Tag Archives: fear

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.

The Last Eight Minutes

22 Nov

Things couldn’t possibly get worse. The girl is totally alone, she’s stressed out at work, and even her plants are dying from neglect. But somehow circumstances do become much more dire, like cue the brooding overtones in the soundtrack dire, when she does something horribly clumsy and drives away her best possible option for matrimonial bliss. Suddenly he couldn’t be further out of reach, and she is totally ensnared in a death grip of lifelong isolation.

But the all love, all the time cable network movie is scheduled to end in eight minutes, when the next two-hour fantastical yarn is slated to start, so somehow the tangled knot must end up tied in a neat bow. And damn quickly.

So here I sit again, glaring at the tiny television screen at my mother’s apartment, and clenching my jaw. A crippling fear that this time might be the first time we won’t receive a flawless denouement overtakes me.

“Mom, how in the hell are they going to work all this out?”

She laughs and sweeps her arm over an imaginary landscape of smooth contentment. “Relax,” she intones, “it’s the Hallmark Channel! Everything’s going to turn out fine.”

It’s our ritual. We indulge in it every Saturday evening, and maybe a few spare weekday evenings here and there. Or maybe every time I’m at my mom’s house. Hey, I’m not ashamed to admit it. Especially because I’m learning some great maneuvers in screenwriting. With the precision of a Patek Phillipe watch, the plot always twists itself into it’s most disconcerting soul-deflating mess exactly eight minutes before the hour. And while the average human might safely anticipate that everything will of course work out fine, otherwise the happy-ending music couldn’t roll with the credits, I panic. I truly, truly panic. I worry that this time will be different and I will weep forlornly for the loss of love in my cinematic doppelganger’s heart.

Ohhhhh. Eight minutes. When will I get to that phase of my life? When things really are at their absolute worst, but the shift is made unmistakably toward my happy ending? No need to talk about darkest before the dawn and rock bottom here. Let’s just say I’ve stared catastrophe in the face hundreds of times and have yet to be handed my handsome man with a good job and infinite capacity for caring and popcorn-making.

Last night, I starred in a Hallmark movie. In a basement bar located beneath the cowboy dirt-kicking sidewalks of the Stockyards of Fort Worth, I stood surrounded by roughnecks of every variety: thugs, rodeo riders, and hipsters. And of course there was the obligatory guy in a kilt. Good gawd, that guy. I always picture him at home, making the vulnerable transition from standard male pants to the wild and eccentric kilt. “Tonight, tonight the world will see who I really am,” he thinks, smoothing the fabric down over his thighs.

Anyway, I was there to see a bunch of my coffee shop friends play music. Though I knew lots of people scattered around the room, my aimless tumbleweed wandering indicated I was totally alone. So alone that a young math teacher boy from Lubbock turned and ran in horror when I tried to say a third sentence to him. Really? A math teacher who might be half my age? Do you think I am going to sink my hooks into you and make you mine?

The eight-minute mark hit when I actually had to return to the bar a third time to evade the attention of a weathered thug who stepped in after the guy with the kilt felt my scorn. That’s right. I was actually tossed between the two worst options in the bar, while perfectly normal men circulated around me. Most of whom were married, too closely resembled ex-boyfriends from my recent past, or were simply half my age.

I decided to retire from concert-going forever. Clearly I am aged. I am infirm. I need to be culled from the herd.

Then, uplifting music let me know that I was being rescued. My text summons had brought one of my new male friends to the rescue. He appeared holding two bottles of beer. One was for me. He gallantly used the phrase “when you get to our age” more than once in conversation. He admitted that he had actual ex-girlfriends in the crowd, and being in this bar was murdering him. He walked me to my car. He gave me polite and considerate directions to another, better bar.

After we closed better bar, he walked me to my car again. Fort Worth is crawling with really scary random cowboy drunks and frat boys, and I have to admit, I would have been terrified to walk to my car alone. And cue the example, we heard honking behind us, and I thought it was just an impatient driver, but Rescuer informed me it was a honk of affirmation on my appearance.

“You just got your booty honked at.”

“What? No. No, that didn’t happen.”

“Oh yes it did. Look, he’s slowing down. He’s wooing you with the bass booming from his car.”

The driver parked and got out of his tinted bubble of bassness. He was a tall, tall muscle-bound man. Wearing a cowboy hat.

“That’s what honked at you!”

“That did not happen. And this is not happening.”

Rescuer was leaning against my car. He actually spat on the ground as if to declare his territory to the encroaching male. Then his smile wrinkled words into a wink. “I will never let you forget it.”

We laughed at the horrors of being me. And I drove home, bumping along archaic brick streets and smiling despite the mass of insults that clung to me like the second-hand smoke that wafted from my clothing and hair. I’m definitely still not in my eight minutes.

Lost Cause

4 Nov

Sometimes sit-coms lay it all out there for you. Steeping in the fabulous malaise that has plagued me since I returned from a certain coastal village near a valley of silicon, I was preparing a salad while the misguided aesthetes of Frasier kept me company. I was just about to toss the pecans and parmigiano reggiano with my arugula (ahem, see aforementioned mention of misguided aesthetes) when I heard Frasier Crane utter what should probably be a tattoo winding its way around my heart so that anyone who dare enter that terrain has fair warning:

“You know how it is with strong women. Sometimes their strength masks their vulnerability.”

I put down my Cooks-Illustrated-recommended knife (ahem) and replayed the comment. Then I sighed. Why isn’t this common knowledge? Anytime a woman seems impervious to the neglect with which you are presenting her, please know that really she is quaking with the fear that this one rejection could knock her over and permanently render her unable to do her major job, complete her extensive travel plans, decorate her chic apartment, maintain her rigorous fitness regimen, cultivate a vibrant social life, and continue assembling slimming salads.

It is with a fierce dedication to hiding this fear, this vulnerability, that I cross my arms across my chest and deliver all my entertainingly observant comments in a casual and cavalier tone. But the truth is, while I might be perched in a physically standoffish pose at one end of your sofa, I am actually more similar to the cat which is curled up appealingly on the other end. Every time you pass that cat and bury your face in her fur and sing a bunch of sweet comments between kisses, I wither just a bit more and lock myself into a stronger pose of resilience.

Get to know me. I’m about one thousand percent more cuddly than you think. But where a cat can bluntly present her neediness, mewling constantly for more food and affection, I have to do the exact opposite in order to maintain your interest. So if I scare you, trust me, it’s only because I’m eight million times more scared of you.

High-Altitude Training

27 Sep

My first steps in Utah fell on the point of a mountain. It was one of the littlest mountains at the south end of Salt Lake Valley, but the perch was high enough that it looked down upon a cliff where paragliders from all the around the world flocked to hurl themselves off rock into thin air. Somehow New York me and London him thought we’d want to cohabitate in an environment completely opposite to the ones we’d known thus far in our lives.


It snowed the first millisecond we arrived, and every single millisecond thereafter, and I spent the duration of the winter pressed up against the second-story window of my home office, watching for signs of frozen precipitation. Weather reports for Salt Lake City did not apply up there at 7,200 feet, so I found a website linked to an amateur weather station around the corner from where I was trapped in oblivion, 45 minutes away from the nearest cup of chain-store coffee.

Our driveway was a vertical cliff face, an icy amenity which probably guaranteed the property’s rental status for the duration of its existence on this planet. Despite these living circumstances, we did not procure cars with four-wheel drive, opting instead for matching VW Golf TDIs, his in black, mine in indigo.

Neither of us could ever, ever hope to park in the garage unless the driveway was completely bone dry, cleared of every last snowflake. So, I being the champion worrier and professional procrastinator that I am, took hours away from my editing job and transformed myself into a hardened pioneer woman. Unafraid to slide down the driveway in shoes meant for city sidewalks, I shoveled and shoveled in my strange new habitat. I could feel the stay-at-home moms staring at me through slatted window blinds, wondering at my ineptitude. Sometimes I looked up and smiled, hoping I looked more like a happy movie montage than some sort of misplaced, rage-filled Brooklyn DeNiro in a witness protection comedy.

Weekends were more relaxed. With no returning workaday man to worry about, I was able to indulge in a pioneer activity in which I actually held some competence. Baking. Girl can bake, and has done booked ever since she was seven years old.

So when all my batches of brownies and cookies refused to rise above a syrupy scrum of molasses-like disaster, I stood in the perfect white of my kitchen tucked into a white hill, and cried clear tears. Why. Had I lost this skill.

Dramatic irony tells the wise reader that altitude was the issue, but it wasn’t until my fifth batch of failed brownies that I realized that at the conclusion of every recipe were “high-altitude directions” I’d been ignoring my entire life. Ahhh. Ahhh. A new skill to apply! Research to embrace. Proportions and measurements, reduce sugars and leavening this much, increase liquid this much. Soon a slightly warped version of baked goods was coming out of my oven, and I was surviving in a strange new land.

Over the course of eight years, I got used to certain disappointments in Utah baking. My brownies never did quite set right, no matter what I did. Cookies always laid as flat as the dead cowboy centered in a painting that still adorns my walls. Cupcakes… well, I hated them, but Unrequited said they were just fine. Friends always ate the heaps of baked goods I dropped at their front door. I bake only to go through the comforting motions. Then I take a bite and give it away. Trust me, I’m not some disciplined dieter from the 1950s. Sugar just arm wrestles me into total collapse, so I tend to avoid it.

Cue new home at just about sea level in Fort Worth. Months go by while my baking implements rest in their new pantry, waiting for the familiar caress of their sugar-fearing mistress. Autumn tries to impress me with some darker mornings that keep me pinned in bed longer, and temperatures sinking to a crazy 91 degrees in the daytime. And it’s time to bake.

No adjustments to recipes necessary, I was vaguely curious about the results of my first brownie endeavor on the prairie. I doubted it could be very different. Sure that my recollection of childhood baking endeavors must have exaggerated the cakieness of brownies and cookies past. I needn’t expect to experience the exhilaration of good texture again. Temper your feelings, dear Bunky. Temper, temper.

Timer goes off. Brownies come out of the oven a full 15 minutes earlier than in Salt Lake, adhering to recipe directions for the first time in nearly a decade. Cool, cool, let the damn things cool. Slice, and good gawd, they are even crumbling differently! They are crumbling ferchrissakes.

One bite, and I knew. Everything in life was now completely different. Order had been restored. Joy returned. I am a baker again! I am soft and fluffy and I am the cookie of contentment. Thank you, dear Texas. Now please, who will take all these brownies off my hands?

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