back to the Black Table

My sister has started eating meat again. For the past five-some-odd years, she has been a staunch vegetarian. For a little while there, I think she actually took it into all-out veganism, but she dropped that quickly when she realized the only things she could eat were pine needles.

For years, Jill has been what I might have classified in college as "crunchy." She has long straight brown hair with stray blonde streaks, wears bracelet-type contraptions with lots of beads on them and, for a rather creepy stretch, was refusing to shave her armpit hair. (Last summer, I met my family in Philadelphia for a weekend getaway to see the Cardinals play the Phillies. It was a repressively hot day, and Jill was wearing a tanktop. On the


subway ride home from the game, I noticed three teenage boys eyeing my sister the way I eye, oh, just about every woman who isn’t related to me. The subway jerked, and Jill lifted her arms to grab the bar above. Their faces dropped from lust to horror instantaneously.) I think some of Jill’s habits/statements were silly, to say the least, but I respect her for them. She’s headstrong, willful and takes no shit. Her beliefs were hers, she believed them and she stuck with them. Good for her.

But she has met this new guy. Like her brother, she has a tendency to jump into relationships a wee bit fast, and within five days, she was telling me how crazy she was about this guy. One night, they loaded up on wine at a fancy Champaign restaurant, and he, no vegetarian, jokingly suggested she have a steak. "Really?" she said. "You think I should?" She ordered one and tore through it with carnal abandon. She said she spent the next three days with him, just lying around, devouring dead animals. I wouldn’t be surprised if she just ate it raw; I imagine neighborhood squirrels frantically wiring relatives to steer clear from the Leitch house.

And now, well, Jill eats meat now. She’s even shaved the armpits. My dad, predictably, is ecstatic on both fronts. Me … I’m not so sure.

In the past, I have had a tendency to willingly, gleefully, chuck any unique quirks of my personality if a woman I’m interested in finds them not to her liking. It’s not so much that I’m trying to please her, though, of course, I am; it’s more that I’m so enamored of her, so impressed that a creature of her caliber would deign to spend time with me, that I figure if she doesn’t have the same peculiar peccadillo as I do, there must be something wrong with it, and with me, and therefore must be changed.

One recent ex-girlfriend was a beach bum. There was no place she’d rather be than lying out in the sun. It was an activity for her. She didn’t need a book, or conversation, or even company; she’d just lie there in the sun, silent, gradually tanning. The hush on our beach trips unnerved me, but mostly, it was just the sun. I’m a guy who spent a year in Santa Monica, a five-minute walk to the beach, and I only went there once, and that was, of course, because another girl asked me to. But because this beach bum girlfriend loved it so much, and because she was pretty and seemed to put up with me (if not necessarily like me), I threw myself into it. Next thing you knew, I was rattling off SPFs and Coppertone consistencies with frightening efficiency. I was extolling the virtues of an orange complexion to befuddled friends who had previously suspected I might be an albino.

We broke up almost a year-and-a-half ago. I haven’t been to a beach since.

It was hardly new. The list of interests I don’t really hold but have pretended to for women – no, have convinced myself to – is endless. I’ve acted like I actually understand and enjoy the music of Phish. I’ve fooled myself into believing that a vodka cranberry is a perfectly acceptable beverage for a man to drink. I’ve even left a baseball game before the ninth inning because of a girl before. And let’s not even get into the ridiculous hairstyles I’ve tried out because a woman suggested it. Do you realize I once had one of those George Clooney/Caesar cuts? Shiver.

The lengths we will go to in order to sublimate ourselves and placate the people we care about is a simultaneously charming and pathetic aspect of human nature. A woman I knew in St. Louis had been dating a guy for more than a year and still hadn’t slept with him. She was attracted to him – why, I am still not quite sure – but staying a virgin until she was married was something that was important to her. So they waited and waited and waited, and finally, he asked her to marry him. She said yes. They had sex a week later. I lived in St. Louis three years ago. They’re still not married.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. I know that relationships are complex animals, and at a certain level, to make one work, you have to make sacrifices and not just parade around like you’re sitting alone in your room. But often we – and by we, I mean me – give up what made us unique and interesting in the first place. The entire relationship turns into a game of guess-my-mood, a relentless exercise in codependency. Eventually you just drive her crazy, and she wonders why she was with you in the first place and when, precisely, you became a lapdog just willing to please.

This is a habit I have been trying to break in my current relationship. I have tried to play it cooler, sticking closer to what makes me me, no matter how stupid and pointless my habits may be. Sometimes I even veer too far in the other direction. Once, we stepped outside and she took a deep breath, exclaiming, "Ah, it’s great to get fresh air." I grumbled to her that air was totally overrated, and that she really made too big a deal of such luxuries. She is a patient one, and dismissed me with a withering glance. Perhaps some moderation is in order.

But I’m sure I’ll fall back into my own patterns soon enough. Trying desperately to avoid acting a charade, for me, is in itself a type of charade, and who knows how long I’ll be able to keep it up.

But Lord help me if she decides to become a vegetarian.



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