Give Some to Get Some

Most days I have better conversations with my 8 year old nephew than I do with other adults. Kids are pretty easy, though. Give them a little attention and you’ve secured a captive audience. The same rules don’t always apply with adults.

At a certain age, big people revert back to chasing flashy things like an infant who has not yet mastered language. Not being an expert in attention grabbing myself, I end up feeling like white paint on the wall. I exist, but, nobody pays attention. People assume they know everything about me because they know where I live and what I do, but there is so much more than those basic facts.

Partly, it is my fault. I shy away from having eyes on me, so I don’t make a big deal about my personal victories. Still, it is disappointing to be approached by a friendly face who is only anxious to hear about how my sister is enjoying her latest adventure, or what my brother is up to these days. I smile and respond politely all while looking at the person and thinking, “Did you know that Winter Orchard White has a subtle tinge of gray that compliments any decor?” White paint, like people is more complex than it appears.

It has become so normal for me to feel unseen that I’m shocked to the point of disbelief on the rare occasion when someone actually does notice me. I grow immediately skeptical searching for their angle. At some point, I started assuming that anyone who takes an interest in me may have mistaken me for someone else.

Earlier this month, an old friend came to visit. I have not seen him much in person, but we stay in touch on social media. I know where he lives. I know a little bit about how he spends his time. What more do I need to know, really? But in person, as one conversation led to the next, the Acadia White Benjamin Moore paint that covered him slowly washed away, and I was amazed to discover the fun, smart, kind, and clever man underneath.

I had taken my friend for granted in exactly the same way I hated people taking me for granted.

I learned a lot during his short visit. Not only do his niece and nephew adore him, but adults revere him as well. I tease him for too being chatty, but the truth is he is friendly. He doesn’t wait for others to notice him. He sees people and acknowledges them. He is interested. He makes an effort, and in return people remember him.

Looks like I was wrong, things don’t change so much as you get older. With adults, just like with kids,you have to give some to get some.

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Stumbling Toward Enlightenment

I attending a wedding a few weeks ago, and ended up cloistered at a table with other singles: all divorced or widowed and at least 25 years older than me. I was able to make polite conversation, but often glanced around at the other tables full of my contemporaries, all coupled up.

My friend, the groom was beaming. After searching for a wife (including two engagements that never made it to the altar), he finally achieved his goal at age 44. The newlyweds story helps to legitimize online dating. They seemed like a perfect match. Not the same, and not without flaws, but their hearts compliment each other very well.

As the band played and I watched all the couples dance, I reflected on my uncoupled conundrum.

My most major mistake is obvious-I’m a sucker for a pretty face. Anytime a cute guy smiles at me, I swoon, and he could sell me the Brooklyn Bridge. I’d pay top dollar, too because somehow his good looks translate into a man who is also smart, trustworthy, and caring-at least in my mind. It doesn’t matter how many times this illusion has been proved to be completely, and utterly untrue by a statistically significant margin, I dismiss the data and proceed naively believing THIS one is different.

Not surprisingly, they all end up all being the same narcissist

On the drive home, I stopped to fuel up both the car and myself. The cashier tried to help me select something to eat, but I was distracted by the black, blue, and purple balloon where her left eye should have been. Whomever’s fist broke her face, it happened not too many hours beforehand, but she was hard at work, and though she looked to be in pain, she did not complain, likely a veteran of physical abuse.

I drove off wondering how someone could stay with a man who speaks with his fists, but I quickly realized, who am I to point a finger? The emotional abuse I’ve suffered at the hands of my narcissist companions doesn’t show outwardly, but still leaves a mark. Yet, I walked away only half of the time, and only after a long time trying to rationalize staying. The other times, I was left behind with my heart ripped to shreds.

Why do we tell ourselves we are not worthy? I’d argue that I do believe in myself, but my reality tells a very different story. I’d like to blame the guy. I’d like to believe he doesn’t understand me, or he just wasn’t the right one, but the truth is I seem to lack a clear understanding of my value in this world.

Since Ann Landers says I can’t accept my dog’s admiration of me as conclusive evidence that I’m wonderful, I’d better set my sights on looking within.

“He who knows others is wise, he who knows himself is enlightened.” -Lao Tzu

Being Human

I recently watched, “The Social Network,” and concluded that Mark Zuckerberg may be a billionaire programmer extraordinaire, but his social skills certainly needed some work during those college years, but who am I to judge? I made a lot of missteps at that age, and though none of them ended in a lawsuit, I still have regrets. My biggest social blunder didn’t even come to light for nearly two decades.

After graduating college in the mid 1990’s, I laid low in the early part of this millennium after a string of disappointments left me feeling less than human. When I finally began to reconnect with college friends, the catalyst was (ironically) Facebook. I joined in 2008 to keep track of my sister who was working overseas, but by 2009, a friend from college stumbled across my name on a Facebook friend suggestion list, and I was inundated with connections. Some long lost friends took the opportunity to reach out over messenger to learn more about my decade off the grid. Frank, who I dated briefly junior year, asked a lot of questions, and I responded with inquiries of my own. Once we had covered our personal lives, we began sharing updates on other members of our college clique.

We had a mutual friend, Mike, who was not on Facebook. Mike and I met in the early weeks of freshman year when I briefly dated his roommate, Andy (who left school before the end of first semester). Mike and I were best friends from the start. We even visited each other over summer vacations to attend music festivals, or just chill at the beach together for a few days. He was a great guy and a lot of fun.

Mike and I never dated. Our friendship was a simple “be yourself” relationship without the usual sexual attraction stumbling block that trips up most male-female friendships. I remember he dated an underclassman briefly, and some girl from another school during his semester at sea program, but he remained solo for most of our four years. Honestly, I didn’t think much about his dating habits (or lack of them) at the time because I was too wrapped up in my own drama, dating a new guy every term. Mike was always there to listen, and give me advice.

Mike and Frank had been quite close, and when I asked Frank about Mike, he was unusually slow to reply. Eventually, he told me that Mike had recently married and was expecting his first child. Then, I asked Frank if he would give me the contact information for Mike since he was not on Facebook. This time the reply was swift, “Don’t try to find him.” Only adding that it was not a good idea. “Had Mike entered witness protection?” I joked. Again, the reply was slow, and when it came, I was confused.

“It took him a long time to get over it, but he is finally happy. Just leave him alone.”

What did Mike have to get over? I received no reply, but there was only one possible answer. The platonic friendship I assumed we shared was one-sided. Mike had been in love with me.

At first I was mad. How could Mike not tell me? But the thought barely formed when the answer washed over me. He knew I wasn’t in love with him, and sharing his feelings would have ended our friendship. He kept his secret to keep me close. I wondered how long Frank had known. I seriously doubt Frank would have dated me during fall term of junior year if Mike had told him prior to that. Frank had a lot of flaws, but he was a loyal friend. The truth must have come out sometime after graduation. Who else knew? It didn’t matter, I felt terrible, and the only person I wanted to talk to was the one person I couldn’t because Frank insisted I leave Mike alone, but I couldn’t let it go. I Googled the company Mike worked for and emailed him, but received no reply.

Anxious and impatient, I attempted to assuage my jumbled feelings by looking back through my college photo albums and was surprised to discover that among hundreds of images of me and the girls, or my ever rotating boy of the term, were few pictures of Mike, and no good ones-more evidence of how much I took him for granted. I resorted to flipping through our actual freshmen facebook to find an image of his full smiling face.

My Linked In connection was eventually accepted, but I still don’t know if it was Mike or an assistant in his office that cleared my request. His profile image is a cartoon drawing. He will not reply to any personal correspondence. I considered showing up at his office the next time I’m in New York, but I know that isn’t fair. He is happy. I need to quell my own ego, and respect the life he has built for himself.

And because karma is a bitch, the same situation has occurred again, this time with Sam, but now I’m the lovelorn best friend being taken for granted as Sam moves from one drama filled relationship to the next. We hang out in between his liaisons, and I listen to him lament his latest loss, but just as Mike knew better than to confess his feelings to me, I know Sam doesn’t love me. So, instead of seeing my current situation as punishment, I’m trying to be thankful. I’ve been granted perspective on Mike’s experience that allows me to excuse his secret. From my knowledge, I generate the courage it takes to leave Mike alone, to allow Sam to be himself, and to forgive myself for being human.

Not Fade Away

On Saturday, his face, his smile, his laugh all filled my mind. I didn’t wonder about it, the approaching anniversary of his departure was a logical trigger, but today he appeared in the street, as if he’d been here all along, instead of moving six states away two years ago.

I paused. Was it a mirage? No. If I imagined it, I would visualize myself with combed hair and better clothes. Unable to fix my appearance, I walked over to say hello.

He looked great, as always, but also happier and more relaxed than when we said goodbye. His prior disposition undoubtedly being partially my fault. He came back this weekend for a wedding, and will be gone tomorrow. I rambled, of course. It can’t be helped in this kind of situation, but I’m pretty sure I avoided saying anything stupid or embarrassing.

Hours later, I’m still reeling. I had important things to do this afternoon, but instead, I went for a swim. Now it’s getting late. I should have dinner, but my mind is distracted, searching for the key that unlocks a different ending for us. I’ve missed him since the day he left, and our three minutes of idle chit chat today only served to remind me.

Two years ago, he gave me a silver pendant on a chain. One side a compass, the other an anchor. Back then, I thought he was the anchor, providing stability in an uncertain situation.      I was the compass. Later, I realized the truth. I remained anchored here while his compass pointed him somewhere else. After six months, I undid the clasp and put it away.

Today, I put the necklace on again, just for a day…or two.

A Really Good Book

Have you ever spent time with two people and found out later they are in a relationship and thought, “Hmmm, I never would have guessed!”

Some twosomes have electric energy that anyone can sense, as if they glow the same shade of purple, but for others, without the shared looks or purposeless touching, the pair seems more like buddies than bedfellows.

I recently witnessed a couple seriously lacking in chemistry. Individually, each one is fantastic-attractive, engaging, fun, but together they fall flat. Granted some relationships start off slowly as the individuals get to know each other, but after a time, for the couple I’m referencing it had been over 6 months, outsiders should be able to tell the two of you make up a “we”.

I can’t imagine being in a unidentifiable to others relationship over the long term. If I’m drawn in by the cover of the book, as I often am when it comes to men, I figure out pretty quickly whether the story holds my interest. Sure, I might stick it out for a few chapters hoping the plot improves, especially if he is really HOT, but at some point, it makes sense to close the book if it’s not enjoyable, and go find a better story.

Some determined people insist on continuing until the end, but aren’t those always the books you look back on and think, why did I bother? The end was so obvious right from the beginning!

I’ve learned to appreciate stories that seem totally not my style, but come highly recommended. They are always filled with adventure, hold my interest, teach me something, and keep me absorbed right to the end. In fact, thinking about this right now makes me want to go find myself another really good book…

Fireflies

I’ve been thinking a lot about fireflies. Like most children, I chased after them on warm summer nights collecting them carefully in between my cupped palms and placing them in a jar which I kept by my bed. When I woke up in the morning, they were always dead. You would think I’d figure out that trapping them in a jar makes for an unhappy ending, but I’m impulsively possessive. Logic takes a vacation when it comes to something I covet. THIS time will be different, I tell myself. THIS time the fireflies will be alive and happy to see me when I wake up.

I’m not sure exactly what age I stopped chasing fireflies, but I’d guess it was around the same time I started chasing boys. Funny how I made the same mistakes. I was pretty good at capturing them, but once they were mine, I held on too tight, and woke up disappointed. Any guesses on how long it took me to realize the problem and take steps to correct it? The light bulb came on last week. Thirty years of self sabotage. Okay, that is not fair, I’ve recognized the problem for at least ten years, but the voice in my head always offered the false assurance, THIS time will be different.

I heard that voice again last weekend as I stared into beautiful blue eyes that sparkled with light like a firefly. Instantly, I was transported to a field in early summer feeling warm, safe, and happy. I smile now thinking about the time we spent together and a familiar voice whispers in my head, THIS time might REALLY be different, but I know better. THIS time, I call out the flaws in my past logic, and tread cautiously with an eye toward survival for both of us. If this relationship gets messed up, I promise myself it won’t be because I trapped him until he couldn’t breathe. THIS one will fly freely as I calmly enjoy each moment, and if I remember correctly, when you are patient and trusting, the firefly comes to you.