Tag Archives: DC

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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Why We Should Still Talk, Even When We’re Attached

During the many years of my early twenties that I spent single, I often played the role of third wheel. Mostly, in Washington, I did this with my friends A and J.

A and I had become close friends at work: most of my memories from that time of personal drama/heartbreak are punctuated with a vision of running up some set of stairs to A’s desk and anxiously reading the look on her face as she slid her black headphones down to her neck. (Was she crashing on deadline or did she have a moment to hear my, always epic, saga?).

And then J moved into her group house in Columbia Heights, and a few weeks later we all hosted a dinner party, and I spent that night in bed with another housemate, to whom I talked about one time after that, while A and J spent the night together and remained inseparable for about the next four years.

The phrase “third wheel” has a negative connotation, but I don’t mean one in this case: I loved spending time with the two of them as a couple. I’d still run up to A’s desk at work, but then I’d also find solace in their kitchen, or backyard, where the two of them would ply me with homemade chicken and beer, smother me with joint bear hugs, and assure me that whatever guy really wasn’t half as awesome as me to begin with.

In other words: I confided in both of them, regularly, about my sex life. And I laugh now about how I responded when they tried to do the same.

“Eewwww!” I’d grimace, throwing my hands to my ears, whenever J would make some suggestive comment indicating that he and A actually slept together.

“How come you can talk to us about sex but we can’t talk to you?” he’d plead, half-joking.

“I don’t know, it’s just the way it is! You’re a couple, you don’t get to talk about sex! You’re like my parents!”

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The Problem With Memoir?

Last week my father sent me a link to an article about memoir from the New York Times: “it’s terrific, well written, and very funny” he wrote.

I had seen the headline–“The Problem With Memoirs”–but at that point, I hadn’t read it. Probably I hadn’t read it for the same reason I often don’t read New York Times articles: that I didn’t have time. Or at least, thought I didn’t have time. (Who has time to read whole news articles when there are endless Facebook statuses to skim and the internet is crowded with pretty pictures of lemon tarts and raspberry linzer cookies you like to fantasize about baking? Welcome to my world.)

But possibly I also didn’t read it because, well, because the headline promised a pretty direct attack on what I do.

It’s hard not to feel insecure about the impulse to write memoir. That article hammers home, rather agressively, the worst stereotype about the genre: that it’s filled with narcissistic, over-sharing attention whores shamelessly appealing to readers’ most base, voyeuristic impulses.

Now, I have never claimed that I don’t like to overshare. I’m not proud of this trait, but I accept it. The narcissistic label is one that I, with varying degrees of success, try and resist. Do I like attention? Sure, who doesn’t. (Okay, lots of people. But those of us who do aren’t exactly a minority.)

Should everyone who exhibits these traits write memoir? Of course not. Honestly, I think it’s really hard to write successful nonfiction. But it’s possible. It’s possible if you write well.

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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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Mechanical Girl (I’m Not)

Last week I bought a space heater.

There’s heat in my house, but not in my (pretty large) room and it was getting down into the teens at night and I began needing to sleep with multiple layers of pants. I also refused to stop insisting that Bonita sleep next to me (I required the warmth), and feared she would learn to dial Animal Services if this all continued.

So on a schoolnight when I had approximately thirty-one other things to do, I dutifully drove down to True Value hardware on Lomas and grilled an unsuspecting (and, sadly, woefully uninformed) salesman about which product would keep me warmest.

Once we’d (rather arduously) reached a decision, I thought of one last question:

“This thing is all set up, right? I don’t have to put anything together?”

“Oh yeah,” he assured me. “Just plug it in, it’s all good to go!”

It was only after getting the thing home and using my full body weight to heave it from its paper box that I realized this was not, entirely, the case. Before it could be “good to go,” one had to secure a set of unattached wheels. I saw odd-shaped pieces of metal. I saw screws.

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The Blind Spot(s)

When, the other day, my friend A asked if she was crazy for going after a guy she knew wasn’t interested, there was another question implicit.

It was this: why should she, a rational thirty-something with strong sense of self, a lithe torso and a respectable distance from her last serious relationship allow herself to get hung up on a prospect she knows is unrealistic?

On the phone, I dodged that one. But the answer became more clear in conversation with another friend earlier this week.

“Don’t you have a blind spot?” she asked, over beers at a local bar.

Out of context I would have had no clue what she was talking about. But, as it happened, she’d just finished telling an anecdote about kissing an otherwise involved former co-worker she felt inordinately attracted to while she herself was semi-seeing someone else–a minor betrayal that neither she nor I would ever predict.

“You know, don’t you have that someone who you would just be with, at the drop of a hat, no matter what, if they said the word?”

I started to nod.

“Yeah,” I said. “I guess I do.”

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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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