On “The Journey,” Triumphantly

It’s timely, because here we are again, exploring another rape, another assault, another gray area – this story about a CNN anchor, Ashleigh Banfield, who read the majority of the letter from victim of sexual assault during the sentencing of her attacker, filled me with hope – not because of the rape, of course, but because of the content of the letter itself.

This woman, this victim, this beautifully articulate human being, writes so purely and so beautifully – it was exactly the feeling that I felt, and exactly the feeling that I feel, continuously, onwardly, to this very day. This woman’s brave statement, and the willingness of the anchor who read that statement out loud to the public – and the network, which isn’t always known for their dedication to true journalism, is a testament to the ongoing negative effects of sexual assault, a testament to the fact that lives are changed, to the fact that sleep is lost, to the fact that everything is upsetting, to the fact that life is never the same. It is a testament to the fact that forgiveness does not come easily, to the fact that the hurt cuts deep, to the fact that the actions of another can shape your future in ways that you never imagined.

I never got the chance to write that letter, and yet, I am so grateful to this woman for writing the letter that she wrote. For me, it is much of what I never got to say, and it is a beautiful rendering of pain, reflection, and request for justice, which she will not get. But….I hope so much that people hear her words and are moved. This is beautiful. This hurts, but in the best way. It feels like solidarity. It feels like understanding. It feels like progress, even if it’s only progress because she was heard.

***

We are what we are; we are what we have experienced. We are what we choose to be. Lately, I’ve been floating on a cloud of bliss brought on by the beautiful lightness of letting go. I am choosing to be free.

A few weeks ago, boyfriend and I went to a meditative healing seminar called, “The Journey.” When he first told me about it, I was skeptical, as one is. I agreed to go, not because I thought I’d find healing, but because I was curious, or at least because certain circumstances had led me to believe that there might be something there. I had thought of situations that I knew of that were similar to the one described by the author of the book, “The Journey,” and the ever-skeptical part of me, or perhaps the ever-hopeful part, was swayed. It wasn’t until I ended up in the ER with the ovarian cyst that I thought, ah, maybe, and consented to the weekend seminar.

Even as we approached it, I thought to myself, this is ridiculous; what am I getting myself into? And I knew, because I had read the book, that there was healing and self-introspection involved, and so I had created fake issues that might need to be discovered, just on the off chance that I found myself needing to have resolved some issues, because I didn’t want to be put on the spot, panicked and nervous because I didn’t have the right answer.

Alas, it was nothing like that. Nothing like that at all. It was the best thing ever.

Despite some early resistance – which occurred even in spite of my somewhat resigned determination to be open-minded – I ended up being open-minded and enjoying the hell out of myself. I felt the feelings fully, I met new people, I even made friends. So it wasn’t so bad.

The first morning, I was nervous, shaking hands with people I didn’t know and putting on the name tag and feeling silly for having begged boyfriend to bring me paper so that I could take notes, if necessary.

We jumped into it, and I felt awkward and alone. And yet, the curious part of me who loves to learn was intrigued, and so I allowed myself to open up into it, and found myself feeling layers of feelings. I had thought about New York (my past sexual assault and work situation), but had brushed it aside thinking it wasn’t the time or place…and yet…here I was, 10:30 on the first morning of a three-day seminar, feeling layers of feelings about it.

I was ready, almost.

I felt the hurt, the anguish, the shame, and then I dropped below that and I felt a rage I didn’t know was there. I felt it deeply in my core, my lower abdomen burning with anger. I hadn’t realized that under everything, I was angry. I knew that I had accepted what had happened; I knew that I had allowed myself to feel all of the general hurt and upset, but prior to that Saturday morning, I hadn’t realized how much rage was below. And so I felt the rage. I felt it through me. I felt it rising up inside of me and throughout me, and I let it be. I accepted it. And then we broke for lunch.

After lunch, we did our first Journey process, and by that point, I had nothing. I could not, for the life of me, feel what I had felt earlier. I wanted to feel that rage, to address it, but I couldn’t. I was out, empty. I limped along, not able to conjure up the feelings that I had felt earlier, feeling like a total fraud. I guided another woman through her own process, watching tears of realization come to her face, feeling jealous that I couldn’t feel that.

I went home that night, slightly annoyed, but now more curious than ever. Not that I had been expecting an outcome, but because I had honestly felt truly deep feelings that I hadn’t been able to explore. I was determined, as I get, and the next day dawned beautifully with boyfriend and I teaching acrobatic yoga to a couple that we’d met at the seminar the day before (and whom we’d absolutely loved).

And so we did more Journey work, and in that, I went through a process known as the Physical Journey – I opened myself, and let my mind wander and my body tell me what it knew. I went to my fingertips. There, I felt them hot and swollen, dirty. I remembered the first time I had felt that way, in middle school, when I started picking at my skin, my scalp, searching for imperfections and nervously grounding myself with contact. They felt that way when I didn’t have time to wash them after recess and returned to class. I felt that time, snapshots of childhood coming up and playing out. I went back there, and my process was amazing. I felt my younger self, I loved her, I communicated with her. I forgave her for not being perfect. It was a last-minute revisiting, and in that, I found a wisdom I’d never felt, something I’d never even seen. I forgave my younger self for not being perfect; for not keeping everything together (despite her best efforts); for falling apart with no one watching closely and for not crying out for help.

I came out of that Journey feeling a quiet in my hands that I haven’t felt in ages. I felt this quiet all through my core. My body was calm. My body is never calm. Boyfriend noticed immediately. “What did you do?” he asked me. “You feel different.”

I did feel different. I felt light. I felt solid. I felt still. Still. To feel still is such a fantastic feeling. My fingers didn’t find my skin to pinch at it for the rest of the day, or for several days after that. (Actually, they haven’t been as curious as they usually are since then….my face has improved immensely, as has the rest of me. I am not tearing at myself with the same fervor as before, and I am thrilled, grateful, and peaceful.)

The next day, I called in sick to work to stay for the intensive part of the course. I’m so glad that I did.

We did several more processes, and I found myself connecting as a giver – I was able to feel and read people to whom I was “giving” the process, and in doing so, I felt so rewarded. One man exclaimed, “Holy shit you’re good!” in a very crowded, very quiet room. I was secretly thrilled.

So of course, when the afternoon came, and we were to try all of our new skills, I thought to myself, let’s do this! Let’s give up New York! And so I tried.

Oh man, did I try. I brought my old boss to this campfire of forgiveness, where you examine and converse and ultimately, forgive. And I was blocked. I couldn’t do it. I tried, and I tried, and I made it so that there was forgiveness, but it wasn’t right. I told boyfriend after (because he knew what I was up to, he’d seen the gleam in my eye), that I’d let my old boss off on a technicality. He knew I was unsettled; he was right.

On the way home, I shut down. I curled up into a tight ball and became unresponsive. Boyfriend was kind and gentle, but he knew I wasn’t all right; I knew it, too. We got home, and I took his house key and ran into the bedroom and threw myself on the bed and screamed into the pillows as though that might abate the pain that was swirling inside of me.

Boyfriend offered to do another Journey with me. Actually, he said that he knew I wasn’t done, and we both knew (“knew,” but on a deeper level of knowing) that I was ready and not done and ready — I wanted it so bad; I wanted to let go. I didn’t want to carry New York with me anymore.

And so we did. We leapt – our Journey process was nothing like the script they’d given us – it was three hours long (although for me, there was no time. It felt like a half an hour, maybe). Boyfriend held me while he guided me through a meditation that I led – he later told me that it’s a good thing he lives in a separate house and not a condo, because of my screaming and wailing, the police absolutely would have been called.

I let out my pain. I screamed; I shut down; I brought the emotion back; I held onto it. I imagined, and I re-lived, and I did the most amazing things. I cloned myself; I brought someone I had not expected to my campfire – my body knew, the wiser parts of me knew exactly what it was that I was holding onto – I ranted, raved, hated, threatened, felt, understood, cloned, felt, acknowledged, and finally, I let go, just a little bit. I burned everything. I cleansed myself in a healing firefall (which is exactly what it sounds like, a waterfall of fire – it was the water/firefall from the dream I had in February, and when I blissed through the peaceful layers to my hammock of water, it was that same water, but all water this time and no fire).

I ate a sandwich, in the middle of it, in the middle of my meditation I visited the cafe in my old office building and the woman there and her son made me a BLT (not a real sandwich, perhaps this one was just some soul food). My village – everyone who loves me, plus the cat – was there to hold me and be with me and help guide me.

Boyfriend held me through the whole thing. That, my friends, is love. That shit was not fun, nor was it easy. Might I remind you that I’m a hideous crier, so this wasn’t even slightly adorable. It was like Macbeth and Hamlet slammed together with an audio book of the Boondocks Saints – a lot of crazy shit happened, and a lot of rage. My body shook, my eyes welled and overflowed a hundred times; I screamed, I cried, I whispered, I whimpered; I begged, I conversed, I understood. And ultimately, I forgave, just a little bit. A teensy, tiny bit. 1%. Per day. For 100 days. Stupid, but doable, because I am a stubborn woman and I was not budging on the forgiveness part of it. But then I remembered I’m not a horrible person, and that I have a beautiful life, and as I let the gratitude parts of me overwhelm the desire to keep harboring the hate, the kindness won.

In the end, I was calm. In the end, I was secure. In the end, I felt peace. A thousand times peace. Safety. Warmth. Comfort. Security. Rocked gently in my dream water, my safe green space, warm and buoyant. Reassured. Cared for. Understood. Loved. Held.

I woke up the next day, and that feeling was still there. Grounded and still. I had realized what I had been holding on to, which wasn’t actually who I thought it was, and I let it go, a little bit.

I cannot explain to you the lightness that I felt, that I continue to feel. I can’t tell you how hard it was, or how wonderful, or the immense gratitude that swirls through me now. I want to, and I want to bring this gift to everyone who needs it. I want people to have the moments that I had, so that they can feel the letting go and the healing. I want people to fall asleep full, rather than full of rage. I want to share in that relief, that ecstasy, that peace. There is nothing that I want for the world than to feel that swell of hope and joy. I want to be able to give that to others, because I finally feel free of that horrible burden I’ve been carrying for so long, and I am at peace.

It feels fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. Now I can direct my energy elsewhere, and I am finally, finally, gratefully, powerfully, blissfully free.

So I’m going to start practicing – if you’re curious, or you’d like to help me practice doing these Journey processes, send me an email, a text, a call, a fb message, carrier pigeon, whatever. I’d so love to share my excitement and see if I can help with this peace-bringing business. It’s totally not as insane as mine was – you can do 30 minutes and forgive that guy for cutting you off in traffic yesterday or understand why you’re so jealous of Becky with the good hair, or whatever. I just like to go big or go home, and in this case, I managed to do both.

 

 

 

On Tindering, Tentatively

Note: Family members who are queasy at the thought of discussion about human sexuality/romance/all that jazz should not proceed past this point. I will take no responsibility for the intense burning in your retinas or the rise of Catholic guilt or the subtle reproaches of glaring disapproval emanating from you at future family gatherings, because you will not be able to say that I didn’t warn you. (It’s probably not going to be THAT bad, but I’m hedging my bets just in case.)

 

““Some people still catch feelings in hookup culture,” said Meredith, the Bellarmine sophomore. “It’s not like just blind fucking for pleasure and it’s done; some people actually like the other person. Sometimes you actually catch feelings and that’s what sucks, because it’s one person thinking one thing and the other person thinking something completely different and someone gets their feelings hurt. It could be the boy or the girl.”

And even Ryan, who believes that human beings naturally gravitate toward polyamorous relationships, is troubled by the trends developing around dating apps. “It’s the same pattern manifested in porn use,” he says. “The appetite has always been there, but it had restricted availability; with new technologies the restrictions are being stripped away and we see people sort of going crazy with it. I think the same thing is happening with this unlimited access to sex partners. People are gorging. That’s why it’s not intimate. You could call it a kind of psychosexual obesity.”

The above is an excerpt from an article in Vanity Fair about hookup culture. I’m nearing 28, and I’m smack-dab in the middle of a sexual revolution of sorts. I’ve been meaning to post about this for a while now, but I haven’t been able to put it all into words. And still may not be able to…but here goes:

One Thursday, I rolled into work in the morning and stood at my desk chatting with my work wife across the pre-fab bland blonde walls of our cubicles. “Oh god,” I said in dismay, “the feelings have landed.” Her face was sympathetic. “Really?” she said, and the discussion wound on, evaluating pitfalls and what it might mean to actually be having feelings. Feelings, we agreed, are the worst. Feelings make everything complicated.

I inwardly groaned when I realized I’d been infected with feelings for the person with whom I’d been sleeping. <— How horrible of a sentence is that? Dismay at the thought of actually liking someone? Distress because suddenly it’s not just skin contact and cocktails any longer? Panic because of the potential for disaster?

Of course there’s potential for disaster! The only things in life worth doing involve great potential for disaster! Not really, but for the sake of this argument, the ability to be vulnerable in a relationship is a risky move, but also one that has great potential for growth, etc. And that is important! The minute that we lose the ability to be vulnerable and to accept that this may end in horrible heartbreak and be the inspiration for the next “500 Days of Summer,” we’ve lost the most important part of human connection (besides the skin contact and endorphins, am I right?) and also a potentially lucrative screenwriting credit.

If we lose the ability to truly feel the emotions associated with romantic/sexual activity, we’ve lost the meaning, the depth, and in the end, the entirety of the relationship has been reduced to posturing and pretense, a superficial and ultimately narcissistic exercise in fleetingly empty satisfaction.

For me, life’s meaning is rooted in love and connection. There are all sorts of kinds of love, obviously, and I love them all. But there is something utterly fantastic about romantic love, and I absolutely appreciate the fact that I’m able to experience it, and would never want to lessen the impact that it has and can have on your life. It is profound. It is immense. It sears through you and shapes you. It’s beautiful, and deserves the utmost in care and appreciation.

We sit here in our digital age and wax nostalgic for the days of a simpler time, when men were gentlemen and they still called. Then we get on our apps and play the 2016 version of “Hot or Not” on Tinder while we wonder why we can’t find anyone suitable. We actively avoid getting involved with people, because we’re all too busy trying to evaluate all of our options, move upwards in terms of societal valuation of our scores, and ultimately….oh wait, what happens at the end of it? When happens when we’re not toned and fit and still hot? What happens when we are suddenly forced to rely on the content of our character? What then? What happens when the potential matches have dried up, the game has lost its luster and you’ve not attained any level of connection or progressed as a person?

There’s a lot to unpack here and I’m going to attempt to do that and then impart my wisdom (read: draw wild conclusions and dig in on them, because I can).

Here is the summary of what I’m going to attempt to discuss: communication, connection, cultural standards, the advent of the internet and its effect on sexuality and dating, expectations, exploration, and my goals/hopes/dreams (and so on, ad nauseum).

Where I’m coming from (while I may not be Raymond Carver, I’m still coming from somewhere…): I’m 27, have been actively dating since I was 15, and I’ve got over a decade of relationships and relationship failures (and successes) under my belt. It’s like the end of an NBA commercial I saw last night: “Success is just failure that hasn’t happened yet.” Foreboding, yet mostly correct.

One of my favorite quotes from well-known sex columnist Dan Savage goes something like this: you date, you break up, you date again, until eventually you don’t break up. I’ve always taken this to heart – even if I go on my last first date when I’m 80, I will have tried. I will have built a body of experiences and relationship endeavors that will have led me to find the thing that I seek. I will have loved and lost and, perhaps most importantly, learned.

I have hundreds of great stories about dating. Some of them are beautiful, some hilarious, some cringe-worthy, and all of them comprise the library that is my experience and the lens through which I evaluate relationships or potential relationships.

I’m an excellent first dater, because I’m not into the superficial conversation that generally comprises a first date. I want to know all of the things, because in finding out the deeper parts of a person, you’re better able to assess their potential as a possible partner or mate. Part of it is my unwillingness to conform to the expectations of the date as an interview mentality, because it is and it is not – the dating part of it is the longest interview of your life, and should be embraced wholeheartedly – and part of it is because I’m fantastically curious.

But then I find myself quickly losing interest, because the men I’m dating just don’t have “it.” They’re bland. They don’t hold my interest. In the early moments, I’m able to mirror my own versatility and excitement onto them, because they’re still reflecting that back, but once the mirror drops, it’s often a letdown. Tobias calls it “the sparkle phase” – normal people refer to it as the “honeymoon phase” – it’s the endorphin-filled glittery time when things are still new and we’re all still filling in the gaps of unknown information with the things that we want them to be. Once all that subsides and the routines of normalcy land, we’re left with the actual real human person and we’re forced to cope with the fact that they might actually, unfortunately, be just like us – flawed, neurotic, normal.

I always say that I want to find someone whose weird matches mine, or at least, works with mine. If we can each understand each other’s negative qualities, or even real human qualities, and still respect each other, then we’ll stand a chance of succeeding. I love my friends unconditionally. I know their flaws. But the sum of their parts as a person obviously overwhelm those flaws. Besides, if they weren’t flawed, they’d be totally boring, and I’d never want that.

I’m intelligent, pretty enough in an unusual way, and not into the whole image thing. I’m dynamic; I like a lot of things. I’m not driven by physical attraction – well, obviously a little bit – but I find that character and authenticity are far more important to me than a chiseled jawline. I need to find someone who’s driven, intelligent, kind, dynamic, flexible, willing to deal with my inability to organize and my ADHD-driven conversational patterns, and a little bit wild (a lot wild, but not too wild, you know?). It’s hard to find that blend of adult/responsibility/adventure/intelligence. Really hard.

I want to find someone who respects me first as a person and secondly as a partner. I want to be an equal, not an object. I also want to find someone whom I respect, someone who pushes me to be better, but who genuinely adores all of the things that I already am. And someone who laughs at my jokes, because I love (my) jokes. I want to find someone who’s funny, and who appreciates humor’s importance in our lives. I want to find someone to share my life with, to have adventures with, and ultimately, to maybe grow old with. (Or at least a suitable first husband.)

I seek quality. That’s why Tinder is completely overwhelming. I have to just swipe right a few times, get about 10 matches, and then sort from there. I can realistically only date a couple of people at a time. I don’t want my dating pool clouded with confusion, cluttered like my car, and ultimately counter-productive.

I’m also diligent about the endeavor. I don’t want a one-night stand, not that those are terrible. I want to explore the possibilities with a person before I bail, but I also want to make sure that I’m not settling. And that’s part of the problem.

My friend recently used an excellent analogy about cheesecake. He posits that dating is like being at the Cheesecake Factory (if you’ve been living under a rock, it’s an entirely self-explanatory concept restaurant with oddly off-putting interior decoration). Cheesecake is great, but what about this fancy cheesecake? Or that one? There’s so many to choose from, how can you just choose one? (See that earlier quote from the Vanity Fair article – “psychosexual obesity.” Pertinent.)

Well….if you don’t want to get fat, you’ll probably have to settle for fewer cheesecake pieces rather than all of them (dear lord, imagine the lactose situation you’d have gotten yourself into). Also, if we’re approaching this analogy in the manner of this NPR article, if we wait and hesitate, then the cheesecake will spoil, or be purchased by other hungry cheesecake seekers. But then again, are we missing out if we get one cheesecake and not the other? Is there a better cheesecake? What if I picked the wrong cheesecake? Arrrrghhhh! The wrong cheesecake, the horror!

This is the crux of the problem now – it’s well documented that increased availability in choices leads to more indecision and increased rumination about regret. “What if?” becomes a standard follow-up line of thinking after a choice has (finally!) been made. It’s a Millennial conundrum. We’re standing with a seemingly endless array of options, and we’re completely stagnant, unable (or unwilling) to decide for fear of missing out or making the incorrect choice. Ha. But that’s the thing about choice…

In the days of yore (anywhere from agrarian societies to pre-Industrial Revolution…or maybe even as far as the early 1900s…), we had fewer choices. There were a limited number of eligible bachelors (or bachelorettes, if you’re into that sort of thing) available for mating, and it was expected that the pairing would be mutually beneficial, befitting of your social station, and lead to procreation for the sake of posterity and lineage continuation. The finality of the match was sealed, and that was that.

Then came everything that has come since that time, including women’s rights (pesky things, women…can’t live with them, can’t live without them), the Sexual Revolution, the advent and popularity of divorce for “irreconcilable differences” (those again), and the internet (which brought us Imgur, so we’re clearly coming out ahead). All of that has led to a massive paradigm shift, and with that, different expectations for dating, mating, and the like.

Being a modern woman, I am blessed with agency in the choices relating to my sexuality and partner preferences that past generations of women have not experienced. The importance of that agency is not lost on me. I am also blessed with a healthy sense of knowledge and self-assurance as it relates to sexuality (including health, preferences, subcultures, and practices, etc.). A lot of that is self-taught. I became incredibly curious about sexuality as whole and spent a significant amount of time ensuring that I was well-informed when it came to health, in particular, but also to the other elements.

When you think about it, human sexuality as a whole is fascinating. We’re blessed with the ability to create tiny people, but it’s about more than that. The entirety of the connection and endless possibilities for pleasure is amazing. We are truly #blessed to have been gifted with these fantastic bodies and the creativity to explore them to the fullest extent possible.

We are all over the board. We like what we like. We want what we want. One of my exes always used to say that he didn’t want limit his connections with other people. I hated the way he said it, but I get it now. I finally understand what he meant.

I understand that human beings aren’t necessarily wired for monogamy. We do want to maximize the potential for procreation; it’s biological and it makes sense. But much like the fight or flight response has been dulled in our softer survival situations (fire on demand, indoor plumbing, buildings, reduced threat of mountain lion attacks, etc.), I find that there are certainly evolutionary options to consider. I think that romantic love is the highest form of love – and creating, nurturing, and sustaining a relationship with someone is a highly intense and rewarding endeavor. It transcends the more basic animal tendencies of straight procreation and evokes the will power and high-mindedness of our human experience.

That’s not to say that it might not get boring. It might. I am finally coming around the idea of increased fluidity in relationships, but not so much so that I would want to be a non-primary partner. Or even have secondary partners to actively date in addition to the main, really. I know that works out well when it works out well, and maybe at some point in the future, I’ll be happily reporting back about the navigation of that territory. But for now – I’m looking for my person.

That determination to seek partnership may stem from my childhood – the whole broken home, divorce, not happy parental relationship thing – and my subconscious need to “correct” it. But it may not. I understand the argument that marriage is a social construct, and is actually entirely unnecessary. And yet, I would like to have a person. My penguin, my lobster, my partner, whatever you’d like to call them. I think of it as a permanent adventure buddy.

I’m also not freaking out about time. I have plenty of it. As we’ve progressed with women in the workforce, delayed age of bearing children (yay birth control!), and other more modern societal norms, we’ve seen the socially created and maintained institution of marriage become less of a focus. And for that, I’m grateful. Whereas I would have once been considered a spinster due to my advanced age (ha, the advanced age of 27), now I’m only just entering my prime. I’m free to happily explore my life without the intense scrutiny that once would have befallen my adventurous endeavors.

Do I want to get married someday? I think so. Do I want children someday? I think so. But I don’t know for 100% sure. And I’m definitely not going to settle for shitty cheesecake, so if it happens, it happens. And if it doesn’t, I can still have my life and my adventures and some cats. And maybe a turtle. Who knows what will happen. The possibilities are endless!

I do think that it’s interesting to see how the dating game has changed as a result of all of the influx of technology and lowered expectations for commitment. It’s not that people are doing different things than they’ve been doing for millennia, it’s that suddenly, there’s access to information, to media, to availability.

But – much as the Vanity Fair article points out that people seem to be “gorging” themselves as a result of our ability to sudden meet and connect with potential partners whenever, wherever, however – I think that much of it is a false speculation of the true breadth of the market. There are thousands of people using Tinder within a 50 mile radius of me. I know this because I didn’t log in to Tinder for a few weeks, and Tinder sent me a notification saying that over 3,000 people had “liked” me since I last logged in. Whoa. That’s a seemingly endless supply, and yet…it is a finite and ultimately poorly represented number.

(Think of the data that came out as a result of the Ashley Madison hack…think of the disparity and misrepresentation occurring within that small niche market. Not that it’s representative of dating sites, per se, but I think that arguably, we’re all operating with the false notion that this supply is constant, consistent, and infinite, which is not the right way to approach it. Think about all the times you’ve logged in to your account online only to see, ugh, the same people you saw before. Think about the resurfacing of past bad dates, or running into an ex at the grocery store. It really is all the same concept. It’s not practical to operate on that assumption of infinity.)

As far as maximization of potential, it makes sense for men to swipe right on (which is to say, choose or like) nearly any woman. Women tend to be far more selective when it comes to online dating, and so for every time I swipe right and immediately get a match, there are equally opposite experiences on the other end. I know this because I help one of my friends with his online dating game on the regular. It’s hard out there.

Sure, the article talks about the twentysomething males who are focused on maximizing quantity, and that’s all and well. I think it’s also interesting to see the disparity between how they describe their experiences and the reality that I’m seeing when I help my guy friend. Not that he’s not getting dates, but he’s not getting 3 dates back to back in a night. I’m sure if he stepped his game up, he could. But that seems like overkill.

To me, it seems like an exercise in narcissism. I think that’s part of my criticism of online dating as a whole, and I’m not trying to excuse myself from complete and mostly complicit participation in that. I like online dating; much like all technology, it’s been able to bring people together and connect likeminded people, but it’s also brought about some worrying behaviors that I argue aren’t just relegated to online dating, but representative of a significant set of societal shifts that have occurred since the introduction of reality tv, the spread of the internet, and the increased prevalence of social media. Those behaviors include: the devaluation of commitment and connection/relationships; increased objectification of women; decline of chivalry; significant increase in brevity of and expectations for interactions; increased pressure to conform to societal expectations and engage in performative interactions as a way to demonstrate value; decreased authenticity; decreased depth of relationships as a whole; and an overall decline in etiquette to include devaluation of self and others.

The women interviewed in the article seem to discuss the way that manners have become less prevalent since the internet became the way that we date, and I agree, but also disagree. I have strong expectations for someone I’m meeting offline that I’ve met online. If we’re going to meet face to face, I won’t do it as a booty call or hookup. I expect that they will respect me, value me, and treat me as I treat them/want to be treated. Anything less than that gets a non-response from me. That and grammatical errors. I demand consideration, and so I get it. Otherwise, I’m closed for business, no longer interested in being a potential partner.

The twentysomething guys indicate that women love receiving salacious pictures. They report that women respond positively. Ha! I nearly choked on my tea when I read that. I have a friend who regularly sends me unsolicited lewd photographs. To him, it’s an expression of his masculinity, and an attempt to demonstrate value through physical appreciation. To me, it’s an exercise in utter narcissism, and does very little for me or my lady parts. I could do without them (the pictures, not my lady parts).

I think that hookup culture is fantastic, to a point. Women and men are able to engage in consensual activities that are mutually beneficial. For women, we’ve been able to cull the herd in ways that mitigate the onslaught of messages and requests for dates, and for men, they’re able to connect with women who are actually interested in meeting/engaging with them. It’s fun, it’s less oppressive than dinner on a first date, and it allows for increased adventures and decreases in pressure.

However, if one is participating in this process as a means of genuine connection, then it requires firm assertions of expectations at the outset. If you’re unwilling to accept a certain behavior, then you can’t bend on your standards, because if you do that, you’ll end up regretful. If you’re unwilling to have a hookup with no strings attached, then don’t hook up. Don’t have the expectations of something else from the beginning, because your hopes will be crushed.

That’s why communication is important. If you’re clear with someone from the beginning, and regularly touch base along the way, you’ll find that your interactions will progress far more smoothly than if you approach from a place of deceit. The autolycan nature of dating is depressing, and the fact that people are willing to lie, mislead, and misrepresent then truth of their intentions is indicative of a general lack of respect for and objectification of their partners.

I recently flipped through the book, “The Game.” I didn’t have much time, and may end up reading it in its entirety at some point, but near the end, the author is writing about meeting up with a woman who he’d hooked up with on a prior occasion, and who had just ghosted him. (Ha, ghosted. My word of week this week.) He asked her why she’d done that, and she replied that she wasn’t interested in his peacocking behavior. He wrote that during their drinks (the second time, post-ghost), he had already used so much of his material (meaning his “game”) on her that he had nothing left and was forced to actually be himself.

Surprise, surprise! I had a smug moment of “duh!” towards him when I read that. Authenticity is something I seek, and any posturing/peacocking/overtly annoying false presentation is going to drive me to near insanity very quickly. I’m not going to spend time with someone (relationship or hookup, whichever) who’s attempting to persuade me of their value without any real substantive proof. Smoke and mirrors are only just that. I want to see the man behind the curtain.

There’s another thing that’s mildly annoying about our current paradigm shift towards consistently casual dating. You start hanging out, you like each other, you keep doing that, and it’s never clarified. And then, seven months down the road, when you’re wondering where this is going, the other person is still free to be like, “Oh we’re not together, we’re never going to be, what are you talking about, weirdo?” and suddenly you’re the crazy one because you got hurt/developed feelings, etc. It’s curious, how that works. Yes, of course, no one wants to jump straight into a relationship, but I’m not willing to rule out that possibility.

If there’s emotional entanglement, the potential for heartbreak exists and is present and it’s the responsibility of both parties (or however many parties there are – I’m imagining class action lawsuit level number of parties, ha), to ensure that honesty is at the forefront and that clarity is communicated effectively.

Of course, there are hard caveats to online dating and tindering and swiping and hinging and whatever else we’re doing, bageling and bumbling, drunkenly groping for love in the darkest parts of dingy bars. It can get increasingly depressing, very quickly. The approach and results for everyone are completely different. It’s all about attitude, or so I’ve concluded. If you approach with an open mind and clear intentions, your results will be exactly as you want them to be. If you’re disillusioned, desperate, or despondent, your takeaways will reflect that.

In short – life is short. There is something beautiful about the intersection of love and sex, and even in the two on their own. We all strive for something meaningful, even if we’re loathe to admit it, and in our technology advanced society, we’re able to seek and strive so much faster than before. It’s like in movies – I have this theory that we’re far less patient not only because of the instant gratification options available to us at any given time, but also because in movies and other media, for the sake of story progression, the waiting parts are cut out or merely inserted as a montage. We don’t get to see the waiting, or the stagnation, or the things that aren’t action or explicit or explosions, and thus, we have come to expect that our own lives will progress in the same way.

However, unfortunately, that’s not how it works. If that were the case, I’d be montaging the hell out of my work week and speeding towards the action/explosions that comprise my weekends. (Of course then you miss out on the actual meat of life, and in speeding towards the ends of things, you miss the value that is the journey, blah blah, we all know that.)

It’s like everything – you get out of it what you put in.

I’m a part of a strange tide of children of divorce possessed with the unrealistic expectations for fairytale endings actively seeking our own connections in the world, unwilling to settle on something unless it’s “right,” and enjoying the hell out of the ride. Wherever I end up, whoever my person may be – if there even is one – I will at least know that in the course of my life, I’ve done the very best I can to attain adventures, tell fantastic stories, express emotions, and genuinely connect with people around me. If that’s not the best approach, I don’t know what is.

On this week, penultimately

It’s Thursday. I thought yesterday was Thursday, and as a result, having to do this day all over again is miserable. I keep feeling like it should be Friday. It’s been a long week; one of those weeks that’s immense and intense and dragging on even as it’s speeding by.

The week has brought conversations I did not imagine I’d have; it has brought both clarity of situation and intention; it has brought unexpected complications. The theme of the week has been entirely human – emotions and choice. It’s been hard for everyone, us humans, merely bones and muscle and blood, love and pain and all the promise.

What is it to have the experiences that make us human? We have been given the greatest gift of emotions, the spectrum between suffering and unbridled joy, and the great swath that falls between. This week has been a gentle reminder of the fact that joy for one can bring grief for another.

I have stared into my past this week, as the present is swirling up around me, threatening to overwhelm. I have stared back, down into the dark things. I have found, unexpectedly, a bit of clarity of intention I didn’t imagine would be coming. I have cemented connections. I have thought mindfully and rationally; I have been physically shaken out of fear, and cried because the pain of watching someone else hurt is hard to bear; I have laughed, and been filled with admiration and gratitude. Now I sit watching the storm recede, and I am calm. I am filled with the radiant feeling of peace, a feeling of confident repose.

It is never easy to live. No actually, that’s incorrect. It’s never easy to be truly alive. There cannot be joy and happiness without the suffering and despair. In all of that, every single moment, we are given only choice – what will I do with the moment at hand?

I read an article today talking about life, not as a game of chess, but as a game of Tetris. The premise of the article was that there is no end game with life; we do not have the perfect move, the better move, the opponent. In life, our biggest opponent is ourselves, and in life, the pieces never stop falling. It is up to us to place them where we will and to continue, as the onslaught comes ever faster. There is not winning of life, not really.

Of course life is not a game, but in letting go of the approach of winning, I think we’re able to find the peace we so desperately seek. In the appreciation of the smaller moments, the shaking off of the heavy things, and the acceptance that we are all flawed in our own individual ways, we are given the opportunities to shape our own destiny, whatever is it that may be. We get the chance to choose happiness every day, to work on our relationships, our ways of communicating, our means of support, because we can. Otherwise, we are left to languish in the unknown, having decided that there is no bright future.

I’ve been there. The darkness almost swallowed me whole.

Now that I’m away, it seems so silly. Why can’t you just see that there’s light and joy in the world? When you’re in the darkness, you can’t see that there is even light, not within you, not anywhere. You are nothing. You are alone. You are forgotten, unforgiven, unrepentant, a sniveling excuse for a human, and you truly feel all of that to your core. It’s a hard experience to have. I almost lost myself to it. I withdrew from the world, apathy cloaking my spirit. I plodded onward, daily, misery incarnate. I couldn’t fathom the fact that I’d once been happy; couldn’t draw on those moments as a source of strength. Those, too, were no longer mine. People said it’d get better, but I didn’t believe them. How could I? To me, they possessed something I no longer had. I hated it. I hated that it wouldn’t end. I hated myself and everything around me, because everyone else was happier and better off, aware of some secret from which I had been singled out and excluded.

And then, it lifted.

I’m not sure if it was the fact that my hatred for being unhappy finally overwhelmed the unhappiness, that my sheer will not to let the bad thing be my only thing, or if some small moments of joy trickled in through the cracks and thawed my frostbitten soul, coaxing it back to life.

It’s not that I didn’t work at it. I did. I finally wrote about it. I finally opened it up and let it go, releasing my pain to the world. I talked about it. I fought about it. I cried about it. I scratched at the darkness until my fingers bled, and out of my frustration and desperation, I found the exit. Climbing out of hell is harder than you think. There’s no map, no how, nowhere to begin. That’s the trap.

Coming back into the sunshine is the greatest feeling in the world. The day that I was fully free, I was with my five year old in a park. The sky was immense and clear-blue, and the earth was around us. Just the two of us, we walked and ran and played. I felt unbearably light. I think I wrote about it that day. It was amazing.

This week, I was reminded what the dark places feel like. I saw the outburst of a friend struggling with the weight of being human – purpose, love, grief, sadness, anger – and I hurt because of that. The ripple effects of our own sadness carry far beyond ourselves, and in not being able to help those who are struggling, we each hurt in our own way. My part in his upset hurts too.

I am firm believer that love is the greatest gift we are given. Love is my highest goal. Love brings joy. Love is my motivation. Love moves me. I believe that we are each motivated by a single emotion – the thing that we seek, that drives us to keep seeking, that sates us when we’ve sought – and for me, that’s love. I am the happiest when I feel love, whether it’s friend love or romantic love or any of the other multitudes of love, those moments are my favorite.

To watch someone hurt so badly from the loss of love, or the unexpected unrequitedness of it all, is viscerally painful. To watch the pain that people keep welled up inside them erupt and spew out is difficult, because no one can make those things better. No one can change how you feel; it’s up to you.

My last big loss of love came after a brief entanglement in college. I fell hard and fast. I understand it all now – and appreciate the opportunity for connection, no matter how brief – but for a long while after, I was a mess. It destroyed me, until I was able to finally accept it, wrap my head around it, and move forward into the future. And then the peace came. We had our moment of closure, and in his quiet way, he acknowledged that it had meant a lot to him. Something in the knowing that it was important for him too, in a way that wasn’t mine but was his own, helped to finally close the wound that had begun to heal a long time before.

I remember the nights that I laid awake, desperate, panicked, unsure. I remember the feeling in the core of my palms when everything was falling away. I remember the tears, the dreams. Love is horrible, too.

Giving yourself, or parts of yourself, to someone else, only to be not wholly accepted, is the most terrifying thing you can do. To be rejected after that offering is a cold, steely slap to the soul. Sometimes, it’s not rejection of the person, but rather a difference in opinions, lifestyles, views, desire. Sometimes it is the rejection of that person, for qualities, characteristics, behavior patterns.

No matter what it is, the end of a relationship or the realization that things aren’t going your way hurts. The choice to pick up, reflect, dust off, recharge, and move forward is your own. The hardest part about living in the darkness is that there’s no roadmap out. There is only you. Only you and your ability to get yourself out of the whole darkness, because the darkness is also you. The darkness is your own. You helped create it, the world helped create it, and there’s nothing that can save you from yourself, except yourself. (I’m thinking Harold and the Purple Crayon here, and I’m into that aesthetic of the darkness and your choice. My crayon isn’t purple. It’d be mint green.)

I had to make hard choices this week. I also learned a few hard lessons, which require me to reflect back on my own actions, inactions, thoughts, intentions, and communications. I can learn from this. I can see how the things that I did led me to the place where I am. I can see how the things that I thought were incongruent with the things that someone else thought. I can see how my past shaped the way I reacted to a person in my life. I can see how I should have been better about instituting and maintaining boundaries. I will learn how to let the guilt go, and to stop internalizing things I shouldn’t. I have been learning that. I hadn’t realized that I hadn’t put them up when I should have. I see a bigger picture now. I see someone else’s picture, too. I see how my picture and their picture and the rest of the picture were in no way the same. I will grow from the things that this week brought. I will adapt. I will ruminate. I will be confident in my choices.

I am confident in my choices, because I am confident in my status as a tiny lion person (my inner strength is a tiny lion, think the cat but with a mane). My inner strength is my own. I’m on that weird human journey, hurtling through space like everyone else, even though my perception of this space is entirely my own. I am bones and blood and muscle, and I am a complex system of hopes and dreams and joy. And dammit, I’m Katie Barry.

This week hurt. – This week brought new challenges.  – This week brought answers to questions I hadn’t asked yet. – This week raised questions I hadn’t thought of. – This week was tough. – This week, I picked a lot. – This week I bought tickets to the skin picking conference.  – This week I sought answers. – This week I asked for help. – This week was joyful.  – This week was peaceful. – This week brought friendship. – This week I made fried rice terribly. – This week, I connected. – This week I lost a friend. – This week I felt empathy. – This week I felt frustrated. – This week I felt heard. – This week I felt threatened. – This week I felt stressed. – This week I took a miserable lukewarm bath. – This week I was strong. – This week I put up boundaries. – This week I realized I had been a part of the problem. – This week I tried to help. – This week made me smile. – This week I am tired. – This week I am excited for what’s to come.

That’s all we can really hope for, is to seek joy in the moment and to eagerly anticipate the rest of the things life will throw at us. And currently, I am. I’m really jazzed to be alive.

 

 

On the Cat, Tearily

Ignore the whole “is your pet your child?” debate…because we are moving forward with this post under the assumption that yes, your pet is absolutely your child. Of course, he’s never going to graduate from high school, or get a wife and family, or pay for my eventual nursing home, but for all intents and purposes, Carlos is my child, albeit my feline child.

For almost six years, he’s been a constant in my life. Perhaps the only constant, other than my car (whose parentage we won’t argue about today…for obvious, pet-as-kid-negating reasons). Carlos has been with me since I was twenty-one, which isn’t something I can say about very much else in my life, not merely as a possession, but as a constant companion.

I knew when I adopted him that eventually, he would get sick and die. I guess that’s how it works with most things. Today, my therapist asked what his prognosis was, and I answered succinctly, “Death.” And then I paused for a moment and reconsidered. “Every living thing’s prognosis is death.” Which is true, but one a more realistic note, his prognosis is now good. Hopefully. With the aid of fancy prescription wet and dry food and a stash of medicine I’m amazed at, of course…

Carlos has been with me since we lived in that third floor apartment on Newgard in Chicago; lived with me at my City Park apartment, and now lives with me in my first home. He’s been with me through countless relationships, three jobs, two continents, and the loss of the dog (one of us was pleased to see the dog go…I’ll let you guess which one). He’s survived cancer and hernia surgeries, and come out pretty healthy, considering he’s a Chicago street cat with FIV.

A couple weeks ago, when he started crying and urinating blood, I was distraught. He’s not a complainer. After emergency calls to find that my usual vet was booked for days and the other vets whose names I’d been given my friends were also not available, I took him to the nearest vet. He was given a dose of antibiotics and some ridiculously expensive bloodwork. (If only Obamacare covered pets…thanks Obama.)

24 hours later, we were back in the same place. My cat isn’t a cryer, and so hearing him cry out in pain is a uniquely disturbing sensation. I wanted to fix it, of course, and so we went back to that vet, they had our most recent test results, after all…an emergency overnight stay, a credit card handed over blindly, and we were on our way with little knowledge other than that he had been given fluids and should be healing.

Flash forward to last night, when it began all over again. I didn’t sleep. I called another vet this morning (never going back to other vet — I felt as though I was merely a sale waiting to be made, with little regard for my son’s wellbeing), and they got me in immediately. We went. He was examined, evaluated, and sent home with more information, new meds, and a hopeful follow-up.

I’m grateful to my parents for giving us pets as children, allowing us the unconditional love that comes with owning a pet, caring for them, and the eventual pain of losing them. Even though I have had to say goodbye to numerous animals in my lifetime, including the dog – who isn’t dead, but in California – I know that losing Carlos will be the hardest loss of my young life. I brought myself to tears last night thinking about that, then looked him in his yellow eyes and told him that after all the money I’d spent the past few weeks, he wasn’t allowed to go yet, because I wasn’t ready.

I tried to make myself feel better by blaming it on the evisceration of my savings, but the honest truth of it is that I’m not ready. I know I won’t ever be, but right now I’m not even a little bit ready. He’s not done yet. He hasn’t moused enough, or spent enough hours in the grass baking in the sun, or napped in my arms while I do computer things.

I have loved every moment of cat motherhood. I had never considered myself a cat person, or had a cat, or even wanted one, and then I met Carlos. I know that’s what they all say. But to love something so deeply is a strange and beautiful feeling. This morning, he was crouched in his carrier at the vet, terrified and hiding in a very uncharacteristic way, and I stuck my hand in, to try to comfort him. He nuzzled up against it, rubbing it against the sides of his face, and settled in against my palm. My heart wrenched. I have never felt so responsible for a life in my life, and it is in that that I realize how deeply love can cut us.

Love is the most precious gift we are given. For him, as a cat, motivated by food and sleep and shelter, he seeks me as his guardian. He comes to me at night to hold his little body while we sleep, and I in turn look to him for comfort. After my ex and I broke up, and I gave myself a day to cry, I laid in bed, miserable. The cat came to me and laid on my chest, nuzzling me and staring at me with his bright eyes, and I knew in that moment that he understood. I realize that we can’t communicate with words, but words don’t matter. I am his and he is mine. We are.

Regardless of when he goes (may it be ten years in the future, please), I will take great comfort in knowing that we were able to give each other comfort in the moments when we needed it most and that we were able to share so much together. At night, I turn to find him, or he’ll come to me – claws out in order to drive home his intentions – for snuggling. We have slept next to each other for so many nights, claws/paws and hands entangled, in that beautiful dance of solidarity.

He has brought so much joy into my life, and I don’t think I stop to be grateful for his presence enough. Of course, he’s a financial burden, even more so now with his fancy foods and supplements, but I knew that going in. I committed. And I am so blessed that we found each other. I’m very selfishly so happy that I got to be his mom, because I don’t think anyone else on this earth could have loved him as much as I love him. I also don’t think I could ever love another cat the way I love him. He’s got such a beautiful personality, something I never expected.

I love his missing fang, his snaggletooth, his cropped ear, his broken tail, the way his stomach dangles where he had the hernia surgery. I love his face. It’s so expressive. I love the way he yawns, the way he stretches, the way he curls up and somehow manages to take up half the bed. I love his aloofness, his curiosity, his endless desire to roll in dirt or lay in his dirt hole. I love how much he demands snuggling. I love the way he sits in my clothes pile when I’m taking a bath, waiting for me. I love how he can’t purr and the sound he makes when he jumps.

I don’t really know what I’m trying to say, but I guess it’s that I’m so happy that he’s okay. I’m so happy that I get to have more nights with him. I’m so happy that I brought him home that first night, and I’ve been so blessed to have shared this love and life with him. (Even though his love for me may be based on the amounts of wet food he’s received…some part of me thinks it’s deeper than that…and I’m sticking to it.)

On Rape and Rape-ish, Angrily, Regretfully, and unRemorsefully

Trigger warning: rape, sexual assault.

This article is about rock music and rape, so it’s not something you’ll understand.

At its core, it’s about being taken advantage of, when you’re young and naive and vulnerable, at a point in your professional career when you’re on the cusp of something wonderful, and that’s something I understand in a very profound way.

That’s where I was. I was on the cusp, the perfect target, easy prey. Pathetic. (Not me; the man who took advantage of me. I didn’t have a choice. I wouldn’t have made that choice, not that night, not ever.)

Later in the article, the author talks about telling the mom. I didn’t tell my mom for months after what happened in New York. I tell my mom everything. I didn’t tell her that. I hated myself and I hated my shame. I hated what happened. She knew something was wrong, but she had no idea what it was. She knew, but she didn’t know. She cried when I told her; I hated breaking her heart. I felt worse inside because I let her down, because I was broken and it wasn’t something that she could fix. I wasn’t the same and I wouldn’t ever be. I wasn’t hers anymore. I hurt her, and I hated that more than anything.

That’s part of why this article touches my heart so much. There are things that happen in an instant that change you. After them, you’re never the same. You’re darker, you’re different, and you can’t explain it. You can heal, and move forward, but there’s no forgetting. Sometimes I wonder if there’s ever a time when you can forgive.

People say they do; they say that all the time. I haven’t, and I never will. I hate who I became that night. I hate the person who woke up that next morning. And that’s the person that I am today. I don’t get to go back. I don’t get to atone, because I’m not the one who made that choice. I have tried to embrace love and happiness and to allow the beautiful things back into my life, but I’ll never be the person that I was on January 29, 2013. I can’t be. I carry something heavy with me everywhere I go now, and I will carry it until I die.

I make light of it now, but not really. At least I don’t cry when I talk about it anymore. But it cuts me every now and then, when I least expect it. Like tonight. I read this article and I cried. Hard. My therapist told me that these things happen – it’s a roller coaster, and sometimes you don’t see it coming. He said that one day, this would just be something that happened to me, rather than the only thing, and he was right. That’s all it is now. But it’s not nothing and it never will be.

When I told the new dude about it, he gathered me up into his arms and held me, and I felt safe and loved and healed and stupid for even feeling anything about it, for even telling him about it. But tonight, I read that article and the parts of me that are so together fell apart. I hate that these things happen. I hate that I “just had some fun” (not my words – the salesman’s words) with a middle aged married salesman when I was 24 and drugged, and I don’t get to erase that. I hate that I’m left with that scar, because I don’t want it. I don’t deserve it. No one deserves it.

Here’s the quote that got me — that hit home so fucking hard:

“I know from personal experience how all these things can eat away at you. They can take vibrant young people and turn them into something else.”

Tonight I’m crying; my palms hurt in that deep tingly way and the tears are hot and full and dripping out of my eyes. It’s real again; it’s visceral and it hurts. I will wake up tomorrow and this will all be a bad dream, but it’s not a bad dream and I know it. I refuse to let it consume me, the way it did for so long, but I will allow it to touch my heart so that I remember. I will never forget, and I will never forgive. I’m sorry — but I’m not sorry at all. I don’t have to forgive. It’s not a prerequisite for progress; it’s not something that I have to do.

I’m not kind in that way, the way I’m so kind in so many other ways. I will never forgive that disgusting man or my old bosses. I will never forgive them for what happened or how it exploded, destroying my career and shattering my soul. I don’t have to to be a take-the-high-road kind of person and I won’t be; not today and not ever.

I hate that I hate them so much. I don’t like to hate. I thrive on love and good feelings, good feedback, and gratitude. But I take exception here. I smile and laugh and pretend that I’m not hurting. Usually, I am all good, the embodiment of good vibes and positivity. It’s long forgotten, something that happened to me and not THE thing. But every now and then, it creeps up on me, like if there were such thing as a silent hybrid freight train.

Here’s the song I listen to when I’m upset. I don’t know why, but it calms me. Tonight it’s been on repeat for almost a half an hour.  

I feel better. It’s over. It’s done. It’s not happening right now and it hasn’t for a long time. I can’t change the past. There is only forward.

My roommate in college had a wise mom. She always said that when something was upsetting you and you couldn’t solve it, you should sleep. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do. The nest of blankets and my cat son should do the trick. Tomorrow is a new day.

There is only forward. I am who I am. I am not what happened to me. I am still me. I am good. I desire and deserve love, even now.