A How-To On Love

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with someone close to me who I love very much. We discussed a million things as we always do when we finally reach each other on the phone, but one thing in particular has monopolized my thoughts and even awoken me in the night on numerous occasions since.

The topic was love.

When I commented that it is certainly possible to find someone who loves you exactly as you are, her answer was, “Perhaps- if that person just doesn’t know you very well at all. It’s easy to love someone when you don’t know what’s wrong with them.”

It stung.

I immediately did a double take and felt my eyes well up.

Her assertion meant so many things… that some things about me were simply unlovable to her was certainly my first reaction, but also that she was mistaken about one of two things- either that she felt herself only to be worthy of love because she was somehow without flaw or, and far worse a travesty, that she did not believe herself to be wholly lovable exactly as she is. When I tell her I love her, she must think I mean only the pretty parts, or the generous parts, or the kind and thoughtful parts… but that as soon as she becomes tired, cranky, petty, or spiteful, I somehow love this person less. My understanding of her as a person shifted as a fault line ruptures during a massive earthquake. This revelation about her perspective on love explained countless things about her. It fit with the underlying nagging dread I have always had that her love came with conditions and that I had to change even the most unchangeable things about myself to earn it. It also explained why she had difficulty being genuine with people she wanted to impress and often found herself pretending, and then tiring of the façade as we all inevitably do when we must be someone else every day of our lives.

I stand by my conviction that it is possible to be loved for precisely who we are. I know it is possible because I know I am capable of loving people who are tremendously flawed without attempting to change them. It can be difficult to do when your purpose is muddied by things like good intentions, well wishing, or even the perception that someone you love is a reflection on you. I’ve certainly done my share of attempted “fixing”; it never seems as magnanimous to the one being fixed, I’m afraid. More often than not, the recipient sees it as “controlling”, and the truth is they are right. Anything we do to try to fix, change, guide, direct, or manipulate another person is really just that- an attempt at control. And it is all a myth anyway! We cannot control anything another person does. We cannot control how much someone loves us, or how they choose to show that love. We cannot control the choices they make or refuse to make. We cannot control how they behave or who they choose to be. The only thing we can control when it comes to another human being is our own reaction.

I love people who are imperfect. I love even the imperfect parts. Sometimes I even love the imperfections more than the parts they have “finished”. I hope that my willingness to remain silent on their faults will urge them to cut me a little slack when they are noticing mine. Everyone has flaws. Everyone.

Love all of them anyway.

For Her

I sometimes find myself wondering if she hates me.

Especially at moments like this, as I sit in her driveway with the car running, and take one last deep breath before I trudge to her front door to fetch my children, one of whom is in the midst of a screaming tantrum and has probably hurled some vehement words at her to the gist of “You aren’t my mom!” She looks less calm today than usual, obviously frazzled by my daughter’s inconsolable rage over being put in time out and having a stuffed toy taken away. As I try to herd the kids out the door, they exchange one last string of venomous words… I am about to step onto the porch, but I look at her and I’m touched by how upset, disheveled, and clearly distraught over this she appears. I tell her my daughter loves her and I go.

She is my husband’s girlfriend. It sounds worse than it is, really… after a 3 year separation, I often forget we haven’t formalized the divorce with paperwork yet. They have been together for nearly two years now, and she has been a constant fixture in the lives of my children for all but the first month or so of that time. We have rarely spoken, and though every word that has passed between us is civil, I know that the stories she has heard about me from my husband must be terrible. I know this because he is often unable to remain civil with me; I shudder to think what he says when he isn’t watching his tongue. I cannot blame him, though… although I harbor no hard feelings myself, divorce is hard and neither of us can claim to regret nothing we’ve ever said or done.

It was hard at first to share my children with another woman. I thought about these little people I had birthed, and fed from my own breasts their every meal for months of their lives, changed every diaper, awakened to every nighttime whimper, nursed through the darkness when they were sick, held in my arms when they cried… and now they were apart from me half the time and someone else would soothe their hurts and coo them to sleep. My heart ached over it for weeks. I would feel pain when my daughter would show me the nails this woman had painted for her, or a doll this woman had given her. When she told me how much she loved this woman, she might as well have ripped apart my very soul.

I don’t know exactly when I began to feel differently… but at some point, I just did. I slowly began to realize that hearts are different from most other of our world’s creations. They do not have finite boundaries, but grow to fit their contents. I suppose I must have feared initially that my children would not have room to love me as much if they chose to love her, but I have watched closely as they learn to love us both completely. They are happy, healthy, and loved in return. I know that when they are not with me, but her, they are still safe, and I do not lay awake at night wondering about what is out of my control.

It isn’t fair what happens when a marriage ends- how two stories evolve so very differently from each other to make the teller feel less guilt over their own part in what is always inevitably a joint failure. If I could share my thoughts with her, I would not bother with a dissertation on my innocence of whatever wrongdoings have been leveled against me. In truth, I am not innocent of most of them anyway. Neither would I level accusations against my husband of a decade to justify my final decision to give up. I have nothing to say on either head.

I only want to tell her thank you.

For loving my children as her own. For staying calm when the boys fight. For showing my children compassion and patience when it gets difficult. For laying down rules and boundaries without losing her temper. For letting them into her heart. For loving their father and making him a happier, better person. For never being rude to me. For setting a good example. For being kind.

And I would tell her I’m sorry about that temper tantrum; it wasn’t her fault and I never doubted her for a second. She’s doing a damn fine job.

Nine Steps Back to Awesome

At 19, I suffered my first broken heart.  It felt more like an implosion, honestly, combined with the systemic failure of my central nervous system and the rupture of at least a spleen.  It hurt, is the point.  Back in those days, the recovery lasted longer than the entire length of the relationship and I was young enough to actually enjoy the melodramatic wallowing.  I recall remarking that it was romantic to be hopelessly in eternal, unrequited love.  I have an entire album of music born of this first failed romance.

I’m 35 now.  I don’t have time for that shit.  I don’t care how brilliant the resultant ballad or how jerked a reader’s tears are bound to be following the inevitable multi-volume poetry…I barely have the attention span to sit through Pride and Prejudice before I have to get up and run some laundry.  I just don’t have months or years of pining left in me.  To keep up with the times, I had to get good at getting over break-ups since- let’s face it- every relationship I’ve had has ended in one to date.  I have finally found a shortcut that worked so well this last time (I went from “fuck this” to “whoa, I can facebook stalk him and my gut doesn’t even twinge” in about 30 days), that I felt compelled not only to put it into writing, but to share it.  I want everyone I know to benefit from my hard found wisdom. 

Step 1: Over Text Like a Muthafucka

A lot of people will tell you that it is best to maintain your dignity and bow out with grace at the end.  Yeah.  Hm.  Maybe.  I wouldn’t know what that’s like, having never managed it myself.  What I DO know is that everything I’ve ever left unsaid has haunted me for weeks afterward.  I can’t think because I’m rewording every argument, getting in that one last point in my mind, wishing I’d just fit in a couple more really eloquent kidney punches.  This last time, I decided not to let anything go.  A bold move, but I can promise that after two weeks of combined over-texting, facebook IMing, spotify messaging, emailing, calling, and even old-fashioned letter writing, I finally ran out of words- and subsequently all of those nagging thoughts that linger. 

Step 2: Ambien and Wine

It is my natural reaction to try to distract myself with the company of friends and, often, new acquaintances after a break-up.  This time, I decided that was putting off the inevitable- that moment when you have to admit you are alone again.  Instead, I shut it down.  I spent nearly every night at home for four weeks.  Too hard, you claim?  How do you keep from going crazy?  Easy.  Ambien and wine.  I actually began to look forward to it on my drive home.  Oh, I’ve heard the warnings- ambien is a serious drug (and it is, don’t be fooled be my nonchalance, I put myself to bed before taking it and did NOT get up til morning), but the worst side effect I had was some crazy texting about simean dancers with nipple tassels and an evening spent friend requesting all of my ex-boyfriends on facebook.  I did eventually wean myself off of it, but I will remember my month of agoraphobic early nights with fondness.  What parts I CAN remember, anyway.

Step 3: Stop Cleaning

I did this preemptively, back in 1996.  The great thing about it, aside from the obvious time saver it is to not have to clean anything, thereby enabling you to get to your ambien much sooner every evening, is that visitors will be more likely to leave you alone.  Those who demand entrance, despite the cloud of fruit flies and pungent decay wafting through the crack in the front door, will immediately take pity on you and probably offer to buy you more wine.  Accept the wine.  Don’t be an ungrateful douche.

Step 4: Dwell on Shit

I like lists.  A lot.  I found that when I thought about all the things I hated about the last dude, it was really hard to be sad.  (I know, profound.)  So I made a list of every little thing that made me miserable or irritated or annoyed when I was with him, and I read that list over and over throughout each day, often adding to it as I would remember some of his more effeminate facial gestures or that one thing he said that one time that made me want to stab myself in the eye socket… I would then call the people most likely to rally around my pettiness (thanks, Mom!) and seek their reassurance that that one thing WAS so annoying and oh my god how DID I ever put up with it?!  Eventually, I couldn’t remember anything I liked about him, and by eventually, I mean within 3 weeks.  It was magical.

Step 5: Utilize Online Dating

This is tricky- after a few weeks, online dating is vital to a quick recovery, but my specific method is key.  You must ONLY post photos that are not particularly flattering.  The reason for this is that when you meet your potential suitors in person, you are immediately met with the compliment “Oh, you are SO much prettier in person!”  Ego.  Fucking.  Boost.  It might also work to be less charming in your written profile than you are in person, but I don’t have it in me.  The downside to this method, of course, is that the real winners aren’t going to be interested in you, but who cares?  You just got your heart broken!  You aren’t really ready to date yet anyway.  You can save that photoshopped prom picture for when you are soem semblance of emotionally stable again.  It doesn’t matter that your date is missing teeth, has a slicked down comb-over, voted for Nixon, and needs your help turning his hearing aid up because his osteo-arthritic shoulder doesn’t permit his arm to bend that way- when he looks you up and down through that vintage monacle, slaps his knee in delight through his mom jeans, and showers you with old-timey praise, it’s going to feel good regardless.

Step 6: Look Amazing

This is easier than you think.  If you’ve diligently been going to bed early with the assistance of heavy medication, not only is the extra rest good for your complexion and eliminates dark circles, but you probably haven’t been eating as much (who has time with all the texting and emailing going on!) and you should drop weight faster than a teenage boy headed to a wrestling championship.  Couple that effort with a shopping spree for some new makeup and a killer pair of boots- yeah, you’re going to make heartbreak look like it really agrees with you.  This will come in handy for the next step…

Step 7: Fake Being Awesome

Actually being awesome may seem like a challenge if your self-image has just taken a little hit, but if you’re like most women who’ve dated enough, you’ve gotten good at faking things by now.  For once, though, you’re going to fake things for yourself.  Tell yourself you are good at something, and then go do it.  Fill up your schedule.  Bury yourself in creative outlets.  Make yourself live the life of someone who is incredible and, in short order, you won’t be faking it any more.  You will just be awesome.  I played multiple open mics (drunk, so drunk I forgot words and quit the last song halfway throguh by mumbling “oh christ, I don’t know this song”), I went camping and fishing and had my first pedicure and started a punk bluegrass band (actually we just met for beers one night, but it’s technically still on my to do list)…obviously, my outlets are just examples.  I’m sure rock climbing or pottery or rescuing orphans from shark-infested waters are also fulfilling.

Step 8: Meet Someone Better

Don’t do this until you are actually ready to be over him.  You’re going to find someone worth keeping and you won’t want baggage in the way.  Although I pulled this off pretty quickly despite straying slightly from my formula (I hung out with a really cool chick who vastly outshone me), I recommend the following method to guarantee success.  First, choose chubbier, less attractive friends to accompany you out.  If you can possibly make sure they are also less interesting and funny, your stage is set.  Second, refer back to step 6.  This may require a trip to a salon; don’t cheat yourself.  Shower.  Wear clean clothes that fit.  Come on, girl.  Try.  Third, go somewhere full of worthwhile single people, preferably of the correct sexual orientation and gender to find you attractive.  You aren’t likely to meet prince charming in a biker bar or at a drag show, although both can be fun if you aren’t goal-oriented.  Fourth, spend the entire evening having a genuinely great time.  Nothing is more attractive than happiness.  If you are the prettiest, happiest girl in the room, you’re going to meet someone better than that jackass who dumped you back when you were chubbier, boring, and so into crazy texting…

Step 9: Scrub the Bathroom With His Toothbrush

I made a pile early on of everything I was gong to give back to him (and never did), but I left his toothbrush.  I don’t know why.  It served as a reminder of what I had left behind.  For some reason, his ridiculously expensive, ergonomically correct toothbrush stood as a symbol of all of the pretension and overblown self-importance that permeated our four months together, and every time I brushed my teeth I would glare at it with its articulating, multi-tongued head and multi-level bristles and part of my heart would heal.  Last week, as I was cleaning the bathroom, my eye caught site of it and I realized the healing was done…it was time for that toothbrush to hit the road.  I scrubbed every hint of soap scum from around the faucet, the sink, the nooks in the tub, and finally…the toilet.  I have to admit, though, that ergonomic crap is no joke.  My wrist feels amazing.

And that’s it.  Nine steps to overcoming a broken heart so you can get back to watching Downton Abbey and googling cat memes like your soul deserves.  I know I haven’t cured cancer here, but if I can help somebody brilliant stop crying a little sooner…maybe she will.

 

A Brief History of My Failings With Men… or… You Can’t Hide Crazy

Women are crazy.

All of us. I wish I could say this does not pertain to my entire gender, but given that it does pertain to every single member of the female of our species with whom I am acquainted…yes, probably all of us. I say this because just today I managed to use my crazy to ward off yet another potentially wonderful human being simply because he is male and might have been good for me. That’s what I do. In the past, I have revelled in my romantic mishaps as they provide excellent songwriting fodder, but this time, instead of lauding his faults and shortcomings in a ballad, I became introspective…

What if every single man I’ve dated and subsequently failed to continue dating (note currently very single status) has not been at fault. What if…and I’m thinking out loud here, so it might be far-fetched…but what if I hold some blame for injecting my batshit nature into what might otherwise be a perfectly normal interaction? In true engineer-with-ovaries form, I have decided to run a quick analysis on some of my past failures. I’m hoping this provides the insight I need to at least know where to lay the blame in the next song.

Case 1: Nice guy, liked to make me cocktails in the evening, had an unhealthy addiction to the Rat Pack, and dressed like Dean Martin. Length of dating episode: Two days, but we’d been tormenting each other in on-again-off-again status for months.

How it ended:

Me: (shouting) I hate you and I never want to see you again!

Him: Um…Marie…uh…what the?

Me: (storms off)

Next day…

Me: (via text) Hey, wanna go to breakfast?

Him: (via return text) Um…not really?

Two days of lengthy text messaging then ensued where I flip-flopped between “why don’t you care?” and “lose my number”. I consider us friends still. Because I still text him.

Case 2: Nice kid…I say kid because although he was technically a year my senior, he had yet to experience any of the rites of passage which I consider essential to being considered a full-fledged adult…no mortgage, no children, never married, spent all his disposable income on shredding metal guitars and PBR… Length of dating episode: Maybe two months? Hard to say. It dwindled slowly at the end, so I don’t know the exact date we both consider the finale.

How it ended:

After calling it off via text message, I stalked him on facebook and saw he was attending a concert and was therefore too busy to respond.

Me: (via text) I see that you are very busy having lots of fun even though you can’t make one damn minute for me.

Him: (no response)

Me: (more crazy texting)

Him: (no response)

Me: (more crazy texting in which I insult his character, his purpose in life, his parentage, and all of his major life choices for the past ten years)

Him: (no response)

Me: (considerably more craziness including an assertion that I never wish to speak to him again and this is the very last text I will EVER send)

Him: (four hours later, via text) Hey, just got home. Talk tomorrow.

Two months of sparse texting followed this exchange, with intermittent anger and craziness always ending in “this is the last text I will ever send to you” followed closely the next day with some reference to my love for midgets or my disgust for Taylor Swift. Oddly, again, I still consider us friends and still text him at random, half the time with no response. I know he’s laughing inside though every time. He must be. I’m hysterical.

Case 3: Nice man. The first grown up I’ve possibly ever dated. He held doors, paid for things, and was attentive and thoughtful. Naturally, it had to end quickly. I can’t live like that for long. Length of dating episode: Two weeks is a stretch, but I’m uncomfortable calling it anything shorter.

How it ended:

Me: (via text) Fine.

Him: (via text) Um… wait…really fine? Is something wrong? (obviously he’s been married before…)

Me: (begin late night tirade about how I never see or hear from him, things are so different now, he’s changed, he’s probably seeing someone else, and I assume he thinks I simultaneously look too fat with breasts too small and hates my mother despite never having met her)

Him: (via text) This is silly. Good night.

Next day…

Me: (via text) Hey, hope this doesn’t wake you at 7am on a Sunday…heh heh…(thus begins the 11-part text message heard round the world)

This poor guy. I don’t think he even saw it coming. I seemed super normal for 95% of those two weeks. I still text him though. I have a modus operandi to maintain, after all.

I suspect that if I look back far enough, I have pulled something similar every time shit hit the fan. So who is really to blame for all of my failed loves?

Obviously Verizon.

Nod to the Past

The first thought that came to my head when I considered bidding farewell to the past year was “good riddance”. The second thought was adorning profanity.

The third, however, was an attempted run-down of everything that went wrong in 2012 that I’m so grateful to put behind me, and this is where I failed. Certainly I had a tough year. I went through the most difficult time in my life to date…and survived. Sure, I lost my job, broke three teeth, and suffered some romantic ups and downs…from the outside, it may appear I have been battered around and cannot wait to have a clean slate.

From the inside, though, my soul has grown. I wrote the best song of my existence this year. I learned that I can be bruised by life… but never beaten. I learned how to change my own brakes, how to use profanity with subtlety in everyday conversation, how to laugh more heartily at myself, how to smile regardless. The most important people in my life at present outside of my children- Branden, Juilene, Miles, and Spencer- all entered my life this last year, and from them I have already learned so much that I am overwhelmed with excitement at what this next year holds.

As a nod to my past, I have recorded a song written for my mother over a decade ago. It serves to remind me that the people I love and who love me in return are what have given my life meaning. Nothing else. Here’s to a new year…

A Little After Midnight

End of An Era

For two years now I have lived in limbo, meandering between the life of a responsible mother and a free spirit searching for life’s point. I still don’t have it. I was certain I would by now.

What I have instead are pieces of the puzzle, little tattered shreds of an intricate tapestry, that I worry I will lose if I do not put them here in writing. And so, for the coming year, I will hold these thoughts close to my heart and try to remember…

Never should I say anything to hurt the feelings of another unless doing so has some higher more productive purpose than appeasing my vengeful pride.

No one should have to earn my kindness; it is everyone’s birthright.

No one has a right to my admiration, trust, or respect; these are earned.

Whatever my gut tells me to do, I should replace every emotion with love before deciding.

Success is not worth a struggle, nor fame, nor fortune, nor power… the end goal is only happiness. As long as my children, family, and friends aim at this, I will support them whole-heartedly in each and every endeavor.

We are microscopic in the eyes of the Universe.

Happiness requires only the ability to live without fear, the room to love, and the capacity to create.

I am very lucky and the world deserves my gratitude.

Nothing good ever came from wallowing in self-absorption.

I have everything I need, right now, to be blissfully happy. From here on out, it is just a choice I make each day.

Holidays

For Christmas this year, I will be alone. My children will be with their father and I will wake Christmas morning to an empty house, a cold fireplace, and silence. I will get up at a reasonable hour, well past the rising of the sun, and I will skip breakfast and take my time making coffee, and then I will sit by myself on my couch staring at the perversely bare Christmas tree and remind myself that I am happy now and that this was my choice.

I took the kids home for Thanskgiving… Home. It’s funny to call it that. I wasn’t born there, I didn’t grow up there, and I lived a handful of the hardest years of my life there;  it is home, though, because it is my mother’s house, the only place to return for a holiday.  The roads were clear as I drove into town around midnight, three sleeping children filling the silence in the car with a symphony of long, slumbering breaths over the background hum of the pavement beneath us. I recognized the familiar glow of city lights just beyond the next rise and a lump formed in my throat. An entire year had passed since I had been here and felt the bittersweet tug of memories on my heart. I blinked back tears and kept driving until I reached my mother’s doorstep. Inside, pictures of my children as babies, of my husband, of our family lined the walls, a constant reminder of the last decade of life lived. I slept that night in a bed that once belonged to my grandfather and a memory of that last trip south for his funeral flooded me with sobs. I remember my husband holding me as I cried and I was not alone. I sat up against the pillows, staring blankly across the room at the jewelry box I received the last Christmas with my husband. Georgia had picked it out, and in the top were all the little missing teeth shed by babies through the years, hidden by the tooth fairy. The next evening I drove up to the south hill on the same route I used to take home every night after work, and the pain in my chest was suffocating. As I passed the same shopping centers and city parks, I marveled that nothing changed here. I did not drive past my old home, for what good could come of seeing for myself the boarded up windows and foreclosure sign on a house lain empty and abandoned for over a year? All I would see were the little feet learning to ride a bicycle around that tree in the island anyway, and I don’t need to be there to see that memory clearly.

I try very hard to remember the good and to smile when the past interrupts my preoccuption with today and demands my attention, but the holidays make it hard, because the memories are so much clearer, the loss so profound, the loneliness laid bare for what it really is. I am not whole any longer and may never be again. I am perpetually heartbroken, unalterably fractured, and the longer I sit and think about it, the deeper the wounds sink. Just when they become unbearable, though, I find clarity…

Perhaps I am not meant to have the same happiness that I was taught to wish for in my youth. Perhaps I am not meant to know love again. Ignoring all of the very productive lamentation this realization could affect, this must mean I am meant for something else, a different kind of happiness, something yet undefined and undiscovered. If I continue this wallowing self-absorption, I may never know anything but painful reminiscances and sorrow, but if I don’t… I wonder what might happen.

This Christmas, I will awake early, I will rush to drink my coffee, I will dress hurriedly, I will forget to glance at the Christmas tree, and I will go out into the world to do something good- it doesn’t really matter what, as long as it isn’t for me. All I’ve really learned in all these years is that I don’t know very much at all, but I suspect wherever the real answers to life’s mysteries hide, they aren’t in my self pity.