Note: The "Trooper" in question is not actually in the military. It's a metaphor, people.

December 31, 2011

Generic New Year's Greetings

It's a quiet late afternoon on New Year's Eve. I've spent the day much as I've spent the majority of this holiday break, by myself with little to do but take my dog for a walk, watch a movie, nap, tidy up and check Facebook. Much of the time it feels like heaven. But sometimes it feels like hell.

While my New Year's Eve plans feel entirely acceptable to me, I realize that many of you will think me pathetic. Trust me, I sought out other options first -- even ones that didn't seem all that appealing. But my friends who are in town and without children either already had plans or just felt like staying home. I considered spending the evening home alone and probably would've done so if most of my forced holiday vacation wasn't exactly that. Too much solitary time does not serve this extrovert well and ringing in the New Year all by my lonesome borders on dangerous.

So tonight I'm spending NYE exactly where I spent it last year -- in my old apartment with Wine Guy.

Our breakup has been almost too ideal. He helped me move (on his 40th birthday no less), we shopped for new furniture for our places together (totally confusing the sales guy), he gave me a lovely birthday present and has come with me to visit my mom who lives about 40 minutes away (she missed him).

He's still my best friend, albeit one who gets on my nerves in all the same ways he used to (and vice versa). We did recently hit a snag when he felt the need to talk about the type of women he's seen on one of the dating sites, but insists he hasn't joined. I didn't want to hear about it and told him to steer clear of that subject. But he naively insisted and, before he knew it, we were in an awkward tiff that he later profusely apologized for walking us into.

Funny thing about it is that I'm the one who's actually dating, not him. So why does the idea of him even thinking about dating upset me? Because his odds are better. I know that when he wants to be in a relationship again (after the sting of being with me for four years has worn off), there will most likely be a quality 30-something woman eagerly awaiting his email. There are lots of us. What there aren't are lots of him. Sure he has significant flaws, but he's still the person I choose to spend nights like NYE with and I know that pretty soon he'll be wanting to spend them with someone else, as he should. I just don't want to hear about it until it happens.

While tonight will be pleasant (he's cooking after all :-), I know it's something of a step backwards. This certainly isn't where I expected to be at this point in 2011. And the feeling only gets worse as I see the many posts from my Facebook friends wishing us all a happy new year, generically thanking us for our friendship and hoping that all of our wishes will be fulfilled in 2012. It's nice, sure, but ultimately it's an empty declaration, especially when the person on the receiving end feels so entirely alone.

If you're playing the world's smallest violin right now, I don't blame you. I admit I'm having something of a pity party. What else are blogs for ;-)? But I also know that tomorrow, when the sun is shining and the pressure of being alone over the holidays is finally over,  I will feel more hopeful. I will appreciate the fact that I still have two more days of leisure time before I return to the daily grind that, I just realized, has kept this loneliness at bay for most of 2011. So that I am thankful for.

And, of course, I wish everyone a happy new year, generically thank you all for your friendship and hope that all of your wishes will be fulfilled in 2012.

December 22, 2011

One of my dearest friends, a happily married Veteran friends with five (!) children, sent me this article from The Guardian that was shared with her by another of her late 30s, single friends whose romantic life has eerily echoed mine since we first met in our early 20s.

Writer Kate Bolick
Photo: Mike McGregor, the Observer
It's a loooooong article on the sociology of singledom by Kate Bolick and I pretty much skimmed over the statistic-heavy paragraphs (numbers are not my strong suit). But overall it was an interesting read, if only to hear the voice of someone else in my same situation. It actually made me feel pretty good about where I am -- and probably will be for long while.

If you're not up for reading it, here are a few quotes that really jumped out at me. 

"...all this time, I realised, I'd been regarding my single life as a temporary interlude, one I had to make the most of – or swiftly terminate, depending on my mood. Without intending to, by actively rejecting our pop-culture depictions of the single woman – you know the ones – I'd been terrorising myself with their spectres. But now that 35 had come and gone, all bets were off. It might never happen. Or maybe not until 42. Or 70, for that matter. Was that so bad? If I stopped seeing my present life as provisional, perhaps I'd be a little… happier. Perhaps I could actually get down to the business of what it means to be a real single woman.

"In 2005, social psychologist Bella DePaulo coined the word singlism, in an article she published in Psychological Inquiry. Intending a parallel with terms like racism and sexism, DePaulo says singlism is "the stigmatising of adults who are single [and] includes negative stereotyping of singles and discrimination against singles". In her 2006 book, Singled Out, she argues that the complexities of modern life, and the fragility of the institution of marriage, have inspired an unprecedented glorification of coupling. (Laura Kipnis, the author of Against Love, has called this "the tyranny of two.") This marriage myth – "matrimania", DePaulo calls it – proclaims that the only route to happiness is finding and keeping one all-purpose, all-important partner who can meet our every emotional and social need. Those who don't have this are pitied. Those who don't want it are seen as threatening. Singlism, therefore, "serves to maintain cultural beliefs about marriage by derogating those whose lives challenge those beliefs."

Happy holidays to all my fellow crazy cat ladies!


December 16, 2011

This post was brought to you by Therapy.

After my third date with Globetrotter, one thing became entirely clear --- I am in no condition to be dating. In fact, I'm downright harmful to the men I go out with, if not to myself.

I've had three significant relationship failures in my adulthood and now, at 39, I can finally see what part I played in making all of them possible. I always suspected I shared a not insignificant portion of the blame, but could never say exactly what shape that blame came in. If you don't know exactly what you did wrong, how can you ever expect to change?

And that's why I went to therapy -- to find out who I am and why I do what I do. Not to judge it (at least not at first), but to wholly understand it. After almost two years of gentle cognitive behavioral therapy, much of it focusing on managing a life and relationship through chronic pain, I figured out that my bad hip wasn't spoiling my relationship with Wine Guy. It was already destroyed. The hip stuff just prolonged the misery.

Wine Guy thought I was in too much physical agony and grief over the sudden loss of my sister and nephew to be able to handle another emotional hit like a break-up, not to mention too physically restricted to handle the move physically. He was right about that. But he wasn't just being a martyr. He was being a friend by sticking by me and helping me through such an awful time. Granted, we fought a lot and neither of us were happy, but we were still taking care of each other like family. I find this oddly comforting. The whole time I thought our relationship was slowly dying when, really, a fierce friendship was holding us together.

So why did we fail in the first place? One simple reason: my impatience, which pushed me into a relationship that was doomed from the start.

This explanation is true for both Wine Guy and Only Child (Naval A-hole gets his own category called "sociopath"), both of whom I picked because they were kind, harmless men. They were also both indecisive wheel-spinners, but really nice, non-threatening ones (yes, at some point in my life I saw/see men as threatening - that's another year of therapy to figure out). Perhaps not insignificantly, they both had verbally abusive fathers and both men, at one point or another, compared me to their dads. Yeah, not good.

Why was I such a verbally abusive bitch (I really wasn't that bad. These guys were both overly sensitive too, as most of my friends will attest)? Because their indecisiveness drove me fucking insane. It made them seem weak. It made me lose tiny flakes of respect for them. That shit builds up fast and, well, I've always had a bit of a verbal temper.

Of course, when I first met them they just seemed like unusually kind men who were more comfortable hanging out with women than their own brute gender. Hence why I called both of them my "gay-straight boyfriends." It takes a little time --usually 6 months to a year-- for those qualities to start seeming weak, indecisive, overly sensitive and wimpy (at least to me).

But why, oh why, once I figured that out, did I move in with them and begin the march towards marriage, whether we liked it or not? This was the part of the blame that was hardest for me to accept. Actually, I couldn't or wouldn't even see it as a possibility until my therapist gently guided me there and placed it on my lap to be gently examined.

Ah, yes. Impatience.

I was so busy pushing the ball and chain up the mountain that I forgot to stop and notice if it was too heavy for me in the first place. Never one to back down from a struggle, I assumed this was one more "battle" I had to fight (sense a theme here?). That it was supposed to be this heavy. Besides, it would take too long to let it roll back down and go off to try to find another. I have a ticking clock here, people. So I pushed on. First Only Child, then Wine Guy (with a pause for the whirlwind, long-distance mind fuck that was Naval A-hole).

Now I see it clear as day and I can assure everyone that it won't happen again. Not the failed relationship part, there are countless ways I've yet to discover to ruin one of those--but the pushing something forward before I've checked to see if I like the way it's rolling part. I feel really solid in this realization and proud of all the work I did to get myself here.

But what am I supposed to do now that I know every relationship instinct I've followed has been flawed pretty much to the core? How am I supposed to know when the right situation presents itself without worrying about the accuracy of my instincts? How on earth did all that therapy lead me right into George "if every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right" Costanza territory (you remember that episode of Seinfeld, right?)?!

Needless to say, without an accurate compass to rely on, I'm in no condition to be dating. I learned this after my third date with Globetrotter. We're a great intellectual/sense of humor match and it's impossible not to be comfortable with him. But do I detect a little wheel-spinning there? Hmmmm. I want to jump up and high-five him when we stumble on another crazy thing we both have in common, but when he tries to hold my hand or kiss me, I feel like I turn to stone. I could see on the poor guy's face that he was sad and confused, but if he thinks my signals are mixed, he should try being inside my own head. It's even worse in here.

As I sat down to type this, I remembered having a similar panicky feeling about getting physically close to Wine Guy when we first started dating. I dug around in my Spring 2007 entries until I found the post I was looking for, My Walled Garden. I was amazed at how accurately I described what I felt the other night after awkwardly saying goodbye to Globetrotter and driving home in tears.

"I know when I've gone a little while without being - um - touched, I tend to build up walls. Then I get used to being walled in. It actually starts to feel all safe and cozy there in my little walled garden. So when potential for simple intimacy pops up (holding hands, arm around shoulder) I feel myself tense up. I can't help it. He probably feels it too."

I suppose the fact that I'm finding similarities between the two dating scenarios already should tell me me something. Globetrotter is safe and comfortable to me because I know his "type." But a safe, comfortable "buddy" isn't what I should be looking for. Shouldn't I be kicking down my stupid walls and climbing all over him? Trust me, that's what I want to be doing-- just not apparently with him.

The difference between now and then is that now I know how to emotionally nurture myself. More specifically, how to not beat myself up about it. It's not my "fault" that I froze up. That's how I felt and it's OK if I don't know why. Maybe I'm just not physically attracted to him (he is an inch shorter than me). Or maybe I'm just not ready to date. Or maybe I should stop putting myself in forced romantic scenarios through online dating and only date guys I click with "in the wild" (not that it happens a lot). Maybe it's a little bit of everything. But the one thing it isn't is something I should be kicking myself over like I was during my drive home that night.

Whatever it is, I'm glad shared it here instead of picking up the phone and calling my best friend, Wine Guy, a thought that seriously crossed my mind until I realized my phone had suddenly died. Divine cellular inspiration perhaps?