# of pages revised: 15
# of agents queried: 1
Last night Paul and I went to a birthday party, and he met some of my friends. This was a big step for me since I’ve pretty much been single for the past ten years. “He’s a real boyfriend,” I told my friend Leigha. Paul laughed awkwardly.
Of course, people kept asking, “so how did you guys meet?”
“Do you want to tell them?” Paul asked.
“Should I tell them the whole story?” I asked.
The whole story is complicated and weird. It involves Paul sending me a random okcupid message with a link to an article about Codpiece, a comic book super hero with a giant, robotic penis. I emailed him back out of sheer curiosity — was he a freak for sending me the article, or was I a freak for somehow seeming, through my okcupid profile, to be the type of person who would want to be sent such an article?
As it turned out, we’re both sort of freaks, but in ways that are mostly endearing to each other, and yada yada yada, here we are three months later, standing in the kitchen at a party, telling the how-we-met story to a guy named Jim. As soon as I said the words “robotic penis” a few nearby ears perked up.
“Did I just hear what I thought I heard?” Leigha asked, sidling over.
“You say robotic penis and instantly you have an audience,” my friend Cari said.
People began to flock towards us to hear the story. Paul had pulled up pictures of Codpiece on his phone and was showing them to Jim. “See,” he was saying, “his penis shoots lasers. And it has not one, but two punching arms.”
“Like Inspector Gadget but with a penis,” Jim said.
Jim looked at me. “So this is how he wooed you? With a robotic penis?”
I wasn’t sure what to say.
Currently I’m reading Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s been on my list for awhile because I enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love and was curious about the follow-up. I just got around to reading it now, which seems rather appropriate. Committed is about Gilbert coming to terms with the institution of marriage and figuring out what it means to be a wife, and here I am, suddenly trying to understand what it means to be a girlfriend.
Gilbert talks about how the modern Western woman has grown up in a society that places a huge significance on the romantic relationship. Having a successful relationship or marriage is one of the most obvious ways that people in our society – women especially – are taught that they can achieve fulfillment, happiness, and emotional richness in their lives. And so the modern Western woman weaves an intricate tale about how she met her significant other, and no matter how the relationship ultimately goes, this how-we-met-and-got-together saga is rehearsed and retold and self-analyzed. It becomes something of a myth in her own personal history – something that explains and defines who she is as a person.
I can feel this already happening with the Codpiece story.
* * *
Paul is very philosophical, which is why he sometimes ends up saying things like, “I mean, how do I know I’m real? How do I know you’re real and not a figment of my imagination?”
This question sort of frustrates me. It’s like something a pothead high school kid says to his pothead friend when they’re high and trying to blow each other’s minds. “Duuuude, what if this is all a dream and the person dreaming about us wakes up?”
I mean, sure, I can’t actually prove that I’m real, but it seems like a silly thing to dwell on. Which is why, when Paul posed the how-do-we-know-we’re-real question yesterday, I countered with the equally silly question, “I don’t know. How do you know I’m not a robot?”
“I guess I don’t,” was his answer.
A while ago I listened to the Radiolab episode, “Talking to Machines.” They discussed an artificial intelligence competition in which the judges interact through computer interface with both artificial intelligence and real people. If they are fooled into thinking that a computer program is a person, the developers of that program get points, or maybe they win the competition. I can’t remember exactly. The point is, that’s the mark of a good robot: it’s so human-like, you can’t tell the difference between it and a real person.
And that begs the question, what does it mean to be human anyway?
Most people, I suspect, would say that the difference between humans and robots is that you can never program a robot to feel emotions. And so the one thing that sets us apart from machines is something that is almost impossible to truly describe and share, even with the people to whom you are the very closest.
To Paul I look and act like a human. I claim to have feelings, which I often share with him. But how will he ever really know or truly understand what’s going on inside my heart, mind, and soul? And how will I know the same of him?
* * *
I was telling Paul yesterday that there are going to be times when I feel frustrated or strange or unsettled, and he shouldn’t think that it’s about him. I mean, yeah, sure, I’m not used to being in a relationship, and I’m trying to find the right balance of alone-time versus Paul-time, but being in a relationship was the thing that was missing in my life for the longest time, so I’m perfectly willing take some time to figure all that out. (Even if it means I’ve been slacking on my blog lately.)
But really, what’s much more confusing, is that I’m in a very strange and transitional time in my life. I don’t have a real home or a regular schedule or what I would consider a real job. I don’t really know what exactly I’m doing with myself or where I might be living three months from now. Often I’m not really sure who I am or what I want. All of this uncertainty is bound to make a Type A person like me feel a little unsettled.
But you know what? I’m not a robot. I have feelings. I’m supposed to have them. Paul understands this because he is (I’m pretty sure) a human, too. And so he knows that sometimes I’ll be feeling feelings, and I know that sometimes he’ll be feeling feelings, and sometimes they’ll be about each other, and sometimes they won’t. Sometimes we won’t even know what our feelings are about exactly, only that we have them and they are affecting us.
Instead of pushing my feelings away and trying to act like a robot, I’m going to try to welcome them, no matter what they are, because they are real. I will let them exist with me for as long as they need to.