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Posts Tagged ‘afraid of love’

The girl sitting across from me on the subway was an exact replica of me at fourteen years old: chubby face, disobediently curly hair, a slim body struggling to develop and a slightly rowdy innocence that would one day cause some trouble. She looked so much like me I had to do a double take, convinced a miniaturized version of me was within arm’s reach.

I may have gone on without giving the matter much thought, except that there was something even more me-ish about the girl than her plump cheeks. She was pining away over a boy who apparently was giving her the run around. Moreover, she was testing the limits of friendship by giving the pal next to her every minute detail of their last conversation.

Me much?

The boy had told the girl to stop calling him. He didn’t want to talk to anyone right now. He wasn’t replying to any of her texts or returning her calls. Every so often, she’d call late, sometimes after midnight, and was surprised when he wasn’t home.

Fourteen-Year-Old Me was confused. Older Me knew there were only a few causes for such behavior and they all revolved around other girls, lack of interest and overall jerkiness.

“He says he can’t handle a relationship right now,” the girl told her friend. “He’s worried about his mom and he has to get a job.”

The girl lifted her chest and proudly said, “And I was like, ‘you expect me to wait for you?’”

Older Me hoped either the guy fell to her feet in tears or she gave him the grand heave ho.

“’He told me, ‘no.’ So I asked, ‘do you want me to?’”

It took everything in me not to take the girl by the shoulders and shake her senseless. “Get some strength in those knees and stiffen that spine. You cave to this creep and you’ve got years of male crap to put up with. Get out now!”

“Honestly, Mary, I don’t know,” the girl continued. “I was like, ‘I can be your girlfriend and support you through this.’”

No, you can’t, I thought, trying to use mental telepathy to communicate with her. You can’t because he doesn’t want you to. Or someone else is his support. Or he doesn’t have a problem, he’s just making up bull malarkey because he’s afraid to cut the cord.

“I was like, ‘I’ll be waiting for your call.’ He didn’t call me, so I called him.”

You just earned another year of lessons from the Relationship School from Hell.

“He was on the phone with his cousin.”

Yeah, right.

“He kept crying and crying and I was like, ‘I’m right here for you.’”

Man, was this girl tugging at my heart strings. How many times have I begged some big wounded boy to let me love him? In fact, nearly every female I know has blubbered to me about some damaged soul who won’t let her heal his pain. Few things are as confusing to women as men who turn away love and support.

I wasn’t angry at the apple of Fourteen-Year-Old Me’s eye. Sure, guys like him can be selfish and plain mean. But they’re just snot-nosed little boys and it’s up to the women who adore them to cut their losses when the writing’s on the wall.

Unfortunately, it can take decades before a woman learns to stop hanging on to dead end love. I’m embarrassed to admit how long it took me, but will confess to making tons of stupid decisions, dating scads of nincompoops and coming face to face with lots of not so pretty truths about my own inner workings. Most importantly, it took the real love of a couple good men to show me true connection isn’t something you have to beg someone to share with you.

I wanted to tell Fourteen-Year-Old Me to let this cad go and avoid love she has to wrestle to the ground. Spare her the agony of heartbreak or an on/off affair with someone who only kinda likes her. But like every hard lesson, you’ve got to learn it on your own.

All I could do was give her a smile that said, ‘you’ve got a long, hard journey ahead. But you’ll get there.’

She probably didn’t grasp my message. But maybe she will in twenty years, when her own Mini Me sits across from her on a train.

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A good friend in college once admitted to feeling miffed when we were together in public because men sometimes checked me out instead of her.  Apparently, she was attempting to build trust by revealing these monstrous feelings and I was supposed to be touched.

I won’t pretend to have been a saint at the time, somehow immune to male attention.  But the last line of attack I’d have considered for securing guys’ interest was scorning my friends for taking it from me.

Still, like lotsa gals, much of my twenties was spent hoping guys liked me.  A cute one would come ‘round and I’d feel pressured to become a sexier, smarter, sassier version of myself, all smirky and eyelashes aflutter.  When dudes weren’t around, I was relaxed and keeping it real, praying for the day I’d be freed from stressing about being a hit with the boys.

I used to be afraid that day would never come.  But yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

This weekend, a gal named Christina proved those days are long behind me.  We met at a two-day writing conference.  Christina was naughty librarian sexy with the kind of combustible “not quite sure who I am yet” energy that makes folks in their twenties both charming and exasperating.  At breakfast, Christina formed a friend crush on me and a regular old boy crush on Billy, a handsomely tortured grunge king who had all the girls at the workshop in a tizzy.  Ten years ago, I might have had eyes for Billy, too.  Now, I’m wise enough to know self-important hot guys usually have little to offer, especially if they’re flirting with everything in a bra.

Christina wasn’t as wise.  When Billy noticed her, she feigned indifference even though stars were shooting out of her eyes.  When he walked away, her entire being deflated like a popped balloon.  When Billy chose to spend his lunch sitting with a pretty blonde instead of us, Christina sat quietly seething as if plotting her next move.  On the conference’s second day, she showed up in a low-cut shirt and bright red lipstick.  Then she spent the day saying raunchy things super loudly and emanating a willful sexuality as if mind controlling the boy to come to her.

Christina didn’t seem smitten, she just seemed pissed.  I assumed she wasn’t as much interested in Billy as she was bothered he wasn’t noticing her.  Still, she didn’t care when I suggested the boy was obviously a player and not worth the effort.  She didn’t buy my theory that not being desired by every male on the planet was no big thang and that all a gal needed was one decent man to love her.  Ultimately, I stopped offering support altogether once the recurring question of the conference changed from “how can I be a better writer” to “why doesn’t Billy like me?”

Thank God I’m not there anymore.  Really, it’s been ages.  Sure, my relationships or attempts at entering into relationships haven’t always been smooth.  But I’ve been myself every step of the way and couldn’t care less about any man except the one who makes my heart go boom.  Even back in the day, when I was more concerned than I should’ve been about being the cat’s meow, I always knew there was more to life than boys.

However.

Not long ago I met a woman in her fifties who had recently ended a five-year romance.  The woman had no children and had never been married, though she’d had a bunch of boyfriends through the years.  She proudly announced herself finished with men, finished with the anxiety of trying to appeal to them, finished worrying about whether she’s desirable.

I could tell the woman meant it.  Like wives who finally divorce after decades in a rotten marriage, she looked forward to starting life on her own terms.  On one hand, I envied the inner peace she claimed to feel.  On the other hand, I was sad to imagine a life without love.

So, I’m glad to be way past the point of obsessing over boy love but pray I never arrive at the place where I’m glad to be out of the game completely.  I’m not positive how to avoid such a fate, but there’s one thing I know for sure.  Needing to be the prettiest girl in the room ain’t it.

 
[Image from vanityfair.com]

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I have a friend, we’ll call him Buster, who’s in a marriage most people might refer to as “shitty.”  He’s got the bitter wife, the resentful kid, the budding alcohol problem, whole nine yards.   Buster caters to his woman’s every wacky whim and exhausts himself trying to put himself in her dainty shoes to empathize and bridge the divide.  For Buster, saving his marriage has become a second job.

Those of us who are his friends have mostly been in the “dude, cut your losses” camp.  When a good pal finds more comfort in Jose Cuervo than his wife, not a lot of folks pitch their tent at Camp Hang in There.

The recurring sentiment amongst Buster’s pals when we sit around talking about him is that he’s staying in the marriage because he doesn’t want to be alone.  Apparently nothing is more offensive to the average American than someone else’s fear of being alone.  I know lots of unhappy couples whose inner circle whispers about how their pansy asses stay together just to avoid ending up solo.  As if remaining single is a courageous act on par with traversing the surface of the moon.

However, I think I’m abandoning Camp Cut Your Losses.

Ever been alone for longer than, say, two years?  I have and I can tell you.  It blows.  No one wants to be alone.  What person prefers sleeping in a cold bed to snuggling up against a warm body?  Isn’t talking to your best friend better than talking to yourself?  Doesn’t life feel more consequential when someone else is watching you live it?  Knowing your mere existence plops another human being onto cloud nine?  That’s pretty rad.  And who wants to be on his death bed with some nurse he’s never met holding his hand as he transitions to the sweet hereafter?  I can’t think of a better incentive to work your tail off in relationships than to avoid being alone.

What are ugly are those relationships where folks have stopped trying.  Dead romances where people who used to love each other go through the motions of loving like state employees nearing retirement.  Should those people bail or just start noticing each other again?

Certainly, some circumstances call for hightailing it out of a relationship.  Like if your partner comes to you one day saying, “Wowza!  Two free tickets to the next Tea Party rally!”  Walk away.  This can’t be salvaged.  Otherwise, maybe put in the time.

Buster has a family and a woman who has known him for ages.  These are the building blocks for the one thing everyone wants most in life: forever.  Buster wants to grow old with someone and have his kids at his bedside when he kicks it.  He wants a satisfying relationship and contented family, and so will do what he must to make it happen.  He may also love his wife even if the rest of us think she’s Cruella DeVille.

There may come a time when Buster’s marriage should officially be pronounced dead and both parties should save themselves from being buried with it.  Until then, ain’t no shame in working toward forever.

[Photo of this completely awesome panda from rootsgpk.blogspot.com]

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Women can fake orgasms.  Men can fake entire relationships.

This juicy tidbit marking the romantic distinction between males and females recently made its way onto my Twitter feed.  Enjoying a brief chuckle after reading it, I soon realized how closely this alleged truth hits home: my friend Jay is in a fake relationship and I’ve been wondering if I should tell the girl.

Jay is one of those good-looking, charismatic fellas who rarely have trouble finding a female companion.  A decade ago, he was madly in love with a special lady who dumped him after his ego decided to feed itself by convincing him to cheat.  Since then, Jay has steered clear of anything “too heavy,” opting instead for casual relationships with dippy bores or overly controlling kooks whose mania gives him the perfect excuse to jump ship.

But every so often, Jay wants someone to care enough to check in on him each day, someone for whom he can make elaborate dinners and buy gifts, someone to offer him regular sex and hold him in the middle of the night.  And so, Jay gets a “girlfriend.”

There was the pretty actress with whom he spent every weekend for nearly six months and the slightly neurotic realtor with whom he went on a Roman vacation.  Both of these women were mighty surprised at the end of their relationships to find out Jay was never really feelin’ it even though his actions suggested otherwise.

Then there was the Latin American gal who flew herself back and forth to the States whenever Jay reemerged begging for her company.  The night I met up with them, I watched him walk hand-in-hand with her down the street, introduce her to his friends and fill her imagination with daydreams about a shared future.  Jay’s behavior offered the kinds of clues every silly women’s magazine might say is evidence a dude is thinking long term.  Obviously, the Latin American believed herself involved in a long-distance romance.  But in fact, she was one of a handful of women satellite-ing within Jay’s orbit.

My friend may be an extreme but he’s far from an exception.  I’ve known many guys who’ve gone through the romantic motions with women in an effort to avoid loneliness.  I even know a guy who stayed with a woman for five friggin’ years, knowing every single day there was no way in hell he’d ever marry the chick.

My gut tells me no woman would ever do such a thing and not for any noble reason, like sparing someone else’s feelings.  I just think most women are too gung ho on finding Prince Charming to waste time on a peasant.  And I can’t imagine any woman being able to turn off her emotions or even worse, pretending to feel something she doesn’t feel.  If you’ve ever seen a Sharon Stone movie, you know how to fake an orgasm.  But love?

So, Jay has started up again with the Latin American and is even considering giving in to her demands to be more exclusive.  From the beginning of this relationship, he has said, “I don’t love her and know I never will.”  Meanwhile, his girl is fantasizing about lifelong love, marriage and family.  So is Jay…with some other woman he hopes to meet one day.

I only met the gal for the second time over a group dinner, when she indirectly expressed doubts about Jay’s intentions.  She dropped hints about being open to any insight those of us who are his female friends may be able to provide.  Whenever I considered cueing her in, I remembered how perilous it is to place oneself in the center of a couple’s battlefield.

However, I also wonder if sometimes all it takes for a man like Jay to finally make a commitment is to force himself into one.  If certain men tell themselves they’re not in love in order to make sticking around seem less confining.  In the end, can fake love ever become true?

What say you?

[Photo from the film Lars and the Real Girl, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment]

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Generally speaking, I like watching chick flicks about as much as I like getting hives.  I can’t stand the Disney-ified perspective on relationships or cheesy, girl power soundtracks.  I imagined Eat, Pray, Love would be particularly loathsome, mostly because I have trouble feeling much empathy for a perfect, blonde, fabulously successful writer who has the financial means to decide life lacks color, and thus travel the world eating pasta, meditating with gurus and making love with Javier Bardem.

When I high-tailed it to Spain after my own divorce, I had five hundred dollars in my pocket.  Rather than doing yoga and discovering Neapolitan pizza, I busted my backside running around Madrid teaching English.  And I had no guru to turn to when the pain of life hit.  I had sangria.

When my girlfriends forced me to watch Eat, Pray this past weekend, I was ready to do some serious hatin’ on Julia and her mawkish little film.  But then something happened.  I got inspired.  Weepy.  I kinda liked the damn thing.

Lots of it was ridiculous – the hokey self-help dialogue, the silly flashbacks, the fact that Javier Bardem didn’t take his shirt off enough.  But if you want to know what the big whoop is about this book and film, allow me to summarize.

Life Requires a Sense of Wonder

Our heroine took her trip because she wanted to “marvel” at existence, a feeling many people share.  Everyone I know right now feels they’re trudging through life.  Their jobs, relationships, or lack thereof, have them asking “is this all there is?  Am I not destined for greater things?”  As a starving artist in Europe, I experienced a near constant sense of wonder brought on by the newness of my surroundings and challenge to define myself in them.  This was the essence of life: enchantment, meaning, but also hard work.

I tell my friends, “this isn’t all there is, and yes, you are destined for greater things.”  Still, how do you get those things if you aren’t a New Yorker writer with a giantass bank account?

You are Not Your Work

My mom suggests I go back to school to become a teacher, a friend tells me about a crummy desk job available and my whiny response is always, “but I’m a writer,” the implication being I’m incapable of doing or being anything else.

So it was kinda weird to hear the protagonist in the movie sob, “but I’m a writer” then have her friend insist that’s not “who” she is.  In the US, whether we’re artists, academics or CEOs, we let our work define us.  What if we’re wrong?  If my identity is not “writer,” what is it?

Goddamn, Julia Roberts.

The Sweetness of Doing Nothing

Eat, Pray introduced an Italian concept called “the sweetness of doing nothing.”  I think we should import it.  Life is filled with too much.  Some slowness and nothingness would be grand.

Italians are the kind of folks who take two hours to eat lunch everyday.  When I first moved to Europe, I felt this agonizing sense of futility sitting at a table trying to find a way to make lunch interesting and productive for two hours.  But then I got the hang of it and enjoyed every bite of food, every sip of wine, every lull in the conversation.

I personally can’t stand getting to the end of the work week and looking back at the blur.  This is my life, for cripe’s sake.  I want to experience every second.

Don’t Be Afraid of Love

The reason I despise chick flicks is because the people in them who are afraid of love always have some dumb epiphany, run manically through the streets to their beloved, then make some saccharine statement about the importance of love before dashing off into the sunset.

That shit never happens in real life.

Most people with love fears don’t arrive on their beloved’s doorstep, bouquet in hand, saying, “I’m ready to love again.”  But if there’s any truth to take from this flick, it’s that love, despite everything that blows about it, is what makes all the trials, tribulations and triumphs of life’s journey worth it.

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At a party weeks back, my friend Angela fell for a handsome Brit named Al after he charmed her with tales of his off-the-beaten track existence traveling the world. The next evening, they talked life and politics over a steak dinner then agreed to meet again.

Al charmed Angela even more the next afternoon when he canceled plans with his buddies to join her on a trip to Verizon to get her phone fixed. After spending the afternoon and subsequent evening together, Angela thought she’d finally met a mature, baggage-less man with whom she could have a relationship. If only she knew.

During a dinner party the following Friday night, Angela reached for her phone to discover Al had called. Six times. Though a bit ruffled, she decided to make her way to the bar where he was drinking with friends. When she arrived, Al was completely hammered, saying things like, “I shouldn’t have called you, are you angry? It’s just I couldn’t get through and I thought maybe you were avoiding me. You don’t like me, do you? I know you don’t, why would you? You’re too pretty for me and I’m shit as a boyfriend, absolute shit. I don’t want to mess this up with you. I won’t get attached, I won’t get attached!”

Y’know, the kinds of things some guys think but neeeeeeever actually say.

After some reassurance from Angela, Al nixed the heart-on-sleeve talk and continued to enjoy the IV of pilsner stuck into his veins. End of the night at his place, Angela’s attempts at being intimate were interrupted when Al declared, “you’re too sexy. I’m shit in bed, absolute shit,” then passed out. Angela fell asleep beside him and was getting some good REM sleep when the bed started shaking. She woke up, looked across the mattress and…

Al was picking his nose…and eating it…in his sleep.

Unfortunately, Angela was stuck since it was 5 am and she was on the other side of town. The next morning, she made a lame excuse then bolted to my place to tell me the whole story and see if there was any reason to salvage things. Together, we broke it down to what worked and what didn’t. Pros: when he’s sober, he’s smart, funny and kind. Cons: he eats his own snot.

In the midst of our analysis, Al called and said, “I thought maybe you’d like to come over.”

“I’m with my friend,” Angela told him.

“But I thought it’d be nice if you came over.”

“My friend’s not feeling well,” Angela lied. “I should stay with her.”

“Look,” he said angrily. “Are we seeing each other or not?”

But before she could answer, the call dropped.

“Okay,” Angela told me. “This is sooo finished.”

But she didn’t even get the chance to end things. Angela was the dumpee. Sunday morning, Al left a message saying, “hi, um, yesterday’s conversation was discouraging relationship-wise, but you know, it’s hard to find good conversation, so maybe we could stay friends, go for coffee and talk about bollocks, and you know, that would be nice, and, well I’m shit on answering machines, so I’m just going to say goodbye now, so, okay, well, take care.”

The worst part for Angela was getting dumped by a neurotic booze hound who ate his own bodily fluids. The best part was she no longer had to date a neurotic booze hound who ate his own bodily fluids.

In the end, we hoped that Al, as friendly as he was, as funny and generous, wasn’t as much of a neurotic nosepicker as he seemed. In fact, we imagined it was all a game, a bet he made with friends to see who could self-sabotage himself out of a decent relationship in the shortest amount of time:

He’s an illustrator from London who enjoys hiking and badminton, his hobbies include using his inner demons to back himself out of relationships with pretty women and eating boogers. He’s got enough intimacy issues to sink a Russian sea liner, he’s Al, ladies and gentlemen, give him a hand.

Anyway, I’m fairly certain he won.

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Biracial couple loveA guy sitting next to me on the bus the other day kept looking over my shoulder to check out the book on my lap.  When I stuffed it in my bag, he asked, “what are you reading?”

Slightly embarrassed, I told him, “it’s called, Love, an Inner Connection.”

“What’s it about?”

Self-help books and pseudo-spiritual tomes I’ve always considered hokey.  Human beings are fantastically complicated, a lifetime isn’t long enough to discover all the nooks and crannies in one person’s psyche.  Merge two of these creatures in a relationship and they’d need at least a couple centuries to figure one another out.  For every self-help “rule” about relating, you’ll find a thousand situations that break it.

So, when a friend suggested Love, an Inner Connection, my first reaction was to gag.  But since the book’s based in Jungian psychology and ancient Chinese philosophy, I gave it a whirl.

Here’s the gist: there’s the “essential” self and the ego.  The essential self is our identity in its purest form, untouched by social conditioning.  The ego is an insecure bully who concocts a social role and avoids challenging situations to keep the self from harm.  When two people fall in love, their essential selves recognize each other and connect.  In a real love connection, two people can manifest their essential selves, savor intimacy’s bliss and fulfill their lives’ purposes together.

But along comes the ego shouting things like, “you’re too ugly and stupid for someone to love,” or “yo, the last time this happened, your heart got trampled.”  The beginning of love is always a battle between one or both partners’ egos and essential selves.  Thus, the journey to love means silencing the ego, withdrawing when your partner’s ego is actin’ a fool and having the patience to endure the initial difficulties.

When I described the book to the guy on the bus, he nodded and said, “see, my problem is whenever love comes, I push it away.”

The fact that most of my acquaintances and even strangers on the bus (swear to God, it happened) are voicing romantic concern suggests lots of people are struggling.

Having allowed his “issues” to get the best of him, my friend Jay cheated on the girlfriend he’s crazy about and has been fighting ever since to get her back.  My girl Diane caves into the whims of a guy she loves but who sucks at the teat of non-commitment like a baby to a pacifier.  Jack’s in love for the first time but won’t make the changes that would allow a new person into his world.  Irene drives away every man who shows affection because she won’t take the time to let feelings evolve.  Everyone’s selfish, terrified egos are running amok.

Years back, a recently divorced guy I’d been dating admitted to some anxiety about the intensity of our fledgling romance.  He wanted to keep seeing one another, but a small part of him was tempted to back out.

I went ape shit.

“Nooo,” I wailed.  “It’s too soon to freak, you can’t do this, give it a chance.”  And so on.

Dude disappeared.  Shortly thereafter, I picked up Love, an Inner Connection. And by gum, the book changed my life.

Instead of pushing my own romantic agenda, what if I’d taken into consideration what the other person wanted?  We like to think love is all about tying someone down and eliminating whatever in their life threatens our attachment to them – a busy social calendar, autonomous behaviors, emotional hang-ups.  But love is about freedom.  Someone chooses to love you and to be loved.  You shouldn’t have to convince or force people to be with you.  They should want to be with you.  And if they need time to work through some stuff, well, you best chill.

Jay’s ego didn’t want him to admit his mistake, while his essential self was pining for the woman he betrayed.  After he read Love, An Inner, he snubbed his ego and told the girl he missed her.  She came back.  Consequently, the book is making the rounds and guiding my friends to softer places in their souls.

It’s hard to be patient.  Hard to put someone else’s needs on par with your own.  Hard to know whether you’ve got a true love connection or whether you’re a fool.

But as I told my friend on the bus, if there’s one tried-and-tested rule about love, it’s that it’s worth the risk.

**Love, an Inner Connection is by Carol K. Anthony

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