June 25, 2006

Infatuation is not real.

A friend of mine is in the throes of infatuation with a new man. They have strong e-mail chemistry, and over the weekend they exchanged six e-mails, four pages long, single-spaced. It started in the context of work, then one day he asked her something personal. She asked him something personal in return, and the flirting had begun. Very quickly it became sexual, and now, even if she wanted to stop, she can't: the momentum is too exciting to resist.

"The last time I was single was before e-mail," she told me. "Where does this type of relationship go?"

Here's where: down.

I've been there, I know. I told her it's a simple equation. Life is like jail. The only way to get through it is to have a diversion and e-mail is the courtyard where you can breathe some fresh air. First it's the occasional flirty one back and forth, then it's checking obsessively to see if there's a new one waiting, then you're meeting in person, and the next thing you know you're in therapy six times a week, eating peanut butter in your bathrobe and wondering why your friends won't come to visit you on death row.

Infatuation isn't real. That's why it feels good. If only we could see through the haze of intoxication and lust, we'd save time and cut right to the misery. Then we wouldn't have to deal with the memory of how great it was in the first six months when everything was bliss.It's the bliss part that's so hard to forget.

Recently a US census declared that the average marriage lasts seven years. I couldn't believe it. That long? My longest relationship was six years and it felt like an ice age had passed. The top three reasons given for divorce were:

Reason 1: Partners were not good matches. I blame this entirely on infatuation. When you're infatuated, you want go to bed with someone all the time, which is blinding, and you stay blind until the third year, when your eyes start to open. You begin to see who you're really in bed with and realise you'd rather go to dinner. That's when your partner says something along the lines of, "Again? We go out all the time," and you decide: eyesight sucks.

Reason 2: People change. I blame this too on infatuation. Because it's not that the partners change, but your focus. You see them for who they really are and have that "what was I thinking?" moment.That moment is followed with a bucket of ice cream and an addiction to Oprah. Or in my case, both.

Reason 3: Partners either hid their psychological problems or they developed over time. No, it's not that they hid them, it's that when you're infatuated with someone, the things that would be unacceptable in the real world become tokens of endearment and affection in infatuation world. "He's not a psychopath - he's just attentive!" And as for psychological problems developing over time? That's nature telling you infatuation has worn off.

Knowing all this, I tried to deter my friend from getting sucked into the e-mail vortex, but I didn't sound very convincing. Why? Because I'm totally jealous. Infatuation is a break from reality - an extreme, head-spinning, heart-thumping heartbreak waiting to happen. It's the only time you don't see what's coming and there's no voice in your head pointing out the future. What's not to love?