By Walter Kirn
First comes love, then comes knowledge. And that's the whole problem: You feel before you think. You drink from the glass before you know what's in it, and you only begin to taste it once it's down.
What I've learned about love is that I never learn.
I should have learned the first time, but I didn't. I was 17 and she was 20. She was a dancer, or wanted to be a dancer, and I fell for her when I first saw her perform.
The song was something stupid by Tom Petty, but her outfit was as tight and bright as the shine on an apple. We spoke after the show, but what we spoke about I don't remember; all I remember is wanting to wedge my hand between her spandex and her skin. By the time I got the chance to do that, it was clear that we had not a single interest in common except for our interest in each other. Which wasn't enough, as it turned out.
Then I did the same thing again, with variations, and made the same old mistake in a new way. This time it was a picture that caught my eye and dragged my brain along after it—a book-jacket photo that I came across while browsing in an airport bookshop. I liked her looks but I also liked the fact that we shared a vocation: writing novels. No more inarticulate dancers for me. No more thick silences in cars and restaurants. I wrote a letter to the woman, and when, against all odds, she wrote me back, I flew thousands of miles to New York to take her out. Our first date was a mere formality, though, because I was already in love with her and particularly with the long talks about art and life and so on that I'd never been able to have with the cute dancer but knew that I'd have with the lovely writer, and did have.
The last of these talks took place in couples therapy when the woman and I decided to part ways. I asked the therapist what I'd done wrong. "You acted without deliberation," she said. Her answer baffled me. If I'd deliberated, I felt, I might never have acted at all. Still, I took her words to heart, and for several years I deliberated thoroughly every time a woman piqued my interest. The result was...nothing. I did nothing. The moment I felt an infatuation start, I argued myself out of it by thinking ahead to the ways that it might end. But then someone grew infatuated with me, a possibility that I hadn't counted on, and I, undeliberately, decided to let her.
Fooled again. It never stops. First comes love and then comes knowledge. The problem is that it's new knowledge each time and it doesn't accumulate into lasting wisdom. It seems to, but it doesn't. Indeed, in my experience, applying the lessons from a past romance to a present romance is the surest way to ruin it. I know this because I've tried. And always will.