So I am a Buddhist, and I'm married, and I have a crush on a celebrity. Like most things that come up for me in my practice, I am surprised. I assume that because I practice the Dharma, I should be immediately released of all worldly emotions, including impatience, doubt, and of course, craving and lust. I also assume I should declare my renunciation of material things, including new clothes, electronic gadgets, and television.
But in reality renunciation comes in degrees, and I must confess. I do buy clothes, but mostly from charity shops and not as often as I did. I own an iPod, but it's a 2G Nano. And I watch 'television', but only DVDs, and only one boxed DVD at that: The Office.
When I started watching The Office back in 2007, it was already long past its debut on NBC. I watched my roommate's DVD collection and made it half way through season four without a break or any cliffhangers. Pam and Jim were my main reason for watching, and I quaked each time he reached out to her and deflated each time she rejected him. When they finally got together I felt Halpert's personal triumph as my own.
I relocated to England in March of 2007, lived without a TV for months, and forgot about Dunder Mifflin for a few years. I was busy discovering the Dharma and getting married. When I told my new husband Tom about my past obsession and showed him Jim's impersonation of Dwight on You Tube, he bought me Season Four and Five to satiate my craving. I watched them in rapid succession and it was during season five, somewhere around his proposal to Pam, when I fell for Jim Halpert.
I awoke this morning in a sweat thinking I'd cheated on my husband with Jim. I had all the guilt, fear, and shame of breaking up TV's favourite couple and my own relationship in one lucid dream. Let me be clear - I'm in love with Jim Halpert, not his equally aesthetically pleasing but not as adorable alter-ego, John Krasinki (although this picture tempted me to change my mind). But no, Jim's not so suave, not so certain. The only thing he knows for sure is how much he loves Pam.
At first I thought it might just be my identification with the character. Watching Jim woo Pam brings back the visceral feelings of unrequited love of high school crushes. I pined from afar, wished and hoped and prayed the one I loved would notice me, I dreamed up elaborate plans and stories to fuel my infatuation. Jim's pursuit of Pam reminded me of the sweet suffering I made for myself, but also convinced myself I couldn't avoid. The dramatic ideals of love at first sight and never giving up played out in their courtship as they did in my adolescence. So while I recognised in Jim my tendencies to inflate my fantasies and pursue the unattainable, I recognised in Pam the girl I desperately wanted to be.
The crush taps into the idealism of youthful virginity, to the times before anyone had broken my heart, when a boyfriend would solve all my problems, and when all I needed was the right guy to smile at me. Forget compassion, companionship, and enduring love; I wanted passion, ardor, and lust. But I wanted them framed with soft pink roses and slipped between clean bed sheets. I wanted music to swell when I turned around to see him leaning on a door frame, I wanted to walk in the rain without having to mop up the puddles when I got home, I wanted to tumble into bed without worrying about the condom or about getting pregnant (yes, I know, I saw the last episode of Season 5 - but I can't get Season 6 or 7 over here yet, so don't tell me if it's actually true or what happens!).
And an imaginary lover in a soundtracked TV series can give you all those things. Because he isn't real, he never fails to live up to expectations. Isn't human, isn't falliable, but rather waits at the gate of your consciousness until you're ready to call him in. But he won't do your laundry, cook you dinner, leave love notes for you on the kitchen table or sweep you off to Paris in the springtime.
One of the Buddha's teachings is to "guard the doors of the senses". As we become more aware of what we react to, what we grab hold of and run with, we can choose what to expose ourselves to and what to indulge in. If I sold my Office DVDs and disconnected the internet, I wouldn't catch glimpses of Jim or watch spliced together montages of his and Pam's flirtations. And so then I wouldn't move on to the indulgent ideas of what it might be like if I were Pam, or if my husband were Jim. So really, for the sake of my heart and maybe my marriage, I should give up the show. Alas, though, I am no forest renunciant, and I can't make the break.
So what is the remedy? How do I remind myself that I love my husband and that no one, not even Jim Halpert, would make me as happy as he does? With small things. Recollecting my three-dimensional journey that brought me here, and how it wouldn't fit in a half-hour sitcom. How I did meet some guys who smiled at me, who I was certain were right - and how our actual relationships played out, ending in heartbreak, emotional blackmail, and bad poetry. Remembering how many things looked so good on paper and played out so inconsistently. How when I met Tom I learned you fall in love over ironing sheets and watching clouds, and how when I married him it wasn't a whim, it wasn't fleeting, it was a promise and a dedication and a commitment.
And how when he shrugs and smirks and puts his hands in his pockets, he looks a little like Jim.
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