RSS

Category Archives: Foibles, Follies and Roadblocks

Present

If only I could master the wise and ancient discipline of living in the moment.

I breathe in. I breathe out. I sigh deeply and shake my head.

I understand the goal but find the practice extremely challenging. It seems virtually impossible to keep my restless mind from obsessing gloomily about the past or tiptoeing trepidatiously into the future.

Nowhere would present-moment awareness be more useful to me, and nowhere is it more lacking, than in my romantic life.

At any given time, you can find me brooding about at least one of two types of men. Neither one exists in real time as a present-moment relationship but either species can dominate my thoughts and eat up endless hours.

Type Number One is a former love whom I haven’t seen in years and who exists only in my memory and imagination. Who cares that he is nowhere to be found in the present. In my memory, all the loveliness of our time together is preserved in High Def, and all the frightening fight scenes, hurt and heartbreak, have been erased by Time and Denial.

His image is equally vivid in my fantasies, where I enjoy daily, and sometimes hourly, screenings of The Return of My Ex…a Happily Ever After melodrama about a rapturous reunion whose details change but plot remains the same: He Comes Back, We Surrender to Passion, We Meld With Each Other and Remain Joined and Joyful for All Time.

Type Number Two is someone I know casually whom I am sure is Destined to be My Man at some unspecified point in the…present?…No, future of course. We have almost no contact in the present. When we do have a fleeting encounter, it is committed to memory, where I edit and tweak it into a convincing snippet of a love story. TN2 is a pleasant acquaintance with whom there is enough chemistry to produce a credible fantasy of being a couple but (as with TN1) not enough of a relationship to produce a romance outside of my imagination.

Why do I do these ridiculous things? The most obvious answer is that old bugaboo known as fear of intimacy. In my twisted way of thinking (or the unconscious depths of my brain) a largely imaginary relationship has a couple of advantages: I can control it and I will never get close enough to it for it to hurt me. It also probably came in handy at my all-girls high school to have a fierce romantic imagination that could make a rare date or dance occupy my thoughts for several months. I guess that was better than facing up to the true depths of my teenage loneliness.

Clearly there are some things that I need to recognize…right this very minute:

I left my all-girls institution many decades ago and have no need to invent or enhance relationships.

Friendships or romances that barely exist in daily life don’t exist at all.

Living in my memory and imagination is neither mentally nor spiritually healthy.

Living in my memory and imagination is a great way to end up really crazy and lonely.

The human connection that I am hoping for will only show up in the present and I will only be there to greet him if I’m living in the present.

Guess I’m going to have to take another shot at Being Here Now.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on September 22, 2011 in Foibles, Follies and Roadblocks

 

Losing Control

It has been that kind of day. Tried to turn on the television but I could not get the remote to work. Tried a second remote. No good. Tried them both at the same time, one in each hand, like a gunslinger. Still the stubborn LCD would not turn on.

The frustration with my Sharp Aquos is just the latest in a string of failed attempts to get the world to function the way I want it to.

The thing I love about the remote, when it works, is that you can get exactly what you want: the channel, the volume, the high or low def. You can choose Wii tennis or Guitar Hero, Al Jazeera or Telemundo, Mob Wives or Rachel Maddow.

How different it is dealing with people.

The problem I have with relationships is not that I want folks to disappear from my life because I can’t stand them. I just want my peeps at the right volume, tuned to the right channel, at the right time. I am a benevolent despot–not a demented Roman emperor. I only want to control other people sometimes, and usually all I need are a few minor adjustments.

I was trying to explain this to my son the other day: “It’s not that I don’t want your friends to come over. It’s that I don’t want them to come and sit on the porch from the moment you get up at 2pm until the moment you fall into bed at 2 am. One or two hours of college students with their colorful antics gives a liveliness and zest to the home ambience. Twelve hours turns it into outtakes from The Hangover.”

I know I know I know. You can’t control people. You can’t adjust their behavior. You can make requests, modify your own actions, and establish and keep boundaries. That’s it.

This does not feel fair at all. It seems as if we should be able to honcho the humans in our lives just a little bit: A tweak here, a tiny update there, an occasional reboot?

Here’s an idea:

Why couldn’t there be a remote for other people’s behavior with just a few simple commands: “Come Here”, “Go ‘Way”, “Be Nice”, “Hug Me”, “Love Me”, “Listen to Me”, “Tell Me I’m Not Fat”.

It seems like it could be a great thing–but what would we gain if everyone had one?

Problem is if we all had remotes for fine-tuning other folks, it wouldn’t really improve anything. People would still be trying and failing to manipulate each other, sending out mixed signals, battling, projecting, misunderstanding, even hallucinating their way through relationships.

I guess the only means to escape an uncontrollable world of frustrating human connections is to go back to where I started: grab the clicker, turn on the TV, and choose a parallel universe.

I’ll have to get the remote to work–but that I can master.

 

Baited

I wanted it so badly I could feel it crunching between my aching teeth: The first bitter bite, the heat in my veins, the sweet release of rage, pure and cathartic, roaring out of me.

Oh how I wanted to take the bait. How I longed to wreak vengeance on the person who was dangling the hook.

Have you ever felt like this? Maybe you know what I mean. That Person Who Can Get To You Like Nobody Else has struck again. You feel wounded, wronged, righteous. You want revenge.

You have been baited and you want to bite.

Problem is, you also know that if you take the bait things will get much much worse: pain, entrapment, spiritual annihilation.

Sometimes it’s really hard to back down from a fight, especially if you have the misfortune of having chronically troubled relationships in your life.

It’s tough when you feel righteously wronged. Someone has tried to get you. Someone is spoiling for a fight. You’re not being paranoid. It’s real.

Alas, even when the other guy is out to get you it’s not always a good idea to get into it. For one thing, you probably won’t elicit a confession, to say nothing of an apology. Folks who bait you rarely admit to it. They dig the subterfuge. Copping to something takes the fun out of it.

What’s more if you react to the provocation then you have made it your problem and your fault. The person who will suffer, especially when the perp is denying everything, is YOU.

Finally, and hardest to admit, if you blame the other guy and punish him or her with a tidal wave of rage, you are ignoring the fact that there may have been some small provocation on your part. Did you deserve the evil response? Definitely not. It’s good to keep in mind, however, that behavior is karmic and if you want to stop a negative cycle you have to let it end with you. No fair? You betcha.

What to do with the leftover feelings broiling your brain?

I’ve tried everything, I am sorry to say, including smashing glassware, burning pictures of the Evil One, mixing a batch of cheap cocktails in the sports blender, and unleashing my ire in an apocalyptic fit of drunk dialing. I don’t recommend any of those.

Today, I stomped around the empty house ranting and weeping, then I cranked up Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and “Monster”. It was splendid to sing along.

After this bit of catharsis, I decided to head for the cooler air of the higher ground. I can’t promise I will stay in the peaceful aerie of forgiveness but it’s a pretty good destination for a scorching day in July.

 

Waiting To Be Wise


I woke up hot and testy this morning, eager to pick a fight with my Higher Power.

Leading my list of complaints was the following:

“Hey God, tell me this: Why do you give us Youth and Beauty first and Wisdom second?”

“Could we tweak that just a little bit?”

This cosmic quandary crossed my mind as I lay in bed brooding about the subject nearest to my heart which is, as you probably already know,the sweet torture known as Love.

Here’s what was bugging me about God’s Gifts as I stomped around my sticky bedroom looking for my oven-friendly wardrobe:

It is a no-brainer that we tend to attract the most promising mates when we are young and beautiful. The problem is that when we find our God or Goddess we’re usually clueless about what to do with him or her. We are Green and Golden but not yet Wise.

Wouldn’t it be loverly if Youth and Beauty were rewards for years of wise living instead of commodities squandered on those who value them least?

I’m convinced that one of the reasons people break up only to regret it later is because they don’t know how to appreciate what they have when they have it. We can’t see how rare and precious a decent life partner is–and how impossible to replace–until the person and the relationship are irretrievable.

I know several women–myself included–who got divorced and immediately began looking for new husbands. Replacing them, or even trading up, was easy, we thought.
How ridiculous we were, how slow to realize our folly. How rich and tragic was the wisdom we received when countless dates and might-have-been mates dead ended.

By the time I got around to crooning rueful renditions of “I Threw It All Away” and “You Don’t Miss Your Water Till Your Well Runs Dry” there was no one, least of all a beloved ex, within earshot.

If only I had been wise enough to hang on until I got wiser. I regret it to this day, and every once in awhile I want to shake my fist at the heavens about the (Not So) Grand Scheme of Things.

I was reminded of these troubling matters recently when I met a stressed out young couple in the neighborhood.

They were a lovely pair standing outside a beautiful Victorian house. The husband was holding their smiling Buddha Child aloft, while the wife set up a stroller.

The man greeted me amiably and made introductions. His wife smiled faintly and said nothing. The husband continued to chat with me while the woman kept her distance and appeared increasingly distressed. Finally, she walked over, snatched the baby from his arms, strapped it into the stroller and began to push the conveyance up the street. I excused myself.

As I retreated from the scene, my heart went out to the young woman. She brought to mind my own struggle to maintain a dependable union in a distracting world.

How well I remember my fruitless frustrating attempts to defend my sweet loving marriage from intrusion. We’d be bringing our sleeping baby into the house, packing the car for a road trip, or turning out the bedroom lights–and an acquaintance would telephone, a neighbor would stop by to borrow a ladder or a fax would arrive requiring immediate attention. Alas, it was hard for me to hold onto affection and trust as waves of new experiences and new people carried us in and out of intimacy.

I’m pretty sure that it was my struggle to balance monogamy with community that drove a wedge between me and the men who mattered most in my life, including my husband. Jealousy and possessiveness, the need to control, fear of abandonment, the need to grasp and cling destroyed my love.

It seems I could not calm my neurotic behavior long enough to realize that these brief and generally harmless encounters with the outside world were actually a tiny part of life. If only I had been able to loosen my grip and flow with life’s little disturbances, I might still be enjoying the blessed company of a partner.

If only I KNEW what I KNOW.

Walking back to my house, I was overcome by an inappropriate but heartfelt desire to share my belated epiphanies with the young couple.

I wanted to tell them: “Wait for the wisdom you need to love each other. It’s coming. It’s worth it. I know it.”

Alas, I really do.

 

Unhitching



In honor of Independence Day I have decided to free myself.

Weeeeeee. Wahoooo. Yay. Hooooorrrrayyyyy.

Here are the bonds I’d like to break…maybe you share some of them. Maybe you’d like to make a list of your own.

Perhaps we can start a new tradition. How about July 4th Declarations–Mid year’s resolutions with a theme of personal freedom.

And so I present:

CHAINS I’D LIKE TO SHAKE:

(My First Annual Personal Declaration of Independence)

TO WIT:

1)My enslaving obsessions and addictions.

2)The desire to control anyone or anything.

3)The need to win the approval of haters.

4)Being nice to those who are not nice.

5)Crippling fear.

6)The need to be liked.

7)Childhood behaviors, roles and rules.

8)Resentment and rage.

9)Tolerance of abuse.

10)Negative emotions and other unquiet states of mind.

SET YOURSELF FREE…DECLARE YOUR INDEPENDENCE…HAVE A GREAT JULY 4th!

 

Sorry…And Thanks!


I have always been glad that I did not grow up with servants. As far as I was concerned, it was one less thing to be ashamed of. Truth is, I’m not very good at being The Boss. I don’t know how to give orders. Being waited on makes me uncomfortable.

This is no claim of sainthood. I’m more than capable of being a controlling, witchy, whiney pain in the neck. I’m just not good at playing the benevolently despotic Lady of the Manor.

Now, suddenly, I find myself in a situation that is causing me to wish I were more adept at being the gracious Grande Dame.

I am speaking of my current circumstances, which find me aboard the elegant, old-fashioned ocean liner Queen Mary in an atmosphere overflowing with faithful retainers challenging me to observe proper etiquette.

Onboard the QM2 we have: stewards, sommeliers, barkeeps, waiters, cleaners, chefs, flower arrangers, powder room scrubbers, deck washers, pursers, security personnel, plumbers and electricians; three or four people serving dinner; four or five casino attendants hovering over anyone foolish enough to gamble; gentleman hosts on the dance floor every night.

I should feel regal, right? Unfortunately I’m too neurotic for that. Instead I’m in a perpetual panic over what to say, what to do, what to pay, how to approach, how to leave alone, how to say hello and goodbye to these lovely people who are spoiling me at every turn.

I know this is all very nauseatingly bourgeois. Everyone should have such problems, right? Well, in a way, everyone does these days. As our world becomes increasingly populated with service industries, awkward customer-server relationships are on the rise. The human interaction dilemmas challenging me on this vacation at sea are more critical and important than ever—for all of humanity!

Perhaps I should illustrate the conundrum with an anecdote.

This morning, at breakfast in the informal cafeteria on Deck Seven, I helped myself to cereal and fruit and made my way to a quiet corner table to read a book. I was hoping to be as unobtrusive and undemanding as possible, thereby avoiding any embarrassing breaches of protocol.

Alas, I did not succeed. A waiter approached and, seeing me put down my spoon to turn a page in my book, attempted to remove my half-eaten breakfast. “Are you done with this, Madame,” he intoned in a solemn baritone, reaching for the bowl. “No I am not, thank you,” I said, failing to repress an ugly spark of irritability. Offended, he recoiled, leaving me in a state of disgrace. A second later, he was back. “But surely Madame you don’t need THIS,” he said triumphantly, grabbing an empty cereal box and used paper napkin from the table’s surface. “No, you can have it,” I said, feeling ashamed and defeated.

Yesterday it was the beautiful powder room stewardess whom I insulted by crashing her plastic barricade in a moment of desperation, and stepping over her bucket and mop en route to the commode. Even worse, on another recent occasion I humiliated myself completely with a loud nervous coughing fit in response to a suave gentleman host who asked me to dance.

Clearly I was in desperate need of an Etiquette Intervention. The only question was, where to look?

The answer came to me finally in a glorious Epiphany onboard the ship’s elevator this morning as I attempted to flee the shameful breakfast scene for the solitude of my cabin.

Whilst in the lift it occurred to me that a number of my fellow passengers who were British used two salutations to great advantage in almost every social situation: “Thank you so very much,” and “I’m so terribly sorry.”

Then came the AHA moment. I realized that if I stuck to these two basic phrases, augmented by the occasional obese tip, I could ace almost any situation onboard. If anyone knew how to pull off the Lord and Lady of the Manor bit, it would certainly be my class-savvy fellow travelers from the British Isles.

Well, I am happy to report that the strategy is, as they say in GB, absolutely BRILLIANT. It is now smooth sailing for me in the server relations department.

Brittania rocks. Brittania rules the waves.

 
 

Playing the Game

I’ve been thinking that a helpful way to understand my love life might be to look at it as a game of musical chairs.

I assume most folks are familiar with this children’s party favorite but for anyone who isn’t it goes something like this:

To begin, there are as many chairs as children, lined up back to back. When the game starts, one chair is removed, Mom or Dad turns on music and the children walk around the chairs until the melody stops. At tune’s end, each child nabs the closest chair, pushing his or her rivals out of the way (with tiny fists or feet if necessary) and sits down, leaving one sorry tot seatless. The child without a chaise is out of the game. The process repeats itself until there is only one chair and one winner.

At this point you may be wondering: What the heck does this have to do with love? Well, I’ll tell you:

To my mind, the process of choosing a partner is just like the children choosing chairs: it is random, irrational, impulsive, even desperate. In life, as in the game, we mill around to the music of whatever angels or demons are driving us until some unseen hand moves us to settle down. In an instant we morph from ignoring all the lovely chairs (possible partners) to being desperate to claim the nearest one. Out of the blue that chair (love interest) has become the thing we need most in the world. When our Higher Parent stops the music and tells us it’s pickin’ time, whichever chair (potential mate) is closest is the one we grab in order to survive in the game.

Farfetched though this analogy may seem, it actually helps me make sense of my crazy romantic history.

How many partners have I passed by because it wasn’t time for me to choose? How frequently, by angelic or demonic command, have I fought for the right to claim someone and lost– or settled down happily only to hear a Cosmic call to get moving? How often have I observed the supply of swains dwindling and my chances shrinking? How many times have I felt kicked out of the game?

I’ve even felt like a winner once or twice: alit upon the perfect relationship, after a period of restlessness, and seen everything fall into place and, for a time, felt blissfully blessed: Perfect man, perfect home, perfect child, perfect life.

I’ve also tortured myself wondering what diabolical influence induced me to get up and play another round of the game.

My point is that when one is awash in romantic regret it helps to remember that there is a kind of cosmic timing to all of this. There are forces beyond oneself: life cycles and stages, body changes, even world events working their influence and, yes, I believe, an unseen hand turning the music on and off, removing chairs and players.

In love as in all things one does not have total control. Timing matters, randomness is rampant. “The course of true love never did run smooth…Cupid is a knavish lad,” wrote Shakespeare in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” his brilliant comedy about romantic foolishness. When one realizes these things, one can start to unburden one’s heart.

I am not talking about being a cynical player. I’m simply saying it helps to recognize that when it comes to love, God, the Universe and wicked Cupid are all playing with us and if we can just smile and laugh at ourselves between bouts of sighs and tears, the game might start to be just a little bit more bearable and maybe just a tiny bit fun.