The limit approaches zero

One of the few concepts I (barely) remember from the calculus class I took junior year of high school, while recovering from what felt at the time like a terrible breakup (you sweet summer child), was that the limit approaches — but never reaches — zero. Until a few minutes ago, when my friend Google led me to the Wikipedia page for Asymptote, I had no recollection as to the circumstances under which said limit approaches zero. (Dated calc; married algebra.)

A Facebook friend, recently engaged, made the observation this week that you always look happier with your next partner than you ever have before. Her point was that the human heart is resilient; it can weather all manner of abuse and rejection and, after (according to Sex and the City) half of the time the relationship lasted has passed, it can move on to someone who’s a better fit — or at least a welcome distraction. (Yes, I’m referencing SATC in 2017. As a measure of how outdated that citation is, one of the search results that came up was an Angelfire page.)

No relationship is perfect. Even the partner you look so much happier with will sometimes let you down. But finding the right relationship is an iterative process, with each relationship moving you closer to perfection. I’ll admit that my own path toward the person I’m with now — who’s an engineer and liable to be irritated with my fundamental misunderstanding of math stuff — has not been a perfect asymptote. I’ve gotten closer to zero in some relationships, and farther from the axis in others. But I’ll always remember my maternal grandmother, comforting me after a college breakup by telling me that every relationship was an opportunity to learn more about what I did and did not want, until I would eventually know for certain what I wanted and find that person.

I have no idea how she knew this. My grandparents got married when my grandmother was 19 and stayed married until her death in her early 80s. None of the experiences I had before age 19 come close to approaching anything I could learn from — not because those experiences had nothing to teach me, but because I was incapable of learning. But maybe that was the point. My grandmother was of a different generation. When she was 20, she spent eight months wondering if her new husband, who was (unbeknownst to her) subsisting on rutabagas in a Nazi POW camp after his plane was shot down over Austria, would be coming home. People who must contemplate even the possibility of such a world approach everything differently. My grandmother’s 20 was not my 20.

At any rate, her advice struck a chord with 20-year-old me, and it stays with nearly 35-year-old me. I’ve made many mistakes in relationships — both in the selection process (if someone’s nickname is Crazy [X], abort) and in how I’ve handled disagreements and disappointments — but for every failed relationship, I can name something I’ve learned. And ultimately, each time I fall in love, I truly do believe it’s the happiest I’ve ever looked. And been.

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