Relationships

The Walk Away

This came up on Facebook recently, and I was surprised how many people it resonated with. It’s also come up a lot in conversations I’ve had with friends lately. So.

The walk away is the most important tool in your dating repertoire.

I realize that can sound cold. Or even manipulative. It isn’t.

You need to be able to walk away from a bad situation. You need to be able to walk away from someone who mistreats you, or even just someone who is bad for you (without intent to mistreat you). In either case, you need to know how to walk away. And yet the instinctive response for a lot of people is to cling harder. To hold on harder, in hopes of fixing things by sheer force of will. That doesn’t work

One guy I dated didn’t want to hold hands with me in public at an art event he’d invited me to, because another girl he was dating was going to be there, and he hadn’t told her he was dating other people, too. I could have gotten insecure and put up with it and tried to please him. It would have made me miserable, though. So I didn’t.  I told him no and not to call me until he got his act together. And I walked away.

He never called. And that’s a good thing. Because I would have been miserable dating him.

In another situation, a guy I’d been with for years couldn’t set boundaries with his family. Boundaries I needed. I should have walked away then, but I held on for another 6 months or so, before realizing I needed to walk away. He hadn’t mistreated me. Arguably, he didn’t do anything actually wrong. But I was very unhappy and it was only getting worse.

Here’s the thing, if you walk away from bad dates and bad relationships, pretty soon you start having good relationships. The ones you’d miss out on because you were trying to make it work with Mr. NotRight. (Or Ms.). The times someone treats you the way you want, you stick around.

You stick around when someone respects you, and shows affection in a way that works for you (let me tell you, the dude who tried to show me affection by scooping the cat litter when all I wanted was to be held? Not a winner). 

So, when someone tries negging you, (“You’ve got an hourglass figure. I’ve always prefered waifs, myself,” or “Most people wouldn’t be into you, but I like you,”) — walk away. When someone needs you to always drop what you’re doing to pay attention to them (“Why are you always gaming? I want you to go see a movie you won’t like but I will and I can’t go alone, because my time is clearly more valuable than yours”) — walk away. When someone blames you for all their stress — walk away. When someone demands you magically read their mind and then gets upset when it turns out you aren’t telepathic — walk away. When someone is a rude jerk to you — walk away.

“But,” some friends of mine have protested, “what if they’re really awesome and I won’t find anyone better?”

Okay, no. If someone treats you poorly you can definitely find someone better. And I’m not saying to bail on a relationship the first time you have an argument. Arguments are unavoidable. And we all behave badly from time to time. The thing is, the good ones? When you walk away, they realize, “Oh, shit. I fucked up,” and then they walk toward you. Now they know you won’t put up with bad behavior, so they stop doing it. Or at least genuinely try to work on it.

Do not–I repeat– DO NOT use the walk away as punishment or manipulation. That’s stupid. And counter-productive. You overdo it, and you’re the asshole. That, however, is an entirely different conversation.

Walking away doesn’t guarantee you’re going to find the love of your life. It doesn’t guarantee that life will be puppies and kittens and rainbow skittles, either. But it does give you a much better chance of finding the kind of relationship you want. Yes, you may be lonely for a while. It’s not the worst thing in the world.

Every relationship I’ve had since I learned the walk away has been better than the one before. Sometimes exponentially better. It’s so noticeable that my entire family has commented on it. At one point my mother even said, “Wow, I like this boyfriend a lot. I can’t wait to meet the next one if this doesn’t work out.”

So please, please, please, please, please, if you’re dating someone who treats you poorly, or criticizes you endlessly, or takes you for granted, or kicks your cat, walk away.

Notes from Yesterday

I wrote this October 9, 2013 in my journal after hearing a lovely, but yet again unrealistic, love song in which the singer promises he will never get used to his new beloved:

 

I will get used to you. I will know your quirks as if they were my own. I will finish your sentences and sometimes stop listening because I know exactly what you’re going to say.

I will curl up around you in my sleep, even when you come late to bed and I am already asleep.

I will roll my eyes over something stupid and look at you and know you just did the same thing. I will be on your side. I won’t be able to imagine my life without you, though there will be times when I try.

I will reach for your hand without conscious thought. I will remember your favorite food but keep forgetting your favorite color. I will have silly nicknames for you that no one will ever hear–not even you.

I will memorize the shape of your eyes, how they turn down at the corners, making your face sad in repose.

I will go over the same topics with you again and again. I will turn to you to remember the things I don’t.

There will be moments every once in a while that I will look at you and remember the empty space in my life before I met you, and it will take my breath away to realize I might never have loved you, if not for happenstance. And I will look at you then, falling a little in love again, and you’ll catch me looking at you and tilt your head in question and I’ll just smile and say “You’re cute.” And you’ll grin at me.

We will not always be new. We will not always sparkle with novelty. We will wear together, rubbing away at each other’s edges like neighboring flagstones. There will be days everything about you annoys me, and everything about me annoys you.

There will be jarring moments that will decrease in occurrence but increase in intensity when we discover we have different assumptions. You will surprise me. I will surprise you. But, far better, we’ll become predictable to each other because we know each other so well.

Being with you will be like floating in warm water.

 

On Zoning: The Girlfriend

A long, long time ago, I can still remember when…

Right. Back on track. A long time ago a guy friend of mine asked me why I wasn’t interested in him. This was during a conversation about his dating prospects. I matched what he wanted–on paper at least–but I wasn’t interested.

At the time, I tried to explain the question wasn’t why I wasn’t interested in him, the real question was why I was ever interested in anyone. The default isn’t attraction. It’s not like I’m attracted to every guy I meet, and then as we interact I’m taking away points for his mistakes. Meh. What a horrid world to live in.

My default is actually not to be attracted. Sure, I can tell if someone is physically attractive to me in an objective way, and yes, that will catch my eye. But if their mouth opens up and stupid falls out, I’m not sticking around no matter how pretty they are. On the other hand, if I’m really enjoying a conversation, sharing humor, and learning interesting things from my conversation partner, then he starts becoming more and more attractive to me. (I use “he” here because I’m into dudes, obviously y’all can use whatever pronoun you want).

So, attraction is not a losing game the way my friend seemed to believe. It wasn’t a matter of him losing points and having to figure out the perfect way to act. That sort of thing always leads to disaster. You end up walking on eggshells around the person you’re interested in, always trying to say what they want to hear, and worrying they won’t like the real you. Exhausting. Attraction seems a lot healthier to me when you treat it as additive. Every conversation then becomes a way to build up, instead of tear down.

But I shouldn’t let this get away from me completely. I’m tangenting a bit from what I wanted to talk about.

The girlfriend zone. The nice guy. The friend zone. There are some awesome articles, essays, and comics out there talking about it. The idea is that guys will automatically place an attractive girl in the girlfriend zone and, if it turns out she doesn’t want to date, then drop her completely. While she foolishly thought they actually liked her and wanted to be friends, not just get into her pants.

Please stop a moment and think about that interaction. Really think about it. Say that girl is me (she certainly has been in the past, and probably will be again). I’ve got my tangle of neuroses and insecurities. One of the reasons I like Jim so much is that he’s always been direct with me about what he wanted. I don’t have to worry about what he’s not saying. I don’t have to second guess our interactions. It lets my ever present anxiety have a bit of a break. But in the girlfriend zone, the dude is never direct.

So I’m hanging out with a guy friend, maybe playing Left 4 Dead. Maybe walking Ragnar. I know this guy is my friend, right? I’m assuming he’s a real friend. He really does like playing Left 4 Dead with me, he really does think Ragnar is cute. He really does enjoy talking about re-finishing furniture and really does like my cooking. Because I’m assuming he’s honest with me. Maybe we’ve been friends for a few weeks. Maybe a few years.

Somehow dating comes up as a topic. Maybe I tell him about someone I’ve met. Or maybe he finally says something about wanting to go out with me. But I’m not interested, for whatever reason. Maybe he looks too much like my brother, maybe he just smells wrong to me, maybe I just don’t like guys with too many vowels in their names. Doesn’t matter.

If he’s my friend, really and truly my friend, this is the conversation we should have:

Dude: So, I’d like to take you on a date.

Me: Oh. That’s flattering, but that wouldn’t work for me.

Dude: Oh. Can’t blame me for asking, I think you’re pretty cool. But I get it.

Me: Thanks. You’re pretty cool, too. Let’s go shoot zombies.

I’ve had conversations that were pretty similar to that. I had a breakup where I turned to the guy and said:

Me: I’m thinking I want to break up.

Dude: I’m thinking so.

Me: Wanna get a pizza?

Dude: Yep

And we went for pizza. That guy, by the way, was a true friend. He thought I was nifty when he was dating me and when he wasn’t dating me. And I felt the same about him.

But I’ve also had this conversation with a guy:

Dude: So, I’d like to take you on a date.

Me: Oh. That’s flattering, but that wouldn’t work for me.

Dude: Why not?

(Please note, this is a bad sign right here. He’s not accepting no and challenging my answer).

Me: Huh? Uhm. I just don’t feel that way. I think you’re awesome, but-

Dude: You think I’m awesome but you won’t date me. I can’t believe I wasted so much time.

Me: Wait, what?

You know what that conversation tells me? That all the time we spent being friends, playing Left 4 Dead, walking the dog, eating cookies I baked, all that time was a waste. All that time spent with me was a waste. And this is when my insecurities fire up again. I re-examine the entire relationship, realizing now that he was just hanging out in hopes of hooking up, and I can’t believe anything he said. Maybe he hated my cooking. Maybe he thought I was a terrible gamer. Maybe he thought if he just was nice to my dog, I’d sleep with him. I learn that I never should have trusted him. My judgment is suspect, and my value—for him at least—is only skin deep.

If you already have trust issues, if you’re working on getting past those issues, this is a disaster. It’s horrible even if you don’t have trust issues, because it’s still a case of someone deceiving you. So this guy, who says he wants to date me, who therefore ought to want me to be happy and healthy, has instead decided to tear me down when I say no. It’s like a kid kicking down a sand castle because they don’t get to play with it.

As a friend, that dude seriously violated the campsite rule. You know, the one that says leave the place in better shape than you found it? Yeah, no. That guy just kicked over the trashcans on his way out. Which means that the next guy who wants to be friends with me may not get the chance. Because I’m going to be reluctant to open myself up for that again.

I get that there are social games out there around dating, and that guys get screwed over, too. I’ve known girls who go out on dates constantly not because they’re interested but because they want someone else to pay for their dinner. That sucks.

This is why I like up front communication. Yeah, I can be shy, but the past—wow—seven years, I’ve told guys I was interested. Maybe I’ll be friends with them for a long time first, because with me, it often takes a while to build up interest. But if it matters to me, I’ll eventually get around to saying something. “Just so you know, I’d totally date you if you were interested,” seems to go over well, even when the guy isn’t interested. And if he’s not interested, that’s fine. I’ll be disappointed, don’t get me wrong. But I won’t be mad. And I won’t obsess over how perfect we’d be if he just realized we were meant to be together (I’m trying not to gag here, ick). I’ll move on.

And I’ve had people (guys and gals) I really admire and like tell me roughly the same thing, and take it with grace when I decline. Honestly, some of those friendships are even more awesome after. Because we know we can trust each other. And it feels good to know someone you consider pretty nifty thinks you’re nifty, too. Even if you don’t want to lock lips over it.

Coming Around Again

Jim Murdoch is softly snoring next to me. Ragnar asleep across our legs, Kayla curled against my stomach. Across the house, Scott is also snoring.

We move tomorrow. Jim and I. And Ragnar and Kayla by association.

The house is nearly packed up. All that remains are odds and ends and the things you can’t do without that somehow fill twice as many boxes as they ought. Pens, tape, one dish, one bowl, the Xbox (but not the Wii, that was packed ages ago.) Keychains. Why so many keychains?

We’ll move the bare essentials this weekend. Movers will bring the heavy and awkward bits on Thursday.

We’re moving in together tomorrow. If we had not both moved in to Tortuga a year ago, we’d never have met. And if Jim hadn’t admired my StarTrek earrings, we might never have started flirting. And if I hadn’t discovered that Jim would show up at my door any time I baked desserts, we might never have dated. And if Joe hadn’t told both of us, “Duh! You’re into each other!” we might never have made a move.

I was not looking for this when I found Jim. He wasn’t either. I’m not sure which of us was more stunned… But everything just fell into place. Continue reading

One Way to Break a Child

I’ve been listening to the man next door yelling at his child. Again. It’s the kind of yelling that just goes on. Not the short and effective “No! Don’t!”, but endless. Yelling for yelling’s sake. Because it certainly does the child no good.

I want to go next door and tell him,

Don’t do this. You don’t want to do this to your kid. Look at me. I can tell you, it hurts. It sucks and it will break him and he will spend the rest of his life trying to mend it.

Your kid doesn’t understand what you’re going on about. He’s what, 7? Respect, honor, pride… these are all abstractions. He doesn’t get it when you yell at him that he doesn’t respect you. Tell him instead what respect means. Tell him respect means listening while the other person talks, and you need him to do that. Tell him there are consequences if he doesn’t, and then give him a consequence that matters. Give him a timeout. Trust me, being told to sit alone by himself and knowing that he disappointed you is far more effective than being yelled at.

Yelling just makes him draw in on himself. It makes him scared, and eventually it will make him angry. It tells him he deserves to be treated that way, and not just by you. He’ll let other people treat him like crap, because it’s what he’s used to. It’s what he deserves. More to the point, it’s what you’re teaching him he deserves.

If he gets angry instead, he’s going to take it out on everyone. He’s going to yell, because that’s what power means to him. He’s going to yell at friends, co-workers, girlfriends (or boyfriends). He’s going to yell at his own kid someday, if he ever actually has one. His self confidence is going to be so precarious, anyone questioning him will send it crashing to the ground, and he’ll hit back. He’ll be closed minded and afraid of anything he doesn’t understand.

If you don’t care about that, then care about this. You going on for 20 or 30 minutes will make him tune you out. It all becomes noise, like the Charlie Brown teacher, except louder and angrier. It won’t stick. He won’t understand it. He’s a kid, for goodness sake. He won’t understand the finer points of respect and masculinity that you’re going on about. For that matter, I’m pretty sure he’s not the one who needs to hear it.

If you must yell, make it short. Make it startling. Make it something that he doesn’t expect so that when you do it, it freezes him in his tracks. And then stop yelling. Then explain to him what he’s doing wrong. Don’t overexplain. Just tell him, “I need you to listen to me when I’m talking with you. When you don’t listen, it makes me feel like you don’t care what I think and it makes me worry, because I’m supposed to protect you. I can’t do that if you don’t listen, and I don’t want you to get hurt.”

Even that’s too much, but at least it’s simple. And if it doesn’t work, time out. Or no dessert. Or extra time doing schoolwork. Or no play time with his friend tomorrow. Something that is a concrete consequence. Something that makes him realize his actions have meaning. Right now… they don’t. Right now, he just knows you yell at him. And he doesn’t understand why. So he doesn’t know how to fix it. He will never know how to fix it. And that will apply to his whole life.

He will never believe that when something’s gone wrong it can be fixed. You’re teaching him that his life is completely out of his control and he can do nothing to change it. You’re teaching him that he’s too dumb to figure out what to do. Because a 7 year old faced with the philosophical rant you just gave? He’s not going to understand it and he’ll assume that’s because he’s not smart enough to understand. He won’t realize that it’s you raging on pointlessly and taking your fears out on him.

He’ll become me.

He’ll become you.

And I want to say these things, but I can’t. I’m too afraid to break the social contract and go over to a man’s house to tell him he’s raising his child wrong. And I’m too cynical to believe it would do any good. It would just make him angrier, and then I’ll have contributed to his kid getting broken.

Or perhaps I’m already complicit, in my silence.

 

To Everyone Who Put up With Me 10 Years Ago: A Much Belated Thank You Note

I owe you, big time.

It can’t have been easy to listen every time some little thing in my dating life set me spinning up about how maybe he didn’t like me, or maybe I wasn’t good enough, or maybe he wasn’t really committed to me, or maybe the world might end, or maybe…

It must have been excruciating listening every time I waxed eloquent over some guy who obviously didn’t deserve it, and actually treated me poorly. For every time you bit your tongue and didn’t tell  me I was an idiot, thank you. For ever time you did tell me the guy wasn’t worth it, even knowing I didn’t want to hear it, thank you. For every time you let me cry on your shoulder and didn’t say anything, thank you. For every time you reassured me it would get better, I would be fine, I’d find someone better for me… thank you.

For every 2 am phone call (over a guy who clearly didn’t deserve it) thank you. For every endless IM conversation in which I freaked out and asked you to tell me the future, thank you for tolerating it and not kicking me to the curb.

Thank you for telling me to call you every time I freaked out and felt needy instead of calling the current boy. Thank you for telling me to walk away. Thank you for teaching me to say, “I need to think about this,” and then think about it, instead of just reacting. Thank you for teaching me to simply repeat my stance calmly and consistently, instead of getting into an ever spiraling argument with no end in sight.

Thank you for being calm when I wasn’t. Thank you for listening to me go through the same old pattern over and over again; there must have been times you wanted to smack some sense into me. Thank you for listening every time I analyzed and re-analyzed every word, every IM, every email as if I could somehow shape the situation into what I wanted if I just poked at it enough.

Thank you for telling me to calm down and actually talk to the guy instead of assuming all was doomed and I ought to break it off before I got hurt. Thank you for putting up with the frustration of seeing me make mistakes, sometimes the same ones over and over again, and not giving in to the exhaustion and giving up on me. Thank you for reading the emails I was too afraid to, and then telling me if it was safe or not.

There are far too many people to list you all by name. But thank you in particular to those who put up with me the most: Jay, Megan, DanielCliff, Anghouedd, Wendy, Sara, Simran, Tadao

(And there are other people since then who have provided similar support, but you have no idea what it was like dealing with me 10 years ago).

 

Homeward Bound

How, in a house of my brethren can there be so few pens? And then maybe, I think, they aren’t my brethren in that way. In the pen and the paper and the ink and the ideas swirling away into bits of paper.

Maybe they’re my brethren simply by blood. Which isn’t simple, is it? Never is. Brethren by blood or by choice. Considering epigenetics, in this case the two are inseparable. But that’s considering epigenetics, and I am far too looped out on Ambien to do so coherently at the moment.

Consider Phlebus.

Or don’t. I rarely do.

Consider Ragnar taking up a quarter of his bed, watching me whenever I move in case I leave while he wasn’t looking. He won’t even eat his breakfast anymore, he’s too busy watching to make sure I don’t duck out while he’s eating.

I owe him something. An environment where he can relax. Where I am less stressed. Where it’s okay to not always be on the run, always getting things done by the skin of my teeth. Always on the verge of collapse because, in addition to my personal goals, I want to give those around me whatever it is they want from me. That last one…. that needs a full on revamping.

With J, I could not be the out doorsy, studiously productive cynical girl he needed. I tried. I managed cynical. Instead of studious I did obsessive; he didn’t like me when I was obsessive.

Don’t get me wrong. I still love him a great deal, and probably will for a long time. And I still miss him something fierce. But I’m much happier on a day to day basis, able to recall the fun we had, how madly & quickly we fell for each other, how so many things about us just *fit*.

But if you’re trying to be what the other person wants… and you don’t even know who you are… sigh… The person he wanted, she’s a good person. Someone I’d have fun with, someone I’d admire. But not me. I’m not interested in scuba diving, or getting drunk, or week long camping trips.

I owe Ragnar, and I owe myself, a home. A safe space in which only our interactions matter. And the cats. A home, together, the three of us. I owe us all a home without constant judgment and criticism. Without a constant looming disapproval. Without the sense that the other shoe hasn’t dropped yet. A home that is ours. It will be my home by all outward measures. But ours. No one else gets to complain when Kayla projectile vomits off the top of the bookcase. No one else gets to point out how many knots are in Marx’s fur, but then refuse to help shave them out. No one else gets to look down on Ragnar — on *my* dog — and complain about his behavior.

Because, for fuck’s sake, he’s a dog. He gets paw prints on things. He sometimes smells funny. He eats things you don’t even want to think about. He wants to sniff your butt, and your butt, and everybody’s butts. But. His home. Where he will not be punished for being a dog. He will be trained and disciplined, and the fact that he waits for permission before getting on the bed will be acknowledged. And that he rings bells when he wants to go outside will be admired for the awesomeness it is.

He will be appreciated in his own home.

I would like to be appreciated in my own home.

I would like my own home, and I haven’t had any space I could truly call mine since college. For a while, I thought I had that at Tortuga. But, no. Shoes dropped. Judgments got made. Suddenly, it wasn’t a safe space to come home to. It was a place to walk on eggshells and then attempt to read tea leaves to figure out whatever the fuck was going on.

And so. I want a home of my own. And it’s looking like I’ll have one, soon.

Pending signing the lease and handing over the deposit, my family and I will be moving into a three bedroom house in the east bay. One with a ginormous backyard where Ragnar can bound and leap. And there will be cat shelves. Oh, yes. I will put up cat shelves in every room so the cats can circumnavigate the house without ever once having to be on the ground with Ragnar unless they want to.

I will have a home.

 

Oh. And my home will be entirely gluten free. No gluten shall enter. Ever. So I will never have to fear contamination and illness in my own home.

All of which is a rambly and emotional way of saying I may have a place for the menagerie and me within the next week or so.

 

Extra Lizard is to be Expected

As both my mother and Joe have both reminded me recently, I’m at a tough time in my life right now. I keep forgetting that. It’s not as if I think what I’m going through is easy, precisely. More that because it’s me, well, I expect me to pull it together and soldier on. But if it were a friend of mine… Ending a five year long relationship is hard. No matter why you end it. No matter how amicable. The fact of the matter is that something that’s been a huge and potentially definitive part of your life has ended. I miss J. A lot. But what hurts most is the loss of the future we’d planned.

Photo by Ronardios

I had a moment of insecurity over something silly the other day. I knew it was silly, but sometimes the reptile brain kicks in and can’t be swayed. I joked with Joe that I had this image of a bright green lizard at a fork in the road, scuttling back and forth to peer down each path but not choosing either.

That’s when Joe reminded me that I had been dealing with a lot of emotional turmoil and change. “Extra lizard is to be expected,” he said.

So.