“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?”
“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.”
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 .