On Connection and Temperament

This person that I loved, he too was a writer. And the conversation between us was what made me love him. Responding to the structure of his sentences, mine grew full and free: thoughts became expressive, emotions clarified, and I was happy. Nothing made me feel more alive than the sound of my own mind working in the presence of one that is responsive.

Yet, I could not hold onto the relationship. To the contrary, with me, he did not clarify. He became more fragile, more complicated, more self-involved. Connection remained a matter of unreliable moment. Without steady connection, the relationship had no future. And anything without a future, in this day and age, was instantly flung back into the distracting surge. Why did we come so close, yet remain apart? We read the same books. Enjoyed the same music, same movies. We both grew up and studied in the States. What had gone wrong here?

The answer was rather simple. Good conversation is dependent on a fit of mind that cannot be achieved, it just occurs. It’s not a matter of mutual interests, same cultural identities, or commonly held ideals, it’s a matter of temperament; the thing that makes one respond instinctively with an “I know just what you mean,” rather than a “What do you mean by that?” In the presence of shared temperament, conversation almost never loses its free, unguarded flow. In its absence, one is always walking on eggshells. Shared temperament is analogous to how a set of gears works. The so-called mesh must be perfect. Not approximate, but perfect. Otherwise the gears fail to turn.

He and I were temperamentally mismatched. We remained a collection of isolation, together but each confined in solitary space. We stopped talking. He stared down at the plate. I looked out into middle distance. The silence between us accumulated and became unbearable. But it was not only him I had failed. When I raised the matter to friends, ironically married ones, they looked at me: first puzzled, then uneasy, then dismissive. I was making a great deal out of not very much, I was told. Maybe my words were taken as judgement on their lives.

Failure of connection among like-minded people is to me a preoccupation. The people I know are all talkers, for whom conversation is vital. Yet, many is the evening I have sat at a gathering, staring into the emptiness of the past few hours, thinking about words spoken among “people like ourselves,” words that should have opened us to each other but had in fact shut us down, left us feeling abstract; words that just floated in the air, stimulating, or being absorbed by, no one.

Maybe it wasn’t even that big of a deal that I had failed another relationship. After all, it is easier to be alone than to be in the presence of that which arouses the need but fails to address it. Because, then, we are in the presence of an absence which reminds us in the worst way that we are indeed alone. So by choice I’ve become inured: to have given up on wholesome conversation, genuine connectedness; to have accepted that there are much lesser chances of finding someone that shares not interests or ideals, but temperament; and to reckon all effort to fill in the holes and narrow the gaps as wasted.

Will this last? Maybe it’s just part of the transition. But this is what I’ve learned this year; a year that has been challenging until the near-end of it. To end on a lighter note, though, I still have my fingers crossed, because in face with the stark reality, thirty should be the perfect age to really start believing that unicorns exist, no?

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