Monday, January 31, 2011

Equal Opportunity Isn't Always a Good Thing

I have a date this week. Actually, I'm supposed to have a date this week, but I'm teetering on the edge of canceling. I can't tell if it's fear of rejection, or my gut telling me something's off, or what, but I keep thinking it won't go anywhere. This is the exact opposite of what I've been doing since I've become single, which is what I'd like to call "equal opportunity dating." In other words, I'd go out with just about anyone.

This attitude led to a series of dates that ended in ambivalence, not to mention a few relationships that never should have started in the first place and then went on far longer than they should have. When I think back on my dating experiences over the last 9 months or so, it's immediately clear that I often ignore important warning signs, so I'm trying to develop a list of "red flags" - things that should clue me in that maybe my date and I aren't a match made in heaven. Here's what I've got so far:

1. No college diploma and/or no love of lifelong learning. I'm not going to automatically rule out someone who didn't go to or finish college, but that can be a dealbreaker for me, especially when combined with no interest in literature, current events, or - at the very least - the writings of David Sedaris.

2. A history of not finishing things. Like school. Or bouncing from job to job.

3. Describing himself as "laid back" or "chill" or "go with the flow." I've discovered that this is often code for what I perceive to be "a lack of ambition or energy" or "a tendency to procrastinate" or "laziness." I realize that my perception might not be entirely accurate or fair, but this approach to life will drive me crazy nonetheless.

4. Referring to all one's exes as "crazy." You picked 'em, buddy, which at the very least makes you a poor judge of character. It also says nothing for his ability to reflect on and accept responsibility for his role in the demise of a relationship.

5. No desire for children. I kinda think I want a couple spawn one day, so I need someone who's at least open to that possibility. If he's willing to bear them, even better.

6. He makes one of our early dates a BYO occasion - at his house. I don't mind paying my own way on a date, but when I invite someone over to my place I generally try to stock his drink of choice, or at the very least have options on hand. To me, that's part of being a good hostess. I wouldn't dream of saying, "Bring your own beverage," especially not when I want to make a good impression.

7. He's on parole or probation, has a suspended driver's license, or has had recent run-ins with the law that are anything more serious than a speeding ticket. I believe people have the right to make mistakes and be forgiven for them, but a history of these kind of stupid mistakes isn't okay with me.

Before you ask: yes, every single one of these red flags has popped up in my last year of dating. In one case, a guy racked up several of them early on (#1, 4, 5, 6, & 7) and I still continued to see him for 3 months, because apparently I really know how to pick 'em.

The guy I'm supposed to meet this week has already set off my warning bells a couple times - he's got part of #1, a lot of 2, and maybe a little of 3 - and so I'm trying to stay aware of how these signs have panned out historically. But I'm conflicted: on the one hand, I don't want to write off a good guy unfairly, but on the other hand, I don't want to waste his time or mine when I already know what my dealbreakers are.

I'm also questioning how much of these are real dealbreakers, and how much I use them as ways to avoid rejection and getting hurt. Obviously, there's no question about some items on the list, but I don't want to over-emphasize them as a defense mechanism. Doesn't there need to be some wiggle room for an amazing connection with someone? Or is that an excuse to ignore the warning signs? Sometimes I feel so out-of-practice when it comes to dating, and so unsure of my own judgment, that I don't know what the answers are anymore.

Friday, January 28, 2011

I Actually Do Feel Fine

I'm a glass-half-empty kind of girl. My worldview is often dominated by the negative, and I sometimes have a hard time looking at the bigger picture. REM's "It's the End of the World As We Know It" could be my anthem, if they didn't follow those words with the phrase "and I feel fine" in the actual lyrics. In short, I'm usually Debbie Downer, which puts me at the top of everyone's invite list for funerals and divorce parties.

Which is why it was so especially bizarre when, as I was making a quick Starbucks run this morning, I had the passing thought, "Life is pretty good right now." The sun was shining, I was feeling accomplished after an especially productive morning in the office, and things generally felt, well, good. Despite the facts that I really don't know if I'll have a job come September 1, and I'm not dating anyone at all, and I weigh too much, my life feels pretty decent right now.

I've finally gotten more comfortable with being alone. Weeknights at home, watching TV or reading a book or even catching up on work, don't feel so painfully awkward and lonely anymore. If I do get the itch for some company, I'll sometimes grab a book or my laptop and go to my favorite hangout, where I know the bartenders enough that they'll chat with me a little. I'm trying to make sure I have a few exciting events that I can look forward to; next month I'm taking a Chinese cooking class with a girlfriend and driving up to Dallas to go to a concert with another friend.

I'm trying to get better about going on casual outings. Sometimes I'll make plans with a friend - to meet up for happy hour, to grab dinner, whatever - and then, when the time approaches, just not feel like it. I'm tired, or the activity no longer sounds appealing, or I just don't feel like leaving the house that day. The times that I do force myself to go, I usually enjoy it, so I'm trying to be better about following through on those plans. Tonight I'm going to an opening at an art gallery that features a coworker's paintings, and then heading over to see another friend perform with her band. I'm hoping that making myself do more little things like this will be a good way not to fall back into the boring rut I'm usually in, and maybe help me meet some new people, too.

Things aren't perfect, but I no longer feel compelled to be with someone just for the sake of being with someone. Alone and lonely are different things, and I'm learning to feel the difference between the two. And while my glass may not be full, it also isn't empty, and not empty can feel pretty good, too.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

...Or I Could Just Hire a Manservant

It wasn't until after I was divorced that I realized all the things about married life that I took for granted. I'm most acutely aware of these when I'm sick. When you're married, partnered, living with someone, or even seriously dating someone, there is someone who will bring you cough drops, soup, and trashy magazines when you're not feeling well. These little things often make being sick just a little bit easier. 

Now I should make one thing clear: I am an awful patient. I whine and complain and swear that I'm dying of some previously unknown hybrid strain of Ebola-whooping cough. In short: I am not pleasant. My ex-husband put up with my antics when I was sick, generally saying things like, "I know you don't feel well. Is there anything I can do? Do you want soup? I'll go get you soup," and then coming back an hour later with a case of canned clam chowder - because you know what they say: feed a fever, drown a case of Ebola-whooping cough in canned soup. Seriously, though, he was a patient nurse who probably would have given anything for me to just feel better and quit asking him to call the CDC.

But now that I'm single, I don't have that automatic support system. I could call and beg a friend, but I'm not going to cash that chip unless I'm on my deathbed. So at times like this, when I'm feeling achy and congested and feverish (is 99.1ºF a fever? I think so), I'm suddenly aware of how much I took for granted. I can't just count on someone else to feed the cat because I don't want to get out of bed. If I don't have soup in the pantry, no one else is going out to get some for me; I'm either getting in the car and buying myself some, or going without. And no one else is going to do my laundry for me, or run to the store to get me more Sudafed, or even wander into the bedroom to ask how I'm feeling and offer to run me a bath.

I'm not saying that these are reasons not to have gotten divorced. But I do think I'm much more aware of all the things I took for granted in my former partner, both when I was sick and when I wasn't. I don't think this perspective would have changed my ultimate decision, but I do think it will be something I'll try harder to keep in mind in any future relationships. Also, I'll keep the CDC on speed dial so that when my rare case of Ebola-whooping cough flares up, I can call them myself.

Monday, January 17, 2011

One Big Thing

I've been feeling a little "blah" lately. It took me a while to figure out what it is that's dragging me down. I must have drafted five or six different blog posts before I finally got to this: I'm just bored with my life.

I'm perfectly content to sit at home and watch a movie, or go out to a coffee shop and read a book, or meet up with friends for dinner and some entertainment. But overall, I feel like my life is fairly bland right now. There's no intriguing new love interest, or challenging new project at work, or really anything to get very excited about, or even look forward to.

I know that I shouldn't need something exciting in my life in order to be happy with it, but right now I feel like I do. It doesn't help that a lot of my friends have amazing things going on. Some of them will be having babies soon (twins in one case, even). My good friend from college, Chris, just opened his second wine bar, Pause, in San Francisco this past weekend. And still other friends will be finishing doctoral degrees, and getting married, and completing triathlons, and generally doing impressive and accomplished-sounding things in the coming year. And I.... will not.

I wrote recently about my modest hopes for 2011: to be happier, healthier, and more comfortable being alone. While these are by no means insignificant, they aren't exactly the kind of things one gets excited about or looks forward to. I don't, anyway. I see them more as parts of my daily life, almost routine.

So I've decided that this year, in addition to my modest goals, I'm going to do One Big Thing. I'm not exactly sure yet what my One Big Thing is going to be, but I do know what it won't be: I won't be opening my own business. I definitely won't be having any kids. And anyone who knows me would agree that I'd be setting myself up to fail if I said I was going to complete a triathlon. None of those are my things.

I'm going to spend a little time over the next few weeks thinking about my interests and seeing what I get excited about. I sometimes have a bad habit of getting halfway into a project and then quitting (or calling someone in to finish it for me), so I need to make sure that whatever I choose is something I want or will enjoy enough to see it through. I also want it to be something that I can be proud of, and maybe even grow from. Perhaps a solo trip to some place I've never been? Suggestions are also welcome!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Deciding What to Be

I was working away on a New Year's Eve/Day post when I dropped everything to write my post on depression. Now, one week into the new year, it feels a little late to post a reflection on 2010 or my New Year's Resolutions. 

But I do have hopes for 2011. There's a line from a song by The Avett Brothers, "Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise," that sums up my approach to this year:

"Decide what to be and go be it."

I spent much of 2010 doing whatever felt right in the moment. It's how I coped with the pain, loss, and fear associated with my divorce and the uncertain future that accompanied it. It wasn't entirely a bad thing - it did serve a purpose after all - but it's not a healthy way to go about life long-term. For 2011 and beyond, I need to decide who and what I want to be, and then do what it takes to be those things.

I want to be happier. Too often my happiness is based on external factors that change quickly and easily - someone else's opinion of my work or behavior, whether I've gained five pounds, or if a guy calls me for a second date. I think it's probably normal for these sorts of things to affect my mood in the short term, but I don't want them to rule my overall happiness. I need to learn how to feel good about myself and to be confident in that.

I want to be healthier. I really let myself go this past year. I stopped exercising and started allowing myself to eat and drink everything in sight. Not only is this just plain bad for my body long term, but I don't feel good physically either. I recently starting using Lose It! to log my food and, eventually, exercise. The only way I've ever managed to lose weight is to keep careful track of everything I eat, so that's what I'll do. But I also think I need to be realistic. I like to eat good food. I like to drink wine. I do not like to exercise. Given all that, I'm never going to be a size zero. At this point, I'd be happy if I could settle in at a comfortable size 12 and a BMI under 25. I've done it before, and I can do it again. 

I want to be more comfortable being alone. I've made big strides in this over the last few months. There were times when being alone made me physically uncomfortable: my chest was tight, my heart beat faster, and I wanted to crawl out of my skin. I sometimes dissolved into hysterical tears from it. I just didn't know how to be alone. Turns out practice helps. Putting on some music and snuggling with Juliette on the couch while I read a book no longer feels awkward, just quiet and relaxing. Spending the afternoon with a latte and my writing in a coffee shop doesn't make me worry about looking conspicuous anymore. I still want to learn how to go out and do things on my own, though. The other night I went to a book talk at our local independent book store with some friends, and I noticed quite a few people who were attending it alone. I think attending some of more of those types of events on my own might be a safe place to start - alone in a group.

Those are my modest hopes for 2011, to be happier, healthier, and more comfortable alone. In short: to get a little bit better.