I have to let go of what I once saw and open my eyes wide to what’s right in front of me now. Or something like that.
I wrote earlier in this project about letting go, that it wasn’t about giving up, but rather it’s about allowing for other possibilities. Many days I feel okay about the possibility that I will never get married or have a partner or even be a woman who goes on dates more than once every other year or so. Still, every time I know I’m going to be in a situation where I know I’ll meet new people, some of whom may be unattached, hetero men, I hear my 16-year-old self enthuse, “Maybe this will the time I meet the one.” Or if I get introduced to a man—a new work colleague, a friend of a friend or just someone I randomly talk to at an event or on the Metro, I find myself wondering if this is the moment that everything changes.
It, of course, never is. And I find myself wondering if that moment of unbridled hope and optimism that I think is quietly happening inside my head is actually being projected out of my eyes like a neon sign while I forcefully emit a football field-sized pheromonal cloud that, if it were to be bottled and sold, would be called Eau du Desperation. Is there something in my voice when I say hello that sounds too eager or too lonely or too something that is the thing that men interpret as Cupid waving his arms around and screaming, “Danger Will Robinson, danger Will Robinson.”*
Or am I instead broadcasting loud and clear—Look buddy, I’ve got my life handled so just take your possible admiration and move it along. I’ve been told that men are reluctant to approach strong women, but at this point in my life, I don’t know how to be any other way. I’m fairly up front about what I don’t know how to take care of myself, but if reaching the top shelf in my kitchen, telling car models apart, or vacuuming don’t come up, I’m kind of sunk in the showing I’m helpless department. But seriously folks, I’m perfectly happy to let someone else take care of me, but you’ve got to show me first that you can before I hand over the reins. And somehow I haven’t learned the trick for figuring that out in the time it takes to have a meet cute (that will turn into a great toast during the wedding.”
Whether you think I come off as too strong or too desperate, I think the real sinker comes when I explain that I’m 45 and I’ve never been married or even close. I mean I’m starting to think I should make up a divorce or being left at the altar or a string of broken hearts I’ve caused strung from sea to sea just so I can seem normal. Of course I know all the reasons I’ve been single this long, and they are all valid, not-that-crazy reasons. But again, there’s no sexy way to say, “I had narcissistic parents who fucked me up and I’ve just figured it all out so now I can have a healthy relationship” while also trying not to spill your martini (with a twist, preferably of orange instead of lemon, but definitely not an olive). This is the part of the letter, Marc, when I really wish you were actually writing me back. Sigh…
*For my younger readers, look it up.
To be continued…
…like any good poet, I was always good at suffering. Though back then, in my 20s and my 30s it was always for the wrong reason. In other words, men.
Men were a challenge–going all the way back to grade school before they actually bloomed into men–mostly because I had to both protect myself so no one would find out about the pitch lake monster and also pay homage to my raging hormones. I seemed to be able to get the best of both worlds by throwing myself with great force at men who were emotionally unavailable and/or completely uninterested in me. If my target had a girlfriend I’d make sure to become his best friend because nothing says love like having a front row seat to masochistically watch the boy you’re in heavy-duty like with love someone else. If by chance there was some shred of interest by a suitable man, I’d make sure to be around ALL THE TIME, which until you’ve sealed the deal is, luckily, exactly the way to not seal the deal.
Notable fact: I tried online dating back in the early 1990s when it was back-of-the-newspaper dating and met some rando (with a very bad perm and way-too-tiny shorts) for a double date at the Science Museum. Online dating–over the succeeding couple of decades–was also a great way to go through the motions of being a normal woman with normal urges while making sure no one got close enough to find the monster. And when all else failed in my quest to neither have my cake nor eat it, sarcasm worked. Wit can be a terrible weapon in the hands of a confused and floundering but intelligent and literate woman.
As I type this I’m listening to Roberta Flack. On vinyl. Killing Me Softly, which has that great two-sided piano cut-out flap on the cover. The first time I had my own record player—it was probably the mid-1990s—I played the song “I’m the girl” relentlessly. “He likes me yes/no more than that. The one he really loves/is you.” “I’m the one he’ll leave after a while/I’m the girl.” It was my f-ing anthem, and I suffered. Which was all I knew about love. All I’d been taught.
To be continued….