Giving Up & Getting Over, Part 1

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t been writing much lately. Some of you probably don’t even know that this blog is supposed to include posts from two people who agreed to do it together, and I am the lame duck half of this arrangement.

We can pin it on work, which has been busy and absorbing for the past year-and-a-half, a move or two or three, and other things which are boring to list because they’re really just life things that everyone deals with. Add to that, TV that must be watched because…well, it must.

We can blame it on whatever we want to, but the truth is I’m not writing much these days for my own personal enrichment about being single. In my twenties, I had a lot–too much, actually–to say about being single. To be fair, there IS a lot to say about being single that needs to be said. I’m just a bit tired of it all, these days.

Part of the reason these stories must be told is because the cultural narrative of ‘the life well-lived’ in the American Dream sense is quite narrow. It leaves many people in the margins, wondering what that vision means for them once they go off the rails of the well-trodden path of childhood-teenagedream-collegepartyanimal-sexysingle-married-marriedwithkids. Speaking from the margins, reminds people–me included–that they are not the only ones who live there. And they (me) need to be reminded, to have those “oh, me too!” moments.

So all that is to say that I still believe writing these stories and experiences down and sharing them matters. And yet, I find myself struggling to do it. I wonder sometimes if I’ve just given up on the whole issue of my personal struggle with singleness. Given up trying to make sense of it. Given up trying to fight it. Given up trying to change it.

The truth is that I stopped writing right around the time that I ended a very brief online friendship/conversation/flirtation with someone I had secretly been interested in for a very long time before that. (I don’t want to tell you how long, but let’s just say it’s a “you’re justified for judging me” length of time). We had never met in real life. (it took me forever to write that sentence and I changed it 27 times, and it never got better. So I’m now just putting it in there as bald truth.)

There it is. I had fallen in love with a hope. It wasn’t a fantasy, either. The dream had a connection to reality, which actually made it worse than if it was total fiction. It was possible. Not probable, but possible. So when I fell in love with hope, several years earlier than last fall, that small sense of potential kept me a little bit insulated from the ups and downs of being single and lit my path through the darker elements of being alone, struggling in a career, navigating difficult roommates, and surviving the marriages of two younger siblings and twenty-five or so friends.

The fall of 2015, for some reason, was the time for change. I started a new job, was preparing to move to an adjacent city, and one day I simply decided that the half-hearted letters introducing myself that had piled up in my drafts folder had to stop. Potential wasn’t good enough anymore. I kept asking myself “what have you got to lose?” After all, he didn’t go to my church, wasn’t someone at work, he wasn’t even in a community nearby–if it was an awkward “no thanks” in response to my carefully crafted question, it would change nothing in my life, and disappoint no one in my immediate circles. This may seem like an odd benefit, but it’s difficult enough to develop good friendships in your 30’s without then alienating those friends by dating and/or dumping their friends. I’ve damaged near-lifelong relationships by disappointingly not falling in love with a friend of a friend.

But back to the crucial moment of hitting send. After all, I was 35. It was about time I asked someone out on a date.

So I wrote the note, and sent it. Then I shut down my computer and went to bed. I even deleted the app from my phone. I couldn’t bring myself to open my inbox the next morning, so I waited for my lunch break. I couldn’t melt down in the office, after all.

There was a response. It was kind. He was flattered. He was funny. He appreciated the note, and said “I would be very interested in getting to know you better.”

VERY INTERESTED.

I was suddenly the incarnation of joy. I’d never felt so elated. For one thing, I was right. I am always afraid of my reads on people, especially men. But I had read the situation correctly. Maybe my intuition was actually working in my favor this time.

I had been brave, thought I, patting myself on the shoulder, and sacrificed potential on the altar of truth. I had killed my darling. It had taken me years, and tears, and wondering, and doubting, and being afraid to exchange the phantom potential for a concrete answer. I had words, actual words. Words of affirmation, and appreciation, and kindness.

I wondered why I had been so afraid. I think I smiled for days. So this was it. This was what I had been waiting for fifteen years. It all seemed worthwhile, where in the past this long-term single situation of mine had felt arbitrary, desolate, and punishing.

Next week: Part 2

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“Dear Future Husband” Phenomenon

There is a wealth of crap that happens in a Christian environment under the guise of purity and chastity that is simply an outlet for personal desires or personal fantasy. In other words, we cloak selfish impulses with religious over-spiritualization. It’s gross.

If you’ve ever heard someone say to you, “God really laid it on my heart for me to pray for you about [that thing you do that I find personally annoying]”, you know what I’m talking about. Using God as authoritarian wish-fulfillment isn’t okay.

One of the worst ways I see this is when we urge and encourage young girls to write “Dear Future Husband” letters.

Young women, pre/during/post(?)-puberty, are urged to write letters to the man they’re one day going to marry. These letters are often a prayer for their future husband or a relating of current difficulties. They’re supposed to be designed to help women safeguard their hearts (and virginity) for their once and future husband. They’re also supposed to be designed to help the premature bride be mindful and in prayer for the spiritual strength, stability, and well-being of their future husband.

Some women keep this practice up through their teen years, some till the day they marry. And then there are those other “some” who don’t have a cut-off date. Those whose letters are never going to be delivered.

These women who were let down by God because he clearly promises, in the Bible, marital stability and protection for as long as you —

It’s not in there? Huh. But you wrote letters! Why didn’t God answer your letters with a husband? After all, most people do get married. Why not you?

The problem with this letter, is that it seeks to bind God to a desired future outcome. It aspires to dictate to God (through a pure desire for marriage!) that you will eventually definitely have a marriage. It takes youthful insecurity and assuages it with a promise of fulfillment. If you’re writing the letter to someone, then that someone must exist!

Trouble is, I could have written a thousand letters to my future self. My …traveling archaeologist self. The self I wanted to be when I was fifteen. And reading those now, what would I think about it? After all, my dreams were pure and good. I was going to travel and uncover God’s truths hidden in the earth. I was going to witness to many around the world! Why doesn’t God want that for me?

By attempting to tie God down to a future world we miss out on the incredible future he has planned. One that’s unknown, scary, heartbreaking, definitely disappointing in some ways, but jaw droppingly amazing in others. We miss that when we’re busy trying to get God to keep our self-promises.

Marriage IS something that you shouldn’t walk into blindly, it’s something you should enter with consideration and prayer and preparation. In this regard, it is right and good. Praying for your spouse is an excellent idea. Keeping your own heart saved for your marriage is also an excellent idea.

Never be afraid to prepare yourself for good things in life. But remember that what God considers good is not always what you consider good. Don’t bind God to your small vision of future happiness.

If you truly do insist on writing letters (and who am I to stop you? I love a good letter). try writing “Dear God” letters. Tell him your hopes and dreams and wishes and watch how he uses them, changes your heart, and gives you answers to dreams you never could have written.

Don’t Always Be Like a Lady

I had a physical therapy appointment this week, got new instructions on how to properly build muscles in my legs. My therapist’s parting words were, “when you stand up, don’t have your knees together. You’ll want to keep them shoulder width apart.” I’m sure he thought this was a simple trick to help build muscle in my legs, but for me it was revolutionary.

As a girl, from the second you start wearing dresses you are told to keep your legs together. Standing, sitting, reclining, legs should be together. I remember when I found out that the ladylike crossed legs position wasn’t good for blood flow. I felt irritated that I’d have to instead keep my knees together because it took so much more energy and focus then simply crossing your legs.

When you get a hip replaced these instructions are even more seriously followed and you learn not to cross your legs at all because it’s bad for the replaced joint. But it wasn’t until today that I realized that sitting like a lady was bad for me either way, replacement or not.

My first reaction to my physical therapist’s announcement was “It’s going to look so indiscreet if I’m wearing a dress! And it’s going to look so mannish if I’m in pants!” Can you believe this was my very first reaction to my therapist’s simple advice? How would it look to someone else. I hadn’t realized how ingrained my concepts of femininity were with my every day movements.

In my head the concept of femininity was the overriding value — at least initially — trumping my own health and mobility.

Of course, that’s not really foreign to women, is it? How often do women, in search of beauty or femininity, harm their own bodies? We could go all the way back to ancient practices of foot binding or killer makeup made with mercury, but that isn’t necessary. Hair removal fits the bill nicely, given that hair is a protective layer on every human body, particularly around the pubic area, and that hair removal can and often does lead to infection. We could talk about risky surgeries people undergo to modify their appearance, or eating disorders.

The quest for femininity and beauty doesn’t have to be toxic, but we continue to make it that way ourselves. We often sacrifice our own health and well-being for the fleeting sensation of physical perfection, or the approval of others.

To be honest with you, for me, losing muscle around my legs is too high a cost for being ladylike. Maybe I won’t come off as refined at the next cocktail party, but I’ll certainly be a lot more comfortable.

 

Advice to High School Me

I hated getting advice in high school. It was never practical, it was always world weary.

  • “You thought high school was hard? Wait till college.”
  • “Professors aren’t like teachers. They don’t let you get away with anything.”
  • “Forget about your high school friends, you’ll make better ones at college.”

What I wouldn’t have given for something like, “You don’t have to ask permission to go the bathroom in class. Just leave.”

Alas.

Anyway, the advice I found particularly grating was that “forget your friends” pearl of wisdom.

I’m stubborn by nature, and I’m hard to advise, but I think anyone balks at the idea that those who are closest to you at this very moment might not be so close to you in a year, or four years, or ten years. It minimizes the effect these people have had on you, and you on them. It detracts from the value your youthful friendships have on your adulthood.

It also makes fate out of something that is in fact a choice, as most relationships are. It’s always your choice to stay close to friends who may be distant from you. It’s also hard as hell, which is really what the problem is. People underestimate how hard it is to keep friends once you stop seeing them daily.

We also underestimate the appeal of finding friends in college who are categorically different from high school friends by virtue of several criteria. College friends have the common ground not only of school, but of living and dining quarters. And by the time you graduate, most of your friends are in a related career field by virtue of all your common classes.

High school friends are not always chosen, sometimes (particularly at a small school), because of shared interests. Often you find yourself content to befriend people who may actually be quite different from you, but you flex toward each other because you crave the relating that comes from friendship. This makes these friendships unique, sometimes odd when you look back, but also harder to maintain. What do you have to talk about once you lose that common ground of…literal common ground.

In truth, and in part because of the advice I got to ditch my high school friends, I clung to them with sharpened claw-like nails. I called everyone, all the time. I wrote letters, I had them visit, I IMed everyone all the time. I was obsessed and paranoid, and as a result I didn’t make a lot of lasting friends at college. But post-college I also was able to come back home and resume many of those high school relationships with ease. (However, it’s almost easier to get lazy about friends in proximity and lose them through virtue of “I’ll see them next week/month/season”)

Here’s my turn at some “friend” advice for college. Make good friends where you can. There are a shortage of perfect people in the world, so if you find one of those gems, hold on to them (maybe not with claws). It’s entirely possible you found one (or many) of those gems in high school. While that means you had an awesome high school experience, it does mean college will be tricky for you when it comes to finding a way to balance your history with your new life.

Try. It’s never bad to at least try and put effort in to holding onto good friends, wherever you find them. If anything, it builds some kind of decent character.

Yeah okay, there’s a reason “ditch your high school friends” is much more liberally sprinkled about. It’s shorter.

How about this, then: Make good choices. I think that says it all, doesn’t it?

 

Romancing the Introvert

There’s always two types of people in the world. Those who like lima beans and those who do not. Those who drink loose leaf tea and those who drink bag tea. And then of course, introverts and extroverts. Never the twain shall meet, and yet always cursed to follow hopelessly in love (like those anti and pro lima bean lovers).

I was chatting with a friend just yesterday about the difficulties in wooing the extrovert and the introvert. With the extrovert the challenge seems to be that an extrovert is often nice to everybody and it’s impossible to tell if they’re flirting, because they may just always be flirting.

My friend asked me how I, as a consummate introvert, showed my own romantic interest in anyone. How might one expect to find out that an introvert was interested in a romantic relationship, was the question.

My flippant response is, “you don’t”, but this is a blog and not a punchline, so we’ll strive for something a little more in depth than that.

There’s an old favorite movie of mine, Romancing the Stone about a romance writer who goes to Columbia to find a mysterious treasure to exchange in ransom for her sister’s life (I’m going somewhere with this, hang on). Along the way she meets up with an opportunistic fortune hunter who says he’s helping her, but are his intentions good? His motives pure? The title comes from this conflict: is he romancing the stone right out from under her.

This is basically how you romance an introvert, from what I can tell. Introverts have deep focused interests — like our romance writer and the buried treasure. They’re usually perceptive, and always fascinating people. If you can find out what fascinates them, and genuinely share in it, I think you’ll find any introvert a willing recipient of your attentions.

Introverts like to be heard. It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But for the most part introverts are people with worthwhile things to say, they just don’t think anyone’s really listening. If you listen, that goes the distance.

What’s doubly intriguing is that once you start learning about what an introvert is intrigued by, you’ll get sucked right into it with them. Much like our fortune hunter and his romance writer (oops, spoiler alert!).

For an example: half a dozen years ago a friend of mine introduced me to a foreign film that was so exceptional that I half fell in love with him right then, as the credits rolled. Shared mutual interests create much of the connection for the more introspective of us.

I can’t tell you how an introvert shows their interest in return, however because in this respect I’m fairly certain nothing I have ever done is what should be done to encourage romantic pursuit.

But, hey, I can tell you fellow introverts what doesn’t work, in my experience. Definitely probably avoid making fun of them. If you ignore them, I guarantee they will not notice your affection. Teasing sounds like a good idea, but it usually works itself into sarcasm. Probably avoid this. And whatever you do, don’t stalk them on social media. I can’t explain why, but literally no one will find this romantic. Crazy.

Best of luck to all the introverts and extroverts out there looking for love, or romance, or a relationship with someone intriguing and amazing.

 

How to Grow Your Own Mold

I don’t believe in writing a lot of “how to” blogs, but I do believe in sharing my wisdom and experience. And if you want to know how to grow your own mold it’s very simple, be single and buy food at the grocery store.

That’s it. Well, and wait. It doesn’t take long, just a couple days of “no one can eat that much pesto in five days!” and “I thought I’d eat more salad than that.” And “it’s impossible. Cheese IS mold.”

I can’t understand how people keep full refrigerators. How is anything safe to eat?? I keep a couple staples in my fridge, and even those I need to make sure I consume regularly, almost daily. Including tortillas (which dry out) and cheese (which is highly resistant to a second growth of itself in a different form). I eat a lot of quesadillas is what I’m saying.

I keep throwing out condiments too. And I’ve yet to have a loaf of a bread that didn’t wind up in my freezer to stave off any mold. And this from someone who eats at least once slice of toast per day. And it has to be toast, because something has to thaw out the bread!

Tonight I realized I had seven eggs about to go bad. So I boiled them. All well and good, but a boiled egg goes bad too! (Not to mention you get tired of them eventually) so I made egg salad. You know the google estimated lifespan of egg salad? 3-5 days. Which means I’m eating egg salad every day if I want to make good on my investment at the grocery store of all the additional ingredients I bought to make one recipe so my eggs didn’t go bad.

Eating when you’re single is a fine balancing act between “I really love home cooking” and “this isn’t worth it just for me”, and “I thought I loved this until I ate it every day for a week” and “cheese and crackers is a meal, right?”

My biggest weakness, however, is the friend who says, “I’m bringing pizza” or “let’s go for dinner after work”. Because the truth is, it’s hard to say no to anyone because “I need to eat some leftovers.” And it’s hard to defend to someone else that you’re rejecting them for day or week old anything. “I’m sorry, I can’t. I have ham that’s going to go bad so I need to go home and eat a sandwich. You can have one!”

On my birthday I had a salad because it was going to go bad the next day. This is the kind of sad world single people live in.

To remedy this abysmal condition we singles suffer with, a friend of mine suggested that we combine forces once a week and share a meal. My instant selfish response was, “yay, someone making food for me!” closely followed by “I have no idea how to make something that someone else WANTS to eat”. I mean, I make food I HAVE to eat, but it’s because I made it. I’m under no illusions here.

The trouble is that there are serving sizes for single people out there. Don’t Hot Pockets come one serving to a pocket? And yet, buying one of anything is somehow depressing and isolating. Not to mention wasteful. Have you seen the packaging for a solo product? I might as well start my own lonely landfill.

So I buy things the way husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, dutiful children, and grandparents buy things. I buy them from the grocery store as they are normally packaged. And then I plan my week around the things I bought. I plan my days around the meals I need to prepare and where I need to be to prepare them adequately. Can I take it with me in my lunch? Do I need to have it for dinner? How many dinners is it good for?

It’s an exhausting new neurosis I didn’t know I could have. And it’s MATH related. All those story problems from algebra might be handy after all.

And then of course, there are the days when you buy a Marie Callender casserole of scalloped potatoes and ham, throw in a bag of steamed broccoli and call it nutrition, because math is just too hard on a Wednesday.

The Petty Way of Life

Today I opened a new pack of gum and tried to pluck out a piece, but was rewarded only with the paper tearing. I tried this three or four times until I had a small pile of gum wrapper confetti on my desk, and still no gum. In my head I angrily composed a letter to the gum company about how hard is it to supply consumers with gum they can access and chew on? Would it kill them to make chewing gum the ONE SPOT IN MY DAY THAT WASN’T AWFUL?

Obviously I realized I was on a real tear (pun!) and was being overly dramatic and ragey before I got around to looking up a complaints hotline. In my head I simply added the hashtag #firstworldproblems to my rant and moved on.

But I’ve been thinking about all the little things in the day that can truly ruin what’s going on in life. How absolutely absurd that is, but almost unavoidable. Mostly it happens when I’m conditioned to enjoy myself.

I was staying at a hotel the other week when a series of small annoyances happened. Let me list them as these slights are too fresh to be forgotten:

  • I found a large ant crawling across the carpeting and had to kill it.
  • The lamp next to the couch was out.
  • One of the lamps in the vanity over the sink was out.
  • Housekeeping was bothering me at NINE AM (ON A SATURDAY)
  • The WiFi cut in and out and I couldn’t finish my Bollywood movie (Diwali) and had to watch the REAL TV. (It honestly took me about ten years to figure out where the mute button was on the remote too. I kinda forgot how those things work.)

In the end, when I checked out of the hotel I didn’t mention any of these problems at reception. One, they didn’t ask. And two, I’m petty, but I’m not so petty that I want other people to actually know I’m petty.

But in the moment, on Saturday night, let me tell you something. I was almost incensed. I was so upset that I couldn’t even go to a damn hotel and have a nice time. What? Is it so much to expect my hotel to be insect free?? To have all light bulbs functioning?? To have actual working WIFI???

I don’t have to go to a hotel to be angry about small things though. I can’t be the only one who stacks things on a shelf or on a table and expects them to stay in that exact pose no matter how precarious. I can’t be the only one aggressively bending book spines because the pages turn each time I get up to get myself a snack and I can’t be bothered with a bookmark. Am I the only one, perhaps, who gets pissed when a car going the speed limit keeps me from getting to the light right as it goes yellow and they COAST through while I sit there fuming?

And the longer the day goes on and the more the small problems of the world add up the angrier I get. At almost literally everything.

But if you want to know the truth, having arthritis is a lot like living with a bombardment of petty problems.*  Let me show you what a real average day is like for me (and please, auto-immune conditions are varied enough that you shouldn’t use me as a template for any of your auto-immuney friends).

  • Wake up achey because I turned over weird and now my arm aches for about thirty seconds.
  • Consider sleeping in because I’m still tired. Realize this is exactly how I felt yesterday and we made it through that day so what makes today special.
  • Take out my mouth guard and realize my jaw hurts when I open and close my mouth for about five minutes.
  • Get out of bed and have trouble walking for about three steps, maybe because I just woke up, but also maybe because the bones in my feet can’t remember what it feels like to have my weight on them.
  • Walk into the bathroom, hate my hair because I slept on it weird (this is not arthritis, but I mean, come on, it’s pretty damn irritating)
  • Walk up the stairs to my office, feel a twinge in my foot and panic that I’m going to be limping all day and everyone will ask what’s wrong and I’ll have to say “you know, life.”
  • Sit at my desk and rotate my shoulders, hear them pop, continue working.
  • Feel my wrists ache, consider putting braces on, decide it’s too much work.
  • Open those lever handles on the doors between the hallways, get mildly angry each time because my wrist doesn’t bend like that, but what are you going to do? Stop going through doors?
  • Carry a full water glass and tea mug back to my desk, get stopped halfway and stand there trying to converse and simultaneously wonder how long I can hold these items before I drop them both.
  • Rotate shoulders again, stretch, feel a weird pain come down my arm, decide it’s nothing.
  • Discover my thumb is having a bad day. Try to coddle it without appearing to.
  • It’s 2:30. Tired has crept back up, but it creeps up on everyone so there’s no reason to mention it. Get tea.
  • It’s now 4. I’m acutely aware of my wrists, but I’ve only got an hour left. This is fine.
  • Try to plan a mental meal, realize I don’t care what I’m eating tonight because I’m actually exhausted. Remember I still have errands to run.
  • Drive home? Road rage.

For the record, this is a cliffs notes list. I gave you the moments in an average day that I recall. But right now, because I’m deliberately thinking about this, I’m aware that my elbows ache, have been for awhile now, I think. I’m aware my one shoulder which is NEVER happy is currently unhappy, and that my thumb wants to act up even though we’ve talked about this and we had a deal. I’m thinking about my feet in an uncomfortable/but more comfortable than anything else position, and I’m wondering about the damage I’m furthering in my wrists because I’m not wearing my braces. I’m also wondering about that whole exercise thing. Because body and I agreed we were going to do that, and now body’s like “oh I’m tired” which is true EVERY day, but who’s being a baby now?

It’s all minor, it’s all petty. And most of the time, I don’t even realize I’m in a bad mood because my body hurts until I’ve been harsh to half a dozen people.

On top of all that, I still have energy to get mad at gum wrappers and traffic incidences, people who lack my verbal precision (because I am 100% the best communicator…), and general workplace grievances too stupid to mention.

Everyone’s got their own set of personal petty that keeps coming up, that takes energy to address that isn’t acknowledged verbally or publicly. Maybe it’s even something they think shouldn’t matter to them, shouldn’t affect them. And yet it’s always there, always ready to preemptively ruin a day that you were going to be SO GOOD at. And of course, that adds to the frustration that you’re not handling life well at all, and shouldn’t you be? After all, you’re __ years old, you should know how to do this by now.

But here you are, having a tantrum because the damn door won’t stay fucking shut and WHO MADE THIS ANYWAY WHY WOULD THEY DO THIS TO ME. That’s it. Fine. I’m burning my apartment down.

Petty problems are simply the result of unmet expectation. I expect my hotel experience to be completely luxurious. And if it’s not? Rage. I expect my day to go by unruffled. And when it’s not? Rage.

When it comes to my health…I may have had arthritis for eighteen years, but I’m chronically surprised that there’s always that smidgen of pain. This isn’t how life is SUPPOSED to be, you know? Everyone else is healthy (I know this isn’t true), everyone else is living a life where they don’t have to think about these things, but I have to?

So if you’re wondering why the rants section of this blog is so large, it’s probably this.

I’m sure there’s a better way to handle this. Zen, or yoga or whatever, but to be honest with you, I can’t bend myself into those poses.

 

…time to write another blog.

 

 

*Literally I just mean this for me. If you’ve got arthritis or something else and you mind that I compared arthritis to petty issues in the day, don’t worry, I just mean my arthritis. I don’t mean yours. I don’t know what yours is like, obviously.

Romance: the Quicksand of Adulthood

“I always thought that quicksand was going to be a much bigger problem than it turned out to be. Because if you watch cartoons, quicksand is like the third biggest thing you have to worry about in adult life…” is part of John Mulaney’s intro in his comedy special New in Town.

For me, romance is what my childhood and adolescence billed as one of the most essential aspects of an adult life. According to all the media I consumed, romance was a crucial, critical, life-changing, recurring phenomenon. Since as a hormonal teen you’re already obsessing about your dating life or non-dating life, the external reinforcement of this fixation doesn’t help.

I voraciously read the entirety of the church’s library, which as any other church-going woman knows, is dedicated to Christian couples finding love. Sure, they find God along the way, but the plot ends with romantic culmination. God’s part of the journey, sure, but romantic fulfillment is the happily ever after God promises, or whatever.

Maybe it would have been different if outside my fictional favorites this concept hadn’t been reinforced by friends and adults throughout these years. It’s a concept we (as a culture) start enforcing at a very young age. Pairing toddlers up as “boyfriend and girlfriend”, teasing girls about cooties, asking pre-teens who their boyfriends or girlfriends are, obsessing over when you’ll get your first kiss, the fear of looking like a loser if you don’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend.

When you’re a teenager questions about your love life are as ubiquitous as questions about the weather, and almost as interchangeable in terms of how they affect you: either ruining your day or transforming it miraculously.

I spent hours of my life, in class, creating wedding dresses with my immature artistic talent. Hours planning weddings with doves flying and the appropriate number of bridesmaids. I spent probably decades of life doodling new signatures with different boys’ last names. I wrote notes to friends, we made hasty stupid calls to boys we liked, and came up with every excuse under the sun to get cute boys to talk to us. My friends even organized dances in our small Dutch town (gasp!) to get some decent flirting opportunities in.

It’s hard not to be boy crazy when your entire environment supports this perspective. The scholastic calendar year resolves around three things: the Tolo dance in fall, the Junior and Senior Banquet in spring, and then summer vacation where you are free to obsess about how to get boys to notice you next year. Maybe by tanning, or if you’re lucky, growing bigger boobs over those months.

And yet, I find that as an adult, 99% of my life has nothing to do with romance. The 1% that does have something to do with romance is probably dedicated to watching Pride and Prejudice and When Harry Met Sally once every year. I actually spend most of my time trying to be a functioning human being, holding down a paying job, and being a decent friend and family member.

It’s weird to me now that I expected something from life that turned out to be utterly absent from my life. It’s like discovering quicksand probably won’t be a real life concern I have to deal with. It’s almost shocking how much of life I’ve handled and experienced without romantic love to cloud the scenery. It’s remarkable how much life I’ve managed to enjoy without romance guiding the way.

Every so often it dawns on me that I’m short a romantic sub-plot, and it catches me off guard because how can I be missing something that “great”? Where’s the obvious gap in my life where romance is supposed to go? Even in a TV show like ER romance was a prominent subplot. If it’s not inescapable for busy medical professionals, how is it possible I’ve got such a dearth of it?

The way I figure it is like this: I realized at some point that marriage wasn’t a guarantee for me. I don’t know what the odds are on my successful romancing, but since I knew it wasn’t going to be a sure thing I decided pretty early that I was going to put my energy to the things that mattered for me.

Hell, maybe that’s even the arthritis talking. I have a finite amount of energy anyway, I can’t afford to waste any of it on “I hope something magical happens.”

It’s surprising the sides of yourself you can discover when you’re not worried about landing a male lead in your life. Although the female Indiana Jones of archaeology dream has died, I’ve had the chance to supplant others in its place.

The pursuit of marriage isn’t bad, don’t get me wrong. It’s the pursuit of romance I’ve had to wean myself from. You know in the 31 years I’ve been alive, almost all of the people I haven’t been romantically interested in have been the best people I’ve ever met.

Or put another way, I’ve met more great friends than I have romantic futures.

I know a lot of people desire romance, desire a romance that leads to marriage, and I’m not trying to knock romantic literature (that’s for another blog post) or romance movies (again, another post), but I am trying to say that it’s good to every once in awhile remove ourselves from environments that saturate our minds with romantic fantasies.  It’s important to remember that the bulk of your life is lived outside of romance,

Don’t let pining for romance take away the value of the life you’ve got.  Because in this case, romance is like adult quicksand. Don’t get sucked into the void that fiction can promise.

Relating Gone Wrong

Because we live in a media saturated environment where all opinions are weighted equally until popularity makes one opinion greater than the other, one person greater than the other, we live in a time of poor relating.

Critical thinking and holding your tongue have always been hard for humans. Both require genuine effort. But today it seems as if no one is exercising either ability, so why bother trying it out ourselves?

Recently I attempted to help a friend by sharing my experiences and it resulted in a bad conversation for both of us. Fortunately for me it was just a bad conversation, but for her it was an exchange she carried with her to the end of the day and had to overcome by discussing with a more sympathetic partner.

It’s not the first time I’ve messed up my part of a relationship, and it’s most assuredly not going to be the last. But I’d like to share with you my personal list of no-nos when it comes to how we respond to those who are struggling.

  • “I Win” — I’ve talked about this one before, but it’s any person who hears the issues of another person and says “that’s nothing, I…” and proceeds to illustrate that they’re better than you because of what they can handle and because of who they are now as a person. Winning is the one of the worst tendencies of childhood that gets translated to adults. I hear this one particularly when I say the words “I’m tired”. In our busy-ness oriented society “tired” is a key word to start winning the conversation.
  • Full House Syndrome — This is my neat way of saying “wrap up the problem and put a bow on it.” It’s when someone tries to solve your problem in 30 minutes or less. It’s when people moralize your struggle “for the greater good” or tell you to “look on the bright side”. Neither of which are helpful. Though sometimes helpful is watching an actual episode of Full House.
  • Cosmetic Sufferer — We disguise these as “First World Problems”. Or what I like to consider “inconveniences”. These crop up when I’m annoyed, and they build throughout the day. They’re not actual problems, just an excuse to be in a bad mood and complain to someone else for a little bit of unnecessary sympathy.
  • Self-Inflicted — I have a good friend who does insane things like run 100 mile marathons and scream at mountain lions in the wild to make them go away. She’s incredible, really and I’m always awed by her approach to life. I’ve also appreciated that she doesn’t share a walking chronicle of her injuries that result from her constant harrowing activities. If you’re going to put yourself in harm’s way, on purpose, because you want to, and as a result –surprisingly– you got injured, don’t whine about it. If it was your idea to swim jellyfish infested waters naked for four hours, I don’t want to hear about how often you got stung and isn’t that just the worst. It is the worst because you’re an idiot, not because it happened.
  • Any Opportunity — When I was a kid my sister got glasses. I was so jealous. I wanted glasses. Glasses were cool (she’s my older sister, everything she did was cool). So I lied about how I couldn’t see the chalkboard (yeah, I went to school when there were chalkboards). Truly I couldn’t see the chalkboard but it was because Kelly’s head was in the way. And then I proceeded to lie during the eye exam until I felt guilty and started telling the truth and didn’t get glasses until I was in my 20s and at college — not because I read too many books but because I watched movies on my laptop which was placed on my stomach as I lay in bed. Good times.

The prestige of having a problem is intoxicating. You wonder why there are high drama people in the world? Because having a problem gives meaning. It’s why we have hypochondriacs too, it’s validation. It means people have to listen when you talk.

A good way to tell if you’re a suffering opportunist is to ask yourself “did I consider this a personal problem before I heard someone talk about it?” Or did I perk up and think, “if I rationalize this, I’ve experienced the same thing!”

Being left out — even being left out of suffering — increases feelings of isolation, abandonment, uselessness. It’s natural to want to get in on the angst, it’s also bad for you as a person and bad for society.

  • “I Understand” — I’m prone to this one especially. “I hear what you’re saying about getting kicked in the nuts and I totally know what that’s like as a woman because one time I…” If it hasn’t happened, you don’t know. If you didn’t struggle with it, you don’t know. You might have an idea, you might have heard other accounts, but “I understand” quickly takes all the power from the sufferer in terms of owning and experiencing their suffering in their own way. I’ve noticed that “I understand” is more prominent among white people, male people, and American Christians when it comes to a marginalized segment of society voicing frustration, fear, or concern. Let’s be clear on this. You can have all the facts, you can know the full history, and you still won’t have the experiences. You can’t know.

There are plenty of people who have a hard time living in this world because that’s what got handed to them upon their arrival in this world. Others got every benefit known to man and have encountered many challenges as a result of that “privilege” as well. Life affords every human challenges and obstacles. Everyone understands suffering in their own capacity.

So make sure you give people the chance to express it in their own capacity, give people the space to feel their hardships. Suffering is universal and pervasive and the least we can all do is recognize its presence without trying to moralize it or make it all about ourselves.

Attendance Awards

There’s this business saying, or maybe it’s sports, but whatever it is, the gist is “Showing us is half the battle”, or “showing up is 80% of life”.

That’s pretty inspiring, right? I mean, all you need to do is show up. Just be there.

As a kid I routinely got the “award” for spotless attendance. I was always at school, always in class. Never had a sick day. I had an impeccable record. Not much of an award, really. I mean no one WANTED it and it was kind of like getting a medal for existing. Yeah. I made it to school. My mom drove me.

But if we skip ahead to my Senior year of high school, you’ll find I was rarely in Band, infrequently in Spanish, and the Newspaper class let me write from home. I didn’t win any awards that year. I barely made it to my “necessary” classes before the bell rang. I had random absences throughout the year too. I was barely in school at all. In one class I remember my teacher told me “I gave you the grade you would have gotten if you’d been there.”

The phrase “showing up is 80% of life” is inspiring because it means even if you put in the least amount of effort possible something great can still happen. But I still couldn’t manage to show up to school as a teen. Was the least amount of effort too much effort?

It’s ironic, now that I think about it, how much I flippantly regarded those attendance awards. I can’t believe I thought going to school every day was “no big deal”. I’ve had arthritis every day of my life now for eighteen years. Eighteen years, or the age of a high school graduate who could have had perfect attendance for 13 years of standard US education.

13 is also my age when I was diagnosed with arthritis and when my perfection started to plummet. As someone with a high school graduate level of experience with debilitating illness, let me assure you of something: showing up is not easy.

Showing up is the hardest damn thing I have to do in a day. In any day. Showing up to work, showing up for friends, showing up for responsibilities…being anywhere is hard.

Almost everything I know about life is that the cards are stacked against your ability to show up. The weather can affect your ability to show up. Mechanical failures of any kind — from car accidents to power outages to malfunctioning alarms, an event in someone else’s life — a total stranger — can affect your ability to show up. All of those are externals, of course. And then there are the internals: you’re too tired, too stressed, too sick, too….something.

My birthday was yesterday. Now, half of all adults think it’s not worth mentioning. It’s just another day on the calendar, let’s not make a fuss, or they’d even rather everyone just forgot it entirely. The other half want to celebrate in some capacity. Perhaps a dinner out, a cupcake, a present they got for themselves, a card from a loved one, something to recognize the incredible accomplishment of another year on this earth.

A birthday is a milestone, a victory to be acknowledged. Another year of earth attendance.

I may not be able to show up to all the activities in life the way people think I should, but I’m 31 now, and I’m pretty thrilled about that. Just that. I’ve never understood (yet) the compulsion to lie about age. Aging is miraculous to me. There are so many obstacles to getting old.

Shoot, with my diet, miraculous doesn’t even begin to cover it.

If you ask me, showing up is 100% of life.