“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 (Mostly) Comfortable Inter-Generational Living

My grandmother makes a really great roommate.

(Most moves to Manhattan involve some compromise–a shower in the kitchen, six flights of crooked stairs, a broker whose fee surpasses most annual middle class salaries; mine, is sharing my grandmother’s midtown apartment.)

There are many ways–besides the whole, brilliantly fortunate lack of rent thing– in which this goes well. We share politics, and pottymouth. (If I took a shot each time she described Republicans as “fucking fuckers,” I’d be always drunk.) We shop together, and even share clothes. (As I write this, I’m wearing a hooded sweatshirt of hers. The other night I had on one of her long-sleeve shirts and a scarf. Okay, by “share clothes” I suppose I mean I wear hers…told you she was a great roommate!) We go to the gym, sometimes together. We have dinner and see movies. It’s like living with a girlfriend who always treats.

Of course–this being a blog, nominally, about dating–I can’t resist telling you that the most precious aspect of living together may be her singular insights into my love life. In fact, Susie–what I call her–is often more open to talking about dating than my parents, who, bless their non-confrontational hearts, have a habit of responding to my romantic reports with the kind of bracing expression most Democrats reserve for presidential debates.

Some samples:

  • Over dinner at an apartment on Lexington, when one date texted–to my utter horror–a photo of his cat: “Back in my day, men didn’t even like cats or dogs!”
  • In line at Home Depot, when told one guy was on the heavier side: “That’s okay, we can put him on a diet.”
  • Various places, numerous times: “Who cares if he lives in Philadelphia/is twenty-four/hasn’t heard of NPR. Is he tall?”  (This, despite her infamous remark from several years’ past: “I hope you didn’t just dismiss him because he’s short. Some short men are terrific.”)
  • On occasion, most recently while walking down 59th, a choice Dorothy Parker quote: “Remember, Liz, ‘Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses!’”

Some old-fashioned principles notwithstanding, Susie has always been remarkably open-minded: back when I was a starry-eyed nineteen-year old in love with a man who was thirty-five, she lent us her apartment while out of town.

All to say, for the most part, I manage her role in my love life, as with my life generally, with good humor and a large degree of comfort.

(Mostly; I’m too old not to answer honestly when the answer to “What are you up to tonight?” is, “Going on a date,” but am pretty sure the age does not exist at which I can comfortably respond to, “Where did you sleep last night?” with the (rarely, honest) answer, “With a man who’s not my boyfriend.” Compromise.)

Anyhow. The main reason I moved was convenience–Susie’s apartment is much more centrally located. But certainly, the psychological trauma of living with my parents weighed in.

There’s a way in which it can be easier to lean on the people around us with whom we have looser ties. In the same way that it’s sometimes less stressful to call up an old friend with whom you were never that close (you don’t have to catch them up on every hookup, every trip, every emotional turn), living with Susie–versus those blessed parents–is some relief.

It’s not that she isn’t interested in my life–we check in regularly, update one another on meetings and dog walks and nights out. But those updates are a choice, a convenience (if I didn’t live here, they wouldn’t happen)–not loaded with the obligation and the frantically urgent dynamics that charge parental relationships.

As I muddle through this murky, transitional, those pressures were too much.

Living with a grandparent may sound like a compromise. But it’s also a privilege. And, often, totally fun.

 

 

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 (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.

 

What I Really Learned in Grad School

Next week, I’m starting on a new phase in life. I would tell you what it was called if I had any idea what to call it, but that would mean knowing what it will look like/involve/include, and I have basically no idea. So, while we await further information on the future, let’s, briefly, reflect on the past. It’s been three years. I dated some dudes, some more disappointing than others. Here goes.

1. I have a type. Sometimes I wonder if a certain group of men I’ve been involved with are all distantly related cousins. I imagine them as part of a tribe, or team, swaying back and forth in a large, shirtless huddle, arms draped around each other on a dusty field. What do they chant? Oh, I don’t know: “Your art is most important!” perhaps. Or, “Don’t even think about meeting a romantic partner on anything but your terms!” Or, “Compromise is for kids!” Is that wierd?

2. Don’t date your colleague’s offspring. Even if they’re attractive in that dirty, uneducated sort of way. And even if they give you incongruous bedroom eyes in the florescent stairwell of your academic department where they loiter for use of WIFI, being too cheap to pay for it themselves. Probably, it will not end well. And, probably, you will spend the remainder of your career with said colleague feeling certain, each time that they ask to speak to you in private, that they are about to interrogate you about why you are not their future daughter-in-law. (Probably, though, they won’t. Because, in reality, you only went out once and everyone except you has moved on. Probably.)

2a. Go ahead and date your former students. Once you aren’t in class together, your former students have just as swell a capacity to seduce and hurt you as anyone else. I’m not saying it’ll actually work out. But really, in the end, isn’t this whole thing rooted in fantasy, anyhow? Sometimes we need to sacrifice temporary feelings for sustainable stories. Indulge.

3. Don’t Get Hurt. Get Pissed.  Has someone said this before? Anyway. A few years ago, if a guy started off talking about how I was the most special thing since Santa and a month later started treating me like some estranged step-uncle, I would have taken it personally. You know, thought it was because I had too much belly fat and not enough talent. When it happened a few weeks ago, I knew it had nothing to do with me. It’s not that I don’t have flaws (shocker!), but they weren’t what made the guy bail–his own bullshit was. Instead of feeling hurt, I just got mad. Which is still unpleasant, but less profoundly soul-crushing.

4. Because, They Mean It At the Time. Related: dudes say stupid shit. They say it without thinking. “Oh, we should drive across the country together.” “Oh, I’ll come visit you in Albuquerque.” “Oh, I’ve never met anyone like you.” And when they vanish, shortly after, from all things Earthly, one is tempted to feel tricked: “You liar!” one wants to scream. Or, “How could I have been so fucking stupid to believe that shit, again?” The latter of which, may, possibly, at some point, be worth seriously considering. (Or, in my case, considering more in a professional psychiatric context.) But as for the first, not true. I know there are dudes out there who concoct elaborate lies to undo a woman’s pants. But pretty sure those I attract have other preoccupations for their creative energies. They aren’t lying when they say those pretty words. In the moment, they mean them. They just forget about these things (slash, you) much more easily than you forget hearing them. Because that, friends, is the difference between women and men.

5. Date people you yoga with at your own peril. Another cautionary tale. Ideally, when things go sour, they will defriend you on Facebook, find another girlfriend immediately to whom they will propose in two months, and–most importantly–cease going to your studio post haste. (That happened.) However, one–less ideally–runs the risk, post-unraveling, of running into the culprit unexpectedly at yoga, refusing to accept the hug he offers and calling him a jerk because that’s what he is, and then spending the rest of the class struggling with balance because one isn’t sure whether such behavior was really the best choice, energy-wise, before a yoga class, and because he is standing directly behind you and you can’t be sure through your fogged up, sweaty vision whether he’s staring at himself in the mirror or your ass. (No comment.)

6. Women are awesome. Friends, that is. For all their shortcomings, men are much less drama when it comes to sex and living situations. But without my small army of girlfriends, at this very moment I would be huddled under the awning of some Panda Express, shivering in the 70 degree temperature, begging for beef and broccoli, and yelling at random homeless people in sleeping bags about how men are much less evolved. In other words, I would have packed approximately nothing and have vented my frustrations in far less appropriate ways. Yay, girls.

That’s all I got for now, folks. See you in Brooklyn.

 

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.

 

 

Some Notes on (Alleged) Neediness

“I have a feeling I’m going to read that online in the near future,” my mother said, giggling and smugly sipping her espresso at the Scandinavian-styled Park Slope coffee shop where we were taking a pause from our holiday mother-daughter shopping spree.

It’s not often that my mother offers sincere romantic advice–as I’ve written, between the two of us, I tend to be far more comfortable in that territory. (To her credit, not exactly a fair contest.)

But when she does, it’s reliably valuable. And, usually, pretty even: Take things slowly. Men freak out when you get emotional. Did she mention, I should slow down a little bit?

This time, though, her counsel was markedly flip: “He hasn’t texted back in two days!” I moaned to her, my lower lip in full pout.

Her reply: “Oh, come on. Don’t be so needy.”

“Who, me?” I scoffed. “Needy?” Okay I didn’t say that. But I wanted to. Instead, I raised my eyebrows and said, “It’s not that I’m needy. It’s just that I’m neurotic and anxious and paranoid. There’s a difference.” (Proof: “I haven’t texted again.”)

My mother shrugged. “Okay,” she said, and off we went: dodging strollers down 5th Avenue to the overpriced shoe store half a block away.

I had a similar exchange back in Albuquerque a few days later, as I vented to my friend A about the same thing. “Well have you been texting a lot?” she asked, turning her head and narrowing her eyes across the table. “I feel like you do that.”

“Why does everyone think I’m so needy?” I shot back. “I don’t text that much! I only talk about it!”

(A conversation reminiscent of another I had with my sister-in-law over break. Her: “Well, aren’t you obsessed with finding a boyfriend?” Me: “No! I just write about it!” My “persona” spiel, it would seem, only goes so far. But, I digress.)

Let’s set aside, for a moment, the question of how “needy” I actually am. On second thought, let’s not. Because yeah, I guess I do have some needs, and ya know what: I don’t think they’re unreasonable. (Particularly when I’m not, ahem, demanding they be met.)

Here’s what I need: I need to know what to expect from someone. That’s all. Should I expect that we’re going to be in close contact? Should I expect that we’re going to have dinner on Thursday night? Should I expect that we’re going to fall madly in love and buy a house in brownstone Brooklyn and stroll our child around on Sunday mornings, browsing expensive clogs?

I mean: is that so much to ask?

Well, according to every woman in my life–from my mother, on: yes. Apparently you can’t actually know what to expect from someone right away. Apparently you can’t even assume they know what to expect of themselves. Apparently, expecting to know expectations makes one needy.

And, heavens: we don’t want that.

So here’s the thing. I know I have to go with the flow–whatever the hell that means. I know that I should demonstrate faith in widespread wisdom about the male gender, such widespread wisdom indicating that men do not like being confronted with women’s needs, men finding it more attractive when women are independent and carefree and apparently unaffected by their behavior, however peculiar or confusing. I know that’s what I’m supposed to do. And, I am here to tell you, I’m pretty good at just doing it.

But good lord: sometimes I don’t want to. Sometimes, I don’t want to have to pretend that I’m indifferent, or not thinking about someone, or not wondering whether they’re thinking about me. Sometimes, it even feels dishonest: what’s the point in pursuing emotional intimacy with a person if you can’t even be open with them about how you feel?

Did I mention that I’m not very patient?

Unfortunately, I get that from my dad.

 

 

The Question: To Get in Touch, or Not to Get In Touch

The other day, from the downtown coffee shop where I sat doing anything and everything besides plan my course for the semester (you know, the one that starts on Monday), I sent a message to my DC friend D: “I am about to do something stupid,” I wrote. “Tell me not to, please.”

“You know me too well!” he replied. And then: “I need details.”

One thing I do know about D is that he is a much more cautious person than myself, and therefore an ideal candidate to disabuse me of whatever misguided venture I find myself approaching.

In this case, the venture in question was the strong desire to text an ex-boyfriend. Specifically, an ex-boyfriend whom I told a year and a half ago that I would not talk to him until he, in pretty specific ways, cleaned up his act.

(He has not. I know this because he lives in town, and because this is a pretty small town, and because it is even smaller when you have offices in the same building and frequent the same bars.)

D dismissed me immediately: “There is no reason to do this other than to make yourself crazy.”

“I just hate the whole no-contact-after-such-intimacy thing!” I tried to explain.

“Sometimes it’s better not to know what you think you need to know.”

Of course, he’s right: just because you think you need to know how your ex is doing (and, also, whether they still want to sleep with you), oftentimes, you’re better off when you don’t.

So why, really, did I want to contact him? I’d like to think it has nothing to do with the fact that, despite the deep personal failings I know all too well, I still somehow manage to feel recklessly attracted to him. Of course, it might. I’d also like to think it has nothing to do with the part of me that is still reckoning with contacting D. And of course, I know it does.

You see, I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately. When you aren’t going through the pretty parts of a relationship, it’s the next best thing to remember them. But, for me at least, those memories turn a little bit bitter when the connection with that person has too.

It’s not that I’m best buds with all my exes. In fact, there’s only one who truly qualifies as a good friend. (But then, as someone who I dated only casually for the six weeks that we lived in the place, I’m not sure he even qualifies as an “ex.” Discuss.)

But there is a category of men from my past with whom I’m on good terms: with whom I know I can, and always will, trade the occasional email or phone call; with whom I know I could have a pleasant conversation were I to see them out, or online.

And then there are those with whom things were never quite resolved: those for whom just the thought of contact fills me with unease.

I hate this. Even though, in many cases–such as with the aforementioned ex, and more recently with D, I’m the one who didn’t want to be in touch in the first place.

And maybe, as my friend/quasi-ex M put it, it’s just part of the deal. It is sucky and strange to cut off totally from someone you once cared for so deeply–but that’s just what happens when you break up.

I’m trying to swallow that. I like the idea of being on better terms with D, and the other guy, too, and I wish that I could be. But I’m not sure, if I were to contact either of them, what it is I would say.

With D I know I have a desire for closure. But I also have no idea what that word means. Much less what it looks like. Much less how to achieve it in the span of a conversation.

So I didn’t send that text. And I haven’t called D, or sent any of the emails I’ve begun writing him.

“You should embrace the unknown,” my friend D advised me. And so, I try: as unpleasant as it always is.