On The Real Me

6 May, 2011

On my 27th birthday, I made one of the most important discoveries to my adult life:
the sheer, uncompromising power of the perfect red lipstick.

It was a revelation. I felt like I had truly entered womanhood (a mere 14 years after my Bat Mitzvah).

I quickly learned what the red lipstick was capable of. At once, it was a spotlight and a mask. I could draw in people’s attention then ensure that they could not get past the shield of pigmented wax on my smackers. It was the best of both worlds. I flaunted a new-found and legitimate confidence, proud of my bravery to embrace the deep scarlet, and did my best to keep other, bare-lipped versions of myself at bay. The security of the lipstick as a veil meant I could be virtually anyone I longed to be. Sirens wore red lipstick. Movie stars wore red lipstick. Femme fatales wore red lipstick. Women wore red lipstick—not girls. Beyond that, women who demanded something wore red lipstick. I didn’t yet know what I wanted to demand, but I felt the need for change, and demanding it seemed like as good a way as any to achieve it. If nothing else, I wanted to demand to be seen as a woman.

Quickly, red lipstick became my signature. Friends delighted in my new trademark, my teeth gleamed like Chiclets, outfits were chosen based on how well they complimented my lip color and the little caterpillar emerged a social and stylish butterfly. But the dizzying dichotomy of who I really was continued to spin. Red-lipsticked me still felt like a projection of who au natural me wanted to truly become, but was not yet. Au natural me was not simply un-made up. She was larvae. She wore sweatpants and PJs and didn’t brush her hair. She looked like a high schooler who’s just woken up at 2pm on a Saturday. She felt perpetually 16 years old, and that was neither a good nor pretty nor confident thing.

You can see why I was so desperate for the red lipstick.

As years passed, the two mes did merge. What’s remained constant is that the red lipstick, it’s blatant veneer, is an easy façade. “No, I don’t always look like this,” it says. “But that hardly concerns you right now.” Knowing that I am putting forth a face I don’t always call my own feels like method acting. It is inherently part of who I am but still a role nonetheless.

All this to point out my surprise when I received an email from a man my father’s age who was (until recently put in his place) relentlessly trying to date me, addressed to: “mandy – as you are – the real you + red lips.”

OK, first of all: creepy. This guy’s about to become a grandfather. He has a son my sister’s age. Second of all: does he really believe that how he last saw me–dolled up at a party with crimson on my lips–is “the real” me? Paint an inch thick, Hamlet scolded Ophelia. Paint is right. It’s a cover-up. And what came full circle for me the moment I read this email, and what I realized from this ill-placed attention, is that it’s not because of you that I hide myself, dear Grandpa-To-Be. It’s because of me. Yessir, I could show you the real me, the woman behind the brightly-hued mouth. But you don’t deserve that, you will never get that close.

Still: Gramps and I know each other through work, and in not wanting to jeopardize a professional contact, I agreed to have dinner with him on a rainy Sunday night. Just before leaving my apartment, I received a text from him, urging me to “be hungry and bring red lips.”

Whoa.

Hold up there, geezer.

Clearly, he does not realize that the one thing a woman with red lips has most is power. I decide when the lipstick goes on, and on whom or what it may wear off (usually, it’s a wine glass, not a whom). But this brought about a bit of a mini-crisis. He did not deserve to get nearer to me than the red-lipped mask would allow, but the last thing I wanted to do now was indulge him in his request. The result of this predicament was that he’d made me feel like a tart. And the distaste that I bore for him multiplied. I resented him before I ever arrived at dinner.

I made a narrow escape after dinner, to avoid his intentions, and the very next morning went out to make a new purchase: a lovely new lipstick called Vintage Pink. I think it looks fabulous.

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A Never-Ending Play in Three Acts. Eat your heart out, Tom Stoppard.

Cast of Characters

MacMillan – a thrice-married woman, 45 year-old single mom, a premium cable television writer living in New York.

Ravitz – a once-engaged, never-married 41 year-old writer/blogger living in Atlanta.

Me – a never-engaged, never-married, 30 year-old woman living in Brooklyn, who cannot tell how many relationships she’s had because there’s no easy way to define “relationship.” She thinks it might be two, but on a good day could be as high as five.

Act I: MacMillan, who is equally as misguided as her single friends, tires of hearing those single friends complain about their singledom. She embraces her unwarranted High & Mightiness and writes a fairly offensive piece on the Huffington Post about how singledom is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Single ladies, she argues, want marriage, they want it more than anything they are willing to admit to. But we—she’s thrown Ravitz and Me into the mix, though she does not know us—are self-destructive creatures, we are petrified of our own happiness. And we’ll stoop to grievous lows (bitchiness, shallowness, sluttiness, dishonesty, selfishness and low self-esteem are MacMillan’s Six Self-Sabotaging Sins of Single Sisters) to ensure our safety within that realm of ceaseless singlehood.

Needless to say, Me and my friends—between us we can boast a history of every type of relationship imaginable—erupt in a collective cry of disagreement. As a 5’10” friend pointed out, the article assumes a huge double-standard, in that it chides women as being shallow for having physical preferences (such as, I hope I get a guy who’s taller than me, but if my soulmate is 5’7″, I’ll happily deal), when a guy having loads of physical ‘standards’ is just seen as par for the course. No one’s writing blogs telling those dudes to give it up. The same tall, astute friend also took issue because “the implication in the article is that to find a husband you must be sweet and never angry.  I know plenty of super angry bitches who have husbands.” It seems that’s MacMillan MO—why is she disproving her own point? Does she want to keep all the guys who are willing to be with angry women to herself?

Another friend commented that MacMillan “doesn’t deserve a pat on the back for marrying 3 times, (like she’s some kind of expert man-catcher), she deserves a dunce cap for not being smart enough to run away from what obviously turned out to be bad ideas.” She warned of MacMillan’s safety in her Glass House…

Act II: Ravitz, a better-intentioned writer/blogger at CNN is one of the thousands for whom MacMillan’s pointed diatribe pinched a very tender nerve. She offers a publicized counter-argument, in which she claims that it is not for our own self-hatred that we are unmarried. It is not lack of opportunity—but lack of the right opportunity (a swipe at MacMillan’s perhaps too-easy approach to wedded bliss). Ravitz tells of her own romantic history, one littered with oases and boulders, love and disappointment, self-admitted commitment issues, too much truthfulness and bad timing. Ravitz argues that sometimes, life wants you to be single, and it “just works out that way.”

Me and my friends are glad for the clever rebuttal, one in which we single ladies are not lambasted for the choices we have made. However, there is still a sense among us of something unfinished, of a still as-yet untold point of view.

Act III: In steps Me and My big, unmarried mouth.

I do not believe in, and cannot subscribe to, boiling down relationships to singular factors–whether you’re in them, or trying to find out why you’re not in them. If some TV writer were to finally define that one reason why relationships don’t work (the point MacMillan’s subtext was attempting to make), then no one would ever bother with relationships at all—hello, Children of Men-esque future. There’s a reason romantic partners are not interchangeable, and why we can’t just pick anyone and happily spend the rest of our lives with them (so long as we follow the rules). Firstly, that would be tediously boring. Secondly, and more importantly, people and relationships are nothing if not nuanced—which is a Very Good Thing. We cannot be reduced to 6 defining misdeeds, nor should we count our virtues and bemoan a plot by the universe to keep us loveless (even though I am often guilty of that myself). A million infinitesimal, incomprehensible factors are responsible for everything in our lives, from where we live to what television shows we watch, from what we eat to who we choose or reject to spend the rest of our lives with.

At the heart of both women’s arguments is that the key factor in relationship-finding is opportunity. Angry Slut Lady (guess who) says JUMP, don’t hop, at opportunity, at any opportunity, no matter how bleak it may seem, because at the heart of it, you’re rather unlikeable, and good opportunities don’t come along often, if ever, especially for the likes of you. She clearly believes that it’s better to be once, twice, three times a bride, than never married at all. Personal Drama Lady (Ravitz, naturally) says it’s not lack of opportunity, it’s lack of accepting the opportunities because you’re able to recognize that they’re not right for you… so calm your hormones, Angry Slut Bitch.

Yes, these are two points of view… and one of them might even be valid. But Grounded Romantic Lady (that would be Me) has to say what, seemingly, no one else has:

Any single woman knows that on certain bad days, we look inside ourselves (or into the mirror) and see all the reasons why we’re single. And on other days, sometimes good days, we know that our inside is stupendous, and we look outside ourselves to see that it’s not our problem that we’re single—it’s everyone else’s because they’re not with us. But unless you’re obsessed/crazy/desperate (like Angry Slut Lady thinks you should be), no one spends 100% of their time dwelling on either eventuality. We can’t. Because on most days, we know that there’s something else to it—something that’s not about our inside or outside, but about chance, and about how it can create a connection to someone else’s inside and outside. Some of my friends call it the X-Factor, others call it “clicking,” I call it Chemistry. Most importantly, we know what’s right when we see it—it’s not availability, it’s not looking good on paper, it’s feeling good from the tops of our heads to the soles of our feet, feeling good not only about the person, but about the situation. It’s thinking about someone who gives you butterflies in your toes, makes your whole body tingle with not only the sense of “This Is Right,” but also: “This is Right, for Me, Right Now.”

The beauty of this thing, this chemistry (my blog, my term), is that it is a giant heap of je ne sais quoi. It is undefinable, unquantifiable, and inarticulatable. Which means it doesn’t fit into the six designations of what you’re doing wrong, it can’t be counted like opportunities missed, canceled or aborted for any reason. I think of it like salt. It’s certainly not imperative in every dish. But most dishes—from brownies to curries to salads to margaritas—benefit from having some of it. You don’t need this to have a lasting relationship. But it often tastes better with it. For some people, just a hint is enough. For others, the more the better. (If you’re concerned about high-sodium risk in the metaphor—CC, I’m talking to you, too—we can just as easily substitute ‘spices’ in for salt. But I was afraid to complicate things with that one.) Everyone’s tastes are different, and yes, there are those bland people out there (Angry Slut Lady) who stay away entirely, claiming that just having food in front of you is good enough, you’re being greedy if you want it to taste good, too. I live in Brooklyn—I simply cannot submit to that philosophy (or metaphor).

There are some other crucial points that MacMillan needs to be reminded of in the search for why, why, why.

One: For many single people, being unmarried does not mean you are incomplete. Marriage need not to be an end goal, or a goal at all. The fact is, we are all real people by ourselves. Partners may enhance us, but they do not define us, at least not at the outset. I’ve met people (Angry Slut Lady, looking at you) who believe otherwise; they seem clingy, their urgent sense of finding someone—anyone—blurring all other priorities. They find vulnerable partners and wear them down until they get that ultimately dissatisfying ring on it. I know loads of people who have eschewed a balls-out search for a mate in favor of the rest of our lives, and have happily lived to tell about it. While we’re almost always open to the idea of meeting someone, and hope to do so sooner rather than later, we’re proud of who we are otherwise. We’re not just waiting on a wing and a prayer, but we’re living. So many friends caught on to Ravitz’s acute observation: “Maybe you’re a searcher with a healthy dose of wanderlust, someone who needed time to commit to furniture, let alone a man, because there was so much you needed to see, do and become.”

I honestly can’t think of anything better than to be a woman in her 30s with healthy wanderlust, single or partnered. Life would be terribly boring otherwise!

Two: Being single is not the same as being desperate. Angry Slut Lady certainly can’t grasp this one—she’s too busy being petrified that no one will ever love her. The few patronizing married friends I have can’t quite understand it either. But ask most any man or woman who’s spent a significant portion of their 20s or 30s single, and you’ll find that they know themselves well, well enough to be confident in the things they want and the things that they don’t. And why wait this long only to compromise when you’re 30? 35? 40? Wanting the affection, company, love of a relationship is not the same as being desperate for one. It’s something on the To-Do list, and we all go about checking that box off in our own unique ways. But the moment you give in to desperation, the moment you believe any of the BS that Angry Slut Lady is feeding you, that’s when you’ve got a big, big problem. In fact, my initial response to these blogs was:

Nope, no one’s ever asked me to marry them, no one’s ever fallen in love with me (that I know of), but that doesn’t mean I’m going to fucking slum it just because I consider myself desperate. Because the catch is that I *don’t* consider myself desperate, much to Angry Slut Lady’s dismay (and disagreement).

Epilogue

All that said, here is what I believe:

It’s not about men being crazy or women being crazy. Everybody is crazy. And if you’re lucky, you end up with someone who complements and supports your kind of crazy.

Where to go from here? One friend suggested, upon reading MacMillan’s piece, “introducing a new question on OK Cupid: ‘Is Kim Kardashian your ideal woman?'”

Would love to add that MacMillian, who wrote the Huffington Post piece, is a television writer for Mad Men and The United States of Tara. Fascinating to note that the woman who has had three marriages writes for a show that boasts misogynistic lotharios and one wherein the female protagonist has a dissociative identity disorder—a less severe version of which, you could argue, could lead to three distinct and doomed-to-fail marriages. Just sayin’…

x

On 9′ Ceilings

14 December, 2010

I’m learning that perhaps worse than losing a boyfriend is losing a 6′ tall handyman. Currently accepting applications for one or both positions.

Today’s Lesson: Every Time A Smoke Alarm Dings, An Angel Gets Its Wings.

Look, Ma, no broken bones!

Or, what to do when your smoke detector’s batteries are dying, and it chirps every sixty seconds to remind you of that, but there is precious little (no pun intended) that your 5’2″ self can do to reach the 9′ ceilings, except balance four throw pillows, a coffee table book on the Rolling Stones and part of a flimsy, discount-store bought ironing board (and yourself) atop what was once a patio furniture table and hope that you don’t end up in the emergency room.


Tomorrow’s Lesson: Changing Light Bulbs, Changing Lives.

 

x

Seriously, dude, I’m so over this whole thing. I wish your email account was, too.

seriously.

No Woman No Cry

22 November, 2010

Part I

When I was younger, I’d often join my mother and older sister on the couch on what was usually a cold Sunday night to watch the Hallmark Hall-of-Fame weep-a-thon movies that CBS would air to counter-program the sports on other networks. The movies could never hold my attention the whole way through, which was fine, since their plots and formulas were easy enough to anticipate. There were a few favorite templates that were regurgitated with a rotating cast of middle-aged TV actresses: the lonely social worker who fights for custody of orphaned crack baby, the long-lost relative who must care for baby orphaned by war, a host of unrequited love scenarios littered with semi-political but non-offensive themes. They all shared the main idea of Woman Must Fight the System To Do Good Or Fall In Love. My mom and sister seemed partial to the orphaned baby custody movies; a good thing, since there was no shortage of them.

I would float in and out of the family room as they sat huddled on the couch, my mom often with lesson plans sitting forgotten in her lap, as their eyebrows turned towards the heavens with sympathy for the poor orphaned baby and the plight of the woman who wanted to save her. I’d sit and watch for five minutes, and, being a snarky 14 or 15 year old, I’d mutter “Cheesy” or “Lame” at some inopportune time, eliciting glares from my mom and sister. I’d glare back and get up off the couch and continue to wander the house as I put off doing homework. I did like to go back and (silently) watch the end of the movie, just to find out if the woman was successful in her quest to keep the baby, or if the state or the negligent relatives from the backwoods got custody (the movies were always based on true stories, so they said, and there was no telling which outcome would triumph).

Towards the end of the last commercial break before the movie’s gripping conclusion, I’d pop down on the step between the kitchen and family room and try to keep my mouth shut. No matter the fate of the poor orphaned baby and well-intentioned savior, my mom and sister would end the night with tears streaming down their faces, silently weeping over the heartwarming/tragic outcome of the movie. I sat entirely unaffected, and would break the silence of the closing credits by hypothetically asking why the protagonist didn’t just do this thing or that to help her case.

My comments were not exactly welcomed by the tearful lot on the couch. Four wet, angry eyes would stare at me. More often than not, one of them would cry “Don’t you have a heart?!” or “Do you have any feelings?!” or “Where is your soul?!” (I think it was my sister who muttered that last one, through a kind of half-assed sniveling.) Of course, there’s not much to say in reply to something like that. Which doesn’t mean I didn’t try. I’d usually endeavor to reason my way out of it, explaining to them that yes, I have a heart/soul/feelings, but it was all Hollywood make-believe and there’s no reason to cry at an actress, on a set, in front of a crew and a camera.

This always elicited one word of response:

Cynic.

It’s a word that’s stuck with me a long time, and often not by my own designation. It seems some people think that “doesn’t cry at Hallmark movies” also implies “lacks the capacity for emotion.” In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. I am sentimental to a fault, embrace nostalgia and everything it stands for, and harbor as many romantic notions as the next gal, if not more.

I felt for a while like people saw me walking around with my own scarlet letter emblazoned on my aura – a big fat c – and so I’ve decided to redefine the notion for myself:

cynic |ˈsinik| noun – One who is more emotionally moved by reality rather than scripted fare.

(and yes, I fully appreciate that that definition is, in itself, quite cynical.)

My PowerBook's dictionary application segues nicely into Part II.

Part II

The older I get, the more I cry. This makes me very happy. I think I may have cried once or twice in college, and have a distinct memory of tears running down my cheeks when I received a card from my sister while I was studying abroad in London (the same sister who accused me of not having a soul). I know I’ve been moved by plays and performances and felt my cheeks grow hot and a lump in my throat swell. I’ve wept as I watched movies at home on my couch – everything from Jim Sheridan’s woeful In America to Sydney Pollack’s hopeful (the way I see it) The Way We Were (for some reason, most movies with Redford and even the hint of romance can inspire my tear ducts). I considered crying at the final episode of one my favorite TV shows (decided against it, but was impressed with myself for entertaining the possibility). I sobbed when my beloved bicycle was stolen. I bawled during an emotional, depressed breakdown. I’ve had arguments with bosses that have left me sniveling in a darkened bathroom stall. My voice has been known to shake and tears have been known to well when I fight with someone I love, and those tears undoubtedly fall when it’s time for apologies and make-ups. I’ve often curled up in a ball on my bed and let my cheeks grow damp during times I’ve felt alone. My eyes even watered when I watched the lucky passengers walk on the wings of the downed plane in the Hudson. (Take that, Hallmark – reality makes me cry.) I list “introspection” as a hobby – make no mistake, I am acutely aware of my feelings.

Yet there’s one thing that has never caused a single tear to roll down my cheek:   Men.

This has recently proved problematic.

Sometimes, it feels like all of the necessary components are there for a good cry: emotional pain and despondency + the sting of rejection + loneliness + bittersweet memories + confusion, but they all = lump in my throat, at best. If only it were as easy as washing someone out of our hair! With very clean hair but a messy heart, how I’ve longed for the catharsis of crying. But, oh, the frustration when that cry refuses to come out!

Anyone who knows me can probably guess that I do associate a degree of pride with this 100% tear-free record; but it’s a pride that’s inextricably tied to my title of cynic. It feels, sometimes, like the pride of a fool, like someone who doesn’t know enough to understand that they actually should be affected. And sometimes, it feels that to cry is the only way to give a dead relationship its due respect. Not every relationship deserves such respect, of course, nor does every guy who’s ever hurt my feelings deserve my tears – but when the emotional anguish quotient (EAQ?) reaches a certain level, crying seems like the best way to rid my core of the icky, frustrated feelings that are overwhelming it. At those moments, though, tears are magically nowhere to be found.

Thinking back now to a few months ago, while I was facing a rather high EAQ with decidedly dry eyes, it feels as though I was trapped in a room filled with thick, gray smoke, and was forced to rely on a slight draft for ventilation, since I lacked the ability to open a window. My lungs are still recovering.

I’ve never felt like I’ve fought or denied my true feelings; I’ve never suppressed a cry for fear of letting someone get to me. My big bad secret is that a lot of people get to me. My emotional well is certainly not empty – it just often feels so far from flowing over. I’ve tried to piggy-back on to other cries for other reasons, to throw in a sob or two for him, that jerk, whoever he may be, but that seems to be the trick to turn off the waterworks. (I get frustrated when I can’t fool my subconscious.)

There’s little left to do but wait for the reservoir to fill, for the seas to surge. Perhaps I’ve yet to experience a lurve profound enough to warrant tears, or perhaps I need to keep working on forever lowering the rather substantial walls I’ve built around my vulnerable li’l heart.

Until then, maybe I’ll just take to chopping onions for catharsis.

 

x

On Relativity

1 October, 2010

3 days til 30

A man can’t know where he is on the earth except in relation to the moon or a star. Astronomy comes first; land maps follow because of it. Just the opposite of what you’d expect. If you think about it long enough, it will turn your brain inside-out. A here exists only in relation to a there, not the other way around. There’s this only because there’s that; if we don’t look up, we’ll never know what’s down. Think of it, boy. We find ourselves only by looking to what we’re not. You can’t put your feet on the ground until you’ve touched the sky.  (Moon Palace, Paul Auster)

I’ve spent the past week trying to figure out the appropriate angle for a blog entry about this past week; something in my signature-style of vague if underhanded life lesson that’s disguising some deeper inner turmoil.

In trying to deal with that turmoil, I’ve also spent the past week immersed in a book; perhaps not the most amazing book, but an engaging story with a fast-paced writing style that allows for complete distraction. For that, Paul Auster, I am eternally grateful.

So there’s all this stuff going on in my life right now, and I’ve chosen to include “turning 30” as part of that stuff, because it feels, for some reason, like something to tackle, something that, come Monday morning, I can check off. I have no trepidation about this milestone, I’m simply excited for the next chapter. Yet, in matters that have nothing to do with my age, the past seven days have been fraught with an anchorless emotional anxiety that’s brought many questions and yielded precious few answers (the only answer so far, in fact, has been: Yes, you will get through this).

When I came across the afore-quoted passage in the book, suddenly everything before me was brought into a sharper perspective. I could read each sentence a hundred times over and be equally touched by its accuracy and simplicity each time. My brain was, indeed, beginning to turn itself inside-out. And I found that while my emotional burden was hardly lifted, it was no longer isolated, it was in a context now that brought comfort, too.

Because if we continue the thinking that Mr. Auster began, wouldn’t it be true that there is only happiness because we’ve known sadness, and, inversely, only sadness because we’ve known happiness? As Joni said, “you don’t know what you got til it’s gone;” we only have people and things to miss because we’ve had people and things. Even Tennyson says so. From here, my brain continues: we can only grow from an experience if it’s been profound enough to mark us, profound enough for us to care. Which means that without experience, we do not grow, we do not change. We can own our scars because they are proof of our humanity, of our progression. And that is the most positive spin I could possibly hope to put on this week-of-shittiness, because it says, simply: It was all worth it.

In the larger picture, too, the quote is no less relevant. For as my 30th year rapidly approaches, I am trying (probably too hard) to take stock of who I am, where I am and what I want. These questions exist every day, of course, but on birthdays, I actually try to articulate answers for them. And what gets me about the book’s quote is that this Theory of Relativity (for that is what it is), applies not only to the world around me; Earth to Moon, here to there, but it applies to me to me. I am, now, relative to myself, then.  What Auster writes is true, it’s been the axiom for the past twenty years of my life: “We find ourselves only by looking to what we’re not.” “What we’re not” can certainly apply to how we define ourselves by reacting to others, but, as I’m only now truly starting to understand, it can also mean “what we are no longer.” We can define ourselves in the present by looking at who we were in the past. We are not only amalgamations of our experiences, but we are reshaped by them, parts of ourselves are discarded, or eaten away, or re-molded to reveal an entirely new form, one that bears resemblance to previous forms, but is wholly unique.

And, in looking at things this way, both my recent emotional hiccup and my larger “Who Am I?” issues are addressed: Experience must sometimes break us down so we can rebuild ourselves, strengthened for the next time. We remember what’s passed as emotional and functional: memories, already tinged with bittersweetness, are also lessons, sometimes cautionary tales, sometimes exemplary models. They become notes for our playbooks, what worked, what didn’t, and how to improve for next time. We can look back to last week, last month, ten years ago or twenty-seven years ago (which is about where my memory kicks in). We can even reinterpret previous interpretations of the past. When I was 20, I reacted to my teenage years very differently than I do now. I am shaped by those teenage years, but also by the shape of myself at 20. We are glorious monsters of pastiche.

Every day of the past informs the present. Because of that, we can walk confidently on the ground knowing that our fingers have grazed the sky. We have looked down, and thus can safely look upwards again, knowing what exists in both the depths and the heights of ourselves. We can heal ourselves; we know that the present hurts only because the past didn’t. We can look forward because we know what’s behind us. We are here because we have been there. We are now, because we have been then.

On Naïveté

13 September, 2010

21 days until 30


The older that I get, the more acutely I see that all of the pretenses that I believed made the world go ’round are really just illusions. This is closely linked to the realization that most people around me, no matter their age, gender, race, creed or status, are full of shit.

I don’t mean this rudely, or even negatively. We’re all full of it, putting out into the world the versions of ourselves that we feel most comfortable sharing with others. These alternate versions are part of us, but inherently could never really, truly be us.  Despite, or perhaps because of, this, we tend to drink in the personas that others are projecting. We use others as a barometer, to help us measure ourselves against the world and where we should be within it.

It seems that there are invisible status markers that exist like notches on some experiential growth chart, by which we try to qualify our own place in life. I remember a friend of mine, a few weeks before she turned 26, lamenting the fact that she thought she’d be married, owning a house in the suburbs, maybe with a kid on the way, with a good career, but one she’d be willing to leave for that family-track lifestyle, by the time she was 26. She had the career, but the rest was not exactly on the immediate horizon. I argued that she would be foolish to give up all of the positive things she had in her life at that point – besides the career, the friends, the studio apartment in New York, the social life, the complete freedom and independence, the very lifestyle of someone who only has to answer to herself – for a completely unknown future. Her only response was, “I know, but… I just thought…”

We all have notions of where we’ll be at what time, whether it’s in terms of career, location, relationships, possessions, or just a general sense of self. But at least in my circle, these presuppositions are rarely accurate. I can’t help but wonder: is that a bad thing?

It’s easy to say, when you’re in high school and turning 30 is a lifetime away, where you hope to be at any given point in your life. In fact, it was probably the easiest it will ever be, back then, to project where you’ll be and who you’ll be with at 20, 30, 40, 50… It’s easy because, simply, you don’t know anything. You have no sense of experience to imagine the colorful and misshapen stones that will be cast on your path as you go through life. And those stones are forever moving underfoot, forever changing who we are and how we interact with our experiences.

One of my dearest friends sent me a text message the other day, a long-distance SOS through the cloud between Paris and New York. She had just spent the night with a man, and, in not knowing exactly what she wanted out of it, now caused her to worry that it may have been what she didn’t want. Her message read: I feel like a child in matters of the heart, sex, causal or not.

It upset me to hear my friend distraught and doubting herself. She is a woman I look up to, a woman who’s advice I seek and heed, a woman who is so beautiful and talented that it often stymies me as to why she’s still single, but whose conviction to stay true to her heart is inspiring. It upset me because I feel like nearly all of my close friends have confessed to a similar confusion. Why, oh why, do we all feel we’re naïve in the ways of love? That question always leads directly to another: why do we let other people, and perhaps even more so our own expectations, make us feel this way?

I’m certainly as guilty of this as any of my friends, and perhaps just as much so as (if not more than) my poor, dear friend texting from Paris. I’ve always considered my lack of experience in the relationship realm to be my albatross, my secret to hide behind, to defend and classify my naiveté with. Is this legitimate? For years, I’d have argued yes. But in light of my “everyone is full of shit” realization, experience is healthy but hardly necessary. I know people with several relationships worth of experience under their belts whose advice means little to me, and friends who are perpetually single whose guidance is absolutely indispensable.

My milestone birthday is rapidly approaching, and I’m actually – finally? – enjoying a proper relationship, the kind that everyone else always seemed to have and that I could never seem to find my way into. And perhaps the most valuable thing that I’ve learned from it is that no matter what has or hasn’t come before means little when the relationship is live and real. It’s one day at a time, it’s every man and woman for themselves, while also being tea for two, two to tango, and a two-way street. I’ve spent hours soliciting advice and consultations from all shapes and sizes of friends, only to be increasingly convinced that what I do and what I know is reliant on me and only me.

But for years, with all my other false-starts and unrequited whatevers, I’ve let myself believe that I was only as worthwhile as the experience I had. And since that experience is not what I had always thought it should be, a healthy dose of inadequacy accompanied that feeling. Now I realize that it is imaginary ghosts and characters in movies that have inspired that inadequacy. At any given time, in any given relationship, you are the only one who knows what you want and where you want to be, whether it’s something you’ve ever experienced before or not.

It sounds like a healthy attitude, for sure, but it’s one that requires responsibility. On the one hand, it’s scary and strange to suddenly find myself with no meaningful excuses to hide behind, no one else to hold accountable. But on the other, it’s a liberating breath of fresh air to shed the expectations I thought were holding me back. It’s exciting and terrifying to have to answer only to myself and the relationship.

And so I realize that the only experience that’s valuable at this point in the game is that which I’ve just learned. I believe that in love, sex, relationships and partnerships, we are only as naive as we choose to feel; only held back by the expectations we’ve set for ourselves… most likely long ago, long before we knew where we’d be, who we’d be with, and what we’d want. Before we knew who we were. Before we became what we are now.

On Triumph

16 August, 2010

I have concrete proof that I have either beaten the Trifecta at its own game, or have managed to wind up in the kind of relationship where I am immune to its curse.

The tides have finally turned. Huzzah!

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On The Past

7 July, 2010

Call it a crush, a preoccupation, a notion, a flirt, a ‘that-guy’, an ‘I’m-not-quite-sure-what-he-is-to-me’ – it’s fun to have someone in mind, someone that you can allow yourself, every now and then, to stop and think of and smile to yourself, because you know they like you, and you think you like them, too.

So let’s say I got me one of them (yes, it HAS been a while). While I’m hardly filled with the fresh stirrings of unrivaled passion, I’m having fun, and that is always welcome, and, c’est vrai, overdue.

Just a few light weeks into it, I have started to indulge myself in the occasional split-second daydream, the kind that leaves me with a quick sigh and reassurance that someone likes me (in case this sounds trite to you, you are probably lucky enough to have that kind of confidence on a regular basis. I last enjoyed it in 2009).

Imagine my surprise – and utter confusion – when a stolen moment of recalling l’homme nouveau conjured up not his face – but instead the visage of an old, old friend from high school, someone I haven’t seen or heard from since 1998 (possibly 1997). Lordy, was my subconscious messing with my conscious! I stopped myself and carried on my day, but the next time a daydream got the best of me – I once again saw in my head the same face of the boy who liked me in 10th grade.

This old friend – we’ll call him George, which is not his name – has previously been mentioned in this blog, cited for being one of the parties who once-upon-a-time fought over my affection. We had a nice if strange friendship, at least preceding the drama. We had several classes together, and he would pass me notes declaring his deep, true feelings for me, and I would blush and remind him that he had a girlfriend. Unfortunately for him (and me?), I enjoyed his friendship only platonically, and will never forget the shared embarrassment we both felt later that summer when (newly single) he tried to put the moves on me. Still, he remains an integral part of my personal and emotional history – perhaps because he was, I believe, the first person to show that he desired me, maturely, sexually. Of course, 15 year-old me had no idea what to do with that, and waited until those sentiments came from his friend, the victor of their fight, to actually explore them. But when I stop and think about it – as I was forced to do earlier – I do remember the strange, new sense of flattery and confidence that I felt around him, and how that indicated a clear, tender and sweet transition away from innocence.

Still, George has all but disappeared from my life – every 3 years or so, I’ll look him up on the internet, but he seems to be untraceable, free from the confines of Social Networking webs and apparently not doing anything so noteworthy as to wind up in the news.  I don’t think he died (surely, that would be in the news).  Perhaps he changed his name.

His obscurity only aggravates my confusion as to why, when concentrating on conjuring up an image of the new guy in my life, I only see this relic from my past. Physically, I suppose they share the same wavy dark hair – but that’s about where the similarities end.  Upon closer consideration, though, they also share the same awkward approach to me, to whatever we maybe forging – but is my subconscious really so sophisticated as to pull that out from obscurity?  This seems more like the stuff that dreams are made of – surreal, symbolic and suggestive.  But to pop up in a daydream… that’s so overt!  So blatant!  So flummoxing!

I’ve spent a few days trying to figure this out, as it wasn’t until I saw the new guy earlier today that I was able to finally rid George’s face from my association.  I’ve decided that there are more contributing factors to these crossed signals than I had originally thought – all minor, all subtle, but all undeniable.  It’s in the posture, the clumsy confidence that is bolder than it seems, the way they look at me, with eyes that have a lot to say but refuse to utter a word,  small mannerisms, the steady trot, and–perhaps more than anything else–the way they each wanted me, a sweet awkwardness.

All that being said, what surprises me most today is not that my brain drew a connection between these two gentlemen–it’s that it did so even though I have changed so much in these 12, 13 years.  George will always remained fixed in my memory as a 16 year old boy, and I exist in that memory as a 16 year old me, too.  I’d like to think that I have outgrown much of my own maladroit cluelessness and naivete since then, and it’s troublesome to have to wonder if my subconscious hasn’t yet noticed that change.

Having seen the new beau, I think I can more safely keep the two entities separate – one as a memory, the other as a reality.  There is is now an invisible thread endearing the two together, though, and I’ve come to appreciate the way the past has, oddly enough, sweetened the present.

On: Target

29 June, 2010

My office is on a prime block in Chelsea, just around the corner from the City’s first – and now positively humbled – Whole Foods. As such, the sidewalks below are often dotted with eager young folks, each sporting a colorful t-shirt bearing the name of some universally sympathetic charity (saving animals, feeding children, restoring the planet, and the like), preying on those city dwellers who clearly embrace some notion of Bleeding-Heart-ism, as evident by their willingness to pay for overpriced organic groceries. Thus, my daily jaunts in and out of the office – on my way in, lunch break, Diet Coke break, on my way home – are marked by a game of Sidewalk Chicken, where not only must I avoid the chatty, smiling good-doers-for-an-hourly-wage-+commission, but I also must dodge my fellow pedestrians, engaged in the same game.

Last week, I noticed that among the young men and women making a difference with their name-tags and clipboards, there stood a positively adorable gentleman, with longish, wavy brown hair, a chiclet white smile, something of an Abercrombie-model physique, and – well – he was simply very attractive.

Must deny impulse to take a second glance, or – horrors! – to smile, lest I be sucked in to his charitable scheme.

As I rode the elevator up to my office a few minutes later, I contemplated the blog I would write about my clear conflict: how to resist this most wonderful specimen for the sake and preservation of my practically non-existant wallet? (I should clarify that my policies on charity are:  a) I will give to the charities I choose to, on my own time, and b) I will give to those charities once I no longer have to work 2 jobs to make ends meet.)  As I became wrapped up in the variety of work-related and non-work related tasks on my plate, the would-be blog entry fell to the wayside.

Over the next few days, however, in my comings and goings, I kept an eye out not just for any colorful t-shirt and clipboard, but for the one attached to the hottie volunteer.  Of course, I had every intention on ignoring him the way I ignore all of them, but just seeing him, I thought, might make my day a little brighter.

Last night, I left my office in the usual rush in order to make it to class at 6:00pm (hooray for a cross-town bus!  boo for it’s reliability!)  As I walked, I kept my sunglasses (otherwise known as Invisibility Specs) firmly planted on my face, looked burdened by my many heavy bags (not really an act), and ramped up my general hustle to prove that I was short on time.  The sidewalk along Seventh Avenue was surprisingly scarce for an early evening, and so I saw him from down the block – this time, wearing a navy blue t-shirt, khaki cargo shorts, I’m sure a leather and/or hemp bracelet and/or necklace, with a leucite clipboard wedged into his left fist.  A broad smile spread across his face; he crouched down a bit and began a funny little dance (which would have looked plumb ridiculous had anyone else done it; but when he did, it seemed charming and cute).  Surely, there was someone walking behind me who had engaged him.  I kept my abstractly-bemused-decidedly-non-curmudgeon smile in place and waited for him to address Phantom Pedestrian Behind Me.

But he didn’t.  His smile – an orthodontist’s wet dream – was for me.

I think I blushed.

He turned to follow my path and jovially asked “Hey, do you have a minute for …?”

I had to cut him off. “I’m sorry, I’m running late for class.”  I smiled widely, but kept walking, to prove my point.

He reached his arm out, towards my shoulder, then pulled me closer to him…

…to keep me from walking into the woman in a motorized wheelchair who was exiting Whole Foods.

Whoops.

“What class?” he asked, as he lifted his hand, going in for a low-five.

I smiled to overcome being so flustered at the near-wheelchair-toppling and held out my palm.  “Typography,” I replied.

He brought his hand down.  Low-five, indeed.

“A graphic designer!” he exclaimed, as he squeezed my hand.

“Trying to be.”  Another attempt to widen my smile.

My turn to squeeze his hand.  “Next time,” I said.

“Next time,” he repeated, as we let go.  “You promise?”

“I promise.”

I glanced over my shoulder; saw my path was free from motorized wheelchairs and the like, and threw one more smile over my shoulder towards him as I skipped down the block.  I held the smile, in case he could somehow see, in case he called me back, as I breezed down to 23rd Street.  My cheeks felt hot, but I blamed the summer sun.

…   …   …   …   …   …

Now, of course, I am still faced with a dilemma:  I have promised to engage, rather than politely (or impolitely) ignore him the next time I pass.   But I still have no interest in donating money to whatever cause he may be hawking that day. What to do?  What if one of his Volunteer Colleagues approaches me before he has a chance?  Can I still wear my No-Charity-On-The-Street scowl for his peers?

I won’t avoid him, won’t blow him off next time.   I feel, if nothing else, I owe him for helping me avoid tripping over the old and infirm woman in the wheelchair.  I’ll give him a minute of my time, but not a dime of my money.   Which is more valuable to him in the end?, I pose to you.  Even if I just get a few minutes alone with that smile, I’d consider it charity for me.

Besides, I could get a hell of a movie deal out of it if he asks for a date.

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