I was strolling down the street to one of my favorite bars, my friends–a couple–walking along side me. Somehow, I always end up being the third wheel to some couple. I have a few friends who come in such package deals.  I suppose I enjoy it. And this particular couple kept inviting me to do things with them, so I guess they enjoyed it as well.

But, as is usually the case with the bar scene, I eventually lose my friends for a moment and begin talking to the last refuge for scoundrels in need of amateur therapy–strangers. Some strangers are so far gone to the bottle, there is no talking to them. Some are much too happy to have a serious conversation. No reason to ruin a good time with talk of politics. But some, well, some strangers are my people. Those people who exude wisdom with a tinge of self-reflection alongside a hint of self-deprecation. Broken people who still hold out hope.

And that night, I met such a person. A middle-aged man who recognized my voice from my radio work.

He looked across the table and began to speak to me at length. He looked like he needed to get something off his chest.

“Politics is a perpetual melodrama of lost romantic love,” he said, a glass of whiskey on the rocks clinking in his hand, “a twisted case of Stockholm syndrome on a grand scale, a parade of fools desperate to believe in their own promises of paradise so as to escape the torment of their own worry and want.”

Man this guy sounds cynical, I’m thinking.

“It reminds me of a story of a scorned man who gives away all his heart only to find it has been slowly but surely rotting in the hands of the woman he entrusted to keep it safe. Yet, despite his tragedy, he says to himself, ‘I will love again someday.’ Though he has nothing to back up his claim except boyish optimism, he dives back into the deep waters of love with the very next woman he meets, thinking, ‘There is only so much life to live. I must love here and now.’ He may learn to endure the torment of this love and call it a marriage. Or more likely, he may leave this woman for the same reasons as the first only to find a third, fourth, and fifth failure.

I’m listening to this guy thinking, what does this have to do with politics?

“At this point he may go on to eschew romantic love altogether and become a cloistered monk, devoting his life to the static pursuit of chastity and silent reflection upon the human condition. Or, he could head due south from such a celibate north to become a libertine as he baths himself in the hedonistic pleasures and pitfalls of a rudderless life and comes to treat laughter and crying as one and the same. And then someday he may have the courage to look in the mirror at the all the years of rot etched into his face and say to himself, ‘Love need not be lost. Love does not and cannot reside in the hopes I have for others. It only need be found within my own heart held always in my hands. To expect others to love me without loving myself is a fool’s errand.’

“This is a nice sentiment that bolsters his spirit, but it still leads him back to where he started–except he is now much older, not much wiser, and still full of a boyish hope in love that will only let him down again.”

“So, what does this have to do with politics?” I ask the gentlemen, taking a swig from my own whiskey glass.

“This is very much like the cycle of politics at its basest: an illusion of love, togetherness, and the occasional absurd feats of individual strength doomed to end in disappointment for most parties involved. Very few ever actually end up happy in such a world, and when they do, it is usually a case of dumb luck, for politics contradicts and perverts the very best of the human spirit by offering it power.

“Here’s the bargain: let your heart be mangled in the hands of others and you will receive the power to mangle their hearts when you have earned their trust.

“Yet, in polite society, it is a sin to speak of politics as a tragedy of perpetual loss. These words are blasphemous to the politico. If you persist too long in talking about our political system in such an unorthodox manner, you are bound to encounter push back from the true believers: those who worship, jostle, and jockey for positions of power.

“And though they may deny it, I swear these jackals play politics so they may live out their own internal miseries, sick fascinations, and grand illusions with the rest of society as their plaything. They like mangling the hearts of the public because deep down their own hearts are torn and tattered.

“They will attest that they mean well, but at the end of the day,” he tells me, “politics is just like lost love: initially paved with sentimentality, promise, and joy; yet always ending in bitterness and an aching pain in one’s chest.”

This drunken cynic made sense, so much that I wonder if I dreamt him.

Maybe someday, I’ll learn to love and trust another politician, but for now, I agree that politics is just like lost love. In 2016, I plan on guarding my heart.