relationships

Being right and humble pie

A few thoughts from my Saturday...

"Would you rather be right, or effective?" Every time I meet with our controller, those words stare me in the face from the wall of her gorgeous, light-flooded corner office, and I find myself fixating on them. I don't know why they just popped back into my head, as I sit here on our patio staring out at the palm trees, but they're stuck in my mind so I'm going to word-vomit out some thoughts. Hold on tight! 

I'm the kind of person who has a bad, bad tendency to need to be right. In seventh grade English, we were having an organized class debate about some reading or other - I don't even remember what - and I could not stop arguing my point. I was right. I was right, I WAS right. No form of emphasis can capture how utterly confident I was in my certitude that I had taken the correct side of the argument, and I was willing to die on that hill, status and popularity and other classmates' feelings be damned. Needless to say, my team "won" the debate, and after class, my teacher pulled me aside and suggested I talk to my mother about joining the high school debate team. As a thirteen-year old. Ummm, right. 

I did, eventually, join that high school debate team, and I was a damn good debater - undefeated as a novice, successful on the national competition circuit, and consistently placing high in my first and early second year. At a few tournaments, I made my opponents cry...an achievement of which I remain dubiously proud, even to this day. 

That sort of half-ashamed pride in my argumentative ability trickles over into my personal life, too. I am far too reluctant to back down - famous in my family for needing to get the last word in, to prove my point, or to twist the knife. I am vicious when confronted unjustly by friends or partners, gifted with a colossal vocabulary and cursed with the kind of temper that stays dormant or suppressed for far too long and explodes out so violently as to be near-cruel. My family has a name for these sorts of flare-ups, after an incident in high school when I eviscerated a close guy friend, over the phone (while they all eavesdropped on another phone, of course), for falsely accusing me of being dishonest about some prom drama, of all things. Now, when I go off, they call it "John Doe'ing" someone (name, obviously, redacted to save that poor guy's dignity a decade later). Since that high school lash-out, I've only John Doe'd a half a dozen times, but each one lives in my memory: distinct moments of mingled shame over losing it and satisfaction in my ability to stand up for myself in my own righteousness. 

I ramble so terribly, yikes - let's bring it back to that statement on the wall. "Do you want to be right, or effective?" I've been mulling over my desire to be right, and I think it stems largely from the fact that being right, being correct, traditionally earns one praise, accolades, gold stars and merit badges. I am a junkie for pleasing people and achieving highly - always have been, always will be. You have to be right to get high test scores, to pass pop quizzes, to clear audit review notes or adhere to finance policies and procedures. Doing things right is a source of comfort, of safety, of success. But there's a difference between doing things right and being right, and I often don't adhere to that brightline. 

Of late, my job has really hammered this point home, as has my personal life. Long story short, I John Doe'd a bit a few weeks ago on someone who was being hideously unfair, and the residual anger and sense of irreproachability has lingered. Professionally, I'm working with a few people at work who are not subject-matter experts in what I do, and who remain reluctant to admit that. All of these smaller situations have combined, I think, to make me feel like I'm right more often than not - and I am right, in these specific situations. 

Moral of the story though, in order to be effective in these scenarios, I'm going to have to put that in my back pocket and shut the eff up. I'm right, yes, but I don't know it all and I can't control others' response to the fact that I AM right. And in these scenarios, it's better to serve myself up a double helping of humble pie, acknowledge that there are other ways to get where I need to go, and bite my tongue rather than proving my point. This, for me, is anathema, which I've touched on before here; I take pride in my intelligence and grasp of what I do, and not using (let's be honest, flaunting) that expertise is hard for me. That said, it's a lesson I'm trying hard to take to heart, and hopefully having it down on "paper" here will help me adhere to that principle as effectively as possible. 

Wish me luck, I guess?! 

40 Days of Dating

I know I promised lots of life updates coming up here, but in between the last two nights of "Bachelor in Paradise" (#TeamKristina) and a few hectic days at work, I haven't felt like taking the time to do justice to my life lately. Instead, I revisited an old favorite, and wanted to share it. 

Have you guys heard of 40 Days of Dating? It's a social experiment-slash-blog written in 2013 by two graphic designers, Jessica Walsh and Timothy Goodman, about how they dated for 40 days to try to overcome their respective relationship issues. Jessica falls too hard, too fast, and always for the wrong men. Tim, on the other hand, is a classic serial dater and commitment-phobe. Their daily dates, including couples therapy, a weekend trip to Disneyworld, and plenty of ups and downs along the way, charmed me the minute I discovered it in 2013, around day 18's publication.

I read breathlessly along the first time through, convinced they were going to end up together. (Spoiler alert: they don't. Jessica is happily married to someone else now - see their wedding here. BOOOO.) That said, they are both incredibly candid and vulnerable throughout the series, and being able to read their respective thoughts and intentions, along with how the other perceived them, was a fascinating dive into human experience. 

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I remember re-reading the series probably two years ago, and stumbled back on it yesterday to marathon through it again. Some of the things that stuck out most to me now are that I'm officially older than they were when they did the experiment in the first place...a weird and kind of unsettling feeling, given their respective focus and obsession with dating. I'm just kind of...not, and that makes me feel like I'm doing things wrong. 

Second, this section on online dating, from a portion of Jessica's Day Nine entry: 

"We no longer search for romantic partners, we shop for them. Just like when looking online for a new pair of shoes, one can sort men by highest rated, size, popularity, even by color. While I admit it’s all very practical, I have to wonder if it’s caused me to miss out on spontaneous interactions or chance encounters."

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You guys, it seriously messed with my head a little bit. I HATE online dating. As I've chronicled numerous times, I'm utterly terrible at it, and it always comes to feel a little dirty and cheap to me. This, I think is why - I am a consummate consumer, but the act of searching for a partner the way I search for a deal at J.Crew is repellent to me. 

Third, I really love and identify with their Day Five activity of illustrating their past relationships. See art (and ones I especially identify with) below: 

It all made me wonder if certain tropes and kinds of hindsight have a certain universality to them - if everyone has a person who was too good to them, or, conversely, has someone to whom they regret being too good. If there's always "that guy from New Years" or something. 

Finally, I love the stark, bold, graphic nature of the site. Tim and Jessie visually curated their way through their 40 days, with hand-drawn art, snippets of iPhone messages and chats, and photos of souvenirs, tickets, and ephemera. The way the art came together created a powerful third character in their relationship - how they both distilled and perceived their relationship, and expressed it together. 

Tim and Jessica released an "extended cut," of sorts, in the form of a book in 2015. I'm tempted to pick it up and read it, and to see how much extra info they popped in there - who knows? That said, if you've got a spare few hours and a desire to play fly-on-the-wall in another pair's relationship, it's super interesting. The added element of self-awareness, knowing this was an experiment with a fixed end date, just added to the tension and self-examination present throughout. 

They've done another project, 12 Kinds of Kindness, and I think you can all probably guess what I'll be reading later on tonight! 

101 in 1001 #80: Go on a date.

Planning on spending the rest of this week wrapping up my first 101 in 1001, before I launch full speed ahead into my second list...check it out here

As it's Valentine's Day, what could be more appropriate than talking about my love life/lack thereof? WARNING: Brutally honest post ahead here. And I'm not trying to be a downer, or to throw a pity party...just to be completely candid about some of my experiences in the last few years. Please be gentle :)

"101 in 1001 #80: Go on a date." You guys. UFF DA. 

When I put this item on my 101 in 1001 back in May 2014, I was less than a month out of a relationship that I thought I knew, bone-deep, was going to end in marriage and kids and a Millennial happily-ever-after. Looking back, the old adage “Hindsight is 20/20” proves true in more ways than one, and without my rose-colored glasses on, I can see that that was never really the case with that relationship – it was flawed, in fundamental ways that I had blithely ignored for far too long. So I threw “go on a date” on my bucket list, never really thinking twice about it…and yet, thinking constantly about it.

Now here we are, nearly three years out from that cataclysmic shit-storm of a breakup, and I’ve been intentionally silent on my love life for so long. The more-than-casual observer may have noticed this line sitting on my 101 in 1001…lurking there just waiting for me to check it off. And here’s the funny thing: I have. I just haven't bothered to tell pretty much anyone.

I’ve checked it off in so many ways. In weird coffee dates, in drinks with a maybe-not-so-friendly-friend, in torrid long-distance texting relationships that blew up in my face or never advanced off the iPhone screen. In confusing, ambiguous, best-night-of-my-life outings that require hours of dissection after the fact with my best friends. In hope, and in the complete sense of futility that comprises the flip side of that coin.

How naïve of me, in hindsight, to think that adding “Go on a date” to this list would cover the weird, stressful, what-the-fuck gamut of my love life post-Jon. I have, in actuality, very little experience with dating. Relationships, yes. I’m the kind of girl/young woman/lady who prefers the monogamous, defined, structured life of being with someone and knowing that person is with me in equal measure. Love? Yes, I think so. I love too easily and too quickly, and have learned the hard way that loving doesn’t guarantee a return on investment. But dating? No, not so much.

So what’s a girl to do? I tried Match.com for about a week, and had stress-panic reactions every time I opened it to find dozens of strangers winking and messages flying around. I picked out flattering pictures and wrote a tongue-in-cheek, charming-but-sarcastic bio…or so I thought. In hindsight, I came off like a snide bitch, and never really got comfortable with the whole interface.

I downloaded Tinder, and treated it like a game…sort of a romantic “gotta catch’em all” type deal. I answered perversion and crudity with snark and willful obfuscation. I was called a bitch, propositioned in graphically sexual ways, and generally insulted on a whole bunch of fronts. And without fail, I would freak out, delete the app, and then download it again (usually drunk) for another go. I went on a Tinder date, once, and it was a completely appalling mismatch of personalities on every fundamental level. I’ve never dipped a toe in again.

I tried out Bumble, went on a string of horrific, comically bad dates, and choked as soon as I realized I am pathologically incapable of making the first move, even over a freaking iPhone app. I did, however, appreciate the irony of seeing men on Bumble and on Tinder, and of comparing the way they presented themselves on those platforms. Definitely an interesting sociological experiment, if nothing else. 

Then there are the friends, or the friends of friends. I’ve always believed that it takes knowing me to appreciate me – I’m not generally a candidate for the “love at first sight” approach. I’ve had a few different…”things”…with people who are part of my social circle. The funny thing is, in the past few years, these things have all started over text. I’m best in text, I think. The written word is my strongest tool for seduction, which I suppose makes me some sort of smaller-nosed, less-rhyming modern-day Cyrano. In text, I am witty and charming and much more forward than in person. In person I demur and dissemble, hiding how uncomfortable I am behind a smile and an agreeable laugh.

These textual sexual romantic uncertain things, therefore, are my comfort zone. Rendered, I believe, even more comfortable by the fact that they happen at a distance – not just the distance of the phone, but the distance, in many cases, of state lines or time zones. Some have fizzled back into friendships, given enough time and space. Others took the leap into in-person interaction and absolutely exploded in my face. Still others are ongoing, comfortable in their ambiguity and non-threatening in their lack of proximity.

Long story short: I have checked off “Go on a date,” and so many accompanying subtexts. I have checked off the unwritten item “Get over the former love of your life.” I have checked off “Kiss someone new,” and then some. I have checked off “Get over the fear of putting yourself out there.”

What I haven’t checked off? The “and” behind the “Go on a date.” “Go on a date, and go on another date, and another date, until you are, as they say, dating a person.” “Go on a date, and fall in love.” “Go on a date, and find a relationship.” “Go on a date, and become half of a couple again.” “Go on a date, and fit into the societally-accepted timeline and norm for your geographical and socioeconomic bracket by hitting general late-twenties milestones.”

It’s hard, to look at those hypothetical implied line items, and not feel like a giant failure. Some kind of Havisham wanna-be hiding out in my downtown apartment with my champagne and excuses. I am twenty-eight years old, and I am alone. And I don’t know what to do about it, or whether I need to do anything about it but just keep doing what I’m doing. Every time I have tried to date, it has failed, and I’m tired of that sense of failure. What I’m not tired of is the full, rich, varied life I lead without a partner in it, and the dozens of other people who lift me up and love me and support me in the place of that as-yet-nonexistent date. Maybe, for me, for now, that’s enough, and that’s okay.

A long while ago, I stumbled on these wise words by Nora McInerny Purmort, who I have adored beyond measure for years now, and it really summed up everything I just tried to say so much better than I can, so we’re going to close with them.

“But what the heck is a failed relationship? One that ends? Nah. Those relationships did what they were supposed to do: they lived to their full potential, small as it may have been. They were mayflies: only here for a short period of time. But they weren’t totally worthless. They’re getting you somewhere, you just don’t know where yet.”
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a woman of seven and twenty

Re-reading Sense and Sensibility, as I just saw it at the Guthrie with Open Call last night, and happened upon this oh-so-charming passage in the first few chapters: 

“A woman of seven and twenty,” said Marianne, after pausing a moment, “can never hope to feel or inspire affection again, and if her home be uncomfortable, or her fortune small, I can suppose that she might bring herself to submit to the offices of a nurse, for the sake of the provision and security of a wife. In his marrying such a woman therefore there would be nothing unsuitable. It would be a compact of convenience, and the world would be satisfied. In my eyes it would be no marriage at all, but that would be nothing. To me it would seem only a commercial exchange, in which each wished to be benefited at the expense of the other.” 

To which I say: 

a. Screw you in all your seventeen-year-old "wisdom," Marianne. 

b: Some days I do feel that I can never hope to feel or inspire affection again...isn't that great? 

c: Can you even really believe this, though? I know there's a pretty huge time and societal gap between Regency England and millennial Minneapolis, but just wow. The ease and frankness with which women are written off for their age is leaving a continual bad taste in my mouth, especially as I sit around being assaulted with a Facebook feed full of wedding albums and tiny fresh newborns. 

I'm not saying I want a wedding album or tiny fresh newborn myself, thank you. I get my fix on those through friends, and I'm quite content with the way my life looks these days. That said, holy shit, dating is really hard and unpleasant in this age of Tinder and Bumble and all the dot-coms. Maybe life would be easier if I just considered myself over the hill or past my prime or basically ready to enter into a relationship as a "commercial exchange, in which each wished to be benefited at the expense of the other," as seventeen-year-old Marianne so charmingly utters. 

Ranting aside, the play was exquisitely fun. SO well-done, and inspired so much excitement for the upcoming season. Jane A is still my homegurrrrrl, despite her moderately pessimistic views on the hope that those of us past our prime can have for finding love. (FYI, in the play, the passage quoted above was amended to give us poor single ladies a whole three extra years...our charms expire at thirty on the stage versus in print.) I think I'm just much more of an Elinor than a Marianne...too pragmatic and reserved for my own good. 

So I guess the moral of the story here is if anyone knows a man on the wrong side of thirty-five who may or may not suffer from rheumatism and has a thing for flannel waistcoats, send him my way, I'm happy to strike up a mutually beneficial relationship...

Accepting adulthood.

I think a lot about what it means to come of age, especially about where I am in the process of growing up. Twenty-six is, in my opinion, the last year of your mid-twenties, and lately I’ve really been feeling the difference between the early years out of college and where I am now.

I think a lot about myself, which sounds weird to say. Call it navel-gazing or obsessive self-analysis or even just a need to develop meaning around the trajectory I’m on, but I find that if I’m not taking time to slow down, check myself and see if I’m good with where I’m at, I tend to get a bit lost. So I do think about myself, and where I am, and how I’m doing, and sometimes I have breakthroughs and end up feeling so good, or whole, or at peace with things, that I need to intensely brain-dump it all out to prove to myself that I do get value out of the act of self-examination.

These days, for example, I’m finding that I’ve gotten into a satisfying and fulfilling groove with the people in my life. I genuinely like my friends right now, and that’s a great feeling. It took me a long time to get there, though. In the last year or so, a few friendships that I thought were going to be lifelong have ended, not with a bang, but with a simple fizzle. “Friends” stopped reaching out. I stopped being included in things, or invites that I extended were declined instead of accepted, or, worse, I’d get a “maybe” and find out through the grapevine that the “maybe” was just a no all along. It stung a bit, and I struggled to come to terms with the fact that friendships do just kind of end, sometimes.

Being totally honest with myself, and getting past that initial sting, I realized quickly that these people, or these groups, were never really at the top of my list of people who enriched or added a ton to my life. Admitting that to myself made the growing sense of distance and loss seem less significant, and opened up room for me to realize that I have such great, “quality over quantity” people in my life right now. I’m filling my days and weeks with people who are authentic and care about me and add so much to my world, and I’m building meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships with these people because I understand now that those are the relationships that are worth the long-term investment.

Another awesome side of building those meaningful, tight friendships and relationships is that it’s led me to the realization that I don’t need to find fulfillment in that arena at work. Like I mentioned a few months ago, my beloved boss left the company I work at a few months ago, and in his wake left a huge void in my day-to-day professional existence. I think I’ve always put too much weight on being liked and building relationships with the people I work with, and that’s backfired on me in significant ways emotionally when that can’t be the case (um, hi, manager from the Big 4 who still makes scary appearances in my dreams).

I’m good at my job. I invest a lot of time and energy into making sure that I do it well, and it’s been a challenge to realize that, based in part on the culture of my workplace, that won’t always earn me headpats and recognition. Instead, I’m finding satisfaction in knowing that my job is and will always be just a job to me, and that at the end of the day, while the approval and professional satisfaction of my colleagues will always matter to me, they don’t need to be my friends, or “like” me in that sense. It’s permissible for me to show up, be polite, agreeable and professional, get my work done well, and, at the end of the day, go home and not give two shits about the people I spend my days with. While I think I would like to be in an environment where I had friend-colleagues, those relationships aren’t the ones in my life that are meaningful, and that’s okay.

And then the big guns: the relationship relationships. Like any mid-twentysomething, I have dozens of friends falling in love, buying homes, tying the knot, having kids, etcetera, and sometimes it feels like I’m churning circles on a hamster wheel while the rest of my friends have run marathons in that department. I haven’t really dated at all since Jon and I broke up, and for awhile I thought that was a bad thing. That it meant I hadn’t moved on, or that I wasn’t okay, or that I was stuck in the past while the rest of the world, including him, just kept marching on and finding their fairy tales.

While I’ll be the first to admit that I definitely still carry scars from that whole experience, I’ve come to the realization that I have moved on, in my own way, and that I did so without needing to jump into dating or start a new relationship. I’ve learned, the hard way, that I gave away too much of myself in the process of falling in love, and lost a lot of what makes me worth falling in love with in the process. Instead of giving into my need to be loved rightthisveryminute, I’m trying to hone in on all those little things I love about myself, and making sure that I’m still in love with who I am. I want to be the kind of person who has such a strong sense of self, such a solid commitment to who I am and what matters to me, that I’ll never negotiate down what I deserve and put myself in a position where I’m as vulnerable and weak and incapable of protecting myself ever again.

That doesn’t mean that I love being single. I thrive on giving and receiving love, and being part of a team, a unit, a pair. I do, however, think that it’s okay for me to be single right now, and important for me to be okay with that fact. I’m content to focus on being the best friend, daughter, sister, employee, bridesmaid, mentor, what the heck ever, that I can be. And down the line, I think that desire to build meaning and significance into the relationships in my life is going to put me exactly where I need to be to find and build that most meaningful relationship. And THAT, I think, is exactly the proof that I need right now to show myself that I’m growing up, and I like who I’m turning into, and that coming to terms with how adulthood  looks for me right now isn’t quite as hard as I thought it would be.