On (Not) Going It Alone

I don’t know why I was so determined to go it alone.

I mean, for the record, I didn’t really want to drive from New Mexico to New York by myself–at least, not at first. I wanted, of course, to drive with the Guy Who I Met Right Before I Left Who, Just Before I Moved, Flaked.

(Every time I move, by the way, I contemplate this precise fantasy, with, roughly, the same guy: what could be more romantic than a cross-country road trip, fueled by budding romance? A lot of things, it turns out, beginning with lunch or dinner at Red Hot Chinese Takeout II. But no one ever told me this.)

And even when said Guy didn’t come through, I had options: friends who weren’t sure they could get the time off work but might have pulled it off with more aggressive coaxing; a brother who told me he’d buy the one-way plane ticket as soon as I gave him the word.

I didn’t, consciously, decide not to. But weeks passed, and then more, until I’d somehow, passively committed to driving by myself. The notion began to sink in that anything less would signal profound personal failure: a lack of maturity, of independence, of ability to be and do alone.

There are a lot of reasons this feeling doesn’t make sense. Mainly, I take pride in my chronic capacity to depend on other people: whether it’s sewing a button or assembling a chair or navigating a city, I’m much sooner to ask for help than try my own hand. I’m good with people and not-so-good at a lot of basic tasks: the approach strikes me as altogether more efficient.

But driving felt like something I could–and, for some reason, should–do.

Until, suddenly, it didn’t. Until, suddenly, the day before my intended departure, my dog ran away (four hours and countless hysterical phone calls later, she appeared, shame-faced, in the backyard); until it became clear that no one was going to buy my car and I’d have to drive the thing, instead of a rental, all the way; until I asked my mechanic what he thought about my VW’s cross-country prospects and he shrugged at me the way a devoted Knicks fan might if you asked them about the team’s 2013 championship odds.

“I’m starting to panic.”

I was standing in the front room of my Albuquerque house, all the doors splayed open in hopes of Bonita’s return, flinging plastic hangers alternately in boxes for shipping and bags for trash–talking, on the phone, to my mother.

She started enumerating options: I could leave my car in Albuquerque with a friend! (Not practical.) I could fly! (The dog.) Finally: “Maybe I should…I don’t know…what if I met you in St. Louis?”

I threw a pink hanger in a box. “I don’t know what to say, Mom.” I swallowed. I didn’t want to say yes. But I didn’t have it in me to say no. “I’m not going to tell you not to.”

“Well, let’s think about it,” she said, and we hung up.

Ten minutes later I was on the phone with one friend as she assured me Bonita would come back and emailing with my sister in law, who had heroically produced Lost Dog flyers, when I got a voicemail from my father: “I guess I’m meeting you in St. Louis!” he said, eager, into the phone. “Call me about flights!” (This, by the way, is apparently how marriage works.)

All day, a part of my brain had begun to hatch elaborate visions of being alone on the highway, smoke piping from the back of my car, oblivious highway drivers refusing to let me pull over. That part, as I heard my father’s message, heaved a sigh of relief.

Another part clung, stubborn, to the fantasy of going it alone: that part clenched and twisted in disappointment.

And then, it began to fade. It began to fade a few hours and less than 400 miles into my journey, when my car stopped accelerating–mysteriously, it turned out, out of oil. It began to fade further when, thanks to a highway closure and a hotel clerk posing as the real-life Kenneth from 30-Rock, it took me three hours and multiple, misdirected stretches of dark, dirt road to drive the last twenty miles into Oklahoma City. More when I clocked nine hours of driving the next day on four hours of sleep. By the time my phone charger and then phone died a couple hours outside St. Louis, that part of me was entirely gone.

“What is the universe telling me!?” I texted a friend. Short of a clear answer, she offered a sequence of cheesy platitudes in reply: “It’s always darkest before the dawn! Tough times never last, tough people do! Stay the course! You want more?”

I didn’t. But I did wonder: why was I so determined to do it myself? What was I trying to prove?

For a long time I’ve felt as though I need to demonstrate my capacity for solitude. Perhaps it’s to counter the self-crafted persona of someone who is always looking for a relationship; “I may really want a companion, but that doesn’t mean I need one!”, I seem desperate to say.

I seem slow to accept that companionship is rarely a matter of need: sure, it was great having my dad with me when the car did, actually, start to smoke nineteen miles outside of Cincinnati. Just as it was great having a friend to help me pack up my minimal supply of kitchen appliances.

If they hadn’t been there, I probably would have figured it out. But damn am I happy I didn’t have to.


Team Tannen Forever

The first time I got sick from alcohol, at fifteen, I was with all three of my older brothers–at a Christmas party that my oldest brother M’s best friend held annually at his Tribeca loft.

It wasn’t their fault. Each time I finished off a Heineken, said best friend would swing by and replace it; before anyone could have seen or stopped it, I found myself in the bathroom with M holding my hair back and showing me how to use my fingers to make myself throw up. (A skill that, not too many but a few times since, I have been very, very grateful for.)

Putting me to bed that night, my brother J’s then girlfriend made the well-intentioned but misguided move of placing my trash can next to the bed. The parents were furious with all of my brothers for months.

If you’ve ever been a sibling, you can understand that, as the baby girl, I will always be the baby girl: at fifteen, at twenty-seven, at forty. There is a way in which, in my family’s eyes, I will never be as accountable as my older brothers.

A fact that, I’m sure, was in the back of J’s mind when he took me, today, to get matching tattoos: my first, his a small complement to the collection that already fills both his arm sleeves.

So here’s the story:

Up until last Friday, I’d always told people that I “didn’t understand” tattoos.

“I just don’t get it,” I’d say. “I can’t imagine any image that I’d know I’d want on my body forever.”

And then, a day before he and his wife D arrived in New Mexico after driving six days in a rented minivan to get here, J sent me a text: “Tiny matching tattoos in NM?!”

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When a Woman “Finally” Gets Married

Like any good, compulsive iPhone owner, I sometimes check my email during my morning run. You know, Cee-lo and Kanye and various NPR podcasts can only hold a girl’s attention for so long. Even while jogging. Even while jogging with a highly excitable mutt who has been known to throw said girl on her back via enthusiasm for a passing terrier. But I digress.

The problem is that the place where I run–a trail around the campus golf course–doesn’t have very good network reception. And so when, one morning this week, I looked at my email and saw a message from my father, I could only see two things: one, that the subject was “news alert.” And two, that he’d sent it to me along with all of my immediate family members–brothers, mom, sisters-in-law.

I have a grandmother who is about to turn a hundred. I have a sister-in-law who recently pulled out her back and a niece who has had a chronic fever for the past three weeks. Also, I’m Jewish. In other words, I spent the  next five minutes, until the full content of the message finally downloaded, in a state of panic.

Then, I saw what it said: “We just heard over the weekend,” my dad wrote,”that Ilene and Allen got engaged.”

Then, I felt a little ridiculous. (Actually, I felt a little angry too: immediately upon returning home I typed a ‘reply-all’ asking that everyone refrain from sending emails with such ominous subject lines in future; two of my siblings quickly seconded the request.)

But back to the message. Ilene, you see, is my paternal cousin. She is about to turn fifty. She is a very successful, very well-paid corporate lawyer with a condo on the Upper East Side. This is her first marriage.

The “news” my father sent wasn’t exactly breaking. My mother had, rather breathlessly, delivered the information via phone the night before.

The thing is that no one in my family is particularly close with Ilene. None of us are that close to the entire side of the family, I should say: they’re lovely people, but they’re a bit, well, different. You know, they have bigger hair and bigger belt buckles and the political persuasion that such things often imply. Even when I lived in the same city, I’m sure I went years without seeing her–or, certainly, any of her Florida-residing relatives.

The news, then, was not so significant because of our relationship. It was so significant because of the particulars. Specifically, the fact that, at almost-fifty, no one expected her to tie the knot.

Most notably, Grandma Edith–the one who is a hundred.

“Did you hear about Ilene?” she asked when I called to check in on her this morning. (You’ll have to imagine my vocal impression here: full-on Brooklyn, Yiddish accent applies. “Here” is more like “heah.”)

“Yes,” I said, patiently. “I heard.”

“Could you believe it?” she asked. “It’s about time. She’s no spring chicken, you know.”

I will chalk up the fact that she repeated that last phrase, or some version of it (“she isn’t exactly young“) about half a dozen times throughout our ten-minute conversation to age: I’m of the opinion that, if nothing else, surviving a century earns you the right to say whatever the hell you want.

But what about my parents? As I alluded above, they’re pretty progressive types. If my father had his way New York City would be its’ own country and all Fox news anchors would be lined up and shot. They’re supposed to be liberated, feminist, enlightened.

So why were they so brazenly glib with the news that this “old maid” was finally getting hitched?

I don’t really want to call my parents sexist–they’re not. (They are, also, wonderfully tolerant and well-humored, relatively private people who put up admirably with an aggressively oversharing daughter–for which I am ever-grateful.) That is, they’re not sexist any more than the rest of us are. And the reaction to Ilene’s announcement reminds me that “the rest of us” still have a ways to go.

Talk about news that isn’t quite breaking, but it still unsettles to realize that, even in our post-”Sex and the City,” women-getting-more-educated-than-men era, the notion that a woman is only worth her marriage persists. To be a single man is a choice; to be a single woman is pathetic.

I’m glad my cousin is getting married. But not because there’s anything significant about a ring or a ceremony. I’m glad because Allen seems like a really good, honest guy who has a good chance of making her happy. Which, no matter how old or successful we are, is all any of us can hope for.

On Finding One’s Place

I enjoy housesitting for the obvious, conventional reasons.

You know, the occasion to raid a fridge for everything approximating sugar, vinegar or sustenance. The chance to recline on a leather couch and watch cable. (Living, as I do, without a TV, I benefit from the occasional reminder that 900 options of channels quickly translates to a choice between Golden Girls and Bethany Geting Married?). The opportunity to pal around with a 120 lb. rottweiler named Fido whose most aggressive move is a mild effort at vertical elevation in those moments when he anticipates a (not-too-long) walk or a dropped morsel of breakfast burrito.

As I lazed around yesterday afternoon, alternating my attention between a short story collection, the dogs, and a marathon of America’s Next Top Model, I thought of yet another reason I enjoy it that I’ve never quite been able to articulate–one largely unrelated to sloth, gluttony or rottweilers.

Shock of shocks, what got me thinking was one of the stories. It was by the writer Pam Houston, with whom I got to take a workshop last weekend, in Taos. If you haven’t read her, do. She writes funny, insightful and heavily autobiographical fiction about being a smart and successful woman with chronically poor judgment about men. Imagine my interest.

I’ve been reading her second and lesser-known collection, “Waltzing the Cat,” in which all the stories are linked and have the same narrator. They deal with her misadventures finding a man, but also with her quest for place.

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Sharing a Bed

One difference between dogs and people–or at least, well-adjusted people who have social skills–is that dogs have absolutely no qualms about staring at you.

They stare at you when they’re alarmed because you’re banging a bag of ice against the kitchen floor. They stare at you when they’re perplexed because you’re suddenly carrying toys they like to play with out of the house and putting them in the trunk of your Volkswagon. And they stare at you when they really, really don’t want you to put that dress on and leave the house because they still don’t fully trust that you’ll ever come home despite the fact that every time you’ve ever left before, you have.

And yes: they stare at you when they would much prefer to be sleeping in your bed, thanks.

And so, it’s official: Bonita and I are sleeping together.

I resisted.

First the nice and very reasonable-seeming people at Animal Humane told me it was a bad idea because she wouldn’t respect my authority. Then my mother told me it was a bad idea because I don’t sleep.

“You have insomnia, remember?” she said over the phone. “The last thing you need is something else to keep you awake.”

I’m terrible at making decisions, so when others make them for me–sometimes I accept. I placed Bonita on the chair beside my bed to spend the night.

“That looks small,” my father observed when I sent photos of her all curled up. “Does she need a bed?”

“If you want to spoil her like you spoil your other grandchildren…” was my reply. I aborted my own doggie bed search and kept her on the chair until the L.L. Bean box arrived containing her monogrammed, loden-colored gift.

Of course, by then she had adjusted to the chair–and every time I put her on it she stared at me, ears perked and head tilted, the way you might if I asked you, for no evident reason, to stand on a coffee table.

I thought taking her with me to Taos would be the perfect opportunity to get her accustomed. I packed her new bed with us and placed it at the foot of mine in our pet-friendly Sagebrush Inn hotel room. Instead she sprawled herself up on the crumpled pile of fallen blankets right beside it. She looked at me. By the second night, we were spooning.

And sure enough, our first night back in Albuquerque, she tried her luck at hopping up with me. And, whaddya know, I didn’t have the heart to turn her down. (That stare–I’m telling you.)

Frankly, I didn’t particularly want to either. I’ve been sleeping fine, actually, and quite enjoying the presence of something warm, soft and breathing in bed beside me.

I like companionship. Isn’t that why I got a dog?

The Paradox

This weekend, I am mulling over three questions:

1) Why is it that so many soccer players are so extremely attractive?

2) What, exactly, is a dog looking for in a place to poop?

3) What are you supposed to do when you’re single and tired of being lonely?

All three of these questions mystify me. On the first two I’ve got nothing (comments welcome); on the third, years of experience still leaves me baffled. But at least, as you may have guessed, I’ve got some thoughts.

Yesterday I talked to one of my best friends from Washington, A. She is one of those friends, a few years older and invariably wiser, who always imparts valuable wisdom.

(She’s also the one who is Southern, and who is always counseling me not to call, not to make the first move, to play hard-to-get etc–I could hear her telephonically beam with pride when I told her about the guy whose texting I’d snarkily rebuffed last month. “But I never cared that much about him,” I confessed–minimizing the accomplishment. “It doesn’t matter, she assured. “It’s great practice!”)

In updating her on my summer, I told her that despite going out virtually every night with various friends, despite having a solid stable of girlfriends and even a few guys to hang out with, I still feel lonely without a partner to see movies and take weekend trips with.

I explained the thrust of my current romantic dilemma: that while I feel absolutely exhausted, consumed with my own projects and totally unmotivated to look for someone, I feel the desire for companionship as acutely as ever.

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Bonita and Me: An Update

Bon Bon attempting to cuddle while I blog

I know, it’s been a while: besides the new pup (on whom I have decided to henceforth blame every form of tardiness in my life) it has been simply too hot to blog.

Too hot to do anything besides drink Diet Cokes in the daytime and beers in the nighttime and fantasize about nonexistent bodies of water to the hum of an insufficient ceiling fan and the drone of a rather inept swamp cooler. Welcome to summer in New Mexico.

Anyhow, I’m sure you’ve all been waiting with baited breath beside your own (hopefully more efficient) cooling device for an update on the progress of mine and Bonita’s relationship.

And I must say it feels only appropriate to declare–after less than a week of knowing one another–that I am quite confident she is my perfect match.

I don’t mean that in the sense that we’re meant for each other, or that we’re soulmates–I don’t believe in that even when it comes to canines. But as far as her capacities as a lover are concerned, she is essentially my equal.

All she wants, after all, is to give and receive love. There would seem to be no one, person or dog–save the occasional hyper-agressive German Shephard around the corner–on whom she is not absolutely desperate to jump up and smooch.

Okay, so I’d like to think I’m a bit more discriminating.

But seriously, she is about as friendly a dog as I’ve ever encountered. And while she does like to follow me from room to room, from bathroom to couch, even in the middle of a nap, she would do the same for you if you happened to be nearby and breathing. (The other day at the dog park, she nearly went home with another woman.)

Okay, so I’d like to think I’m a bit more faithful.

She also, though, takes after me in stubbornness. Just try getting her to eat her breakfast when she’s still got to pee, or roll over off her back without at least a small session of belly scratching.

And yes, hopefully, I need be told fewer times to get out of a car’s front seat or, as the case may also be, someone else’s bed.

Having already been chided for attempting analysis of our budding companionship, I will resist the temptation to venture further comparison.

But I simply had to share how heavenly it is to find myself in the suddenly constant company of a being whose thirst for love and affection just about matches mine.

Even if said being is one who, every once in a while, eats a flip-flop.

On New Love, Doggy Style

When I first began to talk seriously about getting a dog, not a few friends commented that they could clearly imagine my blog shifting its focus from interactions with men to those with dogs.

I always replied that–yeah, I could, too.

It’s been two days since Bonita (nicknames: Bon Bon, Nita; full name: Bonita Appelbum; not her name: Bonnie) arrived, though, and I am grasping for ways to make our relationship interesting.

I could tell you how mellow she is, how she likes to lick faces and sleep in the chair beside my bed (the first night she followed me when I got up to go to the bathroom; last night she merely perked up). I could tell you how awesome she is in the car, how she hardly makes a sound and loves to have her tender post-partum belly massaged.

Or that I have never been made to feel so triumphant by another creature’s poop.

But, do you really care? Really you just want to cuddle with her yourself and have her lick your face. (If you don’t, I can’t help you.)

The thing, I guess, about uncomplicated, unconditional love is that it’s highly uninteresting.

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Man vs. Dog

There’s something I’ve been meaning to share for a while now.

It’s this: I am not lying, and I am only slightly exaggerating, when I tell you that nine times out of ten, when I see a man on or near campus who appears good-looking, it is the same guy.

Not only is it the same guy, it is the same guy who I have already gone out with.

We met a few months after I moved here, when I was busy pseudo dating Tall Anglo and caught Attractive Man staring at me unabashedly at a coffee shop. I approached, boldly, and gave him my phone number. He called and we went on one completely pleasant coffee date, during which we realized that he’d had a similar interaction with my–for the record, very stunning–roommate at a campus library. Post-date he texted me that he’d had a really nice time. I never heard from him again.

(He is always very friendly when we run into each other; sometimes he even stares in a similar fashion to the way he did when we initially met. Only this time it makes me feel less intrigued and more contemplative of hitting him.)

Why have I been wanting to share this, you ask? Because it seems to capture, as well as anything could, why it is that I am moving closer to the idea of no longer looking for a boyfriend in this city and instead looking for a dog.

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