Slipping Up, Serials, and Self-care

“But you don’t want anything serious either, right?”

It was the early stages of one of a couple episodes this summer (in the blurred-genre serial that is my peripatetic life) in which I attempted to engage with a man on terms, either explicit or implicit, best characterized as casual. These episodes were mostly comic, but not without small tragic turns; needless to say, they did not progress beyond brief.

The speaker was a good friend. But–clearly-one who hasn’t known me very long.

I looked at this friend as if she’d presumed I hate barbecued pork chops, or joy.

“Are you joking?” I said. “I always want something serious.”

She frowned. “But aren’t you, like, not sure where you’ll be living in a few months?”

I shrugged.

“And, like, trying to focus on three different books?”

I shrugged again.

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s a thing.”

I wish it were not a thing. I wish it were not a thing in the same way I wish the idea of being settled in a routine and zip code with a partner and dog doesn’t fill me with panic in the way that it does. I wish it were not a thing in the same way I wish, sometimes, that I was more inclined to work more and play less and on occasion resist the urge to spill the details of my dating life with every passing gym buddy or charming barista.

I wish, in other words, (and as we all, at times, do) that I was someone different than I am.

We lie to ourselves all the time.

In relationships, on our own. We spin stories that suit a whole web of longings and comforts that shift as we do. I think we’re more aware of this as we age, and perhaps better at bridging gaps between who we’d like to be and how we envision ourselves. But I’m not sure that process arcs straight: we gain ground and then lose it, the way we do with most things–relationships, body image, reading and responsible bedtimes.

All to say: I’m trying not to be too harsh with myself for the fact that, despite the look of horror with which I replied to my innocent, well-meaning pal, I managed to convince myself, at certain, likely humid and sun-spotted moments, that I am someone capable of dating casually. That I’m fine with not establishing clear terms. Totally cool with not having a single freaking clue when I’m going to see someone next. Just chill about a spurt of intense intimacy followed with days of radio silence.

Blame it on the moisture; it can make things hazy.

I’d like to tell you I’ve learned my lesson.

I’d like to tell you I’ve taken a solemn vow to only pursue people whose intentions and emotional capacaties are as serious as mine.

I’d also like to tell you that I will meditate for ten minutes every morning forever after reading a difficult Ginsberg poem, and that by the end of 2014 I’ll have completed drafts of all three book projects now in the works.

Instead, what I’ll tell you is this: I’ll try.

I’ll make lists. I’ll cry on the shoulders of gym buddies and baristas and blessed single gal girlfriends who think nothing of meeting me for drinks evenings on end until I feel a little bit more okay about the abrupt end of summer. I’ll try and treat myself to the occasional massage and remember to do yoga. I’ll sit in silence as many mornings as I can. I’ll read Ginsberg and O’Hara and Kasischke and Howe. I’ll work at balancing friends and teaching with getting shit done. I’ll stay on my bike as long as weather permits. I’ll try to be honest with myself about what I need from my mother and men.

Cause we can’t always so easily harness these pesky patterns at odds with our essential natures–no matter how many times we notice (or: reader, forgive me! blog about) them.

But, more easily, we can learn how to nourish ourselves when we slip up.

And slip up, friends, we always will.


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.