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

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

For a few years now, when romance manages to find its way to me through the muck and mire of my maligned stars, it always seems to happen in the late fall (with very few exceptions). Romance, of course, is a pretty broad term, and could be further expanded to denote “any happening which results in me having a story about a guy.” But we’ll go with it, and perhaps consider revising the use of the word “guy” there…

November 2010 has fallen right in line with the past few years, bringing with it something that could turn out to be a relationfling and/or relationthing and is certainly a much-needed distraction. But the planets must be aligning in amorous trajectories; take a look at the romantic opportunities that have come my way!

Exhibit #1:  “A Very Nice Man Of Love”

Yesterday, I received this email in my junk mail folder. How dare you, Spam Filter, censor this message and endeavor to deprive me of “true love Matter’s A Lot.”??

How Are you today? And How About your Health? I Hope you Are fine
Well, My Name Is Miss Lizy Weah, I am looking for A Very Nice Man Of Love,
Caring, Honest, Matured, Understanding, And Of Good Character, then
After Going to your Profile on google. I Pick Interest In you, So I Will Like
you to Write Me On My E-mail Address ( lizyweah@hotmail.com )
for Me to tell you More About My Self, And As Well Give you My Pictures
Because Am really Looking for A Serious Relationship With you.Remember
that Age,Distance,Color,language,or Religion Doesn’t Matter,but true
love Matter’s A Lot .My Address Is ( lizyweah@hotmail.com ).
Thanks
Yours New Friend
Lizy.

Oh, my. Where to start? The grammar alone has provided a few hours’ worth of entertainment for a geek like me, as capitalization issues haven’t seen this much action since e.e. cummings unknowingly created beat-twee (a new coinage by yours truly. I think it could have some staying power… thoughts?). Then, of course, there’s the content itself: the random and blatant plea for love. She Pick Interest In me, based on the falsity that public profiles as such even exist on Google. What strikes me is the fact that unlike so many other messages that wind up in the junk mail folder, Lizy here hasn’t bothered to ask for money (not outright, anyway), nor is she pushing illegal pharmaceutical knock-offs. She just wants A Serious Relationship With me. There’s a commercial on the air lately that says that 1 in 5 relationships these days begin online. Perhaps if Lizy is flexible enough (and it seems she just might be) to include “gender” to her list of things that Don’t Matter, she can become more than just Mines New Friend. (Internet protocol might dictate that I should have deleted her email address from my copying-and-pasting of her message, but, let’s face it, spam is spam and love is cruel that way.)

Exhibit #2: But what percentage of relationships start on the subway?

After a laaaaaaaaate night last night with some new old friends who seemingly have bionic livers, I boarded the subway this morning rather bleary-eyed for my weekly head-shrinking session. The fastest way to the Upper West Side office is to hop 3 different trains (fastest, of course, only if they come in rapid succession, which maybe happens half the time). Having begun on the F local, I took the A express and transferred again to the C local for the last 3 stops of the journey. I took an end seat on the old hard plastic gray bench of the C train, next to a portly black woman, probably around 40 years old, very neatly dressed in a black wool coat and a scarf that had something sparkly on it. Being hungover and significantly sleep-deprived, I noted this, but needed to concentrate my attention on my iPhone sudoku game, in which I was embarrassing myself by needing an extra 4 minutes from my usual time to complete the puzzle. Ubiquitous little white earbuds fed soothing indie pop into my head and also functioned as anti-social attention-blockers.

“Excuse me,” the woman with the sparkly scarf said.

I turned to look at her, and considered removing my MTA-issued scowl the way some people might remove a hat upon walking inside. (I think I decided against it.) Still, I made eye contact as a response to her request for attention.

“Would you like to exchange phone numbers?” she quietly and rather politely inquired.

Confused, I immediately gave her the benefit of the doubt that the music I was listening to had obstructed what she had really said. I tried to run through a few alternates of what she could have spoken, but all I could come up with was “Maybe she said, ‘Do  you want to exchange phones?’ because she sees mine and it clearly has a fun sudoku game on it.” But I wanted to exchange phones even less than I wanted to exchange phone numbers.

So I shook my head “no.”

She gave a slight nod, then said “OK.”

She turned her gaze to straight ahead, and I returned to the game I was losing to myself.

Was she, like Lizy, simply looking for Love wherever she might find it? Could she have had any other motivation in asking for my phone number? Is it that she simply wanted a new friend to play sudoku with? Is there a vacancy for puffy-eyed, scowl-wearing brunettes in her life that she’s trying to fill? Does my very aura seem so interesting and attractive that she simply needed to see me again? Was she conducting a social experiment, and I’m going to read about my response in “New York” Magazine next month? Did she like the way I smelled? (Thank you, cloak of body spray, for obscuring last night’s debauchery.) Should I have exchanged numbers just because that was the most random thing that might happen to me for a while? (Last time I embraced something because it was entirely random, I wound up on a nationally syndicated TV talkshow. No, irony of that happening to this blogger is not lost.) Should I have agreed to it because now I’ll never know what she really wanted with me? I hope I didn’t just throw away the winning lottery ticket.

Exhibit #3: A low-key 1st-and-a-half date in which, thankfully, no declarations of love were made.

I wonder if I should tell this new-guy-of-note that he is facing major competition for my affection, but the fact that he at least belongs to the gender that I am attracted to is situating as the forerunner of this race. Last night, we sat through a ridiculously bad-but-free movie that was filled with unnecessary nudity and sex scenes – plenty awkward for a 1st-and-a-half date, as you can’t help but wonder if you’ll ever know that kind of intimacy with the fellow sitting next to you, and what it might be like. Still, it was nice that we thought the same snarky and cynical thoughts about the action on screen, freely commenting on them to each other, and whispering “Me too!” throughout the film. Sarcasm is often the best riposte to sexiness.

To protect against second-rate piracy of the second-rate film, the people who organized the screening held everyone’s cell phone for the movie, which was rather totalitarian and useless, seeing as how lame the movie was (there’s nothing one could get from the two-hour movie that they couldn’t have gotten from watching the two-minute trailer). But the cell phone requisition made meeting up with my date in the crowded theater a bit of a to-do, as I sent no less than four text messages instructing him on how to find me, then revising that plan, then revising the revision, then changing the plan altogether. That was before I realized I could hand over my cell phone, get seats and then just wait for him in the lobby – we ultimately met up without a hitch.

The highlight of the movie-going experience was when someone in the audience shouted “Get her a doctor!” We thought that she had somehow managed to get really into the movie, and was shouting to the apathetic characters on screen – but it quickly became apparent that there was someone in the audience who required urgent medical attention. A theater full of would-be do-gooder New Yorkers, myself and my date included, jumped to their feet and reached into their purses and pockets… but since everyone’s cell phone had been confiscated, no one was able to call for help.

Cell phones: They’re not just for sub-par film piracy anymore.

They’re for receiving email love propositions, exchanging phone numbers with random women on the subway, and, yes, legitimate and necessary communication – such as making calls to 911.  Cell phones now seem as integral to my love life as the falling leaves and imminent winter.

x

Where anecdotes go to die

6 October, 2010

Now there’s a wall between us; something there’s been lost
I took too much for granted; got my signals crossed
Just to think that it all began on an uneventful morn:
“Come in,” she said,
“I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

Not that I needed to, but I was able to close out my 20s with a final cross-off the Life Experience List: that silly thing called a “real relationship,” start to finish. At this rate, I’m due for a 6-month relationship which will end right before I turn 60.

Now, not supposing that my experience has been anything typical (for if it was, I’m quitting this dating game right now), but I can certainly appreciate the path of getting-over-it that must be fairly common. There’s frustration and confusion (if you’re me, anyhow), there’s being upset, there’s being angry, there’s being utterly exhausted from being upset and angry. And then, with some mental and emotional stretching and coaxing, there’s a deep breath of air and you look around and realize that you’ve returned to something that resembles normalcy—wherein “normalcy” is whatever your life was like before the other person was a part of it.

But then you’re faced with the challenge of functioning like that “normal” person again—a challenging task no matter what, made worse when suddenly, strange, pesky moments of memory drift into your consciousness, like a subtle but unmistakably familiar aroma, reminders of everything that was, and everything that you must move on from.

That’s a sad part about the end of the relationship.

Once you get past the icky feelings, once you learn that you can swallow the hurt enough to move on, there’s a lingering bittersweetness, that in the right light can seem almost wistful. And for a glorious nanosecond, the warm fuzzies of the relationship return, as you hear a certain song, pass a spot of a memorable date, or remember a ridiculous inside joke. That’s the fleeting sweetness; because in the next moment, the bitter sweeps in with something like the sharp pinch of a mosquito bite. It’s acute, targeted, and even though you know the mosquito’s gone, you know its effects are not.

So now you have a host of these itchy little ‘bites,’ not quite memories, but not quite disposable. They’re things that made the relationship unique and intimate, made you smile throughout the day and your time apart. They’ve become tiny moments that are unavoidable. (If we used to laugh at a certain phrase that my boss used, who do I laugh with the next time he says it?) Sometimes, they’re moments that we need to address, for ourselves, to force our way through them enough times that we become desensitized to their sentimentality. (There are too many songs on the relationship playlist for me to start associating them all with that wonky break-up… And so I refuse to stop listening, no matter how many times we may have fallen asleep to them.) (Songs are really tough; the soundtrack to a good time can easily become the soundtrack to a maudlin montage of memories that beckons forth a depressed nostalgia.)

I’ve never been one for any kind of ultimate finality—for as much as I am a fan of cleansing, the thought of burning items associated with someone else makes me sad. (This is probably why I still have a small shopping bag filled with candy and tea that I had intended to give to Mr. Is-No-More sitting by my front door… Truth is, when I really need to get rid of someone or something, I much prefer to bury over burn.) But these anecdotal moments that have me caught up lately are intangible and powerful; they’re in the air, vapors that are immune to permanent destruction. Yet once they work their way inside, they coalesce and conjure up very real memories, which then play out in my mind like a collage of romantic comedies, poignant and affecting, misty watercolored memories that are easier to indulge in than to fight.

But like most drugs, the indulgent high is followed by an empty low. For, really, all of these little moments wind up meaning precious little. No matter how bitter or sweet, they lead you to the same place: that’s all over, and you’re alone.

And I’ve begun to think that that’s why there’s something that feels good about clinging to these moments when they appear. In some cyclical equation that I’m trying to wrap my head around, these hints of memories of the relationship are the best distraction from the relationship itself. It’s not living in the past; it’s just learning how to not be tormented by it. It’s like that mosquito bite that appears in late autumn—it may not be pleasant, but the thought of summertime is sweet. It’s still jarring when a new little ‘bite’ pops up, like when I heard an old favorite song on the radio the other day, and remembered serenading him with it in the back of a cab while confusing all the lyrics. The memory began to make me sad, but I’m learning how to handle it. I smile. I sigh. I remember. I miss what was.

I move on.

x

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.

FearOfSyndication gets all democratic with it’s first poll!

Vote now – responses, of course, will be incorporated into a new post later this week (and please, please, feel free to add your own responses).

*

Wherein I question my own indulgence of my guilty conscience.

In light of recent events that have more to do with proving other people wrong (my parents, no less) than actually garnering up some cojones and embracing my bold femininity, I’ve found myself rather aggressively (for me, anyway… baby-steps) pursuing romantic leads.   Of course, I’m well aware of the fact that success in proving-wrong will also result in success in my love life, and so it’s not exactly a chore.  But it certainly ain’t easy.

Two recent instances of pursuit created some internal conflict, because my desire to be daring and devastating (I am not opposed to the adjective “saucy”) was met with doubt regarding my approach, all because of some ill-defined notions of formalities and etiquette.

In one case, I met a feller in my professional realm.  I felt the spark of a crush nearly the moment I saw him, and 15 minutes later, had convinced myself we were meant to be together.  The fact that he lives in another country (albeit one I consider my second home, bonus!) and was leaving town the next day I considered to be only temporary hurdles, easily overcome by the power of our yet-to-be-discovered love.  Since we work in the same industry, and I opted to approach him as such.  I donned my proverbial Producer’s Hat and set out to “exploit my professional prowess.”  My initial congratulations and adulation towards his work was genuine, but … I did not jump through hoops to reach him just to talk about movies.  I wanted to talk about the adorable children we might have one day (yes, the crush hit me hard).

Thus far, my “exploitation” has been a relative-success, because I’ve managed not only to get in touch with him, but a handful of emails have exchanged with little time lost in between.  When it is my turn to write, however, I become completely caught up in the formality of the “professional” email.  How do I go from “I really enjoyed the complexity of your film” to “I think we’d make beautiful music together”? Or, from “tell me about the projects you’re working on” to “tell me about what you’re looking for in a relationship”?  I live in fear of the day there’s really nothing else for me to write other than “I like you.  I think you’re real cute.  Are you keen on a, erm, long-distance producing partner?”

Is there any way to naturally segue from the formal, professional email to the friendly and flirtatious?  How do I move from the kind of email that’s signed “Best regards” to kind that’s SWAKed?  Is there a way to do it without compromising myself, professionally?  Or, upon giving myself away as a crush-monger, must I abandon all sense of professionalism and risk losing the connection all together?

I hate risking losing the connection altogether, she whined.  Alas – sigh – such is boldness.

Not one to limit myself to just one possibility (for “when it drizzles, it sometimes rains” – the my-life equivalent to the popular rain/pour idiom), I decided last week to approach a new flirty friend with whom I get along really well (and who is almost obnoxiously good-looking) for a number exchange.  My decision do to so alone prompted much support from my friends, most of whom know me best as being shy to a frustrating and fruitless fault.

Once at the bar where, indeed, my hottie was also spending his evening, I proceeded to fortify myself with a few doses of liquid courage while reading into each and every interaction with him.  I was feeling positive about it, too, and decided to get an outsider’s take on things to test my confidence – a newly befriended fellow bar patron, who knew the object of my interest seemed like the perfect source.  “So listen,” I began to him.  “I’m kinda keen on that guy.  I think he’s been flirting with me.  I was going to ask him for his number.  Have you noticed any… vibes?”  My new friend shook his head, almost sadly.  “He has a girlfriend,” he leaked.

“Oh.  Poo,” I replied.  That put a kink in my plans.

I assumed, right then, that I’d take the route I normally do when disappointed about guys – sulk home and drown my sorrows in low-fat crackers and copious amounts of cheese.  (How two delicious things like cheese & crackers became my romantically un-satisfied go-to snack is somewhat beyond me.  It makes me a little sad.)  This night, however, I chose not to get bogged down in what I’d normally do, and in a very, very un-me-like moment, I approached my crush.  I told him of my plan to ask him for his number, and then of my newly-gleaned intel that he was taken.  “Is it true?” I ventured to ask.  He admitted this with a slow nod.  “That’s a shame,” I said.  “For me.”

The next day, I wondered if it was inappropriate for me to put that out there to him – after all, for as much as I’ve previously been a party to infidelity (although never knowingly), I feel like it’s not my place to actively entice you out of your relationship.  (If you just so happen to be enticed, well, then, that’s another story.)  I’m still not sure if that’s even what I did.  I let him know I was interested.  That’s a positive thing for me.  He let me know that he was off the market… a positive thing for him, I suppose.  Yet every now and then, a pang of guilty-conscience surfaces, as though I’d violated some single person –> not single person protocol.  I ease my concerns by harping on the enormous feat I felt I overcame by being honest with him.  There was, actually, a sense of maturity to our little moment, accompanied by a kind of mild intimacy.  It felt good… but would have felt better if I’d actually gotten his number.  As it was, he commented on how well we got along, how nice our conversations always are, and that we pretty much know where to find each other.  I leave the idea of “So should he ever find himself single…” purposefully unfinished in my head.

The way I see it, in addition to the attempt to prove my parents wrong about the activity of my romantic life, these experiences are part of the uphill battle of learning how to know who I am exactly, and know what it means to challenge myself.  Is it worth it to adhere to formalities for the sake of comfort, but not productivity?  If so, why don’t we just reintroduce bows and curtsies?  Can abiding by those formalities ever eliminate this creeping self-doubt that wafts in to your psyche and plants itself somewhere between your head and your heart – or would it only aggravate it?

Maybe it’s just like waiting on your bike for the light to turn green before making that left on to a traffic-less street.  It may be the right thing to do – but perhaps it’s just delaying getting you from point A to point B.

Fight Test

25 March, 2010

The Test Begins…. NOW.
I thought I was smart, I thought I was right, I thought it better not to fight…

It’s as though the Flaming Lips were writing of the Modern Woman when good ol’ Mr. Coyne sang that he thought there was a virtue to always being cool.

See, in the course of the day-to-day, my interactions and involvement with events, people, and happenings fall into one of three categories:
1) I Care
2) I Don’t care
3) I Care, but don’t want to seem like I do.

Category #3 is reserved for a very specific kind of happenstance, such as getting really angry at Kyle MacLachlan when he took the last of the soup I wanted at Whole Foods, or when the one-legged bum who hangs out at the Carroll Street subway station told me that he likes my hat, and that actually made me smile for a while.

#3 is also often linked to my Independent Single Woman Sense of Magical Aloofness. Movies like the god-awful “Blah Blah Blah Not That Into You” make my skin crawl because of their depictions of single ladies as these clingy, desperate, parasitic creatures who actually seem to thrive off of repelling men by their oppressive neediness. This phenomena is not only reserved for the movies (unfortunately), as I’ve known many women who have sabotaged their potential relationships because it’s Too Much, All The Time.

Like so many other instances in my life, I’ve tried to look upon these leeches as a way to define myself by defining what I’m not. Do guys get under my skin sometimes? Of course. Have I had relation-flings so potent that I’ll never forget them? Indeedy-do. But somewhere in the Games of Dating & Courtship (which I hate so very much), I find myself subscribing to the “Never Let ‘Em See You Cry” tactic of maintaining a cooler-than-cool outward attitude towards dissolved relationships. This isn’t always a challenge; there are plenty of times where the distinct lack of feelings both facilitates the dissolution as well as rids the person and his story from my mind.

For to lose, I could accept, but to surrender, I just wept and regretted this moment…

Still, there are times, few as they may be, where just letting things slide begins to feel not slyly smug, but instead slightly stupid. Moments like these, tormented by a sort of self-betrayal, I question the rules that I’ve imposed on myself, those of letting sleeping dogs lie, not opening old wounds, and equating keeping my mouth shut with a Last-Word-Dignity. Then a nagging righteousness creeps in, and the desire to address the emotional injustice I’ve managed to aggravate with my just-move-on attitude. But the chasm between Aloof and Offended can be deep, and breaching it is no small task.

First, there’s the Hamlet-esque decision to take action – which itself is often wrought with the dissonance of the fact that it goes against my Standard Operating Procedure. Once that decision to do something has finally been made, an even larger problem looms ahead: what to do. This has always proven to be enormously frustrating because the most obvious and satisfying action to take usually seems to be shouting “WHY DID YOU F*@K THAT UP?!?!?,” followed by something of a mumbled “…don’t you know how awesome I am?” Since more often than not, getting all uppity in someone’s face is not a viable approach, this is the part where most well-intentioned plans die, and eventually, my sense of indignation does too.

Oh, to fight is to defend, if it’s not now then, tell me when.

But every once in a while, a practical-seeming idea pops up, and, after sleeping on it for a few nights, still remains. In a terrible mess of self-doubt, I construct an impossibly intricate flow-chart (sometimes in my head, sometimes on my trusty dry-erase board) of possible approaches, outcomes, reactions, consequences and eventual regrets. Should the “Bad Idea” sign still miraculously remain dark, then the real fear arises: the fear of actually doing something.

Fast-forward through consultations with trusted friends and mild agonizing still over if it is the right thing to do. The idea grows and turns in my head, taunting me as I lay awake each passing night. I am an expert procrastinator (just ask my snooze button) and can put off things I don’t want to deal with for an impressively long time.

And there are things you can’t avoid, you have to face them, when you’re not prepared to face them.

Inevitably, I’ll get annoyed at myself for being so damn ceremonial about everything. I’ll be looking at the words I want to say – a letter, or an email, or the script for a phone call I’m willing myself to make. The words stare back at me, challenging me to exercise them, to execute them. And then, I just do it. Letter in the mail, ‘sent’ button pressed, telephone dialed – and there it is. Out there in the universe, out of my hands. Done.

And suddenly – I find the angst is gone. I’ve done my part. I’ve stood up for myself and communicated. I did the right thing. Invariably, the recipient of my brand of righteousness has become the furthest thing from my mind, as I’ve become so preoccupied with the process of deciding and preparing, and the anxiety of what I’m doing, that the anger, or frustration, or disappointment – or whatever drove me to this in the first place – has become utterly muted.

Theoretically, this should mean that with every confrontation, I grow to be more bold, more confident. And maybe one day, it will. For now, though, my strong sense of pride, and awkward sense of empathy towards others – even those who’ve done wrong by me – will continue to do battle every time something is seemingly over without my consent. I will still cling to the airs of Cool, Calm, Collected as often as I can. But when time fails to prove you the fool, well, then, I suppose that’s where I must come in.

I don’t know where the sunbeams end and where the starlight begins… It’s all a mystery.
The Test Is Over.

More The Flaming Lips music on iLike

A somewhat defeatist cafe patron who often recounts to me his tales of woe as a 40 year old man trying to navigate the dicey waters of New York City dating recently mentioned the New York Times Book Review of “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough,” by Lori Gottlieb. Together, he and I cringed at the review’s listing of the author’s impossible standards as she endeavored to find “The One,” the perfect man, the one with whom she would fall hopelessly and devastatingly in love the moment they met. Ms. Gottlieb, on her quest for lasting love and happiness, wanted someone who was “creative but not an artist,” someone “talented but humble,” someone not too short (must be taller than 5’10”) but not too tall (must be shorter than 6’0″). According to the review (I haven’t read the book, and most likely won’t), the book recounts the plight of many a picky urban, single woman and then encourages them/us to do what I would call “expand your horizons” and what the book calls “settle.” Lower your standards, the book seems to tout, without offering even the courtesy to shroud that idea in euphemisms like “deviate from your checklist.” You may not find Mr. Perfect, but maybe you’ll find his second-cousin, Mr. Convenient and Willing. Because, let’s face it, you’re not getting any younger. In an article Ms. Gottlieb wrote for The Atlantic in March 2008 (setting the stage for this book), she poses what she believes is “… one of the most complicated, painful, and pervasive dilemmas many single women are forced to grapple with nowadays: Is it better to be alone, or to settle?”

I’m sure you’re all answering this question for yourselves right now. And I doubt that your response matches that of Ms. Gottlieb: “My advice is this: Settle! That’s right. Don’t worry about passion or intense connection. Don’t nix a guy based on his annoying habit of yelling “Bravo!” in movie theaters. Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go. Based on my observations, in fact, settling will probably make you happier in the long run, since many of those who marry with great expectations become more disillusioned with each passing year.”

As the four or five loyal readers of this blog may have already guessed, this argument and book nauseate me. On the one hand, it offends the romantic in me, on the other, it offends the pragmatist in me. How can women ever expect to find any sort of happiness or love when their attitude towards their mate begins as – and remains – settling? How damaging to your own self-esteem! How hugely unfair to the man for whom you’ve settled! What a waste of time, effort, affection and emotion! And how is marrying based on “great expectations” suddenly the best-case scenario?

Is it better to swap the lament of the Single Woman for the boredom of the Settled Woman? The book seems to argue “Absolutely yes!” whereas I reply with a resounding “HELL, NO!”

Perhaps anticipating reactions like mine, the Times’ review closes by offering that Gottlieb didn’t “lower” her standards – she changed them. That, readers, is a load of bullcrap. When you’ve lived with your list, your standards for as long as Ms. Gottlieb did, use whatever nomenclature you’d like, but the very nature of “settling” automatically implies that standards have been lowered, that you’ve opted to no longer pursue your ideal, that you’ve essentially given up on the things you wanted. Even when those things are ludicrous and pretentious, at least they’re yours. And – it’s clear from the demographic of the subjects in the book, as well as Ms. Gottlieb herself – the standards are not being ‘changed’ so that empty-handed painters are now in the running as potential mates; they’re being ‘changed’ so that the 5’6″ investment banker now has a chance whereas previously he’d have been written off as too short. And this is all predicated on the notion that settling has precious little to do with love – it’s only about marriage, the holy matrimony of social rank and shared benefits. In her piece in “The Atlantic Monthly,” Ms. Gottlieb lists marriage as the end-goal, the place we all strive to get to, the status that we all want, that defines us and will make us happy. Gottlieb tries to cleverly reveal the fact that she believes most single women know, deep-down, but deny: that we’re closing ourselves in by being too demanding of what we want out of partnership, and that this finickiness is mostly an excuse to ourselves for why we’re not married yet.

I reject that completely.

My inner-romantic (certainly my more substantial side) hates what this book preaches because, frankly, I feel I can easily debunk it as malarkey: I know that I am an incredibly picky woman, yet my list of “musts” has little to do with height, profession or astronomical sign. In fact, my checklist consists of exactly two things, my Two Cs:
• chemistry
• compatibility

That’s all.

I’ve engaged with men whom I haven’t felt the slightest presence of either of those two elements, and it wasn’t hard to let those embryonic relationships fizzle away to nothing. I’ve met several people with whom I’ve felt a strong pull of compatibility, which wakes me, helps remind me how it feels to be alive. (I’m not so nearsighted as to claim that I’m willing to give-it-shot with anyone, for the sake of seeing what develops. I’m well aware that part of the compatibility I’m seeking most likely entails some kind of like-mindedness in demographic or lifestyle, but I’ve seen that there’s leeway for a healthy amount of diversity there, as well.) As for chemistry, in my experience, it has never existed on its own; the very presence of chemistry indicates a huge potential for compatibility. I know it’s not always that way, but I’ve been lucky enough, I suppose to have met a few men – two? three? – with whom I feel the real magnetism of both compatibility and chemistry. These experiences have given me faith that it’s absolutely worth it to wait for the person who meets both ‘requirements’ on my ‘checklist.’ And I refuse to accept that my long-lived singleness is due to ‘impossibly’ high standards; nor do I accept that for my own happiness, it’d ever be worth it to change them.

I say this because there have been a few people with whom there really was/is a profound compatibility, and a strong potential in wait for what (could have) lay in store for a future relationship. We were both aware of it, the undeniable attraction that made our encounters fun, exciting and invigorating. A few times (more so recently, I hate to admit – perhaps because it feels like I’m ceding something to the aforementioned book), I’ve really tried to convince myself that it’s possible for a great compatibility to blossom into chemistry. But, as I’ve been reminded each time, no amount of wishing or hoping can create what’s not there. Attraction grows, compatibility intensifies, the ‘fit’ of two people becomes increasingly comfortable – but trying to generate chemistry is like trying to make a dollar out of ninety-nine cents.

Still, all that trying feels worth it, sometimes, because that chemistry that I hope we do all strive for produces an indescribable high, so good and warm it cannot be rivaled. The last time I felt it, a single kiss made my heartbeat radiate from head to toe, as the room spun around us and I was aware of everything and nothing all at once. What bliss – I can only imagine – to have access to such intensity every day! Why would any one want to lower their standards to deviate from that ideal?

Beginning with my first real relation-whatever-you-want-to-call it, I started getting more specific in what I wanted (the phrase “rock star” popped up on my list at the tender age of 20). Some years passed and I got what I thought I wanted. It took almost no time to see that the relationship was thoroughly dysfunctional and my rock star bore the emotional maturity of a 14 year old. I amended my list. A little while later, I thought I’d serve myself well by articulating the things that I most certainly didn’t want (based on experiences ranging from not-so-good to downright very bad). I narrowed down these “off limits” to actors and bartenders. A few years later, that came back to bite me in the ass like a bad joke, more than once in the form of an actor/bartender (inevitable in New York City; I was only fooling myself). But their stories, while hardly great romances, weren’t anything like the ones that had prompted my “off limits” list, and so, again, the list was revised. It’s now returned its original form: the Two Cs.

Frankly, I’ve invested too much time in holding fast to my ideals to abandon them. To settle, as Ms. Gottlieb is encouraging me to do, would cheapen and discredit the self-discovery and self-realization that I’ve lived through during my very single 20s. Given that, you can understand my rage at Gottlieb’s sentiment that the woes of being single in your late 30s & 40s can be avoided by settling earlier, rather than later. Wretched middle-aged dating, she argues “…supports my argument to do it young, when settling involves constructing a family environment with a perfectly acceptable man who may not trip your romantic trigger—as opposed to doing it older, when settling involves selling your very soul in exchange for damaged goods.”

Good lord. How could anyone take her case seriously when she essentially warns that if you don’t settle “early” (thus ruling out the slightest potential for a greater connection, but increasing regret exponentially), you’re signing yourself up for, at best, a half-assed matching of weary baggage? I feel that she’s actually made a rather strong case for staying single – when the alternative entails trading your battered emotional soul for someone else’s equally miserable company. And while I’m not against marriage, I certainly hope that I’ll never jump into it (with someone I’ve ‘settled’ for, no less) just because it seems like the time to do so.

In the “Atlantic Monthly” article as well as the Times’ book review, there is acknowledgment that settling can seem like a rejection of the feminist values that so many before us fought for: the freedom to choose fulfillment from work and other pursuits as opposed to just motherhood. Gottlieb claims that her stance is aligned with the new post-modern feminist, that it is an active choice to select who we want to ‘settle’ with. After choking on a “WTF?!,” I must point out that there is still this huge assumption that marriage is not a choice, but rather an imperative, or worse, an absolute. Gottlieb argues that marriage is the definite, but the spouse does not have to be; that for those of us who are single past our early 20s, marriage is the necessity, love is the luxury. This notion makes me throw up in my mouth a bit. Marriage is a luxury that the government provides to certain pairs of people who file for it; last I checked, love didn’t require paperwork. How did our ideals get so utterly and horrifically confused?

I’m sure someone could argue that my two “requirements” are too broad, that they’re impossible to ever have to renege on because they’re too vague and abstract. I don’t mind saying that when it comes to compatibility and chemistry, either on their own or together, I know it when I see it, and that’s good enough for me. These two things are so personal, so unique that finding the person who meets both requisites is just as rare as, say, finding that 5’11” creative, talented, humble, financially comfortable and emotionally stable professional who lives within a four-subway-stop radius and/or a $10 cab ride.

To that end, I’ve got some advice for Ms. Gottlieb’s readers, the women whom, I’m guessing, endeavor to have their romantic lives mimic “Sex and The City” and then wind up unhappy with the real-life results. Reject settling. And don’t “lower” your standards so as to simply broaden the pool of potentials you’re willing to consider, as the book seems to advocate.

Instead, overhaul your standards completely: trash the notion that Mr. Right lives in a certain zip code and rakes in a certain salary each year. Do away with the limitations of height and shoe size. Starting with a fresh piece of paper, create your list to reflect how your Mr. Right should make you feel. We can acknowledge together that this list may change as time passes, it may change on a daily basis. But as long as it’s aligned with the truth, it will reflect the person that you are, and the person that you want to be with. Don’t ever compromise on that.

I have faith, and have seen proof, that, even if it takes time, the happiness you seek will find you, without having to begrudgingly redefine your notion of happiness. I believe that we can find a way to feel good about being single and that will engender – should the opportunity arise – feeling even better when we’re not.

This one’s rated “A” for abstract, kids. Reader tolerance is requested.

There’s no such thing as a single, solitary outlook (on life, on love, on work, on friendships). Anytime a situation, conflict, issue arises, we struggle with the right way to deal with it – ‘right’ taking on a variety of meanings… There’s right to our heart, right to our heads, right to other people, right ethically, morally. So we start to divide our feelings, our approach. That’s when the “If…”s start to rear their curious little heads. We begin to vacillate between the imps and angels on our shoulders (when it’s easy) or we dig deeper and deeper inside ourselves to try to find something that resembles the truth (when it’s not).

Recently, I got tired of mixed emotions – stemming from nearly all parts of my life – running amok inside my head. I needed to find some peace that would afford me sleep, and some degree of comfort. I recalled that a few friends of mine were ardent believers in the power of positive thinking – if not so much as a way to get results, than as an effective approach to not let negativity get the best of them. Desperate for a change, I sucked it up and tried it. I not only placed every part of my life in a positive and forward-thinking context, but I went so far as to project whom I wanted to become in the place that I wanted to be. I even situated other people inside these projections – who do I want to work with, who do I want to spend my time with, and who do I want to be with these people?

It wasn’t easy; in fact the effort was relatively enormous (‘relatively’ being the operative word there, but it’s hardly my fault – times like these do not lend themselves to inherently positive thinking). For about a day, despite the effort exerted, I felt great. I was energized and created a huge map of the road from “now” to “happy place” and spectacular energy abounded in my apartment. The future seemed within reach, and the troublesome, tedious, stressful days of my past were numbered. What joy! What relief! What shit-eating shame that I had to admit my superstitious friends, in their optimistic glory, were right.

24 hours passed. Then, the fissures began to show. First, the effort required to put on a happy face became tiresome – if only because my cynical mind is not used to taking a backseat to blind hopefulness. Second, to me (here’s that cynicism), optimism is often equatable to vulnerability. Expectations are great, investments are high and defenses inevitably come down. This a dangerous place; this is the place that leads to disappointment, to hurt – two familiar and detested emotions.

Still, I was reluctant to break up my fling with positive thinking altogether. I searched for a way to adapt what I still viewed as a naïvely juvenile world view into the more comfortable, if more pessamistic, outlook. I wanted to see the world through purplish-tinted glasses; not quite rosy, but not quite dark. Oddly enough, I found that turning my view completely around – more balanced, even if it did skew towards the negative – helped me get back to a not-unhappy, safe place that I wanted to be. Dissonant, for sure, but not-unhappy, and that felt good.

I tried to explain this to a friend, citing a frequently troublesome and blog-worthy area of my life (hint: it’s not the MTA). My Day 1 outlook on the topic was confident and mature, but sadly, existed in a space that was foreign to me, and so it felt largely inauthentic. My Day 2 outlook reined emotions in to a place where I could embrace whatever may or may not happen, and, importantly, be A-OK no matter what. (Some might argue that this takes the fun, the butterflies out of it. I do not necessarily disagree.) But although I was ready to accept this change as “negative,” I soon realized how much better this safe if contained approach made me feel, and that, friends, is it’s own positive thinking. If you don’t care enough to expect things from people, it’s infinitely more difficult for them to let you down. That may seem callous, but there’s a practicality there too that I’m learning to love.

From that standpoint, I took what seemed to be a tumble downwards, but, again, the so-called fall only served to reinforce something solid and settled. I began to entertain that a certain pesky situation I was in as simply entirely over and done with. Fair enough that you might think that I’ve hit the lowest depths of negativity, and you might be right in wondering what kind of investment I have/had in it at all. (I do not have an answer for you). But by nay-saying (or nay-thinking) I’ve fortified my resolve and secured my sanity. At best, I told my friend, I am pleasantly surprised by what the future holds. At worst, which is hardly worst, I stay no worse off than I am currently. And the safety in realizing this suddenly felt more positive than any allegiance to “The Secret” that my friends extolled. “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst,” my friend summarized. The way I saw it, only good things can come of that, even in matters of the heart.

Of course, it’s too easy for this tirade to end there, with my upside-down, bass-ackwards point of view bringing me undue solace. For I next began to wonder, as I truly did slip down into cynical terrain, how can one prepare for the worst while not projecting those fears? Like brown eyes and dimples, negative thoughts are dominant, and tend to cloud the presence of other emotions. Throw a projection-inclined gal like me into that mix, and suddenly what I had seen as a “rational and safe” approach grew into the scowls and thick walls of a skeptic. I found that neat coincidences could wind up under the “Positive Thinking” banner, but later couldn’t help but think that I was manifesting disappointment by specifying a more negative outlook. Suddenly, my negative-yet-positive vantage point was devolving, turning into a reclusive-and-negative view, conditions that the universe seemed all too eager to satisfy. And this worried me.

If we prepare for the worst, do we not invite panic from our neighbors? If we emotionally cast aside people we once cared for (likely in a veiled attempt to save ourselves from hurt, but that’s a blog for another time), then what’s to stop them from doing the same to us? How do we live a life of caution but convey an attitude of devil-may-care?

It is not so much that I wish to be a rock, an island, to feel no pain or to never cry, but I do sometimes wonder if our outlooks on life – on love, on work, on friendships – would be better suited if equipped with a moat. Not impregnable, but not susceptible; not foreboding, but not exposed. Then, there’d be no reason to choose Positive vs. Negative Thinking, nor to spend hours calculating which is the more effective, tenable and lasting approach. The challenges before us would serve to strengthen us, and the task of others reaching us would prove to be that much more rewarding. We would be safe, but not alone.