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 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 Two Years, Anniversarily

I remember what I was wearing when I walked into the Black Crown Lounge on Friday, July 13, 2012 – a sleeveless printed mini dress, black and tan. That’s not important.

When the bartender handed me the drink, our eyes met and I felt some sort of electricity run through me. I panicked and looked away. I don’t panic, usually. But then again, it’s not every day I run into someone who stirs that kind of curiosity. (His version of events is very different. He claims there was no shock of recognition, nothing except the standard physical appeal. He is wrong.)

I’m never very bold when it comes to this sort of thing, so I just let my friends do a little bit of information reconnaissance. I noticed that the bartender would pass by, taking out the trash or something. I ignored him. (I’m so smooth. So many skills.)

After a few near misses — the awareness of proximity not lost on either of us, even though he’ll never admit it — he approached me and asked me if I’d like to hang out some time. I giggled, and said yes. “Should I get your number, then?” he asked. Oh god, I’m the worst at being nervous. I gave him my number.

The next night, I picked him up and we went to the goth bar. Totally my scene, but not his at all. We went home and he made me a martini (I’d never had one), and we watched a documentary.

The rest is history. Five weeks later, we drove to the Grand Canyon.

We got bored there. I demanded a lake, so we drove to Lake Powell and camped on the beach. It was just us and the sand and the lake. And the family of Mormons who couldn’t be bothered to pack out their trash, but that’s not important. They left before sunset, and we had the place to ourselves again.

I fell in love with him that weekend and promptly dumped him after we got back to Denver. We never really stopped talking, though. Our relationship continued on, in some form or another. There were the bumps that came in the middle. There were several ultimatums that changed us, shaping our communication, and once, halting it altogether. When we began talking again last summer, he asked me to meet his parents. He took me to a barbecue. He made me dinners. We ran errands together.

One night, he made dinner. I got to his house, and he asked, “You like salmon, right?” I don’t eat cooked fish. I lied, I think. He saw right through it. I still ate it.

This time fell together slowly. There wasn’t any overt statement of expectations, although it was very clear that this was becoming a thing. I was going through a lot when all of this started, and he would hold me and let me cry into him. His quiet strength has always made me feel safe and protected in a way I can’t fully describe.

I remember the first time we held hands in the car. It was an errand somewhere last summer, and he grabbed my hand. I thought my heart was going to explode. I didn’t say anything. It was a declaration he’d never made out loud. I’ll never forget how I felt that day.

We celebrated our two-year anniversary last night. Two years since the night I met him. Two years of us, in some form or another. But mostly, it’s been about a year since we started this, the real thing. He’s not the romantic type, and we’re broke, so I wasn’t expecting much. But part of me hoped for something.

He offered to cook dinner last night. He made my favorite: pineapple curry. We got a bottle of wine we usually wouldn’t buy. I made my grandma’s chocolate cherry cake, garnished with a blend of frostings and some fresh strawberries. At one point, he ran off yelling something about “the sauce!” We made curry; there isn’t a sauce. I didn’t think anything of it and used the opportunity to turn up the stove to make sure that the chicken was fully cooked. (He told me he knew that’s exactly what I’d do.)

When he came back, he directed me to grab my wine and get in the car. I didn’t even have time to get shoes. He grabbed bowls, the curry, the rice, and the wine. He started driving. He pulled up at a quiet little park a few blocks from our house.

I got out and started towards the back  of the park. He’d set up a picnic blanket and put down a ton of electric tealight candles around the blanket. It was really magical. “I expect to see happy tears!” he directed. I laughed, through happy tears. He told me he tried to get all teal-colored lights but that wasn’t possible, and that the sauce errand had taken forever since he’d been pulling the tabs out of the tealights.

We ate curry, drank wine, and let the darkness settle around us. Then we laid on the blanket, surrounded by little tealights, and watched the bats fly above us. I was overwhelmed. I am thrilled that he did something so perfect. He put his hands on my face, told me how much he loves me, and kissed me, through more happy tears.

I never saw this coming but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love our little family.

On Love, Simply

The funny thing about relationships is that they’re never what you think they’re going to be. That’s a good thing.

Relationships are a terrifying prospect. Relationships are, for me, a finely tuned machine, something that only works when so many tiny moving parts click into perfect place. Relationships are the result of effort, careful attention to detail, and compromise.

The beginning stages of a relationship can resemble a series of interviews. You are on your best behavior. You are spontaneous, energetic, upbeat, interesting. You are a carefully packaged product, marketed just so. You find someone whose company you enjoy, and you begin a relationship. There are dates, milestones, so many adorable firsts.

Eventually, after months of careful consideration for the other person, you get comfortable. I don’t really do comfortable. For me, being comfortable is a sign that something really bad is about to happen. Comfortable isn’t a state for the long haul; it’s a transient time from which you’ll someday cull happy memories.

But comfortable is a very real state, and eventually, it must be acknowledged and accepted, because sometimes, comfortable is the very best state, with far more potential for permanence than other sorts of emotions.

Letting someone see your weird is another part of this alignment of relationship longevity. You get past the initial interview process, the fun stuff, the activities, the really “deep” conversations about things, and you’re left with the day-to-day stuff. Day-to-day stuff is far deeper than any sort of philosophical debate.

That’s where everything you think you know about your relationship changes. Somewhere in the comfort zone, when you’ve let down your guard, you stop and realize that you’re in it for real, that this is real. You’ve stopped analyzing every text message for clues about love or chances at a fifth date. You’ve stopped panicking over which outfit to wear out (because you don’t have to wear anything but pajamas to stay at home!). You’ve started somehow syncing up your lives, your routines, your meals.

Eventually, it’s “we” and “us” and errands. (Those aren’t the worst things, after all, despite what we’ve heard. Errands are my favorite part of a relationship. If you can run errands with someone, you can be with someone. It’s that simple.) That mindset is a gradual progression, whereas the actions tend to move as swiftly as they please. (Or is it the other way around?) The feelings of “I love you” come long before they are spoken out loud, hesitantly, anxiously.

The best relationship advice I ever got was from a friend of mine who’s been with his girlfriend for three or so years (which, to me, seems like for-ev-er). He said, “You have to wake up every single day and decide to love that person.” It’s an active, ongoing decision. I love that. An active decision to love someone is so much more than that fairy tale happiness we’ve heard so much about (but very rarely see).

When I told boyfriend this yesterday, he scoffed and told me that he hardly wakes up every day and thinks to himself, “I guess I’ll love Katie today, but I’m only doing this for Acorn.” I laughed, then tried to explain to him that how I love him is constant, present always, just a soft hum of normalcy coupled with that deep-seated sense of need for proximity. “It’s just there,” I said. He knows what I meant.

What it is that draws you to someone isn’t what makes you stay with them, but sometimes the pull is unavoidable and the attraction undeniable. That’s when you finally have to accept that there’s something more there, that the questions and the expectations of how you thought you’d fall in love must be thrown to the wind (a pinch of caution should go, too, even though that’s terrible advice). It’s a weird journey. Sometimes it happens overnight but sometimes it takes forever to fall into place.

I don’t know where it comes from, but I have this internal fear about relationships ending. Maybe everyone does. Maybe that’s a universal fear. Maybe every relationship will end. Columnist Dan Savage once said something about how you date people, you break up with people, you repeat the cycle over and over, until finally, you start dating someone and you never break up. That’s slightly comforting.

Over the past month or so, I’ve been evaluating my relationship, removing myself from the bubble of “us” for assessment (something I’ve also tried to quit doing so much). We’re seven months in (this time), and other than the occasional little bump, we’re doing quite well. When we started dating again this summer, I was determined not to engage in the panic that goes with new relationships (or the resumption of an existing relationship). But I did, a little. The over-analyzing, the careful consideration.

But here we are, months later. I am comfortable now. It caught me off-guard. I didn’t really see it coming. I don’t know what I was imagining when I started, and perhaps not having any sort of idealistic outcome in mind is the best thing. It’s not all magical, twinkling lights and rose petals and candles, but it’s real. I like that. This is the real. I like it.

I have loved him for a very long time. I realized it this spring. During our first fight, almost six months into dating, I spat out, “I almost told you I loved you last night.” I had been holding onto it for so long, I knew it was only a matter of time before it came rushing out.

When he finally told me, he said, “I was waiting for the perfect time to tell you, but now I realize there was no more perfect time than when we were in the oak bottom with the leaves falling around us. I love you. I love you. I love you.” And I knew he meant it. Now, every time he tells me he loves me, I imagine the day we spent the morning on a hill in the forest in Mississippi, not hunting, but just watching the leaves fall down around us. It was magical.

Life is that weird journey where you have to let go sometimes and hope for the best, or at the very least, a great adventure. Love is, for me, the very best adventure.

On Looking Forward, Hesitantly

Time is elusive, something you long for more of, but something you can never quite grab onto, or even really control.  The future seems endless, like today will somehow stretch on forever and next week will never come. Before you know it, all of those tomorrows are yesterdays, and all the things you swore you’d do are yet left undone.

I mowed the front lawn the other day, something that remains an overwhelming task for me. What may be drudgery for some fills the core of my bones with a ringing sense of accomplishment, of certainty, of satisfaction. I even did the strange little hilly part that leads to our neighbor’s driveway. (He’s new – I don’t think he knows it’s his job yet. I guess I could leave it untended and let him figure it out, but I’m concerned that he might not due to the scraggly overgrowth that tends to be comprise my lawn at any given point in time.)

I tackled a few other household chores, but I still have a long list of things that must be handled, dealt with, checked off. They’re not showstoppers, but I will feel more settled once I’ve said good riddance to the mental checklist. (I do know that there is no real end to the lists. I know that as soon as one thing passes out of the conscious concern, another will pop up to take its place.)

I’ve been working, still. Trading one sixty hour week for another. I imagined I would have time to seek the calm I’ve been craving, but alas, that was not to be the case. All I can see is today, this week, the schedules dictated by the Sunday release of the Dairy Queen schedule, all plans left in flux until the message arrives bearing a picture of the week’s schedule. It’s an interesting way to view the world. Months, seemingly endless, are suddenly broken down into seven-day segments, both more manageable and repetitive, unchangingly inflexible without meaning to be.

I’ve been spending time with an old boyfriend, the ever-present romantic antagonist of my mid-twenties. We’ve fallen back into our routine. There are errands (my favorite!), dinners (his attempts to woo me with his culinary prowess delight me), and the quiet hours, where he’s decided that I must learn how to play video games.

After days of wondering why he’d try to teach me – a task far more daunting than he had anticipated – I have finally realized that he’d like to get to the point where we can play together as teammates. I find the notion oddly romantic. And you should know by now how much I hate to lose, therefore this challenge is one I’m not taking lightly.

Seriously though, video games terrify me. I’ve never been one to play them (we weren’t allowed to have them in our house until we were nearly teenagers, and by then my attention drifted elsewhere). I’ve no knowledge of the mastery of strategy, but far more difficult than that is finding my damn character on the screen. And so my character dies. Repeatedly. “I didn’t even see where I was!” I exclaim, before surrendering to laughter at how pathetic I must look. The boys can’t believe it.

Even worse than the finding my character is moving the screen so I can see where my character is in relation to the battles. I’ve been instructed to work on smooth movement instead of just tapping the arrow keys sadly. I’ve been sent home with a tiny Game Boy for homework.

He’s a patient teacher, mostly. I think he’s excited that I’m showing interest in joining him, rather than just watching him play. I think I’m too stubborn to back down. I am determined, but amazed at how difficult this is.

***

By the way, today is Miracle Treat Day at Dairy Queen. $1.50 of your Blizzard purchase goes to the Children’s Miracle Network that supports children’s hospitals across the country. Your donation goes directly to the children’s hospital closest to you. It’s a gloomy day in Denver, so I hope that doesn’t hurt our sales. (I’ll be at my location from 4 until close, so come say hi if you’re craving a Blizzard.)

Yesterday, my first customer asked me if I was full-time or part-time. I gave him a brief overview of my current situation, full-time ice cream queen, part-time legal software marketer, and he was supportive, appreciative, and fantastic. He told me that my cheerfulness was exactly what he’d needed.

But of course, bright things can only linger for so long in this world. A bit later, a man came in and told us that the reason that we work at Dairy Queen is because we voted for Obama. Offended (as I usually am by people who assume I’m unintelligent), I continued the conversation very stiffly and politely. He told me that I had no knowledge of how government works (to which I bit my tongue in order to stem the tide rising inside me), and then proceeded to patronize me. At one point, he told Evan that Dairy Queen is a good job, because he “has a woman” — me — and that my desire to have a career is what’s killing our future as a Christian nation. (Ah, yes. To which I responded that the reason I long for a career is because I fear that the alternative is relegation to domestic tasks for which I am clearly unsuited.)

He concluded with a thought about how the end of marriage and religion were going to be the downfall of our nation. Finally, I’d had enough. I countered, “What I think you’re neglecting, sir, is this question: is it possible to be a good, moral person without religion?” I gave him a brief overview of my belief that it is not religion that drives people to be good, and that community will continue to exist by nature of the human species rather than by the driving force of religion alone. Therefore, I concluded, religion and the end of marriage are not what will doom our society, but rather, our lack of cooperation. He didn’t have a response. I didn’t imagine that he would. He left us a tip and thanked us before he left.

Never a dull moment, I assure you.

On Love, Actually

I opened my planner today, and it hit me that it’s June. As in, we’re halfway through 2013 and I feel like we just started. It’s already been a hell of a year, emphasis on hell. But it’s also been the kind of year where blessings are abundant. Without the bad thing, there would be no beautiful new things. Without the bad thing, I never would have discovered my strength or the love that surrounds me.

Change is inevitable. It’s terrifying, and sometimes it’s quick. Sometimes you look around and realize that change is has been happening without you even noticing.

One of my best friends is moving to Germany this week. I’ve cried no less than eight times already, but I’m genuinely thrilled for him. Jacob has let me ruin t-shirts with my tears; he’s perfected the art of the across-the-bar-wink; we’ve been silly and serious and wild; we’ve made terrible chana masala; we’ve danced.

(We look like babies here. Babies with wine lips.)

I have loved him. I am looking forward to visiting him – I’ve been meaning to make it to Germany to visit people for some time now, and he’ll be added incentive. Jacob + lederhosen + South African friends + Oktoberfest = excellent reasons to go.

Sometimes, change happens so organically you don’t even realize it. Sometimes, in the lowest valleys of your life, you realize how much people can care about you. I wasn’t looking for love, or anything like it. I didn’t realize it right away, but I probably should have seen it – the signs were there, even if it did take eight years for it to finally fall into place.

I spent the first few months of this year actively avoiding dating. I was worried that after everything that had happened, no one would love me. I was worried that I’d never be happy again. And there he was, with me through all of it. I didn’t have to tell him everything – he already knew. He’d been listening the entire time.

I remember when it hit me – we were out having a late night dinner after a particularly gruesome Sunday night shift at the Dairy Queen, talking about how hard it is to find people who meet our needs – intelligent, fun, educated, driven, and so on. As the silence fell heavy around us, I looked over. He was right there. He’d been right there the whole time.

The Crew. 2008.

I’ve known him since I was seventeen. We used to go drifting in his car after work. We used to dance behind the counter to that song “Call on Me” — there were banana phones involved. It was weird. We used to cause all sorts of trouble after we’d closed Dairy Queen. I never thought that this was where we’d end up.

There is no greater joy than having someone who understands your sense of humor, who challenges the way you think, who brings philosophical amusement to the long shifts spent in the service industry. He is, like myself, stranded now at the crossroads of the future, where the unanswered questions linger longer than the workdays.

Sort of our first date.

It has grown, swiftly and smoothly, from friendship into something so much more and it’s starting to set in that this is for real. For me, this is terrifying. It wasn’t something I expected, wasn’t something I’d prepared for. It’s overwhelming. It’s amazing. It’s got all the nerves of a first date and all the excitement of first love. It’s the first sip of hot tea, the warmth of a hot bath, the wild abandon of a midnight swim in the ocean, the comfort of the hammock, and on top of that, Carlos loves him.