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

Avoiding Success

I have this pattern. If you’ve known me long enough, you’ve seen it. I’ll religiously submit stories and collect rejection slips, until I get an acceptance. At which point, I stop submitting stories. For a year.

I’ll get an exciting project I really want to do (develop the history of a dark fantasy video game world) and freeze. I’ll have a gig I love, and not be able to focus and get my writing done until the very last minute. I’ll be writing a bi-monthly serial that gets strong responses and an excited fan base, and I’ll come down with writer’s block. I’ll blog about health tracking (years before it hits mainstream), until I start getting 100+ hits a day, and I’ll suddenly have nothing more to say.

This sucks.

Therapy also sucks, in that painful oh-god-I-don’t-want-to-think-about-this-shit kind of way. But it’s useful.

Imagine you’re me. You grow up the child of a pediatrician and a stay-at-home mom. Both of whom have their own baggage. Your main model of professional success is your dad. Let’s look at his life, shall we?

He spends long days at the office, often 12 hours, and comes home exhausted. He has no free time. He’s a perfectionist and insists he has to get everything right and do it all on his own (by the way, you’re going to grow up to be a lot like him). But the business side of it escapes him. He loves the patients and being a good doctor. But he’s not so good at figuring out money. He has no free time to spend with his family or to even develop friendships with people who aren’t either colleagues or related to him. And he’s angry all the time. Who wouldn’t be, living like that?

This, you think, is success.

You look around for other adults who’ve been successful. There’s your mom. Stay-at-home mom isn’t quite what you were looking for, and honestly you’re kinda terrified at the thought of being someone’s parent, but on the whole, she seems a lot happier. She plays with you. She has friends she goes to Dim Sum with. She reads science fiction books, which she then lends you. She does have to put up with dad’s anger outbursts, and those suck. But her life seems richer. Of course, she also tells you never to be like her and be dependent on a man for your living.

So that’s not going to work.

The other examples you have are a professors (who is bitter about, well… everything) or a writer (who is also bitter and has retired at 40 to get away from Hollywood).

Looks like the only option is following in dad’s footsteps. Being miserable and lonely and angry. At which point you conclude you never want to be a grown up, because it clearly sucks.

So success… it’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, you *want* to succeed. Your parents want you to succeed and are proud of you when you do. You like selling stories and making a living with your writing. But, but, but… The specter of your father is shaking his head at you. Then, just to put the icing on the cake, he tosses in his oft stated opinion that geniuses die young and are often poorly adjusted (and he tells you the story of a genius he knew who committed suicide).

To sum up: You are required to succeed, but don’t succeed too much because if you’re too good you’ll be miserable and die young, plus succeeding in general means you’re going to be lonely and miserable, so maybe succeeding isn’t such a good idea. But being dependent on someone else is a bad idea, and you’ve kinda been there, done that during a span of unemployment while you were with your ex, and yes, that sucked.

So, go. Figure out your life.


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, Daniel,  Cliff, 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.


After Changes Upon Changes, and We are More or Less the Same

I moved out a month ago.

I’m back in Tortuga-the intentional community that just won’t let me go, and am I glad of it! I’m even back in the same unit as before, although a different room. And this time with Ragnar, who is delighted to be here. All these neighbors who want to play with him: friendly people who take him for walks while his person is away at work. It’s good.

It wasn’t easy moving out of the home J and I had been sharing for three years. But it’s become clear, to me certainly, that living together right now does us a disservice.

I am changing a lot, and J… well, J likes everything to be neat and controlled. He doesn’t understand the decisions I’m making. They seem reckless, or inefficient to him.

There’s this moment in the Runaway Bride… Throughout the movie, Gere’s character asks all of Roberts’ exes how she liked her eggs for  breakfast. The answer was different each time, on the surface. Scrambled, poached, sunnyside up… The answer was always that her favorite egg dish was the same as that of her boyfriend at the time. He liked scrambled, she liked scrambled.

There is a scene at the end of the movie where Roberts tries every type of egg dish she can come up with, to learn which one she actually likes.

I feel like I’ve always been living on someone else’s paradigm. Parents, friends, significant others… My identity has always been as part of a unit. Which means changes in me that might change the dynamic of that unit are terrifying. Taking a role other than “daughter” who is “cared for” and “toes the family line”… that threatens not just my sense of myself within the family, but the entire family. Enmeshment, my therapist tells me, is what this is called.

Enmeshment. Strands of identity woven so tightly with those of the people around you, that it’s impossible to tell where some pieces came from. Apparently that scene from Runaway Bride, which is by far the best scene in the movie, is frequently used in psych courses to exemplify enmeshment and the process of leaving it.

So, right now, I’m figuring out how I like my eggs. With no regard for how J likes his, or how my mother and father like theirs. And, of course, I mean more than eggs here. Everything. I’m figuring out what matters to me. What I like.

It’s not precisely the same thing as finding yourself. I’ve been here all along. But I’ve been wound so tight in group identities, I haven’t had a chance to think or make changes.

As hard as this is for me, it’s even harder for J. He doesn’t understand what’s going on. Doesn’t fully get the enmeshment issue. Doesn’t understand why, suddenly, his partner is making choices he dislikes and refusing to give in on them. Not easy to live with.

So I’ve moved back to Tortuga. And J still lives at Church St, as do the cats, as does most of my stuff. And I still go there on a regular basis. But I can’t live with J right now. Not if we want to have any kind of chance of making things work between us.

On the Road Again (to LA)

I’m heading down to LA tomorrow.Taking Ragnar, the xbox, and a bag packed for up to a month long trip. I’ll be in LA for at least a week, celebrating my birthday and Mother’s Day, and then heading slowly back up to the Bay and onward to Portland. You know, unless Jason falls into a decline over the loss of the xbox, or I suddenly develop a fear of freeways (ha!), or someone makes me an offer I can’t refuse.

Which is to say: LA people, I want to see you when I’m in town! Fictionados — we should hang out.