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Monthly Archives: February 2011

The Emotional Footprint

Relationships are a lot like dwellings. Some are as transient as an evening on a friend’s futon, while others are homes you own and live in for decades. You enter them, shelter in them, maintain or neglect them, and one day leave them behind–having changed little, improved a lot or left a legacy of mess and waste.

Ecologists talk about reducing the size of our carbon footprint (the amount of nonrenewable energy we use) in our homes and lives. In relationships, the dents and abrasions we leave are emotional. Clearly one should strive, in the delicacy department, to be Tinkerbell, not Sasquatch, in our intimate connections.

I have acquired this belief by doing the opposite. There was a time when I didn’t understand the concept of less is more, especially when applied to relationships. For me, more was not enough. I wanted to express all my feelings and needs whenever they arose. Perhaps this was a reaction to being somewhat repressed and exposed to strictness as a child. It might have been an inappropriate response to years of psychotherapy, in which all my demons were encouraged to emerge and unburden themselves. This exorcism was meant to begin and end in a danish recliner beside a tissue box in the therapist’s office, never to be brought home and used as a weapon. I guess I was day dreaming when the therapist explained all that.

For a shy young lady with a soft voice, I had a pretty heavy tread at times. My emotional footprint went through the floor (and sometimes the ceiling). I don’t mean that I was nasty. I just could not repress any hurt or fear and I had a very hard time letting things go.

Even when I started dating at mid-life, with insight from three longterm relationships, I was clomping and stomping my way through many awkward attempts at intimacy.

Crying was one of my specialties. Not the light tin-roof rain of pop ballads, but heavy showers of emotional release. Sometimes I was so touched by actually being invited on a date, that I wept on the phone with gratitude. If a man lost his temper or raised his voice, I would start to sob and sputter with pain.

My worst gaffe was certainly when, after a few too many cocktails, I invited a date to stop by my house. Settling into the living room couch, I ignored my suitor’s advancing hands and the carnal glow in his eye. Instead I reached for a stack of photo albums of my exes, which I thumbed through, weeping as I went.

But wait, there’s more!

Forget losing a guy in ten days. I could dispatch any prospective love interest in ten minutes, or seconds, with a dose of my wounded diva’s righteous indignation.

I called at least two fellows after dates to inquire why in the name of Tom’s Toothpaste they had not kissed me goodnight. I rationalized this to myself as a form of healthy honesty and a learning experience. I could improve myself or my choice of dates after doing the research on the kiss thing. Problem was, each of them offered a mumbling defensive “I dunno, it just didn’t seem right” and probably added me instantly to their call blocking and spam lists.

You may be wondering, what was she thinking? I was not thinking. I was emoting– leaving a big messy muddy imprint. It was not a good impression.

All of these stumbles were nothing in comparison to my outbursts of ire.

My date rage was sometimes pathetic, occasionally delusional, even hallucinatory. My pique tended to be the squeaking, sputtering semi-polite variety. I took umbrage rather than taking no prisoners. Still I could fashion a pretty mean insult out of words like “player” “liar” “heartless” and “man ho”.

The rites of online dating seemed to push my buttons in particular. They struck me as unreasonably tactless, even cruel. For instance, if I noticed that a man was back on the matchmaking website after asking me out or right after our date, I did not give a darn about the cyber dating convention that we were all supposed to be shopping around. Instead I felt personally insulted–and let him know it.

At times my anger was simply, well, crazy. I remember having a tearful fit of pique when, one evening in a bar on an ocean liner, a man hit on my gal pal and not me. An hour later I was laughing at myself when I recalled that earlier in the voyage the same man had put the moves on me–and been dispatched by yours truly.

It was becoming clear that Incidents like these were putting a crimp in my love life. It seemed that major behavioral change was in order.

So, here’s what I did.

First, I decided that unbridled emotional expression, while 100 percent natural, was too much for a fledgeling relationship to bear. I had to deal with my own feelings, almost entirely, at first, and only gradually and cautiously let my suitor in on the emotional side of me. I didn’t sit on my feelings or deny them. I confided in myself. I cried, I ranted, I paced. I let myself in on everything. Writing things down was useful. Coffee with a girlfriend also helped.

Strong reactions were another trouble spot. I decided that when I started to feel piqued, I would not reach for my nuclear briefcase. I would refrain from launching a missile to respond to an apparent first strike. Instead I took myself by the hand, sat myself down and, like a kindly parent, discussed with my diva the details of the insult. I suggested alternative interpretations. Together we weighed courses of action.

Finally, after much hand searching and soul wringing, I lit upon an approach that could serve me in all situations requiring me to lighten up. It was so simple I could not believe I had ignored its magic for so many years.

I did nothing.

When something bothered me, I just stopped in my tracks and waited for something else to happen. I handed my anxiety over to my Higher Power, prayed and waited.

The results were amazing: When I did not react, sent prayers to the Universe instead of clever insults across the ethernet, astonishing things happened. Most thrillingly, the man in question often did something that completed wiped out my concerns. Even when I felt crushed by an obvious rejection, skipping the rejoinder and simply disconnecting helped me heal a lot faster than if I had fired off endless emails and received endless nothing.

Falling silent and motionless felt strange at first. It is odd in a coffee-fueled world of twittering, texting and multitasking, to do nothing. It seems, well, practically un-American, like something a monk from far away Tibet would do.

Well yes, exactly. Think of the inspiring charisma and earthy appeal of the Dalai Lama. Who doesn’t adore His Holiness? Outside of a few malevolent politicians who have territorial designs on his country and his people, the DL is loved universally.

The Dalai Lama appears incapable of putting out a bad vibe, burdening others with messy emotions, getting reactive or paranoid, making snap judgements or snappy comebacks.

He is the world’s best role model for treading lightly.

All you need to do is put one foot in front of the other.

 

You

I have been listening to Holly Cole sing “I Want You (You You)” in her gravelly alto voice, and contemplating the extraordinary power of the word and concept known as You.

I believe that You is in fact a God, a God worshipped by single women like myself.

I am a HUGE devotee of this deity. I guess you could call me a Youist.

The practice of You-worship can be broken down into several stages.

During the first phase of Devotion, You is revered ardently with breathless blogging, chatting online, OMGing with BFFs, browsing dating sites, watching chick flicks, singing along with Josh Grobin, and reading romance novels.

Devotees of You Believe the Following:

You exist
You are out there somewhere
You will find me
You will love me
You will heal me
You are what has been missing from my life
You will be like Mommy and Daddy Only Much Better and
You Will Love Me Better Than They Did
You will love me as much as my dog Chumbles
You will purr louder, paw me and rub up against me more than Adelaide the cat
You are not inside me no matter what those new age authors say
You are someone other than me, someone who will complete me
You are not a figment of my imagination even when I am off my meds
You will make up for everything I ever lost, every hurt I ever felt, including when my first goldfish died
You look better than all the best looking NBA NFL and Movie Stars crossbred with People’s Sexiest Men Alive
You will worship Me Too

During the second phase of Devotion, worshippers progress to Relationship, in which You is expected to merge with The Love Object, through an intricate, infuriating, confounding but sometimes miraculously successful ritual known as Courtship.

Nobody knows why Courtship succeeds or fails.

The rite of Courtship happens first and ideally during the Tender Young Adult Years. It also occurs, generally with a much lower success rate, in Middle Adulthood after divorce or in response to the Loud Ticking of the Biological Clock.

Courtship is an attempt to uncover and worship all of You’s traits in an actual human lover. When the rite is completed successfully by both Love Objects, there is great joy, perhaps even marriage, and much Congratulating and Mazeltoving throughout the community.

When Courtship fails, which happens with tragic frequency among older Youists who are often too jaded, exhausted, damaged, wounded, addicted, cynical or mentally ill to keep faith during the arduous process, the result can threaten emotional and physical health.

Often it is necessary for devotees to abandon You worship altogether and switch religious faiths to other cults. Ones that appear to be especially popular include: Spinning and Stepping, Real Estate (traditional but still very strong), Children and Grandchildren, Purse Dogs, Dollhouses, Reality Shows, Fifteen Minute Celebrities, Eating and Dieting, Online Shopping, Facebook, Twitter, and the perennially popular Myself Moi y Yo.

Next: Life After You…The Cult of Me

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2011 in Essays, Hopeless Devotion

 

Cyber Belle

Are you sitting down at your computer desk?

Of course you are.

What I’m about to tell you might well be the most exciting non event in the history of my non love life.

The other day I got an email from the robocops who run Twitter saying that a former boyfriend was following my Tweets. After my heart stopped fluttering, I had the biggest realization of my life:

It’s impossible to follow me on Twitter. I DON’T TWEET. I mean never. Never EVER.

So what could my nerdy Ex be up to?

I pondered the possibilities and suddenly it hit me: He desired to be my…FRIEND. No biggie. I found him on Facebook and sent a friend request.

Absolutely no response. Rien. Nada. Uthing-Nay.

Perhaps a slightly more personal touch would rekindle our connection. I lobbed an email in his direction saying I’d love to receive a text, phone message, internet message, perhaps even meet for a quaint cup of coffee. It was a pretty cheeky thing to do. I’ve always been somewhat overbearing.

Again the response was pure, crystalline silence. It was almost beautiful.

Clearly this man wanted one thing and one thing only: He wanted to follow the tweets of a non tweeting member of Twitter.

To put it another way, he longed to experience the cyber equivalent of one hand clapping.

My conclusion? He was on a religious pilgrimage in cyberspace.

I lit a candle for him. Flameless and battery operated, of course.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2011 in Essays, Net Chicks

 

Waiting For My Prince

As a Valentine’s Day gift to my readers, I have compiled a list of song titles that represent the most common and dangerous myths about love. I hope you will find this useful and refer to it as often as needed:

Some Day My Prince Will Come:

It took me half a lifetime to realize that HRH was never going to show up and the only attractive man I would ever see on a horse would be the guy in the Old Spice ads. Here’s how it really goes: You wait for the Prince and while you are checking your cell phone for texts and scanning your online dating service for the millionth time, some other dude shows up and he’s not bad so you end up with him.

Here’s the good news: the more time you spend with your commoner, the more Princely he seems, and if you don’t break up, you will probably fall in love with him and get to dress up like a Princess for your wedding.

I’m Just A Girl Who Can’t Say No:

I went through a phase of thinking I was a Yes woman. It turned out I was just drinking too much. So I gave up drinking and the floozie fled. Here’s the truth: I wasn’t that girl. You aren’t that girl. Nobody is that way all the time. If you have tendencies in that direction, you need to learn the word NO and use it early and often. Fun Fact: There is a fantastic website that teaches you how to say No in 520 languages. Fabulous for the single female on the road. I recommend it:

http://users.elite.net/runner/jennifers/no.htm

I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair:

If only it were easy  and quick to scrub your head clean of a troubled love affair. To me banishing thoughts of a beloved from one’s brain is much more like removing head lice than simply shampooing. It takes repeated treatments, combing every strand, looking for the beastly biting critters and often discovering that in spite of all your efforts the lice still cling to your hair. Unless you want to shave your head, there is no easy option for losing them. You just have to repeat the treatment until the last one is gone.

I’ll know When My Love Comes Along:

Oh how I wish this were true! If only I could say to you that I had never made a bad romantic choice. Alas, some of us can really pick ’em. Not once but again and again and again. Where did I get my taste in men? Is it true, as one of my exes suspected, that I have LSD running in my veins? Perhaps it was my childhood reading list: Nancy Drew, Oz Books, Archie Comics and Joke Anthologies? Maybe I can trace my tragic flaw to a toy collection heavy on Barbie dolls and Trolls. Whatever doomed me, I have found it to be true that we do learn from painful choices and over time get better at spotting romantic potential (or at least lacing up our running shoes).

People Who Need People:

I’m not even going there. Needing people is just a bad idea. It’s where all the trouble starts. I will admit that a lot of relationships are fueled at least in part by need but it’s a dangerous emotion. You have to handle it very carefully, peeps.

I Only Have Eyes For You:

As credulous as I am, I never believed this one until a man who later broke my heart told me endlessly that it was so. After he dumped me, he went on to court another woman with the exact same eyes, and moves, he used on me (and I’m pretty sure he used the same phrasebook of mosts, bests and onlys).

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2011 in Essays, Hopeless Devotion

 

Winter Still

The sound of birds and a glimpse of cornflower sky in my window pulled me out of the house this February morning, dog on the leash, limping on a broken ankle. I envisioned a brief hobble, the dog obedient on her mission, deep breaths of clear air, a few rays of light settling on my face.

A cutting wind greeted us with an unwelcome hug as I labored down the steps. The dog tugged on her leash repeatedly, almost pulling me over, then decided to pass the time eating twigs, ignoring the purpose of the trip. The landscape looked pretty desolate in spite of the pale yellow wash of light that lay over it. Dry broken twigs were scattered everywhere, snow lay in dirty patches amidst the brown grass, mud and dead leaves. What a weary scene! Winter was still a lion roaring into March.

A few days earlier life had worn a different hue. I was buoyantly convinced that Spring, just this once, was coming early. I felt lighter and stronger than I had in a long time as I strolled to lunch with my handsome teenage son. We were having so much fun.

Alas I was stepping a little too lightly and quickly for early February. My boots were too new. I fell on an icy patch of mud.

Now, three days later, I was dragging my leg, wearing high water sweatpants and a big orthopedic shoe, as the dog and I headed home through the pummeling weather.

Rounding the corner,  I was doused suddenly with a wave of morning light. It flooded my face and lingered there until I felt much warmer. Sweet hope rose in my heart.

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2011 in Meditations on Nature, Winter

 

Crutches

I am sitting here with a broken leg and a pair of crutches thinking about the irony of my situation. I have crutches and at the same time I have none. Without the use of my leg I cannot lose myself in the familiar tasks and distractions that shore me up daily. I cannot depend on exercise to release happy hormones into my bloodstream. I cannot bond with my dog on jolly romps through the ‘hood. I cannot engage in any aspect of my life as an ambulatory person in a two-story house  that is strolling distance from stores and cafes. I cannot amuse nor distract myself. There is nothing on which I can lean.

Well, almost. Being temporarily immobilized makes you think hard about what your basic necessities are. In front of me, on the coffee table I am using as a leg prop, are  the pillars of my survival kit: A computer, a cell phone, four bottles of pills (two daily, one as needed, another for pain), a large strong cup of coffee.

I look at these things and see exactly where I am in my spiritual evolution. I recognize that it is, alas, mediocre mainstream middle age circa 2011. I should, I chide myself, have a few bowls of spartan, perhaps vegan, treats, a volume of prayers, a bottle of really good water, a pile of important work due immediately.

The prayer book is a real oversight. Were I to have a collection of profound pithy words on which to meditate, I could use this painful experience as a path to spiritual growth. I could stay in the present, perhaps even reduce the vicodin capsules that are essential every few hours if I am to avoid screaming pain.

My mind turns to measuring where I am in my life with other people: family, friends, lovers. There are no crutches there. Loving relatives hundreds of miles away; a promising date that morphed into a misunderstanding; a beastly collection of old boyfriends that look like so much wasted energy; good friends whom I feel too shy to rely on because they are so insanely busy with husbands, kids, careers; a sweet shaggy yellow dog who naturally does not wish to be mistaken for an ottoman.

Does all this make me gloomy? Well, maybe at first. Then, after a while, I begin to find my situation enlightening, even thrilling. To be crippled with so many crutches stripped away is of course a grand opportunity to become more self reliant, more in synch with one’s Higher Power.

Earlier this week, before I fell on a muddy stretch of snow, I felt very much in touch with the part of me that so desperately wants to rely  physically and emotionally on another. I was oh so in tune with my girlish sensitivity as I strolled beside my new gentleman acquaintance, relieved that I could shake off, if only for a few hours and in fantasy, the androgynous persona of the single woman fending for herself. Afterwards, walking home alone, I blasted Whitney Houston’s, “I want to RUN to you” on my MP3. I was shamelessly self indulgent. I enjoyed being a girl.

The princess persona continued after my fall. I was delighted to show off my pedicure and lovely leg wax to the doctor examining my ankle. I had never felt so full of feminine wiles at the emergency room. I fancied the way I looked in my short skirt and boots, hair fetchingly mussed by the tumble, tears falling gently. What a picture of sweet brave femininity! It was divine being wheeled around, crying just a little, wincing in a ladylike fashion until they got the hint and gave me the meds.

Now, alone in my house  with my metal crutches, essential belongings scattered on my coffee table, dog sleeping warily at a distance, I have a new wish. I would like to be as strong and self-sufficient as my new heroine and fantasy BFF: the delicately fierce intriguingly androgynous Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Having recently watched all three movies in the Dragon series, I recall with awe the scenes in which this pierced and persecuted, gunshot-wounded orphan (played with smoky vulnerability by gamine Noomi Rapace) works out in her  jail cell until she is strong enough to fight her opponents one last time and win.

Self reliance, I realize, is the beautiful lesson here. Not running to anyone, at least not for now. Sit ups and weight training. Twelve step prayers. Respecting the dog. Healing.

Then, when it’s time to lose the crutches, standing up bravely, joyfully.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2011 in Clarity, Essays