Mr Garrison: How would you like to go see the school counsellor?
Cartman: How would you like to suck my balls?
Mr Garrison: What did you say?!
Cartman: Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. [produces megaphone] Actually, what I said was, “How would you… like to suck my balls… Mr Garrison?”
New Year’s is supposed to be a time of great renewal. Sure, we know it’s an illusion. Nothing is actually going to change bar the last two numbers in the point-eight header at the top of your newspaper page. But there’s a certain power in suggestion and belief, and you’re supposed to face up to the new year feeling refreshed and energised and ready to start from scratch. Everything is possible, and you can leave the problems of your past behind and surge gloriously on.
For me, I got broken up with on the New Year’s Day of both 2008 and 2009. By the same girl. Each of those declarations held for about a fortnight before crumbling, and each of those fortnight cycles comprehensively sunk any idea of fresh starts, optimism, or abandoning destructive patterns of behaviour in a glorious march to a new and shining future. They rather set the tone for the year to come. This relationship may have set the world record for break-ups – I can think of 17, but I’m pretty sure there were more I’ve forgotten. They lasted anywhere from eleven hours to a month. And if the total number of break-ups is x, then she leads in the initiation stakes by x-2. I contributed only a modest deuce to that column, making me the break-up equivalent of Nathan Hauritz. She, I suppose, was some genetically-modified fusion clone of Shane Warne, Wasim Akram, and Jim Laker. Being a credulous type, I actually believed each one of these endings was genuine, only to repeat the dose like a teen-angst Bill Murray. It took the strategic positioning of the world’s largest ocean to break the trend.
I was thinking this stuff over on the bus back from Rosario, through a rainstorm and muted pastel sunset that made this country look more like Vietnam. The water cooler next to me made constant slopping sounds like an old man popping his teeth in and out. There was a familiar emo melancholy, not helped by the endless grey sky. And there have been a lot of those, always making me think of Pink Floyd. “So you think…so you think you can tell…” Apparently this is an El Niño year, meaning lots of summer rain rather than clear heat. Nice timing, jerkface. So lots of grey days and lots of missing the girl I left back home. The Pragmatist’s Relationship Calendar tells me I should be fine, it’s been a couple of months now. And I don’t miss the destructiveness and angst. But I can’t dismiss two and a half years of such intensity from my mind that easily. I would be kind of disturbed if I could. The inability to dismiss her makes me feel again like Nathan Hauritz. But if I could shake her off that easily, then I’d have to conclude that I never felt that deeply to begin with, and that the last couple of years never really meant a thing. Perhaps heartache is a reasonable price to pay for a certificate of authenticity.
But then the heart is a highly duplicitous organ. It will tell you that it’s breaking, but still be on the lookout for whatever’s next. Whether it’s to ease the hangover of the last or to pragmatically get on with the delusional search for happiness is hard to say. But I’ve seen many friends and lovers twitch from one relationship to another like dying fish on a jetty, and I know I’ve spent more than a few heartbroken nights with my face pressed into the vertebrae of the next potential destroyer. And it is much more to do with the organ in the chest than the clichéd attribution to the one in the pants. Girls do it just as quickly as guys. I love him, I really really love him, I’m so sad, we had such a great connection, oh, I’ve been seeing this other guy, he’s great… And it’s awkward as hell, this transition phase. Some mornings you wake up with your new buddy feeling splendid, and it takes a couple of hours to remember there are things not right with your world. Sometimes you wake up teary and heavy, and almost resenting the person next to you for not being someone else. It can be very hard to keep perspective, and to be fair to the new co-star.
Finding comfort in someone is normal, but putting too much weight on it is bullshit. Real love, the way we tell ourselves it is, shouldn’t die off in a month or two or six or a year. If you can throw yourself straight into the next relationship and tell yourself that it means as much as the last, then the last one didn’t mean shit. It means the next time you’re lying in bed and staring into someone’s eyes and saying ‘Oh god, I love you so much,’ it really means ‘You’ll do for now, but I could forget about you in the time it takes Amazon to ship me a parcel.’ It’s cheap and it’s false and it’s bullshit. Love isn’t a hat. You can’t change it because it doesn’t suit the season. The rebound thing is valid – getting laid is nice and makes you feel better. But if you’re doing someone else within a month or two and telling yourself it actually means something, then you’re either lying that minute, or you were every minute of the last relationship. Either lie is as much to yourself as to anyone else, but either way you’re still a liar and you pretty much have no soul.
I have a feeling this argument will make a lot of people defensive, because many of us have done it, and if we haven’t we certainly have friends who have. And we all have self-loathing, but we’re less happy hearing about our shortcomings from other sources. So there’s an important point to make here. I’m not saying you’re a bad person for chasing the next rainbow as soon as the first has vanished. We’ve all done the quick turnaround. I’m just saying, be realistic. If you tell someone you love them, be aware of what you’re saying. Don’t get caught up in your own romantic bullshit. Do you really want this person above anyone else? Could you really not change your mind in a week or a month? If you’re not sure, maybe you should make a more diplomatic choice of words.
So the smart ones among you might have guessed why this issue has been on my mind. And yes, there’s currently a girl in the picture. Buenos Aires native, very sweet, we’re getting along fine. My Spanish and her English have both taken a sharp upward turn (though not all of it’s family-friendly). It’s no big deal, just a few weeks now, and sporadic – she’s also recently out of a long-termer, so we’re both going softly-softly. The fact that I’m only here a few months takes the pressure off. And basically we’re friends helping each other through difficult times. Of course we miss our respective others – I think of mine a lot, with love and resentment and such a cacophonous mix of opinions that my head feels like a Telstra AGM held in a toilet stall. But at least it’s good to have company at times like these. And when either of us glazes over for a while, or has sad and mopey days, the other knows what’s going on.
I suppose we all have El Niño years, in one way or another. I kind of feel like I’ve had a few end-on-end. The winds are always wrong and the rain pours down and some weeks you can’t even dry your frickin’ laundry. But for the past two days, the sun has shone fiercely from clear blue skies and the wind has been beautifully cool. I’ve just taken a room in a seventh-floor apartment, and the full-length sliding windows mean I can open an entire wall. The breeze comes in strong over a beautiful long view of Palermo, giant plane trees dominating its streets in a way that careful Kew or Glen Iris would never allow. In three weeks I’ll be in Antarctica. In six months, who knows. I have a girl I like, a place I like, and a brand New Year to wake up to tomorrow. And two days ago, at the MCG, Nathan Hauritz just took his first five-wicket haul.