The Bravery of a Fool

There are not many late-night, frantic, and ridiculous phone calls between women discussing the unpredictability of the typically predictable male that don’t involve questions concerning being a fool.

The adages are plentiful – only fools fall in love and everybody plays the fool without an exception to the rule. And the negativity behind this term is not just in a noun, but also a verb – fool me once, shame on you – but fool me twice, shame on me. While women may want to be beautiful and irreplaceable, a vixen, and maybe an officially official girlfriend – one phrase they never like to adopt is being the fool of a man.

Maybe I’m being too cliche in my perspective of this definition. But to me, a fool is someone who knows there is a chance for destruction with a man who has a reputation or has warned you of his troubles, and yet, against any recommendation or any red flag waving in the vast unknown – they willingly pursue and maybe even commit to such a character. Perhaps it is a lack of judgement or an inability to be prudent with those they date or open their legs for – either way, I think it’s a title we’ve all claimed at some point. Most of us, probably well knowing the role we were accepting before we took the stage.

But why would anyone want to be a fool for anyone? Wouldn’t we rather stay logical and collected, calm, and in control of the love we decide to share with only a someone who is willing to offer us the same? Isn’t being in a relationship only worth the wager if you know that while the stakes are high, there are two players playing on an even-playing field?

Call me crazy – but I agree to be in love, you must be a little foolish. It is not an easy task to openly offer up your heart, your emotions, and your hope to a person who may or may not handle such precious things with care. With a simple slip of the mouth, slip of the pants, or slip into a stranger’s bed – a man who you once trusted with your most intimate self could leave you waiting in the wings, covered in not just the dust of his speedy exit, but the residue of his countless lies. Sure,  all of these things are possible and no, they don’t always happen. But they could and they do. If such pain is plausible, we’d have to be irrational to rationalize love. Right?

Or is it that the thinnest line isn’t between faith and fortune. Or between flattery and fumbling.  Or loving and lusting. Or what we want and where we are. Or the beginning and the ending. Or  making love and making the dirty. Or exclusive and free.

But rather – the most blurred connection is between being a fool and being brave.

And if I follow the absurdity of fairytales or the blatant reality of my parent’s example of a relationship that can endure the test of time and health – being brave is the quality that made the dues payable. But to be courageous, one must always be a little asinine, or we wouldn’t realize what we were risking. And really, the largest investment we make in a relationship isn’t even in the person – however dreamy he may be – but the liability is in ourselves.

We must be brave enough to fall in love and absurd enough to trust someone other than ourselves with our most valuable assets. Because once they are out in the open, in front of the court to see and ridicule, there is not always a guarantee that a prince charming will ride our way. More often than not in times that are Millennial instead of Medieval – the knight’s armor is less than shining and more shunning. After all, the fool is not the princess or the lady in waiting or even a maiden of the most prestigious court. This character is rather the one who entertains, the one who hides their own face in an effort to bring joy to the lips of others. But the fool is no fool to her antics or her charm, to her words, or to the price she could pay for being honest or sarcastic. She knows the chance she takes, she knows the pieces that could shatter – but she does it anyways.

Because what we forget about being a fool is that to be one, you must realize your own value. And you have to know that if the crowd doesn’t take to what you present, you know there is safety and shelter in your own care. And in that power comes the ability to accept being a fool and knowing that though we get a wild card to play a prank on a friend on this day each year, there is never a holiday for deceiving ourselves.

Rather – it is something we do constantly, time after time, man after man. We convince ourselves he will be different. That it will be easy and just as we imagined. He will do those things we always wanted him to do. He will surprise us. He will love us unconditionally, if such a love is reasonable. We fool ourselves into falling in love again. And again. We accept the burden it carries when it doesn’t work out as anticipated and we bow to our audience, to the fates who tricked us again, and we go backstage to prepare for the next show.

For the next brave attempt at the foolish ways of love.

Thank You, Mr. Wrong

As it usually is on Monday mornings, yesterday the downtown train to Chelsea was packed. I’m one to stand near the door and let others grab a seat, a gracious tactic that usually results in a quicker exit and entrance. This quarter past eight in the morning decision landed me squished between an elderly man reading The Times and a pair of matching tourists, complete with fanny packs and “I love NY” shirts and all.

Nearing my stop, my cart started to disperse and as I turned to catch a spot closest to the parting doors, I caught a whiff of an old familiar smell. Unable to keep myself from turning away, I subtly followed the scent to find the trail. A few mini steps clockwise, I came face-to-face with a 15-year-old with shouting headphones, who was not amused by how uncomfortably close I was to his sideways-cap.

Embarrassed, I grinned at him (he didn’t return one to me) and left the subway quickly as I couldn’t keep my head from buzzing with memories Axe Deodorant Spray. Scent is, after all, the strongest sense tied to memory, and for me, that scent will never represent anything or anyone but Mr. Faithful. My very first boyfriend, my puppy love, the man whose heart I shattered, and the dude who I lost my virginity to.

And that same fragrance takes me back to all of those things – laying with belly buttons touching as I wondered if sex would get better; if he was the man I would marry, if I would be the one who ended up with her high school sweetheart; if this was what real love felt like; if I would ever meet anyone I felt as strongly about. If it got better than this.

But if I could have reassured  my 15-year-old self about how much I had to look forward to and how much love I was actually capable of giving and receiving, I would have never worried. I would have enjoyed those moments of innocence, toes dipping into the warm lake at twilight, gleaming into the eyes of a guy, who three years later, would be far removed from my life.

Because in those hot summer nights and the cold winter evenings we spent together as two kids, feeling what we thought was love for the first time –we were each other’s right person. If you would have asked me a few months into our relationship – maybe up to the first year, even – I would have told you I’d go the rest of my life smelling that Axe spray every morning and be perfectly content.

Or when Mr. Fire introduced me to gnocchi – something that always reminds me of him when I see it at the grocery store – in his tiny kitchen in our tiny college town. Dancing  (and sliding) in our socks to Dave Matthews, laughing, sipping wine we were too young to buy, and our hearts racing in anticipation of the love we hadn’t made yet. With those wild eyes that always seemed to get me – he rubbed his nose against mine, scooped me into his arms, spun me around, and dipped me toward the ground, playfully asking: “Do you trust me?” In that instant – I would have proclaimed to the whole world I would trust him with my everything, would have given him anything, and would have said whatever I needed to say to stay in his grasp forever.

In thinking about this ever-elusive Mr. Right character – I’ve thought about all the guys who didn’t fit the bill. All of the ones I loved or the dudes he didn’t fall for me as fiercely as I intended them too, and all of the suckers in between.

Because while Mr. Curls, Mr. Faithful, Mr. Fling, Mr. Idea, Mr. Disappear, Mr. Unavailable, and Mr. Rebound all have names specific to my experience with them – their ultimate titles are all the same: Mr. Wrong. Even if at one time, they had the opportunity be Mr. Right or were Mr. Right Now when they stood by my side.

I’m not convinced there is only one right companion for every person, but I do think it’s important to remember the guys who weren’t right. The Mr. Wrongs, after all, will never be completely gone – because if they were, then what would have we gained from their love – or lack of? Would we be able to understand what works for us and what doesn’t? What it takes for someone to be what we need and what will never measure up to fulfill us?

How can we know when it’s right if we don’t know what it feels like when it’s not?

The Mr. Wrongs ended up not to be the men I decided to lead with, but they all served their purpose. I’ve learned the lessons I’ve decided they’ve taught me and with all of them, I’ve released the “what could have been” thoughts that always attach themselves when love goes astray. I’m not interested in rekindling any flame that’s burnt out, bur rather excited about what’s next.

Because if history truly does repeat itself, then I’m lucky. I’m blessed to be strong enough to overcome heartache, to choose what I need over what I want, and to be loved by a few incredible men. And though at the time, I didn’t always realize what was waiting for me is better than what I’ve felt before – I know it now. And without dating, loving, losing, and leaving the Mr. Wrongs, I would never have the confidence that a Mr. Right – or maybe a few Mr. Rights – await for me in the days, the months, and the years to come.

It is sometimes those unanswered prayers that are answered against what we thought we longed for, those memories that were once bittersweet but are not just fond, and those men who were right at one time – that teach us more than the one who ends up being right, right now. They may have broken our hearts or steered us in the wrong direction or we could have stepped all over them on the way to our own happiness and personal gains – but without them, we wouldn’t be one step closer to finding the love that doesn’t bite the dust.

So, thank you Mr. Wrongs – for a lot of things, but mainly, for being wrong.