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

January 23, 2012

Introducing, Cleavage

While cooking dinner the other night, I had one of those random "aha!" moments – totally out of the blue and potentially life changing.

Image: Bosom Button
Not a product I've ever had the fortune to need.
But the image reminds me of Cleavage.
I think it started after I had an enjoyable chat on the phone with my friend, Cleavage. Cleavage and I met quite a few years ago -- actually the last time I set myself on a friend-making mission. Back then I was not a gimp, so I chose tennis (instead of beer) as my hobby (and the gut's showing it, believe me) and joined a league. Cleavage was one of my first matches and I could tell right away she would be fun to know as a friend. After a few matches and amusing netside chats, I made my move with the old "we should hang out sometime" line.

I know it's weird to describe trying to make a new friend as something akin to a guy scoping out a chick, but that is exactly how I see it (without the sex part). See, I've never been that kind of nervous when it came to dating as an adult. As an adolescent, well, that’s another story. In middle school I was totally boy crazy and, because 12 and 13-year-old boys are the biggest pussies on the planet, I had no choice but to do the work myself.

I orchestrated the moments I would pass him in the hallways. I knew where I would sit in proximity to him at lunch. If I needed a date to a dance, I did the asking. And I issued the appointments for post-dance, behind the locker make out sessions (one middle school boyfriend, who went on to become a notorious ladies man in high school, recently admitted that he broke up with me after a week or two because I scared him with my make out request. Apparently the girls back in his home state of Wisconsin were nowhere near as aggressive.)

By the time high school rolled around, the boys were starting to catch up and the ball was heading in to their court. Not that I was volunteering anymore. It only took a few weeks of high school for me to realize I was no longer in my comfort zone. The popular junior and senior boys immediately snapped up all the cute, blonde girls I was friends with in middle school. The skater dudes veered off to the far side of the quad to hang out with all the other skater dudes. The surfers talked nothing but waves, and ditching classes to catch waves. The stoners went under the bleachers, the cheerleaders were watching football practice. I wasn’t any of those things.

I ended up sort of floating in the middle - part jock, part honor student, part partier, and really pissed off at life. Boys at school just did not interest me. I had plenty of male friends, and even made out with a few, but all I wanted to do was graduate and get to college. Basically, if a boy was genuinely interested in me, I did none of the heavy lifting like I did in middle school. Needless to say, I graduated a virgin.

Back to Cleavage, who bought my line and has been my friend ever since.  Sadly, we never got to that "good friend" category because, a few months after we met, she starting dating a guy she met after I encouraged her to try online dating. They got serious fast. He moved in, they bought a house and got married.

I was there along the way but probably not like I would've been if we'd been single girlfriends just a little longer. It’s funny because the only reason this thought ever came to mind was because her husband came up to me one night during their courtship and said, "I feel kind of bad, DT.” I had no clue what he was talking about and asked him why. He responded, “I feel like I interrupted your and Cleavage's friendship.” I thought about it for a second and could see what he meant, but how can you begrudge somebody lifelong love and happiness? Besides, I liked him and was happy for them both.

Still, Wine Guy wasn’t all that comfortable hanging out with their circle of friends, which I understood (they were pretty heavy partiers). I didn’t have a lot in common with their group either. So Cleavage and I mostly saw each other every few weeks, sometimes months, for “girls night.” With no one else around, we always picked up right where we left off – and that’s how it’s been for the last five years.

And then, a few months ago, she invited me over and told me she's leaving her husband. A total shock to me. Apparently they'd been having problems and, even though I witnessed many of the incidents, I assumed they were perfectly happy. (That is one of my nastiest habits - assuming everybody else's life is supremely happy and "normal," and I'm the one who’s doing life “wrong.” But it doesn’t last long because, every six months or so, someone lays a whopper on me like Cleavage did and I’m reminded that nobody’s life is “perfect.”)

I was not happy to hear this news. I liked her husband and I'm pretty sure he liked me. And since I'd known them as a couple longer than I ever knew her, "they" were my friends. But after she laid it out all for me, I understood why she was throwing in the towel.

I'm not gonna lie. I was pretty damn excited to have a new single friend to hang out with. I remember how much fun we had hanging out, cracking each other up, flirting with boys in bars. I can honestly say I haven't done that since.

With a fresh marital separation and all the drama that entails, it's still too soon to dive in to manhunting, but we have put each other on the regular phone call rotation. It probably doesn't mean as much to her, but I currently have only one friend who meets that qualification and she lives 3,000 miles away and has a 3 month old baby to care for so, yeah, I'm jonesin' for some girl talk. Funny thing is, I loathe the phone. Avoid it at all costs (talking - not texting or emailing). But I have just enough patience for that one, gabby call per week. And now I have a standing appointment.

It was after our last appointment, while I walked my dog around the neighborhood, that I had my random "aha!" realization. After we hung up, I started making dinner and I suddenly said out loud, "So, I'm lonely." It wasn't a sad thought or anything negative at all. Just a statement of fact. I've spending a lot of time alone the last few months and, some of that time, I don't want to be alone. Those are the times I am lonely.

I sat with that a minute as I dredged my chicken (I can't believe I just typed that as I am so new to cooking). With the meat sizzling on the pan, I stepped away to the dining room table and had a second, less random thought.

I am lonely. But I'm also happy.

Until that moment, it had never occurred to me that I could be both.

So, Cleavage and I are meeting up on Saturday night for dinner, cocktails and a horror movie. I haven't done that in decades. In a few more months, maybe we'll take our friendship to the next level and go out and flirt with some boys. I've told her of my plan, saying, "With your blonde hair and big boobs, we're gonna get so many guys!"

She laughed heartily and enthusiastically, showing me she was neither offended nor uninterested in my proposal. That, my friends, is a girlfriend.


January 15, 2012

Bland Beer

Here's what happened on my visit with Beer Guy last weekend. I went into it with friendship as my expectation-- and a dash of potential for something more. By the time I entered his home and set the chips and salsa I brought down on the kitchen counter, I knew this would be a relationship with no extra spice.

After giving me a friendly hug, the first words out of his mouth were, "The reason I disappeared for a few months was because I got pretty hot and heavy with someone soon after we met." That much I'd figured. Then he added, "But she broke up with me on New Year's Eve." Ah. I was going to be the shoulder for leaning. 

Honestly, that disclosure let me loosen up and we ended up spending the entire afternoon on his deck, drinking beer and swapping romantic mishaps. I was holding back the "buddy" stuff at first, thinking it couldn't hurt to leave a little room in case something in the ether shifted. But the more he told me about his relationship with his most recent ex --a relationship he clearly still longed for--I was pushing him further and further into the passive, possibly wimpy category and, as I've discussed already, those qualities are no longer on my checklist for potential partners. 

It seems she was passive aggressive, needy and extremely immature. And he wasn't even trying to paint her in a bad light. He clearly still wanted her back and was just describing the relationship to me. Hearing this elicited the same reaction I have when the protagonist in a movie is in a relationship with an obviously horrible person. I know we're supposed to be rooting for them to find happiness elsewhere, but all I can think is, "What an idiot. Why would they be with this person in the first place?" I have a hard time respecting someone who is willing to put up with such awful behavior just to be in a relationship. (The most recent example I can think of is the relationship between Owen Wilson and his bitch of a girlfriend Rachel McAdams in "Midnight in Paris." But I still loved the film.)

The more Beer Guy told me about his three month excursion into "love," the more red flags popped up. This down-to-earth, nice-seeming guy seemed out of place, scared to be alone and obviously looking for someone to cling to. Maybe a few years back that would've appealed to me because, of course, I used to feel the same way. But no more.

Still, we had a pleasant afternoon of swapping stories and ended up going out to dinner as well. I'd hang out with him again. Like I said, I'm looking for people to pass the time with after too many days of being alone. But I don't think I'll pursue a regular friendship with him simply because I know that the moment he latches on to his next girlfriend (which shouldn't take too long, he's handsome, nice and owns a beautiful home with an ocean view), I know I'll be ancient history. 

I have to say, dating is a lot less painful when you aren't willing to sell yourself down the river just to say you have a relationship. More to come....


January 5, 2012

The Yeast That Bonds

While 2011 had its low points, the year was a significant improvement from 2010. In addition to exiting a relationship that was running on fumes, I accomplished most of the goals I set for myself, including:

1. Building up a solid archive of published feature stories to advance my freelance writing career (I published one or more story every month, and talked to some incredible talent in the process).

2. Finally began healing after four years of pain and suffering; while I am not exactly where I'd hoped (and probably never will be), I'm at peace with my state of being and am embracing what I can do instead of lamenting what I can't. I'm also back to the weight I was when I first went under the knife in 2008.

3. Most importantly, I made some new friends.

While numbers 1 and 2 undoubtedly signify major life moments, the third easily took the most conscious courage and determination. If you think dating is warfare, try making new friends in your late 30s. At times it felt apocalyptic. At this point in life, the majority of people I'd be friends with are hunkered down in their bomb shelters: husband, kids, mortgages, in-laws. I can't even imagine how they juggle it all. I have two jobs, two pets and rental unit and I feel constantly overwhelmed.

After I'd moved into my new place and got past the euphoria of shedding the weight of a dead relationship, it became immediately clear that I had no friends. Wait, a clarification. I had no friends, other than Wine Guy, to casually hang out with. When it came to emotional meltdowns or family emergencies, I was blessed. I even had one or two women not saddled with husband/children in my social rotation but, being active women, they had full schedules. One date every couple of weeks does not a social calendar make.

I'm not opposed to alone time. In fact, I cherish it. But when it becomes the everyday routine, it doesn't feel like something worth cherishing. It's kind of like smoking pot. If you toke up every once in awhile, it's a kick. But once you start wake-and-baking, you're just living in a foggy brain. Nothing special about that. Trust me, I know.

A friend (one of my NEW ones, thank you very much) recently shared with me something she'd heard about introverts versus extroverts. We'd started to fill in our backstories and it soon became clear that she was, in fact, quite an introvert. Being that I have a blog where I spill my deepest, darkest, I think you can guess which one I am. She told me that introverts are energized by time spent alone, and being social -as fun as it can be-ultimately drains that energy. Whereas extroverts are energized by socializing with others and, while they might enjoy their alone time, it ultimately saps them. Having been in serious relationships with two introverts, I can testify that this is the most accurate description of the two types I've ever heard.

Desperate for a social charge, I decided to make my move. I have no problem suggesting a date with a potential romantic interest. But when it comes to establishing a female friendship, I feel like a 14-year-old boy at a middle school dance. I started with acquaintances who always seemed like they could be friends if one of us ever made the gesture. And that seemed to pay off, as it did with Introvert (whose boyfriend I also now count among my friends).

As with dating, I soon discovered there are only so many friends you can meet "in the wild," so I took my hunt to the online friend corral, It's something of an overwhelming experience at first, trying to pick the activities you're interested in that might cough up some like minded friends. I settled on craft beer, something I'd become a little too knowledgeable about over the last two years, and also a really big thing here in San Diego.

The first beer meetup I went to was last summer at a local microbrewery where we had a tour of the facilities, followed by a ridiculous amount of tasters. I arrived a little early and found myself talking to a seemingly nice, normal man about my age who'd just moved here from Tennessee. Understand, I was not here to find a date and, as cute (and single) as he was, I was mostly excited by the fact that he had only lived here a few weeks, knew no one and, more importantly, had yet to discover the many terrific brewpubs tucked in all corners of the city. He clearly knew his beer and had a lot of free time so I was excited by the idea of having a companion to hit up the pubs I would visit more often if I had someone to go with.

I was careful not to monopolize his time throughout the event and made an effort to talk to other people. I didn't want him to think I was only there to snatch a guy - because I wasn't. But he was by far the most friendly person there so we ended up talking quite a bit. I had a great time and he seemed to as well. Eventually someone else started talking to him and then he left rather abruptly, which bummed me out a little.

But my spirits were lifted the very next day when he sent me an email through the Meetup site saying how nice it was to meet me. I wrote back saying the same and suggested we get together for some beer tourism the following weekend, to which he replied he was unavailable. I gave him my regular contact info and said to let me know when he was free.

When he didn't get in touch after a week or two, I grew irritated. There was no doubt that we hit it off as friends. I had something to offer him - local knowledge about an interest of his, as well as companionship (he made it clear he knew nobody in town). The only reason I could think that he wouldn't follow up was because he thought I wanted something romantic when he didn't. Exactly how the fuck are you supposed to make friends with someone who happens to be a man if you are going to be judged as some man-hunting cougar? So I went back to the Meetup site and joined an all-girl craft beer group, where I've made a few potential friend connections and, most importantly, avoided feeling like I'm on the prowl for something I'm not (unless an obvious opportunity presents itself, of course).

So you can imagine my surprise when I got an email from him earlier this week, almost six months since we'd last communicated. He commented that the beer Meetup seemed to have disbanded, implying he was hoping to run into me at the next event. But since there were no more events, he'd made up his mind to get in touch after the holidays. Apparently, someone gave him a Beer of the Month subscription for Christmas and, well, he needed help plowing through his supply. Might I want to get together? He even proposed a few possible dates and times which, I've learned, indicates purposeful intent in guy speak. Impressive.

So this Saturday afternoon I'll be on Beer Guy's deck toasting in the New Year. Hopefully he'll be yet another new friend (and one that I wouldn't mind kissing). I like beer better than wine anyway.