On Being Bread for Each Other

“Who are you going to take care of when you get home?”

My grandmother leaned forward as I tucked a thin white hospital blanket around her exposed shoulders.

Her voice was thin, her breath short; she’d been at New York Presbytarian for about a week by then, with symptoms of bronchitis tied to a host of other, more serious concerns. Four days earlier, I’d gotten on a plane from Seattle—where I’d been visiting friends—after a phone call from my mother suggested things were dire.

“I don’t know,” I shrugged, collapsed back down into a square leather chair. “Myself?”

A week before I flew to New York, Rob had moved to Duluth—in pursuit of a lifelong dream. (Calm down: not the city itself, but one the city happens to contain.) He may stay, may not. We may stay coupled, may not.

Either way: for the next few months, I will be mostly in Minneapolis, mostly alone.

For those few days in Manhattan, I was not. I was, primarily, by my grandmother’s bedside: spooning her applesauce, holding paper cups of ice water and ginger ale to her (lipsticked) mouth, fetching her the daily Times and tracking down displaced reading material. (“How is she doing?” My mother texted after my grandmother, who I have always called Susie, emerged from a relatively minor procedure. “Well,” I wrote back. “Her biggest concern is what happened to her New York magazine.”)  

I am no hero: it is my parents, mostly, and my mother, most of all, who have been her true caretakers throughout the course of these recent health struggles. My presence allowed them a brief respite, some capacity to attend to their respective work demands, but the afternoon I left, they were back by her side—as they still are.

Too, that I could get there in the first place was a product of privilege—my parents ability to subsidize a last-minute, cross-country airfare; my flexibility as a college teacher to easily cancel the first day of class.

And being with Susie, I must add, is no chore: among her many miraculous traits is the capacity, even with her body under multi-pronged attack, to maintain a dry humor; upon the departure from her room of a rather aggressively handsome cardiologist: “They know,” she deadpanned, “to send me the good-looking ones.”

All this aside: my presence, while appreciated, felt like a gift to myself as much as anyone else.


 “I think our deepest human desire is to give ourselves to each other as a source of physical, emotional and spiritual growth… Isn’t ‘tasting’ the best word to express the experience of intimacy? Don’t lovers in their ecstatic moments experience their love as a desire to eat and drink each other? As the Beloved ones, our greatest fulfillment lies in becoming bread for the world. That is the most intimate expression of our deepest desire to give ourselves to each other.”

At a recent retreat where I spent two nights, one of them with Rob, we stumbled on books by the late Christian theologian Henri Nouwen.

Just days earlier, a friend had told me about Nouwen, a former professor of his at Yale Divinity, so the books appearance felt serendipitous—and Rob and I spent that evening reading passages together. What’s quoted above is one of many that stuck out.

One theme Nouwen touches on is the tension between solitude and community: how, while connection is what nourishes and sustains us, we must also seek to be comfortable in solitude—must avoid being driven, blindly, by the (very human) fear of being alone.

“The movement from loneliness to solitude,” Nouwen writes, “…is the beginning of any spiritual life because it is the movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play.”

This theme has felt resonant lately: as I enter into a period of straddling isolation and partnership, as I contemplate shifting commitments to different communities and paths. 

I believe connection—our capacity to forge intimacy with others—is our primary purpose; and, that it is through seeking authentic intimacy with others that we can come closer to knowing our true selves.

Knowing ourselves isn’t the end goal in and of itself, of course—but self-knowledge is what allows us an understanding of what gifts we can offer each other; how, as Nouwen puts it, we can provide “bread for the world.” 

Bread that, as my time with my grandmother reminded me, feeds ourselves as much as it feeds those for whom we care.   


The day before Rob moved to Duluth, I read on the couch while he went through boxes of old papers and things.

At one point he tossed over a stack of print photographs: from a post-college summer he spent in New Jersey, doing a social justice-focused fellowship. I’d heard bits about it, but not much.

As I flipped through, I teared up: he looked so young and so innocent, so cute; the following day signaled not just a move for him but uncertainty for us; I was (it turned out) pre-menstrual.

Too, as I explained on the drive to dinner, there was (is, perhaps, always) something melancholy in the reminder that the person to whom you feel most connected, by whom you feel most seen and most known—that this person has lived many lives without you.

Rob met my observation playfully—with a look that translates, roughly, to: My god Elizabeth could you possibly perform more of a caricature of yourself than you are right now??

“She has to know everything!” he teased.

Indeed, one of my favorite quotes comes from a Tim O’Brien craft essay I’m sure I’ve mentioned before here: the simple statement that we will never know what it’s like inside another person’s head, how compelling it is to try, how tragic it can feel that we’ll always fail.

But the sadness those pictures triggered was accompanied by a sweetness and warmth: by the feeling that I am still beset with the same excitement I was initially: the feeling of omigod I want to know everything about this person!

And, regardless of that desire’s impossibility—or perhaps, because of it—the desire itself feels joyful, enlivening.

That desire, as it relates to Rob, and to others who I have, do and will encounter continuously—fellow spiritual seekers (folks who often take the form of activists and poets)—comforts me. Because while it may surface as a sort of grasping, a reaching out, it also contains its own nourishment—a gift that doesn’t require anything in return. 


It felt sad coming back from New York to a home where my partner is not. Where I didn’t have anyone, besides myself, to care for.

I won’t pretend there isn’t pain in the loneliness I feel now. There is.

But there is also relief: in taking a Thursday night after a rollercoaster week to lie on my couch and read a novel. To attend an organizing meeting early on a weekend morning without feeling pulled to stay snuggled in bed. To visit a Saturday night resistance singalong without the competing option of a date night. In taking a trip to the co-op with the express intention of spending $30 on rose-scented lotions (mission achieved) because aromas, I have discovered in advanced age, are a powerful mood-lifter and these days my moods could use some help.

There is warmth, in other words, and maybe even joy, in caring for myself—knowing that work equips me, down the road, to care more fully, more authentically, for those I have the privilege to love.



On Love and Work

“But don’t you think there’s a partner out there for you who might be more perfect?”

My brother was sitting across from my parents and me at an upper floor breakfast buffet in a Long Beach, California, hotel.

We’d been talking about a podcast, and–like most of my recent conversations–I’d managed to turn this one into a vehicle for gushing about my relationship. 

In this moment, I was gushing about how often we argue.

Rather: how good we are at communicating.

I had brought up the advice of Alain De Botton, recently interviewed on On Being about the New York Times article of his that, apparently, attracted more interest than anything else that happened in 2016. (Sit on that for a second.)

Specifically, his caution–one I find deeply compelling–that all relationships are very difficult. That people are difficult, in all our myriad, intricate ways, and that, therefore, any attempt at intimacy between them will require serious, delicate labor.

“Well,” my father had chimed, “of course that’s true in the long term. In the beginning, though, you should think the other person is perfect.”

At this, I bristled.

I’ve already said it publicly once, so, here goes again: I’m in love. I have found a partner who I deeply respect and admire. With whom I love to talk and listen and read and walk and be. Who inspires me with his compassion and commitment to working for racial and economic justice. Who makes me uncontrollably giggle and reads fucking poems. I have found someone, in other words, who I think is a really great fit for me–or at least, for the person I am now.

I have not found someone who I think is perfect.

And nor, as I told my brother and father and mother, do I think I ever will.


“Is he you?”

About six weeks after meeting Rob, I stood in the YMCA locker room on a Saturday morning across from a friend. As you might have guessed, things had already grown serious, and intense. Things, too, were/are not without conflict. While both he and I are skilled at talking through most things that arise, there is one particular issue–an ongoing friendship with his ex–where we struggle.

“We’ve actually talked about seeing a therapist,” I shared.

Thus, her remark: what other human would consider the idea of counseling less than two months into a relationship?

The one I’m dating, it turns out.

There are, in fact, many ways in which he and I overlap. (His mother, upon reading my blog: “She sounds like you, but in a female voice.”) Also: we both have small bladders, a tendency toward messiness and intellectual seeking, and a hyper attunement to the emotional energy of other humans; we can connect just as powerfully through physical intimacy as we can sitting on a couch, sharing passages from bell hooks or Grace Lee Boggs and reflecting on one another’s insights.

Before you throw up, let me assure you that there are, too, significant gaps: in our respective levels of interest in golf and backgammon, for example, or my desire to report on most waking moments of my day, even (on those rare occasions) when we’re apart, versus his inclination to keep some things to himself–along with other, related (and highly gendered) communication dynamics.

We talk about that–the gendered piece. And, when stuff comes up, when one of us feels slighted or aggrieved or even a little bit distant, we acknowledge and talk about it: the assorted levels of conditioning, from our families and cultural backgrounds, that, in many ways, still determine how and what we speak and behave. (Along with, ya know, lousy mornings, etc.)

As my brother was quick to point out, it can get a little exhausting.

But, for me at least, it’s also deeply rewarding. Recognizing and probing our moments of disconnection makes the moments of connection more powerful, and feel more full.

It can also make me walk around South Minneapolis, notice folks wearing wedding rings, and ask myself, Good god, how do people do this for years?

At this point (as the above might make you glean), I can imagine–or at least feel hopeful–that he and I could continue to make things work in the long term.

I also know enough to know that I don’t know anything–and that the way I (and he) feel right now may have little bearing on the way either of us feels in ten weeks or months or years.

But that, too, feels helpful: my most recent relationship felt burdened by my sense that it was somehow fated; sure, rationally, I knew there’s no such thing, but (for various reasons relating to the conditioning described above, plus the circumstances of that particular meeting and a set of shared physical features) emotionally, I let myself buy into the lie that we had to be together. And that belief, however small, fostered an anxiety that hurt much more than it helped–that coated me with a near-constant edginess, a low-lying panic: what if I fuck this up? 

I’m not immune to that now. I still have moments of terror about losing Rob. If and when it happens, I know it will suck. But I also feel somewhat lighter than I did then: right now, I think we’re great for each other, and push one another to be better people; I also know that could change. I think it does feel somewhat miraculous that we crossed paths when we did; I also don’t think there’s any providential guarantee that we should or will last.

A friend who’s been with her partner for many years recently shared an exchange they have when things between them grow hard: “Do you still want to make it work?” They ask one another. Both of them recognize that if the answer is yes, they can. And they do.

I’m not sure there’s any sounder theory of relationships than that: you both just have to want it badly enough to put up with the hardship–hardship that, no matter how long you’ve been together, will always arise.


Birthday Letters, Desert Hot Springs, Weddings and Work

Here’s something: if you’re going to steal someones’s idea and ask your dearest friends and family, in lieu of sending you a birthday gift (not that most of them were planning on it…) to write you a letter in which they give feedback on who you are and where you’re going, you are asking for it.

And “it,” I’ve learned, may well include lying by yourself in a king-sized bed in Palm Springs, California, where are you are staying with a middle aged gay man named Chuck because it is a cheap place to sleep while you attend a writer friend’s wedding, and reading, on your iPhone, a letter from a college friend so touching it makes you weep and then compels you to go running in 95 degree heat–despite the interaction you predicted this choice would prompt with your host. (“I’m going for a run.” “Oh, you’re one of those.“)

There were many reasons that letter made me weep: gratitude, nostalgia, sadness; this friend and I, despite a shared set of interests and mutual adoration unparalleled among liberal arts alumna nationwide, have led largely separate adult lives: in separate cities, with separate friend groups and, as she pointed out, along rather divergent paths.

But here’s a big one: among the questions she posed was this–are you happy? What does it mean to be happy?

It seems like a basic enough question. But, of course, it isn’t. Frequently, it’s one that becomes trendy to pose in the commentary sphere: How do we find happiness? What’s the formula? Such that it can feel trite to even bring up.

But I’m going to anyway. Because my dear friend did. And because it’s interesting. And because all of the people I’ve raised it with in the days since have offered a range of thought-provoking answers. (And: truly, because I would feel guilty if I received a selection of thoughts and questions and wisdom and then just hoarded it all, rather than attempt to share some of it with you.)


Another thing you might do, the day after reading such a letter, which was also the day of the wedding, at which a lot of accomplished, interesting guests celebrated the commitment of two extraordinary people, one of whom had waited (it didn’t go unremarked) until age sixty to choose someone as extraordinary as him, you might drive by yourself to a town with the phrase “hot springs” in the title and soak.

You might reflect.

You might rest in the indoor pool with a view of the outdoor pool and the San Jacinto mountains, and sit with this question of what it means to be happy. You might notice that the first images that come to mind are those of being with your family–a set of people from whom you are choosing to live a plane ride away; a response that might make you question everything, not limited to but including whether you love yourself enough to grant yourself happiness, and whether the experience of being with them is actually as pleasant as you would like, from three thousand miles and dozens of degrees of distance, to believe.

You might cry, again, and then treat yourself to guacamole.

And then you might, as you do, pose the question to people you trust: your roommate as you walk around the lake, your new but dear friend who you jog with on Wednesday mornings, the handful who, conveniently, are collected in your Tuesday-Thursday YMCA boot camp class.

You might listen as one of them explains how, despite agreeing with the general consensus that our lives contain happiness in moments (and in the pursuit of passion, and in sharing space and intimacy with the people we hold dear), she recognizes a certain kind of whole happiness in having all of the parts: the things she’s always known she wanted — a meaningful career, a strong partnership, children.

You might recognize that this is the thing that you wish you didn’t have to acknowledge, but do: that you have some of the parts (rewarding work, deep friendships) but you don’t have all of them, yet (a committed, passionate relationship, children) and that if and when you do is something you not only can’t control but can’t foresee, and that this fact does make it difficult to feel a complete, convincing degree of “happy.”

You don’t want to accept this.

As I write, I’m standing at my kitchen counter baking chocolate cookies for a friend’s cozy family dinner. Last night I cooked salad and soup for three other friends. This may be the most glorious Minnesota fall on record, with temperatures so warm I don’t need a jacket on my bike. In three days I’m going off for a four-week residency where someone will actually give me money to finish (n’shah allah) writing the thing I have always felt that I needed to write.

In other words: I am so fortunate and so loved. It feels absurd to say, to think, that I’m not, or that I may not be, completely happy.

And yet: knowing what you want and not knowing how you’re going to get it isn’t an easy thing.

As I, and (hopefully) you know, if all I wanted was a relationship, I could have one; what I want is something bigger and deeper. What I want is something I have no idea whether or how or when (at sixty? sure!) I’ll find.

What I want is to find a way to be happy without knowing those things.

What I want, in other words, is what we all want: to live with uncertainty.

Because whether we’re in a relationship or not, whether we have all the parts we’re seeking or we don’t, none of us knows how the next minute or hour or week or day will impact our lives.

What we want is to be at peace with that; to trust that we’ll be okay. That we have enough love within ourselves and around us to be okay no matter what’s next.

That kind of steadiness requires daily work: mindfulness, reflection, affirmations, writing, pizza–whatever it takes.

It’s work I’m grateful to those around me for the reminder that it’s work I–like all of us–must do.





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 The Value of a Picture

Okay. So you may recall that I mentioned (briefly, hyper-cautiously) that I had a new Thing going on. You may also recall me saying that I wasn’t ready to say much about it. (You know, right before I said things about it.) And, here I am again today: still not ready, still saying more things. Um, so it goes.

But bear with me. You may also recall that I mentioned spending time with this Person (sorry, can’t resist) in New York–a place, you likely remember, I don’t (currently) live.

In fact, neither does he. (Do you like these hints? I think we’ve narrowed it down to the world minus eight million people!) But, still: it remains the case that he and I don’t live within one, or even two thousand miles of one another.

Which is all to say: perhaps I would reveal more about what this Thing was if I, myself, knew. But, geography (and other, you know, Things) such as they are, I have no friggin clue. It’s possible that I will never see him again. It is also possible that, five years from now, we will wind up wedded and window shopping on weekend mornings in some precious East Coast enclave that features a lot of brick. (Discuss.)

An uncertainty that, as you might guess, I find not a little unsettling. But I’m adjusting. As you may, also, recall, I’ve got other things (namely: a dissertation; and: trying to sleep every once in a while) on which to focus my efforts and energies.

And, as A put it the other day, while I watched her scrub her bathtub and recounted the latest developments, at least I’ve got someone to think about.

“Exactly!” I told her, leaning my head against the tile. “Isn’t that kinda the only thing that matters!?”

Here’s the part where I share something else that’s personal, the part where my stomach churns and I momentarily question the whole dating-blog enterprise (really? I’m going to say what happened? And put it on Facebook?) and then continue on because, what the hell else am I gonna do? Attempt an ending for my dissertation? As we say in New Mexico (kind of), that’s what manana is for. Also, I’m abnormal and don’t really care.

So, here goes: over break, (before above mentioned Thing), I finally talked to M: finally, I asked him how he felt. I need only tell you that the conversation was unpleasant, and you can imagine the rest.

I don’t want to undermine the feelings I had for him or the weight of my expectations about our potential future. (Okay, I totally do. But if I did, and you never trusted me again, I wouldn’t blame you.)

But I do want to tell you this: that the day after we spoke, riding the Bolt Bus up from Washington to New York, I contemplated what seemed the most devastating impact of the conversation: who, I wondered, was I going to think about now?

It’s a question with which I anticipated grappling. The night before I talked to M, I stayed over at my friend R’s house in Mt. Pleasant.

“Are you sure you’re ready to do this?” she asked as we lazed around her living room drinking tea. “Like, don’t you need those fantasies of ending up with him sometimes? Like, when you’re jogging and it’s hard?”

“Totally,” I replied–but, as I told her, I was determined to do it anyway.

A moment later, she took back her counsel: “Nevermind,” she said. “The great thing about fantasies is that you control them. Who cares what he says.”

It’s true: I could picture myself married to Brad Pitt if I want to. Pretty sure Angelina (if, you know, she happened to hear) wouldn’t consider me too big a threat.

But, sadly, I don’t. I want to have a different face to stick in those domestic daydreams of dinner-making and basketball-watching: one that the entire world and I don’t collectively encounter every time we go to Walgreens.

Because it isn’t, of course, just about the face: it’s about the comfort of having a concrete possibility. However remote it may be: I know there’s just as good a chance of me ending up with this guy (you know, the “Thing” guy) as there is for me to be with a whole handful of people I’ve never laid eyes on.

But I can’t picture them. I can picture him. And on days when I’m jogging, or lunging, or writing, for that matter, and it’s hard–that’s an option I’m pretty glad to have.



Letter to a Friend Who Can’t Get Close. Or, Get Over It.

So, one of my dear friends is going through a pretty rough transition right now.

Actually, she’s wildly happy, goes out all the time, and has more fun on a weekly basis than most people I know combined. Nonetheless, she lacks the requisite stability for a therapist and has things on her mind.

Namely: like a lot of women my age, part of her is thrilled to be single and loves her life that way, and another part–you know, the part that grows from some indecipherable combination of genuine longing, physical desire and immense societal pressure–really fucking wants a boyfriend.

A combination that found us absorbed in a morning-after-late-night-out (many boys met, little potential perceived) talk in which she determined to probe the psychoanalytical depths of her issues with intimacy. Why, she posed, was she so afraid of getting close to someone?

Donning my neutral, poker-faced therapist persona, I leaned back on her bed, took a sip of milky black tea, and asked what I imagined my therapist would: “What,” I asked, “is the worst thing that can happen?”

We mumbled through a collective response: pain, heartbreak, suffering, misery, disappointment, loss, devastation.

You know: a heartbreak.. A really, really shitty thing–but a finite thing all the same. Sure, there are some heartbreaks that last a while, but the acute trauma–the brutal, unbearable misery–doesn’t last.

So why is it that so many of us are so paralyzed by the fear of something that, rationally, we all know is temporary?

As someone who makes herself vulnerable with the determined regularity of Michelle Obama’s arm workouts–it would seem a hard question to answer.

So yeah: for mysterious reasons that I routinely, and with equal determination, continuously explore, I don’t let fear of that hurt prevent me from risking it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t know all about that fear.

Instead, I basically live with it constantly. I (shocker) think about it always. Every time I get attached to someone, I enter a constant condition of terror that they will break my heart. And then, usually, they do…and then I get over it…and  then I do it again: a pattern that does nothing to diminish the intensity of that fear each and every time.

Because, each and every time, the fear–like the attachment–is different: I’m not (yet) pinning myself to the nearest eligible man-without-a-substance-problem. I get attached to men I find genuinely interesting and exciting, people I love being with and talking to, people I can (you know, almost immediately) imagine a real and happy future with.

And each of them transform that abstract, existential fear of hurt into something concrete and singularly, specifically scary: not just that I will spend a few weeks wimpering couchside but that I will lose this person–this particularly, singularly fabulous person whose affections (and, perhaps most importantly, whose elaborately imagined future with) I’ve grown dependent upon, will take it all away.

Because at any moment, without any warning, they can. A truth that I’m pretty sure will never cease to be terrifying.

But then, so are a lot of things we can’t control: anthrax attacks, sick children, car accidents, plane crashes. And we still all go around living our lives, riding subways and planes, having kids and periodically going on dates, because that’s why we’re here: to see the world, to be passionate, to make families, to fall in love.

What else is there to do?

Pause: So I wrote all that a few days ago, and then WordPress got cranky, and I got lazy and self-doubting, and am only going back to post now. And since writing it I’ve spent time with a friend who has gone through just about more shit in her young life than most people can fathom ever getting through. And you know what? She’s getting through it. Not only that, she’s getting through it while having tremendous success and while surrounding herself with an exceptional amount of devoted friendship and love. And it’s easy to look at her life and think: “Gosh, I could never could deal with that.” And frankly, probably, most of us might not handle it as well. But the point is that if we had to, we would: that all of us are much more resilient than we think, that we handle the shit that we have to handle, and the most evidently stable parts of our lives can dissolve in an unexpected instant.

Which is all to rattle off this list of platitudes (thank you for indulging me): you never know what will happen, and chances are, somehow, you’re gonna get hurt, no matter what. If you’re happy being single, that’s great. Believe it or not, I am, too. But if you’re holding back out of fear, then listen to what I should have told my friend a week ago: whatever happens, you can deal. Get over it.

Yay 2012: The Paradox of Options

The other night I lamented to my friend D, over beers and corn dogs at a Brooklyn bar, the fact that I ever sincerely believed I might wind up marrying one of my exes.

“How could I have talked myself into that?” I exclaimed, dodging bocce balls.

“I wouldn’t worry about it too much,” he replied. “I mean, that’s basically your starting point.”

I laughed, cause it’s funny, cause it’s true. And it was especially funny, and especially true, because of what had happened just the day before: when I had an extended, if joking, conversation about marriage with a man who I had met–through a friend, in my defense–hours earlier.

You can imagine the dialogue: “You’re twenty-eight? I’m twenty-eight! Let’s get married!”, followed by a discussion of variously significant details: how many kids would you like? City or country? Wedding or elope? Etc. What, this doesn’t sound familiar?

Fascinating. Well, it does to me. It’s only happened a couple of times, but both with men I’d met just that day, and neither of whom I ever saw again–much less met at the alter.

But it won’t surprise you to know that, both times, too, there was part of me that could totally imagine getting hitched to the guy. (You know the perfect stranger to whom I’d just been introduced.)

Because: once you’ve established banter and attraction and mutual interest in a shared third party, what else, really, is there?

I mean, besides whether they want kids and where they’d like to live–both issues, by the way, I’m pretty sure remain unresolved in many a long-term couple–what else do you have to know?

In other words: if you really want to, you can make it work with just about anyone. (Really, I think, anyone. But, preferably: anyone you wouldn’t mind having regular sex with and talking to for a few consecutive hours.) I believe that. Being with anyone is gonna be work; it’s just a matter of whether you’re both willing.

And yet, I also believe–or rather, have, rather arduously, not to mention conspicuously, learned–that it can be hard to find a person with whom you share that kind of chemistry, basic as it seems, and have it all work out. (The more I think about it, the more “all” is just code for “timing.” Which means that I’ve been blogging about relationships for two years and have nothing more to show for it than an ancient cliche. Glad we had this talk.)

Moving on. Because what I really want to say is this: and yet. And yet: in spite of how many possibilities there, rationally, ought to be, there often seem so few. And not in a negative, god-I-just-can’t-meeet-anyone-screw-you-perpetually-crappy-timing sort of way; I mean the other side of it: the wow-this-person-is-so-amazing-how-can-I-ever-let-them-go thing. You know that thing?

Pretty sure we can relate on this one: it’s called infatuation, and few things are more fun. I mean, what tops that rush of opening yourself up and getting to know someone new and feeling like your connection is so rare that it’s worth whatever it takes?

So here’s the truth: I’m pretty happy right now, and it’s a lot harder to make sense of feeling good than it is of feeling bad. Also, generally, more boring. But it’s 2012 and I haven’t blogged in a while and I wanted to share that quote from my friend D at the beginning and I’m not really ready to write about anything else that’s going on.

But I did want to say this, cause I think it’s interesting, and maybe you do, too: when it comes to romantic partners, there are endless options out there. And yet: sometimes, there’s nothing better than feeling–in spite of yourself–that there’s only one you want.



Thoughts on The L-Word, Cont’d

When I teach creative writing, like everyone else who who’s ever taught it, I constantly remind my students of the old adage “show, don’t tell.”

“Don’t tell us you hate your ex-boyfriend, show us that using scene, and voice, and image, and setting,” I say. “Dramatize!”

I repeat the words of one of my former teachers: “Nothing is less beautiful than beautiful”–the word is so abstract, so entirely subjective, to describe something as simply “beautiful” doesn’t tell us anything concrete.

When we study nonfiction, I tell them they’re allowed to show and tell: I read to them from an essay by Philip Lopate about the importance of reflection and tell them something I learned from a different professor: that the story is not as interesting as the sense the author makes of the story. (Whatever that means–like any platitude, it’s imperfect, and not always true.)

Lately I’ve been thinking about how this applies in life. Because I want people to show me their feelings–love, hate, whatever–but I also want them to tell me. For reasons I can’t explain, I need the reassurance that comes not just from affection, from meaningful actions, but from being told: from the statement “I love you.”

“You need something more detailed,” D observed when we had the conversation. More detailed, he meant, than the gestures and behaviors that signify love: I need the words themselves.

Continue reading

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?!”

Continue reading

Some Thoughts on (Possible) Love

Hello, everyone. I’m sorry it’s been a while, but I have two excuses.

One, I just decided to start a big writing project that will require a strong exercise of discipline, and I am not very good at exercising discipline at all, and if I am ever going to exercise discipline successfully, I can only concentrate said discipline on one thing.

Two, for the first time since I started blogging, I am in a relationship. A real relationship. As in there is a person who I can introduce as “my boyfriend” without panicking that he will race immediately from the room/board the next available flight to Panama/think that I’m crazy.

(I was fairly sure that this was the case, but, for the record, did wait for D to initiate the gesture by introducing me as “his girlfriend” before I began to reciprocate. I hear Panama is lovely this time of year.)

Now, as I’ve told you, at the outset D made the very thoughtful gesture of offering not to keep reading my blog. (I don’t mean to classify it as heroic for someone to deny themselves the pleasure of my writing–though he does like reading it–but, well, you get my drift.)

What I have not told you is that I promptly sabotaged his generosity by informing him that there would be some posts he could read–thereby putting myself in the awkward position of having to determine whether each entry is or isn’t “D-friendly.”

(For reasons that may be no more complicated than ego, I have an oddly fierce desire for people–like my parents, and now boyfriend–for whom reading my blog is a distinctly perilous endeavor, to read it anyhow.)

But I digress. The point is that D, thanks to my ego/idiocy, may or may not be reading this. And so I hesitate to write, well, anything. But especially this.

What I lack in discipline, though, I make up for in fecklessness. So here we go.

Continue reading