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.

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2010: A Different Hope

19 December, 2009

2009 was ushered in on the tails of a Collective Hope – we, as a nation, had spent a huge portion of our energy on ensuring that Barack “Hope” Obama was elected to office, and the celebration that followed his victory in early November lasted roughly 10 weeks, through to his inauguration on that frigid day in January. We felt the pressure of the world on our shoulders, and suddenly, it wasn’t enough just to vote, but we expended a great deal of mental and emotional and sometimes physical energy hoping so damn hard that this one moment would be the change in history that we, as individuals, as a country, as members of the world, so desperately needed. It was the biggest Care Bear Stare in history, as we all gathered to concentrate our Hoping on putting Barack in office.

We succeeded.

And then, we were exhausted.

Last night, at annual holiday dinner party, my friends and I each volunteered what we were thankful for in our lives right now, and what our high points of 2009 had been. No one had very inspired answers; the best being “when I got laid off,” and the worst being “nothing; nothing good has happened in 2009.” It seemed low-points were far more plentiful and easier to conjure.

It got me thinking that maybe what we were missing last year around this time was the hope for ourselves. We were so fixated on the political hope that perhaps we invested too much in that; for although we all believed heartily that Obama’s election would change all of our lives for the better, his message of Hope did not apply to us on a personal level. Hope for the nation, Hope for the world, but what about for us?

I can’t help but wonder if, recession notwithstanding (I realize I’m asking a lot there), we just didn’t have the time or energy to position ourselves in the metaphysical space needed to enter 2009 positively, with optimism for our personal futures, with the knowledge that the ability to make our lives better begins and ends with us. We readily became proud citizens of the country for the first time in eight years, and our energies went towards hoping for better things for the group we belonged to – citizens – rather than for just ourselves, not simply as citizens, but as individuals, as unique snowflakes in this global blizzard.

By beginning the year neglecting our own need for hope (without which we’re pretty much doomed), we all started the year on less stable footing. For some of us, the ground was already fairly shaky and became increasingly worse. For others, the cracks in the once-solid ground came out of nowhere. Either way, as the country sunk into recession, we as individuals descended into depression, realizing that no one was there to hold our hand through these hard times, and despite friendships built on newly available unemployment time, we all had to learn what it was like to be a little more alone. There was an emptiness that grew more vapid as the months wore on, and I’m starting to believe that the void was created by our wearing out our energies too early, on causes other than ourselves.

Going in to 2010, a new decade that couldn’t have come too soon, we are too weary, too jaded, too afraid to invest much faith in anything – but placing faith in the greater picture just seems futile. 2009 was proof of that. Don’t get me wrong – despite the frustrations and disappointments, there’s no other person who should be in office right now other than Obama, and I believe that we did cause that change – but we’ve learned that entrusting so much of our hope in an entity so far out of our hands does not yield a fair exchange. Our Hope Portfolios need more diversification than we were willing to undertake last year; but the safest investment, the one most likely to grant the most returns, is putting our hope for the future in ourselves. Sure, we bear the brunt of the responsibility for it (call me a romantic, but I refuse to take all responsibility for what happens in my life. See “The Traumatic Bike Theft of 2009” for proof), but our accountability is more real, and thus, our rewards are that much greater, that much more fulfilling, that much more meaningful. And that works to renew our hope for another day, another month, another year. 2009 flew by, but each day was a chore, no matter how it was filled. I want 2010 to snowball – whatever hope we can muster to start the year off, as long as its a personal hope, as long as its genuine, to make January better than December, which will make our approach to February that much more positive, which will make it that much easier to wake up in the morning and face the life that awaits us.

On my way home from the dinner party, I sighed to my friend Elaine that 2010 simply had to be better than 2009. She smiled her comforting smile, patted my knee, and said “It already is.”

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.