Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hitting the Delete Key

Last week I had a bit of an emotional setback. Mr. Corkscrew sent me an e-mail. Not a “Hi, just wanted to see if you’re still breathing,” like the Mad Scientist sent me when I was in London and he was on his way to Paris (but had no time to see me-ouch), but hi via LinkedIn. It was a request to connect with him, “a friend.” He plugged in my name and clicked the friend button. And if that wasn’t enough, he said, “I would be honored if you’d ‘connect’ with me.” And he put a little smiley face behind it, like he was trying to be all suggestive, yet businesslike. “Connect.” What is that, corporate talk for a roll in the hay?

I hate it when someone I’ve held on such a pedestal comes back after a year or more of me dutifully trying to regain my self respect and forget all about just how not into me he really was. And then there he is – bam. Right in my face. And usually, right in my heart all over again. I wanted to write back and tell him I tried “connecting” with him for six years and that got me nowhere. I wanted to tell him he was a big, fat, jerk. But instead, I did something I’ve never done before. Nothing.

What would it feel like, to do nothing? To not unload my hurt and confusion on his plate? Not give him the upper hand by knowing he can still manipulate my heartstrings like a puppet? Not be the weak one?

Actually, it feels pretty good.

It’s been five days and I still have no urge to hit reply. Instead, I hit delete.

This is HUGE for me. I’m a writer. I don’t not write back. And I never delete. Hanging on to old emails, old texts and phone numbers is my stupid link to the men who don’t want me. It’s a whiff of the familiar, the faint memory of a time when I held his hand, or I nuzzled my face against his neck. Looking at the names of those men made me feel like they were still in my life. Even though it was painfully clear they weren’t.

I can’t explain why I do this. Why I keep their memories around. I guess I have always kept a permanent address in the past. But things have changed. I’m 31 now, and feel a little bit taller. I like who I am just a little bit more. I recognize what I don’t want anymore. I don’t want to stay in a place where I’m not welcome.

I’m worth more than that. And I’m certainly worth connecting with people who actually want me around. That’s right, Mr. Corkscrew. You heard me. Go “connect” with yourself. You were never really that great of a networker anyway.

Things to Avoid

As a quest to become more healthy, I decided to create a list of all the things I no longer want to put into my body.

So far the list looks like this:

Things to Avoid
Refined sugar
White flour
Mr. Corkscrew, Mr. Beer Man, Mr. Oily, King Kong and the Mad Scientist

Notice I didn’t say men. I don’t need to avoid men. That was never my problem. Men from my past were the only ones who ever did me any real harm. If I could learn to eat fewer carbs (and that’s hard for me, as I’m a die-hard carb addict), then I could learn to avoid men from my past. After all, it’s not like I’m giving up protein. I couldn’t live without salmon or turkey burgers. It’s just a matter of restructuring my palate. I’ll really miss my homemade oatmeal bread and yogurt with fresh fruit. I’ll miss pistachios and cashews, but I have learned to substitute with things like sunflower seeds and raisins. And oat crackers with blackberry all-fruit jam taste pretty darned good.

So far, I’ve lost the sluggish feeling that normally accompanies a full-on cleanse. The first few days were really difficult and I wanted to jump right off the wagon. And, in the men department, I did. I went to Chicago for a drama-filled week with Mr. Beer Man. But you know, it’s been two weeks and now I’m off everything. Even when Mr. Corkscrew emailed, I managed to hold it all together.

I still haven’t gone off my new plan, and I have more energy, a lot more faith and a renewed interest in vegetables.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Standing at the Platform

It's a funny thing about trains. You always feel them coming.

When you're standing at the platform, it's easy to tell when a train is arriving. Not by any visual cues, though. You feel it. First, the ground shakes just a bit. Then, the wind begins to blow all around you, tickling your cheek and brushing up against your leg. Then, you hear it. It whistles as it lurches forward, the sound of bell and brakes dusting your eardrums at the same time. Then, you see it.

All this warning, though, before the train actually comes.

Sometimes, while I stand there waiting, I can't help but wonder if love arrives in the same way. Do you know when it's coming? Can you feel something before you actually know it exists?

I'm not sure. I like to think that anything that wonderful makes itself known to you purely in feeling and never by sight alone. After all, love is a visceral sort of thing. You feel it pulse gently through your blood, feel its elusive shock across your fingertips. You hear it in your laugh, its echoes sound like waves of warmth when you say good morning to your neighbor. Love, I think, is like a train.

It approaches slowly, and when it arrives, everything about you already knew it was coming and couldn't wait for the door to open.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Breaking Bread

“I was thinking about what you said yesterday,” Mr. Beer Man said as we were walking through the Lincoln Park Zoo. “I realized something about myself when it comes to relationships. I’m selfish.”

When I didn’t say anything for a while, he asked why I was silent. I told him it was because I had no rebuttal. I agreed.

He wasn’t surprised. And neither was I, when he said that he didn’t care.

“It’s who I am,” he said.

His comments helped me realize something very important about who I am. I’m someone who doesn’t want a selfish man. Up until yesterday, I’m not sure I really knew that.

Sure, we don’t ever consciously say we want a selfish man, but so often, that’s just what we get. We get it because we believe it's what we deserve.

In the past I was willing to accept empty relationships because I was empty. I didn’t know any different. I thought I needed very little because I got very little. Now I know better.

After being with Mr. Electrician, I realize that it’s possible for a man to be nurturing, kind, giving and warm. Selfish was never in his genetic makeup. And now, being with Mr. Beer Man, I can see the dramatic differences between these two types of men. And the differences in what I’m willing and no longer willing to accept.

The thing is, I can’t be angry about who Mr. Beer Man is. After all, he’s not. My only job is to either accept him for who he is, or go away because I want someone different.

We went to the Green Market and afterwards, found a spot beneath a shade tree that faced a pond where families floated by on boats in the shape of swans.

“You want more?” he said, holding out a loaf of French bread in my direction.

“No thanks,” I smiled, pushing the bread – and him — away.

When You Want What He Can’t Give, Take Something Else

What if what you came for was something totally different than what you thought it would be?

I thought I was coming to Chicago for a little hand holding and nurturing. I thought Mr. Beer Man was going to wrap his arms around me and kiss my earlobes, telling me it was all going to be okay.

Instead, I got cold dinner alone in a very hot studio apartment. I got him two hours late with no explanation. I got thrown about on the bed with little to no eye contact or words. I got angry.

“You want to do anything tonight?” he asked.

“Yes, I want to listen to some jazz.”

We set out for Clark Street, when he realized he didn’t have enough cash for the cover charge. We spent thirty minutes walking around looking for a bank, which gave us some time to talk. I asked him how he would describe himself as a man.

“How would you describe me?” he asked.

“Overly confident,” I said. “Self involved and driven.”

“You’ve got me pegged,” he said.

How anyone would consider him a prize with those descriptors is beyond me.

I told him it hurt that he came home late and didn’t call. He told me his job is like that and he never knows when he’ll be done.

“If you knew me, you’d know I’m not the type of person who calls.”

“Yes you are,” I said. “You are that person.”

We got into a tiff about how who he really was is different than who I thought he was, but I wasn’t buying it. I see him for the overly confident, self-involved jerk he can be, but beneath that, there’s a ton of heart. He doesn’t show it to everyone, but he shows it to me.

“I consider you one of my best friends,” he said, “and I will do whatever it takes to support you. I want to help you get through this rough patch, but I can’t give you what you need. So don’t try and think there will come a time when that changes. It won’t.”

All I really needed was for him to make me feel human. I just wanted a little tenderness and connection.

“I don’t do that,” he said, point blank. “One day when I’m ready, but only when I decide I’m ready. And that time is not now.”

Beer Man is a very focused person. When he sets his sights on a goal, it will be his, come hell or high water. And when something else just happens to be in the way of all that goal-getting, rest assured it will get trampled.

Like hearts.

He says it happens all the time. Tons of girls want things from him that he can’t or won’t give, and they end up disappointed.

I wasn’t really one of those girls, except in this situation. I had come to Chicago for a little bit of care taking. And he was the one who invited me, after all, under the auspices of being my savior.

“I want you to come here and heal,” he said. “I know you’re going to be so great one day, and I want to help you see that. Just don’t fall in love with me and you’ll be okay.”

That's where the overly confident part of him comes out. I’m not in love with Mr. Beer Man. There was a time, long ago, when I could have been, but we went in different directions with our lives and our hearts. Now, we’re just friends, but every time we meet, the friendship really grows. He frustrates me so much sometimes, but I have to realize that’s who he is.

“I don’t hide what I’m about,” he said.

It’s true. Sometimes we see what we want to see because we want something to be what it isn’t. We want something someone can’t give us, so we try hard to create it anyway.

But tonight I learned that when you don’t get what you thought it was you wanted, take something else. After all, there are always two choices in every situation — to do something or nothing.

“You’re something,” he said.

I’ll take it.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Running on Empty

He was 1.5 hours late. I had cooked a pasta dish with some of the artichoke garlic cream I'd brought back from Italy. I also made a tomato, mozzarella and basil salad.

He wasn't here to eat it, so I watched Tracy Ullman and ate it in the dark.

When he came home (without calling), I tried my best not to do the girl sulk, but he picked up on it.

"I made you dinner," I said.

"Thanks, but I never eat after work," he said.

I thought we discussed this all last night, but apparently I was back to my old ways of mixed up communication with men.

"Just know you can't ever rely on me," he said, turning the TV to baseball.

If only all men were this upfront about their inability to make us happy.

The pasta sucks. And so far, so does my impression of Mr. Beer Man. It was so much better when I only saw him for dinner and "dessert." We never had to live like real people do. And at least I could always rely on him for reservations.

Fifteenth Time's A Charm...Not!

So I've got this problem. I'm what you might call a dating recidivist. I keep making the same mistakes over and over, with the same men. Basically, I recycle my lovers. It really cuts down on the whole "So, what do you do...what's your favorite color" conversation that takes up so much darned time. By recycling, I eliminate the formalities and have a built-in familiarity system. I know what they like and they know what I like. It's comfortable, like a hug and a mug of cocoa when you have PMS.

But here's the thing: you don't need hugs and cocoa all the time. What with the availability of Midol and hard liquor, you probably don't need that junk at all. So going back to it time and time again is really like gorging your gullet with sugar and hugs that suddenly feel constricting. A chocolate-covered boa constrictor. That's what old loves are. Once you get past the sweet, shiny coating, you realize that what's underneath could actually kill you.

I only realized this now, after about the fifteenth time with Mr. Beer Man. Normally, our affairs have been short. Like a day or two, at most. When he came into town, he'd take me out for dinner, lots of food talk and, well, dessert. That was it. It was quick, easy and mutually agreed upon. We were friends with benefits.

The only problem was that I felt I was getting far less benefits than he was. Still, it was a familiar comfort. Sometimes, in a world full of uncomfortable situations and people, it makes all the difference. Now, however, as I sit in a coffee shop in Chicago, where I've come to spend FIVE days with him, I suddenly realize how constricting this all feels. It's not comfortable so much as it is annoying. I don't spend that much time with even my best friends.

I suppose I thought that all the standard rules still applied. But now I find that I'm aggravated by the fact that I get nothing really substantive from this relationship. I like the food talk, but how long is that supposed to hold a person's interest? I find it redundant and silly. I realize that I'm a slow learner. I finally let Mr. Oil Slick out of my thoughts and my heart, but that took six years. And only after Mr. Corkscrew really screwed me over (in more ways than one), did I see him for who he really is. Again, that was a long, six-year lesson. And now, with Mr. Beer Man (who I've also known about five or six years), I realize just how long it takes me to cut the strings. I suppose I'm holding on in the event that something might change. Like lightning might strike and suddenly, love and rainbows will fill the air. And there it was, all along. My perfect other waiting for me. How could I have not seen?

Easy. Because there's nothing to look at in the first place. There never was. I was just too emotionally bloated to realize that.