Reminding Myself to Make Waves

(Author’s Note: I actually looked up the film I describe here, and I got a few details wrong. Aaron Eckhart plays a married man who learns his wife is cheating on him, and he mentors a kid, and he and the kid and one of his new friends go on a quest to … fix his life? My memories are hazy at best, so I got some of the film’s synopsis wrong. Oops. The general gist is still the same: dude tries to fix his life.)

I remember browsing video stores when I was younger. When I was around 17 or 18 years old, I recall wandering a local Blockbuster and scanning the shelves to see if any combination of actors, titles, and cover images caught my attention. At the time, I’d recently watched Thank You For Smoking, a satire that examined the life of a cigarette lobbyist played by Aaron Eckhart. I suppose I could pinpoint the year I perused the shelves of this now-gone Blockbuster, given I recall a few specific details, but the particular year doesn’t quite matter; what matters is that I was relatively young, approaching the end of high school and the possibility of college, one more crucial step toward “adulthood.” This general vibe of progression will make more sense when I describe why I recall Aaron Eckhart.

Thanks to Thank You For Smoking, I’d become something of an Aaron Eckhart fan. I’d see his face or hear his voice somewhere and I’d lean in, intrigued. So that day in the Blockbuster, my eyes scanned the shelves until they hit upon some rom-com-dramedy sort of deal starring, well, Mr. Eckhart himself. There were a few other folks on the cover, a pretty young woman and some other people, but Aaron Eckhart played the protagonist. The synopsis on the back went something like this: 35-year-old dude played by Aaron Eckhart works a dead-end job and he’s super sad about it. His friends/co-workers help him refresh his life and get a new lease on excitement, or something. All I remember is that this character was in his mid-30s, and he was not happy. Why, dear writer, are you recalling this film at this point in your life? Good question, reader. I’m in my 30s and I’m not happy. I guess I could have defaulted to the contemplative early-to-mid-oughts Zach Braff stuff, but for some reason, that never stuck with me. My criteria make no sense, I know; films I watched all the way through, like Garden State and The Last Kiss, didn’t come to mind when I started to think about my life spiraling to an eerie standstill in my 30s, but the vague premise of a movie starring Aaron Eckhart that I didn’t even rent or watch suddenly becomes all-consuming.

It might have something to do with the way I remember reacting to this back-of-the-box synopsis. As an aging teenager, I thought my spirit was enough to defend me from any sort of stagnation, that I would never allow myself to become an adult with a dead soul or a dying sense of adventure. That I wouldn’t be stuck in habits tailored to solitude and introversion, sitting in my room for hours at a time and talking with no one, afraid that my thoughts and feelings would be invalidated by some heartless logician or know-it-all asshole. I think I actually went through a “know-it-all asshole” phase, whereby I caused folks to use adjectives like “pretentious” and nouns like “hipster” to describe me. I had particular tastes, and back then I wasn’t afraid to speak of them. Teenage me scoffed at the idea of being 35 and needing a soft reset.

Now, I desperately crave a soft reset. I’m 33 and I’ve attended two weddings in the past year, despite a legitimate personal fear of COVID. I actually suffered COVID in January, and went through another quarantine two weeks ago because my roommate went to Coachella and caught it there. I didn’t get COVID again, but I still locked myself in my room and really enjoyed myself, for a time. A few of my friends have earnest discussions with their spouses about the “right time” to have children. Everyone, it seems, is getting one advanced degree or another. Everyone is working toward a promotion of some sort. Everyone is moving, not in the “I’m leaving one home for another” sense, but in the “my life is dynamic and I change” sense. And I know that, even though I maintain connections and have a decent group of friends, I haven’t grown in quite some time.

All the personality tests say that I’m the sort of person who thinks through their feelings. I think this is what most of my writing is about: I put my feelings through the colander of my brain and see what the words say once I sift them. The overall sense I get from wordifying my latest feelings is, I’m really sad and I’m really tired but I need to do something to get moving again. Last weekend I did something I hadn’t done in a long time: I went on a road trip. “Great,” you may be thinking, “that’s a good way to break the monotony!” But here’s the thing: two of the three days of this endeavor were spent driving, and I wasn’t the driver. One day to drive to the location of a wedding, another day for the wedding itself, and the third day for driving home. I didn’t drive, my brother did; I didn’t arrange the AirBnB, my brother did; I didn’t really do anything, my brother did all the hard work.

Those personality tests say there’s another thing I do: I act like a child so that others will take care of me. That’s right, I’m a 33-year-old man who infantilizes himself to trick people into doing stuff for him. I don’t do it on purpose, not all the time; indeed, as a person who’s too self-aware, I tend to just narrate my thoughts, so if I’m doing something I’m not familiar with, I’ll say that out loud. And whoa, suddenly people are there to help, to give encouragement, to make sure I do it right. Sometimes I wonder if I’m just trying to get everyone in on something, like a team effort or what-have-you. A collective endeavor. Some folks argue that a person needs to do everything for themselves, and those folks will get red in the face as they espouse the virtues of individuality. Don’t get me wrong, it’s clear that I need to make some choices for myself and do certain things on my own to improve my life, but I think the “FrEeDoM” crowd misses the importance of community. Teamwork is a beautiful thing, and when people work well together, collaboration is refreshing and enjoyable. Too many of our social ills stem from this idea that it’s up to individuals to address their own shortcomings, as though the systems and institutions we’ve allowed to proliferate aren’t exploitative and responsible for most of our troubles. But I’m veering into a whole other territory of subjects with which I don’t intend to grapple here!

My point is, I have some strange way of avoiding responsibilities, and my self-diagnosis is that I need to try new things and be braver with my words. I fantasize too often and end up regretting my lack of real-world actions. At the wedding I attended over the weekend, I was one of the “young” guests, young meaning somewhere in the neighborhood of folks under 40. My parents and relatives, obviously, all had partners of some sort, and even the other young folks were paired with their respective people. I met one guest who made it clear that she was single, and like a drop of mustard to a clean t-shirt, I was drawn to her. She was incredibly gregarious, she was self-aware, she was funny, she was pretty, and I have a problem whereby I turn any new female I meet into a potential match in my brain. I imagine scenarios that see us getting together. Like I said, I have a problem; I’m incredibly lonely and I badly want to connect with someone.

Anyway, things seemed to be going well. She said things like “You’re a delight” and, after I said I really should go to the dance floor, she replied “Oh, there are plenty of girls who’d love to dance with you!” I realize she may have just sensed my overwhelming insecurity and she was bolstering my confidence any way she could; I also realized, in retrospect, that I should have been more direct. Fantasy fights reality, right? In my fantasy, she and I wind up dancing together. In reality, I thanked her for the compliments and left the opening as a gaping hole in the realm of possibility. I could have said “Hey, would you like to dance with me?” and seen where things went. At the end of the night, when my brother said he’d start the car, I said I’d make my goodbyes and meet him in a few minutes. I wanted to establish some kind of connection, but how? In this instance, I had little to no agency; my brother was my ride, all weekend, and while I could have resorted to Uber or a cab, I didn’t want to force a situation into existence. So, when this particular woman said “So, is this the end-all be-all?” I said “It doesn’t have to be!,” which probably should have meant more than “I’ll get your phone number” or “I’ll add you on social media.” But that’s where my tired mind went: I didn’t want to take a chance and say, like, “Do you wanna grab food somewhere?” So I took the coward’s way out: I got her number, I texted her as though we lived in the same city, and everything ground to a halt. ’cause we don’t live in the same city, or even the same state; we are now separate from each other, and any intense interest I may have felt is now forced to be snuffed out.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about that random Aaron Eckhart film where he’s 35 and desperate for a soft reset of his life. I’m 33 and I need to make some changes, for my health. Physically, I’m soft; mentally, I’m tired; emotionally, I’m sad. While I don’t want to become a creep, I’d like to have the ability to take more chances with relational connections; that night at the wedding, I would have liked to have my own car so I could ask questions like “Do you wanna get out of here?” I think, under all this desperation, there’s a desire to be braver. I was once told that I’m “afraid of women.” And those interactions (more like, my lack of actions) at the wedding prove that statement true. I didn’t ask this woman to dance, I didn’t ask if she wanted to go on an adventure, and the worst thing that could’ve happened was I heard “No, thanks.” Rejection is better than nothing and silence. I’m 33, I’m working a job that doesn’t fulfill me, and I haven’t done all that much to move forward. Maybe I’m being hard on myself, but I’m sad and I want to make my daydreams into reality. I want to dance, and say my thoughts out loud. I think I’ll look up that movie now, and actually watch it. Maybe it sucks. Maybe it’s just ok. Maybe it’ll speak to me because I find its subject matter relatable. All in all, I won’t know unless I give it a chance.


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