Agents aren’t interested in taking on my memoir because memoirs are hard to sell unless the author either is already well-known or has lived an exceptionally interesting life. Neither of which applies to me.
Here’s the thing, though—I think somebody who can write intelligently about what is mundane, what is fundamentally human, deserves a shot.
And there’s nothing more fundamental than the topic of my book. Coupling consumes us. Seeking a mate is the quintessential human quest, the quest of Everyman. Compare it to The Hero’s Journey, as explicated by the great J.C. (Joseph Campbell, of course), and you’ll see that a person in search of a mate is every bit as heroic as a famous mythic hero.
The quest begins with the Call to Adventure, often when the hero least expects it. As Campbell puts it, “One may be only casually strolling when some passing phenomenon catches the wandering eye and lures one away from frequented paths.” It’s impossible to pinpoint exactly what the passing phenomenon was for me. Probably my call to adventure was the presence of my seventh-grade crush, who had long hair and an earring and smoked cigarettes behind Turner’s Bowling Alley. And as all students of mythology know, a call to adventure simply can’t be refused. To ignore those pangs of longing I felt would be to deny life itself. I was about to venture into what Campbell calls “an unknown and dangerous realm… a place of strangely fluid and polymorphous beings, unimaginable torments, super human deeds, and impossible delight.” Yep, that pretty accurately describes my twenty-year search for a mate, a search that would take me from Turner’s Bowling Alley across the country and halfway across the world, on planes and boats and trains and buses and cars and broken bikes. Psychically, I’d go to heights and depths I’d never experienced. If I’d known how utterly alone I could still feel with a boyfriend, or how destroyed I could feel after a breakup, I would have tried harder to refuse my call.
While on his quest, the hero is transformed by a succession of ordeals. The typical hero’s ordeals come in threes, but I had countless dates and seven serious relationships before finding my mate. At every turn there were dragons to be slain. Most times, they were my own dragons: impatience, insecurity, fear. A refusal to listen to my own heart. (Well, there was one time this guy Phil took too many shrooms at Burning Man and became embroiled in a several-hour-long battle with what he insisted was a real dragon. Other than that, all dragons referred to here are figurative dragons.) The journey wasn’t all struggle; there were happy moments. The hero’s “preliminary victories, unretainable ecstasies and momentary glimpses of the wonderful land ahead.” In other words, true moments of connection with a partner. And there were certainly Campbell’s “moments of illumination,” too—things I had to learn along the way, things I couldn’t have known at the outset. As in any hero’s journey, this road of trials prepared me to receive The Ultimate Boon—my mate for life. G. and I remark often that we never could have had a relationship ten or even five years before we started dating, because we both had yet to be shaped into the people we were meant to become. Neither of us was ready to experience “the Ultimate and Imperishable”—in this case, the deep connection and commitment of marriage.
Mythic heroes are supposed to have a mentor figure—often a little old crone or old man—who provides protective amulets and gives aid along the way. I didn’t. I wish I’d had a fairy godmother to transform me with a wave of her wand or a Yoda-like mentor to give me advice about every relationship. (“This one asshole is,” Yoda would have said, nodding sagely.) In hindsight, I realize that not every journey comes with such a figure. Sometimes the hero has to rely on what the figure represents—“the benign, protecting power of destiny… [the] promise that the peace of Paradise, which was known first within the mother womb, is not to be lost.” Campbell writes, “One has only to know and trust.” In the absence of magic, maybe this abiding faith is what has to carry us through the sometimes long and terrifying journey toward a mate.
This is the wisdom—the necessity in trusting one’s destiny—that I gained from my journey. It’s something I was told time and time again, but had to learn for myself. How could I even have known the meaning of “It’ll all be OK”? It didn’t, as I once supposed, necessarily mean I’d inevitably find a mate; it meant instead that whatever I’d find would be Enough. That what I already had was Enough. If only I’d trusted that knowledge, I’d have been liberated to live in the moment, to not fear being alone and to just let life happen. (And to split infinitives.)
Like all heroes returned from a quest, I’m the Master of Two Worlds now. I dwell every day in the mundane world of wifehood and motherhood, but I’m still a denizen of that other, crazy world—and sometimes I roam there, across landscapes of longing and grief and pain, the territories I once had to traverse to get where I am. I am here, but I am also there—in the grocery store parking lot, crying as raindrops snake down the windows. In somebody’s shower, spiraling into despair. In front of a door, focusing on a doorknob, turning it and leaving a place for the last time.