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Sentimental Education

by David Levinson
October 31, 2005
Sentimental Education
Though a lot can be said about the differences in the sexes, nothing perhaps captures it better than the age-old adage: A man falls in love with the woman he's attracted to and a woman is attracted to the man she falls in love with. Simplistic, yes, but oftentimes it is these most obvious and overlooked truths that evade us, especially when sex and the heart tangle. And eventually, if you're like most people, they will tangle, whether it's on the first date or the sixtieth.

Dating is a risky venture and often presupposes mutuality, that two strangers want the same thing at the same time. Good, solid first dates often lead to seconds and thirds and if you're lucky, weeks will go by before either one of you notices that you're on your twentieth. Time will fly in the face of romance, because romance often eclipses the more mundane aspects of our lives. We crave it like the air we breathe, and rarely do we ever get enough. That is, if you're the sentimental type. But what if you're not?

Like the act of craving, sentimentality is often ascribed to women and with good reason. How often do you hear about a man craving romance, a man with an overabundant need for sentiment? It is the rare man who understands romantic nuances, who can turn a banal dinner into an extravagant event, with candles, flowers and the right bottle of wine. I'm not saying there aren't men in the world with that kind of finesse, who can conjure up an evening of romance, not to please themselves, but their partners. And herein lies the rub: sentimentality, in whatever form it takes, must be offered up selflessly and with the best intentions. And if sentimentality is just one part of a healthy romance, then affection is the other.

It's hard to imagine sentiment without affection, just as it's hard to bridge the gulf between lust and love. Affection, real and honest, can help with this, however, and turn an awkward parting of strangers into a beautiful moment between potential lovers. A finger on the ear, a touch on the back, a small kiss on the cheek-all of these things signify a willingness to connect, a reaching-out for the future.

If you find it difficult to rouse the necessary energy for sentimentality and affection, then perhaps you're still too attached to your independence, to being single. Coupling takes work and patience, an eagerness to leave a part of your old life behind and head into unsound territory. It's scary. It often produces far more anxiety than we know what to do with. Woody Allen once said that if love creates tension, sex alleviates it. It seems to me that the reverse could be said as well. Any time we get intimate with someone else, any time we literally open ourselves up, more than likely we'll end up getting hurt. But if you truly crave a relationship, vulnerability is unavoidable and more often than not is what keeps someone around, when s/he might just as soon walk away. Sometimes, showing a partner who you really are can lead to further intimacy, to further sharing and growing together, while at other times, this same tack might scare him or her away. It all depends on the approach, when and where and how you choose to let this other person in.

Being attentive and kind to another's needs, reliability, steadfastness, all of these things say a lot about the kind of person you are or the kind of person you'd like to become. But what's most important to remember is that you're dealing with another human heart and that human heart is fragile. Treat it gently and it will go on beating beside you for decades. Treat it thoughtlessly and you will miss the sounds it made.

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"David Levinson is a young writer who has mastered all the elements that make up a classically structured short story: drama, suspense, humor, empathy. There are no fancy pyrotechnics or meta-fictional devices here. He's a neo-traditionalist so the stories are direct, emotional and compulsively readable, plus there's enough mystery and action in them to propel at least a dozen novels."<br>Bret Easton Ellis