This is an adaptation of a column originally written for the Fearless Press site. If you’re interested in more interesting writing about sexuality in contemporary culture, I highly recommend it.
“Itâs hard to wait for something you know might never happen, but itâs hard to give up when itâs everything you want.” – SexCigarsBooze, via Twitter
Change is hard.
It reflects an uncertainty to life that we don’t like. We like to feel like we know what’s going to happen, even when the fact is, we can’t. Physics says so.
The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (and I apologize in advance to those far more educated than me who will be appalled at this generalization) basically says that you can know a particle’s location OR you can know the direction it’s going but you can’t know BOTH.
Forget particles. It applies to our relationships too too.
The romantic view of love is that you have a magical date where everything clicks and endorphins and woo squirm and wiggle out your eyes and into the gonads of your partner and suddenly the world has CHANGED. This is the person who who groks your hopes and desires and feeds them back to you. Your paths, however meandering, have been leading you both to this place and this moment at this time.
However, just because your paths have intersected doesn’t mean you’ve come there from the same direction. This moment of together may stretch months, years, decades, but it still may only be a tangent – a point at which your paths meet, but then diverge and head in other directions.
We’d like to think we can tell. We try all kinds of communication tricks to do it, but Heisenberg reminds us that the second you do figure out where you ARE you have no idea where you are GOING.
Because change happens. People change, circumstances change, everything changes. Octavia Butler wrote an entire fictional religion around the idea that change is God. The Parable of the Sower is a harsh and beautiful work: “All that you touch, you change. All that you change, changes you.”
That’s where Schrodinger’s cat comes in.
If you’re unfamiliar with the idea (again, apologies to physics majors) it was a thought experiment. Imagine a box, inside of which is a cat and a device that will release poisonous gas the moment a particular particle is emitted from radioactive material.
The point of the experiment was that there was no way to predict whether or not the particle was emitted, the gas was released, and the cat was killed. In fact, as long as the box was closed, the cat was in a strange state of being both alive and dead. Part of the paradox is that only way to find out the poor feline’s fate was to open the damn box.
At that point, you would know the cat’s fate. But here’s the real mind bender: if the emperiled feline could have been either alive or dead right up until you opened the box…wasn’t opening the box, in a way, the very thing that killed the darling creature?
Any sensible person would say no, it was the particle with the poison. But Schrodinger was not a normal person, he was a scientist. Like most scientists, he was inherently romantic and I believe he was talking about us. Schrodinger’s heart, if you will.
If you have a great date, you can know where you are. You can know where your partner is. But you can’t really know where you’re both going. This can become an agonizing state of uncertainty and bewilderment. Is this a meaningful relationship? Is it just endorphins? Am I really a [INSERT ROMANTIC ARCHETYPE] and are they really a [INSERT COMPLEMENTARY ROMANTIC ARCHETYPE]? Your mind and your heart and your emotions go up and down like a Hokusai painting, making Hamlet look like David Allen compared to you and your Heisenberg relationship and your Schrodinger’s heart.
The only way to collapse that wave function – to really know where this wave of emotion is taking you – is to open the damn box, climb in and get down with the cat, the poison, and the glowing rock. Even if opening the box didn’t kill you, you sit in the box aware that at any moment that particle of doom may be released.
That’s what change is. It will happen, you can count on it. What you can’t count on is that it will change in the direction you expect. Even less likely is the idea that it will change in the direction you want.
This uncertainty is the thing that makes life so shiny and vibrant that we almost can’t bear to breathe because we are so filled with joy. It’s also the thing that makes us huddle in fear, tired of the unpredictability of life not meeting our expectations.
Change doesn’t care. The sooner you come to terms with that, the happier I suspect you’ll be.
If you happen to figure out how, exactly, though, will you do me a favor and let me know?