Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Best Laid Plans

"Life is a journey, not a destination." 
                                           - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I'm a planner. Literally - it's in my job title (actually, it is my job title). This isn't a skill I taught myself or developed over time; it's in my DNA, and has been evident since I was a kid. During family road trips, I often engaged my mom in the following conversation from the backseat:

Little Erin: "Do we have a hotel for tonight?"
Mom: "No. We'll just find one when we get there."
Little Erin: "How do you know they have hotels in Bozeman?"
Mom: "Every city has hotels."
Little Erin: "But how do you know???"
Mom: "I just do."
Little Erin: "Do they have restaurants?"

You can imagine how the rest of that conversation went. 

So it shouldn't surprise you that when I moved from California to Texas and my mom and I drove my car halfway across the country, I had a Google map and directions for each day's drive and motel reservations for every night before we even left the driveway. Some people explore. I plan.

Generally speaking, all this planning serves me pretty well. I usually know how to get where I'm going, I don't carry excess debt, and I always have clean underwear. I think these are all good things, which is why it's still a little hard for me to believe that my planner's instincts are part of how I wound up divorced at 29.

When I turned 20 I had the sort of freak-out most women reserve for their 30th birthdays (I always was advanced for my age). Along with numerous birthday gifts, I acquired a heightened awareness of all the things I needed to accomplish in the following decade. I had to go to graduate school and then start my career. At the same time, I needed to find The Guy, date him for a couple years, and then marry him. Ideally, we needed to tie the knot by my 27th birthday so that we could be married for two or three years before having our first child. Baby #2 would come along a few years after that. There was a little flexibility in this timeline, but our second child could arrive no later than my 35th birthday, as after that is when the incidence of Down's Syndrome and other birth defects spikes. Also, that would mean the kids would be out of the house by the time I was 55, and done with college by the time I hit 60, giving me plenty of time to enjoy what I imagined to be a comfortable retirement characterized by world travel and giggling grandchildren.

(I told you I was a planner.)

When I met my ex, he fit into my plan perfectly. I was 24 and wrapping up my last semester of graduate school, and he was 28 - just the right ages for us to date for three years before we said, "I do." Our (my) plan was that we'd enjoy the newlywed life for a couple years before starting a family, which we would have done riiiiight... abooouuuut... now. Except that instead we got a divorce.

Looking back, I realize now that I spent most of our relationship planning for whatever came next. When we were dating, I was thinking about when we would move in together. Once we entered the world of cohabitation, I wanted to know when we'd get engaged. And after I got that ring on my finger, I was in planner's heaven: an entire year of wedding planning! I had dresses to try on, color schemes to nail down, and guest lists to make. At every step along the way, I was looking toward the future and never at what I had right in front of me.

It wasn't until we were married and settling into our scheduled two years of newlywed bliss, with nothing in the immediate future to plan, that I was struck by an overwhelming feeling of, "Is this all there is to married life?" It wasn't that anything had changed or that we had become different people overnight. It was that for the first time, I was forced to experience the present and I realized that it wasn't what I wanted after all. For the previous three years, I was so focused on my destination that I hadn't paid enough attention to the journey, and somehow managed to wind up at the wrong destination all together. It's like planning a trip to Tahiti, obsessively checking the flight status before you leave home, being so focused on getting to Tahiti that you don't even realize you're getting on the wrong plane, and the next thing you know you're standing on the runway in Poland wondering where the warm waters and white sandy beaches are. 

Everything and nothing went as planned. 

I could never stand to live my life without planning. The idea doesn't just make me anxious, it makes me physically uncomfortable - my chest gets tight, my heart beats faster, and I feel like I want to crawl out of my skin. Yet I'm terrified that I'll repeat my mistakes. My biggest daily struggle is to reconcile my desire and need to plan for the future with what I now realize is the equally real need to experience and evaluate the present. I worry that even if I can stop to reflect on the here and now, I will lie to myself about whether or not I'm happy with it because I so desperately want to get where I think I should be going. And ultimately, part of me is afraid that I don't really believe - or even have the framework to believe - what Emerson says about life being a journey.  I just don't know how to live my life without planning for a destination, even if it isn't really where I want to end up.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Go Ahead, Call Me a Hypocrite

In my last post I wrote about how much unhelpful "advice" bothers me. Specifically, I said it offends me most when the well-intentioned advisors give advice when they clearly haven't taken my personality, where I'm coming from, or what I want and need into consideration. And in just a little over two days I've been seriously tempted to make a hypocrite of myself. Twice.

Yesterday, one of my absolute best friends in the whole wide world, K, sent me an email announcing that she's buying a house. As background information, she and her boyfriend have been living together for a few months now, and dating for a couple years. They had recently been looking to rent a house, and during the hunt my friend decided to buy instead. She didn't mention whether she'd be buying it on her own or with him. This didn't stop me from nearly firing off an email with the entirely unsolicited advice, "Whatever you do, don't buy the house with your boyfriend."

I almost had the same response again this morning. I logged onto Facebook to discover that one of my close friends from college, J, had changed her relationship status to "engaged." Once again, my gut instinct was to send her an email that said something along the lines of, "Don't do it!" I had to take a deep breath and bite my tongue before I came to my senses and sent the much more appropriate, "Congratulations."

Why these responses? In both cases, it had absolutely nothing to do with my friends or their boyfriends or their relationships. Both K and J are great gals, dating great guys, and they're in solid, loving relationships. My responses had nothing to do with them and everything to do with me.

In the case of K's impending home purchase (and really, I'm happy for her) it was because when I read the news, I immediately flashed back to the purchase of my own house. My ex and I bought it together before we were married (we put the offer in before we were even engaged). It seemed like a practical decision at the time. We knew that we wanted to get married in the next couple years, and the mortgage, including insurance and property taxes, would be around what we were paying in rent. It just made financial sense. And it continued to make sense, right up until we got a divorce. Then it seemed like just about the stupidest thing I could have done. There's no good reason to think this. Dealing with the property division made the divorce a little more expensive, and I had to refinance to get him off the mortgage, but really, it only made things slightly more complicated.

I think it's the second instance that illuminates things a bit more. J and her boyfriend have been together for 9 years. They met in college, and after graduation she moved across the country to be with him. Then they moved back across the country together. And then they moved halfway around the world and backpacked through various third world countries together. All this, and neither one of them has made any attempts on the other's life (or none that are documented, anyway), and they still want to be together. If anyone should know whether or not they can stand to be married to each other for the rest of their lives, it's them. Clearly, my gut instinct to scream, "Run for the hills before it's too late!" is both off-base and not at all about them or their relationship.
It is - surprise, surprise! - about me. More specifically, it seems like it's about not wanting to get tied down again, which isn't really something I thought I was concerned about. If you were to randomly ask me whether I wanted to re-marry, I would say yes, definitely. I have nothing against marriage or being married or having a husband. And as I mentioned before, there was no real harm in buying the house with my ex before we married (although it could have been much more of a hassle had we broken up before we tied the knot or if the divorce had been less amicable). It's that I was so miserable at the end of the marriage, and it was such a pain in the butt (and expensive) to get out of, that I can't conceive of doing it again anytime soon.

It doesn't help that I am really, really enjoying having the entire house to myself. I can repaint rooms any color I want, eat plain white rice for dinner, and get up at whatever hour I choose, all without discussing paint chips, worrying that the meal doesn't include a protein, or tiptoeing around to keep from waking someone else up. I can be selfish, and I like it. A lot. I'm sure that at some point I'll fall in love and want the comfort of drifting off to sleep next to the same person every night again, but not now. Right now, I want to be selfish. But I'll muster just enough self-control to make sure I don't go projecting that onto others.

In the meantime - Congratulations K and J!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

You Know What They Say about Opinions...

Everybody has one (yes, I know that's not exactly what they say about opinions, but close enough). And lately, it feels like everybody has an opinion about my life in particular.

I'm a talker. It's how I process my thoughts and emotions, and I tend to talk through things with my friends. Sometimes I'm looking for their advice, other times I just need to get something out so that I can figure it out on my own. I realize that by talking to people about my life, I'm implicitly inviting them into it and to some degree asking for their commentary. What I have trouble with is the way these opinions are sometimes delivered.

With some people, it's just the tone of voice, facial expression and choice of words. They communicate their disappointment/disdain/disapproval/etc. when they could quite easily keep it themselves or at the very least, better disguise it. I find this most irritating when I haven't explicitly asked for an opinion and I'm really just thinking out loud. 

What's worst is the people who take what I call the "Erin is a Child" approach. These people like to issue edicts and impose "rules" on me as if they are, apparently, all-knowing and infallible. It is irritating, to say the least (and infuriating, to be more accurate). "Don't do ____." "Only date ____ type of guy." "You should sell your house." "You need to date multiple people at once." "You should keep your house." "You should only date one person at a time." "You shouldn't have a long separation. File for divorce and get it over with."  My (unspoken) response to these opinions is always the same: "Shut the hell up. Seriously. Right now. Before I smack you."

I realize that these people are doing me a favor by listening while I talk through my thoughts, and it would be rude to preface every conversation with "Now, I'm gonna talk for a while, and it's your job to just sit there and listen and nod and not really participate in this one-sided 'conversation' one bit. Good? Good." In addition, that isn't actually what I want. I do want a sympathetic ear and I would like my friends to give helpful input. On the other hand, blatant judgments and blanket edicts are hurtful and not really useful to me, and unfortunately, it's not always easy to predict how someone is going to respond. The same friend might provide a soft shoulder to lean on one day, and treat me with visible disdain the next. This means I can't simply decide not to talk to certain people (although some are more predictable than others, for sure).

These aren't bad friends either. These are good friends, and I know that if push comes to shove, they'll stand by me through nearly anything. They're doing what they think is best for me, and I have a hard time faulting them for that. But on the other hand, the judgey-ness is not what I want. Or need.

I've considered censoring myself and just not discussing certain things with the people I've known to respond the strongest, but this feels a little dishonest about who I am. When I first started this blog, a good friend from college sent me an email commenting on one of my posts and digging down to what was going on beneath my surface. I responded by joking, "Wow, am I really that transparent? Actually, I know I am. Heart on my sleeve, open book, and all that BS." 

He wrote back with one simple sentence: "Wouldn't have it any other way." 

That response resonated with me then, and I cling to it now. In the midst of my divorce, while the life I had and expected to have was unraveling, as I was losing my sense of who I thought I was and rediscovering who I am, I learned that I really don't have much if I'm not being honest with myself. Authenticity is something that's come to mean a lot to me, and the truth is that I am not someone who censors herself. I never have. As a 4-year-old I earned myself the nickname "schtick pisk" from my great-grandmother, which I understand to mean "big mouth" in Yiddish ("big mouth" as in "sassy and talks back," not "blabbermouth," although the latter isn't far from the truth either). For better or for worse (and sometimes, it's definitely worse), I give voice to my thoughts. I do it because it's the only way I know how to be. It's who I am, and honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way either.

As I was thinking (and talking) this conflict through, I realized that all the advice I've been given, solicited or unsolicited, judgmental or helpful, comes directly from these other people's experiences. It sometimes has very little to do with me. The person who tells me to hurry up and get my divorce over with says that because that's how she imagines she would want to do it. The people who tell me I shouldn't be dating yet say that because when they got divorced, they weren't ready to date at this point in the process. The people who tell me to sell the house only say that because they can't imagine staying in the house they shared with their former spouse. Their responses come from their own experiences and really have very little to do with the fact that I needed time during my separation to think things through before coming to a final decision, that I feel ready to try dating now, and that I wanted to keep my house as one of the few stable things in my otherwise chaotic life. I'm not even sure that very many of them have thought about who I am or how I navigate the world before giving their input. Obviously, some friends have made an effort to think about me before commenting, and perhaps not surprisingly, these are the same friends who seem to be the least judgmental.

Knowing all this makes people's comments a little easier to accept. They're not about me, they're about them, and they're responding in the best way they know how at that moment.  I'm still not 100% sold on this line of thinking, but it helps some, and it's more socially acceptable than randomly screaming, "For the love of all things right and good in the world, please please please keep your judgmental opinions to yourself!"

Although, really, that's a pretty attractive option, too.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Big Day?

I got divorced last Tuesday, and I've been trying to write this post ever since. For the longest time, I just couldn't figure out what to say, and then I realized that *that* is exactly what I should say: I just don't know what to say.

It was the most anti-climactic experience of my life. For months, I've been jumping through hoops, puzzling over legal documents, and pondering the ramifications of changing the word "drawings" to "art" in the divorce decree (yes, I'm serious). It's been a laborious and emotionally gut-wrenching process, and then, in two minutes, it was over. Literally, two minutes. They called my name on the docket, and my lawyer and I walked to the front of the courtroom. The judge swore me in, I answered maybe ten yes-or-no questions, they asked me - twice! - whether I was pregnant (apparently in Texas you can't finalize a divorce if you're pregnant?), and then the judge signed the decree. She didn't even really read it. We walked downstairs, filed the paperwork, and that was it - I was officially divorced. 

In a matter of moments, I had become a 29-year-old divorcee. I still don't quite know how to feel about it. Or maybe it's more accurate to say that I feel a lot of ways about it, none of them definitive and most of them contradictory. It feels wrong to be happy or excited, but I am looking forward to starting the next phase of my life. I'm relieved to have the emotional, financial, and legal upheaval of the last 8 months behind me and hopeful that it will continue to subside. I'm sad that all the dreams and plans I used to have for my life won't turn out quite the way I planned, but also energized by the possibility of being able to reshape my life however I like. But the thing I feel most right now is gratitude. I've mentioned how unwaveringly supportive my family has been, and I've commented on the kindness strangers have shown me, but I haven't yet mentioned some of the people I'm most thankful for: my friends.

One of my dearest friends from grad school, who got divorced herself last year, was my steadfast voice of reason and rock-solid support throughout this ordeal. Just a few weeks after my ex moved out, when I was probably drinking more wine than is generally advisable for any woman of my height and weight, she sent me a simple, straightforward wake-up call via text: "This self-destructive behavior will not be tolerated forever." When I had late-night meltdowns, she always answered the phone and talked me through them. When it was finally time to see a lawyer and file for divorce, she went with me. When it was time to go to court, she offered to go with me again. And after the divorce hearing, when it was time to meet my friends for five hours of drinks and girl talk, she drove me around so that I could drink as much as I felt necessary (which, didn't turn out to be nearly as much as I thought, lucky for both of us). She is big-hearted and wise and I love and respect her more than she probably realizes. Thanks, A.

I have so many other friends who did things, both big and small, to make my life easier. Out-of-town friends offered me a place to crash if I needed to get away for a weekend. Local friends met me for drinks and brunches and lunches and dinners and listened to me talk through my life until all of us were tired of it. Old friends called to check in on me, and newer friends offered their shoulders to cry on. Every single one of these kindnesses reaffirmed for me what I've known all along: I have an incredible group of friends who each supported me in their own way, some big and others small. 

So in my muddle of emotions surrounding my Divorce Day, at least one thing stands out: my gratitude to my friends, who are some of the most amazing people I know. Thank you for everything. 

And now, I promise to start being funny again soon.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Lucky Bones

Even though my mom has always said I have "lucky bones," I never thought I was particularly lucky. I've never won the lottery or had the Publisher's Clearinghouse folks show up on my doorstep. But on the rare occasion when I do win things, it seems to happen at pretty opportune moments.

Last spring my ex and I took a trip to Las Vegas. We stayed at The Venetian (which I highly recommend), and as part of the package we purchased we got a $50 slot machine credit. I've mentioned before that I'm not a risk-taker, and that I wouldn't even gamble with fake money in high school, but as an adult I'll happily gamble with free casino credits. My ex and I plopped ourselves at the slot machines, loaded them up with our credits, and started pulling. A few pulls into it, I won $50. Just like that - free money! So I did the perfectly logical, responsible thing - I spent the remainder of my casino credit, cashed out my $50 winnings, and stashed the bills in my pocket to treat myself to a little something nice when I got home. Vegas must hate people like me.

Last October, my ex and I took a 12-day trip to Italy. I desperately wanted a new camera before we left - the 3.2 megapixel Sony Cybershot from 2004 (no joke) just wasn't gonna cut it on the canals of Venice - but every camera I wanted was outside my price range. Coincidentally, one of the blogs I read regularly, Addicted to Costco!, was having a giveway around that same time: comment and list the five things I buy most often at Costco, and be entered to win a gift card to the warehouse club for $25, $50, or $100. I entered without really expecting to win, but just one month before we were scheduled to leave on our trip and still without a new camera, I got the kind of email that made my day - I'd won the grand prize! Of course, I put it toward my new camera (my ex paid for the rest as an early birthday present) and secretly thought that someone or something was looking out for me and my scrapbook.

And then, just this past Friday, four days before my divorce and thinking about treating myself to a little something special, I got another well-timed email. The good news: I was a winner - again! Days before, I entered a giveaway hosted by the Austin Food Journal for an insulated picnic tote, complete with wine glasses, corkscrew, cheese board and knife, and fully stocked with a bottle of yummy wine, three kinds of luscious cheese, some tasty charcuterie, and a loaf of artisan ciabatta, all courtesy of Antonelli's Cheese Shop

I picked up my prize at the shop on Saturday afternoon, where I got to meet Christian of the Austin Food Journal and John Antonelli, co-owner of the shop. Christian and I chatted while John packed up my winnings (or "babies," as he called them), and then I got to chat with John a bit as well. This is a guy who's seriously passionate about what he does - he took the time to describe each cheese to me, telling me where it came from and what it tasted like. I learned that the Ossau-Iraty would be "buttery," the Trugole was great on lamb pizza, and the Clothbound Cheddar from the Cellars at Jasper Hill was John's absolute favorite cheddar right now. The ciabatta from Barrie Baking, the Felino salame, and the bottle of wine - Verdier-Logel Cotes du Forez la Volcanique - would all pair beautifully with the cheeses, he assured me. I thanked both John and Christian repeatedly and left barely able to wait for my picnic treat. My mouth was watering, to say the least.


The babies (and some salami for good measure).

One of my dearest friends, Allison, came by to help me inhale the feast. We rounded it out with some grapes and jams (fig and pear ginger, to be precise). It turned out to be quite the delicious spread!

Artsy photo courtesy of Allison.

All I can say is: it was so. freakin'. good. The Trugole was my favorite I think, and I having a sneaking suspicion I'll be stopping by Antonelli's to pick up some more. Thank you, thank you, thank you to the Austin Food Journal and Antonelli's Cheese Shop! This was a great way to spend the afternoon with a good friend, and an even better way to keep myself from fixating on tomorrow's events. I may never win the lottery, but getting to indulge in treats like this and share them with friends feels pretty darn lucky to me.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

One Hot Property

Leaving a friend's place the other day, I passed a house with a "For Sale" sign in the yard. I'm used to seeing signs that say, "For Sale By Owner," "Must See!" and "New Price," but this one was different. 

Written in red letters on a white background at the bottom of the sign was, "I'M GORGEOUS INSIDE." Maybe it was the first-person voice that caught my attention, or maybe it was the slightly plaintive tone I imagined it in, I'm not sure. But it was striking enough to make me stop and take a picture, and then it made me think.

I may not wear a t-shirt emblazoned with those words, but I often find myself going into new relationships silently praying that the other person will realize that I, too, am gorgeous inside. Please don't notice that I could stand to lose a few pounds, that I rarely put on any makeup, or that I rotate through the same seven go-to outfits again and again. I'm great inside. Really, I am. I swear.

In my attempts to convince people - new friends, colleagues, and first dates alike - that I really, truly am gorgeous inside, I often come on too strong. I talk more than I know I should, trying to make people laugh or impress them with my intelligence. It often equates to, "See how great I am? No, really, can you see it? What about now? Okay, now?" Not surprisingly, this often backfires. It's annoying just to read it.
Another thing that sign and I have in common: neither one of us is particularly repulsive on the outside. There's nothing about the house's exterior that would lead me to believe that it isn't perfectly lovely on the inside. The lawn is green, the flowers are blooming, and the paint job looks great. Likewise, if I were to actually take an objective look in the mirror, I would see that there's nothing about my appearance that would lead anyone to think I'm anything less than gorgeous on the inside. I have an adorable band of freckles across my cheeks and nose. I have a pinkish glow to my complexion that means I never need blush. My curves are womanly in ways that Kate Moss's will never be. I have a big smile and full lips and, if you believe my mother, a beautiful hairline (no, I don't know what that means, but I'm still gonna go with it). But my fixation on the negatives - my weight and the fact that my sister inherited every ounce of fashion sense in the family gene pool, among other things - means that I don't usually see that I'm not *only* gorgeous on the inside. I'm gorgeous on the outside in my own way, too.

I realize that I can't expect anyone else to believe that I'm gorgeous inside or out if I don't believe it myself. I also realize that no amount of affirmation from my friends or family or significant others is going to make me believe it. So instead I try to chip away at it slowly, countering the negative thoughts with one affirmation over and over: "Hey, I'm gorgeous outside, too."

Hey, does anyone know whether they make t-shirts emblazoned with those words instead?