On Alternative Break-Up Hypotheses, and the Perils of Sanity

When someone breaks up with you, usually, you more or less know why.

And, usually, it has something to do with that person not caring about you quite enough–a knowledge that can be difficult to bear while maintaining some shred of confidence.

Which leads one to formulate alternative explanations: explanations that don’t have quite the same potential to so formidably undermine one’s self-worth.

And so it is that, at this particular moment, I (a little bit arbitrarily) am choosing to believe that D broke up with me not because I am deficient in appearance, intelligence or charm (you know, general lovability), but because of this: because I am not crazy.

So, not exactly an original concept: women go for the ass holes, men go for the crazy.

But I thought we were getting past that. Perhaps, I just thought I was getting past it. And perhaps I thought that if I could get past it–I who have been drawn to not-nice, very bad, usually dysfunctional and self-destructive men since about the sixth grade, and then managed to date not one but two genuinely nice guys in the past few years (one being D, the other being a pre-blog labor lawyer from Michigan whom I met on the New York City subway)–if I could get past that cliched, immature hump, than surely anyone could.

But, in my entirely objective, one hundred percent clear-eyed opinion (it’s been over a week now!) I’m not sure that D has.

“Do you think it’s strange that we don’t fight?” he asked, during our first “relationship talk” about three months in.

“No,” I said, because I didn’t.

“Did you have fights in previous relationships?”

“Eventually,” I replied. I told him how, when I was with my ex, J, we hardly fought at all the first year–after which we fought a lot, because there were problems, and then we were unhappy, and kept fighting, and eventually–due to said fights and problems–we broke up.

“So, not really,” I said. (Now that I think about it that narrative is kind of untrue. The problems/fights started in the first year. Still, not a good model.)

D said it was unusual for him to have so little conflict in a relationship–a fact that came as quite a surprise to me, considering D’s personality: very easygoing, accommodating, not confrontational but not passive-agressive either.

In that conversation, and in others when it came up again, D said he liked the fact that he and I didn’t argue. But I didn’t totally believe him. If it didn’t kinda bother him, why would he keep bringing it up?

I could see how the extreme ease of the relationship diminished a certain x factor, a certain intensity. I wondered about that, and whether it would fulfill me in the long run. But so long as we maintained physical chemistry and enjoyed spending time together, I felt fine.

I will say, though, that when a certain ex met D and commented that he “thought I’d go for more of a challenge,” it struck a nerve.

“Relationships are always a challenge,” I told him. “Just because he actually likes me doesn’t mean it’ll always be easy: we have totally different backgrounds, totally different ways of thinking!”

Those differences are real–and had D and I stayed together I’m sure they would have presented real issues, real challenges.

But in our short time together, they didn’t. And I treated him the way I treat most people I care about who are not my mother: well. I tried to please him. I tried not to make things difficult.

And for this, I may have been punished.

Or so, at least, my friend A would say: “I feel like I’ve gotten shafted for not being crazy,” she told me over dinner the other night. “Men need the crazy girls to take care of, so they can, like, prove their manhood.”

I’m not sure if it’s the manhood factor of the excitement factor–the same desire for “a challenge” that drives us when we’re looking for lust more than long-term love.

And I don’t know if my relative sanity was really a factor in my breakup with D, or any of the other guys who’ve somehow decided they’re lives would be better off without me in them.

But I do know it’s not something I’m about to change.

I know a guy who used to say he’s “just enough of an ass hole to keep the ladies interested.” I can attest, firsthand, that this strategy is effective.

But I don’t think I could pull off the “just enough crazy” equivalent, even if I wanted to. They way I interact with people, in my non-pschotic, non-difficult, people-pleasing way, is pretty integral to who I am. And I want to be with someone who doesn’t just get that, but who chooses to love it.

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Holding Onto What Was Good

You know how it is.

One minute, I feel strong and invincible and sexy: ready to join with Pippa Middleton in effortlessly conquering the male hearts of the world.

The next, I feel small and unwanted and vulnerable: rejected by the handsome, married passenger the row ahead of me on the airplane who I’m pretty sure never saw my face; rejected by the butch bikram yoga teacher who seems concerned with everyone’s alignment but mine.

I’m trying to focus on those former moments–the strong and heady ones–and less than a week post-breakup, there are more and more coming. But still, not quite enough.

So I’m trying to hold onto something S told me, one of the most important things I’ve heard in the last few days.

“You’ve gained so much in this relationship,” she said. “I don’t want to see you lose all that just because it’s over.”

She was referring to a few things–my ability to talk more openly with my mother, for example, and my sharpened focus on certain writing projects–but mostly she was talking about my confidence.

“You’ve just seemed so secure,” she told me. “When you were with him and when you were alone. Please don’t let go of that.”

I’m working on it. It turns out that holding onto the products of a relationship isn’t easy, though, once it’s over.

The small things can feel like the hardest.

Hours after the breakup, I wrote an email to D asking for my things back–dutifully heeding my friend M’s advice to do so “without saying anything about feelings.” The next day, he overnighted them.

Before I got the package, I anticipated how hard it would be–the steep emotional challenge of separating those items I’d kept at his house–a nightgown to sleep in and a sweater, because it was always cold–from the association of him, and from the association of hurt.

But I didn’t cry when I opened it. Instead, I put both things on. (The sweater over the nightgown–as N noted, they happen to pair well together.)

“I have to reclaim these clothes,” I announced to S and N as we stood, solemn-faced, at our kitchen counter.

And of course that’s just the beginning: there’s the sight of the salad tongs in my drawer that D’s mother sent him and he passed on to me. The thoughts of spending time alone this month in Taos, where I’d long imagined being–going to readings, running B, doing crosswords–with him. The sound of the Replacements songs that I put on his mix. (I’m not listening to it intentionally–I’m not that masochistic–but I have been putting on REM, my comfort music, compulsively, and the Replacements come right after in iTunes.)

I don’t know that I’ll ever shirk these associations completely. You never really do. (Though I suppose I should admit that until D, I associated the Replacements with someone else. Something about me and Paul Westerberg, go figure.)

So yeah, the sting will lessen. Someday I’ll be mostly nostalgic instead of mostly hurt. We had something lovely, that–when the anger and sadness wears–will be worth feeling warm and nostalgic for.

But in those moments when the mere sight of a stranger’s wedding ring makes me tear up (it happened, once, in an airport–travel makes me particularly fragile), it’s hard to imagine that time coming very soon.

When I talked to M, I briefly bemoaned the mental ache of returning to the single life.

“It really isn’t that bad,” he said, in that sincere tone I could almost believe. “And you have so much going on. Just keep doing your yoga, keep writing, just keep doing your thing.”

Not the most original advice, but important nonetheless. And so I do. I thank heaven for yoga and for cooking, for unbelievably loving friends and family, for the knowledge that I am committed to being serious about writing

Of course, I’d like to find someone else who makes me happy (and, apparently, mistype) before too long. But that’s one thing I can’t control, and therefore don’t want to think about, right now.

What I can think about are those things I can control: and at the moment that means working to put distance between D and the good things–from salad tongs to self-esteem–that he came with.

And in the meantime, watch out: me and Pippa are coming. Any day now.

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How to Mend a Broken Heart: The Real Time Version

The day before before D broke up with me, I found myself reading this post on my friend Sarah’s blog–titled “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?”

(Sometimes, by the way, my womanly instincts are so trustworthy it scares me.)

Sarah is very smart and articulate, and she has lots of very smart and articulate readers who comment–making that post a true trove of wisdom and insight that I dare not rival.

However, I happen to have a broken–or at least severely ripped–heart at the moment. (Sorry to break this news–I’m as shocked as you.)

And already, I am thick into the realm of post-breakup copage. Not to suggest that I’m managing this with any superior sort of intelligence or grace, but, as of yet, I haven’t completely crumbled.

Here, my friends, is a loose list of what I’ve been doing–and what, perhaps, I might suggest for anyone whose heart is similarly, unexpectedly, broken:

(Note: Like most lists, this one is incomplete. I reserve the right to update it in future posts periodically–one thing I know about breakups is that they take more than three days to get over.)

1. Crying in public. Last week, my sister-in-law sent me a link to this essay , from the New York Times website, about the unique urban experience of public tears: both having and witnessing. She sent it to me because the writing is great, which it is. But the writer focuses on the fascination that public crying provokes–not the interaction or support. But when a hot young thing (female, but still) approached me, all red-eyed and wet-faced, in the yoga changing room (pre-class, before such signs could be taken for sweat), bearing a hug and kind words, I felt a sweet taste of much-needed comfort and warmth. Recommend. (Note: this incident did not, obviously, occur in New York–but it did happen to involve two New Yorkers. Discuss.)

2. Crying in private. You will not make friends, and you may scare your (quite easily spooked) mutt, but you must do it. A lot. She will get over it, and so, eventually, will you.

3. Eating fatty meats, and acting a little ridiculous. Hours after the incident, my two roommates and dear girlfriends, S and N, took me out for a plate of Korean BBQ. This has long been something of a tradition for S and me: whenever one of us feels any sort of vulnerable, we go out and stuff ourselves with grilled meat. It helps. Afterwards, S demanded to buy a round of “nasty” shots, and pair it with some “nasty” television. Not having a tv (or, really, the ability to produce said libation) we proceeded to the nearest bar, where we sabotaged our collective chances with the adorable bartender in order to demand that he turn on The Bachelorette. Despite the objections of the less attractive, less accommodating bar patrons, he complied. And thus, my romantic difficulties began to pale.

4. Sweating. Somehow, I managed to lose a boyfriend and a working car in the same week. Meaning, each morning, I have spent 90 minutes in severe heat, contorting my body into unreasonable and uncomfortable positions and, immediately afterwards, used same body to haul myself (along with my vintage-Schwinn-that-weights-almost-as-much-as-me), in slightly less severe heat, up the most obnoxious hill in Albuquerque. There’s nothing quite like anger to help pound those pedals.

5. Speaking of which, feeling angry. Ask anyone who’s been hurt (aka, anyone): the pain is easier to bear when there’s someone to blame. I adore D, and this isn’t his blog so I won’t get into the details of his decision (at least, not now), but I will say this: the man made a stupid choice. He had something good (me) that he could’ve held onto (at least for a while), and he let it go. For this, and only this, I feel furious. That, also, helps.

6. Drinking a lot of lattes, and, generally, doing exactly what I feel like. Normally, I get my “treat” drink, an Iced Decaf Soy Latte, approximately once a month. Now, I’m having at least two daily. I’ve worn the same shorts for three days. I haven’t washed my hair. Yesterday, I thought nothing of spending $7 for beer at a baseball game. Tomorrow, I’m going to buy myself an extremely overpriced sports bra. Hey, getting dumped is awesome!

7. Acting a little bit reckless. This was among the many pearls of wisdom that S has provided in the past few days. Immediately post-breakup, I felt the compelling urge to contact an ex. (Well,  more of a friend than an ex these days, but still: he’s someone with strong sway on my emotional state.) I wrote a text. I didn’t send it. “S is going to tell me not to,” I told N, as we took a walk around the neighborhood before S got home. But, walking to dinner, when I asked her, she didn’t. “I think this is a time when you can act a little bit reckless,” she said. “It’s kind of what you have to do.” Thrilled to receive her permission, I sent. He called. I felt better.

8. Talking to people who love me a lot, a lot. Especially those with goofy senses of humor.  My brother J was clearly very fond of D, but when I told him of the breakup, this is what he said: “Good riddance! I never liked that guy anyhow. I mean, he was from Texas. And so skinny!”

9. Thinking about why I’m really sad. Another of S’s gems was this: “Often, after a breakup, the loss we feel isn’t the relationship so much as the expectations we had for it.” So true. And if I’m really honest with myself, I’m more sad about losing the relationship than I am about losing D. And that says something. Something that leads, lastly, to this:

10. Telling myself things I need to hear. For example: D is a great guy. And I’m sure he could have made me happy. But I’m also sure that someone else can–and will–make me happier.

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On Having a Moment, and Not Holding Too Tight

This afternoon, I had a moment.

You see, D was supposed to come down to see me tonight. Not for anything special, but, for various and boring reasons, the next 36 hours are just about the only window we’ve got together this week.

And at about 3:00 pm, the exact time that D had told me he’d plan on heading down, he called.

“Where are you?” I asked.

“In Santa Fe,” he said. “I was about to leave, but I just got a call from work. I need to go back. There’s a fire.”

(Don’t ask me why a fireman not on his shift has to go fight a fire when there are lots of other firemen who are on their shifts; unknown. You may, however, ask if this has anything to do with the Arizona/New Mexico wildfires being heavily (mis)reported in the national news: it doesn’t.)

Anyhow, I broke down. Like, sat at my desk and pretended to have sniffles as tears formed in my eyes.

Why did I do this? Out of fear that my boyfriend might injure himself or die in a fire? Out of concern for the safety of someone about whom I deeply care?

Unfortunately, it was nothing that rational.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not entirely sure why. But I do know that, for starters, it’s been a rough week. I’ve been feeling more fragile than usual. These past couple of days, I’ve craved D’s support and affection, and he hasn’t been here. I was looking forward to having him close.

But is that really something to cry about? I want D’s support, sure, but his arms are not the only place I can find it. I have no shortage of friends and family, far and near, to talk me down from various ledges of anxiety and insecurity and stress.

Sure, there’s nothing quite like the comfort of a romantic partner. But in that moment, staring at my computer screen, sniffling, and thinking of all the people I know who live states and continents away from their significant others, I felt the need to remind myself to take a step back.

Specifically, I felt the need to recall the advice of another guy I know with the initial D: this one among my closest DC friends who now lives in Boston (can we call him Boston D, for the moment?) and is very, very wise.

Early on in  my relationship with D, Boston D had cautioned me about keeping some distance: about not letting myself get too tightly wound up in something just because it was good. Or something. This afternoon, walking B in what felt like 100 degree heat to to the dry cleaner, I couldn’t really remember.

So I called him.

“Do you remember what advice it was that you gave me? Something about not letting things get too close, with D? You might have said it came from Oprah?”

“Um, I have no idea,” he replied. “Did it have to do with posture? I’m always talking about posture.”

“No,” I told him, recounting what I could. “It definitely was not about posture.”

“Sorry,” he said. “Can’t remember.”

Fortunately, after listening to his own romantic dilemmas, along with some fresh wisdom (“Go cuddle with someone tonight.” “See the Woody Allen movie.”), I realized that Boston D had dispensed his initial advice over Gchat.

Alas, I searched. And there it was:

“Just dont hold hold too tight,” he had written. “I mean, don’t squeeze the relationship. Let it breathe. I think when we have something we love we want to hold it super close and tight and sometimes its good to just release the pressure and let it exist on its own.”

Words that, to be honest, didn’t make total sense to me when I first read them, and aren’t entirely clear now. (For the record, he did punctuate them with this, overly modest, qualification: “Sorry, I can only come up with generic Oprah-esque language right now.”) But I do think there’s an insight there, and it’s one that, right now, is helping me get through.

Basically, that one person can’t be everything. They can be a lot of things, a lot of wonderful and important and invaluable things. But we need other people, too. We need other people for lots of reasons, including this one: as precious as partners might be, they simply can’t always be there when we want them to be. Whether we like it or not.

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On A New Yogic Obsession, and Trying to Accept

Today, for the tenth day in a row, I went to a bikram yoga class: you know, the 90-minute, 26-posture routine that you do in a room heated to 105 degrees. A room that the practice’s founder (Mr. Bikram himself) refers to as his “torture chamber” and that my father refers to as the thing he would rather hang by his toes than enter into voluntarily.

(Me: “I just feel so euphoric afterwards!” My father: “The word, I believe, is delirious.”)

I have hesitated to write about this because, well, normally–stray mention of an O Magazine article I read while pounding on the stairmaster aside–I don’t write about my exercise habits. But also, normally, I hate yoga. And, by extension, the people who preach its’ benefits.

Don’t get me wrong: some of my best friends are dedicated yogis. But, in my (limited) experience, the practice requires twin virtues that I gravely lack: patience and flexibility. (When I tell you that I was afraid to do a summersault as a child, it is not only neuroses of which I speak.)

And yet here I am, smiling all the way down Central Avenue on my way to yoga morning after grueling morning, wondering: if I can do this for my body, why wouldn’t I?

Well, I can think of a couple of reasons. Namely, time and money and the need to prioritize other things like work, writing, and having a dog. You know, life.

But it’s summer, and I’m therefore giving myself permission to temporarily suspend concern for such petty things while I focus on the supremely significant task of bending my spine more backwards.

(You see? I don’t even try to mock and it happens. Years of cynicism do not so easily diminish.)

Really, though, I have to tell you that I feel amazing. And, if you’ll indulge a small amount of benefit-preaching for a moment, I’ll share (part of) why.

You see, besides the perpetual battle against impatience and hamstrings, another thing that has repelled me from yoga is judgment. I’m sorry, but no matter what those hard-bodied blondes in capri leggings recite about Buddha and breathing, usually, I feel very judged. I stare at my soft, straining body in the mirror, and I see those hard, bending bodies that surround me, and I feel the opposite of relaxed.

In Bikram classes, the temptation exists. After all, clothing is minimal. Those fierce yogi forms are there, and they’re even barer than usual.

But for whatever reason–perhaps because beginners practice alongside instructors, and everyone, everyone sometimes gets dizzy and needs to sit down–that judgment seems to go away.

Also, there’s that elderly man who’s in class every morning at 9 am and who all the instructors know by name and who is just standing there, breathing, and then laying there, breathing. Attempting a posture every now and then when the urge or comfort strikes.  And that helps. I won’t lie: that helps.

Most importantly, doing the practice daily has taught me to accept: to accept how far my back will bend or my balance will hold. To accept that, today my knees won’t let me keep this posture, but yesterday they did and probably tomorrow they will again. To accept that, despite over a week of daily practice, I still fall out in the first set of standing bow and, still, my belly is not as flat as that hot girl’s in the back left corner.

It isn’t easy to extend this acceptance outside the yoga room. But one can’t help but try: to accept that, even though it’s no longer cute or novel that my boyfriend lives sixty-three miles away, he still does. And that’s okay. To accept that I’m not getting as much writing or reading done as I imagined, because I never do. And that’s okay, too. To accept that not everyone will ever respond to my work, and that some of those who don’t might leave exceedingly nasty comments on silly, light-hearted blogs of mine on the Huffington Post. And that, also, will have to be okay.

(For the record, I scanned them–these aforementioned nasty comments–and immediately decided not to read any closer. I may need to accept that these people hate me, but I don’t think I need to pay them much mind.)

Are you feeling nauseous yet? I’m starting to, so let’s stop. But thanks for indulging me. You may, or may not, accept my recommendations.

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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 Feeling Like A Fraud, And Our East Coast Adventure!

During the New York stop of D’s and my nine-day, four-city Extreme East Coast Adventure, we landed for a couple of nights at my brother,  sister-in-law and niece’s Park Slope brownstone.

The day before, D had met a few of my numerous New York relatives—mother, one grandmother, one brother—but not yet F, my sister-in-law. (I feel obliged to note that, for her, this title seems distinctly weak: I have known F since she was seventeen and I was five: throughout my childhood she took to regularly supervising my backyard birthday parties—from kimonos to tie-dyes, bless her then-teenage heart.)

And that afternoon–considering F’s lifetime of childcare, it was the least I could do–D and I picked up S, my seven-year-old niece, from elementary school–and, by way of a chaotic playground on 7th Avenue and a slightly calmer stop for Italian Icies on 5th (rainbow for the kid, lemon for us), brought her home.

A little while later, D was downstairs starting a load of laundry when F walked in the house, home from an afternoon pedicure up the block.

She looked down to see S and I sprawled on the hardwood living room floor with sharpies and construction paper, books and scissors, glue sticks and stickers–but no D.

“Where is he!?” she stage-whispered, still only partway through the door.

“Huh?” I looked up, reluctant to distract from my intense focus on the startingly Herculean task S had just charged me with: drawing a cat.

“The boyfriend! I haven’t seen him and I don’t believe he exists!”

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