On Age, Sailboats, and (Still) Being Reckless

It wasn’t what I wanted him to say.

We were on a blanket–a sarong, to be precise–and wrapping up what I’d venture to categorize as among the Most Idyllic First Dates in the History of Summer: a bike ride, white wine on a patio, a walk, lying next to Lake of the Isles before sunset and scandalizing some significant section of southern Minneapolis as they jogged/biked/dog-walked past in neon droves. (It’s the Midwest: scandalizing doesn’t take much.)

“This has been extremely pleasant,” he smirked, shifting onto an elbow and holding his head in one hand. “We should definitely do it again.”

I agreed. And then: the bomb drop.

“I need to give a disclaimer,” he announced, clearing his throat and qualifying that it may or may not be the appropriate time.

A small cube of nerves began to gather in that bottom space of my belly. I propped myself up to meet his gaze as he told me, as (considering his age: young, and career/life path: uncertain) I could easily have expected he would, that he didn’t feel ready for anything serious–romantically or otherwise.

It was disappointing to hear. But not what stung.

That would be what came later: after I explained that a part of me did want to keep hanging out with him–due not only to the magic of the evening but, also, to the disarming ease that characterized our interaction from when we began chatting in the coffee shop (“You don’t need Tinder,” one friend recently ribbed. “You have your coffee shop!”); but that another, more sensible part of me feared that would be a bad choice.

“I have a hard time keeping things casual,” I explained. (An admission that, remarkably, did not seem to shock.)

Too, I said, while I’d like to think I’m in a place for carefree fun and that I’ve got all the time in the world, it happens to be a fact that in a little over a month I will turn 31–and that, in fact, I don’t.

“I hate to make decisions based on that, though…” I said. I was grasping my elbows around my knees and looking out to the middle-distant sailboats spotting the lake.

He nodded in sympathy. “But it’s the truth,” he said.

That, friends, is what’s stuck.

Because what I wanted him to say was, “No, it’s not!” or “You’re still so young!” or “Come on, you have lots of time!” (To be fair: sentiments that, a couple of days later, with some slight manipulation, he did express.)

Before that, though, I turned, as I do, to the women of my bi-weekly Boot Camp class.

“Wait, are you turning 31 or 39?” One of the regular moms I chat with and I were side-shuffling the perimeter of the gym during warm-up.

“31!”

“Oh! Please. I didn’t have kids til 35!”

“So you think I still have time to have fun!?”

Of course!”

Bless her — she made it sound so simple.

But I know it’s not.

I no longer inhabit that panicked, Find Me A Husband Scramble that took hold in my late 20s. I’ve realized I’m not capable of committing to someone without the fiery passion I deserve–and that I’ll wait for it as long as I need, whether that’s two months or twenty years.

I also know that I’d like a family–and that the longer I wait to commit, the more biologically difficult that may be.

And while it doesn’t feel healthy or useful (and certainly not fun) to freak out about finding the RIGHT PERSON RIGHT NOW, I’m not sure how I ought to feel about consciously choosing to spend time in something I’m pretty sure isn’t heading where I’d like.

“You never know what can happen,” another gym friend advised. It was Thursday’s class, and we were doing squat-jumps over a step. “Things can change!”

I shook my head. “Yeah,” I said. “But I can’t go into it expecting they will.”

With my (pesky/fortunate) capacity for quick connection, it’s a mind game, and it’s also a catch: I’m not interested in having fun with someone I don’t feel a chemistry with–and if I do, chances are good that it will start to feel like more than only that.

Who knows where, if anywhere, this particular connection will lead; it may fizzle before I get the chance to set myself up for another bout of vulnerability and likely loss.

And if it doesn’t, I’ve decided, that’s okay: when I look back on the previous occasions (there may have been a couple…) when I’ve let a compelling connection enable some reckless decision-making, for all the soreness and hurt that’s generally come later on, there’s not a one I’d give back.

Few things, after all, are more thrilling (more fun!) than rare, romantic chemistry–and for now, at least, those thrills aren’t ones I’m willing to pass up.

On Panic vs. Control, Minivans, Wise Women and REM

One thing that’s problematic about being a woman who wants children and is thirty and single is that (it can sometimes seem as though) the most vivid thing on the horizon is being a woman who wants children and is thirty-one and single.

My birthday, as many of you know, isn’t until September. But I did have a moment. One of those early-waking, half-conscious moments, a few weeks ago, when it randomly, jarringly occurred to me that I will turn thirty-one, and that I will turn thirty-one in less than half of a year, and that I am now, pretty much irreversibly, in my thirties.

It is impossible to write (or, I presume, read) this without a fistful of tired cultural references springing to mind. For me (in addition to every Sex and the City episode ever) it’s that scene from When Harry Met Sally: the one when Meg Ryan’s Sally finds out her ex is getting married and calls up Billy Crystal’s Harry in a hysterical, breathless panic over the fact that she will, someday, turn forty.

In other words, I feel, culturally, as though I should be panicked about this. Or at least, preparing to panic, thinking about panicking, somehow, loosely or narrowly contemplating the idea of panic.

I’m not.

I would tell you that I’m not trying to gloat about this, but it wouldn’t, completely, be true. When you manage, even for a few moments, to avoid a trap that seems set by an entire hemisphere of culture, I think you’re entitled to a little boasting. So there.

I could also offer you a varied list of reasons, some more sincere than others, to explain why I am not panicking. But they are irrelevant.

Except for one: it isn’t useful.

“There are a lot of things that people want in life.”

I was having lunch with my friend K, one of the beloved Wise Older Women I have been feeling, lately, so thankful to know, at a new cafe by the Macalester campus. Between bites of couscous and chicken salad I tossed out fond, nostalgic glances toward the flannels-and-glasses-wearing-boys and girls in cardigans and layered bangs. (I know you!)

K went on: “But not all of them are things we can control.”

(You see why I am so thankful for women like her.)

I began, immediately to make lists. Mostly, because they are less bewildering and anxiety-inducing, of the things that are within my power. A sampling:

The length of my hair (At this time: long!).
My commitment to writing. (Present.)
The ferocity with which I cling to the Beautiful Wise Women in my life. (Extreme.)
Where I want to live. (Freedom is daunting!)
How often I do yoga. (As much as possible.)

You get the idea.

These aims, K reminded me, these are the ones that I, that all of us, need to cling to.

It’s hard, of course, not to let the other kind of goals fill up a lot of mental and emotional space: achieving a certain level of recognition, for example, or finding a particular version of family. Desires that are valid, desires that run deep. But not desires that we can reasonably expect to fulfill.

“You have to think of those things as gifts,” K said. “That may or may not come.”

Driving home (in, ps, the minivan I am buying from her — because, why yes, at a moment in which I could not be less close to the suburban ideal of motherhood and children, I am buying the ultimate symbol of such things: a minivan. discuss.), I turned on the radio just as REM’s cover of I Am Superman came on; and, as traffic began to slow by that wretched 11th Street/Lyndale exit into uptown. I began to feel that tide of anxiety that surges every time I wind up in highway traffic. And I thought of K’s advice: to focus on the things I can control.

And I thought of the fact that rush hour traffic is distinctly not among those things, while listening to loud music in a minivan, now, is.

And instead of anxious, or panicked, I felt, suddenly, flush with gratitude: for the oversized (perfect for moving!) vehicle soon to be mine, for K and the other smart and generous women I am making it my life’s work to collect, for the handful of goals (hair! books!) I felt newly motivated to pursue.

And, as always, most importantly, for Michael Stipe.

On Being Cold, and the Mythology of Finding The One

“No, that’s too cold.”

I was having coffee with a friend of a friend at my local hipster hangout, and we were talking about relationships, and he was pausing to reconsider his language.

I wasn’t immediately sure what he was referring to, but suspected (correctly, it emerged) it might be the way he’d described his relationship as a “project.”

“Right,” I said, once it was clear. “A little cold.”

But then, later, he used the same word to describe this blog–which, considering its’ totally inadvertent origins and haphazard (whimsical? better) operational strategy, seems even more absurd.

But back to the idea of thinking about one’s relationship as a project. Because while, verbally, in casual conversation over fairly traded coffee, this may seem a bit, yes, cold really is the word, there’s a way in which it doesn’t totally not fit.

As in: you date enough people in your twenties, by the end of them, you’re thinking of relationships with less of that blurry, bullshit gaze of Hollywood and fantasy and magazines and television and Everything Everyone Ever Told You About Love, and more with eyes that are clear and pragmatic. Cold? Maybe. But also: real.

There is something really giddy about being in a relationship after spending a lot of time single. Cuddling! Sharing meals! Taking Walks! Reading, side by side! I take none of it–not a second–for granted. I feel totally, thrillingly lucky–blissed out–to be sharing my life with this person.

But instead of waiting around for a bright, light-centered object–bulb? strike?–to intervene, prophetic, and assure me that this is It, the One, the Only, the Meant To Be Forever and Ever, I am enjoying this time, fully conscious of the fact that being with this person forever is a choice that I–that both of us–may make.

“It’s kind of a radical idea,” my friend-of-friend said the other day, as our conversation came round to this notion. “That it’s a choice. It goes against everything we’ve ever been told.”

Indeed, it does. Which isn’t to say that there hasn’t been a saturation of persuasive argument on the other side: a persistent tapping on that cultural bubble that says, “Excuse me, but you know there’s no such thing as The One, right? You know there are lots of people you can be happy with, not just one person or even two people or even ten?”

“Yeah, yeah,” we say. “We know.”

And then we go back to watching romantic comedies with Jennifer Aniston and Amy Adams and relishing that warm, wistful feeling that goes along with believing our lives are fated.

In other words: intellectually, we get it. But practically, emotionally, the force of all that stuff, all that storybook nonsense with which we’ve been pummeled since cartoons and fairy tales, is tough to counteract. And to accept that it might be false, that we might have a decision to make instead of a fate to find, is not only hard but fucking scary.

Who wants to take responsibility for determining the balance of what one wants and needs in one’s most intimate and committed relationship? Yikers.

But then, like freedom is, it’s terrifying at the same that it’s liberating

We can use that clear, pragmatic vision to free ourselves from the pressure that The One idea can place on a relationship. (This isn’t what I expected, this isn’t perfect, it must be wrong!) We can act like grown-ups and take responsibility for making a conscious, purposeful decision that doesn’t have to do with what the culture or anyone else expects, but what we want for ourselves. What works for us.

Cold? Maybe. But, and I speak (write) this as the most romantic of hopeless romanticals, I’d rather be cold than blind.

 

On New Love, New York Pizza, and Saying Farewell For Now

“I know you didn’t get upset about pizza. So, what were you really upset about?”

I furrowed my brow. Thought for a second. And looked up at N.

“Um, pizza?”

As my therapist was quick to note (Therapist: “You look shocked.” Me: “I am! Isn’t it shocking?” Therapist: “Well, kind of.”), there are many things that distinguish my relationship with N from those I’ve had previously.

Perhaps most notably, there is the fact that he really, really likes me. When he visited New York this past weekend, he even brought my parents gifts.

“You really don’t need to do that,” I tried to assure him when he texted a photo of a cheese plate. (Would your mom like this?)

“I want to,” he said. “Besides, I’m sleeping with their daughter. Isn’t it the least I can do?”

“Honey,” I replied, gentle. “I have slept with a lot of other men. Pretty sure none of them felt they owed my mother pottery for the privilege.”

Unmoved, he bought her a scarf.

One of the reasons N and I like each other is that we tend to argue. About issues, I mean: our nightly video chats have involved heated debate over things like an Obesity Tax and Capital punishment; the environmental impact of locavorism and gun laws.

But our most personal fight to date, abetted by whiskey, Fernet Branca, and four consecutive days of meeting Everyone I Love, took place over a single, folded slice of Joe’s Pizza.

Or, rather, the fact that N was not impressed.

How can you not like this pizza?” I pleaded.

“It’s not that I don’t like it,” he explained. “I just don’t think it’s that different than other pizza.”

I was beside myself, careening from one desperate, ineffective persuasion attempt to the next: New York pizza is different. It’s the best. This is the most superior slice in the city. How could he not see the difference?

In the morning, I grasped to explain my response.

“I met a ton of friends and family and loved all of them,” he reasoned. “And you’re really upset that I didn’t like a certain food?”

“I know,” I nodded, huddled next to him on a soggy 6 train. “It’s a little crazy.”

Part of it, I explained, was the implication that my Pizza Passion is an outgrowth of New York Elitism: a condition I not only battle against, but find frequent fault with others for buying into. Part of it was that I was overwhelmed. Part of it was that he was leaving. Part of it was that I was drunk.

But, also, really, it was about pizza: when you love someone, you want them to love the same things you do–people and places, books and movies, forms of intellectual debate. And, yes, food items.

Granted, certain of those categories are more important than others. Life with a partner who hates my mother might be a tad more challenging than life with someone who doesn’t, also, require a late-night stop at Joe’s on Fifth. Particularly if, as I’m pretty sure is the case for N, they’re willing to come along, and perhaps hand me a napkin.

But the Pizza Episode also felt symptomatic of one of my life’s present themes: jumping into the Big Things, while fretting, endlessly, over those that seem Incredibly Small.

It took me a matter of weeks, for example, to decide on, yet another, major move. But whether to go to a Zumba class at 12:00 on Lafayette or 1:15 at East 34th Street? I practically lost my shit.

“It makes sense,” Therapist sagely said. “You’ve got to deal with the big stuff some way. So it’s going to come out in the little.”

Allow me one final non-sequitur to inform you of another recent, and rather impulsively made decision: I’ve decided, for now, to stop blogging.

There are a few reasons why. For one, writing about relationships is much more challenging when you’re actually in one. For another, focusing is also hard–and, as you know, for the past year, I’ve been making variously aggressive attempts to focus on a book manuscript. Finally, in solidarity with other Writers Who Ought To Get Paid for What We Do, it seems prudent to at least try placing my essays in venues–unlike this one–where money changes hands.

I don’t want to call it quits forever. I love having this space, I love that you visit it, and the idea of leaving it completely is sad. But I think, for now at least, a Farewell For Now makes sense.

I’ll keep the site up–and post news about other publications as it, hopefully, comes.

Thanks, always, for reading. Be in touch. And see you, somewhere, soon.

On Beginnings, Storytelling and Alice Munro

This is how I read an Alice Munro story:

At first, not very well.

I meander along the first few pages, take in the proper names and rural Ontario landscapes and digest them, but barely; I let my mind drift to evening plans, or writing concerns, or love.

Then, between halfway to two-thirds through the story, and sometimes even later, things shift: the girl who is realizing the limits of her gender lets the horse out of the barn; the young woman who thinks she’s getting married finds him turned up with someone else; the mother having an affair decides to abandon her young children for him. And I realize, again, that what I thought the story was going to be about was really just a setup for the drama about to unfold. I scurry, gripped, to the end.

And then I start over: I look back to the opening sentences and subsequent early sections, and finally attach meaning to all those set pieces that, the first time around, held hardly any meaning at all.

That it has taken me so long to fall in love with Alice Munro (a romance at which I am now, compulsively, whole-heartedly, at work), may not be unrelated to the fact that this type of narrative is precisely opposite from how I narrate my life.

That is, I shape stories around my experience with an unconscious, implacable and immediate persistence; I go through life as though I know where each experience will lead, as though its significance can be known, and pronounced straight away–instead of revealed, gradually.

You’ve already written the story!” a woman in my book club once observed, after she’d inquired about my love life and I proceeded to narrate a trajectory as though he and I were already married, instead of (as it were) dating for six clumsy weeks.

My eyes glazed over: of course I’d written the story, I told her. I always do.

When it comes to my current “story,” there are an overwhelming number of points at which it is tempting to start–needless to say, before it even did:

  • Walking down an East Village street in late March, speaking the words, in my head or out loud, I’m not sure, I need a boyfriend in Minnesota like I need a hole in the head.
  • Getting Bloody Marys with friends in Uptown Minneapolis before heading up to the residency, one of them announcing as we sidled from our seats: “I know the only way we’re going to get you to move back here: find you a man!”
  • Within moments of stepping inside the Cultural Center in New York Mills, the warm-faced Outreach Coordinator commenting, immediately, mysteriously: “Oh, hi! You must be the new Visiting Artist! You know, we’ve set up Visiting Artists before–and Jamie’s got a nephew!”
  • Learning, the following day, that this very same woman had, in fact, fixed up the woman I’ve already described as My Doppelganger: another New York writer who, some six years later, is still living, married, in Minnesota.
  • Seeing N, after he’d walked in during my reading that Friday, and after I’d observed his length and looks, slip out of the Center and flop around on the sidewalk–and walking outside to realize he’d done so for the benefit of his, then, eighteen-week-old lab mix puppy. (This, honestly–and to N’s half-jesting horror–is the moment at which I actually threw my hands skyward and said “Really, universe!? Is this a fucking joke?”)

In characteristic fashion, I noted each of these moments as they happened–storing them, mentally, for the point at which I would write about this short-lived, casual fling.

“Hunky, but not my husband,” I explained to the few friends with whom I kept in touch while away.

“How do you know?” they asked.

Of course, I didn’t: now, some time (a whole not even two months!) later, having fallen for him calmly and powerfully, things turned out to reveal themselves in a different way than I first thought. And all those early moments set up a whole different kind of story, make whole different kind of sense.

A different kind of sense, and a different kind of story, than they might add up to in three months or three years or–while we’re being whimsical, why not–a few decades.

So, for now, I’m not sure there’s any point in going on to tell it: all I’ve got so far are beginnings–and the happily earned faith that I can’t know where they will lead.

 

On Other Dimensions, Old Friends, Greta and Me

My two oldest friends looked at each other from across the wooden table.

They turned to look at me.

I looked at the restaurant floor. Shrugged. Finally, stammered: “Can you ask more specific questions?”

The three of us were eating dinner at a spacious Greek restaurant on University, sharing plates of hummus and cucumber salad and celebrating their upcoming birthdays and my recent return from Minnesota, where, I had told them, but just barely, that I had met someone, and that, despite my initial certainty that they wouldn’t, things had gotten serious–serious enough for me to be considering, again, a cross-country move.

They wanted to know more.

A moment earlier, I had tried to dodge their inquiry.

“I kind of don’t feel like talking about it,” I said–the comment that had prompted their stunned stares, and all our collective bafflement.

“Never in your life have you not wanted to talk about a boy,” S said. “What’s going on?”

I wasn’t sure. Cooperative, they asked particular questions (“Um, what’s he like?”); apologetic, I did my best.

By the end of the meal, of course, I was eagerly slipping anecdotes into conversation: the time he sweetly over-hyped my love of bacon, how gamely he had come along for brunch with my ex.

And after dinner and gelato and dispatching R to the subway at West 4th, S and I hugged goodbye in Union Square Park.

“Do you think it’s a good or bad thing?” I asked. “That I don’t want to talk about it?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “But it’s definitely different.”

The best rationale I could summon was that I feel, rather terminally, like the “girl who cried boy”: so many times have I come to friends bearing certain, over-exuberant, and, often, fast-fleeting affections–how could I expect them to trust me now?

*

There’s a scene in the new movie Frances Ha where Greta Gerwig‘s character, drunk and disoriented at a dinner party far more adult than she feels, delivers a monologue on what she’s looking for in life, or love, she isn’t sure, but, you know: it’s that moment, she says, when you and your partner are out at a party and both of you are engaging with other people and all of a sudden you catch one another’s eye and exchange a knowing glance–not driven by jealousy, or lust, but the simple knowledge that you are there together, and that between you there is a fierce but invisible bond; a “secret world,” she calls it, like one of those dimensions we know exist but can’t percieve.

I share this for a couple of reasons. First, as a vehicle to announce that I am undergoing a period of Greta Gerwig Envy presently exhibiting as a delusion that she and I are essentially the same. Discuss.

And, less narcissistically, second, because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the utter, impenetrable mystery of what goes on between two people.

*

I have focused much of the past year on investigating a woman who died before I was born. I have searched for her in interviews and letters and transcripts and diaries, but the interviews have been what I’ve liked best. Some have led to new friendships; one in particular, this woman’s closest friend, I’ve grown, even, to love.

We’d known each other before. But in this process we’ve grown closer. A few months ago we sat together on her couch in the Ocean Beach section of San Diego drinking red wine and fumbling to operate an ill-designed slideviewer, and I felt a sudden awareness of the  lively, happy energy between us, the product of shared moments and space. It occurred to me that was something I’d never experience with the woman whose photographs we spent that weekend digging up. But in the moment, I didn’t feel that particular loss so much as a celebratory delight in what else I’d found: a new appreciation for the specialness of human connection.

*

What grows in the space between two people does seem another dimension: a force field of sidelong looks and kinds of touch and accumulated scraps of shared things. And it is impossible to explain. Even to understand it as a participant is challenging–but to express that field, that energy, all that stuff to another person?

I don’t know how.

And as I try to fathom my resistance to describing this new intimacy I’ve found, this lovely, dynamic,  growing thing, I wonder if the answer is as simple as that.

On Feeling Funky, Giving Up Control, Talking and Not

“This is not an okay time to be in a funk.”

A was right: there had never been a less acceptable moment for malaise. It was a sunny, warmish Saturday in New York, we had just emerged from the most joyously sweaty reggae dance class that is my new obsession, I was soon headed to dinner and celebration with eight of my best college gals; Obama was still President and the Knicks had won six straight; I had no business being down.

A swung her arm around my shoulder. “Let’s just sort this out.”

I took a couple of the deep breaths that are my trademark, paternally inherited Stress Tic, and started to talk.

The day before I’d spent a lovely, equally sunny afternoon with Ari, and we’d had something of A Talk; at first it left me feeling positive about things, about myself, about him–until, suddenly, I didn’t. Suddenly, I realized, I wasn’t sure where we stood or how I or he felt. Suddenly, I realized, I wasn’t sure whether we should keep talking during my imminent five weeks out of town; whether we’d keep trying when I got back.

“But it isn’t what I’m feeling about him,” I explained to A. “It’s that I’m letting myself feel anything at all.”

*

“If you can not trip out about it, sure.”

A few weeks ago, when I talked on the phone with that astrologist, I beseeched her for practical advice: what I should be when I grow up, where I should live, whether I should keep seeing Ari or not.

“If you can spend time with him and just enjoy it, great,” she instructed. “But if it’s gonna cause you more stress than fun, forget it. So, can you not trip out?”

Pause.

“Um…” I I stared at the rug on the living room floor, considering paisley and the gap between what I wanted to say and truth.

“Well, not really…” I said. “But I can try!”

She chuckled, and went back to forbidding me from pursuing Social Work.

A few days later Ari and I stood on the subway platform at Union Square, following an art film and Chinese dinner. (Between such dates with a Jewish guy and runs along the East River, I basically live in 1970s Woody Allen.)

“I just…” He was starting to Talk–I could feel it.

“How about we don’t?” I said.

What I was telling him was that I didn’t want to talk about “us,” but what I was telling myself was that I didn’t want to worry about it: I had determined to take those words to heart–to not “trip out,” to just enjoy my time with him and not spend energy contemplating our status or our future. I’d determined to chill out.

And for a few weeks, I did. I stopped (mostly) narrating every development to my girlfriends. I stopped reading about our astrological compatability online. I stopped obsessing about how much he liked me–besides, how much did I even like him?

I set aside the questions.

But with a week until my (temporary) departure, I  no longer could.

And at first, I felt like talking about things was the right choice. Until, the next day, walking with A after dance class, I wasn’t. I had done so well, I told her, at “not tripping out.” I had done so well at pulling back, feeling detached, withholding energy.

“I should be thinking about my book right now,” I whined. (A sentence, by the way, that grips me with a whole other cliched brand of anxiety–really, I’m someone who has to aggressively claim mental space for ‘my art’? Ugh.)  ”And instead I’m using up energy feeling angsty about this?”

“You’re beating yourself up,” A chided.

“I know,” I replied. “That’s the point.”

She shook her head. “You’re not allowed to do that. It’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling.”

We do this. We decide how it is we’re “supposed” to feel–about a person, about a breakup, about a loss or a change–and we chide ourselves when what comes up doesn’t match.

The whole point of “not tripping out” was to relinquish control–and I’d managed to do just the opposite. I wanted to control how I felt about Ari, when, of course, there was no way I could. We don’t summon emotions; we manage them.

“What is going to get you out of this funk?” A asked. “Coffee? Kombucha? Walking?”

I pondered. “I could go for some Earl Gray with soy… and, yeah, a walk.”

“Done.”

We marched to the closest coffee shop. We strolled to Carroll Gardens. I felt better. But not totally.

It wasn’t the best moment to feel sad, I realized, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t .

On Tiredness, Helplessness, and Pushing Through

“I’m really good at writing OKCupid messages for other people!”

S shook her head in my general direction. “That doesn’t count,” she said. “We’re not talking about writing related things.”

Five minutes following her delivery of yet another cutting (though, also, generously good-natured) comment about my limitations, (“Can you help me sew this button?” “Sure.” Pause, laugh, “How did you get so helpless!?”), S and I stood beside one another in the kitchen–passively cleaning up.

Above the sink, I rinsed cups and and grasped to enumerate my Practical Life Skills.

“I’m good at opening wine bottles!” I gloated. :”And champagne. Like, really good.”

She swiped a sponge along the counter, head down.

“And salad dressing! I make a damn good salad dressing.”

“I’m not saying anything,” she announced, holding up her hands in a show of peace before retreating to her bedroom, my sewing project in hand.

Though you wouldn’t have known it, this was actually my second recent attempt at the exercise–which A had happened to suggest during some winter-blues-infected check-in.

“Just spend a couple of days noticing the things you do really well,” she advised. “Trust me, it’ll make you feel great.”

It didn’t.

Nor, I must tell you, did it feel great when I greeted a friend at a crowded Brooklyn bar Saturday night, told her that I was coming from a date, and heard her comment, in some brand of genuine awe: “Jesus! How do you have the energy to go on all these dates?! It sounds so exhausting!”

I nodded. “It is.”

“I mean,” she went on, her boyfriend absorbed behind her, “I just hate talking about myself!”

“Yeah,” I replied, “I don’t.”

It’s unclear whether S would have accepted this in my collection of Useful Talents–or whether it warrants a brag in any context–but certainly it’s true that the capacity to discuss Me Myself and I (what, you’ve noticed?) finds me with relative ease.

I know that my (lovely, uncommonly kind) friend meant her remark with every fiber of sympathy. And yet: her comments, as the type often do, provoked a defensive, irritable reaction.

Sure, I don’t mind discussing myself (honestly, in my journalism experience–most people don’t), but, also like most people, I do have a limited amount of social energy. And when I force myself to go on a quick round of dates–as I have done, more than normal, lately (forgive me–it’s my first time living in New York while single and over twenty-one; post-desert, there are options)–I wind up tired, dejected, and turning to friends around me for support/reasons I shouldn’t last-minute bail.

“Think of it like a sprint,” A advised, grasping my elbow as we trudged along Mercer on a snowy Sunday before the final in my latest round. “Just, give it all you got and then done.”

During my previous spurt, I chatted with my sister-in-law hours before a scheduled first date–the third of three that week. She and Jon were having dinner with my parents in Brooklyn, and all I wanted was to join them for some relaxing family time instead.

“If not for the point zero zero zero zero one chance that he is my husband,” I told her, “I would cancel and come with you instead.”

(Sure enough, within seconds of meeting said date I ratcheted his odds at least a couple hundredths higher–though a month in, the boost proved ill-advised. Instincts, people.)

“That’s a decent percentage,” D teased in response. “What will you say if you need to leave?”

“I don’t know!” I wrote. “Bonita needs a walk?”

“Crisis in Brooklyn?”

“Actually, I’ll probably just tell him I’m tired.”

As things turned out I didn’t have to–but man, it would have been true.

So here’s the thing: the reason, I guess, that such well-meant comments take me aback. I don’t have the energy to go on all these dates. Most of the time I’d rather be having dinner with family, or happy hour with pals. Often, I’d rather be walking Bonita through ice-sludged streets, perusing the nail polish selection at Duane Reade (I’ve painted my nails one time since the 90s) or washing plastic. Sometimes, I’d rather be doing just about anything else.

In other words: I don’t do it it cause it’s a pleasant pastime. I do it, as I explained to the Other A over tea, because it’s a means to an end.

“Right,” she said. “And, you know what that end is? Like–what kind of person you could have a relationship with, as opposed to the quick-thing-that-doesn’t-work-out-you-always-do?”

“I think so,” I replied. “It’s not my best skill, but I’m working on it.”

Girlfriends, Dependence, Embarassing and Impolite Things

Recently, I reconnected with an old friend: a girl with whom I was extremely close–vacations together, all confidences (and some experimental drug use) shared–as teenagers. During and after college, both of us proved poor at maintaining contact across distance–we hadn’t seen or spoken to each other in at least eight years.

I don’t know another way to say that ubiquitous cliche: “It felt like no time had passed.” But it did. Also: we giggled the way we had in high school. We raised our voices, the way we did then, in heated discussion of important books and films; we gushed, as we did then, about the latest indie bands we’d found. We glided quickly across Manhattan avenues, as we did then, both of us a bit perplexed about our place and precise destination.

All to express: neither of us had much changed. Also: certain friendships endure.

And, perhaps most significantly, for me, right now: friendships mean something different, now, than they used to. Throughout my life, they’ve taken shape in different ways:

In high school, like this: seeing each other during the day–passing (impressively prolific) notes to each other in physics class, sneaking out for cigarettes during gym, huddling together at diners during lunch and Upper West Side apartments after school–when apart, talking, endlessly, on the phone.

In college: preening, crashing, crying in each other’s dorm rooms, discovering sex together, and independence, and postmodern theoretical frameworks that none of us understood but made us feel significantly elevated; cycling through each other like seasons until we found ourselves, finally, nestled in families, fallen together.

After college: skeptically, slowly, we joined–at work, at parties around town; we navigated our newfound adulthood, catering it with dinner parties and solstice fetes and crowded concerts and sloppy happy hours. Slowly, we came to trust one another, until trust became love, and love a kind of mutual, grown-up dependence.

For me, that dependance is still there.  And what scares me, now, is not being single. What scares me is being single, alone.

One day last week, I met A for a work date in the afternoon; I had come from lunch with another close girlfriend (another whose initial is A–an issue I’ve yet to resolve); the night before I’d been with a new guy–emotions were seeping, raw and confused, from my pores–and I breathed deeply because of these wise, worldly women, right there to receive them.

“We have got to meet husbands at the exact same moment,” I said to A.

Exact same moment,” she repeated.

It’s a tricky thing: we want to urge each other on. We love each other fiercely, and we want to want the things you want for people you love that much–namely, happiness. We know that many of us want, and may be happier finding romantic love–something our friendships can approach, but not, quite, replace.

(I don’t mean to suggest there’s a hierarchy in which romantic relationships surpass friendships–they’re just different. You know, sex. Anyway.)

And yet, our livelihoods, our day-to-day sanity, our strength to resist the external pressures constantly bearing down–telling us we’re freakishly flawed because we don’t have perfectly toned triceps or hairless breasts or faithful boyfriends who look like Mark Ruffalo–depend on none of us finding it before another.

(One more sidenote: it’s recently come to my attention that many women think they are the only ones in the world with hairs on their nipples–I hereby venture the risk of never getting laid again for the sake of one less Inane Female Anxiety. You’re welcome.)

But back to jealousy, which isn’t cute. When a dear girlfriend tells you she’s into someone new, it is not polite to reply with, But what if you fall in love with him and then have to spend Saturday nights making dinner at his house instead of hopping around the Lower East Side with me? Or, Who will I have to commiserate with about condoms and OKCupid and impossibly cryptic flirtatious texts if you have a fucking boyfriend?

We are all known to sometimes think impolite things.

But most of us are well trained to avoid speaking them. We say, instead: That’s so great! and Tell me everything! and I’m so happy for you!

And, those aren’t lies: we do (mostly) think it’s great, we do (usually) want to know every minute detail, we do, (pretty much) genuinely, feel happy when our friends find love.

But we also can’t help but feel a little bit sad, and a little bit fearful, for ourselves–because being alone is a lot more fun when you’re not, really.

Ambien, Exercise and A Distinction

You, dear readers, likely know that my mother is many things to me: dear confidante, good-humored muse, occasional critic. You may not know she’s also my drug dealer.

“Just a couple!” I am known to beseech her, a couple of times a month. ”I’m trying to wean myself off!” ”I’m breaking them into teeny tiny pieces!”

Like most of the females in my family (unlike the males, all of whom could sleep standing up on the Cyclone, if pressed), I struggle with cyclic bouts of insomnia; with these, and without health insurance, I must depend on her dispensations. Like any junkie, sometimes I push it.

“I’ll give you a few,” my mother emailed me recently after I sent her a request. “But you need to work on better sleep habits, i.e. earlier bed time, right?” She had clearly taken note of the time stamp on my message: somewhere between one and three am, on a Tuesday.

“I’m balancing four jobs, a book, a blog and trying to find a husband,” I wrote back the next morning. “And sometimes my dog wakes me up vomiting at 4 am. Easier said than done :-)

In classic, melodrama-resistant fashion, she ignored my cheekiness–replying, instead: “Can’t you get them from your therapist?”

Per usual, my mother was wise not to take me seriously. Because, though I sometimes fail to realize it, I’m not–actually–serious.

Well, I was about the book and the blog and the work. And the vomiting. But not, exactly, a husband.

“I just think she’s really ready,” A said. We were walking down Second Avenue following the most perplexingly vicious exercise class in the history of exercise, complaining about leg lifts and men. She was talking about a mutual girlfriend.

“I mean, I think she’s just done dating and wants a family. Like, now.”

“Right,” I agreed. “But aren’t we ready, too?”

“No,” she replied “Absolutely not.”

“Really?”

“No,” she said again, in that breathless tone she uses to indicate nothing has been more obvious since concealer.

“We are still working on our own stuff. We are in no way ready to have families.”

“Oh,” I said. “Right.”

About three blocks and a few reflections later (Would someone who’s “ready” spend two months dating a 24-year old? Or a week with someone who actually speaks the words, “I never know where I’m going to be”? Don’t answer that.), I was convinced.

Turns out, I’m, not, actually, in desperate search of someone with whom to procreate by Tuesday. I’d like a relationship, because I like them: it’s nice to have someone who supports and cuddles you and comes along when you would like to whimsically ice skate or drink whiskey/rye cocktails.

And yeah, maybe someone I might wind up in a relationship with some time soon will be the person who I wind up with for a long time. Lord knows I would not protest were I to never again suffer through an internet first date.

But my priorities are still selfish–I’d like that to change, but not, necessarily, quite yet.

Which means that, jokes aside, I don’t actually feel that urgent, panicked need–the one our mutual friend, we think, feels–to be settled down yesterday.

A few afternoons later I had coffee with a close friend of my mother’s, a woman who I’ve known my whole life and who knows me as well as anyone does. I explained to her how I’m trying to adopt better dating skills-you know, moving slowly, dating more than one person at a time, all the things I know I will never, ever do but like to pretend so people roll their eyes at me less.

“You just need to be focused on something besides finding a husband,” she said. I lit up. “But I am!” I said, brightly. “I’m writing a book! That’s my focus! I’d like a relationship, but I’m not trying to find a family right away.”

“But you said–”I didn’t even let her finish–though I didn’t, actually, know which flip reference to seeking a partner she was referring to. (That is how frequently, thoughtlessly, I make them.)

“I know, I know,” I replied. “I say those things. I’m not serious. I don’t really feel like I need to settle down that soon.”

“Oh,” she said. “I didn’t realize.”

“I know,” I assured her. “Neither did I.”