Category Archives: Odyssey

On The Mythical Boyfriend, and the “Best Part” of Having One

The other day, I had a long overdue Skype date with my good friend A—the one who I was close with in DC and who, after quitting her job over a year ago, has been hopping all over the US, Southeast Asia, and now Europe.

(Sidenote: I “hear”—both literally and philosophically—those complaints about the “alphabet soup” in my last post. Forgive me for now: the initial system isn’t ideal, but I haven’t got anything better. Open to suggestions!)

A few short emails aside, it’d been a long time since we’d really caught up: I’d missed her call when she’d tried to reach me, about five months ago, before leaving her for her latest jaunt—I was on my first date with D.

“So,” she said. “What’s your favorite part about having a boyfriend?”

This caught me off guard: pretty sure no one, as yet, has asked me this particular question.

But if anyone were to ask it, it would certainly be A. This is how we talk. Like me, she’s spent most of her life without a boyfriend, save one epic live-in relationship whose rise and fall I intimately witnessed.

Several months into the “rise” of that situation, A would frequently turn to me, interrupting herself from work or exercise or unrelated topic of conversation, flare her big green eyes wide and say, voice completely flat, “I cannot believe I have a boyfriend.”

“I know,” I’d say. “It’s amazing!”

“It is amazing,” she’d reply. “It is just so strange to use that word!”

In other words, we use the word “boyfriend” as though referring to some sort of mythic or exotic species– because to us, they have been. Like Gila Monsters or wild parrots: oft talked about, occasionally spotted, rarely materializing for long.

When she asked the question—what my “favorite part” is—I stumbled through a scattered list of seemingly reasonable replies.

“It’s nice to have an intimate confidant,” I said. “And someone to cuddle with. And someone to just chill and watch movies with.” I paused. “And he cooks!”

All of which is true. But in our post-Skype email exchange, A answered the question herself: “You seem so happy and relaxed,” she wrote. “I think boyfriends are amazing for us as women. They calm us down so much!”

How’s that for anti-feminist? But bear with me. And A.

Certainly, relationships bring their share of anxiety and stress. My stubborn sleeping problems haven’t disappeared, for example. And as I’ve written, things, generally, are as they were before.

But it’s true: there is a way in which I am more relaxed then I was when I was single.

When you aren’t with someone and you’d like to be, there’s a sort of weight that bears down on you. A sense of obligation, a pressure, a sense that you always ought to be making an effort to meet someone.

At times, I found online dating a good solution for that: I could tell myself that I was “making an effort” while still staying home with popcorn and Tina Fey most Saturday nights.

But even then, I felt it. And don’t get me wrong, I am a social person. I like being around people, I like to go out—sometimes, not too often, and rarely past midnight (sorry, I’m over twenty-five and an insomniac). But I don’t like to feel like I have to. And when I was single, I often felt like I had to.

I don’t mean to imply this is true for everyone, because I know it’s not. But I always remember the Friday afternoon a few years back when, post-show, I wandered around my workplace surveying colleagues about whether I should bus it from DC to New York for the weekend just to attend a friend’s birthday party.

“Go!” One of them demanded. “You should always go to parties! You might meet your husband!”

(For the record, I did go, and—so far as I know—did not meet my husband. Or anyone else, so far as I can remember, particularly interesting. But at least I won’t have to wonder…or something.)

You see what I mean. There’s a persistent stress: a feeling that you should always be trying, that you should always be looking.

Obviously, being in a relationship doesn’t mean I’ve stopped looking forever—D and I are far from that level of certainty or commitment.

But it does mean I’ve stopped looking for now. And that, it turns out, is a very relaxing thing.

 

 

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On a New (ish) Relationship and Things (Not) To Think About

As anticipated, my new-but-now-longer-than-three-month relationship no longer shimmers with the gloss of perfection–same for D, the person I’m in it with.

Don’t misunderstand: both things–he and the relationship–continue to be the source of many things happy, as things that aren’t flawless often do. I still get giddy about seeing him and feel extremely fortunate to have him, and us.

But we seem to have entered this sort of in-between sphere: the relationship is no longer brand new, and yet–it’s coming on four months now–it’s not exactly a thing of profound length. We’re not quite in the honeymoon stage anymore, that time when you just can’t stop thinking of the person and want to be with them all the time and believe them more or less perfect. Okay, maybe a little bit.

Anyhow. There’s a baseline commitment–breaking news, internet: in a few weeks, I’m taking the boy home to meet the family!–but no talk of anything significantly longer term.

In other words: we’ve yet to discuss the fact that in about twelve months, godwilling, I will be done with my MFA and don’t know where I’ll want to go (you know me and my persistent, unresolved New York-or-not-New-York angst), while his career (read: pension) means he’s not going to leave New Mexico for the next nineteen years.

As he put it when I, sort of accidentally, brought up the point a few weeks ago: that’s a conversation for another time.

What time, though, I couldn’t tell you. I don’t know when you move from the short term commitment we currently occupy, of meeting the family and going to weddings and making plans for months ahead, to the kind that necessitates that conversation. The talk about whether-this-is-possibly-forever-or-not.

I’m certainly not anxious to get there. As I’ve been realizing, the territory is entirely unfamiliar.

There were a lot of strange things about my first and only long term love. Most notably, that, when we started dating, he was thirty-five and I was nineteen.

That particular strange thing generated a lot of other strange things: namely that, in my head and I’m pretty sure in his, the possibility of permanence never took up much space.

Sure, there were moments. One, in particular, that I always think of–spending time one summer with my friend K, an older woman who is now my ex’s girlfriend (also, a conversation for another time) by the pool at her St. Paul country club. We sometimes saw Garrison Keillor there, striding by in long maroon trunks and a serious scowl.

We also saw, reliably, a lot of little kids. And a lot of young mothers with those kids: playing and policing the floating landscape of bright yellow butterfly wings, purple floating rafts and bendy foam noodles.

Growing up in New York City, the squad I saw parenting was an aging one. I thought thirty-five was young to have kids. But since then I’ve been drawn to the idea, at least, of being a young parent. And in that moment I remember thinking: I should just do it. Marry the guy I’m with. Have babies now. Play in the pool with the rafts and the moms and call it a day.

And then the moment passed. I returned to my normal way of thinking: that I was far too young and inexperienced to even consider settling down. That sooner or later I’d have to pursue opportunities, professional and otherwise, outside Minnesota. That my first real relationship would not be my last.

A way of thinking that, I now realize, was something of a luxury. It allowed me to enjoy the relationship, the person and my time with him, for what it was. Never–or, perhaps, rarely–did questions about longevity loom in the back of my mind. I was able to appreciate the present without the constant distraction of the future.

Now, I have no such luxury. Now, as I fall for someone in an increasingly serious way, I can’t help but let thoughts of what might be, accompany–and sometimes, I fear, interrupt–those of what is.

I hate this. Four months is a short time. Possible flaws and issues have only just begun to surface, and I’m sure they will continue. They always do. The question isn’t how close things are, or us together, is to perfect, but whether it’s the right thing–let’s be honest, whether it’s a good-enough thing (Jesus, have I lost all my romanticism?)–for me and for him.

And that, there’s no doubt, is a question for another time.

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Team Tannen Forever

The first time I got sick from alcohol, at fifteen, I was with all three of my older brothers–at a Christmas party that my oldest brother M’s best friend held annually at his Tribeca loft.

It wasn’t their fault. Each time I finished off a Heineken, said best friend would swing by and replace it; before anyone could have seen or stopped it, I found myself in the bathroom with M holding my hair back and showing me how to use my fingers to make myself throw up. (A skill that, not too many but a few times since, I have been very, very grateful for.)

Putting me to bed that night, my brother J’s then girlfriend made the well-intentioned but misguided move of placing my trash can next to the bed. The parents were furious with all of my brothers for months.

If you’ve ever been a sibling, you can understand that, as the baby girl, I will always be the baby girl: at fifteen, at twenty-seven, at forty. There is a way in which, in my family’s eyes, I will never be as accountable as my older brothers.

A fact that, I’m sure, was in the back of J’s mind when he took me, today, to get matching tattoos: my first, his a small complement to the collection that already fills both his arm sleeves.

So here’s the story:

Up until last Friday, I’d always told people that I “didn’t understand” tattoos.

“I just don’t get it,” I’d say. “I can’t imagine any image that I’d know I’d want on my body forever.”

And then, a day before he and his wife D arrived in New Mexico after driving six days in a rented minivan to get here, J sent me a text: “Tiny matching tattoos in NM?!”

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On How (Not) To Talk to, Or Tackle, Important People

For the past few days, I have been thinking a lot about what posessed me to briefly contemplate tackling the poet Marie Howe in the lobby of the Marriott Wardman Park hotel in Washington DC.

Two points of context: first, I am a great admirer of Howe’s poetry. Second, I, like she, was at the Marriott last weekend to attend a gigantic annual conference of writers and writing programs.

Also, when I use “tackle” I use it in the most affectionate possible way. And I didn’t, actually, in the end, come close to any sort of contact with her. I didn’t touch her. I didn’t even attempt to speak to her.

Which, in the end, is my point. Because after five days of completely enjoyable, often debaucherous, sometimes successful and sometimes embarassing hobnobbing with varyingly successful writers, I do not know the answer to this question: how in god’s name are you supposed to interact with them?

Considering my professional background, I should probably be a heck of a lot less clueless about this. Lately I’ve been joking that I possess very few practical professional skills, but that–thanks to a few years working in journalism–one of them is getting ahold of Important People. (Aka, as one former colleague and I recently joked, I know how to use a telephone.)

Often, I can be reasonaby charming with these people, too. But it’s a lot easier when I don’t particularly care why they’re important. No offense to Tom Friedman or Meghan McCain, but put me in an elevator with them and I’m fine.

Put me within two hundred feet of Lorrie Moore, however, and watch me have eighteen consecutive panic attacks.

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There’s Something About Twenty-Seven

I’m not sure what ought to concern me more: that multiple people assumed I would connect with the recent film “Tiny Furniture” or that, when I finally watched it (home, with flu, on New Years Eve)–I actually did.

The movie—written, directed by and starring the obscenely talented, obnoxiously young Lena Dunham—centers on a college graduate from Tribeca as she moves back home, gets a job as a hostess, alternately bickers and snuggles with her mother, and attempts to date transparently unavailable men.

For the record, I did once live with my parents while working a hostessing job in Manhattan for just over four weeks in the fall of 2008. Also, I may have gone to a small Midwestern liberal arts college (Macalester) not totally dissimilar from that attended by the protagonist (Oberlin). I may be known to occasionally pursue men who blatantly ought not to be pursued. And it may, perhaps, be the case that—those writerly aspirations notwithstanding—I’m still not sure how I’m going to support myself when I grow up. (More specifically, when I finish my MFA.) Also, I do have  an occasional habit of snapping at my mother in one moment and, the next, tossing my feet on her lap.

What separates me, through, from the protagonist of “Tiny Furniture” (besides, among other things, more vanity and less successful parents), is that she’s twenty-two and I am twenty-seven. I’ve been out of college five years to her few months.  By the time she was my age, Cleopatra had two children and an empire. More recently, my mother had a husband, a career and three stepsons.

But, a lot’s changed since both of their times. Or so, at least, I like to tell myself.

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On Over (and under) Thinking Happiness

For our final class, my nonfiction professor invited all his over for for a potluck, a book swap, and the (required) opportunity to deposit with him six essay-filled envelopes that he would, the following day, ceremoniously send to literary magazines on our behalf.

Also in attendance (and, presumably, relieved of the above-mentioned duties) were his wife and two young sons: aged eight and ten.

While the rest of us ate dinner–taquitos, calabicitas, salad and pita pizza–I glimpsed the eight-year old, straddling the back of the living room couch with a pile of three Garfield books in his lap. The expression of pure, unadultered, consuming joy I saw–not just in his face but in his whole, lanky little-boy body–awed me. I made eye contact with my professor and gestured with my chin.

“I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen anyone that genuinely, completely happy,” I said. My professor nodded.

“That one’s kind of an old soul, “ he said.

That moment has been on my mind for the past twenty-four hours, as I’ve walked around Washington DC with an expression not very dissimilar from that ecstatic boy’s.

Last night, snuggling fireside with my friend L on our friend A’s couch, my insides humming with childlike warmth and orange rye punch, I had a doubting moment—the first, it would seem, of several.

“Is it wrong that this feels worth flying across the country for?” I asked, weaving my fingers in and out of his, interrupting a conversation about our latest reading material.

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On Keeping Up Friendships, Far and Farther Apart

A few months ago D, one of my closest friends from Washington, told me that he was moving to Boston: he’d gotten a new job, one that he was incredibly excited about and perfectly matched the professional criteria he’d spent years looking for.

Part of me was thrilled for him: D had been desperate to leave his then-position for a long time. But another part of me felt disappointed–genuinely sad to hear that he would be leaving DC.

Aside from being incredibly selfish, this reaction does not make much rational sense. I don’t live in Washington. In fact, I live several thousand miles and two time zones away, in New Mexico. Whether he’s in DC or Boston shouldn’t affect me at all; If D had told me he was moving to Sarasota or Bhutan it would not have meant that much more in terms of how often I’ll see him.

But. But the reason it made me a bit melancholy is that, even though I spent most of my time in Washington whining about it–the transience, the smallness, the salmon-colored whale pants–ever since I left the city I’ve loved going back.

I appreciate now things that were lost on me when I lived there: the walkability, the music scene, the free and fantastic museums.

Most of all–and forgive me the sentimentality I am about to indulge–I appreciate the family of friends that I, eventually, made there.

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