Tag Archives: commitment

Stifled by Comfort

18 Aug

validatorI spent a week on the beach, was romantically dismissed via text while aboard a train to Camarillo, and all I got was this lousy revelation. I have a deep-seated fear of comfort. Apparently, somewhere along the way through my 37 years, I became a person who only realizes growth in adversity. Even though I’ve always felt like the most risk-averse person on the entire planet, evidently I thrive on tribulation.

That would make the perfect personal ad.

Let’s take this apart. A few weeks ago, I was preparing to board a flight to Baltimore, and in a rare fit of wild abandon, I procured a copy of a magazine I never read: Time. The cover story was “The Pursuit of Happiness”, and it was a marvelous scientific tribute to why Americans are particularly adept at this activity. But I didn’t read it that day, because I loaned the magazine to my seatmate on the flight, a young Nepalese engineer on his way to DC, and he fell asleep, cradling the magazine against his chest. As much as I liked the guy, I kinda didn’t really want to touch the magazine after he returned it to me.

Weeks went by, and in another airport, this time on my way to Huntington Beach, I picked up another issue of this never-read-by-me magazine. The cover story was “The Childfree Life”. This story I read immediately, seeking solace in the knowledge that other people were choosing a life like mine. Clearly, Time‘s reporters have been following me around and consulting my therapists for editorial topics.

Then, like I said, I spent a week at the beach, swam in the ocean, learned how to surf(!), hiked in Griffith Park, and spent days and days and days talking to my most effective therapists and life coaches, my two best friends from high school. My most recent romantic dismissal was a tiny blip on the radar as we examined the larger questions of why I am still single. The overwhelming conclusion was that I definitely need to move back to New York City. I’ve held myself in suspension in inappropriate climates for far too long. It’s time to return to my people, my career, my brother, my Yankees, my U.S. Open.

So. More time passes and I finally read the happiness article in Time. As it turns out, Americans are genetically predisposed to the “pursuit” aspect of happiness more than anything else. Because our forebears risked everything to leap from the known to the preposterously foreign, our genes instruct us to do the same. But discontent has flourished as we’ve evolved into a tame clock-punching society.

I confess that my initial conclusion after reading this article was that I am clearly an American anomaly, as the writer of the article noted that the genes for anxiety and risk-averse behavior are in the minority in our culture. Well, I got a huge dose of those genes, thanks!

But then, let more time pass and cue epiphany. This morning I was walking along the river behind my apartment in Texas, and my mind synchronized all of the aforementioned data and arrived at this conclusion: I am stifled by comfort. I seek growth in adversity. Why else would I break up with every wonderful man I dated in my 20s, move to Utah with a guy from London I’d only met a few months previous, live there for seven years while dating mostly horribly inappropriate people, and then instead of taking myself back to New York, veered off course and ended up in Fort Worth, Texas to take care of my ailing mother, who is my anti role model?

Yes, people, as much as I claim to crave understanding, I prefer to place myself in adverse scenarios where I can prove that I will once again thrive. And I always do. I make amazing friends, I find all the best art museums and restaurants. I feel happy. BUT, I never find romantic attachment. Instead, I choose impossible dating scenarios that involve tremendous gaps in age, distance, or demographics.

Earlier this year, I attended a workshop where a session leader talked about hidden beliefs. Things we “didn’t know that we didn’t know that we didn’t know”. Guess what I didn’t know that I didn’t know that I didn’t know? My parents had a horrific marriage in which my mother gave up any attempt at a career, settled into what she thought would be a life spent coasting in domestic comfort, realized she married an abusive alcoholic, and then set about moving us to a new town every few years in pursuit of the best educational opportunities for her children (I thank her for that). She never earned more than minimum wage and she never dated anyone again. Now she’s destitute and alone, claiming that her children are her greatest achievement.

As a born over-achiever, what do you think my greatest fear is? That I will settle into a comfortable romantic scenario where I am cared for, coddled, understood… and then just like my wonderful father demonstrated in early childhood, that love will be arbitrarily and completely withdrawn.  There is no sustenance in love, only false comfort that lulls you into a dangerous sleep that will ultimately lead to your failure and bankruptcy. Oh, and for my father’s part, even if you say you don’t want children, they will be forced upon you.

Take a deep breath. These are not truths. These are my hidden, secret, totally unfettered beliefs. Now that I’ve seen them, all I have to do is dispel the myths and move on. And I’m going to do that the old-fashioned American way. I am going to place myself on one more risk-taking adventure. I’m moving back to New York City on November 1.  Maybe if I place myself in a city that to me represents the most discomfiting of comforts, I might be able to seek solace in romantic attachment again. Or at least put myself in a position where I might meet someone who makes sense for me.

Get a Good Look

28 Jun

texasEntangled with rib cages touching, I curl my shoulders and hold my heart at the center with his chest to contain me. His hold doesn’t drift while my mind disappears over a precipice. Three weeks ago I was tracing the  nape of another neck, and I poured every single ounce of affection into that soul. I stored it all there, gave it a home, and now here I am, mid-cherish, and I can feel my heart tremble at the thought that I would give it away again so soon. It’s not going voluntarily this time. It’s staying still, holding itself out of reach even while the generous Gentleman from Carrollton cradles me.

The way he reaches for me is exactly what I have always sketched for my future loved self. A duo on the sofa, some space between us, a pause, and that intentional but nonchalant reach. The enfolding into a safe place. And then a very calm and resolute sustain.

There is absolutely nothing turbulent or dramatic about it. Nothing like a time limit, impending flight, or marital partner to stir up the dopamine and make me feel engulfed in passion. So my heart shrugs, and asks, what about that Aloof Percussionist, the one you promised me to and chased and pushed and demanded and did not receive in return.

Sorry, heart, I understand you are going through drama withdrawal. And honestly, I am not really sure how to navigate this scenario. Everything feels good, and linear, with no spikes, only a gentle grasping of my hand as we drive back from the restaurant. He is that man. The one every therapist and friend has said I’ve deserved my entire life. He is steady and kind and he doesn’t demand or expect. He just is there alongside me.

A friend of mine said that I had to find someone who could just “be” with me. Not be “with” me, but “be”, as in, he’s a solid object, and I’m a solid object, and we can rest together without any kind of crazy catalyst stirring us up into an incendiary disaster. It helps that he is as familiar as he is new. I’ve known this man for the better part of ten years, seeing him only every once in a while, but always wondering at the connection. Then one year ago I landed in his part of the country by happenstance and six months later surprised myself by remembering his presence in the Metroplex.

Is this, this calm, this appreciation, is this the origin of love? I feel supported but not taxed. He is present but not squinting to analyze and extract every thought and feeling that quivers in my ever-shifting being. Observant, but not critical, he presents a very smooth connection that provides a sense that I am understood.

In the morning, I wake up and I have to count back to the last time I chose someone good to place next to my heart. The realization is a bit shocking. It was twenty-three years ago, when I was in high school, that I allowed a benevolent soul to join my orbit and hold me. Then three years later I pummeled him and traded up to a more jagged course. I first sipped the nectar of drama way back then, and I have never, ever stopped drinking.

People would say it, they’d suggest I was addicted to drama. But I honestly felt I wasn’t that stupid. Now, feeling this sense of calm acceptance, I realize that’s exactly how I’ve calibrated my every romantic encounter. Always choosing distance, either mental or physical, as a safe buffer, I made sure I was always alone.

This is what I wonder now. Can I retrain my heart to accept something smooth, a kind and generous match who fits every single descriptor I’ve listed ten million times. Older, already has kids, has a real job, is serious about health and fitness, likes beer, loves sports, has an artist soul and an engineering mind, makes me laugh, will probably never make me cry, and communicates early and often.

I built this construct, and now I am surrounded in it. But my heart actually cringes and shrinks in fear rather than swelling with acceptance. So, following the advice of my rational mind, I will slow everything down. I will let this love grow, rather than forcing it into existence. And he expects nothing more, requests nothing more. He is not calling this anything that it is not. We are enjoying each other.

Is this what it feels like to be with someone good? It’s quiet all around me, and it feels like I can exist as I am, with promise of support while I expand. I really do hope that I learn to like it.

Alight and Remain

5 May

I sit before you now the builder of a failed fire. The white charred bits of unburned logs are the brightest parts of the pitch-black firebox in my living room. Over the past hour, I stuffed three weeks’ worth of Sunday New York Times in there, trying to coerce two lonely logs to say farewell to winter with me, but they just wouldn’t catch.

The now-petrified hunks of crackling timber were porch dwellers until this evening, and I suppose they were probably damp with Texas humidity. Also, I didn’t have any kindling of any kind, not even dryer lint, which the son of a cowboy told me is a reliable fire starter.

My fire structure technique was way off, too. Sure, I opened the flue, step one complete. But I didn’t do a bed of newspaper on the grate, instead I just stuffed it underneath the metal bars. The aforementioned absent kindling was just a vestige of my imagination. And then the two logs… well they popped with laughter when I used my extra-long fireplace matches to try to introduce flame to the scenario.

So, at this moment, my apartment is the site of the world’s foremost exhibition of “all smoke and no fire.”

I always think I am about to set something on fire, but then I discover a lack of kindling. Eager to witness controlled destruction, I persist in my attempts to immolate, but the feebly arranged paper burns in huge gulps of flame without inspiring long-term ignition of the real wood.

“I’m unwilling to set this thing on fire and push it out to sea just yet,” I wrote but didn’t send to my love. He received the missive anyway and refused to annihilate “this thing we have so nicely and easily put together.”

When I prodded more and shoved more newspaper under the grate, piling on printed words twisted into vain attempts to mimic kindling, he shrugged it off. “I’m not worried about anything between us.”

He is the kevlar and I am the flint.

Love Me, Love My MotoGP

30 Sep

It was all asphalt and tiny specks of color looping through turns the first time. I sat uncomfortably close to relative strangers on a tiny vintage sofa in an apartment too intimately shared by a fighting couple and their scrappy microscopic dog. We stared together, six of us (well, five, after sullen girlfriend opted for a nap), for more than an hour, counting twenty-some-odd laps around a circuit I don’t remember. I was the new girlfriend then, and I had no idea that after a series of sharp turns and high-speed crashes, the best thing I’d take from that relationship was a profound love for MotoGP. We’re talking so profound that I’d actually consider getting a tattoo of a neon yellow “46” in honor of champion rider Valentino Rossi—and I do NOT do tattoos. (As Unrequited says, “I don’t need tattoos. I have a personality.”)

Six years later, watching the race in Aragon this morning, I realized how much my view of the races has changed since that first encounter. Now I don’t see asphalt, I see corkscrews and chicanes. I don’t see specks of color, I see personalities, teams, and bikes representing varying degrees of technical achievement. What was only a field of confusion to a newbie years ago is now a comforting day spent in the paddock with friends.

The fact is, it’s been a long time since that relatively uncomfortable first date, and I am more in love than ever. My behavior shows all the signs of utter devotion. I mention MotoGP’s name in just about every conversation. I daydream about MotoGP during work, and find it hard to get back to editing articles about technology after a lunchtime dalliance with MotoGP. I cook dinner for MotoGP’s commentators while they regale me with stories of races past (from my laptop screen). I even sleep next to a framed portrait of the late Marco Simoncelli, who broke our hearts in a race catastrophe last year in Malaysia.

Maybe most significantly, though, I’ve realized that MotoGP is a permanent part of my life. Every year, I procure the somewhat pricey online video pass so I can stream the test runs, interviews, and races (girl doesn’t own a TV, and would never pay for gallons of cable when all I want is the Speed channel… oh and the Tennis channel… and maybe the YES Network). This is the foundation of a very important relationship in my life. I’m willing to commit the time and energy required to truly understand my MotoGP.

Lately, various conversations in my life have looped back to the home straight of whether and why and when I will fall in love again. My constant refrain is that my focus this year is on everything but that question. But this avoidance of the topic has led many to speculate that I suffer from a fear of commitment. In fact, these many have additionally posited that the reason I’ve chosen such terrible partners and found fault with marvelous ones is due to my own fear of commitment.

So, I’m willing to admit this is a possibility. And I’m trying to read a book on the topic, but I can’t seem to… commit. Because frankly, in the first chapter, where they describe the horrors of those who cannot commit, the authors stipulate that often a lack of tenacity spreads to every aspect of life. Commitmentphobes, they say, can’t even choose a place to live or settle into one job. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to say that I have had the same editor job for 15 years (hey, running a magazine is a pretty nice occupation), I only lived in one apartment for the duration of my time in Brooklyn, and I still own my apartment in Salt Lake City (would you like to rent it?).

 

I’ve only been in Fort Worth for four months now, but I already know that my apartment and I are in a long-term relationship. I hung up my crazy vintage Danish modern cantilevered bookshelves, friends, and that action is best equated with a diamond in terms of “forever.”

If commitment is a willingness to devote large portions of your life to the pursuit of understanding another, then I point to MotoGP. Where some see only spiraling asphalt, I see beauty and depth. And what the races give back to me is excitement and passion. We are in this for the long-term. Every time MotoGP cuddles up next to me on the sofa, I think fondly about our past, and look giddily forward to our future. After all, Rossi’s back on Yamaha next year!!

 

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