On Grasping, Contentedness, Whiteness and Being (Forever) “Half-Woke”

“What about you? Are you content?”

My friend E and I were taking a walk, catching up at the end of summer–most of which she had spent away.

E is one of my closest friends, and though we aren’t great at keeping up regular contact while apart, her question took me aback: shouldn’t she know whether I’m content?

Also: shouldn’t I know?

Am I content?

Do I–should I want to be?

“Um, I guess so,” I think I said, then. I mumbled something about how I was feeling overwhelmed, per usual; unstable, per usual; uncertain in assorted ways about teaching and writing and community–but also happy, in many moments, finding nourishment in relationships and art and work, whatever that all means.

*

For the last six Saturday mornings, and for four more to come, I have and will sit in a circle with a group of adults in a room at a church in north Minneapolis.

We gather there to discuss texts, watch videos, share personal stories: to work toward a deepened knowledge of this country’s racist history, and toward unlearning the racist conditioning we’ve all–all of us–received.

I’ve been appreciating that space. And feeling drained by it. Sometimes frustrated. Always thankful and humbled, often overwhelmed.

Our reflections and learnings often lead me to a similar dilemma: how to hold, at once, the vast magnitude of the problem (what bell hooks calls “imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy”) alongside a belief that much of the most important work must take place on a small, intimate scale: settings like that church room.

(Yes, the change we need is systemic, but in order for folks–white folks, mainly–to work toward that change meaningfully, we’ve got a lot of internal work to do, too. I think.)

How, in other words, to know that no amount of resistance will ever feel like “enough,” while maintaining a commitment to resist as much as we can? Or: how to see that we are unlikely to witness the transformative, systemic change we believe necessary while continuing to take part in the work? 

Oh, right, and what is the work? Is it introducing my composition students to anti-racist concepts and texts that many of them won’t hear? Emailing my parents movie reviews that critique Hollywood’s romance with colonialism, then drinking bloody marys instead of attending an organizing meeting? Teaching poetry classes in prisons I’m not sure should exist, nodding while a guard tells me he respects the incarcerated men who he’ll deny water or bathroom privileges during class? Catching myself as I make racist assumptions about a young, Asian-American woman beside me in the sauna while I smugly read a chapter from The White Racial Frame? Talking about writing poems that address whiteness while finding every excuse to not actually write them?

*

Like most writers who teach (personal) essays, I often introduce my students to the roots of the word–from the French essayer: to tryAn essay, we’re told, is an attempt, an effort, a try at answering some question: what does it mean to feel joy? How to be a black man in America without getting swallowed by rage? What does it feel like to witness a bombing and manhunt on television while incarcerated? 

That they begin with questions doesn’t mean good essays arrive at clear answers; those aren’t really a thing in the world, and nor (us omniscient teachers say) should they be in print.

What we look for in essays, then, and what–I might assure myself–we look for in life, is the grasping: purposeful, thoughtful, reflective seeking.

This takes some pressure off: who needs to worry about clear answers (like what the hell “the work” means) when it’s the questions that matter?

The problem with this framework, as Leslie Jamison eloquently puts it in her introduction to this year’s Best American Essays, is that it lets us off the hook: “If anything counts as attempt,” she asks, “what could possibly count as failure?”

And of course, as she goes on to explain: “essays aren’t immune to failure. They can fail in a thousand ways–by failing to offer insight, by offering insights that feel too easy, too tidy, too shopworn. They can fail to enchant….They can fail to render their subjects with sufficient complexity. They can declare themselves done too soon.”

Similarly: if we know we won’t see something like “success” when it comes to the work of liberation and justice, then how will we know when we’ve failed?

In some ways, we won’t: it’s often (if not always) impossible to fully know the true, short or long term impacts of any kind of social justice work.

But it is certainly possible to fail by not doing what we can. Too easily, if I extend Jamison’s metaphor, I can applaud myself for asking hard questions while failing to take the pursuit–of insight, of knowledge, of the work itself–as far as I have capacity to do.

It is always easy, after all, to slip back into complacency: to shrug and shroud myself with the comfort that there isn’t any “right” way to resist or any measure of “enough” work. To slip back, in other words, into a notion of success (or of “content”) that isn’t mine.

Our culture–and most of our families–doesn’t teach us to prioritize working for radical change: most of us weren’t told to measure our success by how much we commit to uprooting toxic masculinity or abolishing the construct of whiteness. We were (mostly) taught, rather, to pursue our own passions, to create our own families, to seek fulfillment and comfort and happiness for ourselves.

That’s a teaching I’m trying to unlearn–but I’m not there yet.

Put another way: I still don’t know, for me, what it means to be “content”–so how can I claim something I don’t yet understand? 

*

At dinner with a pair of friends the other night, the term “woke” came up. I shared that I wasn’t sure it was okay (read: socially acceptable) to use the term as a white person, but struggled to put words around why.

Rob came to my aid: saying, in effect, that, as white folks, we’ll never really, fully, be “woke”; most of us have spent the bulk of our lives oblivious to the mere truth of our whiteness–the journey, as anti-racist folks often say, is lifelong, there will always be more learning, more unlearning to do.

Perhaps “half-woke,” he suggested, is a better term.

I thought of that the very next day–and how much it fits–when I found myself startled, naively surprised by some basic historical facts around American slavery presented in this podcast–one I’d just sent to some relatives, days earlier, because I thought it would be “accessible” for them (read: people I consider “less woke” then me).

*

There are multiple ways in which I could explain what prevented me from claiming the mantel of “content” that day: job insecurity (#adjunctlife), poetry rejections, relationship struggles (love is hard!), etc. And perhaps some combination of those was really what drove my response.

But maybe, too, it had to do with that idea of grasping: with the (relatively new) understanding of how half-conscious I am and always will be, with the awareness that I am trying to learn and internalize whole new understandings of what “success” and “work” and “content” really mean.

With the sense that, while I might be finding some insights along the way, I’ve got a very long way to go–and a destination that will always, in some ways, elude.

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.

 

On Men and Women and Words; Storytelling, Journaling, and Re-Entering Singledom

“Sorry, I’ve used up all my words for the day.”

It was edging on one in the morning, and a couple of women in my teaching group and I were in bunk beds, holding a fiery debate over categories of creative nonfiction. (“It’s the difference between Eula Biss and Jo Ann Beard.” “I just feel really defiant about genre labels right now.”) No matter that they had to get up in not that many hours to teach. And, at the sight of the lone male colleague with us for the weekend, getting ready for bed, we invited him in. To talk.

“No thanks,” he said, holding up his palm — no more words.

Bless him, he’d held his own for the four hours prior, as the group of us sat on stools in the downstairs kitchen with pretzels and hummus and beer and wine, talking about teaching and writing and attitudes on communal living. But by this point, he had little interest in matching the extreme level of chattiness the rest of us couldn’t resist keeping up.

I try to avoid generalizations, and I know there are men out there who really love to talk and plenty of women who really don’t. But, in my experience, the reverse tends to be true: that men are more often the ones who run out of words.

It isn’t only, or necessarily, that women talk more. It’s that, often, we are fundamentally more interested in sharing. Reporting. Telling tales about our days. Our ideas. Our families. Our relationships. You know. The mundane shit of our lives.

*

“The problem is that it’s really easy for me to be single.”

I was sitting with a friend who also recently left a relationship. And he was telling me why it isn’t difficult for him to end up alone for long stretches of time.

I agreed. (Sidenote: I worry the whole dating blog thing gives me a rep as someone who’s always in, or always wants to be in, a relationship. Untrue.) I like spending time alone. I like being independent and having control over my travel and my time. I like meeting new people as a single person, not having to worry about developing relationships in couple form.

But here’s the part about being coupled that I miss: the part at the end of the day, when there is someone to hold you in their arms and say, “Tell me everything.”

I still don’t have a solid list of qualities I require in a partner. But if I did, Good Listener would be at the top. And I’ve been lucky to find men who have been. Who have indulged my desire to lie down and share all: about the phone conversation I had with my brother or the walk I took with a friend, the yoga teacher whose style I loved or the interview with a nurse who made me cry or the bearded guy at the grocery store who gave everyone the creeps.

All that banal stuff that, I suspect, men don’t always feel as inclined to share. And, perhaps, a lot of women don’t either. Maybe it’s the Writer Brain combined with the Female Brain combined with the Journalist Background, or maybe it’s just my DNA: I’ve always, automatically chronicled the moments of my day. It’s a running narrative in my head, and one that I’ve never been particularly interested in recording as a journal, or for myself. Instead, it’s always one I want to share. Either as art, or as conversation with those I love.

And now that I am re-entering the single life, I am looking for new ways to satisfy that need.

The blog, obviously, helps. (Thanks, team!) And time on the phone with girlfriends. And, lately, writing hopelessly lame poems about rainbows over Minnesota lakes and pairs of brightly colored underwear.

I’ve even begun to open up the occasional  Word document and write out my “reports” in the form of a letter — to a partner who doesn’t exist. I’m thinking of it as a transition to the genre of journaling, toward which I have long had a mysteriously epic aversion.

And I’m thinking of it, too, as another way I can practice self-care. I don’t know that there’s anything wrong with wanting to share thoughts and stories with others, but there has got to be something worthwhile, too, in holding, even crafting that stuff just for myself.

 

On New Love, New York Pizza, and Saying Farewell For Now

“I know you didn’t get upset about pizza. So, what were you really upset about?”

I furrowed my brow. Thought for a second. And looked up at N.

“Um, pizza?”

As my therapist was quick to note (Therapist: “You look shocked.” Me: “I am! Isn’t it shocking?” Therapist: “Well, kind of.”), there are many things that distinguish my relationship with N from those I’ve had previously.

Perhaps most notably, there is the fact that he really, really likes me. When he visited New York this past weekend, he even brought my parents gifts.

“You really don’t need to do that,” I tried to assure him when he texted a photo of a cheese plate. (Would your mom like this?)

“I want to,” he said. “Besides, I’m sleeping with their daughter. Isn’t it the least I can do?”

“Honey,” I replied, gentle. “I have slept with a lot of other men. Pretty sure none of them felt they owed my mother pottery for the privilege.”

Unmoved, he bought her a scarf.

One of the reasons N and I like each other is that we tend to argue. About issues, I mean: our nightly video chats have involved heated debate over things like an Obesity Tax and Capital punishment; the environmental impact of locavorism and gun laws.

But our most personal fight to date, abetted by whiskey, Fernet Branca, and four consecutive days of meeting Everyone I Love, took place over a single, folded slice of Joe’s Pizza.

Or, rather, the fact that N was not impressed.

How can you not like this pizza?” I pleaded.

“It’s not that I don’t like it,” he explained. “I just don’t think it’s that different than other pizza.”

I was beside myself, careening from one desperate, ineffective persuasion attempt to the next: New York pizza is different. It’s the best. This is the most superior slice in the city. How could he not see the difference?

In the morning, I grasped to explain my response.

“I met a ton of friends and family and loved all of them,” he reasoned. “And you’re really upset that I didn’t like a certain food?”

“I know,” I nodded, huddled next to him on a soggy 6 train. “It’s a little crazy.”

Part of it, I explained, was the implication that my Pizza Passion is an outgrowth of New York Elitism: a condition I not only battle against, but find frequent fault with others for buying into. Part of it was that I was overwhelmed. Part of it was that he was leaving. Part of it was that I was drunk.

But, also, really, it was about pizza: when you love someone, you want them to love the same things you do–people and places, books and movies, forms of intellectual debate. And, yes, food items.

Granted, certain of those categories are more important than others. Life with a partner who hates my mother might be a tad more challenging than life with someone who doesn’t, also, require a late-night stop at Joe’s on Fifth. Particularly if, as I’m pretty sure is the case for N, they’re willing to come along, and perhaps hand me a napkin.

But the Pizza Episode also felt symptomatic of one of my life’s present themes: jumping into the Big Things, while fretting, endlessly, over those that seem Incredibly Small.

It took me a matter of weeks, for example, to decide on, yet another, major move. But whether to go to a Zumba class at 12:00 on Lafayette or 1:15 at East 34th Street? I practically lost my shit.

“It makes sense,” Therapist sagely said. “You’ve got to deal with the big stuff some way. So it’s going to come out in the little.”

Allow me one final non-sequitur to inform you of another recent, and rather impulsively made decision: I’ve decided, for now, to stop blogging.

There are a few reasons why. For one, writing about relationships is much more challenging when you’re actually in one. For another, focusing is also hard–and, as you know, for the past year, I’ve been making variously aggressive attempts to focus on a book manuscript. Finally, in solidarity with other Writers Who Ought To Get Paid for What We Do, it seems prudent to at least try placing my essays in venues–unlike this one–where money changes hands.

I don’t want to call it quits forever. I love having this space, I love that you visit it, and the idea of leaving it completely is sad. But I think, for now at least, a Farewell For Now makes sense.

I’ll keep the site up–and post news about other publications as it, hopefully, comes.

Thanks, always, for reading. Be in touch. And see you, somewhere, soon.

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.

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

Flirting Class 102: Really, No One Wants to Date You

When people ask me for sincere relationship advice, I tend to laugh at them.

This, more or less, is what I say: I write a blog about dating, sure. But the theme, generally, is my romantic failures; I’ve had one successful long-term relationship in the last six years; I reject people because they like me and pine for people who don’t. I have no business advising anyone about anything.

But when I talked to my DC friend A yesterday and she told me that I needed to give her some wisdom on how to flirt, it was not the first time a girlfriend had made a similar request. And for once, I didn’t laugh.

So here is a thing about me: I flirt with everything in my path. Much like my parents chocolate labrador, Clarence, consumes everything in his path–from pantyhose, to paper towels, to the occasional pair of designer eyeglasses–I do the same when it comes to flirting with men. (In my defense, I am quite a bit more discriminating than Clarence–and whatever indiscretion remains has not yet once caused my parents three thousand dollars in veterinary bills.)

I cannot tell you why I do this. It seems that it must be a matter of DNA: just as I am genetically predisposed to always take the wrong fork in the path, so am I wired to smile coquettishly at the attractive man in the room. Or, you know, the cute guy selling me coffee. Or teaching me yoga. Etc.

This personality trait is not something one can learn. You have it or you don’t, I’m afraid.

But there is an attitude that you can learn, and it is one that makes flirting a much less daunting endeavor.

Way back when I started this blog, I wrote about a “Golden Rule” of dating: one I’d gotten from a college friend who told me that I needed to assume every guy I meet finds me attractive.

I still believe this to be true. Not that everyone is attracted to me (I’m still working on that one) but that flirting is usually more successful–and more fun–with that thought in mind.

But now, without really realizing–until A asked me to express it–I’ve added a corollary to this rule: yes, you should assume every guy wants to sleep with you. And you should also assume that he won’t.

Assume he has a girlfriend. Assume he has emotional baggage. Assume he is incapable of being in a relationship. (If you’re in your late 20s, none of this should be a stretch.) Basically: assume that, despite finding you the sexiest thing since Lauren Bacall in heels, he has no intention of getting your number/asking you out/taking you home.

The thing about A is that her personality is pretty flirtatious, too: she’s totally witty,  totally charming. She’s from Alabama, for Christ’s sake. But when she asked for my advice, she explained that whenever she goes out she winds up talking to the guys she knows aren’t available and doing everything to avoid those who are.

“It’s just so much easier,” she said. “I’m so much more comfortable talking to guys I know I can’t date!”

At which point I told her what I’ve just told you: that she has got to make herself that comfortable with everyone. And that the only way to do that is to pretend that none of them are really an option.

Her reply, of course, was a fair one: “Easier said than done.”

(Remember when I said I had no business giving advice? Still standing by that one.)

And I know it is. But so is it easier to talk about baking raspberry linzer cookes than it is to actually bake them. And that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. You just need to psych yourself up, find a little focus and treat yourself to occasional spoonfuls of expensive jam.

And with that, I will now return to my life: paying zero caution to the boundary between friendliness and flirtation, breaking hearts and having mine broken with the regularity of Clarence’s indigestion.

Happy flirting.

 

 

How to Mend a Broken Heart: The Real Time Version

The day before before D broke up with me, I found myself reading this post on my friend Sarah’s blog–titled “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?”

(Sometimes, by the way, my womanly instincts are so trustworthy it scares me.)

Sarah is very smart and articulate, and she has lots of very smart and articulate readers who comment–making that post a true trove of wisdom and insight that I dare not rival.

However, I happen to have a broken–or at least severely ripped–heart at the moment. (Sorry to break this news–I’m as shocked as you.)

And already, I am thick into the realm of post-breakup copage. Not to suggest that I’m managing this with any superior sort of intelligence or grace, but, as of yet, I haven’t completely crumbled.

Here, my friends, is a loose list of what I’ve been doing–and what, perhaps, I might suggest for anyone whose heart is similarly, unexpectedly, broken:

(Note: Like most lists, this one is incomplete. I reserve the right to update it in future posts periodically–one thing I know about breakups is that they take more than three days to get over.)

1. Crying in public. Last week, my sister-in-law sent me a link to this essay , from the New York Times website, about the unique urban experience of public tears: both having and witnessing. She sent it to me because the writing is great, which it is. But the writer focuses on the fascination that public crying provokes–not the interaction or support. But when a hot young thing (female, but still) approached me, all red-eyed and wet-faced, in the yoga changing room (pre-class, before such signs could be taken for sweat), bearing a hug and kind words, I felt a sweet taste of much-needed comfort and warmth. Recommend. (Note: this incident did not, obviously, occur in New York–but it did happen to involve two New Yorkers. Discuss.)

2. Crying in private. You will not make friends, and you may scare your (quite easily spooked) mutt, but you must do it. A lot. She will get over it, and so, eventually, will you.

3. Eating fatty meats, and acting a little ridiculous. Hours after the incident, my two roommates and dear girlfriends, S and N, took me out for a plate of Korean BBQ. This has long been something of a tradition for S and me: whenever one of us feels any sort of vulnerable, we go out and stuff ourselves with grilled meat. It helps. Afterwards, S demanded to buy a round of “nasty” shots, and pair it with some “nasty” television. Not having a tv (or, really, the ability to produce said libation) we proceeded to the nearest bar, where we sabotaged our collective chances with the adorable bartender in order to demand that he turn on The Bachelorette. Despite the objections of the less attractive, less accommodating bar patrons, he complied. And thus, my romantic difficulties began to pale.

4. Sweating. Somehow, I managed to lose a boyfriend and a working car in the same week. Meaning, each morning, I have spent 90 minutes in severe heat, contorting my body into unreasonable and uncomfortable positions and, immediately afterwards, used same body to haul myself (along with my vintage-Schwinn-that-weights-almost-as-much-as-me), in slightly less severe heat, up the most obnoxious hill in Albuquerque. There’s nothing quite like anger to help pound those pedals.

5. Speaking of which, feeling angry. Ask anyone who’s been hurt (aka, anyone): the pain is easier to bear when there’s someone to blame. I adore D, and this isn’t his blog so I won’t get into the details of his decision (at least, not now), but I will say this: the man made a stupid choice. He had something good (me) that he could’ve held onto (at least for a while), and he let it go. For this, and only this, I feel furious. That, also, helps.

6. Drinking a lot of lattes, and, generally, doing exactly what I feel like. Normally, I get my “treat” drink, an Iced Decaf Soy Latte, approximately once a month. Now, I’m having at least two daily. I’ve worn the same shorts for three days. I haven’t washed my hair. Yesterday, I thought nothing of spending $7 for beer at a baseball game. Tomorrow, I’m going to buy myself an extremely overpriced sports bra. Hey, getting dumped is awesome!

7. Acting a little bit reckless. This was among the many pearls of wisdom that S has provided in the past few days. Immediately post-breakup, I felt the compelling urge to contact an ex. (Well,  more of a friend than an ex these days, but still: he’s someone with strong sway on my emotional state.) I wrote a text. I didn’t send it. “S is going to tell me not to,” I told N, as we took a walk around the neighborhood before S got home. But, walking to dinner, when I asked her, she didn’t. “I think this is a time when you can act a little bit reckless,” she said. “It’s kind of what you have to do.” Thrilled to receive her permission, I sent. He called. I felt better.

8. Talking to people who love me a lot, a lot. Especially those with goofy senses of humor.  My brother J was clearly very fond of D, but when I told him of the breakup, this is what he said: “Good riddance! I never liked that guy anyhow. I mean, he was from Texas. And so skinny!”

9. Thinking about why I’m really sad. Another of S’s gems was this: “Often, after a breakup, the loss we feel isn’t the relationship so much as the expectations we had for it.” So true. And if I’m really honest with myself, I’m more sad about losing the relationship than I am about losing D. And that says something. Something that leads, lastly, to this:

10. Telling myself things I need to hear. For example: D is a great guy. And I’m sure he could have made me happy. But I’m also sure that someone else can–and will–make me happier.