You don't want to know what's been on the end of my fork this week but let me tell you it's been a mansize portion. Reading between the lines of what follows will give you some idea.
A relationship is another country
Have you ever noticed that when you're in a different country your first impulse is to compare it to somewhere else: 'Doesn't the Great Wall of China remind you of Flowertown main street, Darling?' It's the same with relationhips, we're constantly comparing one with the other, our emotional landscape with someone else's.
When I was on my own, my distance from the man-woman thing meant I felt able to spout platitudes about relationships and offer corny philosophical advice when the truth was I couldn't actually remember what it was like to have a down and dirty set-to with a significant other.
This week has reminded me that relationships are countries all of their own. I can't map my experience on to yours. Your reality is not mine. China is not Flowertown.
As a single man I lived in/on a combo bubble-cloud. Like the inhabitants of Swift's Laputa, I felt free to pursue my spiwichewal growth, oblivious to the damage done by the shadow of the cloud on which I floated. It was easy for me to say that we each have our own reality which we can gleefully wobble and bend by tinkering with our body chemistry.
But the notion of countless realities is a waste of brain space to someone who can't afford to look up from what's on the end of their own fork. So what do we do? We hope. (And, let me ask you, what do you think hope is?)
One of my favourite lines is Yeats's 'In dreams begin responsibilities'. It rolls off the tongue nicely. The only problem is it's true.
I've spent the past few years and, indeed, most of my life avoiding responsibility. I have no idea whether that's a good or bad thing. It just became a way of life, made possible by the fact that I'm childless. Now, at the age of 55, having found what I dreamed of for so long, I'm having to accept that it comes with a responsibility I can't shirk.
And you could just as easily say 'In responsibilities begin dreams'. Because, unless I do my best to share this responsibility, I won't realise my dream of the future. The last thing I want to be is alone again.
Loneliness and love
Nine years ago I was 46, broken by grief and trying to drown myself in booze, and on a spiritual retreat. I stood with my eyes closed while the woman running the retreat and one of her helpers pushed me towards a place in my consciousness where I had to say what I really wanted out of life. Finally, a giant baby, I wailed 'I want to love and be loved'.
Reading this cold on the electric page, you might well say 'Duh'. But, my cry came from the deepest part of my being, up from somewhere that hadn't been numbed by loss, despair and strong drink. If I ever wonder what I'm doing here, right now, I only have to remember what life was like in the valley of lovelessness.
And I remember stopping at the bottom of a flight of icy steps that ended at the door of the cottage in which I was to sleep that night. I looked out over the frozen lake, up at the sky empty but for an unblinking moon and then back at the big house. All the light and warmth in the world seemed to radiate from the family in that house. I had never felt so alone in my life and I do not want to feel that way ever again.
The opportunity cost of a choice refers to the cost of not enjoying the benefit of the choice you didn't make. There was a time when I believed being alone was a choice. Today I'm not so sure - I think it might have been a condition I had to pass through. But I know, somehow, I chose love and I have chosen the responsibility that goes with it.
I have been a beast and a monk. Now I'm trying to be a man.