Where Is Love on the Map?

"I've been a miner for a heart of gold, and I'm gettin' old."
Neil Young

I think I fell in love for the first time in 1st grade. The irony here is that I denied it for a long time. For that matter, I don't really think I knew that I was in love. The girl in question was Johanna Brown and for most of that school year and the next, we spent every recess together. We would play on the teeter-totter and pretend we were serving a dinner party while balancing the table. At the end of dinner, whosever turn it was to do dishes would simply drop that end of the teeter-totter down and all the imaginary dishes would slide that direction. Yeah, kind of dumb, but we were six years old.

Alas, we were assigned to different third grade classes, ending our brief love affair and by the time we got together again in fifth grade, she was hanging out with an older man - Dennis Whaley - a sixth grader who lived on her street. So I think I felt like we were the proverbial elementary school ships that passed in the night. But in ninth grade, when she signed my yearbook, under her signature were the words, "Remember 1st grade?"

The answer is yes. Yes, I do.

Where lovers meet ...

I came to realize I fall in love easily. During my high school and college years, I had a tendency to throw myself into relationships with women in a very all-or-nothing mindset. Over the years, some of the women I dated were not as serious as I was. And yeah, that was an issue. I lost my virginity in high school - two weeks before my 16th birthday, in fact. I make no excuses. It was the 70s and the sexual revolution was alive and well in the heartland.

I went through a series of serious dating relationships in college. Maintaining a relationship in dormitories that had roommates and an open-door policy for opposite-sex visitation was not as challenging as you'd think. In short; it is possible to get laid in a housing system designed to prevent it and that's all I'm going to say about that. In my case, it didn't happen that often anyway.

After college, back in my hometown, the pattern continued in its own fractured way. I was working at Wal-Mart and living with my parents, trying to figure out what to do with my life. I broke up with a college girlfriend - and did it pretty badly, I might add - and I got involved in one or two affairs back in my hometown. Wal-Mart wasn't exactly a soap opera setting.

I got a huge career opportunity courtesy of the government when I was recruited to become an air traffic controller. I spent three months at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City where controllers are trained. The Civil Aeromedical Institute which studies controllers and pilots keeps stats on these things and they know that placed far from home in a highly stressful training environment and given a generous per diem, air traffic controllers are more likely to drink alcohol, engage in high risk behavior, and get involved in extramarital affairs. I wasn't married while I was there, but I admit I contributed to these statistics. I was briefly involved with a very cute, very foul-mouthed married controller from Boston and later began dating one of my instructors - a woman originally from Oregon. I would have to say that overall, the FAA provided me with a number of relationship opportunities. Besides the two women at the academy, there were three other co-workers I got involved with at different times, culminating with the one I married. And later divorced.

The Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City - much more of a soap opera setting than Wal-Mart!

Since the divorce, love has been more difficult and distant. Given the opportunity to withdraw and interact remotely, I find myself all too compelled to do so. The internet is a great place to communicate with people and a terrible place to build intimacy. I am a fragile introvert at heart so this is right up my alley. I'm fifty-five, overweight and more than a little wary. There comes a time when you start to think maybe you've seen all the opportunities you're going to get. There also comes a time when your endocrine system tells you you're probably going to be okay, even if that's the case.

We create space in our lives and fill that space with a wide variety of stuff. Relationships take up a lot of space but they give us a lot in return. Like anything we make a part of ourselves, there are risks and costs and there are also rewards. I don't spend my days dwelling on loneliness and pining for someone to share my life. In fact, I feel a certain detachment from that kind of emotion and commitment. These days, I'm not sure I could even do it. I have certainly come to understand I can live a happy and full life without it.

So there you have it. I've evolved past the need for direct human contact.

This is where I should throw in the smiley-face emoticon and a hearty 'LOL'. Because I strongly suspect we never evolve past that need. We adapt and we learn to function without it but the need persists and I suspect it always will. It's DNA. Human nature. Biology. But I have actually contemplated the possibility that I may never have sex again - that the dozen or so assorted females with whom I have shared that experience are basically it - a closed book.

But then I am at an age where I have realized that despite its obvious appeal, sex is overrated. Yes, I admit my body still craves it (though not as incessantly as it once did) and I realize that I am susceptible to its appeal. But as a foundation for two people being involved, I am dubious. Relationships mean more. Friendship means more. It is probably very telling that a half-dozen or so of my Facebook friends are women I've dated in the past. Somehow, even with painful breakups (or even divorce) I find a way to remain friends with the women I've loved.

Connections of the soul matter much more than connections of the genitalia.

Yeah, right. Try telling that to 21-year old me!