On the Weekend, Always Belatedly

Ah, the weekends. The 9-5 grind is exactly that, a grind, and by the end of the day, I’m generally exhausted. But the weekend provides me with roughly 55 hours of usable free time – 5pm Friday to midnight Sunday – and I try to make it a point to use as much of that time as possible.

Last weekend was no exception.

My mom had asked me if I’d like to bring the guy that I’m seeing to family dinner on Friday night – my favorite meal of the year, corned beef and cabbage – and I’d immediately declined the invitation. But then I thought about it, after telling him that I’d declined his invitation without even asking him. I realized that it probably wouldn’t be too bad if he met my people, so I re-invited him, nervously.

I’m known for bringing guys home to meet the family very early on – maybe it’s the sadist in me that likes to see them sweat, or maybe it’s that I want to see how they can manage themselves. My family is quite lovely, so it’s not like it’s difficult, but I’m a firm believer that you can tell a lot about a man by the way he interacts with your family in that sort of environment. Is he polite? Does he speak up? Is he patient? I’m impatient, usually polite, and always talking, so I need someone who can be patient, polite, and match my level of enthusiasm for the conversation. I love my family, and I want them to know the people I spend my time with, and for those people to know my family. Also, free food. Plus, my grandmothers are pretty fantastic people.

To my surprise, he said yes in the very best way. A long text message string of rap lyrics. I laughed out loud when I read it, and then immediately sent a few panicky emails to my grandmother, mom, and aunt, so that there’d be another place at the table and to make sure there was enough food. (I promised to eat less, if need be.)

And so that happened. I picked him up, ten minutes late (surprise, surprise), and we made our way the four blocks to my grandmother’s house (convenient). The evening was wonderful. He talked – he may have talked more than I did! (Ehhh, probably not.) He deftly handled the faux-argument we have over the men’s side of the table (they always mess up the passing order to make sure that their buddies get the best food first – and the women always tease them about it), falling in line with the “rules” of the passing and the back-passing. He definitely got in on the good end of the back-passing – he had meat, potatoes, and cabbage before I’d even gotten the bread.

We lingered for four hours. He got to see the reenactment of the guys and my mom dropping me off at college – my uncle’s impression of me sobbing and begging them to take me back to Denver includes, “I’ll go to DU, I swear!” and is fantastically hilarious – as well as my mom’s excellent impression of the “purse carrier,” which is exactly what I’m not allowed to marry. It was a really wonderful dinner, and I felt so happy to be surrounded by such lovely people, and to come from such a loving and kind family.

On Saturday, I went to see an old co-worker, who’s now my mentor/friend. She has the most adorable two-year old son, so I was happy to play with him while we caught up. It’s so easy to lose touch with people once you don’t see them every day, so I’ve been trying to make an effort to stay in contact and not lose people just because they’ve slid out of the periphery. Also, she’s very good about getting in touch with me, so that definitely helps. I always laugh and thank her for being a part of my village (village people, I think that’s what I’m going to call my wonderful network of humans), because I’ve been to her kid’s birthday parties, her family events, and I was the first person to ever babysit for her son.

Babies are the sweetest things. He’s talking up a storm now, and he has the biggest eyes and the happiest smile. I chased him and tickled him, and his peals of laughter brought me so much joy. I love how determined they get, or how frustrated, or how giggly. There is so much pure energy and pure emotion, and as I left, he stood by the door and waved to me, over-ready for his nap. My friend texted me after I left and told me that he was out 60 seconds after she put him down.

For some reason, I was in cleaning mode on Saturday. I have been struggling to get my house under control for a while now (again, no surprise here), and I wanted to go home and do some good work. And so I did. I got my room rearranged, opened up the box that contained my new mattress and got it unfurled, foam puffing up immediately. I got more things folded and hung up and stuffed into drawers (I mean, folded, definitely neatly). I threw away trash and cleaned out the fridge. I scrubbed the sink and unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher. It was nice progress, and it felt good. My friend Gina will help me with the rest of it tonight.

Saturday night, we went to my old favorite Thai place. I’ve only ever ordered one thing there (five years is a long time to not stray on a menu, and I intend to keep up the streak) – pineapple curry, medium. Sometimes with shrimp, sometimes just extra pineapple, sometimes veggies. Always delicious. That is the food I crave on Sundays (when they’re closed), when I’m sad, or sick, or happy, or ….any time.

After that, we stopped into the PS Lounge – if you haven’t done that, you need to. Your life will get so much better. We had a few drinks there, and sat talking, oblivious to the bar around us. (Not entirely, but it makes it sound so much more romantic if I put it that way, doesn’t it?) Regardless, the conversations are so fantastic. I really like that I’ve met someone who knows stuff about stuff I don’t know. And who’s willing to tolerate the things that I love. He told me the other night that he loves that I always have something to add – actually add, a different perspective or input – to conversations. I laughed, what else am I going to do? We haven’t really disagreed about anything yet, and I keep trying to find something where we have drastically differing viewpoints…thus far, no luck.

My friend Jacob was playing at a bar down the road, so tipsy adventure me decided that we needed to at least pop in. So we did, briefly. I danced a little less than I would have liked, nervous energy coursing through my body. Bringing someone into your comfort zone is so hard. I like people. But it’s funny, because as much as I am uneasy in new places or doing new things, I’m equally uncomfortable when I’m bringing someone into my spaces, my people, my things.

Sunday morning, we woke up and went for a bike ride. He was so sweet a few weeks ago and put my bike back together for me (to be fair, he’s the one who took it apart in the first place….but I had a tangled chain somehow?), so I’ve been able to ride around with him. I’m terrified of city biking – too many people in Chicago get smashed by buses on bikes – but I’m getting better! We did 20 miles on Sunday, looping through the park on our way downtown, made a pit stop for ice cream, and then to REI (obviously), and then back around to the water treatment plant, and then back. By the end, I’d lost all of my energy, and the last few miles were me playing the mental fortitude game in my head. But I made it! There’s an uphill part right at the end, which is miserable. It’s the last big push before relaxation, and when I made it, I was overjoyed and that feeling of accomplishment (or at least, not failure) washed over me.  And on the way I ran into a couple of friends who I hadn’t seen in over a year, which was wonderful!

Ha, to make things way sexier, I wore bike shorts. And since I left my car at the Thai restaurant the night before, I had no shoes to wear other than my cheap little black flats. So between the bright orange bike shirt and short combo and the completely not bike shoes, I made a very official-looking exerciser. You know, I make fun of the bike shorts/shirt people (and will continue to do so…), but, there’s something to it. My sit bones were not even sore as a result of the padding in the shorts.

Then I went to Verizon and got a new phone. I’ve had my mom’s old iPhone for over a year now, and she had it for two years before that, and the thing was just starting to lose everything. No battery life, no storage, the whole deal. It was time. Verizon can definitely thank Lil’ Wayne for pushing me over the edge; I’d been vacillating between the iPhone 6s (or trying to wait until the 7 came out?) and an Android, and Samsung came out with the Galaxy S7, which is water-resistant (seriously, you could put it in a fish tank and it would still work – I’m so curious but not $700 worth of curious, so I’ll leave that to the professionals and try to keep my phone on dry land), and that’s what did it. I’m a bath-taker and also incredibly accident-prone, so this seems like the right choice. Also, I had an S4 once, and I loved it. Apparently, the S6 was a miserable piece of equipment, and they’ve corrected that (righted their wrongs and put things back) in the newest version, so I’m in.

We shall see. It’s been a funny adjustment, because I had forgotten everything. But alas, it’s like riding a bike. Your fingers and brain relearn the moves, and it’s been not even 48 hours and I’m back in the groove.

Then I had dinner with my mom. First dinner, to be more accurate. We ate salad and caught up for an hour or so. It was so nice. I really love my mom. Then I had second dinner with my friend Emily. Man, I really love sushi and sake. I also love having friends that you’ve known forever. It’s so wonderful to love someone who really knows you. Emily has known me since high school, and I am really happy that we haven’t let our friendship slip. She’s beautiful, smart, funny, and all of the things I love. We had a nice time, except for the fact that my dark circles threatened to swallow me whole. I had that blank, empty stare of exhaustion by the time we were done.

Finally, finally, came the sleep. My exhausted body was so pleased to find bed and pillows and blankets, and I was gone, weekend concluded. Not too bad for 55 hours, right? Errands, accomplishments, exercise, family, friends, dancing, date night, alcohol, ice cream, adventure, new technology, and babies! All of the best things. Nailed it.

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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 the Duality of Dreams and the Magic of Acro Yoga, Swimmingly

I did something wonderful last night. I went with a friend to try out acro yoga, which is partner yoga – think acrobatic controlled movement. It’s amazing. I was spellbound; I haven’t quite felt my eyes widen to try to take everything in the way they did last night in a long time.

I’d always wanted to do it, but never had actually really done it, and last night was quite the adventure. I had no idea what I was getting into, and today I am completely sore but so very happy. My body is quiet. It stretched and did things I wasn’t sure it could do – at one point, I was upside down with my shoulders resting on someone’s hands while I held onto their ankles and somehow managed to keep my body completely straight up and down. It was magical. The feeling of accomplishment at that was the most satisfied I’ve been in a while.

My friend remarked that I’m a quick learner, because by the end of the whole thing, I was just as eager as I had been at the beginning, but now somehow completely more comfortable and feeling very confident – not confident that I’m fantastic at it, but less hesitant and more able to give it all a go. He’s been doing it for ages, and of course is insanely strong and knowledgeable, which is nice to have because his calm ability to explain things while I was mid-air was very helpful. And also super attractive.

I think that the decade of dancing helped quite a bit, even though not everything felt natural, my body has retained some of its flexibility and is eager to bend and be. This is definitely something that I want to explore more.  Just sheer unbridled joy. It was wonderful.

After, we went and mingled over drinks with his yoga people, and I was delighted to find myself submerged in a completely unknown social environment in which I felt entirely comfortable. It was fun.

***

I’m a firm believer that as we age, we lose some of the connectivity we have with the energy on this earth; that the childlike wonder is infinitely more in tune with the environment than our older selves, due to the chaotic cluttering of the airwaves. Responsibility, society, work, experience – all of those things cloud our minds and work to limit our ability to be truly in tune.

It’s the reason teenagers are so lame – they’re suddenly aware of how people perceive them, and they don’t want to appear anything but cool about anything, so instead of allowing their excitement to show, they’ll just nod, and say, “cool,” with a shrug.

That’s why I actively practice childlike wonder. I want to be as enthralled as possible with new experiences, because there is such great joy in those moments. I want to be curious and learn everything about everything. I want to wonder, to wander, and to feel. I take time to lay in the grass (not directly, I’m allergic as all hell) and stare up at the clouds when they’re the most cumulus (digging that as a descriptor).

I write about the strength in intuition, and how I have relied on it for my biggest decisions. I have been actively working for years now to quiet the other external and internal thought processes and inputs and to listen to that voice. I’ve gotten so much better at it than I used to be, and I’ve stopped second-guessing myself so much. A huge part of the internal dialogue is self-critical (at least for me), and being able to disregard it has let me let the self-doubt fall away. It’s magical, that feeling of surety and confidence in my own being.

But I disgress…a bit.

When I was nine, the Broncos won the Super Bowl. I knew that they would, because I’d had a dream of hands touching the Lombardi trophy. I told a man that in a pager store, long before the big game. He didn’t believe me. I was tiny, and very firm in my assertion.

As a child, I had a pink dress my grandmother brought back from Spain. It was my “Spain dress,” and I wore it until it was dirty and ripped and tight in the armpits; I loved that dress immensely. I had a dream one night that I was twirling around in the backyard (because the best part of any dress or skirt is its flowy spinnability – when you twirl, how much area/separation do you get between the fabric and the legs? It’s an important consideration, to be sure), and my dad came out and told me that my aunt was getting married. And sure enough, one day, I was twirling around in the backyard and the announcement came: my aunt was getting married.

I’ve long dreamed very intense dreams; they come and go in different stages of presentation depending on my stress levels, life places, etc., but when the dreams are their purest, they are often telling and illuminating in ways I appreciate.

This fall, I had a dream – I don’t remember the specifics – but I woke up knowing that I needed to be on guard. That semi-conscious premonition alerted me to something I didn’t see coming, and that day, when the moment happened, I was prepared and able to handle it gracefully and smoothly, without the duress that I would have felt had I been blindsided by it. Katie (Un)Consciousness for the win.

My dreams the last two nights have been vivid. The other night, I dreamed two different dreams within the same dream (you know how they go – they wind and twist and change so abruptly, yet somehow comingle with the certainty of a single experience). Each dream involved rocks and water. In one, I was in a warm, light place, under water, with the perspective of two pairs of feet submerged to the shins. The water was clear and blue and I was content to observe these two pairs of feet just being, as the waves rolled around them.

In the other scenario, I was in my car, in the mountains. This day was far darker, a cold blackness of winter. I looked away, for a second, and my car slid along a rocky cliff edge that hadn’t been there before, furiously, and I could not control it. The dream flashed forward to me, half submerged in dark water, trying to pull myself out using the cold rocks around me. There were other people there, suddenly, doing whatever it is that they were doing, and a giant dangling spider and for some odd reason, a squirrel? The dangling spider was close to my hair, and I didn’t want to become entangled with spider and web and hair. But I couldn’t get out. And so I remained, half submerged, attempting to climb out, unable to do so.

And then the warm place was back again. The people and the beach and their waterfall, which is what they were standing under. I watched their feet, unable to “look” elsewhere, but I could hear their murmured conversation and their laughter.

I woke, curious about the odd duality of the matter displayed in my dreams. I think I know, but am not sure yet which dream location belongs to which of the things that relate to the things in my life. I think I know that too. I’ll sleep on it.

Last night, much the same, although with people I know. The general strangeness of setting and barely discernable plot lines plus the people – my family, a friend, other minor characters. Most of the dream has slipped back into my subconscious now, I’ve lost my own creation, but I remember starkly the presence of one person and then later the food on a plate – all of it green. I am curious about the clear warning of envy here, and what it will mean. Also, I’m suddenly craving pistaschio pudding.

 

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 Kindness, Very Elderly

“Mustard and onions!” he would shout as soon he’d gotten himself through the door, gingerly shuffling up to the counter. He’s pull out crumpled dollars and some change. It was $1.62, always the same order: hot dog with mustard and onions, shortened to just “mustard and onions.”

Sometimes we’d see him coming and start his hot dog before he’d even gotten through the door (we had time; the man was 94 years old and no spring chicken. It’s interesting, to attempt to race an old man by microwaving a hot dog to have it ready for him before he’s even ordered it). His hands weren’t as nimble as they used to be, so we’d open the mustard packets for him and carry the hot dog out to his seat.

He would regularly give us a $5 tip and tell us not to spend it on the opposite sex. “Don’t spend this on men,” he’d caution, and I’d smile and swear I wouldn’t. And I never did.

He had a tiny white Pomeranian-looking dog thing he’d gotten from the Dumb Friends League. The tiny dog was tethered to the man’s walker by his leash, and the both of them were parked outside the large side window while the man ate his hot dog at the tall table in the corner. We used to bring the dog a little cup of ice cream to eat while the man was inside. One time, he yelled at me not to bite his dog, which made me laugh, mostly because it terrified some tiny children waiting in line. Once, the dog ran into the parking lot, dragging the walker with him. That caused a brief upset, and both the dog and the walker were safely recovered, returned to their post on the sidewalk.

Over time, I learned that the man had been a captain in the Navy during WWII. We talked about that when the captain ran his ship aground while showing off for friends off the coast of Italy. The man shook his head, clearly disappointed by the captain’s idiocy. When I was dating a Marine, he told me that the best part about the service was that when I got bored with the man, I could send him right back to the Marines.

He was the bright spot on many days. When we had new people working, who didn’t understand the “mustard and onions,” shorthand, they’d panic, confused by the gruff shout. He lived nearby, and walked the block and a half to the Dairy Queen regularly, exercise and human connection.

This morning, I read a post on Facebook written by a woman who’d taken her young children to a Target store for a quick necessities run, only to find herself behind an elderly woman in line who was paying for each item individually, in change. The woman wrote about her initial annoyance, but then wrote about how the cashier’s patience and helpfulness with the change counting and the interaction struck her. When the woman was done purchasing her items, she asked if she had enough to purchase a reusable bag, which she did. The cashier repackaged the woman’s purchases with a smile, no hint of aggravation or annoyance. She watched her young daughter watch the interaction, and she felt compelled to find the manager to speak about the cashier’s actions. And then she posted about it, which is of course how it came to me this morning, via a newsfeed so full of cluttered self-important noise.

When I was in high school, first beginning my time as the Dairy Queen (a self-imposed title, to be sure), we used to have an old woman come in and purchase a child-sized twist cone. Then she’d linger by the counter, chatting. At first, I was annoyed. I had things to do – re-stocking candies and cups and spoons. My manager at the time, a fantastic manager who somehow commanded and compromised and inspired with her honest work ethic and beautiful handling of high school employees who knew nothing about the working world, always encouraged us to stay and talk to her. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that for this woman, we were human interaction, not just a quick pit stop on the way to other things. It wasn’t until I grew into more adult awareness that I realized the haunting reality of the loneliness that comes with aging.

It tears at me, now, to think of people, not just the elderly, who are alone. I see the posts about how they’ve put a pre-school in a nursing home, and I’m fascinated by the sheer brilliance of the idea. I don’t know why we don’t have those everywhere, because we should.

I shed a few tears this morning, thinking of the hustling, frantic pace of our world, and the isolation that comes with our own self-involved narrow focuses. Much in line with my recent ruminations on the disillusionment of life, I find it disheartening that we feel compelled to share these stories of small kindnesses as some kind of heroic behavior, because in my own idealistic view of the world, these would be commonplace courtesies performed not out of duty but out of sheer goodwill.

I looked forward to seeing that old man every day. I brightened when he came in. I took as much (maybe more) from our interactions as he did. I still think of him, from time to time, and hope he’s okay. He might not be, it might be that he’s passed away or moved to a nursing home, but some small part of me wants to tell him how much he meant to me, and how his presence in my life made me better, happier, more fulfilled.

Listening to NPR cover the death of Alan Rickman last night, I heard the voice of one of his friends describe him using all of the words we all aspire to: kind-hearted, funny, and so on, and I started to think about the legacy that I will someday leave behind. The totality of our lives is summed up not on paper, which will eventually be filed away somewhere and left to the dust, but exists in the impressions we leave on those around us.

We get back what we put into this world, unless we don’t, in which case we must take comfort in knowing that we’ve done and been the best we could have been. My Russian co-worker, who became a dear friend, told me that she felt very deeply that the only reason she’d come back from Russia to be here for 9 months was so I could come into her life and we could become friends. She appreciated my sense of humor and my outlook. She’s back in Russia now, and I miss her every day. I miss our discussions of English language, and her laughter and our shared plants, which mingled in my tiny garden and grew together.

She’ll never know how much that compliment meant to me, and how it drives me when I’m in need of motivation. This. This is the reason we need other humans. We need them because the ripple effects of the smallest kindnesses don’t go unnoticed; they carry onward, softening over time, but still changing their environments. The harder we work to bring joy to those around us, the more joy there is to go around. That sounds Pollyannaish, and I don’t care. Taking the time to make small positive impacts is something that can have a very real and valuable return. It’s important, and we don’t seem to do enough of it.

On Falling, Swiftly

This is going to be a whole bunch of word-vomit about what it’s like to be in love, so if you’re not into that sort of thing, stop reading now.

I’ve been putting off blogging lately, because I have two serious fears about blogging while happy: one, that it will somehow magically disappear because I’ve talked about it, and two, that I’ll come across as a boastful, arrogant and/or smarmy. Smarmy is the perfect word to describe that, because I feel slimy typing it. That’s not how I want to be perceived.

Anyway – it’s time. I have accepted love, settled into it, and am attempting to keep my cool. And now you should know about it.

I met a boy.

Okay, you know that story. Everyone meets boys all the time. And they’re just that. Boys. They’re funny and they’re quick-witted, but then what? Where does it go?

This one is different. This one’s more man than boy, but has still managed to retain his youthful charm.

This one matches me, in a way that I was entirely unprepared for. Before our third date, I’d decided that I was going to be single for a long time — single in a way that allowed me to figure out how to become a real person, single in a way that allowed me to figure out what it was that I wanted, single in a way that I imagined would help me be better able to spot the one when he happened by.

But as it turns out, he happened by.

We went on our third date sometime in early June. We’d both come into the date with some heavy info about the other (because of our mutual friends, oddly enough), and we were both hesitant, nervous, tentative. But somehow, over vegetarian waffles and whatever noodle dish he ordered (he remembers kim-chi stew), we sorted it all out and lingered.

After that, it was like it had been lit on fire — the propensity of the potential skyrocketed that night, much like it has since, and I found myself entirely comfortable and disconcerted at the same time. How do you meet someone who shares your dreams, your goals, your passions and not recognize that?

You don’t. I mean, you do. In the best way. You accept it; you embrace it; you allow yourself to jump in with both feet.

I found that, unexpectedly. For the first time in my entire life, I’ve jumped into something that terrifies me. Not because it’s bad, but because it might be right. So yes, it terrifies me. I’ll never forget the moment that my mom stared me in the face, in one of those “real talk” moments and said, “You’re prettier than I ever was; you’re smarter than I ever was; never settle.” And she’s wrong about two of those points (my mom was a fox, and she’s the cleverest, wittiest woman I’ve ever met), but the never settling part was burned into my brain. I never wanted to settle, and there’s a few times in my life that I just about have. Thank goodness I had that talk in the back of my brain, stirring the secret inclination that there might be something else out there.

This is one of those things that if it works out, I’ll be one of those annoying humans who says, “When you know, you know.” And I hope I’m both annoying and right. I hope that I’ve found the person I’ve been searching for.

He’s smart. He’s brilliant, actually, nerdy in the way that I wanted when I was younger, then gave up for the worst sort of man/boy. He’s funny; he’s smart; he’s non-judgmental. He’s sweet, kind, and he adores me. How wonderful it is to be adored, for exactly who I am with, with no pressure or pretense.

I’ve been attempting to explain to him the immensity of this – the fact that I’ve never gone into anything with two feet and that I’ve always held back. I’m still not sure that he understands how much he means to me.

I’m enthralled by his intelligence, his humor, and his sense of purpose. We seem to want the same things. We seem to have enough similar interests to keep the other entertained for a while (or at least cultivate new and different interests along the way). He’s an introvert; I’m clearly not, and we’ve both attempted to be communicative in ways that will mitigate any potential disruption as a result of that.

He’s met my family, mostly. There’s still a Denver contingent that he needs to meet, but my most conservative, hard-to-please matriarch on one side is absolutely enamored with him, and I consider that to be a solid win. I imagine that the rest of my family will love him; mostly because of who he is as a human, but also because of the happiness that he brings to me.

It’s a calm that I’ve never felt. Even while the stirrings of the inevitable are writhing around inside of me (and with them, the natural panic of relationship-ing), I have an unsettling and yet very settled feeling of deep content. I’m settled, even though nothing is sorted and the future is wild and unbridled. We may end up in Africa, or Indonesia, or wherever, and for the first time in my life, I’ve admitted to myself and to another that I would be willing to forego my Denver life in order to create and establish something else somewhere else with someone else.

I wish for adventure and for magic; I also wish for communication and understanding and appreciation. I want love, life, and happiness. I want to struggle with someone; to grow with that person; to arrive at the end of our lives and to be able to say that we’ve done everything that we wanted to do and that we’ve made something of ourselves, and created a life together. I imagine this, and I adore this imagination, and I truly hope that in some way, I am able to substantiate it. I want nothing more than whatever comes, but whatever it is, I hope that it is as breathtakingly beautiful as the past few months have been.

On New Beginnings, Exuberantly

It always starts with a plan. I had a plan. Then, as per usual, something threw it. It came slowly, not with a bang but with a whimper. It began with the inkling of connection. I watched it grow, nurtured by endless hours of conversation, long hours spent on a porch swing, and adventures.

We met for drinks one night in May, just before my birthday. It was raining, and I was running late. I had forgotten to leave time to park, got turned around, walked a block out of my way, and then finally saw him, standing under an overhang. We talked for three hours that night, the typical first date interview. We talked about DOTA (for way too long – at one point he asked if we could talk about something else and at that moment, I could have crawled into a nerd hole and cowered forever), about Colorado, about whatever else. Honestly, I don’t remember. I texted my friend after and told her I thought I’d messed it up and that he wasn’t going to call me again.

Our second date was tacos. We drank wine on his porch then lingered in the hip waiting area for a space side-by-side at a communal table. I spent a good fifteen minutes of that dinner trying to figure out what it was that the girl across from me hated so much about the waitress or her drink; I never did figure it out.

By the time we went into our third date, we were both anxious. We’d each received exterior input about the other, and each had our own questions and concerns. When he brought it all up first, I was immediately relieved. We laid everything out on the table (metaphorically, it was a tiny table that could only hold our drinks and dinner plates and definitely could not not have withstood the weight of our conversation) that night. We lingered long after the meal was over; we had somewhere to be but no time constraints. The night was young and so were we. (I’ve just always wanted to say that, so thanks for bearing with me. Cringing is absolutely allowed; I’m doing it right now.)

That night, something changed. That night, it solidified. I took him to the goth bar, my very favorite place in Denver and a wonderful proving ground for prospective mates. He handled it beautifully. We slow danced, surrounded by a thrum of industrial house and adjacent a man who looked like he’d been copied and pasted from the video game that we both play. I remember smiling into his sweater as we danced, the proximity of him making me more aware of everything, including my own inability to dance and my sudden vulnerability. I pride myself on never being vulnerable, and there I was, fully covered but totally exposed. (Note: I just reread that and I completely understand how lame I sound….#noregrets.)

From there, the momentum built. There was a movie night, another dinner, a terrible attempt at playing DOTA together, a walk through the botanic gardens, a wedding reception (minus the ceremony), a baseball game, and my favorite part, long evenings spent blissfully unaware of the world as we swung back and forth like a slow pendulum on his front porch.

This is the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life. He knows everything about me. He still seems to want to know me and be with me. Parts of my brain that have been long-dormant are suddenly awake, thrilled by the prospect of use after such a long time. The curiosity has only increased, not just about him but about everything. Suddenly, my desire to know everything has been rekindled; it’s like my spirit has been prodded back to life.

I’ve been melting into the moment lately. That’s the best part — being fully in the moment. What is that? Why is that something I’m suddenly capable of doing? I can now sit in silence for the better part of three minutes…you’d be surprised; I know I am.

I knew it was a thing but I really knew it was a thing when he invited me over for dinner last week. He’d set a table with two places (and a tablecloth!) in the backyard; wine glasses, dinner plates, the whole nine yards…I guess the whole nine yards just included napkins and silverware, but you know, it was the most wonderful thing I’d seen. I went to put a bottle of wine in his fridge and then I saw it – green Jell-O. He’d remembered that I said I loved Jell-O with fruit in it (because I’m secretly not 27, I’m actually an 80-year old in disguise) and attempted to make it for me.

It never set. I laughed after he told me that he had a surprise for me, but felt bad because he knew I’d already seen it. My heart was doing tiny acrobatic flips inside my body. When we checked on the Jell-O some time later, it hadn’t set. I surmised that it must have been something to do with the pineapples in it, and the enzymes had prevented the gel from setting. I was still completely tickled. We put it in the freezer, and ended up slurpring up slush. It was magical.

I took him camping last weekend. That was going to be a make-it-or-break-it time for us, obviously, the first weekend away. I was nervous, but not overcome. We got stuck in horrendous traffic on the way up. We pitched our tent (poorly…my fault…it looked like a sad teepee….we corrected it on night number 2 and it actually looked like a tent…) and settled in. The whole weekend was blissful. We got to make beautiful campfires and smores (“Some more of what?”); I realized how much I need a treehouse and/or a mountain/nature hammock; we attempted to paddle across Georgetown Lake; and I got to learn a bit about rocks. .

I can’t explain to you what I’m feeling, because it’s all bubbling up inside of me and I’m content and calm and thrilled and hesitant and ecstatic all at once. This isn’t like anything I’ve done before; this is not the kind of dating I’m used to; this is right and easy and beautiful. It’s terrifying. My brain is alive with curiosity and the things I’ve yet to learn and the experiences I’ve yet to have.

I’m so happy to have found someone who’s on the same page with everything. Most things. He doesn’t listen to rap music before 5pm, which is something we’ll have to work on, because hip hop before noon is my jam.

I had a dream that I was too wild for him. My car was filled with those red plastic party cups, and when I opened my door, they spilled out everywhere. I kept denying that they were mine and he kept telling me that since they were in my car, they belonged to me (possession in 9/10s of the law). I woke up shaking. I told him about it and he told me that I am wild and that he likes that about me, and then he quoted Thoreau and said, “All good things are wild and free.” My heart soared.

This is something new and different; something wonderful and exciting. I love my beautiful life and I am so blessed. I don’t know where it will go, but I’m excited to see where it leads. I tried to explain to him that the world gives you exactly what you need when you least expect it, and I’m hoping I’m right.

On Parenting and Educating, Symbiotically

I’m not a parent; I know that I have absolutely no ground to disparage parenting in any way. That being said, I’ve been a babysitter since I was twelve, and I’ve been around a number of very different parenting styles. While I understand the motivations behind each and every parenting choice that the parents I’ve worked for make, I really do question quite a few of them.

This article showcases an emerging trend in parenting psychology. It’s worth the read.

I babysit for one kid who struggles with social interaction and behavioral issues (I’ve babysat for many just like her), and I know that her mom struggles with “the problem” on a daily basis. Over the course of our time together, I’ve instituted a “no-nonsense” policy: if the kid is not going to do her homework, I calmly tell her that until we do the homework, we’re not going to do anything else. Then I sit down at the table and pull out the homework. I start doing it, slowly. (I realize this in itself is a problem.) I tell her that until she helps me with her homework, we’re not going to play, and I withhold the promise of dessert or playtime until she’s put in demonstrable effort. Lo and behold, it works. She ends up completing the homework, at which point, I give her double high-fives and tell her how proud of her I am.

If she’s going to say mean things to me, I’ll take a page from my mom’s book and tell that I find her speech to be inappropriate and hurtful and tell her that I’m not going to listen to her until she can speak to me in a more calm, polite manner. A few minutes of ignoring does a world of good – the kids want the attention, even negative attention, and so reminding them that they need to be respectful about it changes their approach immediately. Being ignored is the absolute worst, and when we continue to give the kids the negative reinforcement, we’re teaching them that attention can only be achieved through negative actions. Of course, this is a call to parents and caregivers to make sure that they are giving plenty of positive attention to children as well, so they don’t feel compelled to act out in order to get the attention that they crave.

On multiple occasions, I’ve pulled a kid aside, taken both of their hands into mine and looked into their eyes. I tell them that I know how hard it is to do things that we don’t want to do and how proud of them I am. I tell them that I appreciate their cooperation and compliment something in the homework that I think they’ve done fabulously, like counting or coloring or whatever. I want to reinforce the positives and applaud their choice to do the homework, not because I feel that they’ve done anything spectacular, but because I know that they’re not getting that reinforcement elsewhere and I want to at least entertain the idea that good work gets good results.

Sometimes, a child I’m babysitting for will get frustrated. Instead of trying to figure out a solution, they’ll dissolve into child-hysterics (duh, they’re children), crying and wailing without any real reason. I’ll calmly remind them that there’s another solution to their problem and I’ll ask them what they think will help solve it. We talk it out; we find a solution. If the jar won’t open or the toy won’t work, we look to see what might be done about it. (Personal note: only after exhausting most options are tears acceptable and sometimes encouraged. I get that. I’m all about a good cry-it-out session. Those sometimes are the best solutions.)

The same goes for diner. I have parents who cater to their children’s every demand when it comes to food, or alternately, completely ignore basic food groups and then wonder why their child is struggling with issues such as attention, energy, and general behavior. I have found that by limiting the choices but offering something that the kid will enjoy and eat (that’s simultaneously healthy or at the very least semi-nutritious) will go a long way towards obtaining the desired results.

I love children. I understand that each and every child has issues that need to be addressed individually.

At one of the adoption camps this summer, there was a little guy who was struggling on the second morning. He didn’t want to leave his dad, and it took me immense amounts of coaxing to get him to come with me. I promised him that I was not going to leave him until lunch (letting him know that he had someone that was going to be with him was important), and that if he didn’t want to, he didn’t have to have ANY fun. I ended up getting him away from his dad (“dad’s got to go to boring parent stuff; he’s not going to have any fun either.”) and getting him to hold my hand and come with me. He was apprehensive about joining the group, so he and I took a walk around the building and I tried to find some common ground. I asked him if he had any siblings. He told me he had a dog sister. I asked about the dog’s name and what she liked to do, and then I told him that I used to have a dog named Acorn. The little guy looked up at me quizzically, and then giggled when I told him that we used to call him “Corn dog.”

By the next session, I had worked him into the group and helped him make a car out of recycled materials. After that, he did some art therapy. By lunch, I brought him back to his dad and asked him if he’d had any fun at all that morning. He broke into a huge grin and said, “No.” I was so pleased. That’s the feedback I need, the feedback that makes all of that time worthwhile.

At the end of the day, the dad came up to me and thanked me for helping his son feel more comfortable. I answered honestly that I wouldn’t have had it any other way. One of the parents who was standing next to us turned to the dad and said, “That’s why we call her the ‘child whisperer.'” I blushed, filled with pride and happiness. I absolutely adore little kids and I do feel as though I am able to connect with them, simply because I understand what they need. They’re full of all the fear and apprehension that I felt as a kid, and so I think that’s what allows me to be able to respond to their individual needs.

That being said, I think we’re in a time where we overindulge our children. My mom worked really hard to create resilient children, and she did so through consistency, unconditional love, and determination/patience. Recently, one of my friends who has a terrible mother was going through a rough time and I insisted that we call my mom. My friend was crying and was terrified that she was going to “screw it up.” I told her that that’s the thing about moms, you can’t “screw it up.” You can call them crying (oh god, a million times have I called my mom in tears only to have her tell me that she can’t understand me and I’m going to have to use my words…) and they’re still going to love you.

By creating a space where we allow children the freedom to evaluate their own emotions and create genuinely productive responses to them, we create not only stable children but functional adults. By establishing systems and routines for assessing emotions, we allow children to plumb the often-neglected depth of their own feelings and provide the opportunity for them to help create a response that’s going to be fruitful not just now but in the future.

One of my mom’s favorite stories is from when I was very young. We were part of a camp or after-school program or something and we were at the local YMCA doing swimming. I remember being absolutely terrified (my general state of being as a small child), and she recounts that she came to pick me up and I looked at her and asked, “Why do I cry?” She knew immediately that we needed a new plan for swimming lessons, as the group setting wasn’t going to do it for me. By tailoring her response to my emotional assessment (such that it was), she was able to set me up for swimming success by giving me a different learning setting and a more tailored lesson plan.

That’s good parenting. It wasn’t indulging in tantrums or ridiculous behavior; it was catering to a specifically outlined need as a result of my own communication of my feelings. It allowed both of us to feel comfortable, although one of us ended up lighter in the pocketbook for it. But to this day, when I swim, I think of my swim teacher and I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to learn and grow at my own pace, rather than in a group setting that somehow made my child-self profoundly uncomfortable.

Schools and school staff are becoming increasingly more responsible for parenting. The integration of positive efforts to affect (and create the desire to effect, too) behavior and help regulate children’s emotions and reactions are more necessary than ever. I understand the frustration that a teacher might feel when they’re constantly obligated to single out a child for poor behavior in the classroom due to any number of factors, including learning disabilities, disorders, and home life, but I do believe that consistent application of tools – particularly emotion-based ones – can not only affect classroom stability, but the overall wellbeing of the child.

If we’re able to provide the resources, then why are we not implementing these programs as part of a well-rounded approach to learning? (We do waste enough money on ineffective programs, and I understand that there are budgetary constraints, but in order to create and maintain the results we desire, it’s imperative that we be proactive rather than reactive about our approach to educating the whole child….rather than teaching to test scores or attaining specific metrics. I firmly believe that we can attain the results we desire if we’re able to establish consistency, so let’s figure out how to allocate the funds for these programs….ugh, which is another issue, of course.)

Each child will face innumerable struggles between socialization, education, and personal growth, and it’s up to the parents as well as the school system to foster the links between all three. By endeavoring to create more awareness in our children, we’re allowing them to help be a part of the educational system and their own maturation, which is not only necessary, but entirely empowering.

On Being Unkind, Remorselfully

I generally pride myself on how little actual friendship drama I have in my life. I am kind; my friends are kind; we don’t go out of our way to hurt each other and the ebb and flow of our friendships are minimal – it’s more placid and consistent than anything else.

I did something bad this week. I had been texting with a friend about a dude I was seeing, and in trying to boost my friend’s ego, I said something (untrue) and unkind about the dude. Of course, he found out about it. I, being the stubborn panicker that I am, dug my heels in and stood my ground. He was so incredibly hurt.

This is where the old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” comes in. I was trying to boost one friend’s ego and in doing that, i unintentionally crushed the ego of someone else. It was cruel. It was unnecessary. It created for me a storm that I did not see coming, and one which has changed the course of an otherwise beautiful relationship quite irreparably.

For me, it’s hard to have hurt someone so deeply with a single sentence (and another action, but that’s not for this space), because I know how deeply I’ve been affected by a single off-handed comment. I never intended for him to see it, and I imagined that I could somehow boost one friend’s ego without ever damaging the other, because for me, it wasn’t a “real” thing. It existed on another plane. It was an offhanded comment not meant for the world, but the fact remains, I should never have said it.

I think that everyone, no matter what facade we present to the world, is delicate. That’s not to say that we’re not all incredibly strong and powerful, it’s just to say that we are all struggling with some uncertainty. Some of us hide it better than others, but at our core, outside input does have the power to affect us, shape us, crush us, or build us up.

Everyone has inherent value and beauty, some wear it differently than others. I’m not drawn to men because of chiseled cheekbones, although I’m not totally opposed, either. But I’m drawn to people for their spirits, their souls, their energy. It’s a blend. Granted, aesthetic appreciation of your partner is a foregone conclusion, but that’s never the foundation for a solid, lasting relationship. It’s the intellectual draw; the emotional closeness; the way that their eyes light up when they see you; the way you feel when you’re nestled into their shoulder nook. This dude is beautiful, both aesthetically and otherwise, and I was callous to suggest otherwise. God, his eyes.

I’ve lost that now because I didn’t think.

I was unkind and it was detrimental to something I’d been happily cultivating. It’s going to end now, and I will walk away with a few weeks of happy memories and a hard lesson, a firm reminder of why I’m not unkind in the first place and of how being flippant can have serious repercussions.

I suffered too much pain and humiliation at the hands of others during my childhood and adolescence – for everything from my ski-slope nose to my lack of boobs; for being too nerdy or weird; for telling bad jokes; for being awkward; for not having the right clothes…ugh, the list goes on – to ever do something like this, and I hate that I’ve done it. This public announcement is some semblance of penance, a public flagellation of my misdeeds so I can walk away feeling at least a little lighter, because who I was when I made that mistake is not the person that I want to be, and I can guarantee you that this is a solid reminder of what I stand for as a human being, a peer, and a potential partner.

No one deserves to be cut down for any reason. No one deserves anything but the utmost support and encouragement. Because after all, we’re all in this together. Suffering comes from places of insecurity, and my own insecurity and nervousness about our relationship caused me to act in ways that were more than unbecoming.

And here I am, creating suffering, feeling the brunt of the equal reaction and now suffering myself, and all for what? Something so insignificant. I am better than this, and I know it. I was just beaming about radiating light into the world, and yet I let myself and the world down by doing the exact opposite.

Of course, you can’t take anything you do back, but for this, I wish I could. It’s like my mom says, “It’s not a mistake unless you keep making it,” and this is one that will be a lesson, rather than a mistake, because I’ve reflected, attempted to address the issue, and begged for forgiveness, which is not mine to give. I have done what I can do, and I will go forward with the full clarity of hindsight and the forwardness of positivity. There is only that and if we cannot be the things we wish to see in the world, we are nothing.

On Being Patronized, Stubbornly

Everyone has their own pet peeves, and mine are most certainly among the usual: toe-walkers, mouth-breathers, people who don’t signal when they’re changing lanes….

Lately, I’ve been struggling with “the crud” – some sort of nasty winter virus we all seem to be getting – and I’ve been forced to mouth-breathe at night to stay alive. Boyfriend finds it amusing to tell me how lovely and radiant I am when I’m mouth-breathing/sleeping.

Anyway, I recently started a new job, which I love and hate at the same time. I love the work. I get to interact with clients on a daily basis, I get to do semi-legal work, and I get to win. On the whole, I’ve really enjoyed the work and I think I’m fostering a wonderful, attentive relationship with my clients. I’m also kicking ass at getting stuff done, managing a million things at once, and helping others.

Whichever way you pronounce it, my biggest pet peeve, the quickest thing to push me from jovial to downright murderous, is being patronized. The biggest complaint I have about my workplace, far from the stress, is the indignity I suffer. I’m not alone, either.

I’m lucky I’ve worked with lawyers before, people who assume that a JD is license to denigrate, because in doing so, I learned how to temper the feelings of rage and do little more than supplicate to their delusions of grandeur.

Last week, I received an email from one of the account managers. He said that there was an issue with a claim that someone two people before me (that should give you an idea about the turnover here) had handled in September. I quickly rooted out the source of the issue, as well as the issue itself, and responded as such.

My phone rang.

It was the account manager. We discussed the issue, by which I mean that he told me exactly what I had told him in the email, except he elaborated further. He had me pull up part of our system, and then he proceeded to read to me, word-for-word, the contents of the screen. I can read. I’m well aware of what certain screens say. I did not need to be schooled about content or procedures in any way. I did not need to be told how to handle claims that I had not handled; I certainly didn’t need to be educated on how to read; and I certainly didn’t need to be spoken to like I am a kindergartner.

It took every ounce of willpower I possessed not to slam the phone down. I took deep breaths; I went to my happy place – I made one up; I struggled to choke out “yes, of course I understand.”

I attempted to explain to him the issue, and direct him to another part of the system, at which point he informed me that it isn’t his area, and that I should leave it alone. He’s lucky I’ve dealt with the J-D-elusionals before, because by the end of the conversation, he’d told me not to worry, it wasn’t my fault, and was assured that I’d handle it in the future.

I hung up the phone, seething. When I told my manager about it, she replied, “That’s pretty much how he is.” Yep. Par for the course.

This week, talking to one of our hearing representatives about cases that we should or shouldn’t appeal, the hearing rep asked me if I knew what hearsay was. I lived and died by murder mysteries and all things spy when I was little, and then progressed on to take forensic science and law classes; of course I know what hearsay is. Of course, he doesn’t know that.

I told him I did, in fact, understand the definition of hearsay.

He continued to explain to me what hearsay is. Had I not known what hearsay is, I wouldn’t have left our conversation with a clear idea in my head. Again, I struggled with the whole calm thing. How hard is it to understand someone when they say they know what something is?

There are two hopefully glaring examples, but they’re not the only ones. My takeaway is this: firstly, I have accepted that there are things I cannot change, like the world, my job, and the fact that there are men in better jobs who are seriously lacking the tools necessary to perform their jobs and even though I am not an idiot, I will be seen as one, purely because I am not a man.

Secondly, if you think you don’t need feminism, I invite you to spend a week in my shoes. Even the most ardent anti-feminist would cringe at something.  It’s sad how far we still have to go to earn respect and a decent wage. You’re so wrong about equality. I had forgotten that this was a thing. I was filling up my tea this morning and I heard two of my co-workers talking about it in the break room. I broke in, and we all agreed the gender divide is real. And surprisingly oppressive.

Anyway, this was just a rant about how much I hate being patronized. I am an intelligent, well-rounded human being, and being treated as anything but absolutely shudders me to a screeching halt. I can’t stand it. I would so much rather be surrounded by mouth-breathers, toe-walkers, and no-turn-signal users than people who don’t use some modicum of respect for others.

It’s 2015 people. Get with it. Intelligence is not gender-specific. I’m not struggling for anything weird here; I’m just trying to get taken seriously.