Loneliness & Solitude

You know what’s terrible when you’re lonely? Facebook. It’s like watching a parade through the three-inch window of your prison cell.

I used to be great at being alone. I was proud of my independence, my lack of neediness.

Something shifted, though. For whatever reason, I’ve been struggling with loneliness in a way that I never have before. This is a brutal sort of loneliness that ambushes me at all hours. It’s accompanied by a vicious cataloging of all my flaws, all of the “reasons” why I’m alone. And it’s bleak, casting long shadows over my future, a doomsday prophet telling me to get used to it; this is how it will always be.

I’ve done my best to fight it. I packed my schedule with activity. I made to-do lists and set goals and started projects and joined groups. I drank too much. And the internet dates…ugh, the internet dates.

I’ve heard many times that if you want to get over something, you have to first let yourself really feel it. I thought maybe I would try that. Lean into the loneliness. Own it. Thoroughly experience it so that I could then let it go.

I don’t recommend it, leaning into loneliness. If you go looking for evidence that you are alone, you will find it, and it will hurt.

I decided that if I was going to be alone, I would be alone. I stopped trying to convince people to spend time with me. I stopped reaching out, and I stopped expecting them to reach out to me. I stopped scheduling every minute. And, probably most helpful, I turned off social media. I forced myself to stop the endless casting about on Facebook and Twitter for I don’t know what…Company? Attention? Distraction?

Once I did that, the clamoring inside me subsided a bit. I was left with something quieter and more peaceful: solitude.

Solitude is the graceful cousin of loneliness.

Loneliness stems from comparison and envy. I see a happy couple and immediately compare my state with theirs: loneliness. I see friends checking in on Facebook and feel another stabbing comparison: they are out having fun together and I am here, alone. Loneliness is a lack, a feeling of less-than, a focus on what you’re missing.

Solitude, on the other hand, is just the state of being alone. It’s being present with yourself, only yourself. Solitude focuses on what is, not what is lacking.

In solitude, there’s freedom. Do what you like. Listen to what you like. Sleep if you’re sleepy; eat if you’re hungry.

I spent a gorgeous weekend in solitude, puttering in the garage like I used to, in those days when I was great at being alone. I left my phone in the bedroom and forgot about it. I finished a painting. I worked in the yard. When the daylight faded, I curled up with a glass of wine and a book. These are things I love. Solitude gives me time to do them.

I began to recognize both loneliness and solitude as spirals. Solitude gives. Loneliness takes.

When you’re drowning in loneliness, you’re not just reaching for people; you’re clutching. You feel it. They feel it. You approach relationships—both existing and potential relationships—from a place of scarcity. When you show up with that sort of neediness, it’s a negative experience for you and for those with whom you interact, which may cause them (or you) to withdraw. Negativity and withdrawal reinforce your loneliness.

On the other hand, solitude allows you to fill up, recharge, and come to your relationships open-handed. You come from a place of abundance. You’re in a position to give, which feels good to you and to others, making you more likely to seek their company and them more likely to seek yours.

After a little healthy solitude, I can show up and be gracious again. I can feel happy for the happy couples instead of resentful and jealous. I can relax and joke with my friends. They laugh; I hear that they enjoy me, which makes me feel valued—an upward spiral.

I wish I could say that the loneliness is gone, but it isn’t. It’s right there, like a bruise that hurts if I touch it. The sensible thing, then, is to stop touching it.

No more leaning into loneliness. If you’re lonely, lean into solitude.

If you're struggling with loneliness, lean into solitude.

Keepin’ On: The Internet Dating Update

By popular request, I am writing an update about my dating foibles.

Okay, just one person requested it, but she’s very popular, so I think that counts.

It’s been a year since I wrote this post about not being ready to date. I stayed off the dating sites through the holidays, because starting something new at the holidays is so awkward. You’re not sure if your new beau is ready to join your wacky family for Thanksgiving, but it might be rude not to invite him. Then there’s that question of what to buy him for Christmas, trying to match the gift to whatever stage of the relationship you’re in. New guys at the holidays really are no fun at all. Unless you’re into cozy evenings by the fire, romantic walks through beautifully lit neighborhoods, planning holiday surprises, or having someone to kiss on New Year’s Eve.

But, you know…who really likes all that stuff anyway? Not me, obviously. I waited for January.

Turns out, everyone waits for January. The dating sites were hopping with activity so I had lots of opportunities to meet new people. And I did. I don’t even know how many. Here are the highlights, and I’m using that word very loosely.

I met a funny, sexy, articulate guy named Joe. (There are enough Joes in the world that I can just use his name, right?) Joe was extremely flakey. You know those people who make vague or tentative plans with you and either don’t follow through or wait til the very last minute to solidify? He was one of those. He always left me hanging. I don’t like that feeling, so I backed off and waited for him to call me. He didn’t like that much. “Why don’t you ever call me?” he asked. “Why do I always have to call you?” I said, “I don’t want to chase you. You seem like you’re always half-assing it. I don’t mind if we only see each other occasionally, but you’ve got to let me know what’s going on so I can plan.” And he said, “Why do all girls want to have this relationship talk so soon?”

Huh? Relationship? That’s not a relationship talk. That’s a scheduling talk. But Flakey Joe’s half-assed ways got annoying so I resumed my search.

I met a guy who spent 45 minutes of my time complaining to me about his ex-wife. He asked me how long I’d been divorced and I told him: 17 years. And he said, “Wow. That’s a really long time. What do you think the problem is?” Because there MUST be something wrong with me if I haven’t remarried by now. Duh.

I met one guy whom I actually dated for a couple months. He was not a very good kisser. Do you know how hard it is to get past that? But he was fun to be with, except when he was kissing me, so I decided to give it some time and see how it went. (See? I try. I don’t give up right away.) It didn’t go very well. Bad kissing leads to bad other things. And those other things were pretty bad. (It would be rude for me to get into details here. Buy me a couple drinks and I’ll give you specifics if you want them.) Anyway, I was gimping it along with Mr. Unsexy and then one day, at a hangover breakfast, while I was eating a reasonably healthy half-order of poached eggs and asparagus and he was eating a giant plate of steak and eggs with hash browns and a Bloody Mary the size of my head, he gently suggested that maybe “we” should try to lose some weight.

We. Did I mention that Unsexy was very skinny? And that I am not? Yeah. I decided to stop overlooking his gross lack of skills and get the heck out of there.

I spoke with another guy, a big shot I now refer to as The Onceler, who asked me what I was doing that evening. I said I had to work—I had to write some web content and load it into our company website. He said, “I have a Filipino virtual assistant who does that for pennies.” I think that may be the rudest thing someone has ever said to me that early in a conversation. Not to mention all the levels of wrongness inherent in that statement.

There was the red-headed mailman who spoke a total of 17 words during our whole date. And I had to ask him 17 questions to get those words out of him.

I went out with another guy whose lack of confidence made me cringe. At one point in the date, he got up to use the restroom and when he came back, he looked at me with surprise and said, “Oh, you’re still here!”

I met one guy who was really nice to talk to and very interesting, but he never put the moves on me. Still, it was fun at first. His Pinterest boards were almost identical to mine! He enjoyed looking at old houses, just like me, and shopping for home décor, just like me, and the more I got to know him, the more certain I became that he probably should be dating dudes (just like me). Raised in a strict, conservative, religious environment; adamantly and loudly homophobic; sews his own curtains…it was repression stew. And even if he wasn’t deeply closeted, I can’t date a homophobe.

Oh, that reminds me of the guy with the very soft, small hands and gentle, quiet voice who met me at a bar and then ordered white zinfandel. Everyone should drink what he or she likes best, and if you are happiest with a glass of pink wine in your ladyhand, who am I to judge? But I can’t date someone who seems more feminine than me. Don’t blame me; blame the patriarchy.

Most recently, I met a guy who told me, about a half hour into a coffee date, that I was his first attempt at dating since he got out of prison, and that he would be on federal parole for the next several years. So that was a real mood dampener. But I respected him for his honesty and for turning his life around. Then we started talking politics, and you know what this guy was? A Trump supporter! You can be a felon; I understand that sometimes we all make bad decisions. But if you think Donald Trump is a legitimate choice for president, there is something gravely wrong with you. I could not end that conversation fast enough.

I’m only telling you about the ones that I didn’t like. It goes the other way, too, of course. There was Hot Scott, who was brilliant and interesting—and hot, of course. He took me to a very nice dinner, so nice it almost made me uncomfortable. He told great stories and I thoroughly enjoyed talking with him. But he didn’t even walk me to my car (basic courtesy, right?) so I knew he wasn’t interested. Hard to fathom that someone wouldn’t be interested in ME, but hey, it happens. At least it was an entertaining date. There was also a guy from high school that I found on Tinder. We went out and he was delightful: charming and handsome and so fun to be around. Still is. We landed smack in the friend zone. That happens sometimes, too, and I’m okay with that.

So there you have it: a brief, sad summary of my dating life over the last year.

Sometimes I wonder whether I’m too picky, or if I have unrealistic expectations. Am I like George Costanza, ruling out people for ridiculous reasons? Contrary to popular belief, being single for long periods of time does not make you inclined to settle. If anything, it makes you pickier. I’m old enough to know what I can and cannot live with. While I occasionally get tired of being alone (occasionally is another word I’m using loosely), I am pretty good at it. I know from experience that I’m happier on my own than I am when I’m with someone who isn’t a good fit.

We’re coming up on the holidays, so I’ll take another break pretty soon. My Match.com membership expires at the end of the month, and I’ll shut it down, delete my Tinder app, etc. I’ll have cozy nights by the fire with my dogs, who never tell me I need to lose weight. I’ll plan Christmas surprises for family and friends who aren’t flakey. And on New Years Eve, who knows? I could kiss anyone—anyone but a Trump supporter, that is. A girl must have her standards.

Ruthless Self-Scrutiny: The Girl Who Put Herself Down

On a number of recent occasions, a well-meaning friend has pointed out that I often put myself down. Apparently that bothers her. It bothers me, too, because I try pretty hard to be positive. People who constantly put themselves down are annoying. I don’t want to be that girl.

The thing is, I don’t really think that I am that girl. But I also want to be open to criticism, especially from a well-intentioned friend. Time for RUTHLESS SELF-SCRUTINY.

Do I put myself down too much? I don’t think so, but it’s possible.

Could I be doing it without realizing it? Highly unlikely.

I pride myself on being self-aware. My four older siblings made sure of that. They found comedy in my every move, whether I intended to be funny or not. And they reminded me of my unintentionally hilarious behavior for years afterwards, especially on those rare occasions when I had a boy around.

My mother also contributed to my exceptional level of self-awareness by promptly squelching what she perceived as attention-seeking behavior. Any time I put myself down, I was “fishing for compliments.” Any time I said something positive about myself, I was being conceited. Any big outbursts would get me labelled “Sarah Heartburn” and were regarded as disingenuous or manipulative. There really was no safe way to express feelings about myself.

I learned to watch every word I said. I still tend to think very hard about everything I say about myself, anticipate how it might be perceived. For instance, if I’m feeling fat and ugly, I’m sure as hell not going to say, “I feel fat and ugly,” because STOP FISHING FOR COMPLIMENTS. I will just feel fat and ugly quietly to myself. Never mind that everyone feels fat and ugly sometimes. DON’T SAY THAT OUT LOUD.

So, I’m going to rule out the possibility that I put myself down without realizing it. If I do it, I’m definitely aware that I’m doing it. But if I know it’s annoying, why would I do it?

Here are some situations in which I, knowingly, might say something negative about myself:

  1. For comedy. Self-deprecating humor, in small doses, is funny because it’s highly relatable. You’ve got to laugh at yourself sometimes. People get it and they laugh with you. Read the Mattress Adventures post about how I have no idea how to pick up a man. It’s true. And it’s kind of funny, don’t you think?
  2. For relatability in general. Admitting a weakness, like a lack of self-confidence in a particular area, helps people trust you. They see your vulnerability and feel safe to expose their own. Revealing vulnerability could be perceived as putting myself down, but I’m not going to stop doing it because I want other people to trust that they can be vulnerable with me, too.
  3. Because I actually need to talk about it. (This one only applies when I’m with my very closest friends. I don’t unload this stuff on strangers.) There are things I don’t like about myself. There are things I wish I could change. When I’m with my very close friends, I want to be able to talk about everything. I don’t want to pretend that everything is fine and I feel invincible. Sometimes I feel like a fucked-up mess. Sometimes I want to talk about that. Sometimes I want to hear that I am not a fucked-up mess, but usually I just want to hear someone else say, “Yeah, I feel like that sometimes, too.”

Those all sound like good reasons to me. I’m a big believer in transparency. When we hide the things we don’t like about ourselves and we pretend everything is great, we do ourselves and others a disservice. Insecurity feeds on shame and isolation. We’re so afraid people will find out what’s wrong with us…talking about insecurities discharges that fear and helps us feel connected.

But there’s another reason I talk about insecurities. Take this conversation I had with a guy on Tinder, for example.

During our very first exchange, we played The Question Game. He asked, “What are you most insecure about, specifically?”

I said, “My body.”

He said, “That’s too vague. Be specific.”

I said, “Man, you’re ruthless! Fine…I’m insecure about my weight and my skin.”

He said, “Great. Aren’t you glad we got that out of the way?”

And I was glad. I was relieved. When I eventually met this guy, I felt like I’d already pointed out the ugliest parts of myself, and since he hadn’t objected to them, he wouldn’t reject me based on those factors.

Telling this story now, I realize that I do that even when I’m not directly asked: I point out my shortcomings, the things I’m insecure about, before anyone can judge me for them. It’s like a preemptive strike– a self-inflicted preemptive strike. Under the guise of transparency or humor, I’ll tell you what’s wrong with me before you can point it out. You can’t hurt me; I’ll do it first.

Yikes. When I start to write about touchy-feely stuff like this, I figure things out. Obviously I have to knock that preemptive shit off.

But I’m not giving up my transparency or my ability to laugh at myself.

Owning your flaws for the sake of connection is fine. Pointing them out in a twisted self-defense maneuver is not.

In general, I feel pretty good about who I am. I don’t always feel beautiful or confident or like I have my act together. (Sometimes I do! Sometimes all three at once!) But I’m smart and funny and loving, traits that are way more important and permanent anyway. I don’t think I put myself down too often; I think I’m a vulnerable, open, self-aware human who is honest about her shortcomings and occasionally needs reassurance.

But just in case, I’ll pay attention to how often I speak negatively about myself. And more importantly, why.

Let the Games Begin…Later

It’s already been six months since my big breakup. Time flies whether you’re having fun or not—have you noticed?

It’s time to get back on that horse. (tee hee hee! Save a horse; ride a cowboy? Nevermind. I will spare you the stream-of-consciousness “riding” jokes. Sorry.)

Let me tell you, as much as I would love to start dating again, I’m having a little trouble.

A) I don’t know how to meet men in real life. Remember the mattress guy?
B) That leaves online dating, and OH MY GOD, I’M SO SICK OF ONLINE DATING.

Here’s what happened.

A few months ago, I re-activated my profile on OKCupid, which is a free online dating site. I hadn’t been on there in a couple years, of course, because I’d been dating someone. I was surprised to find that all the familiar faces were still up there.

I’m not speaking archetypally here. It wasn’t just any old foot fetish guys or twenty-something cougar hunters: the actual same people were still there on the site.

Buncha losers, right? Still on the same dating site after TWO YEARS? I was feeling mighty superior until I realized that if any of them logged on and recognized me, they’d assume that I’d been on there for two years, too. I was tempted to post a disclaimer: HEY, DON’T JUDGE ME. I HAD A REAL LIVE BOYFRIEND FOR 18 MONTHS!

I skipped the disclaimer. No point in drawing attention to my failure. Instead, I updated my photos (my favorite!) and refreshed my catchy, definitely-not-desperate, sexy-yet-respectable profile.

This is so ridiculous it makes me cringe. And yet, I'm not above it.

Oh god, the shame. Either way. This is why internet dating blows.

Let the games begin.

Within a couple days, I had begun corresponding with a man who seemed intelligent and pleasant. He was reasonably attractive (a ginger, but I’m open-minded, you know) and had a job that was absolutely fascinating to me: a dealer in rare antiquities. Yes, my BS radar went off, and I wondered if he really was just an unemployed guy who believed he’d found the Holy Grail in his great-aunt’s basement. Nevertheless, he did seem smart and interesting. If he actually was a legitimate antique dealer, then that’s about the coolest, most Meg-perfect occupation I can think of.

The Ginger was quite romantic, and had big ideas about a romantic first date: walks on the beach, picnics and the like. I asked him, “Have you ever done this before?”

Nothing says “I’ve never been on an internet date” like premature romantic hopes. Let me tell you, a couple internet dates will kill those early romantic impulses dead. The first meeting is not a date; it’s an awkward, fact-checking, mutual evaluation exercise that is best accompanied by strong drinks in a public location with at least two exits.

So I convinced him to settle for ordinary drinks in an ordinary bar and scheduled a meeting for the following Friday, just a few days out. He gave me his number and encouraged me to call him.

I didn’t. I grew a big knot in my stomach instead.

Thursday night I found myself sitting on the couch, eating ice cream out of the container, bawling in front of the TV for some unidentified reason.

ABORT MISSION. REPEAT. ABORT MISSION.

I sent the romantic, unsuspecting Ginger an apologetic email cancelling our date and took my profile down before he could reply. I’d never called him, so he had no way to reach me and tell me what a flake I am.

Newsflash: if you’re still bingeing and bawling on the couch, you’re probably not ready to date yet.

Fast forward a couple more months. I was starting to get lonely, among other things. Time to try again. Couldn’t go back on OKCupid because the Ginger would probably be on there still, along with every other guy I’d interacted with over the last two years. So, I tried Plenty of Fish.

Plenty of Fish is known as a hookup site. It’s free and there are a zillion users so it’s like a giant man catalog. Incidentally, it’s where I met my ex. (There’s more where he came from, right? That’s why they named it Plenty of Fish.)

New profile. New pics. New inane conversations with men that have absolutely nothing in common with me, except that they like vaginas and I have one.

After a few days, I had begun conversations with two men who seemed intelligent and interesting: a tall, quirky I.T. guy, and a short, well-dressed Art Director. Both seemed like decent guys—courteous, articulate, and genuine. Both gave me their phone numbers and made tentative plans to meet me.

And I did it again. No bingeing and crying this time, just a big panic in my gut that said NO FREAKING WAY. I CAN’T DO IT AGAIN. I sent more apologetic emails and deleted my profile, again. Left two perfectly decent guys in the lurch.

I can’t even tell you why.

This is not a self-esteem thing. I wasn’t feeling unworthy or what-have-you.

This is not about my ex. That’s water under the bridge and I’m not harboring any hopes or could-have-beens about him.

I’m not exactly sure what’s going on. I just know that there was no way in hell I was going to call either one of them, or pick out an outfit and try to look pretty and show up in a bar and make dumb small talk or any of that first-date nonsense.

Just can’t do it. Not yet. Maybe never. Maybe this time I’ll have to drag myself out into the real world and not hide behind a computer. Or maybe I will go back to the internet dating sites when I’m ready.

I always say that online dating is like shopping at T.J. Maxx—you have to dig through a lot of crap, but if you’re patient you can find some good stuff there. Maybe I just have to build up my stamina a little bit before I’m ready to hit the racks again.

Yoga Realizations: Abundance & Scarcity

Yoga. I never bothered to try it, because I assumed that a large, inflexible, uncoordinated woman with poor balance would not be able to do yoga.

About a month ago, I finally gave it a shot. All my girlfriends were doing it, and I just wanted to be cool. Peer pressure caused me to experiment with yoga.

I was correct. I can’t do it. And I love it so much, I wish I had tried it years ago.

I didn’t realize that yoga is magic. When you require your body to attempt what it really cannot do for a good solid hour, until you’re sweaty and exhausted, your brain apparently winds up in some kind of crazy super-freedom state that allows you to think beautiful new thoughts.

(Aside: I suppose this must be what certain drugs do for you, too….except if you do a whole bunch of drugs you wind up looking like shit, but if you do a whole bunch of yoga, you wind up looking awesome.)

I can tell you that I must look ridiculous in my yoga practice, which is okay because I can’t see myself. I’m sure I never look like a warrior or a tree or a crow, but at the end of class, I’ll be damned if I don’t think like a yogi.

This is good news, because my thoughts are kind of shaky these days. I’m still off-kilter from my recent breakup, and I spend a lot of time either sad, angry, or in a state of rigid avoidance. But for some reason, when I’m physically exhausted and instructed to clear my mind and focus on my breath, amazing thoughts radiate through my consciousness.

I know I sound dramatic, but here’s what happened in my brain at the end of a recent yoga class.

We’re sitting cross-legged (sukhasana! I’m learning!) and the instructor quietly suggests, “Extend your spine, take a deep breath and thank your body for all the hard work you put in today.”

Thanks, body. You did great!

“On your next exhale, round down over your feet and extend your fingers towards the front of your mat. It’s important to recognize how hard your body works and to appreciate all that it’s capable of. Hold that pose for five breaths.”

Hey, feet. Thanks for the hard work.

My feet are okay. They’re not weird-looking or anything and they never give me any trouble. I love my feet.

You know, I actually love my whole body. Hear that? I love you, Body. I have an abundance of love!

….I have an abundance of love.

….I’m not afraid of being alone because I have an abundance of love.

I really thought those things, all in a row, like popcorn popping in my brain. I was probably a little oxygen-deprived in that moment, because sitting cross-legged and bending forward like that causes the bulk of my belly to be crushed up into my lung-space, but whatever. It was worth it for that brilliant realization: I HAVE AN ABUNDANCE OF LOVE.

The class progressed into the meditative portion, where you’re supposed to lie flat, clear your mind, and concentrate on your breath. So of course, that’s when my brain goes nuts.

This “abundance of love” notion rolled right into a burst of clarity regarding my recently-ended relationship. While our relationship was good in many ways, it was always marred by possessiveness and jealousy. I’ve never had that particular problem before, and I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand why those problems kept surfacing, when I didn’t feel like I was doing anything to trigger them. I didn’t understand why we were constantly fighting over nothing.

And right there in yoga class, it came to me. Abundance versus Scarcity.

I have learned about abundance before, but I have always heard it applied to material things. An abundance mentality says that there is plenty for everyone. We can afford to be generous because there is enough to go around.

Scarcity is the opposite of abundance. People who live in scarcity feel that there is never enough, and so they are constantly fighting for their share.

I never applied the notion of Scarcity and Abundance to human relationships before, but BAM!—yoga clarity!—I suddenly saw how it works.

I come from a big, loving family. I was raised with the certainty that I am loved. I have a great circle of friends. I have kids who love me. I recognize that I am extraordinarily fortunate to feel an abundance of love.

I’ve never been one to feel jealous or suspicious; I’m very trusting. I’ve also never cheated on anyone; I don’t see the point—just love who you’re going to love. I have this crazy theory that almost all hurt feelings between friends are the result of misunderstandings, because I truly believe that people who love me would not intentionally hurt me. That’s what my life experience has taught me.

Not everyone has had that life experience. I suppose if you were raised in an environment that was abusive or unstable, or if you suffered through abandonment or infidelity, you might feel emotional scarcity. You might feel like you need to fight for affection, guard it and keep it to yourself. Once you have someone’s affection, you might feel like you could lose it at any moment, and easily become suspicious or jealous.

Suddenly all those fights, all that jealousy and possessiveness made sense. Why I felt so smothered, and why I felt like I could never do, or be, enough. We’re talking about opposite worldviews here. No wonder we couldn’t get along.

That just took me 900 words to explain, but during yoga, it flashed into my brain on one big exhale, like I breathed all the clarity in and all the confusion out.

Peace in… fear out.

Abundance in…scarcity out.

I’m telling you– you gotta try yoga.

Goodbye, Swoony McLovestruck

Seventeen months ago I posted about the absurdities of internet dating. Ironically, that very same night, I went on an internet date with a guy who knocked my socks off, triggered a series of lovestruck posts, and started me thinking that maybe, just maybe, I could step off the dating merry-go-round for good.

Alas, dear readers; that is not how the story ends. Oh, it ended. Just not like that.

My big romance is well and truly over. So, I’ve taken the usual steps: crying, ranting to my girlfriends, buying shoes, drinking, eating, buying more shoes…and all of that helped.   I’ve taken healthier steps, too, like painting and taking long walks. I even tried yoga for the first time. (Wow, yoga! More on that later.)

Mostly, I’ve done a lot of thinking. It was hard for me to let this relationship end, because I wanted so badly for it to work. This is the first time in my adult life that I really threw my whole heart into a romantic relationship, because this is the first time that I felt like I’d found someone who was worth that kind of risk. I fell hard, and I think in the process, I forgot something very important.

I went through a lot of crappy internet dates to learn this important lesson, and one sweet romance almost blew it right out of my head.  A year later, when things were starting to unwind with my beloved, the lesson came back to me.

Here’s the short version: I can’t control what another person wants, and I can’t become what another person wants. Instead, I need to decide what I want. I need to be who I want to be, and find someone I want to be with.

When I was younger, and I first started dating, I worried all the time about whether guys would like me. Was I pretty enough? Thin enough? Sexy enough? Wholesome enough? Should I be more open? Or more mysterious? I’d be out on a date, gripped with insecurity, always worried about whether I was what my date wanted.

Then I got a little older. The beauty of getting older is beginning to accept yourself.  I’m not perfect, but I’m perfectly acceptable. I started to see what a waste of time it was to try to be what someone else wanted. When I look at myself now, there are things I want to improve and things I struggle to accept, but the bottom line is this: it is what it is, and really, it’s just fine.

Instead of trying to be what someone else wants, I need to decide what I want for myself.

That outlook greatly improved my dating life. I began to go out more, because I stopped ruling myself out.  In my early days of dating online, I’d look at someone and think, “I’m not his type”—even, sometimes, when he approached me first! I started enjoying my dates more, because instead of trying to prove myself, I focused on each person I met. I’m sure that made me a lot more fun to be around, too.

Eventually, this strategy led me to my boyfriend ex-boyfriend. (Ouch.)  For the first year, it seemed pretty close to perfect. When problems cropped up, I thought, well, all relationships have problems; this is worth working for.

So I tried hard to not cause the problems. I tried to be more tactful; I tried to be more communicative; I tried to be more available; I tried to be more feminine; I tried to be less independent; I tried to be less stubborn; I tried to be more open; I tried to guard my words; I tried not to upset him. I found myself apologizing for things I never knew were wrong. I found myself trying to change things about myself that I’d always been proud of.  I tried and tried and then I remembered:

I can’t become what another person wants. I can’t change what he wants.  I can only decide what I want.

The fights continued, but instead of trying to prove that I was a good girlfriend, I began to try to evaluate our relationship. Am I being reasonable? Is he being reasonable? Are we really compatible? Are we really loving each other?

Is this what I want?

It sounds selfish; I know. “Meg, really? It’s all about what YOU want?”

Well, yes. Because I can’t control what he wants. And I can’t be what I’m not.

Sure, I can work to improve myself, and I can work at being better in a relationship. “What I Want” includes standards for me, too: I want to be reasonable, gracious, forgiving, open and kind. I know that I fall short of those attributes sometimes, and I know when I’m not at my best. But I trust my own judgment. I know when I’m trying my hardest to be the person that I should be. I want to be in a relationship that allows me to be that person.

And I wasn’t.

So it’s over.

It hurts; I wish I could breeze through this on the confidence that I’m doing the right thing, but it’s not that easy. The right thing hurts too, sometimes.

And the question now is… what do I want next?

The Proper Use of Weekends

Those of you who’ve been reading for a while may be wondering how it’s going with Mr. Wonderful.

It’s going wonderfully, of course.

I’m trying not to bore (or gag) everyone with tales from Cloud Nine, so I’ve been blogging about other things. Still, Mr. Wonderful (his name is Victor, and he approves this message) has been teaching me a thing or two and I think they’re worth sharing. I’ll try not to overdo it. I don’t want any eye-rolling out there.

The most dramatic lesson I’m learning has to do with the proper use of weekends.  Here is something I never quite grasped: every weekend is, potentially, a mini-vacation and should be treated accordingly.

I’ve been a single working mom forever. Historically, my weekends were for laundry and housework, sandwiched between errands and maybe some trips to the park. Every other weekend, when the kids were with their dad, I’d have the same dilemma: should I get some rest or go have fun? Or accomplish things that cannot be accomplished with kids underfoot?  Most of my weekends were squandered in an indecisive state of “should”…I should be dealing with that pile of paper; I should be painting the living room; I should be getting a jump on cooking for the week.

I live 20 minutes from the beach and an hour from beautiful mountains. I live in Orange County, one of the most desirable locations in the world, and I seldom take advantage of it. I never go anywhere. I have been to the beach no more than three times in the past five years, because there was always housework or some other priority. What’s wrong with me?!?

Since I started dating Victor—just four months ago!—all that has changed.  With Vic, I’ve hiked to a waterfall, visited Catalina Island (wow), and scrambled among tide pools.  I’ve visited new places and made new friends.  We never miss a chance to go to the beach. It’s a matter of prioritizing.

I actually go places now. This was at the Wrigley Memorial– one of many magical moments during our Catalina Island trip.

It’s Not About What’s Closer

Here’s an example. One Sunday morning, we didn’t have anything planned, so we were going to go to Homegoods and look for wall décor. We went online to find a Homegoods location.

Meg:  There’s one in Seal Beach and one in Costa Mesa.

Vic:    Hmmm…which one should we go to?

Meg:  Well, Costa Mesa is closer.

Vic:    It’s not about what’s closer. If we go to the one in Seal Beach we can have    breakfast by the beach and then take PCH up.

So, what would have felt like running an errand on a Sunday BV (before Victor) became a leisurely breakfast out, followed by a stroll around the Huntington Pier. We browsed a little beachside craft fair and stopped to smell hand-made candles poured into coconut shells.  We watched a Veteran’s Day service on the beach, with World War II veterans in attendance. (Those guys always get to me.) Then we drove up Pacific Coast Highway, enjoying the view all the way to the store.

See the difference? I sure did. I won’t even go into all the fun we had in Homegoods. Suffice it to say that for the rest of my days, I will look for feet below the big hanging rugs, because I am now aware that those hanging rug displays make a great hiding spot.  We didn’t get anything for the walls, and we didn’t care.

What comes after Long Beach?

Another Sunday morning, we sat at Starbucks discussing what we should do with the sunny day. Nothing came to mind.

Vic’s car was in the shop and his rental was a convertible, so we just started driving. We gravitated towards PCH, because leisure drives should offer good views. From Huntington we drove through Seal Beach and then Long Beach. I realized that although I’ve lived here for 33 years, I haven’t ever gone any farther on PCH.

“What comes after Long Beach?” I asked.

“Torrance, I think…” He fiddled with his phone, checking the map. “Hmmm…”

For the record, San Pedro comes after Long Beach, but it doesn’t matter when there’s sun on your face and wind in your hair and your sweetheart holding your hand.  While I watched the beach towns pass by, Victor kept an eye on the map, and we wound up here:

Don’t you feel relaxed just looking at this picture? I never get tired of looking at beautiful views.

That place is called Palos Verdes Cove. I never even knew it was there.  We just stood on the cliff for a while, taking in the view while dolphins played in the water below.  Views do something to me—something relaxing and refreshing.  That was a heck of a view.

So we went from Starbucks to dolphins in 45 minutes, without planning ahead—all because Victor has a sense of adventure and the ability to follow a map. We could have defaulted to the sofa and watched reruns all day, and I would have gone home feeling guilty that I didn’t get the laundry done. Instead, I had another mini-vacation, with gorgeous views and romantic memories, and the laundry never even crossed my mind.