It’s Saturday night and I’m sitting at home playing with matches.
Not in a pyro-maniacal sense, but in a wacky, artistic sort of way.
We have a gas stove with no pilot light in our kitchen, so we easily go through eight to ten matches a day. I’m a bit of a compulsive recycler, so I save them all in a plastic bag hung over the stove.
I have used them before to make picture frames, but tonight, I cut the top off of a pizza box and have started to glue them in a pattern that looks vaguely reminiscent of a mandala.
To those people who are showering and primping, getting ready for an evening at a restaurant, the movies, a bar, a club…this would probably seem like a strange way to spend a Saturday night.
The funny thing is, I was supposed to go on a date tonight, but I weaseled my way out of it with a small, off white colored lie. I was going to have dinner with an attractive, 39 year old woman with a solid job and a nice house, but… nothing I could easily identify as common ground. The thought of a night spent on small talk and feigned interest was more than I could bare.
So, I chose the matches.
The design is growing organically across the cardboard, and I have become little more than an obedient helper- placing the thin performers wherever they seem to be most needed. As I work, I can hear Cat Stevens mocking me in the vast amphitheater inside my head “Another Saturday night and I ain’t got nobody…”
I start to wonder why exactly I would choose to make random art out of burnt matches instead of having dinner with an attractive companion, but the answers are not entirely clear.
At 44, I have been separated for more than two years, and have tried the dating routine on a few occasions. I mostly came across younger women with whom I found significant connections in art, culture and activism, but who unanimously had visions of motherhood. My kids are 17, 14 and eight and the thought of beginning that whole cycle anew is about as welcome as, well, changing loaded diapers a million times a day.
I suppose the good thing about aging is that our preferences and desires become increasing more lucid, as if the years were peeling away layers of confusing haze that keep us from seeing clearly in our younger years.
I know that there are certain, non-negotiable commonalities that would be essential to building any new match. I would have to find a woman who is radically vegetarian, insanely creative and uncompromisingly committed to social change. It’s hard to imagine sacrificing any of those traits unless I were to fall wildly and unexpectedly in love. That is a possibility that I have not completely discarded, though it’s hard to imagine falling in love with someone who did not share those passions.
The question of how much we can sacrifice or negotiate in building a partnership is confusing though, especially when you compare it to the possibility of growing old in solitary sovereignty.
Sacrifice is a confusing concept. Looking back, I can see that in our youth, we underrate differences in our relationships and always believe that they can be overcome by the power of our love.
The truth is, differences are just that—different ways of perceiving, feeling, prioritizing, valuing, believing and reacting. Some folks manage to negotiate, compromise and move forward. However, many relationships (including my own marriage) fall victim to the mountainous tensions that grow from our disparities.
I have to admit that I rather like sliding into my 40s with a very palpable idea of the kind of woman with whom I could build a new life.
That doesn’t mean that human nature couldn’t play yet another fateful joke on my flimsy plans, but I think it lessens the chances of implosion.
It is also quite possible that I avoid new relationships precisely because I am afraid of failure, or worse yet—afraid to really experience love. However, I reserve the right to fall in love, when she, the universe and I are all in alignment.
Too many people grasp at relationships just to avoid being alone and end up trapped in stagnant relationships where conformity is the most prevalent emotion and resignation takes the place of passion.
As long as I have a bag full of burnt matches, a piece of cardboard and a small bottle of glue, I’ll be alright for another Saturday night.
*This essay is an excerpt from a book, After the Silence, that I have recently published in digital format. After the Silence is a collection of essays, poems and photographs, created over the past five years. To order the book, contact me here.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Peter Schaller
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Author’s Own