when I want.
The past couple days that's meant watching Henry Rollins on youTube till past one a.m. and then rolling out of bed the next morning to check on the British elections (all the Onion-worthy drama of the U.S. 2000 elections but--to me, at this remove--less of a clear and present danger).
I worry sometimes that without checks and balances forced upon my ego, in the form of another person I can't escape, I will become a dreadful narcissist.
That's the received wisdom, anyway; but I wonder if some people are better suited to loving other people at a distance and if I might be one of them.
I was relieved the other day when a friend told me I was thoughtful to other people. I worry about self-delusion, but I think I am nicer and more generous living alone. I suppose that's the equivalent of saying you love dogs or cats better than people: no credit to you--that's the easy choice.
(Though I can't say I've noticed people who've raised families being any more compassionate toward others than I am. Some are downright xenophobic and way more oriented toward "me and mine," in a scary tribal sense.)
III. Heat-Seaking Behavior at the Dentist
What is left deprived, however, is my body. Not of sex so much as of touch.
I was aware of this yesterday, as I lay prone in the dentist's chair. The dental hygienist had scooted in close on her wheely stool and was cleaning my teeth while telling me about her weekend plans at her cabin. (It's fishing season in Minnesota.)
Through the sensations of her scraping scale off the inside of my bottom front teeth (imagine cracking limestone off the White Cliffs of Dover), I registered the sensation of her thigh leaning against me.
My sense of personal space is average for Americans (between 1.5-4 feet, or 0.5-1.3 meters), and my conscious impulse was to shift slightly--in that minimal way you move when there are sharp implements in your mouth--so that we weren't touching.
But my body signaled, "Incoming body warmth--DO NOT MOVE!"
So I didn't move.
IV. What to Wear to Catch a Snark?
So, ...I don't know. Nothing's free.
The idea of being single for the rest of my life leaves me content, mostly.
It seems like a prerequisite for doing good work.
I'm such a late bloomer, but I feel I might could maybe do some good work as a writer in the future. That feels like hunting a snark, however--something that likely will "softly and suddenly vanish away, and never be met with again."
[Illustration by Henry Holiday: "Fit the Eighth: The Vanishing," from Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark]
Is it easier to catch a snark if you're alone?
I really don't know.
But I usually agree with Thoreau (one of nature's singles?), who warned against enterprises that require buying new clothes.
And after years of working at home and not dating, my clothes are
...well, here, let me show you my elbow.
So, not very date-ready.
And as for languages, really, my native one is enough of a challenge. English is morphing every day. If I want a hit of new vocabulary and syntax, I just have to hop over to ontd_st.
My favorite new (to me) netspeak is "tl;dr".
It means "too long, didn't read."
* "Pieniä ovat silakat joulukaloiksi."
Finnish for "Herring are rather small for Christmas dinner."