Be Honest with Myself & Find Peace

Today, my worry was soothed earlier than I had anticipated. I had reached out to my friend’s father on Facebook, and had his phone number at the ready, should my friend not get back to me by the morning. I wrote a brief message detailing my concern, and the freedom to withhold information, if he viewed my question as stepping into personal territory, in which he’d prefer no intruders. Fortunately, my friend’s father quelled my worry with updates, informing me my friend was optimistically on the mend, and he’d be released from the hospital shortly.

I was so relieved, I nearly cried, being at work the only force restraining me. I was able to nix one toxic emotion– fear. I knew he’d be alright. Shortly thereafter, my friend also texted me as I had asked him, to let me know he was tired, but better.

The next emotion has not been so easy to calm– guilt. All day I felt oppressively guilty for misjudging him. His dad had mentioned the difficulties of the last few days, implying this has been going on, indeed, for the time period in which my friend kept postponing our dates. He had been deliberately withholding the aggression of his symptoms, ironically to prevent worry.

I had to look inward for answers. How could I come to peace with my mistake? And, did this change how I felt about our budding relationship?

First, I analyzed out of what experiences my distrust had been born. That answer was easy: my baggage. But, my insight didn’t stop there: My baggage makes me more sensitive to feeling blown off, and I realized I now need more reassurance in a romantic relationship than I have needed in the past. I used to idolize the woman who needs no man, Mae West a prime example. That woman never got hurt, she was strong. Anything outside of that narrative would mean I was weak. But I’m not Mae West. I want an equal relationship, a partner with whom to be a dynamic duo, I want us to inspire each other, and to be there for each other, when the rest of the world makes no sense. And that means I can’t be Mae West. I have to learn a new kind of strength now, the strength to assert my needs in a relationship. I don’t need a man to be happy, or to change the world, but if I’m to have a relationship, it had better be a healthy one, in which neither ‘has the upper hand.’

In the past, I’ve dated men who would go days, plural, without talking to me, deluding myself into thinking ‘we’re both busy, we both have lives, I’m independent, I don’t want to weigh him down, this is good for me,’ only to be tossed aside when I was no longer convenient. I thought I could be that way still, but I can’t. This time around, the days we’d message each other, with no date night in sight, felt like romantic purgatory.

Every step of this relationship, I felt I had to watch my back, withhold real feelings for him, which were definitely starting to pick out furniture and test paint swatches on my heart. Every man I’ve dated, I’ve felt something real for, and he was no different. But, I couldn’t relinquish my power this time, I couldn’t bear to let him hurt me, because I don’t go back once I’m hurt, and I couldn’t lose him, even if that meant we could only be friends.

As soon as I saw the potential to be hurt again, I abandoned the relationship. He didn’t see me more than once a week, something in the past I’ve been okay with, but this time felt like not enough. He’d message me somewhat daily, but many days I found I was the first to send. He’d be late to dates consistently, even though I knew he shared a car with his brother, I couldn’t help but feel like less-than-important when tardiness was the shadow that loomed over the explanations of why he couldn’t arrive at all. Perhaps his excuses were to spare me from worry, I think they really were. But, excuses, even if true, when not the entire truth, make my head spin and wonder, the emotional scars left from others twitching like Potter-esque warnings.

I acted to protect my heart, something I’ve never done in the past. I’ve given my heart to too many people who didn’t deserve it. And I couldn’t give it over completely this time, even if perhaps this one did.

Romantically, I’m putting the onus on him to make his choice. We both knew this would likely be only temporary, but we would ‘see how it goes.’ I saw. I’ve had to re-evaluate.

My needs are different now.

I need a man who will make the plans he makes with me a true priority. I’ve fallen into the habit of waiting til the last minute to get ready, in case he cancels within the hour we are supposed to get together, with the hopes that if I don’t finish my hair or makeup within that time, I’ll be less bitter when he stands me up. This does not work.

I need a man who talks openly with me. My imagination is too powerful at times, and it will fill in the blanks of a story with images of several possible variations and outcomes, all of which logical, and likely worse than the reality of the situation.

I need a man who doesn’t just tell me I’m special, but acts in a way that make me know that I’m special. Pretty words don’t evoke any emotion in me anymore. I didn’t think I’d get to that point, jaded like the vixens in movies. But, I’ve been told pretty things ever since puberty finally worked itself out, and all those pretty things have ever gotten me has been excessive and lasting pain. Maybe I’ll date a man who doesn’t compliment me at all.

It’s not that I don’t trust people. I trust people too readily, and then fall too hard when I’m disappointed. I thought today I should do some kind of trust exercise with myself, but I’m not experiencing trust issues, or fears of commitment. The problem is far more simple than all that: I wasn’t honest enough with myself, and therefore not honest with him.

I was not open to my friend about my needs from the beginning, because I firmly felt he wouldn’t change to accommodate me, as none of them ever have. This was perhaps unfair, but not unwarranted. And truly, I wasn’t self-aware enough to realize my part in the sabotage of our happy ending, not even being fully aware of how my needs have changed. How could I assert them when I did not consciously acknowledge them for myself?

Today, happy meant finding peace with the events of the last two days. My peace is this: I know he was not lying to me, and he was likely trying to protect me from worry when he withheld more information (“the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” comes to mind).  I know that we are still friends, he still keeps me posted, knowing I’m genuinely concerned. I know that he’s got big life changes in front of him, changes that truly necessitate freedom. I know that I can’t really be a part of that freedom, because my needs are no longer as whimsical and easy-going as a younger me once had. I know myself better now. I need consistency that leads to commitment, because I no longer get butterflies in the beginning from excitement, I get indigestion from nervousness.

I need the comfortable stage. I need to know that when my significant other says he’ll be there for me. He. Will. Be. There. I cannot settle for any less. I know now that if I try to settle, I’ll inevitably sabotage whatever small successes we’ve achieved. It’s a priority I thought I could demote, but in fact just made it to #1.

We are still friends, and I’m immensely grateful. But the relationship stands where it does, for now. In friendship. I can’t give myself completely to anyone who cannot make my needs the priority that they must be. The love and loyalty that I give is more than worth the responsibility.

And though the future is fluid, and “life is ironic,” my needs come first next round, whether it be with him, or anyone else.

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I’m Wrong & Worried Sick

An Update: I Was Wrong

The last day has been draining. After not hearing back from him in 24 hours, no reply to the answer to a question he had asked, I started to worry. I messaged him ironically, “It’s been 24 hours, please let me know you’re alive, and I’ll leave you be,” assuming he was sick of me.

Last night I found out he is indeed ill, and in the hospital even. I got woozy. I feel I should set the record straight. I don’t know what to think anymore… Were the two prior postponements due to feeling ill? Have the precedents set by other men before him ruined my ability to be objective? The one time I refrain from granting the benefit of the doubt, he turns out to be telling the truth.

I’m far more jaded than I realized, the hurt from the past deeper than I thought. I quickly judged a friend, who, in my defense, has withheld what’s been happening in his life from me in general, only adding to my lack of trust, but my judgement made in fear of another rejection weighed the most in mind, in spite of perhaps emotionally knowing better. My prior hurts the loudest voices in my brain.

Why did this time have to be different? I wish he was lying. Right now, I wish he was like all the others. Instead he’s sick, and I’m worried sick.

How did I choose to be happy today? Well, before I knew he was telling the truth, and the prognosis, I danced while no one was watching, releasing the emotional pain, and the stress from work. Disjointed movements, and pained gestures, lyrics to “Somebody Else” by the 1975, and “One” by Ed Sheeran both felt like painful fantasy, the fantasy that I meant more to the people who’ve left me than I know I do.

In spite of feeling like hell, I managed to feel a release. I let go, I stopped caring about what I looked like. I just moved with the music, my sweat a cleanse of toxic emotions.

The evening took a turn upon the news. I’m still in shock. I’m still worried. I don’t really know how I’ll choose happy tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow will have to be measured distress. I’ll try to stay calm. I don’t think I’m capable of more.

Take the Long Way Home & An Update– I Was Wrong

take the long way home collage

Every man I date comes with his own soundtrack, each one starting with a repetitive impending percussive intro, each with the potential to become his own song, only to resolve himself in Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust-ah.”

Today, I got subtly dumped (as in postponed for the third time in a row, this time with no alternative date in mind), his excuse seeming disappointingly unimaginative and irreprehensible. This excuse delivered via Snapchat Chat, the impermanence of his action stinging. I finally made our status clear, wishing him good luck in his future endeavors, asserting we wouldn’t have enough time for each other, joining the ranks of his exes.

Now to choose happy.

I was dumped this day at work, at 2:00pm, my bagel from lunch still not completely digested. Now, certain indigestion wasn’t a good enough excuse to duck out early, as tempting as that was. Having dated briefly by most standards, I was not irreparably broken-hearted. He was a friend first, we thought we ought to try, having agreed mutually that as soon as we felt our friendship was at stake, we’d end it. Now I think I fully understand why we are advised not to date friends, for fear such a choice will ruin or change the friendship. As much as I wanted to avoid that, it happened. How quickly we jeapordize happy memories in greed for more happiness.

I knew to manage my expectations with him. Still in college, I knew he came with a disclaimer. In fact, as the summer came to a close, knowing he had barely enough time to see me while he was in the state, I knew a long distance relationship was impossible. I could just see myself driving out to the boonies only to be told that Game of Thrones had hijacked our date night yet again. In short, I wanted to end it kindly, and in person. I truly wanted to retain this friendship. Where I went wrong was to provide warning.

Before our first opportunity to hang out, I had mentioned I wanted to talk with him, nothing was wrong, just wanted to “check in.” He seemed to clumsily circumvent the topic, saying he was in a place with “bad reception,” and could he call me later? Of course, I agreed. And finally the dreaded conversation had no choice but to take place essentially via text, old news for me considering this has been the case for not the last one but THREE guys. I expected more from this one. He wasn’t a Tinder date, he wasn’t a set-up, he was a friend. And I didn’t even merit a phone call. I played dumb. We will likely have to work together in the future, we’re both in the small village that is theatre, and I don’t intend to ‘salt the Earth’ here. I’ve tried that in the past– weeds still insidiously grow on that land.

Choose happy.

I left work later that afternoon, having finished my full day in spite of my disappointment. As I drove, I tried to think of what I’d do today to make this better, to make me happy. A workout  felt like too much to ask of myself, even though it had been my original thought from the morning. I turned up the radio, and let my hand slice through the impending fall air. Judah and the Lion came on, “I ain’t trading my youth for no suit and jacket…,” then the mandolin, “I ain’t giving my freedom for your money and status…,” the mandolin crescendos, “‘Cause everybody I know, everybody I know, is growing OLD, is growing OLD too quickly, and I don’t wanna go… No how am I supposed to slow it down, so I can figure out who I am?” By this point, the music is blaring, and I’m impassioned. I’m young. I’m free.

I take the long way home.

I drive a mile out of my way, and choose to pull into a forest preserve. I love being in nature, but I rarely manage it by myself. I intended initially to only park and listen to music, but when the DJ switched tracks, I was inclined to step out, and take a walk.

The local high school a mile away had a pep rally, blaring horns and drums echoed through the trees from the distance. Cheers broke through as I landed on the edge of a prairie swamp. Surrounded by life, cicadas and crickets competing for the loudest choir, bees swarming a bright yellow congress of flowers, and a hasty frog, startled by my imposition, dashed across my feet off the trail and into the tall grass. A sapphire blue dragon fly hopscotched across fat green leaves, and not one, but two monarchs sucked on bright pink wildflowers. The temperature dropped five degrees as I moved deeper into the trail, shaded by a thicker canopy of trees. The Earth awoke from its afternoon siesta with the gentle grumble of thunder, enough warning for me to start heading back to my car.

I felt peaceful. Happiness today meant contentedness, and a comfort in knowing this isn’t my last chance at love. With every exit, I learn the same message. Like the bumble bee once in view, and in a moment is lost to distraction, so will people love and leave. It’s in our nature. I will know I’ve found the right one when he stays. And in the meantime, I won’t regret my steps deeper into the trail, if even though more often than not I ‘get caught in the weeds.’

An Update: I Was Wrong

The last day has been draining. After not hearing back from him in 24 hours, no reply to the answer to a question he had asked, I started to worry. I messaged him ironically, “It’s been 24 hours, please let me know you’re alive, and I’ll leave you be,” assuming he was sick of me.

Last night I found out he is indeed ill, and in the hospital even. I got woozy. I feel I should set the record straight. I don’t know what to think anymore… Were the two prior postponements due to feeling ill? Have the precedents set by other men before him ruined my ability to be objective? The one time I refrain from granting the benefit of the doubt, he turns out to be telling the truth.

I’m far more jaded than I realized, the hurt from the past deeper than I thought. I quickly judged a friend, who, in my defense, has withheld what’s been happening in his life from me in general, only adding to my lack of trust, but the judgement weighed the most in mind, in spite of perhaps emotionally knowing better. My prior hurts the loudest voices in my brain.

Why did this time have to be different? I wish he was lying. Right now, I wish he was like all the others. Instead he’s sick, and I’m worried sick.

Take a Nap

Yesterday, choosing happy took some doing. The day was set to be a good one, with brunch scheduled with my honorary Aunt and my Mom, but the recent atrocities in the news took the reins of the conversation, and a quaint stroll on a lush trail of conversation derailed right into oncoming traffic: The world is damned, and we’re all at fault, and there’s barely anything we can do about it. It’s the last part that murders my patience. Hopelessness has never served to accomplish anything, and demoralizing conversation is the most useless form of communication. (In conversations like these, I like to sardonically note that it’s not like we haven’t improved even slightly in the last 10,000 years of recorded human history, even if our improvement may be subjectively considered minuscule– at least the Colosseum isn’t in the gladiator business anymore).

Visits with this one particular relative always tend to go this way. For whatever reason, these two must analyze all the world’s problems every time they get together, and consequently get into passive aggressive debate (even though they inherently agree with each other). The two of them seem to oddly enjoy it, feeling clearly enlivened during and after, but it’s frankly the most draining thing to watch, let alone be asked to participate in. I needed an out. I stared down at my once delicious, and inhumanly large serving of french toast. “Choose happy,” I thought. That choice led me to texting my friend for an out.

I managed to schedule new evening plans (to replace the ones that were cancelled the day prior), but I didn’t have my escape until eight in the evening, and would have to bear this dynamic until then.

Perhaps cowardly, I faked a headache and chose happy: I took a long nap.

And I did not regret it.

I woke up with a new sense of patience, found my Aunt still present, with the conversation having shifted to movies. They asked me to join them, and with new energy, I was able to give them the benefit of the doubt that the trend of the conversation had shifted to something a little more hopeful, if only at least polite.

And the day improved.

I had started this second day with a sense of purpose. How was I going to be happy? I was going to be productive! I would try my hand at making mulled wine! Clearly, it would not be the most stellar mulled wine, with a former college kid’s budget, but Barefoot ain’t that bad! In fact, in my experience, not bad at all!

When the day took such a quick turn to less than bearable, I felt disappointed in myself that I couldn’t muster up a “better way to be happy.” But, the point of this exercise is also to learn self-awareness, and make choices that help me stay mentally and emotionally healthy. The conversation did the opposite of that. To remove myself, harmlessly and politely, was the healthy choice (because, lemme tell ya, you try reigning in that conversation, myself and my three cousins have spent the last cumulative decade trying).

I was faced with a new challenge. I had to accept that what makes my Mom and Aunt happy is their heated debate, and yet oddly loving company of mutual understanding in their disillusionment. I don’t have to understand it. I have to accept it. And, in doing so, I have to accept that I don’t fit into it, and to spare my own sanity, I have to make a choice that might not be the most generous.

I’ll come back when the topic’s changed, and nap in the meantime.

 

Write a Poem

amaria poem

So, today I decided to be unorthodox, and try something I’ve been wanting to do, but haven’t ever mustered up the courage to accomplish because it requires vulnerability, and a new level of scrutiny of my creative writing, which I usually only share with my… Mom.

I decided to let my friends decide the subject matter for a poem I’d write. Left it up to chance! The first person on my Facebook friends list to comment with a topic (either their name, or another idea), would get a poem written for them. If they commented with their name, the topic would be them personally, if they commented with a topic, it would be that topic.

The premise was not to make the person who suggested the poem happy, though that would be a bonus (and I’m glad I prioritized the process foremost, because the reception so far has been a little bit of a let down on that front).

So, my friend Amaria, a genuine person who has been there for me emotionally on one occasion, for which I am hugely grateful, commented with just her name, within seconds of the post. Now, I’m not known as a poet among my friends. I’m an actress and director, not a known writer, so I took her instant response as a compliment in her faith that I’d put out something worthwhile. I did warn everyone the poem would be shared, so this took some degree of trust.

I managed to take a few moments in the mid morning to draft out some notes about her– what I knew already, her hobbies (she’s real outdoorsy), and most importantly, I reflected on how she makes me feel, what I associate with her. This practice made me reflect on our friendship, truly only a budding one, but one which already has formed worthwhile memories. We’ve been in plays together, she’s one of the first actresses I’ve had the pleasure of directing, and she’s true to herself and to her friends, even me, a professional acquaintance.

The poem, at first, caused more anxiety than I had anticipated. I didn’t want to let her down, I didn’t know what she wanted. Should it be funny? Grand? Lyrical or free form?

But then, I remembered, the poem was to be about her, but the project itself was about me. The goal of this challenge was to discover the happiness derived from a creative endeavor.

I took a breath, and throughout the rest of the day I let the topic simmer– no small task, mind you, because I spent the following seven hours moving boxes out of my friend’s basement into a storage unit twenty minutes away from her house, over and over again.

In spite of the stress of the day, the project at hand popped into my head in my spare moments, answering the previous questions, but this time for myself. How did I want the poem to be? What did I want to say? What did I want her to know?

Throughout the day, hasty friends threw ideas in the comment section, two of which were too good to pass up, making for some kitschy Haiku– I wrote those in a matter of minutes, one while waiting in the parked car for my friend to arrive at our destination, and one while waiting for the clerk to reserve and open our storage locker. Those brought me instant joy, because who doesn’t feel joy pondering the praying mantis and cannibalism?!

Amaria’s poem took a little longer. It simmered all day, until I got home. Upon arrival, I took a breath, had a snack, and got writing again. This time, it came far more naturally to me. I knew what I wanted to say, how to say it, and posted it to Facebook.

Reactions from mutual friends were rewarding, one friend even asked, “Too late to get in on this?” But no word from Amaria. ‘That’s alright,’ I thought, because this challenge wasn’t about her. I went to bed feeling the reward I’d given myself of completing a poem within a day, one I felt proud of for myself. Good thing too, because the next morning bore only a single ‘like’ from the subject. And that’s okay, no matter if it’s a disappointed like, or an appreciative like, I genuinely like my poem, and I still genuinely like her. On a side note, who knew the reaction buttons on Facebook could be so anticlimactic?

The challenge today was to keep my perfectionism at bay, and to remember for whom I was really writing– myself. Later in the day, upon receiving disappointing news, getting plans cancelled for Sunday, I again, had to focus on choosing joy, even though I’d completed my happy task for the day. Fortunately, the pride I took in my productivity had not worn off completely, and I was able to handle the disappointment graciously, and keep the seething burn of being someone’s last priority (you can tell this is not the first time this has happened, I’m sure), a burn more akin to wasabi than a chili pepper, brief.

Forcing myself to think in terms of “will this make me happy,” has already had some interesting affects on my choices. The first of the day being to go without makeup to help my friend move. Typically, I head out with at least a tinted moisturizer and some mascara, but yesterday, upon asking myself that question, I realized I felt like impressing no one, and I felt like not having to go through an entire regimen of face-cleansing after a long day of lifting. This choice was arguably the most rewarding of the whole day, when a quick hot shower made me hit the hay with an audible thump, and sleep through the night.

On to Day Two, thinking I’ll keep it simple this time!

***

For Amaria

She is perpetual autumn.
Auburn hair glistens the burning copper hues of August.
Eyes that inspire like two harvest moons.
She is fire and she is earth.

Her embrace is the warmth of kindling,
Her chest the ready-made hearth by which to lay
Weary bones, weary mind, weary soul,
It sizzles and cracks, as her heart breaks with yours.

Her big black combat boots, sink deep into rich Illinois ground,
Roots that sustain her maternal bounty, every season a fruitful yield.
She is home for the smallest life to the largest being,
Not one is turned away.

Neither shrillest wind, nor most boisterous thunder,
Can shake her conviction to love.

 

For Uncle David

Cannibalism
Fast food’s new boon to dining:
The “Filet o’ Flesh.”

For Veronica

The Praying Mantis,
Earth’s misandrist agenda:
♫ “She’s a maneater!”

(Hall & Oates, “Maneater”)