Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Oh, and if he could look like Johnny Depp too, that would be great. (Or, Ideal Qualities in a Partner, #1)

Hi. My name is Erin, and I have a fear of winding up alone. Actually, this isn't quite true. I have a fear of winding up in a house occupied by me, fifteen cats, and daydreams of what might have been. I have a fear of being visited by Animal Control and informed that I haven't just surpassed the number of domestic animals allowed in a single-family home - I also have the minimum number of cats required to be officially classified as my block's Crazy Cat Lady.

Regardless of whether or not this fear is irrational, it sometimes leads me to make some less than ideal choices. I've been known to get attached to the first guy who comes along, even if he isn't the best fit for me. I sometimes compromise too much, trying to make him fit when it's obvious he fits me about as well as a size 2 minidress (i.e., very, very badly). And I sometimes put up with more crap than I should, for much longer than I should, because I want to believe that if I just try hard enough, it will work (or he'll change, or he'll realize how awesome I am, etc. etc. etc.). 

In an effort to keep my criteria for a good partner in mind, I'm starting a series of posts about these ideal qualities. Some are requirements while others are nice-to-haves, and they are all things I value and would like any future boyfriends to have. I have no doubt this list will wind up serving as a reality check for myself when I sense I'm compromising too much. And really, that's not a bad thing.

Quality #1: Follow Through (or, Reliability, or, Not Being a Jackass)
If he says he's going to call me, I expect him to actually pick up the phone, dial my number, and then speak to me on the phone. If he says we can hang out this weekend, I expect him to get in touch with me and actually try to hang out this weekend (barring unforeseen circumstances, of course). And if he says he wants to date me, I expect him to take me on some actual dates - not go pick up a copy of Avatar on Blu-Ray, grab a six-pack of beer, and then call me at 8:30 on a Friday night to ask if I want to come over. That is not a date. That is lazy.

Now, to be fair, I do realize that sometimes things come up. He's at work, the boss dumps something on his desk at 4:30pm and tells him he wants it back by 9am tomorrow, he freaks out and pulls an all-nighter and totally forgets to call when he said he would. Or he really wanted to hang out this weekend, but his grandma fell off her snowmobile and busted her hip and now he's rushing home to North Dakota to visit her, so he needs to reschedule. These are all understandable. I get it. But when they happen every single week (or every other week, even), I'm a bit less understanding (or I should be, anyway). These sorts of things should be the exception to the rule, not the norm.

And Avatar on Blu-Ray? If he's been dying to see it, picks it up at Target, and thinks, "You know, I bet Erin would like to watch this with me. I'll just give her a call to see if she wants to come hang out," that is fine. Sweet, even - he thought of including me in his everyday life. How thoughtful. But not everything we do should be last-minute. It would be nice if he made an effort to make plans with me in advance. This could be as simple as calling me on Wednesday (heck, I'll settle for Thursday or even Friday noon) and saying, "Hey, I'm planning to [insert random casual activity here] on Friday night. Would you like to join me?" I do not require big fancy evenings at high-end restaurants every time we do something (although occasionally those are fun too). What I do require is some consideration and the assumption that my time is just as valuable as his.

I don't think this is terribly unreasonable. Like I said, I understand that sometimes things come up, or he just wants to do something laid back and chill instead of planning some big night out on the town. Great! Me too! But the thing I am inflexible on is this: I will not be taken for granted anymore, I will not be treated like I am not worth his time or energy, and I will not let myself believe that that behavior is acceptable from anyone I'm involved with.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Shameless Plea for Birthday Gifts, #1

As my 30th birthday is now less than 3 months away (just typing that makes me lightheaded), I've started to compile my list of desired birthday gifts. Really my mom is the only one who ever wants to see the list, but putting the list together gives me the vague hope that I'll get even more presents, so I put a great deal of effort into it. Just the other day, I came across the newest addition to the list, and I'm fairly certain that my mom definitely won't be getting it for me.

GOOD Magazine recently asked its readers to submit new six-word mottoes for the city of New Orleans. The editors narrowed it down to the top 11 submissions and posted them for readers to comment on. My personal favorite struck me immediately, and I've decided it's so awesome, someone needs to put it on a t-shirt and give it to me to wear during my 30th birthday festivities. And also probably for the next ten years. I may need multiple copies.

And just what is this t-shirt design/life motto?

I'm thinking my 30s are gonna be my classiest decade yet.

Allison and Katherine, get to work on this t-shirt gift pronto. I expect extra thought to be put into font selection and overall aesthetic appeal, seeing as how I'll be wearing this for the next 10 years or so.

Monday, August 9, 2010

News Flash: I'm At Least 37% Fresh, People

I learned the following very valuable life lesson about a decade later than I would have liked: Say what you mean, mean what you say, and realize that most people don't do either.

I dated a guy who never seemed to have time for me. In our three months of dating, we went on two - yes, two - actual dates. Everything else consisted of hanging out at his house. Why? Because he was "busy" and had a lot of "commitments" and therefore couldn't plan in advance. And he was busy, and he did have a lot of commitments, but it quickly became clear to me that he wasn't that busy, and he didn't have that many commitments, especially since he managed to find time to do a lot of other things.

At various points throughout our dating, I told him that I felt like I didn't matter much to him. In response, he insisted, repeatedly and very earnestly, that I mattered to him a great deal. Every time we had this conversation, I told him that all I wanted was for him to set a little bit of time aside to do something - hell, anything - together. It could be as simple as taking his dog to the park for a couple hours one afternoon, or going to see a movie, or grabbing a burger at freakin' Sonic for goodness sake. All I wanted was for him to set aside time for me and - and this next part was key - to plan it in advance and not just text me at the last minute like I was an afterthought.

I didn't think I was asking for much, especially since he'd started calling me his girlfriend. In fact, he agreed that my expectations were entirely reasonable. And every time we had this conversation, he said he felt bad and would start treating me better. And every time, he failed to follow through. Eventually, I got tired of begging him to act like he cared about me. The pleading was painful for me because I knew deep down that no matter how many claims he made to the contrary, if I had to repeatedly ask him to set aside a couple hours a week for me, then he didn't really care all that much about me to begin with. It just wasn't possible. This confused me for the longest time, because I was choosing to believe what he was saying, rather than what he was doing.

My mom has a saying: "People do what they want to do." I believe this to be fundamentally true about everyone. If I choose laying on the couch watching bad TV over cleaning the kitchen, it is because I want to lay on the couch and watch bad TV more than I want to clean the kitchen, regardless of the excuses I come up with. For whatever reason, there's a bigger payoff for me in doing the former. Similarly, if I choose to bust my ass at work instead of playing around on the internet all day, it's because I want to work really hard because there's some kind of greater payoff over playing around on the internet. And if a guy repeatedly chooses to work late/play video games with his friends/text me at the very last minute every time he wants to hang out, rather than doing the one thing I asked him to do to make me feel like I matter even a little, it's because he wants to do whatever it is he's choosing to do more than he wants to make me feel like I matter. There's a bigger payoff in working late, or kicking his friend's ass at Call of Duty 4, or not tying yourself down to a girl by actually acting like a boyfriend, than there is in spending time with me.

It was painful to realize that I mattered so little to someone, and that doing what seemed like such a little thing for me - scheduling and spending just a couple hours with me - was just too much trouble for him. It made me feel like I wasn't worth it. And frankly, that's exactly what it was: I wasn't worth it to him. In his mind, whether or not he realized it or wanted to admit it, I was worth less than the freedom to watch Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (which got only 36% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, I'll have you know) with his friends whenever he pleased. Apparently, I was worth less than a fifteen-year-old sequel that most critics agreed wasn't very good to begin with. I was less than 36% fresh in his book.

This is a pretty shitty realization. I envisioned myself getting an easel and a flip chart and illustrating it for him. It would go something like this:

Page 1: If this...
Page 2: ...and if this...

Page 3: ...then this. Cue tears.

I thought this graphic presentation would really drive my point home and show him how ridiculous (and wrong) he was. And then I realized the following three things:

1. At best, the flip chart thing was going to make me look like the ridiculous one, and at worst, I'd come off as pretty freakin' insane.

2. I do not want to date someone who requires a flip chart (or a PowerPoint presentation, or any other illustrative tool) to realize that I am worth spending time with and taking on actual dates.

3. I am at least 37% fresh. At least. In fact, I would venture to assert that I am much closer to 70% fresh, seeing as how I have a) a great number of friends who don't just enjoy spending time with me, but actually invite me out and make an effort to see me, and b) many family members who have not yet shunned me (I imagine shunning starts at around 45% fresh).

Which brings me back to my newly learned life lesson: Say what you mean, mean what you say, and realize that most people don't do either.  I learned the third part the hard way with him, so next it was time to put the first two into practice. I told him, "I'm going to give you space to figure your shit out. I'm not going to call you. You call me." I did exactly that: I left and gave him space to decide whether I was worth it, and I didn't call him to see what his decision was. Predictably, he reinforced the third part of the lesson for me again. After nodding his head and saying he'd call, he did just the opposite. 

Thankfully, he did leave me with one other lesson, one I treasure and repeat silently to myself whenever necessary:

That guy was a total fucking idiot.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Because I Couldn't Color Code Them, I Had to Type Them...

Following up on everyone having an opinion about my life, I've found that everyone has a strong reaction to my divorce as well. The reactions aren't unique, though - in fact, they fall into several different types (this is my way of saying, "You people are pretty freakin' predictable"). I'll just cover a few of the more amusing ones here.

Type 1: Shock
Shock comes in many forms, but my favorite is the melodramatic kind. Take this conversation with my hair stylist not too long ago:

Stylist: "So I haven't heard any funny stories about your husband lately."
Me: "Well, he's not going to be my husband anymore."
Stylist: (freezes with her hands mid-shampoo, mouth open wide, staring down at me) "Whaaaaat?"

I love this one because it's how everyone wants to respond initially, but most people are too polite to actually do it. With most people, you can see their faces begin to contort into your classic "aghast" look, but then they regain their composure and get their game faces on pretty quick. But not with my hair stylist and a few others like her. They go straight to their melodramatic place, and from there they stare at you, mouth hanging open, eyes bulging, their faces pleading with you to tell them they've misheard. If only.

Type 2: Denial
This is another favorite of mine because it requires me to repeatedly insist to the other person that yes, it's true, I'm getting a divorce.  A few weeks ago I ran into my next door neighbor at the mailbox and enjoyed the following conversation:

(I should preface this by saying he's from India, and while he speaks English very well it is not his native language, which may - or may not - explain some of the awkward-yet-humorous turns of phrase below.)
Neighbor: "Where's your honey? I haven't seen him in a while. Months."
Me: "Well, he's not my honey anymore. We got a divorce."
Neighbor: "Oh, don't tell me that!"
Me: "Yeah... just part of life sometimes."
Neighbor: "Oh, no! No!"
Me: "Yup..."

Because that's what every newly-divorced person wants: to be reminded that yes, her marriage did indeed fail, by having to inform you repeatedly of this fact because you're stuck in the Land of Disbelief. Best hop the next train to Acceptanceland, Neighbor, because I'm not going back and forth like this all day, okay?

Type 3: Prescience (or, I Saw It Coming)
This is my most frequently encountered response. I don't know whether that's because everyone really did see it coming, or because everyone wants to believe they saw it coming. I prefer to believe it's the latter, but either way, it comes in a few different subtypes.

First, there's the out-and-out "I knew it!" I can't count the number of times I got responses along the lines of, "I thought it was doomed from the start," or "I never thought he was right for you." This only prompts me to wonder, "Hey, so-called friend, why the hell didn't you say something?"

A variation on this is the slightly more subtle, "I sensed something wasn't quite right in your relationship." These people get kudos for at least attempting not to flaunt their advance knowledge of my divorce. Here's an example from just the other day:

Neighbor: "So where's [insert name of ex-husband here] working these days?"
Me: "Same company. Oh, by the way, we got a divorce."
Neighbor: "Oh, sorry. If I remember correctly, you always kind of had to do everything for him."

The unspoken last half of that final sentence is something along the lines of, "... and I thought that was (going to be) a problem for you guys." My unspoken thought: "Maybe everyone really did see it coming...."

I recognize that the way I relay the news probably begets some of these responses. I'm fairly blunt when I inform people of my divorce. There's no softening the blow, no easing into the delivery, no niceties or turns of phrase like, "We're not together anymore." No, I dive right into the deep end.

But such directness is uncomfortable for many people, and by not softening the blow or hinting at the forthcoming news before I deliver it, I don't give them time to prepare themselves. Maybe if they saw it coming, they could come up with a more polished response (heck, just tactful would be nice). Unfortunately for them, I don't do indirect in my personal life (work is another matter entirely - office politics require me to ease into things a bit more). It's just not my style.

Truth be told, there's another reason I deliver the news the way I do: it has the added benefit of making both of us feel awkward. Having informed dozens of people of my divorce now, I know that it's an uncomfortable conversation for me. And if I'm going to be uncomfortable, I'll be damned if they're not going to be uncomfortable too (I apply this general philosophy to much of my life). So I drop the bomb quickly, giving them little time to absorb it, and even less time to come up with a suitable reaction. There, now we're both uncomfortable. Serves them right for bringing the subject up in the first place.

Of course, I didn't plan it that way - this is my own self-inflicted psychoanalytic hindsight, and it measures an almost painfully acute 20/20. But even so, I doubt I'll change the delivery. It works for me. In some sense, it is me.

And besides, I really did mean it when I said that that if I have to be uncomfortable, so do they. I'm democratic like that.