Office Space Romance

At the end of a first date there’s that moment, that sizing up space where you’re both considering if you want to see each other again, and then you’re considering if you think they want to see you again. And how do you find that out without sounding like you really want to see them just in case they don’t want to see you?

How do you treat your date with appropriate casualness so that you don’t appear vehemently opposed or obsessively interested?

Honestly, I don’t know why we bother with the theatrics at all.

Tonight I sat down for the first time and watched Office Space and I know, sure, I should have seen this like fifteen years ago when it was relevant, but I’ve only gotten to it now which is fine because the life lessons are still timeless (eh, this could be debated).

My favorite scene is when Peter finally asks Joanna out on a date. He walks in, goes up to her directly and asks if she wants to have dinner with him. He’s fine if she says no and he’s fine if she says yes. Either way, he’s having lunch.

I can’t help but wonder if the trick to dating and relationships is just being excited about having lunch. She/he might come, they might not, but you still get to eat, and isn’t that what’s great? I think we often get so fixated on who may or may not want to eat with us that we lose sight of the enjoyment we can have in life on our own.

We often get so caught up in the “do they or don’t they” that we don’t let ourselves consider what we think and how we feel. Maybe we think it’s too rare, that it’s too special to meet someone that we like and can connect with, but is that the case? Or is it that we selectively try to connect? And that in those selections sometimes we miss and we take those misses more personally because they’re so few?

What if instead we approached dating like Peter does? Just ask her out. If it’s no it’s no and then you go and eat a nice lunch and find someone else to ask out. It’s better than fixating, mentally embellishing and idealizing in your own mind until that other person is so great there’s no possible way they’d ever date…you.

So don’t be afraid to profess interest, to do the asking. And then don’t be afraid to ask someone else. And in between, grab a sandwich. Because nothing in life makes you feel better than a good sandwich (this is just a personal theory, but please test it out).

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Drawbacks of a Sugar High

I’ve been thinking about jealousy a little a lately, and how it skews perspective, and narrows focus so completely that even the object of our envy is unrecognizable to any realistic perspective.

I’ll give you an example.

This past Saturday I went into a store and bought two bags of candy and a puzzle. I promptly went home, poured both bags of chewy candy into an empty vase, left my phone in another room, turned on the air conditioning in my bedroom, took off my bra, put on a Netflix movie, and started that puzzle whilst dipping my hand into my candy vase every so often for a treat.

I don’t mean to brag, but my weekend sounds absolutely exceptional, wouldn’t you agree? It has everything I could want in a weekend, or at least everything that ten year old me wanted in a weekend.

Perhaps you even fill in a few details that I left out. You might assume that since I have money to burn on puzzles and candy I have few financial worries. Or you might assume that since my plan was to spend the day eating candy I had carefully adjusted my diet and exercise plans to accommodate this splurge. You probably also assumed I had no other important pressing obligations to attend to. And you might assume that I chose do all of those activities being of sound mind and body, filling up my weekend to the brim of funness.

So much of jealous is in the assuming. I’ll take a walk in the evenings sometimes and see these delightful homey scenes in living room or dining room windows. And I get filled with a certain sort of longing. They look like they’re having such fun. And I mentally fill in all the blanks from the TV shows I’ve seen.

Naturally they all like each other and have explicitly chosen to spend this time together. No one is in ill health, nor do they know of anyone intimately related to them who is suffering. They are free from all worries. They are all of like mind or open minded and they are having good, uplifting conversation.

And this is just from quickly walking by a house and seeing its occupants for perhaps fifteen seconds in total. But a glimpse that we build a fantasy on is never close to the reality of that moment.

My great weekend of eating candy and working on a puzzle? The reality is that I hate summer and it was ninety degrees in my apartment most of the time. There was no escape except to sit locked in my bedroom, because I was definitely not going outside. I was exhausted all weekend. Tired from the heat and tired because my arthritis has been more active this past week.

So I was grumpy, tired, in pain and then I went out to buy self-soothing things like candy, and distractions like puzzles.  Reality always ruins jealousy.

Remember when you were a kid and you thought being an adult would be 100% totally awesome? No bedtime, you get your own place, you have cool sophisticated conversations, you get to buy whatever you want, you can do whatever you want!

And then you grew up. Oh boy. This is not what I was advertised. Suddenly as an adult you realize why you don’t see many adults in the bulk candy aisle without accompanying children.

I had that realization today when the sugar headache kicked in and the dentist told me I had a cavity. First cavity in over ten years, too. Jealousy misses results and consequences. It’s always the short view of a very long game.

Men of Tinder

Tinder, the phone app that allows you to browse photos of humans and decide if you want to get to know them from a short bio, musical preference, brief list of common interests, and four additional photos, is perfect for the lazy slob that I am (at least when it comes to dating).

It is also a treasure trove of similarities. And if you’re someone who likes finding odd/obnoxious patterns and habits in groups of people (totally me) then you’re able to find some interesting commonalities in the truly varied group that is: Men of Tinder.

What you’ll find in photos

  • Fish — I don’t know if all fishermen use Tinder, but certainly a larger than average amount. What I don’t understand is why they think posing with a dead fish is a big draw for the average woman. Is it proving you’re an excellent hunter/gatherer? We’ve got grocery stories, my friend. I can get my own fish.
  • Pecs — Alright, so women are probably looking for dudes that are built. I get that. And on one hand I almost appreciate men pandering to that specific desire. But there’s no way to do a shirtless selfie that doesn’t make you look like a tool.
  • Women — So you know hot women. Great. From a picture it’s hard to judge relationship and context. Those could be pictures of your wife for all I know, or long term girlfriend. I get it. Other women think you’re fun to hang out with. But now you just look like a guy who’s trying to use his popularity with women to lure in other women to compete over him. Gross.
  • Random objects — Tinder man is not in these photos, it’s just random things he may or may not be interested in. Or photos of slogans that are apparently way too challenging to try and write out in the bio.
  • Children — I get it. You’re pandering to our maternal instincts. Maybe they’re your kids, maybe not, but guys look less sketchy when they’ve got a kid snuggled up next to them, right?
  • Cats — Cat guys are the weirdos. I don’t know why. This might just be my impression because I hate cats.
  • Dogs — “My dog is better than yours” is what is always said in a bio when a guy has a photo with a dog. I don’t know why this is a competition. Can’t we just love all the dogs? I get it. You’re an alpha bro who likes winning. You don’t have to win at dogs.

What you’ll find in bios

  • Self-Employed — As one sharp friend of mine mentioned, it’s just code for “unemployed” given how often it appears.
  • Height — Almost always guys include this physical detail in their bios. Also they always blame women for it so apparently we’re always asking about it. Women! Stop. It. Also, all men seem to reluctantly divulge. Like women over 40 being forced to tell their age. “I’m 5’9” because apparently that matters.” Ugh only to SOME women. Stop talking to women who make you feel like crap, I don’t care how hot she is!
  • List of physical assets — This is usually just a list of material possessions of any substantial worth like a car, a house, a good job, etc. Since I never think to ask about these things it makes me genuinely concerned that they’re just responding to the blanket material questions that some women ask. Which, by the way, how is that not just an instant red flag for them??
  • Nothing — If you’ve just posted one photo or several photos but no bio, it doesn’t matter how attractive you may look, or how normal. I a mentally filling that bio in for you and it’s not complimentary. It’s bad. It looks very bad.
  • 4/20 Friendly — A lot of guys are really just looking for pot buddies.
  • Outdoorsy requirements — I’m probably bitter about this because there’s so many attractive outdoorsy men who are looking for someone to go rock climbing with them and I am soooooooooo not that person. If there’s a picture of you happily in a sleeping bag in the great outdoors, I’m fairly confident we won’t get on well.
  • Female requirements — I don’t care if you have specified “I don’t like materialistic women” the fact that you feel compelled to say this smacks of you having at least a certain baseline issue with women. Also the whole “I don’t like women who don’t laugh” I mean geez, did you ever consider that maybe you’re not funny?
  • Whining — This one always gets me. I don’t know a single woman who is lured in with the “I guess women only use this to check out hot guys because no one ever responds to a good guy like me”. Oh sweetie, that’s not how anything works. Sometimes life’s hard and you need to buck up.
  • Life advice — Speaking of handing out unsolicited advice, Tinder men are full of it. Whether it’s a pithy phrase perfect for a motivational poster, or a quote you picked up somewhere to help spur your aspirational living, it’s gross. It smacks of some 80s sitcom Dad handing out wisdom at the end of a half hour episode. That may do it for some, but that’s a really niche market you’re working in.
  • Just Ask — Usually it’s phrased like this “I don’t know what to put here, lol if you want to know something just ask.” This is pure laziness. If you can’t even pretend you’re interesting or thoughtful, don’t make me work to figure it out.

Bottom line: Tinder caters to the demographic that believes in taking good selfies that make it look like you didn’t just take a selfie for a dating app, and those with any amount of writing skill and healthy (over-healthy) self confidence.

All this to say: if you can’t get any hits on Tinder, it 100% has nothing to do with who you are as a person. It probably just means you’re bad at marketing. And to be honest with you? That’s kind of a good thing.

Rage Against the Sheetcake: Tina Fey’s Delicious Satire

“sheetcaking” has been a recent addition (I think–it was hard to sort through all the google search results of editorials vilifying and heroizing Tina Fey’s recent appearance on a special SNL Weekend Update.) to American vocabulary. It basically means “eating your feelings.” If anyone does know the origins of the term, I’d be happy to learn it.

Of course, just last week the term went viral. I saw friends on both sides of the political spectrum share the video. Some accepted its sly lampooning of white privilege with good humor, some took it seriously as a riotous emblem of the current esprit de corps and accompanied the post with hashtags like #fuckyeah. Others took it seriously as a direct criticism of either themselves or their political perspectives and dismissed it as tone-deaf at best, a flagrant indulgence of white privilege at worst.

Throughout the week as I watched the drama, horror, conflict, pathos, and ugly demonization meted out on those who stated almost any opinion at all develop out of the horrendous events at Charlottesville, I struggled with what to feel, how to feel, and if there was anything to share in it. Sometimes, as I commented on Katrina’s recent post, I’d just rather listen. But then, as she discussed, staying silent, too, became a problem. Here is the list of items about me that contributed to my sense:

1-My family on both sides emigrated within this century. I’ve got no familial connection to either honoring or denigrating early America and the choices thereof. Of course, I now bear all the privileges of an American, so there’s not point in saying I’m not involved at all, but there’s a sense of removal, certainly. The furthest east my relatives have ever lived is Michigan, which would have been both Union country and wild frontier during the times before and after slavery. The Netherlands–from which most of my family emigrated–certainly contributed to the slave trade during its heyday, but any real connections to the industry are lost to time.

2-I’m white. I’m white-white. Not only am I white, I’ve grown up in one of the whitest areas of the country. I could count on one hand the black kids at my high school. Hispanic students were more common, but still a vast minority. I can think of one South Asian student, and he was adopted. I now live in Seattle, one of the least diverse–not for lack of trying–cities in the nation. This predominantly white experience wasn’t through any lack of trying to experience culture, or any desire to be removed from other cultures, just because there was very little available.

When I moved to San Francisco after college to teach school, white students were in the minority; my classes were filled with Hispanic Americans, Indian Americans, Asian Americans, African Americans. Middle school students notice cultural differences, but I did not see a lot of racist actions. The most racist thing I ever heard was a complaint about attributing a fart to someone on the field trip bus; “It smells like curry!” I loved how my students brought culture to conversations, and how being different seemed to be simply and easily accepted. All the same, I couldn’t fail to notice that the teaching staff was predominantly white (also female–another conversation for another day). I did during the last year of my time there actually see firsthand a gang-related conflict go down at a large church youth event. I saw kids punching each other; girls screaming with their hands buried in each others hair, I pulled fighting students apart and held a girl’s hands behind her back to keep her from scratching her opponent’s eyes out. It still feels like a strange, underwater nightmare. I remember shooting incredulous looks at my fellow youth staffers as we separated instigators and spoke to the police.

3-I’ve been in the South only a handful of times. I know racism and militant neonazism exist; I’ve watched the editorials and movies. I’ve read about these groups occasionally, heard firsthand accounts of how violent racism is still alive and well in the South. I’ve rarely if ever experienced it or seen it firsthand; I feel distinctly unqualified to make judgements. I can unequivocally condemn Nazism as a damaging ideology. But it makes no difference to the people involved in it. It doesn’t change hearts or minds. It doesn’t seem to help anyone for me to rant and rave.

Watching Tina Fey dig into an American flag sheetcake felt at once enlightening and…therapeutic. I watched it again, and I thought, as many people did, of Marie Antoinette’s famous words prior to the French Revolution; “let them eat cake.” Words used to define wealth, privilege, and ignorance. A phrase that has gone down in history as a damning foreshadow of the thoughtless pride that lead to the downfall of the ruling aristocratic class in France.

As the news covers more and more examples of the widening chasm between rich and poor Americans, the loss of the middle class, the evermore pride-filled flagrant indulgences of the wealthy, from Kardashians to Trumps to NFL players’ ridiculous salaries (yes, I said it, Hawks fans), parallels to pre-revolutionary France are often made. Fey’s play on that richly-weighted metaphor was both deeply resonant and challenging. It was one of the things that let me know both that a) it’s ok to feel at a loss, unable to do anything really valuable, and b) that inability to understand firsthand what all of this means doesn’t preclude me from saying something about it.

In case anyone misunderstands, Nazism is evil. Neonazism is evil. Those who embrace these ideologies are at best misguided, at worst sold out to an evil ideology. Anti-fascists who respond to violence with violence are wrong. Slavery is wrong, and white supremacy is wrong. As a Christian, actually, pursuit of the supremacy of any one person or race over another is wrong. White privilege may not be directly my fault but it is in my power and in my responsibility to be a part of changing it. While I’m still learning what that looks like, maybe this is a start.

My friend Corrie recently wrote the following challenging words to her audience, regarding still more recent conflicts about memorials to the US Civil War:

“Compassion must be lived out loud. You *cannot* say “All lives matter” and yet insist on keeping monuments and flags representing only one kind of life at the brutal cost of others….You *cannot* say a piece of concrete is worth more than the pain of your neighbor. Pain must not be mocked. And when you do, perhaps with catty memes or retweets, you are actively participating in deepening an already painful divide. If one part of the body hurts, it all hurts. When was the last time you listened to anyone who mocked your pain or said it didn’t matter?

It matters to me. There, I said it. Now let’s eat some cake.

 

Now Is the Time to Overreact

I’m a woman. So I’m no stranger to overreacting.

I mean, I’m a woman, I’m no stranger to being told I’m overreacting.

And overreacting is bad. It’s not reasonable is it. It’s not rational. Zeal is way out. Overreacting is passe. We hear things, snippets of things, small ideas or words and think these things:

  • That’s a minority opinion.
  • Everyone knows that’s crazy.
  • They don’t mean it.
  • There’s a kernel of truth.
  • Listen to the other things they’re saying.
  • Give them another chance.
  • You didn’t hear it right.
  • You’re misinterpreting.
  • Maybe he’s a racist, but he’s a nice guy otherwise.

So we let behavior slide, and we let words slide because we don’t want to make a big deal out of something that is “probably nothing”. And we have been doing this, culturally, for years and we have done it most profoundly harmfully to minorities in this country.

Here’s the things I have myself though in response to racism around me:

  • I don’t want to get into politics with him.
  • He’s an idiot, of course he thinks that.
  • This isn’t the time or place.
  • I don’t know enough about this to say whether he’s wrong or right.
  • I probably am overreacting.
  • Maybe I’m just a bleeding heart liberal.
  • I’m just too focused on the one side.
  • I wasn’t there, how can I really know.

My lack of zeal is the problem. My willingness to let things slide is the problem. My stance toward casual racism is in part what contributes to an entire country having a casual approach toward racism. And it’s easy to be casually racist, because it requires you to do nothing but think and act defensively. To remind yourself when you hear about racism that

  • It’s probably not how it actually went down — the media skews things in favor of minorities.
  • They’re making things difficult for themselves.
  • If they’d just focus on keeping their heads down and doing work this wouldn’t be a problem.
  • It’s not like I have it that much easier.

This is an absence of zeal. An absence of love. An absence of empathy. This is selfishness. This is apathy. This is complacency. This is rationalizing.

I’m a good protestant. I believe in total depravity. And because I believe in this wholeheartedly, it is my job to work against it with every fiber of my being, in my own self and in the world at large.

There are too many Christians who believe in “tough love” to minorities. The old adage “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps”. They believe that minorities ought to put in a little effort and try a little harder to earn the support — financially and otherwise — from the Christian community.

This is completely against the saving grace of God and the state he found me in when he saved me.

We are not to reach out to the oppressed because they earned it, they deserve it, or they’re worth it. We are to reach out to the oppressed because we are to show the love of God to whomever we can.

Sin is easy. Sin is the natural default. Doing nothing is easy. Doing nothing is the default.

Be zealous. Be loving. Start in your small circle to take the important stance that racism in all its forms and colors is not okay. It’s sinful.

It is when the majority of people do nothing, that insanity is free to reign. This has been shown in history time and time again and in every age the human reaction is the same.

  • I’m probably overreacting.
  • It’s probably going to pass.
  • This isn’t that big of a deal.

Please, overreact to racism. Please overreact to ideologies that inflame violence, incite hatred, and beget pain. Things pass only when we take a stand against them. Things only become unacceptable when we say they’re unacceptable.

I’m terrified of what my friends and neighbors will think of me being so passionate about this topic, isn’t that tragic? I’m afraid of what they’ll say about me.

But if I’m being totally honest, I’m more afraid of what the future will say about me if I don’t stand up and speak up for what’s right. I’m afraid for the people who will get crushed under the wheel of my apathy. I’m afraid for the people I could have helped, but didn’t because it didn’t affect me. I’m afraid of the way history will remember me if I’m okay with what’s happening now. I’m afraid of the history we’re creating because we’re unwilling to overreact.

I Can’t Say “No”

I’m never too busy. It’s impossible. I’m single. All I have is “me” time. And yet I can go several weeks at a time feeling that it’s impossible to take a clean breath of air, overwhelmed by tidal ways of obligations and activities that I genuinely wanted to do, until they were all scheduled for tomorrow, or oops, is it today?

Last month I decided on a novel concept. I was going to stick to my obligations only — that I’d scheduled a month or so earlier — and I was not going to add to my weekly plans unless I was confident it would be a positive experience that would be enjoyable, and presumably non-taxing.

In summary, last month I practiced saying “no”. You wouldn’t think I have trouble with that word, with telling people that one thing, with disappointing them. There’s something about my face that indicates I say it on the regular, but the reality is I HATE saying no to people. I hate canceling plans, rescheduling plans, or saying outright that I won’t be doing something.

I’m especially bad when the phrasing is “do you have time?” because, as has probably been sussed out, I’m single. All I have is time. I also have a very flexible schedule that allows me to shift priorities or obligations. Like sleeping and eating.

I’ve often confused the concepts of “can” and “should”. It’s taken more time than I feel is reasonable to admit that just because I CAN do something doesn’t mean I should. It certainly doesn’t mean I’m the right person for the job. Availability doesn’t equal aptitude.

What I learned in my month off is that my priorities are different from those of the people around me, and that — to some degree — I have very good priorities that I should focus on. That it’s okay to say “no” to people in favor of the things that I value. I also learned that simply because I’m asked doesn’t mean I’m required. Sometimes I’m just an easy ask.

Most importantly I discovered that saying no isn’t the worst thing you can say to someone. It doesn’t crush them, ruin their day, destroy their hopes, or tear down God’s master plan.

Amazing what can happen with a month of clarified priorities.

Now of course, it’s August and I’ve totally shot that horse in the face with overbooking my first two weeks. I learn, but I learn very, very slowly.

Which is fine, there are weeks ahead of me with whole nothings planned, and now I know how to keep them safe from all the busyness I usually can’t resist.

Unmothers’ Day

I may stay single permanently, and for me, that means giving up motherhood. Some might debate this–I have friends who have done artificial insemination, or adopted or fostered children. I do not think this is a path down which I shall go, personally. So for me, one of my occasional difficult emotional battles around singleness is when I wrestle with the idea of never being a mother.

Not only do I give up the idea of physically popping out (ew gross, I hate that term) a child of my own body, but I have to give up on my perceptions of what a role of motherhood means to me. When my younger brother and sister and I played together as kids, they went out on adventures from the playhouse. I stayed inside, tidying up and cooking “dinner” for their triumphant return. I hung curtains. I drew pictures for the walls. I set the table.

Motherhood and homemaking, to me, always seemed to be ideal roles in life. To do it well, you had to enjoy being creative–my mom, for example, sewed, cooked, read, and did all kinds of projects for fun, some for budgetary considerations, and mostly for the sheer joy of creating beauty around us. She shopped and thrifted and planned and reupholstered things, arranged simple and affordable meals to look lovely, used the nice plates for birthday cake, and worked side by side with my dad on Saturdays to clean up the yard. As a pretty sensitive kid with a soft spot for beauty and a love for making things, I saw the potential in the role, and from early on, looked forward to that life.

It’s been a long and difficult process to give up the idea that in missing out on falling in love, I’ve also somehow missed out on my dream ‘career,’ in a way. But it’s deeper than that, too. I remember thinking about the millennium when I was about 9 years old. I calculated my age–I’d be twenty years old. Of course that seemed like a VAST age, old and wise, and far removed from impending teenagerhood. I wondered what life would be like. I’d probably be married, I thought, and have one, maybe two kids by then. (haha, kids, amiright?)  I thought maybe it would be fun to have a baby in the year 2000–a true millennial. In reality, the year 2000 was my second year at university, and I had to laugh at myself as Y2K came and went, and I was just as close to marriage and babies, apparently, as I had been at 8 years old.

Singleness means giving up Grandmotherhood. I mean, it means giving up grandmotherhood for me, obviously. But it also means giving up seeing my parents as Grandparents. It was a tense, long time of wondering for my parents, if they would ever be grandparents. My mom endured plenty of ‘Gratefulness Brags’ from her friends about their many grandchildren. Thank goodness I now have nieces from my sister and brother-in-law. At least one of the four of us kids has given my parents the chance to enjoy being grandparents, and I love watching my mom and my little niece Lucy develop their sweet relationship–I love seeing my dad laugh at her antics and proudly take pictures holding her sweet tiny sister, and hearing him tell me how he held me the same way, stretched along his forearm with my preemie head in his hand.

I love every rich moment with my family, and I don’t regret a single one, nor would I trade them. They are special in a different way for me. I’ve been able to be there within hours of both my nieces being born. I’ve been able to bring gifts and shower attention on my sister. I’ve been able to spend time with my siblings and parents in different ways than if I had family obligations of my own.

All the same though–I feel a little bit on the outside of things. I watch my sister and our mom talk about parenting, discipline, stages of growth, medical needs. I watch them develop something new and different in the way they treat each other with respect and kindness, the way my sister reaches out to my mom for help and advice and time, and the way my mom lights up when she sees her grandbabies, and when she watches her daughter be a mother. It’s beautiful, and I still do think of that relationship with longing.

Odds are I may never know what it’s like to be a mother. And people may say you can’t miss what you never had, but that’s a lie. I miss, sometimes, what I would have been, what would have changed in me through the deeps and darks and dreams of motherhood.

The Daily Fraidy-cat

Sometimes for me, being single means facing fear every day. It means looking the cultural expectations of the American Dream life trajectory straight in the eye and saying “you don’t define me.”

It means responding with kindness and presence instead of embarrassment when people make inadvertently rude comments about feeling old-maidenly at age 23, or when married friends say equally insensitive things like “you don’t know what tired/wisdom/anxiety/joy/frustration/love is, until you have kids/a husband.” Recently at a family wedding, I was standing next to my brother-in-law watching my niece play, when the photographer walked up and said “let me get a picture of you two!” Not that I don’t like my brother-in-law, but I could tell the photographer thought we were a couple, so I smiled awkwardly, and when he was done with the photo, I said “do you want to take a picture of him and his WIFE?” “OHhh, sure…” said the photographer, realizing his mistake. It’s hard to know what to do in those moments. It takes constant attention to respond out of grace instead of sadness or fear.

Part of that fear is related to really giving up on family. The obvious interpretation is the giving up of a ‘family of my own.’ But it also means giving up my birth family in some senses, because I cannot be healthy and remain a dependent child forever (at least, so my counselor tells me); and yet in so many ways I still identify and feel needs for family support, advice, and influence, especially when making larger life decisions.

Being single means accepting that those decisions will never truly matter as much to anyone else as they will to me. When it comes to what jobs I do, or where I live, or what financial choices I make, I’m the only stakeholder. And yet, making big life decisions like moving, buying a car, or career decisions in a vacuum just doesn’t seem wise. I crave investment and wisdom, perspective and assistance in a very noticeable way. Self-sufficient as I can appear at times, it’s (a bit of) an illusion. No one is totally self-sufficient, nor should they be. Just because no one is present to witness my breakdowns of helpless fury, grief, or how-can-i-get-it-all-done low points, doesn’t mean they don’t happen.

One thing I’m afraid of is fitting into the stereotype of being self-focused and selfish. The truth is, trying to stand on my own two feet does take a ton of energy. I balance work, housework, finances, househunting, lawnmowing, future-planning, traveling to family events because they’re never at the single person’s house…and so on. And while I say this, I can hear my married and parent friends laughing ruefully and unbelievingly. But I’m not joking. I realize that taking care of kids is a more than full-time job, and that part of the reason my married and parent friends are laughing has a lot to do with sleep deprivation and exhaustion, and all they really want is what I have plenty of…a few quiet moments.

But when, for example, my car breaks down, my life becomes singularly devoted to the task of getting to work, the car shop, and home. It takes up all my spare time, all my spare money, and all my spare focus.

So, am I self-focused? YES. I am. Because very few others are focused on my life in a real, practical way. People are around, and happy to have me around occasionally. But when it’s tax time, I’m in the trenches alone. No one is going to sit down (at least, unpaid) and muddle through the tax code voluntarily. When I have to decide whether I’m going to live with a roommate or pay the higher rent to live on my own, no one’s going to make that decision with as much at stake as I am.

Doing these big things alone is scary sometimes. What if I get it wrong? What if I end up bankrupt? What if I lose my job or  get sick, who would help me? What if I die in my apartment on a Friday night? NO ONE WOULD FIND ME FOR AT LEAST 3 DAYS! They might wonder where I was…they might comment that I hadn’t shown up for work. but they probably wouldn’t start raising the alarm for real until Tuesday morning. You see? These are the morbid, real possibilities of singleness.

While being single certainly has its advantages, and it can look luxuriously quiet and self-focused from the outside, especially from the position of a noisy family, it still carries at least its fair share of daily fears.

Single and Selfish

Single living is a double edged sword (the same could be said of married living, but I’m speaking from experience on a blog for single people, so we’ll set that aside for now). On the one hand, you are entirely and completely responsible for you. Your health, your funds, your activities, your habits. It’s hard work not being accountable to someone else for your own survival, let alone thriving in an environment with no other guidance than your own decision making habits.

At the same time, due to an intense, natural focus on yourself, it’s easy to become too self-involved, too self-focused, too selfish. It’s hard to keep it from happening, because again, it’s just you deciding these things. Am I tool selfish? Do I put myself before others too often? What’s too often? What’s “putting myself before others”?

This past week I got what I assumed was a very nice letter from a young friend (how did I become old enough to have young friends??). I love getting letters. Letters mean someone took time out of their day to think of me. It’s the ultimate sign of affection and friendship. Alas, it was not a letter. It was a mission’s trip request for financial assistance.

It did however have a nice handwritten (legible) note at the bottom which is almost worth more than a typed personalized letter (I have very strong opinions on letters).

But this request put me in one of the ultimate single person conundrums: How much time and money should you/do you spend on taking care of yourself, vs how much on others? I’ve got a tight enough budget as it is, can I afford this surprise mission trip? How much can I support it? SHOULD I support it?

There’s a popular conception that single people have oodles of time and money on their hands. This is of course, wrong. But try arguing that to a married new parent. Money and energy drip out of their lives quicker than a sieve.

That being said, it doesn’t leave single people, or older retirees, holding the energy and money bag for everyone else. Honestly I don’t want to spend a lot of time here comparing singles and married and their financial or energy levels. I’ve talked a little about that already. Here. and Here.

No, I’m here to address what happens if you don’t have a partner to bounce your perspective off of on a regular basis. Someone who checks your impulses and your ideas. Someone who says “get outside your comfort zone” or “babe, that’s not in the budget.” Or even my favorite, “we’re watching Netflix that night, we can’t go to that thing.”

In my case I needed someone to give me some perspective on financially assisting in a trip. It’s a small enough thing, but it mattered to the friend going and it mattered to me. But I worried that like Michael from the office I’d end up contributing $20/mile instead of twenty dollars total. It’s great to have friends that act as safety nets.

Sure, you can make a budget, you can be aware of your time, but how do you know the limits you’re setting are good limits? After all, you’re deciding them for you. And you, though knowing all about you, are kind…how shall I say this? Of limited and singular perspective.

I find myself gut-checking frequently with my friends. They know me well, but they also see my flaws in a clearer light then I can. So on the days when I’ve got strong opinions (shocker) on something, they’re the ones I go to for a “did I overreact” evaluation.

Sometimes we disagree. Sometimes their response is more along the lines of “put yourself out there”. Or sometimes it’s a “no, you made the right decision. They’re asking too much of you.” Just yesterday I had a small meltdown and my friend informed me that I was being just a touch “self-involved?” was how she delicately phrased it, as if it was a question and not a very obvious fact. Thank God for people who have guts to say things that sting.

But if I didn’t have these friends?

I know just enough to know I should probably get a second perspective. So go out there and get a second perspective, or a third. Just make sure the voice in your head isn’t just your own, and that every once in awhile, every once in a great blue moon, you make yourself a little bit uncomfortable.

Well anyway, that’s just one perspective.

Giving Up and Getting Over, Part 2

In last week’s post, I shared, frustratingly, half of a story. Now you get the rest.

So here I was, on the brink of a potential–something. A relationship? A friendship?

We exchanged notes a few times a week. Long letters.

The notes got briefer as we both ran short of time. Soon I was sending paragraphs; he was sending sentences. I felt a slight prickle of worry. But it was a busy season.

And then the responses stopped.

I waited for two months. Two months that included my birthday. For the past years, even though we had never met, he had always wished me a happy birthday. But there was nothing this year.

Thanksgiving passed. Nothing.

I spent much less time composing my next letter. I sent him a note giving him a graceful out.

He responded quickly; “I’m sorry, I’m bad at keeping in touch long-distance.”

That was it. What, after all, did I have to lose? Hope, that’s what.

Year 36. Having asked out the only person I had truly liked for a span of unspecified years, I felt curiously hollow. In Hannah Hurnard’s allegory Hinds Feet on High Places, Much-Afraid asks the Shepherd to remove the ‘plant of human love’ growing in her heart. She knows it will be painful, as its roots grow deep, and it is. The deep roots are torn out, leaving a jagged wound.

Perhaps it’s good that I didn’t get a flat rejection. I don’t know that I could have handled it. Rather than having the deep-rooted plant yanked up violently from the earth that had fostered it for so long, it was more like a bird leaving the nest. I’d coddled this little bird of hope, and kept it safe and warm, and fed it on little scraps of conversations, reading between the lines of comments and ‘likes’. I faced my fears when it started flying, little hops and trips from the nest, and was glad when it came home to rest. But that was only temporary; and one day, the little hope-bird didn’t come back home. A gentle leaving, but still, the unworded pain of losing something precious that I never owned anyway. The pain of watching the horizon for signs. The pain of resignation to the unwanted truth.

I still sometimes wonder how and why it happened, like everyone who’s been disappointed by the outcome of a failed relationship. What happened along the parallel journey from Very Interested to Not Interested Enough? How did we start out from the same point and arrive at such different destinations?

So, here I was, hollowed out, empty of my long-term hope at the end of a short-term blind date of sorts, and pondering the new/old problem of what long-term singleness really means to me, this time at age 37.

I’m now in my late thirties, having been somewhat unwillingly single most of the time. A friend recently told me that at age 27, having heard the whispers that she was being maybe too picky, maybe waiting too long, she decided that she would go out on every date she was asked on, unless it was clearly an insincere or negative situation. She made herself give each guy two dates, at which point she was free to say no, if she chose to. And following this protocol, she fairly soon met her husband. I thought that was great. Laudable. Smart. Kind. Important to make that choice. Bit difficult to make that determination if you’re never asked out. It’s kind of like giving up cigarettes for Lent when you don’t smoke anyway.

I have, in fact, said yes to probably a similar percentage of dates, in far smaller proportion, to my cute-as-a-button, outgoing, bubbly friend. So ‘never’ is slightly hyperbolic–but only slightly.

I lived in the Bay Area after college for three and a half years. Young, single, employed, urbanish–the ideal single years, right?  I was never asked on one date. I had friends, jobs, meaningful side projects, a church, volunteer activities. I wouldn’t trade those years. But not one “could I take you out for dinner sometime?,” nor yet a “wanna catch a movie?” in my post-college days. (speaking of college–I don’t mention it because at my smallish university, the ratio of females to males generally ran at about 3 >1, a common situation for small religious institutions.)

Upon returning to the Northwest in my late twenties, again, I went out on a few dates. Some, I certainly turned down. Again, I had friends, jobs, meaningful side projects, a church, small groups. In Seattle, I went out on several dates over a period of 6 months with “The Deacon,” a kind, smart, thoughtful friend of a friend. We had many good conversations, and talks. I just couldn’t connect with the relationship, and I drifted away from it–much like my online friend drifted away. Ghosting, it’s called. Perhaps it’s Karma.

It’s difficult to understand how I can want marriage, and family, and love, and yet not be able to make them happen. Perhaps some will say I could and maybe should fight harder. I wish I could say, ‘this is what I want, here are my options, I choose door a, b, c,’ and figure it out from there.

I have to remind myself sometimes that I’m not where I am in life because it’s an accident. I wasn’t overlooked by God, somehow. I did choose, somehow, to be where I am. I said no and yes to opportunities and made decisions that got me here, to 37, to a life without some of the relationships I thought or assumed it would include. It’s also a life with relationships that are good, and surprising, and wonderful in ways I never could have predicted.

So perhaps I can remind myself by writing this, that there is a reason to write still about singleness, even if it’s as simple as because I am single today. And what it means to be single, and how it changes and shapes how I think and learn and love and interact with the world should be honored, and expressed, and questioned, and corrected, and understood, and even–maybe–loved.