Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fate and the Philandering Booby

"People come into our lives for a reason."

I'm sorry, what?

I overheard this line recently when a colleague was bemoaning the effect an ex-partner had had on her life. A friend was trying to console her (and ain't that job a font of cheesy platitudes), and reached for the crusty old standby above. Apparently the douchebag in question had wined and dined her for a few weeks, their liaison developing to the point that she'd pick him up from the airport each time he flew into town. Then the moment she started talking about anything more than a little on-demand booty when he touched down for a day or three, he had a sudden and convenient change of schedule that kept him away indefinitely.
Now it's possible he was legit. It's also possible that when people say "It's not you, it's me," they occasionally mean something besides "I would eat my own head if that's what it took to be free of you." Though I doubt it. And her friend was telling her this gigantic shit sandwich of a human had "come into her life for a reason."

Sure he had. So HE could pick up a little action between getting piss-drunk at the Sportsmans bar and taking trips to Bali to sample the local wildlife.

But of course that's not what she meant. Nor is it what our own friends mean when they lob this stinker into the mix as a rebuttal during a good solid bitter rant. What they're trying to say is that there's some guiding hand; call it fate, divinity, luck, karma or whatever, that steers certain people into our path at exactly the moment they can bring something make our lives better.


Look, it would be AMAZING if people "came into our lives for a reason." It would be a hell of a thing if each and every stranger who stumbled into my life did so to teach me something, help me understand something, make my life better/richer/more righteous, or just give me a good slap when I needed one. Especially the slap thing actually. But...seriously?

Some people come into our lives like a lottery win on your birthday. They're just a whole bunch of Awesome that makes a good thing better, and leaves you feelin' great for a day, a week, or the rest of your life. Your One Partner, your kids, your mentor, lifelong friends, the guy who chases you to give back the twenty you dropped at the counter, whoever; these gold nuggets of humanity are as important to our happiness as decent Internet, cake, Audrey Hepburn movies at outdoor cinemas, and bacon.
(I would like here to throw in a big thank you to all the good people who've added to my life this way; you're all bloody wonderful and I totally don't deserve the joy you've brought me. But don't even think of leaving; I know your passwords.)

Others come into our lives like a bird into a jet engine. You're cruising at thirty thousand, you've just started in on your second gin and tonic, the kid behind you has finally stopped kicking your seat and you're starting to think maybe the accidental eye contact from that good looking hostie isn't all that accidental. Then suddenly there's a bang, and it's all screaming and oxygen masks and emergency lighting. The best you can do is hang on until the screaming stops, then pick your way through the flaming body parts to the exit with the least burning fuel outside. Random douchebag from the story above fits greasily into the bird-in-an-engine category; the colleague in question was happily single and loving her life until he came along. A few weeks later the only reason I could see he came into her life was to make her mascara run and add a few layers to that bitter ball of hatred she'd been nursing since her first bad breakup. This guy was textbook bird-in-the-engine ; the only lesson she learned from him coming into her life was 'whoops, shouldn't have caught flight 714 to Adelaide the week of the annual philandering booby migration.'

 But in either case, is there a 'reason' these people come into our lives?

If it makes you feel better to believe there is, then go nuts. It's psychology lite; a comfortable lie that gives friends something to say when you're blubbering incoherently about trying to Get Him Back, or reaching for that ninth beer that you KNOW will either send you heaving for the toilets or reaching for the mobile to text her one more time before you delete her number (pro tip: in most cases, the texting thing will leave you feeling a whole lot worse than the heaving thing, and is more nauseating to watch.)

For me though, telling me some soul-sucking parasite came into my life for a reason is an ugly, ugly thing to say. Maybe it’s true, I don't know; I voted for the major parties a few times in the '90s, so I've probably got a few bounced cheques against my karma bank.  That guy who flung open his car door as I came past on my bike: was that a road safety tip? And that girl who dated me right up to the point she discovered I didn’t have the answers to the Psych II exam; did she come along to teach me not to trust Psych majors? Actually that’s a pretty good lesson; humiliation or no, I think I came out ahead on that one.
Bu those were hard, hard lessons. Frankly I think a quiet tap on the shoulder and a “Don’t ride so close to parked cars,” or a “dude, that chick’s totally using you,” would have been a whole lot less crashy-bendy and hearty-breaky than the universe’s chosen method of delivering the sermon. Regardless, you’d still struggle to convince me there was some ‘reason’ behind it. The simple fact in each case, and in most cases throughout life, was that I made a mistake. Maybe I judged someone poorly, and trusted them when I should have run screaming. Maybe I made a decision in a moment of weakness, and paid for it in heartbreak and pain and the silent frustration everyone's felt when their poorly-chosen partner spends two hours pointing out their shortcomings ("...seriously? Who orders extra anchovies!? And don't get me started on that thing you do with your napkin!"). In every case I've learned from these mistakes, and came out the other side determined not to make them again.

So no, I don’t think these people, good or bad, ambled into my life for a reason. Life throws a lot of random stuff at us, and implying there's some guiding force, some rational plan behind it is missing the point. Telling people to learn from the sucky bits is a fine plan, but telling them there’s a reason they get cut off by a knuckle-dragger in a ute every time they get on the freeway is just nasty. Ute Boy is just another bit of a universe that really isn’t paying all that much attention to its component organisms, and we shouldn’t kid ourselves otherwise.

But there are a few tiny bits of that universe that are paying attention. Those bits are the people who come round with the beers and the XBox, the good ice cream and the Friends DVDs, or whatever it takes to get us straight and level again when we've just copped a seagull in engine #2. They more than make up for the knuckle-draggers, the door-flinger-openers, the philandering boobies and the telemarketers who come into our lives for no other reason than that we were in the wrong place at the right time.
I don’t believe these folks came into our lives for a reason either. What I do believe is that they’re staying in it for a reason.

And that, right there, is all the reason you need.


  1. I just wanna give you a big hug after reading this Mick.

  2. I doubt things happen for a reason. Life happens for whatever reason. Is it not a complete waste if something is learnt from it?

  3. Remind me to tell you my very own douchebag story. Luckily I am confident enough to know that I am more than just an assembly of female bodyparts! I thought better of trying to rationally explain that. If for any reason the universe was intervening at that point, I kindly ask it to butt out of my affairs from hereon.

    Your ending still bugs me for some reason but good stuff.