On Transitions, Cuddles, and The Swings of Self-Care

“You need to hold yourself like a baby.”

My friend J and I were sitting on the side of a hiking trail on the eastern edge of Taos, eating cheese wrapped in red wax and examining white wildflowers and talking about what will happen when we leave.

She has some flux in her life as well, but more certainty than I. During my three months in Taos I’ve managed to upend just about everything that was stable when I arrived: my apartment, my relationship. Even my connections with family feel shifted—hurled into a different light by the (abrupt) process of change.

J turned to look at me as she held her arms out in the shape of a cradle. “Just imagine that you’re holding yourself like a child. Just imagine you need to give yourself that kind of care.”

Self-care is one of those wiggly terms whose meaning never seems to cease sliding. What does it mean to be good to yourself? It depends on what it is you need—and knowing that, it turns out, is the hard part. More and more I’m realizing how deeply, frighteningly difficult it is to know what we want: in relationships, in people, in place, in nurture. It’s easy to mistake proximity for understanding; learning our own needs takes as much work as learning those of others’. Maybe even more.

Eventually, the work I’ll be returning to is figuring out my needs in the long term. But right now, as one transition glides into another, I’ve got to focus on the immediate ones: the urgent care that I can give myself.

Which has meant, mostly, a lot of touch.

“I kind of can’t be alone,” I told A over the phone, explaining how I had spent the last couple of weeks bouncing between friends and visiting family, heaving myself into their arms, emotionally and physically. “Do you think that’s strange?”

“Are you kidding?” she laughed. “Of course you can’t be alone. Don’t.”

I’m not. I’ve spent a lot of time lying prone on friends’ floors. Draping my legs across laps. Going for hikes and walks with my arms stitched through another’s. Cuddling in a king size hotel bed with my ten-year old niece (who managed to take up a shocking amount of it). The little time I’ve found myself without company I’ve filled with baths and melancholy folk songs: Bob Dylan and Gillian Welch. Some writing. A lot of herbal tea.

“Your pulse feels homeless.”

I also spent a few hours with a woman who does Ayurvedic healing: tall and regal with a heavy French accent and penetrating green eyes, she recoiled when she saw my tongue (“It could be the poster child for anxiety!”) and paused when she held onto my wrist.

“Homeless?”

She nodded: empathic, but not exactly alarmed.

She left me with a Ziploc bag of an unpleasant-tasting wheat-colored powder. A list of foods to favor and others to avoid. Shockingly accurate insights into my restless soul.

Also, a few pieces of rather significant wisdom.

“You need to be your own mother,” she said. “You will become a mother later. But you can begin now by becoming a mother to yourself.”

In her opinion, this would mean feeding myself with more regularity and better nutrition. Taking the time to sit still each day. Learning to quiet the deep, fiery panic that resides within me and trust that regardless of where or with whom I end up, I will be alright.

In other words: cradling myself like a child.

I’m going to try it out. I’m going to keep seeking what kind of self-care will serve me best in the future. And for the moment, before I leave Taos and pack boxes and resolve loose ends and begin to make yet another round of Big Decisions, I’m going to give myself permission to lie on the floor and hold on tight to all the warm people in my path.

 

 

Counting Down to Thirty: On Getting Over (the Hump)

“Oh. Well that’s cause you live over the hump.”

N and I were paying a brief visit to his ninety-year-old Great Aunt Violet en route to Denver after an early August week in the remote Rocky Mountain wilderness.

It had been a while since N had come to this small, mountain town–a lapse Violet was quick to explain as we walked in. (By ‘hump’ did she mean ‘Rockies’? I asked after we left. Yep, N nodded. It’s pretty much all the same to her.)

“I was just working on this quilt,” Violet nodded toward the craft project laid out on the dining room table as she led us in the house–a ranch residence at which she’s evidently outlived three husbands. “One of our families at the church just had a baby! Now come in where it’s comfortable.”

We followed her through wood-paneled rooms to sit on furniture hailing from the Wilson administration: she sat straight-backed on a chair and motioned us toward a printed fabric couch. She’d cropped her gray hair close to the scalp; covered her ankles with dark boots laced up for work.

Violet crossed her denim-clad knees as she updated us on her latest: the old schoolhouse she had fought (finally, with success),to designate a National Landmark; the custodial job she’d lost at the town library, but swiftly replaced with work at a DNR office across the street. (I used to walk, she explained, But I really need to bring my own Shopvac.) Before we got back on the road she gave us a tour of her garden: lengthy, manicured rows of colorful collards, beets, tomatoes, broccoli.

Later that night we visited with another of N’s relatives, a charismatic cousin who does construction in Alaska. He told us about driving through that town a few years back and pulling over, enraged, when he saw Violet atop a ladder, cleaning second story windows.

I asked how he thought she got her youthful strength; he took a bite of a sub sandwich and  leaned back in his deck chair.

“She has no idea,” he said, “what’s going on in the world.”

I have been processing this insight ever since: questioning why it is that we keep up with news, national and international (I want to understand Syria, but do I need to?); whether ignorance is the key to longevity (information is exhausting); whether being active in one’s own community should trump a broader awareness that falls short of action (what’s that line about everything being local?).

And if not those things, than what? A ninety year old woman with the physical fortitude to scale buildings and the mental will to conquer a federal bureaucracy–she must contain some lesson, some certain and splendid wisdom. Right?

*

This weekend I saw a few friends and family during a brief visit home. I stayed with A on the Lower East Side, which (in addition to the daily workout of her six-story walkup) enabled a lot of walking: I blasted Pavement and Otis Redding in my earbuds as I hustled up and down the east side between doctor visits and coffee dates.

I made plans, I changed plans, I cancelled plans; friends did the same.

I felt myself, in a few moments, begin to get agitated by small stuff–money and family and mismatched expectations, all obscured by texting. (I know it’s convenient, but please, can we stop!?) Malkmus crooned about Zurich, and I decided to shrug it off.

Maybe it was that uniquely intoxicating energy of moving along New York streets. Maybe it was my increasing understanding of the care we must provide ourselves before giving to anyone else: how I am a completely useless friend and sister and girlfriend and daughter unless I’ve done whatever’s necessary to get myself straight (or as one friend put it in a recent essay, “get clear”)–whether it’s running or writing or listening to favorite albums from college whilst racing up Broadway.

Maybe it was Violet.

Regardless of where she directed her energies, there was no question that she was remarkably intentional about it: she possessed a clear set of priorities–the schoolhouse, her community, her garden–and to those, she dedicated herself unflinchingly.

Too often, I thought, I let energy seep out of me with careless misdirection: toward envy and trivial interactions and endless, preposterous layers of insecurity. Too often I find myself, at the end of the day, drained–mystified by what, exactly, has sapped me so dry.

Let’s be honest: I’m sure that the compact matter of Violet’s body and brain contain no small depths of wisdom from which a strung out city girl like me could gain. But wisdom doesn’t get passed down in an afternoon, or even a lifetime–we choose what we want to learn from people. We figure things out when we’re ready.

And in this moment, in the oddly calm countdown to my thirtieth birthday,what I need to learn from Violet isn’t to read less news or grow more kale (though neither, it’s true, is a terrible idea), but to be more mindful of my pursuits. To be more conscious of the fact that my capacities are finite, but that I can control what fills them.

 

 

 

“No Expectations” Vs. “Be Positive”, and Other, Lesser Ambitions for 2013

As someone with a tragic tendency to view just about every situation–from first dates to avocados–with a lens of maximum complexity, the notion of living life according to a pithy few words holds no small appeal.

The New Year is a popular time for such phrases. So, they’ve been toggling around in my head.

Let’s start with the first.

“I’m just trying to have really low expectations,” I said to A recently, explaining how I was not going to get imprudently emotionally involved with some guy. (Right before, needless to say, I got imprudently emotionally involved with said guy.)

“No, you’re not,” A corrected. Sometimes A is uniquely capable of correcting my emotions. “You’re going to have no expectations.”

That’s, I think, when she started talking about Oprah or Stacy or some other pop culture maven whose wisdom she sometimes urges me, with requisite irony, to embrace–I was too preoccupied plotting how I’d later blog the distinction to listen too close.

“You’re not supposed to go in thinking things will work out badly. You’re supposed to go in without any expectations at all.”

“Right,” I said, as though that was what I had meant to say in the first place, and as though I thought what she said was as terribly easy and obvious as she made it sound, even though I’m pretty sure I knew, even in the moment, that it was neither.

For a minute, though, I went with it. I shrugged off the temptation to replace fantasies of long-term love with those matching projections of disappointment and hurt–the conviction that a guy would disappear because that’s what guys like him, in the past have done; the negative attitude, going into an online first date (a ritual I have come to think of, roughly, as our generation’s Smallpox) sans the assurance that he will be far less funny in person and have overtly thinning hair.

And then, lo and behold: another girlfriend, another conversation.

(Sidenote: sometimes I consider renaming this blog something like “Travels in Extreme Impressionability”–I could easily blame most angst on my ability to absorb other people’s wisdom with the extreme enthusiasm of stale sourdough.)

But anyhow. This conversation happened to take place on New Years Eve, at a table crowded with attractive young people and fattening dishes we were finally drunk enough to consume, and the gal–one I haven’t seen in a few years–and I were catching up.

“I really think it’s all about being positive,” she told me, by way of explaining how she’d been able, in the time since our last visit, to maintain vivid happiness amid a cascade of hardship. “I realized that I had a really negative attitude about things, and I just decided to change it. To be positive. And it made all the difference.”

I nodded emphatically, our eyes locked above three-cheese pasta and peels of gruyere. “That makes so much sense,” I said.

Champagne aside, her words did resonate: not that my life has changed course dramatically, as hers evidently had, as a result of such an internal switch. But the idea of thinking optimistically, of recognizing that everything comes and goes in waves, that things will get better, and some people might to, is certainly something that has helped me weather these tempestuous twenties.

She had such a glow (one complemented, festively, by her shimmering gold shirt), that I didn’t have the heart to present her with the conflict her words incited. Actually, maybe I did. Again, champagne.

But regardless, there it was, and here it is: how are you supposed to bridge the two? To Be Positive at the same time that you have No Expectations? How are you supposed to feel optimistic about things, about men and dating and the Knicks likelihood of ever winning a championship, while also not building up any expectation that a particular guy won’t be smelly or boring or that the whole escapade/smallpox will soon be over or that Carmelo will really, finally, come through?

If you know, please share. Otherwise, I am shaking off the annual urge to over-simplify, entering into the New Year with simpler ambitions: to brightly color my hair (done), to drink more whiskey (going great), to actually cross things off those lists I habitually, nocturnally write (working on it).

Perhaps 2014 will be the year of the Slick, Pithy Phrase. Til then, cheers.

On–Trying to–Turn Back on The Switch

It is possible to really understand things at certain points, and not be able to retain them, to be in utter confusion just a short while later. I used to think that once you really knew a thing, its’ truth would shine on forever. Now it’s pretty obvious to me that more often than not the batteries fade, and sometimes what you knew goes out with a bang when you try and call on it, just like a lightbulb cracking off when you throw the switch. (Lucy Grealy, from a letter to Ann Patchett, quoted in Truth and Beauty)

“Wait, so why aren’t you straight forward with guys about what you want?”

I looked up at my hairstylist,: hovering above me with some potent combination of chemicals and heat.

She slid a strand of my hair through steaming hot metal plates: “I don’t get it.”

I had been listening, rapt, as my stylist listed the numerous demands she routinely imposes upon men she dates.

A couple of examples: They must call her. Nightly. They must be tall. Stylish. They best not even think about letting her get the check. (“Yeah, I’d pay for drinks. And then I’d walk the hell out.” ) Did I mention she expects them to call her every night?

“I mean, there are millions of other guys out there,” she said.” Why should I waste my time with someone who’s not serious?”

She said this as though reporting her astrological sign, or which club she went to the previous night: as a plain, and rather obvious, statement of fact.

But the expression on my face, when asked to explain why I don’t do the same–don’t, that is, dispense straight away with men who fall short of my immediate expectations–made clear that her conviction, however confidently delivered, was not one to which I truly bought in.

“I guess I don’t really believe that,” I said. “That there are lots of guys out there.”

She looked at me the way she might were I to admit that I never use a comb. “Wait, how many dates did you say you have this week?”

“Yeah, but…” The thin vinyl cape around my shoulders enhanced feelings of hapless vulnerability.

(Also, confession: I took a hiatus from Life to actually, briefly, date. I’m exhausted.)

“There are lots of men out there. It’s a matter of quality, not quantity.”

The next day I reported her comment to a friend: “So wait, why aren’t we more demanding?” I asked her. “It’s cause we don’t really think there are a lot of guys to date, right?”

“Duh,” she said with her face. “I mean, I really don’t think there are.”

I reminded her of the length of time since her last involvement: somewhere, we negotiated, between one week and two. It seemed, she said, longer.

Here’s the thing: there are many, many men in the world. In New York City, there are, actually, millions of them. It’s one nice thing–along with Sephora and fruit stands on the sidewalk– about moving here from the desert: a few times a day, you can walk down the street and make lingering eye contact and feel briefly reminded that mutual attraction is possible.

And yet, for reasons that range from the absurd (body image) to the practical (dating sucks), concrete options often feel limited. And when they do, it can be easy to treat the men in one’s path with proverbial kid gloves: not asking for too much, putting up with, essentially, dumb shit.

Unlike my stylist (who, to her credit, is presently seeing someone short), I don’t walk around with a Pocket Guide to my Perfect Man: I’ve often mused on my confused-but-encouraged ability to find connection with a wide range of types. But there’s a difference between being open to many personalities and expecting certain behaviors.

And, yes, at this point, there are certain behaviors I’m pretty sure I should expect. Certain traits–curiousity, compassion, the potential, at least, to provide (to be wildly vague about things)–that in my, ahem, Extremely Late Twenties (yes–prepare yourself for wild overuse of this phrase), I should probably not compromise. Certain things that, when I venture outside my standard hole of hibernation, I would be well served to keep in mind.

It’s hard.

What, you know all this? What, you understand that this is why people stay in bad relationships–cause even though theoretical possibilities are infinite, it’s virtually impossible to put faith in those you can’t see?

Yeah, I guess I know all that too. Sometimes the batteries fade, and you have to turn on, again, the switch.

 

 

On Trying More, Or Less, And The Women on My Shoulders

“Oh, I get it,” he said. “You want me to try harder.”

There are numerous ways in which the context of this remark was peculiar. Let’s just say that for the forty five minutes prior, the speaker (a guy I was, and am now distinctly not, seeing) and I engaged a kind of odd, certainly premature, and mostly unexpected discussion of what little physical contact may or may not have already occurred between us. (I’m not being coy–I mean each of those words literally.) We were trying to understand one another. And, for a moment, we seemed to be moving onto the same page.

Until, suddenly, we weren’t.

Which is what prompted his observation: “I’m not trying hard enough for you. That’s it!”

He seemed, finally, to have nailed it. All these verbal volleys about what we were each looking for and why he made me feel insecure, how I wasn’t used to dating someone at such a slow (read: normal) pace, accustomed, instead, to moving quickly and recklessly into romance, and how I knew that was a pattern worth breaking but how, still, that didn’t change my (apparently, mis)-reading his signs as lack of interest.

In other words, he was right. I did, basically, want him to try harder. So, I told him: he was right.

To which he replied: “You know, you weren’t trying very hard either.”

My first instinct was to contradict him, but I hesitated, glimpses of our (brief) liason shooting through my mind like a cascade of postcards: how I’d waited two days to respond after he first asked me out; how I’d let him initiate our every date since; how, when he sent me an abrupt text one Sunday morning, my brother advised me not to respond until Tuesday and I compromised by waiting a couple of hours. I had been trying to keep his interest–but not in the way I expected him to keep mine.

“But you asked me out!” I said. “You were pursing me!”

“So?” he replied. “That was just how it started.”

That’s when I felt the words coming up through my stomach and chest and throat, snaking out like a quick hose. I stopped them just in time: they would have sounded, I knew, terrible; antiquated; un-PC; un-feminist; un-all the values with which I was supposed to have been raised.

What I wanted to say, of course, was this: “But you’re the guy.”

I am not proud that I wanted to say this. (Otherwise, I suppose, I would have said it.)

But I want to confess it now (as, I suppose, I wind up wanting to admit most of my minorly shameful acts), because I think the small internal tension I felt in that moment–between my reflexive desire to say those words and my simultaneous horror at the fact–reflects a bigger conflict, a larger, underlying tension that I suspect pervades many of our modern-day romantic endeavors.

Imagine, perched, in contrasting attire, on each of my shoulders: the modest, wizened grandmother, (or, if you prefer, southerner) in me, insisting that it his job to try, to make me feel desired, to show the greater degree of interest, to pursue; on the other, the wised-up, educated, and perhaps provocatively dressed feminist who demands that such ideas are out of date. It’s 2012: get over it. We’re all equal.

I’d like to side with the latter: to believe we’ve moved past traditional, archetypal gender roles, that, when I’m interested in someone, I can be as aggressive as any guy.

But then there’s my brother, telling me to wait until Tuesday–and I know he’s right. And there’s my friend A, from Alabama, reminding me that if he hasn’t called, he’s just not that…and I think she’s onto something, too. And, most significantly, there’s me: feeling like I want to be with a guy who shows me how much he wants to be with me.

Not because I like playing hard to get. (As you may know, I fucking hate it and am generally incapable.) But because aggression–tempered, of course, by a sincere kindness and generosity–is a masculine trait. And, like many straight women I know, I find masculine traits attractive. Just as straight guys are attracted to the reverse, the quiet shyness that we’ve constructed as feminine.

I really don’t want to go all theoretical on you. I guess, what I want to say, basically, is this: those old-school gender roles are obnoxious and frustrating and kind of stink. But short of anything else to replace them with, it seems to me, we’re kind of stuck.

 

On Shrinking Mr. Big. Or, Not.

“I don’t want to hear his name ever again,” A announced, sitting across pair of laptops and another of peppermint iced teas from me at an air conditioned coffee shop on the Lower East Side.

“Really?” I said, startled. “Have I ever said that to you?”

She shook her head and turned back to her work, while I turned back to mine–miffed.

Later, A acknowledged that she is presently trying to summon her own will to cut off an Unreliable, On-Again, Off-Again guy who has been in (and out) of her life for years.”I’m trying to walk my talk,” she said.

I understood. But, too, I had to explain: I wasn’t sure whether I was ready to do the same.

So, we’ve both got em: these sort of Long-Distance Mr. Bigs, guys who appear and disappear, who make promises they don’t keep, who you know, for whom, whenever they threaten to show up, you ought to have at least two backup plans–but for whom, you also know, you will be hard pressed not to drop just about anything to see. They’ve got that something: that charisma, that sex appeal, that semi-glamorous lifestyle that you find intimidating as well as a wild turn-on, and you find yourself, often, despite your better judgment, helpless in the face of their charms.

Mine hasn’t been around as long: only six months, most of which were spent on opposite coasts. His communication is so wildly erratic I often thought I might never hear from him again; but the intensity of what intimacy we had made me unsurprised when, each time, he turned up.

And, as I told A, I thought I’d found a pretty successful place of managing what I expect from him. I told her, in fact, that I had “zero” expectations:

“I enjoy the flirtation and whatever it is, for now,” I told her, assuring us both that I’d long since let go of any ideas about it being something deeper, more lasting, more committed.

“I just don’t think there’s anything toxic about it,” I said. “I’m doing what I want to do.”

“That’s great,” she replied, resuming a supportive stance. “I’m happy for you.”

But I wondered, even as I said the words, whether I was full of it: is it, really, ever possible for me to keep a romantic connection separate from the longing I do–undeniably–have for something more “real”? Am I capable of approaching something, really, with “zero expectations”?

The jury’s out.

I know, rationally, that there is basically no chance this guy will ever be as reliable and present as I need a partner to be. (Or, at least, not before the time it takes to produce a successful HBO franchise and subsequent set of extravagant, minorly racist Hollywood films. What, life doesn’t imitate art? Nevermind.)

I also know that, in the immediate aftermath of our most recent rendezvous, I found myself texting him unnecessary photos of my potato salad; digging through a stack of papers in pursuit of an essay he wanted to read; looking online for yoga poses to help soothe his minor breed of back pain.

In other words: thinking about him way too much for someone about whom, supposedly, I expect nothing.

In other words: I know, by now, that I shouldn’t have expectations. But that doesn’t mean, still, that I can always stop myself from wanting to.

On ‘Girls’, Boys and Bodies

“I mean, you are beautiful.”

My friend N lay her hand on my shoulder as we leaned against the kitchen counter, having just talked one another into opening a fourth bottle of beer.

As I looked back at her earnestly, our friend B–also the small, MFA party’s host–hustled in looking for wine, prompting all three of us to keel over in booze-addled giggles.

“I didn’t hear what you said,” B assured, laughing as she waved her hands and backed out of the room. “But I could tell you were having a moment. It’s cool!”

“No, stay!” I said. “We were just affirming each other! And talking about how we need to spend less time worrying about our bodies, and boys!”

“Oh,” B said, shaking her head as she leaned against the doorway and turned her face serious. “That’s really hard.”

Specifically, N and I had been trying to remind one another of our worth in tipsy effort to diminish our pesky preoccupations with being thin and finding someone to sleep with. And, more than that, to stop letting those preoccupations take up our time.

The paradox has always bewildered me: the persistent capacity of smart, capable, otherwise well-adjusted women to become uncertain, irrational crumples of insecurity when it comes to matters of their bodies and their relationships.

The body stuff is what angers me most. Lately, I’ve been struck by recent interviews with Lena Dunham in which she describes not being concerned about her shape.

“Hating my body has not been my cross to bear in this life,” she told New York Magazine. “And I feel very lucky about that.”

Lucky indeed. I admire, I envy her that freedom so much–but I don’t understand it. I grew up in the same city as Lena Dunham, around (ahem) the same time, and with parents who–like hers, I imagine–encouraged me to eat what I wanted and not worry about weight. I don’t know how or when it happened, but somewhere along the line societal influences penetrated: gripping me with a suffocating pressure I still feel to be thin. How could anyone have avoided that?

I’ve thought and talked and written about this subject a lot. But I hadn’t thought about it before in terms of how wasteful it is, in terms of how much time so many of us spend worrying about the way we look and whether we are loved, and how much of that time we could be dedicating, instead, to ourselves.

In other words, how much more productive we might be if we were all more like Lena Dunham: I doubt it’s a coincidence that Dunham’s been so successful at such a young age, and that she doesn’t waste energy worrying about her body.

Not that she’s any more immune than the rest of us when it comes to anxiety about men. If not for that, after all, she’d be a lot less long on material. (As B, a poet, put it last night: “If I didn’t think about guys, what would I write about?” “Look who you’re talking to,” I replied.)

We’ll never not worry about guys–or girls, or whoever. It isn’t avoidable, or even desirable. But just imagine what a relief it would be if we thought about them less.

The other night I spent time with a friend who is ten years older than me, and who I tend to think of–in part for that reason, but for others, too–as substantially wiser and more secure. In most ways, she is.

But when it comes to relationships, her struggle is similar. She recently got burned by a guy who, despite his advanced age, wound up pulling the same predictable pathologies I associate with men in their twenties: jumping in too fast and then freaking out; wanting an unstable woman he can “fix” to avoid intimacy. (Seriously: can someone find me a dude with some fresh set of issues? I’m not even thirty and I’m already bored.)

My friend knew this guy wasn’t her equal. And even so, she let herself spend an entire month feeling crushed by him.

“I hardly got any writing done that whole time,” she told me over wine and lemonade. “I was too busy trying to figure him out.”

Her words resonated powerfully: there is something singularly sharp in the recognition that all the energy I expend agonizing about flaky dudes could be used writing essays.

“We’re artists!” I exclaimed to B and N, standing between them in the kitchen, placing my hands on their shoulders. “We can’t be spending our time thinking about stupid boys, and whether or not we’re thin! We have to focus on ourselves! We have to do our art!” I was trying to convince myself as much as them.

“I think it’s biological,” B said, laughing. “At least, it makes me feel better to think about it that way!”

N and I nodded. “It’s just so frustrating,” N said, tossing her thick mane of hair behind her head. “Cause the boys we date who are artists don’t think about us, ever.”

“Nope,” B concurred. “Never. If they’re doing their thing, that’s what they’re thinking about. If you’re there, great.”

To illustrate I made a show of glancing at my phone: the screen of which, I informed them, still didn’t feature a text response from a certain artist I’m seeing.

“He’s in the studio,” I explained, bitterly. They shook their heads in sympathy.

“I’m just trying to catch myself,” I announced, relaying the advice my older friend had offered. “You know, when I like, pass a woman on campus and start to compare myself, or get too hung up waiting for a text, I’m just gonna try to catch it“–I snapped my fingers–”and make myself think about something else.”

“That’s good!” they agreed, as we began to talk about how much distance there is between recognizing a pattern and being able to break it.

Eventually, our banter leavened: we started to debate about a guy in our program and whether he would be a better kisser (N) or a better fuck (B).

“But don’t you think he’d be so tender?” B pleaded sweetly.

“Ugh,” I replied. “Can’t imagine either one. I’m sure he jackrabbits like a teenager.”

At that moment a different guy walked past, innocently seeking beer, and all of us looked at him and buckled over laughing, again.

Because among all the things that make us expend energy on our bodies and our boys, one is certainly each other. And certainly, sometimes, thank god for that.

 

Flirting Class 102: Really, No One Wants to Date You

When people ask me for sincere relationship advice, I tend to laugh at them.

This, more or less, is what I say: I write a blog about dating, sure. But the theme, generally, is my romantic failures; I’ve had one successful long-term relationship in the last six years; I reject people because they like me and pine for people who don’t. I have no business advising anyone about anything.

But when I talked to my DC friend A yesterday and she told me that I needed to give her some wisdom on how to flirt, it was not the first time a girlfriend had made a similar request. And for once, I didn’t laugh.

So here is a thing about me: I flirt with everything in my path. Much like my parents chocolate labrador, Clarence, consumes everything in his path–from pantyhose, to paper towels, to the occasional pair of designer eyeglasses–I do the same when it comes to flirting with men. (In my defense, I am quite a bit more discriminating than Clarence–and whatever indiscretion remains has not yet once caused my parents three thousand dollars in veterinary bills.)

I cannot tell you why I do this. It seems that it must be a matter of DNA: just as I am genetically predisposed to always take the wrong fork in the path, so am I wired to smile coquettishly at the attractive man in the room. Or, you know, the cute guy selling me coffee. Or teaching me yoga. Etc.

This personality trait is not something one can learn. You have it or you don’t, I’m afraid.

But there is an attitude that you can learn, and it is one that makes flirting a much less daunting endeavor.

Way back when I started this blog, I wrote about a “Golden Rule” of dating: one I’d gotten from a college friend who told me that I needed to assume every guy I meet finds me attractive.

I still believe this to be true. Not that everyone is attracted to me (I’m still working on that one) but that flirting is usually more successful–and more fun–with that thought in mind.

But now, without really realizing–until A asked me to express it–I’ve added a corollary to this rule: yes, you should assume every guy wants to sleep with you. And you should also assume that he won’t.

Assume he has a girlfriend. Assume he has emotional baggage. Assume he is incapable of being in a relationship. (If you’re in your late 20s, none of this should be a stretch.) Basically: assume that, despite finding you the sexiest thing since Lauren Bacall in heels, he has no intention of getting your number/asking you out/taking you home.

The thing about A is that her personality is pretty flirtatious, too: she’s totally witty,  totally charming. She’s from Alabama, for Christ’s sake. But when she asked for my advice, she explained that whenever she goes out she winds up talking to the guys she knows aren’t available and doing everything to avoid those who are.

“It’s just so much easier,” she said. “I’m so much more comfortable talking to guys I know I can’t date!”

At which point I told her what I’ve just told you: that she has got to make herself that comfortable with everyone. And that the only way to do that is to pretend that none of them are really an option.

Her reply, of course, was a fair one: “Easier said than done.”

(Remember when I said I had no business giving advice? Still standing by that one.)

And I know it is. But so is it easier to talk about baking raspberry linzer cookes than it is to actually bake them. And that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. You just need to psych yourself up, find a little focus and treat yourself to occasional spoonfuls of expensive jam.

And with that, I will now return to my life: paying zero caution to the boundary between friendliness and flirtation, breaking hearts and having mine broken with the regularity of Clarence’s indigestion.

Happy flirting.

 

 

Conversations On a Plane

In workshop earlier this semester, my wise peers gave me some typically wise advice:

“You’re idealizing relationships too much,” they said.

“The author is smarter than the narrator. You know that romantic love won’t solve everything.”

I do know this. Sort of. But it’s easier to play with point of view and structure and tone than to be more reflective. I promptly ignored them in my revision.

During my trip home to New York today, though, I was reminded of what they said.

Specifically, an 83-year old Delta passenger named Phyllis, seated beside me between Minneapolis and JFK, reminded me.

Phyllis was (actually, probably she still is) on her way to Cairo. She has three grown children, but no interest in spending the holiday with them. She sees them other times of the year. It will not be her first visit to Cairo, either: she told me she’s been to sixty countries.

“Really I’m just going to Egypt so I can get to Syria,” she explained.

“Why do you want to go to Syria?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t been yet.”

Phyllis, who lives in Lansing, Michigan–where she raised those three kids, alone (“I had a husband, but I got rid of him”)–spontaneously announced to me, abruptly looking up frrom her Steven Martini thriller, that she loves being single.

Continue reading