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It's Nelly's World

Bonded (not Insured)

alec vanderboom

This is an interesting topic for her at this particular moment, you're going to say. Yeah, I'm transparent.

When I rode motorcycles and favored Guzzis, I had a secret affection for their nickname, at least in English-speaking countries where they don't "get" Italian: Goose. As a card-carrying sap, I find geese inordinately touching, because they mate for life. You can see it. There are always two, unless there has been some Macbethian drama recently. (The other quality those in the Moto Guzzi fold admired was that if one member of the flying wedge dropped out, they would close the gap up again--perhaps they are among the animal aestheticians I spoke of earlier, and they don't like their compositions marred.)

Geese are not the only ones. Red-tailed hawks, beavers, gibbons, and prairie voles also mate for life, and the disappearance of a partner is a devastating event. I have seen mourning squirrels, shocked by the sudden loss of a mate under the wheels of a heedless car (redundancy, sorry), running in confused circles around the body, expressing in aimless darting the crisis of the emotions.

Biology has answers for humans' vagrancy in the matter of partnership, but I'm not sure it does on the subject of why we are so inconsistent, both across gender and the ranks of individuals. Why do some of us stay partnered for the long term and others . . . You thought I was going to say, "and others not," right? No. I meant only to say, "and others calmly accept what the abundant evidence puts forth": that just under half (currently 40 to 45 percent) of us can't stay for the long haul. Maybe this portion is made up simply of novelty junkies--I know the feeling, at least when it comes to dog walks; I can't do the same hike day after day, even if Nelly could. I'm even getting a little tired of breakfasting on the fantastically supremo muesli they sell at Aldi for a mere couple of bucks. (There. Don't tell me I never gave you anything.)

I think for humans--and here I go contradicting myself, for all my caustic preaching on the fundamental sameness of us to the other animals--our bonding inconsistencies represent the mucking up of solid biology with personal psychology. And I should be clear: it's possible it's those who remain tied to each other, rather than those who go from mate to mate, that are the ones whose polygamous natures got mucked. Maybe it was watching Lady and the Tramp at too tender an age, who knows.

But I find myself wondering why we all nonetheless seem to deeply want, and expect, our matings to last forever, if it is in fact contrary to our nature? Why install a faulty chassis on a perfect engine? You get a teary vehicle every time.

Oh. Bad metaphor.

But there's still the sense that we were put together fatally wrong at the factory: that some of us got the heads and hearts meant for others, and vice versa. We're mismatched no matter what we try to do, like the children's books with partial pages that can be flipped so the bottom half can be paired with an ill-fitting top. For a laugh. It's always worth a laugh, if at any time so many of us weren't weeping over, or grieving, or raging at, or even killing the one who strayed (this week's paper carried a particularly ugly incident of this, though since the guy who murdered his duplicitous wife and then himself was a white supremacist, we held in abeyance most of our tears).

[Gosh, it's interesting, isn't it, when an amateur pontificates unknowing on a subject that has no doubt been explained in full by naturalists; only in well footnoted books from university presses that she seems to lack the brain cells anymore to tackle, eh?]

What I want to ask is if any of you really know what's going to happen between people. And if not, why do we persist in feeling as if we do? Why do we set our lives, our hopes, our expectations, our caps, for "true" love that is going to last as long as we do? Come on. Admit it. You do, right? From where I sit, I wonder why we retail this damaging fiction--and I also wonder why for some people it is no fiction at all, but the reality of their days. What 7-Eleven can you go to to buy one of those lottery tickets, the ones with the matching numbers?

Dogs, as we know, are not monogamists. They love, and they lose, and they love some more--sometimes all in the same ten minutes at the dog run. They are put to shame (in the sentimentalist's mind) by their progenitor, the wolf, who mates for life. But neither do dogs make promises that they're going to be (not to mention accept gifts of china and duplicate crystal vases). Maybe that's the difference. That's the kind of creatures they are. That's the rather chilling message behind the gift-shop mugs you can buy that say, "May I be the kind of person my dog thinks I am." Chilling, because you look in the mirror and know you're not. But want to be. So badly want to be.