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 Ch-ch-changes

13 November, 2010

“Do you believe people can change?” T asked me earlier this week.

Desperate to articulate rather than ramble, I paused and thought for a while. My instinct was to answer “yes,” but I easily thought of far too many reasons why that was wrong. But to answer “no” made me depressed.

T had been asking because some people seem to disappear from our lives only to reappear again at random intervals, and so can we  – should we – ever learn to trust them when they return?

In a moment of clarity that a steady diet of daytime/nighttime cold medicine had not afforded me for several days, my reply escaped from my lips before I could even digest the thought.

“I think that people’s priorities change, but not their personalities.”

I was instantly pleased with the breakthrough I had stumbled upon.

If it is that we act according to our priorities, then it stands to reason that as our priorities change and shift and grow, so too does our behavior and beliefs, sometimes together, some times in discord (oh, how j’adore cognitive dissonance!). But who we are at our core – beneath the other layers of self, like behavior and beliefs – that which truly comprises our being remains constant.

In thinking about this in recent days, my notion seems to be universal in a comforting way. Suddenly, the behavior of a girl who was my friend in 5th grade but refused to speak to me in 6th made more sense (my memory of the pain I felt at the time is no less acute, but my ability to dismiss this ancient event is now easier). That girl may have been a cruel bitch, but her behavior changed because her priorities – acceptance by a different group of friends – changed. Her personality, which was never all that loyal to begin with, had no problem implementing that change. In more recent events, someone with a self-destructive personality may find a new priority (say, in a short, charming brunette), and so he may sustain behavior that is actually productive and progressive for a while… but he’s ultimately unable to rewire that sense inside of him that simply needs things to be worse instead of better. (I do hope that one day, this someone can find the priority that can maintain its triumph over the personality, but I don’t think that will happen for a long while.)

Of course, I realize that this hypothesis of mine holds true for me as much as it does for people I’ve known (which confirms it’s accuracy). Every single element in my life may shift and change or just up and disappear, and that all shapes me and who and where I want to be in profound and indefinable ways. But these shifts and changes do not alter who I am, they change how I react, this time and next time. They change what I want and how I go about getting it, but they cannot change that it’s me, who I am and who I’ve been, who is wanting it.

I think this way of thinking lends itself to a certain degree of forgiveness for those who come back into our lives, but does not inherently provide an excuse. I remember the first guy I ever dated in New York – I was 23 and he was 40. He did not break my heart, but I had made a substantial emotional investment in him, which made his unexplained withdrawal from my life sting considerably. Six months after the last time I had heard from him, he called me up one evening to let me know that he could not stop thinking about me. Standing on the phone, on the rooftop of the Soho House, nearing the wise old age of 24, I probably first realized what it is about people that changes, and what it is about people that doesn’t (it’s just taken me seven years to be able to articulate that). This guy most likely believed that what he was telling me was true (“I know I didn’t treat you right, but I’ve really changed since then.”), but he had, six months prior, already given me every indication that, at  his core, he was near-sighted and only knew how to go after what he wanted at that very precise moment. His feelings for me had not magically changed so as to make me the kind of priority that would cure him of his out-of-sight-out-of-mind affliction. It was just his loneliness that night that had prompted a lie. Ultimately, I felt sorry for him. Part of me still does.

For a long time, I found the “you can’t teach an old dogs new tricks” adage to be fitting to that old story, but these days, “you can’t make a dollar out of 99 cents” seems more apt. I like to believe that old dogs can pick up new tricks. But when there’s only 99¢ in your pocket, you know can’t turn it into a dollar. Your only option is change your mind so you don’t mind buying the item that was one cent less in the first place.

 

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.

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.

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On Loneliness

4 December, 2009

A few weeks ago, while having a casual conversation about the nature of confused yet platonic relationships, a friend remarked “Everybody’s lonely.” He offered this without irony, without sadness, simply assuming that this is a fact, an integral part of the human condition, as natural and non-negotiable as needing oxygen to breathe, as certain as death and taxes. Our conversation twisted and turned from there, as conversations in bars tend to do, but later that night, at home alone in bed, those two words floated back into my head. “Everybody’s lonely.”

Of course, this is nothing new to me. I’ve held hands with loneliness long enough that, at times, I view the world in degrees of disconnect rather than love, connection, partnership or camaraderie. But something about how my friend had said it – was it his tone? his off-handedness? his confidence? – rang in my ears. Perhaps, too, that phrase resonated with me because this friend, in describing “everybody,” was really allowing me a small glimpse into his own emotional core… and it looked a lot like mine. I fell asleep thinking that try as we might, loneliness never truly leaves us.

A week or two later, I enjoyed the type of evening where being with someone made me feel safe – if only temporarily – from the long arms and tight grasp of the immeasurable beast called loneliness. I spent the next few days thinking that, even if we are destined to each be lonely, the relatively small moments of connection really do make the rest of the ride more palatable. Feeling confident about my prospects for a more tenable future, then, loneliness seemed like a harmless yet permanent mark that maybe we’re all just born to wear, but not endure.

Sandwiched in between then and now, I saw the new film “A Single Man,” a visual delicacy directed by fashion designer Tom Ford, exercising his right to the American dream. I won’t weigh this blog down with a review, but the movie can essentially be broken down as follows:
Act I: We all die alone.
Act II: We may not necessarily go through life alone, but we still all die alone.
Act III: We all die alo – wait – wait, do we? Maybe not! Maybe there’s hope after a – oh, no, no, we do still all die alone.

My initial reaction, as I’d seen the movie through confident and relatively sanguine eyes, was “Well, no need to be so depressing!” I would’ve gladly endured an ounce of Hollywood’s conventional optimism to not have the ending of the film so absolute, so final in its commentary on the solitude of death.

As hours passed and I digested the film and what it had to say, my friend’s small comment floated back into my conscious mind, and the past few weeks came full circle and secured by something that felt like a rock solid truth: Everybody’s lonely.

My friends in confused yet platonic relationships are lonely. Hell, all of my friends are lonely. My coworkers and customers are lonely. Bar-stool philosophers are lonely. Tom Ford is lonely. I’m lonely, too.

Sometimes, we cling to this – there is an odd safety in holding on to loneliness – it crushes you slowly, which is often preferable to the acute pinch of heartache. Most of the time, we search for a distraction, or we try to cope together – something akin to huddling together to stave off the cold, rather than giving up and lying prostrate, waiting to be consumed by that thing we’re all afraid of.

I don’t write strictly of the Single Condition. There are hundreds of social and emotional units by which to measure loneliness and/or its more positive sibling, satisfaction. And while I don’t believe we can ever fulfill all of those measures, I also don’t believe that loneliness is something we’re all destined to suffer with. Like aging, indeed, like death and taxes, it’s true that loneliness will eternally ride with us through life. But I see a virtue in that, a kind of reassurance that no matter what we are or who we’re with, we’ll always be searching for something more, not to replace what we’ve got, but to add to and enhance it.

Many years ago, I discovered the difference between being lonely and being alone. To me, it’s similar to the relationship between being alive and living. Being lonely, being alive – these are the permanent conditions. Being alone, like living, is not guaranteed, but exists in moments that come and go, come and go. Just as we are not always really living, we are not always alone.

I’m still learning to understand how everyone deals with their own loneliness. What do my sisters’ boyfriends offer them that my sisters have chosen them as their partners? Why does an old flame seemingly derive so much pleasure from being alone? What safety does a friend find in setting impossible criteria for her potential mate? Does having more options, more lovers, more stories result in being less lonely? What type of relationship do I need to find in order to keep my own loneliness-demons at bay?

So is the best we can hope for to trudge towards that lonely death hand-in-hand, to share the awkward journey? Maybe. But if we endeavor to fill our lives with happy things – people we like, fulfilling hobbies, pursuit of a satisfying career, faith in something – anything, good books, real cinema, every now and then an indulgent movie, polka-dot dresses and matching shoes, music in its myriad shapes and sounds, someone who makes us feel wanted, someone who makes us feel loved, raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, George Clooney – we may come to understand that to tame the loneliness monster is not to fight it, but to live with it.

PS: Another cute new movie recently out, “Up In The Air,” has Mr. Clooney reminding us, again, that everyone dies alone – except, he offers cheekily – for “the people in the cult, with the sneakers and the Kool-Aid. They didn’t die alone.” Food for thought. Thanks, George.

A few weeks ago, a regular customer at the bakery, more distracted than usual, asked me if I agreed that there is something seriously messed up with the New York dating scene.  Indeed, I agreed, wholeheartedly.  He inquired further – what irked me most about it?  Eeeek.  Where to start?  I immediately spewed out words and sentence fragments that I hoped began to communicate my feelings – “Casual” “Too picky” “Not picky enough.”  “Emotionally unavailable” “Expectations” “Too many people” “No one worthwhile” “Double standards” “He never even asked for my number!” “$*&@^÷¡*(@)!!!!!!!”

I mused on the topic for weeks, until a frustrating blip of an incident last week brought the true number one answer of that question to light:  These days, there is absolutely no precedence for closure.

No matter if the relationship lasts for one night or four months, not only do we covet that strange, innocuous zone of “seeing each other,” (which is singles-speak for “not serious enough that we ever have to discuss what we’re doing together”), but we also rely on the safety of the widespread societal acceptance that when we want things to end, we’ll just disappear and hope the other party gets the hint.  There is no explanation, no faux-apology, no “it’s not you, it’s me” – it’s just a slow death of a flame that had barely grown up from a spark.

I’ll be the first one to admit that – as early as 7th grade and as recently as six months ago – I’ve been guilty of occasionally avoiding closure at any and all costs.  By ending something, we’re forced to address that there was something there to end, and, sometimes, it’s just easier to instead treat our indiscretions as bygones… In fact, it may just be simpler to rename this part of dating “The Ellipsis Phase,” as it’s only a fragment of a relationship that ends without any definitive punctuation.

More often than not, The Ellipsis Phase can only be defined as such once it’s lost beyond repair.  Prior to that, if we’re on the losing side, we hold out hope that what’s a ‘casual relationship’ now actually may turn into something more significant, something more real. Then… nothing.  Then… the slow realization that although the story has seemingly ended, the book is filled with endless blank pages, waiting and waiting and waiting for The End which will never come.

I like to tell myself that this is some kind of Urban Devolution – that the dating game used to be more respectable, even One Night Stands bore more integrity than they do now.  But earlier this week, I watched the movie “John and Mary,” a film from 1969 starring Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow, as strangers who spend the day after their one night stand together.  Back then, it was touted as “Not Your Mother’s Love Story!…,” a scandalous must-see.  In 2009, I watched it with a nostalgic eye, envious of the days when a relationship with real, live feelings could actually evolve from a casual encounter.  (Not that I have proof this ever happened – but between the movie and my own romantic imagination, I like to think it did, once…)  In the film, the pair is headed for the wishy-washy “let’s pretend this never happened” fate that often befalls random one-night encounters, but (spoiler alert!) neither party is content to let their oh-so-short-lived relationship fizzle out.  But it’s the frantic, panicked racing through the streets of New York that Dustin Hoffman’s character John goes through, regretting that he let Mia’s character walk out the door without so much as getting her name, that tells me, here on my couch today, that for decades, men and women have been driven to such frustration because we’re practically conditioned to let these indiscretions fall by the wayside without a second thought.

More difficult than pinpointing this lack of closure as a problematic issue is trying to figure out why it happens, why we allow it to happen, and any possible solutions.  Is it cowardice that keeps us from talking to one another?  Is it shame?  Or is it some twisted form of kindness, wherein we fool ourselves that rather than risk hurting the other person’s feelings, we’ll just let this thing run its course… Of course, that’s just our own veiled fear that it sucks to break it to someone “thanks, but no thanks,” and so we return to ‘cowardice.’  We hide behind that ellipsis, as the relationship trails off into love story never-never-land; banished into romantic purgatory.

I’ve often wondered if there is some kind of karmic balance to the number of times I’ve noncommittally left the door to a relationship open, hoping it will disappear and waste away sooner rather than later versus the number of times I’ve been left, frustrated, wondering “Why, why, what the hell happened there?!  I thought things were going great!” versus then the number of times I’ve sighed with relief that, clearly, neither of us were that willing to put forth the effort to keep the fledgling ‘relationship’ alive.  We are each capable of hurting someone to the same degree that we’ve been hurt, but this seemingly wide-spread acceptance of “who needs closure?” manages to take the sting out of hurting someone else while pouring some nice kosher salt on the wound caused by the disinterested party.

I’d love to bring closure to this entry to embarking on some kind of campaign to make communication acceptable again, to take the stigma out of conversation.  Realistically, though, the best I can hope for is that I’ll be more mindful of whoever I’m trying to let down “easy,” and maybe even go so far as to tell them the truth (gasp!) and end things properly.  And perhaps in cosmic return, there will be men out there who will let me close, once and for all, the stories and chapters of Them + Me.  Or, maybe, there will be  that one story that does not close, but, rather than ending in a hurt and confused …? grows into a profound and lovely !

I’m emotionally unavailable!” he announced – nay – cried to the bar.

Only a few people let the emphatic exclamation interrupt their drinking and revelry.  I was one of them.  In the following moments, as I feigned a general preoccupation with the ice cubes in my glass, I considered everything that statement did and did not mean to me.

a)  Many people are emotionally unavailable.  Most of them are aware of that fact.  Very few of them, however, willingly fess up to it.

b)  Probably only one of those few who do openly admit to that will do so as a proclamation to a group of relative strangers and a girl who, a long time ago, perhaps evoked some of those unavailable emotions.  Lucky me: I found him.

c)  Often times, emotionally unavailable folk fall into two categories:  those for whom the availability issue is a subconscious, involuntary result of some former pain or vulnerability, and those for whom it is a very deliberate decision, deployed to protect themselves from some anticipated but usually false threat of attachment.  I can say this because for most of my life, I fell into the latter category while pretending that I was in the former.  Given that, it certainly seemed to me that my vociferous friend at the bar also fell into the second category, which, it certainly seemed to me, meant that his unavailability was a choice he made, and rather happily clung to.  Without trying to demean any previous heartache the poor guy may have suffered, I was disappointed that he was taking a rather wussy way out.

d)  “Well, then,” I thought to myself, as I turned my attention to the stirrer that was doing laps around my gin and tonic.  “That’s that.  Pack up and go home, there’s nothing for you here.”  I sighed the sigh of another firmly chapter closed, until – wait just a second!  ¡#%$&@!!!  I was never really interested in this guy’s emotions!  From the get-go, if there was one thing present between us at all, emotions was not that thing.  As far as I was concerned, his emotions could stay hidden under years and years worth of buried treasure.  This is what made the whole affair newsworthy, and oh-so-not me.  He could take out a billboard over the BQE declaring his emotional inaccessibility and nothing would change.  My interest in him had nothing to do with whatever emotions he was or was not putting out; it simply had to do with, well, putting out.  Ha-HA, I said to his outburst; you mean nothing to me.

I couldn’t help but smile.  Who can say for whose ears his comment was truly intended, or how many years of therapy it might take this hapless soul to recover his emotions.  The chapter is certainly still closed, but bookmarked.  His enthusiastic random interjection has been logged, an entertaining footnote to an already lengthy epilogue.  But why stop now? I thought.  I ordered another round.

Shades of Gray

24 March, 2009

They all start the same way; hesitantly, almost sheepishly:

“I know you didn’t like the movie, but…”

Invariably, I know immediately where this is headed.  My girlfriends are speaking of the Supreme-o Sack of Shit Sorry Excuse For A Motion Picture Waste of Money and Celluloid “He’s Just Not That Into You.” (Which is true only wherein “he” is actually “me” and “you” is actually “the movie.”  And for the record, I chose to go only to a free screening, for the purpose of better knowing thine enemy.)

“But,” my friends continue, their voices undulating with caring trepidation.  “I do think it is true that if a guy really wants to be with you, he’ll make sure that you know it; he’ll find a way to be with you; he’ll pursue you until he’s with you…”

For every girlfriend that has quoted me this admittedly well-intentioned piece of advice (the count is now nearing 5), that sentence trails off with slight variations.  No matter how you slice it, though, what they’re telling me is clear: Why bother fretting about if he’ll call, when he’ll call, when we might see each other next, what will happen when we do – when the fact that these questions exist in the first place indicate that he {gasp!} may… just …not… be… in …to …me.

First of all, I think that’s all bullshit.  But that’s another rant for another blog.

Second of all, I do happen to agree that if a guy has fallen head-over-heels for a gal, of course he’s going to go out of his way to make sure she is keenly aware of that; in that case, there will be no second guessing on what the next move may be.

But I pose that that makes the issue awfully black-and-white: either he loves you or he couldn’t care less about you.  What about the middle, all the shades of gray that exist betwixt those two?  I’m at a point in my life where I’m certainly not, in any way, opposed to the John-Cusack-In-Say-Anything type of out-and-out adoration (sing it with me: In Your Eyes…), but I’ve also found a way to be happy with relationships that (often times thankfully) fall short of that lurve.  With these less-intense relation-flings, I don’t expect a guy to shower me with the fairy tale, or go to any great lengths to secure my attention and affection.  With some of the men I’ve seen lately, there is absolutely no expectation to fall in love.  And that is fine by me.

I am a Libra, and a middle-child to boot.  I see both extremes at all times, and I can embrace them if I so choose.  But I tend to exist most often in the rather hazy and tormented middle ground, straddling the two sides of every issue.  If I’m having fun with someone, and we care enough to see each other again but are cautious about where any more-involved future may lie, then why can’t the relationship remain in the ill-defined gray area?  If whatever we’re engaging in is more than random but less than serious, isn’t all that matters whether or not we’re enjoying ourselves (and, of course, the consensus that we both agree on that)?

Naturally, this then opens the door – or leaves it open – for the above line of ineffective interrogation (although less frantically than the lame-ass characters in the Load-of-Crap  aforementioned movie): When will he call?  When will I see him again?  Why haven’t I heard from him?

It’s a process and a half, and I curse it more often than I accept it, but I am trying to teach myself to enjoy the ride without forcing questions that have no answer.  Would it be nice if someone took the guesswork out of it for me?  Of course.  Do I sometimes impatiently wait for the day when the man that I wan to be knocking down my door is actually knocking down my door?  You betcha.  Will all those nagging questions ever truly disappear?  Without a doubt, no.  Am I willing to give up on all the fun I’m having bouncing around the wide spectrum of ambiguous grays, from the darkest charcoal to the faintest silver?  Not a chance.

It sounds dramatic, I know.  Bear with me.

Most of the time, life follows the following equation:

ATTEMPT + NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES = DON’T TRY AGAIN.

You only need to stick your hand into a fire once to realize that you shouldn’t really do that anymore.  Lessons that I have taken to heart via this “learning the hard way” method include:

  • Don’t forget your wallet when you are driving to your very first job interview ever and have to pay a toll, and your parents haven’t gotten EZPass yet.  You will not be able to pay the toll, and you will sit on the side of the road crying, and then you will find out that they just give you  form to fill out so you can mail in the $2.85, and apparently, it’s not the hugest deal.  I’ve never again forgotten my wallet en route to a job interview.
  • Don’t forget your wallet when you are traveling to Paris for the weekend.  Especially if you’re with a few friends that you haven’t known for more than a month.  Take a good look around your flat in London – including underneath your bag – before you pick it up and walk out of the room without a second glance.  I’ve never again forgotten my wallet before an international trip.
  • Don’t ask someone out if you’re so nervous that your hand shakes as you try to write down their phone number, then try to pass off the shaking as the side effect of a new medication you’re taking.  Bad news all around.
  • Don’t get drunk and tell the guy that you’ve been hooking up with that, while you were on vacation, you let another dude kiss you, and it was awful, and then demonstrate to this guy just how bad a kisser the other dude was.  Whatever you do, do not let it slip that Bad Kisser Boy tried to kiss your ear and it almost made you vomit.

Seriously, it only takes one godforsaken slip to learn to never do that – any of that – again.

How is all of this relevant?  I believe that I have discovered perhaps the only instance where intelligent and socially adept women (I’m putting myself this category now, even if the previous examples should exempt me from it) continually try try try without learning learning learning.  It is the Trifecta of Seduction… and it will be attempted, and it will fail, every time.

1)  Shaving Your Legs (and Everything Else) In Anticipation of Someone Being Close Enough To Appreciate It

Perhaps the most common insurer of Failure of Seduction for any woman who is not a compulsive, daily, full-leg-and-then-some shaver.  I swear, that teensy bit of stubble behind your knee is the easiest way to tip the scales in favor of getting your pants off.  And most guys that I know, glad to be getting the pants off in the first place, are wise enough to not give a shit – or at least not mention it – in the event that they even notice.  And let’s call a spade a spade, it’s not like he waxed his backhair for you.

2)  Cleaning Your Place In Anticipation Of Someone Being Over (and Sober Enough To Appreciate It)

With every stitch of clothing put away, with every desktop paper tidied, you are taking that guy you want one step further away from ever seeing those clothes or that desktop paper.  I’m not encouraging living in a pig-pen here, and I think its always wise to at least make sure that dirty socks and underwear go in the hamper faster than other dirty laundry.  Even for those perpetually-neat people (who probably shave their legs-and-then-some every day), hiding that picture of your ex-boyfriend will probably keep the newer one further at bay.  Whereas, say, that book you have called “How to Have Spectacular Sex” being left on the floor after some solo bedtime reading the night before will almost ensure that someone ends up there to help test it out.

3)  Wearing Sexy/Cute/Your Favorite/No Underwear In Anticipation Of Someone Seeing Them (or Decidedly Not Seeing Them)

Do you see where this is going yet?  I hearken back to “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” and the rather clever (if only slightly exaggerated) bit about the granny-panties being discovered in the most awkward of ways.  But for all the awkwardness, we cannot forget that, indeed, the granny-panties were discovered.  Which meant dear old Bridget got luckier than the rest of the chicas out there who oh-so-carefully selected the lacy thongy thing so she could look sex-x-xy for the 3.2 seconds in between layer-removal where they might be seen at all.  Another reason to keep this lesson in mind is that, if you are wearing your favorite undies, or ones that are impossibly sexy, and you still wind up getting some, and your beau fails to notice just how amazing they are, you may be inclined to point them out to him.  And nothing, no, nothing is worse than saying “No, wait!  Look!  They glow-in-the-dark!”  You will get laughed at.  Really, the transition of pants, on → pants, off, should be a fairly seamless and relatively silent one.  And if you’ve chosen to do away with the panties all together, you’re likely just going to enjoy the nice breeze on your solitary walk home.  Nothing makes the universe laugh more than being a little presumptuous, honey.

Ladies, take note: if you have chosen to defy the Laws of the Universe that I have just laid out, and you have schemed and shaved and straightened and seduced, and he is touching the smooth legs, seeing the neat apartment, noticing the fancy undies (as they get tossed to the floor), bear this in mind:

There’s a good chance you’ll realize in the morning that you didn’t want him there in the first place.  Plus, he’s probably married.

Disclaimer: These rules, of course, do not apply to those of you in happy relationships or contented, regular hook-ups, or even those able to boast the certainty of a real date.  But they are indeed for those of us existing somewhere in that relationship-nether-region of “What exactly is going on here? When will I see you again?,” those of us who don’t have the balls to  just say “I like you!”, those of us who instead just continue to haunt the places that we know/hope/feel/think we may see the man who we’d like to appreciate the legs/apartment/undies, prepared for any eventuality – except for the one in which we go home alone.  We’ve all been there at least once.  And if you haven’t , you probably won’t be too enthralled by the rest of this blog.

Visual tools are necessary for learning:

Trifecta of Seduction

Trifecta of Seduction