I’m trying to figure out why I’m in legitimate, wholehearted, life-ruining love with someone from the gym whom I’ve never spoken to at all. I don’t have much to go off here except my own experience, but my friend Samantha, a rule abiding Hanson Fitness & Lifestyle Center elliptical user, informs me that I’m not alone in my affliction. “You don’t date people from the gym,” she told me, “you just love them.” I suppose it’s comforting that my strangest, most private emotional turmoil turns out to be a thing. But how?
I’m asking this question now, 6 a.m., pre-gym, while I make a few ham sandwiches. Today’s schedule looks like this:
7 a.m. Gym
9:30-9:40 a.m. Breakfast (i.e. sandwiches)
9:40-12:20 p.m. Pre-Work work
12:30-1:50 p.m. Art History
3:00-10:00 p.m. Work
If my life looks like institutional trapeze to you, it’s because that’s the secret definition of student existence. Nonetheless, I always make time for the gym, even if the hour is straight up ungodly. There are two enabling factors here: One is that five waking minutes into most days I ingest 300 milligrams of caffeine with a pre-workout drink. This’ll make my teeth blue and heart kick and dubstep feel like it’s scraping the muck off of my soul. The second is, yes, one lovely human being, member of the unofficial 7 a.m. weekday squad, whom I love but am also horrified of, due to her tremendous beauty and flawless, monk-like dedication to something at all: her health. She’s there every morning, paced strongly, like a waterfall. She’s unbelievably focused and hardworking, and this results in sublime athletic ability, which altogether makes talking to her untenable. The most I can do is make spine-grabbing eye contact in passing. Hence the strange, private emotional turmoil I’m in.
It’s odd that loyalty and dedication are seen as psychosis. I’ve been called a psycho frequently over my insistence on morning workouts, and I kinda like it. It’s a positive trait. I mean, I get it: it’s cold and early out here, yet I love the quiet walk to the HFLC. It gives me time to think, like this. But that’s what I say: I like her because we seem equally psychotic. Of course, I mean by psychotic — excluding obvious, criminal cases — is passionate. Slavoj Zizek notes that Anakin Skywalker, the most passionate character in Star Wars, happens to also be the biggest psycho in the history of the galaxy. This is no accident; this is our culture. Lovers are fanatics, irrational nutjobs. This motif of loyalty and passion in gym love strikes me as important, then, given our larger distaste for the romantic. Hell, I’ve heard of gym love ruining casual relationships: “Sorry, there’s someone else now.” This is how weirdly loyal we get over our gym obsessions — how faithful we become to them.
Naturally, since passion and loyalty are almost built into the HFLC’s concrete walls, the initial appeal of the gym is simple: it’s an inversion of our everyday world, a black hole in our cultural galaxy. It’s a sanctuary, an escape from my daily responsibilities. My daily responsibilities suck. I’m an obsessive person, and my various commitments preclude fidelity to any in particular, so I go to the gym for precisely the same reason that I became obsessed with math during my parent’s divorce.
Math’s always there, unified, eternal, unchanging, and available to me to the extent that I commit to it. When the ground of self gives out from under me, I grasp for my life, for something larger, stable, above and always; something commensurate with my capacity to love.
The gym is also a place wherein you ought to commit. Along with escape, your membership includes license to devote. Nobody can exercise for you; nobody can become healthy for you, nor can you become healthy in a day. At the gym agency confronts us, whereas we’re replaceable I.D. numbers outside. You also buy pain. At the gym, pain is almost intrinsically good, not something to be instantly relieved. You’re going to sweat, breathe pseudo-erotically, grunt — maybe scream. You’re basically going to act prehistoric, and you’re going to do this in front of gigantic, self-reflecting mirrors and a substantial amount of others, most of whom you’re ogling over at objectively awkward intensities. You become, usually, a hormonally charged surveillance camera from the Stone Age, the mirrors pull you inside out. Thus it’s hard to stay committed, to get results, so we hire people to do all of these things to us. Personal trainers/training programs are laws that we give ourselves to obey. In the HFLC we submit ourselves because we know we must.
The question is, to what do we devote? Long ago, the answer was my workout program. My strength, my rushing yards. Some time after, it was my physique, my ego. Today is different. Yet my discipline and joy remains here, and the gym remains an existential soother without which I’d sob in perpetuity.
Entering the one-way turnstyle, the HFLC is bright like a forest clearing; medicine balls are scattered like fallen fruit. I see her, already here, with skin the colour of faded brick — her ponytail waving to the room like a pendulum. It feels like a glass full of wine, dropped and broke inside me. I continue on, up the stairs. At the top I witness already a communal fight for one more rep; barbells, dumbbells, heavy as death, rise and fall in rough synchronicity. The imperative, “treat your body as a temple,” is lent credence. Thoughts, flickering in me like a candle in the dark, become engulfed by a heart turned smokeless fire. Whatever I’m here for, it’s here for me, too.