Tuesday, January 15, 2008
The Ups and Downs of DatingThe day before I got dumped last week, I had an extremely enlightening ride in the elevator. I was in my office building, on the 19th floor, when this kind of crazy haired lumbering guy lurched to a stop outside the closing doors. My co-rider politely stuck her hand out and opened the doors for him, whereupon he lurched into the car and started talking.
"Did you see the up and down arrows out there? They're burned out. I mean, I didn't see them. Have you seen them recently? All of them are burning out. I never know which way an elevator is going to go any more. With my luck, it's always going the way I don't want to go. Like, I'm surprised this is going down because, you know me, if I want to go down, the elevator is always going up. I've stopped even going into an elevator if I haven't pushed the buttons first. I mean, you never know which way it's going to go, but if you've pushed the button at least you can pretend that it's the one you called for. Still, with my luck, it's always going to be going the wrong way. And, of course, I'm always getting stuck. That's the way it goes with me. I've been stuck three times in these elevators. These elevators just don't like me."
For 19 floors, out the front doors, and all the way to the parking structure I heard this. I was nice and laughing along, but by the time we mercifully parted ways, all I could think was "what a bozo."
Since I was on my way to therapy, and figured I'd get a jump start on the whole metaphor thing, I was thinking about this guy as I got on the freeway and started driving. It was like traffic and my ex-boyfriend, I thought suddenly. This guy and I could be on the same freeway at the same time... and he'd call me up, pissed as hell, frustrated as can be, because he was stuck in traffic. And I wouldn't be. I'd be sailing along. But wherever this guy was, there was traffic. Mainly, I more than suspected, because he was always stressing about the traffic and it infuriated him no end to find himself in it.
Just like my ex-boyfriend, the elevator guy was just sure as can be that every elevator he was on was going to be going the wrong way. This was his identity. This is what separated him out from every other goon on the planet. And the times it went right didn't matter, because it didn't prove his point.
Of course, I felt lofty and serene pity for these poor mortals because -- after a week of lovely dating after the initial great blind date -- I was heading down the slippery slope of a glorious infatuation. We'd been talking or emailing daily, we'd had lunch, a movie and a great dinner in the course of a week. We had plans for the following Saturday to see a play. "When it works, it works," I told my girlfriends, with a happy laugh.
It had been so long since it had worked.
It was so incredibly great.
And, at the same time, I heeded the warning of the elevator guy. I don't have issues with my elevators. And I don't have issues with the traffic. I'm a pretty easy going girl when it comes to a lot of things. But I do have my areas of self-definition. And relationship is definitely one of them.
It's been a... umm... fallow time in the fields of fraternization. It's been a time of, well, regrouping. Reflecting. And, right, processing. Readying myself for the next thing. Which, really... really... hasn't been appearing on the horizon with any great frequency.
For, like, ever.
You know when you're in a really hot relationship and the guy goes away for awhile and you go into work and say, MAN, I haven't been laid in TWO WEEKS. And everyone just groans. And you know how married people -- even married people -- get it at least once a month or so. And you know the Woody Allen joke -- How often do you have sex? Him: Never, like two/three times a week. Her: All the time, like two/three times a week.
This has not been like that.
This is six-months-between-kisses slow. Last calendar year was the worst it's ever been, in terms of intimate encounters, since the mid 1970s. Sex, like all out grunting sweaty sex? A distant memory. Sex with someone I'm madly in love with, with full connection and drug love and all the rest? ... I need my Alzheimer's deep memory retention to go back that far.
So, me being me, I have my stories about me and relationships. I mean, I kind of actually DID write the book. I come by my stories honestly, and I know that. And I also know that stories can be dangerous.
So I was guarding with all my might against jinxing this new thing with my cynical stories. When he didn't call, I just thought, in my Buddhist way, "Oh, he's not calling. It means nothing except he's not calling."
When I didn't hear from him for a day, I thought, after I chanted a bit, "Oh, that is fine. In the real reality, he is simply silent. It has nothing to do with me."
And when I started wanting to spin off paranoid fantasies of some ex-girlfriend coming back into his life, sweeping him off his feet, and he is conflicted, can't make the choice, but of course he finally does... and it's with her, and not me... again.... I dismiss those thoughts as old elevator stories. My elevators always take me the way I want to go because I don't think about them too much. And relationships can do the same, as long as I don't overthink them.
I did all of it right, except this time it was true. On Wednesday the email came: ex girlfriend, unfinished biz, have to see it out, sorry. No matter how much I scripted or descripted the scenario beforehand, I was still faced with the same old ugly truth: my elevator was going the wrong way. Again. You know me.
So what does this mean? It means I had very few choices in how to deal with the matter, but the ones I made are critically important. I could choose to be gracious and kind to him, and understand that sometimes life is complex. I could choose to accept that this has happened, give myself over to some old-fashioned wallowing, eat some cookie dough, and enjoy the knowledge that time is a great anesthetic. And I could choose to not use the word "again," ever, when describing the situation to myself in my head.
Yes, I got dumped. Yes, the "poof" factor has reared its head. Of my many superpowers in life is to indeed attract men who have other women as their first priorities. AND... it doesn't have to turn into an elevator story. It doesn't have to be something I only notice when it proves my point, and thus secretly relish. I don't have to only snort in self-derisive triumph when it happens again.
I can keep it simple and acknowledge that the path has changed. The path always changes. And sometimes the lights signalling the way you should go are burned out, and sometimes they're not. Either way, the goal is to just try to learn what you can from the ride. And if it's going in the wrong direction, then maybe you can dig in and learn even more. About yourself, about your expectations, and about the serendipity of the world.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 9:14 PM 0 comments
Tuesday, January 01, 2008
Dividing by ZeroI was just forwarded such a great essay that I'm inpsired to share it with you this way, rather than just sending everyone the link. It's called Death and Underachievement: A Guide to Happiness at Work.
The basic premise is that our efforts to make ourselves happy usually are so extreme that they make us unhappy. The greater the energy we outpour to achieve what we think are "the right goals," the more fatigued we are, and the less time we have for what is the ultimate goal -- which is to live our lives fully while we're here on the planet.
You can read it for yourself... please do. And when you're done, this is my take on it. It's not a whole lot different from what the Buddhists and other eastern practictioners have been saying for centuries. Suffering is what happens when what (A) we think should be reality doesn't jive with (B) what is reality. Our little brains latch on to that disconnect and we spin around like little rats on a treadmill, working ourselves into a frenzy trying to make A look like B. The more A doesn't look like B, the more crazy we get.
Here's a perfect case in point. I went on a blind date last night. This is something I entered into willingly and (before we got too close to the actual hour of meeting) with a good dose of happy anticipation.
But as the clock neared the fateful meeting hour, the anxiety and unhappiness about the whole thing went exponential. I stressed about every single way this thing could go horribly wrong.
I stressed about where to meet him. I stressed about parking. I stressed about sounding too pushy. I stressed about sounding too passive. I stressed about my nails (like anything could be done to fix them). I stressed about my lifestyle, my job, my kids, my dog, my body, my way of talking, my way of thinking.
I screamed at myself to not say anything too revealing, to keep up my boundaries, to be more vulnerable, to act sophisticated, to act naive, to act smart, to act innocent, to not mention old relationships, to discuss what I've learned from previous relationships, to not talk about relationships at all, to not talk about my passions at all, to not talk about anything at all but to -- above all -- be interesting and be a good listener. In essence, the pep talk I was giving myself was to eradicate all aspects of my personality, try to be invisible, and... really... to just survive the night because nothing could be worse that what I was about to put myself through.
Seriously. If that isn't suffering... what is?
I forced myself to do a 30 minute sitting meditation somewhere during the day to shut my stupid brain up. Because I realized, somewhere amongst the chatter, that all the things I was worried about have actually no relationship to anything in reality.
In reality, I talk a lot. In reality, I write a lot. In reality, I'm opinionated. In reality, I'm just ... me. As Popeye would say, I yam what I yam.
What I was making myself totally crazy with was the disconnect between what I thought I should be (someone, well, else) and what I am. I was trying to avoid perceived judgment, without stopping for a moment to realize that the judgment has nothing to do with anyone but the judger. If he thinks my nails suck... that's OK. It doesn't mean my nails suck. It doesn't mean my nails don't suck. It just means he thinks my nails suck.
Nor did the possibility enter my mind that the guy could be not whom I am looking for. Maybe he'll have some annoying little tic that reminds me of some ex's other annoying little tic. Nothing to do with him, but a complete deal-breaker for me. He may have a myriad other things going on within himself that have nothing -- nothing -- to do with my nails, or shoes, or hair. And finally, anyone who is going to judge me even remotely as harshly as I was judging myself is no one I would ever want to be with anyway.
None of that entered into the conversation I was having with myself. It was all about the suffering and the need for me to match non-reality A with reality B.
So where does the craziness come from? It comes from the past and the future. From critical voices of parents and media ads to hopes and dreams and fairy-dust. It has nothing to do with the present. The present is like a mountain pinnacle... surrounded with space and air and light. This concept of "past" and "future" are meaningless up there. They have nothing to do with the view, with the sense of aching vastness, with the clarity of the breeze.
The past and the future do not exist.
Not up there. Not down here. Actually, not anywhere.
Which means striving for something in the future, and placing your present joy on hold while you do so, is like striving to divide by zero. It's a meaningless concept. If you are unhappy now, by definition: you are unhappy. Period.
I'm certainly not the first to come up with these thoughts, but the essay made me realize there's another way of looking at them. If striving for perfection later is making your life imperfect now... think about it. Because changing something now is do-able. Even if all that takes is just introducing yourself to actual reality and making friends a little bit with it. The fact was that I was about to have dinner on New Year's Eve. Which sounded like fun. (And it was.) And all the rest of it was just garbage that never needed to be dealt with because it was the rat on the treadmill, convinced that it could transcend reality if it just worked harder.
I'm not advocating not planning.
I'm not advocating giving up.
I'm certainly not advocating not giving a shit.
On the contrary... I'm suggesting we care more. About what's going on right now. And that starts by removing that sense of success being just around the corner.
So this year of the rat, I suggest that we give up that treadmill. Let's not lock into that frenzy of expectation and dissillusionment. Let's ditch the idea that if we just work a little bit harder we can make what we'd like to be reality match up with reality itself.
No treadmill. No resolutions to be "better." No nothing... except the occasional nod to the things that are, and a whispered thanks for being there.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 6:53 PM 1 comments