The Rewards of Risk

Can it be? Can I have closed my computer and fallen into some Rip Van Winkle time warp only to open it again and find that 8 months have gone by?

When I broke up with my ex, this lovely writing outlet was my lifeline. It reminded me of my inner strength and so began the process of pulling myself out of the deep dark place I had fallen into. I found such beautiful company through the readers of this blog and letsmend.com, where my blog was syndicated. And as I started to heal and gain strength I began to stretch my legs a little. To take more risks. To get out more.

I had let myself do the work of grieving. I went to the places that were familiar and maybe still a little tender from previous relationships and really looked at them. I cried. Walked until the sun went down. Sat in coffee shops alone. Met new people and explored new places. And eventually returned to the woman I had lost in trying to save a relationship that was never meant to be saved. I had arrived at the very best version of myself. And so, having labored to rediscover her, I was not interested or willing to lose her again.

But then enter, D. A wild and unpredictable philosopher with a gentle spirit and captivating smile. I tried to back away slowly, to keep a distance that would prevent another broken heart. But it was no use. He was persistent, even when I told him my story. Even when he knew that my heart wasn’t all the way healed.

In the beginning, I had to come to terms with how scary the prospect of loving again was. How dangerous it felt to risk that, after I no longer felt so shattered. But the decision wasn’t a hard one. I decided to be brave. I chose love.

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Showing Up

I’ve written a lot about easing my way back into dating, reveling in the single space that I don’t necessarily want to share with anyone right now. And I think the easing in has been a gift. It’s allowed me perspective, which has come in handy recently.

Several weeks ago I got a random message from a cute boy on okcupid who lives in Denver. He seemed fun and smart and had a great sense of humor. As a sweet distraction we started writing to each other, sharing silly quarks and deeper work we both were committed to. So, when I went to visit my best friend in Denver for the fourth of July weekend, we set up a time to meet. And we did. And honestly, it was pretty great. He was really good looking and a great conversationalist and as we moved from happy hour to a restaurant to a bar I also recognized how fun he was. Eventually, at a dance club (it was a long night) with both his friends and mine, I learned that, better yet, he could dance and was an excellent kisser. The rest of the weekend we stayed in touch and we spent another evening together before I went back to Oakland. More great conversations, amazing chemistry, amazing kissing. He mentioned that he’d like to visit and I figured it might be a fun distraction while still allowing me to maintain my independent lifestyle.

When I returned home I had no idea what, if anything, would come of it, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t kind of excited. We exchange a few texts when I got back and then…radio silence. I was super confused and slightly pissed, definitely hurt. Six days later I received a text commenting on how busy he had been and mentioning the “impressive text drought.” I figured I had three choices. I could write back and ignore the lapse in communication, ignore him and go about my life or show up- practice saying exactly what I need and giving him an opportunity to rise to the occasion. So I wrote this long email about how important communication is to me and how it was great to meet him but the past week was confusing and kind of hard. And…crickets. Five days later I get this long email about how he’s bad at communication, loved meeting me and would love to visit, and sorry it took so long to write back “I’ve been really busy and my internet wasn’t working”…

Perhaps the universe threw me a softball just to allow me the practice of flexing those emotional muscles that demand more than mediocrity. I didn’t respond. I had no reason to. I stood up and embraced the vulnerability that allowed me to say, This is hard but this is what I need. And through his actions, more than his words, he was able to articulate how very incapable he was at meeting me there. So, I dusted myself off and continued on, proud to have shown up and demanded what we all should demand: someone who can give you the connection you need. Someone outstanding.

 

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Fertile Ground

I regularly marvel at the gift of time, particularly when it comes to a broken heart. Someone reminding you that “time heals” doesn’t help when you’re in the thick of suffering, but months out it’s hard not to accept how very true it is.

For the past month I have been spending time with a lovely man. I was reminded what it was like to have someone there beside you in the kitchen, next to you in bed, texting you to say good morning. I marveled at it all. How different it felt- how I seemed to be watching it all unfold without getting sucked in. And then after weeks of long walks and late night trysts, I realized, unprepared as I was, that his sweet gaze was not one of a periodic lover. And his plans for the future and meeting his friends were not either. And like a person frozen in the path of a scary wild animal, I began to retreat. I fell into something of a panic, engulfed by the fear of being consumed.

But then, instead of fading away, as is my pattern (that or sticking around for years too long), I stood up, took a deep breath and walked towards what was terrifying me. I had the conversation. I looked at this sweet man and told him honestly that he was fantastic but I was not looking for a man right now, regardless of how wonderful he was. I didn’t want a boyfriend and I definitely didn’t want to break his heart. He heard me. No games; no disappearing act; no fear of being trapped; no panic. History was made.

After our conversation I began to recognize how much I was willing to fight for this freedom right now. It just feels so fertile. So very important. A chance to dig in deep and make sure that I’ve cultivated all of the things in myself that I want to maintain going forward. I want to be sure I’m showing up and being honest with where I’m at. This, so that when I am ready to date again, I can stay rooted in who I am and share the fruit of that commitment with someone who deserves such sweetness.

Oakland

lake merritt

Oakland is abuzz with celebration. Strangers smile at each other’s Warriors T-shirts and seem to bask in the national press that for the first time in years, doesn’t include shootings. Although not a lover of professional basketball, I got caught up in the NBA finals and the hope of a big win. And win we did. Like a new friend whose successes you take perhaps more interest in than your relationship might warrant, I was elated.

It’s been nearly five months now and my time exploring has been so remarkably rich. Oakland, Lake Merritt in particular, exemplifies the melting pot myth that has been sold to us in our school curriculums and inaugural speeches. People of all kinds come together to drink and frolic on the lawns in front of the lake.

Last weekend it was the man who walked the bike path wrapped in a 15 foot python. And although I respect his flare for the outlandish, I have come to appreciate the less conspicuous. The capoeira troupe that battles in their fluid dancelike style to live music- a message to us all that violence is illusive. The young dad, trying to maintain some level of cool while pushing his daughter in the little plastic pink car that everyone had at one point or another and usually forgot in front of their garage, left to sit full of old rainwater and moss.  So too, may it go for this little tot, but you’d never know it watching her joy at being pushed. The man who bent down on his knees in gratitude, hands pressed together at his heart, when I yielded to him at the crosswalk. The woman who sits outside of my office at a long table, as though transplanted from an expo, with various literature on why we, as a people, are doomed.  Amazingly, she manages to smile at most passerbys. What a beautiful thing: to remain kind in the face of imminent disaster.

I hadn’t expected it. The amount of love I would have for Oakland. My first few days here I was struck by the number of people representing Oakland on their shirts or hats, baby’s bibs, cars or bodies. I could relate it only to New York, where people mostly express their devotion to the city in their tenure there and the cold disdain for tourists and slow walkers. The NBA finals win has made my heart swell even more for my new home. And how appropriate. That I should find my own place in this sweet sea of people, being bold in who they are, and loving everyone around them for doing the same.

Shiny Things

Sometimes, when you are willing to walk away from what’s not working, the universe drops little gems in your path. Like lovers, who look at you like maybe you are magic… It is so important to stop and enjoy them, scoop them up and let the light reflected off their surface dazzle you for a bit, let it remind you of your sweet animal self and all that you worried you had lost forever.  Let it open a door, then walk through it.

 

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Okay, Cupid.

A month ago I posted that I knew it was too soon to try to begin dating again because my foray onto match.com ended with me crying. But healing is a powerful thing and I’ve spent much of the last few weeks feeling more and more sure that I was ready to dip my toe back in the dating pool. So last Monday night, after sufficient liquid courage (red wine) I did it. I logged onto match.com and filled out my profile and uploaded photos and waited. The good news is that I got all kinds of messages and winks and stars but was informed I had to subscribe to the tune of $40 to see who sent them. Blackmail. I was not going to become the dating industrial complexes latest hustle (plus everything I talked about in this post), so I went to okcupid.

Okcupid was where I met my ex. Logging back into my profile (yep, they never go away) took me to our original messages exchanged three and a half years ago. I was reminded of how fun that period is. The getting to know each other phase. I also noticed how many of the men who had messaged me in 2010 were still on there. Grim. But I got to work. It was immediately apparent that this is where the cute men are. I was reassured. I updated my profile but realized I had no new profile photos to upload (it turns out when you’re in a couple most of the pictures you have include your partner) so I left the old ones on there. I’m pretty sure I look essentially the same as I did in 2009. After day 2 I began feeling apprehensive. I was noticing that most of the men described themselves with so much sarcasm and irony that you can’t help but feel that you’re reading the class clown’s page in his senior yearbook. For example, “About me: ‘saving babies and old women at night and wearing suit and hipster glasses by day.’ The 5 things I could not live without: ‘coffee, sarcasm, my goldfish, cheese sticks, the Simpsons.’ You should message me if: ‘You have great taste in men!’” And it wasn’t a few here and there. It was the vast majority. I was beginning to feel that I had stumbled into the cyber waiting area for the most acute cases of peter pan syndrome. I also was feeling less confident in my approach. I swear I told myself I was willing to go out with anyone, to stay open- but the vast majority of the men who emailed me were either creepy or unimpressively curt. Like the guy who just wrote, “Hi.” But there were a few that sounded like they’d be nice, despite their slightly dorky attire and Star Wars pun profile name “obi-want-to-know-me?” But I didn’t. I started to sense something else looming. I began to realize that being back in the cyber dating world was taking me out of my I-just-moved-to-Oakland-and-want-to-get-to-know-it mode, that I had come to really love. I was getting home from work and poring over the catalog of emotionally unavailable rock climbers and Burning Man aficionados and not getting outside and actually meeting people. I remember being able to orient the two seamlessly (or so I thought) but that wasn’t now. So I deactivated my account. Again.

Today my therapist asked me what I was afraid of, just generally in life (you’ll have to take my word that this was in context). And though I feel like society (and some relatives) would expect the first thing out of my 34 year old single mouth to be “that I’ll be alone forever and die in an EZ lounger surrounded by 30 cats,” that wasn’t it. That’s not my worry. I have such firm faith it will work out. I look around me and ask how I could possible conclude otherwise.  It’s almost silly to waste time thinking it won’t. It takes away the joy I feel when I’m out exploring and the elation I’ve felt at getting to spend quality time with lovely people and also with myself. Three years in a frequently challenging relationship will teach you things. And without some down-time to let all of that sink in and have space, I risk losing the wisdom of it. And that risk is not one I am willing to take. Even if it means Luke Cybertalker has to wait a while.

 

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The Helping Profession

For nearly three and a half years I worked in a legal aid office as a housing attorney. People would come into my office saturated with fear- of losing their homes, of being homeless, of being bad parents/wives/children- and my job was to assist them. To assure them that there were laws that protected them or programs to soften the blow. I stood up in court to defend them, to argue their cases and try to persuade the judge to side with us and let them remain housed. I fought terrible slum lords and their often jackass attorneys who condescendingly implied that I could not possibly know what I was doing because I was a young woman…until they realized I did. It was powerfully rewarding work to stand up for people who are so often bullied. But it came with concessions. It paid nearly nothing and burnout became a close friend.

But now, after I have relocated to Oakland to do much of the same work, I am realizing that perhaps there is a middle ground. This job does not come with the grating stress of the previous. But the pay scale is the same. I love my work, but hate that in some situations, I would qualify for the same programs as my clients. I have to believe there is a way to find meaningful work and make a little more than a liveable wage doing it. Last week I sat down to create a budget. And it was bleak. I, by no means, am complaining about being impoverished. For a single person I am doing fine. But I wouldn’t go further than that. And I’d like to do more than fine. I’d like to save and splurge and not wonder if my credit card bill will be repaid before I turn 40. But I’d also like to go home at the end of the day knowing that I helped lighten someone’s load a little.  My clients rarely feel that anyone is fighting for them. I find so much honor in being the one to do it.

It’s sad the legal profession doesn’t offer more options. It seems my friends who make the big bucks are miserable and keep hours that would make your head spin. I am not miserable, and I realize that counts for something. I also know that inside of me is a woman who loves to write. Who believes that there may exist a way to use her words to help people. Whether that same woman can make a profession (and living) of it is anyone’s guess.

So I will bide my time. I will continue committing myself to this work and know that at some point in the future, a perfect opportunity will fall directly into my path and then, as always, the journey there will make perfect sense.

 

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Yearbook Wisdom

In high school I, along with my fellow dreamy-eyed girlfriends, used to oft quote the saying “Dance like no one is watching and love like it’s never going to hurt.” More than fifteen years later, with some life experience under my belt, it is worth unpacking this pithy precept a little.

I have always loved dancing. There is something that opens up in me when I hear music. One of my favorite places to dance is the Castro in San Francisco, where I know that my moves won’t become a fascination to any leering men. My other favorite place is in my bathroom- headset on, music blaring. I have discovered yet another amazing place to move. It’s a dance studio near my house. All women. Loose choreography. Amazing music. The atmosphere is oozing with female pride and a complete absence of judgment. Within this world I have watched my selftalk turn from frustration at not getting the steps to just dancing; Truly, like no one is watching (because honestly, no one is). It is the adage come true and has brought me a remarkable amount of joy. I stand behind it 100%.

The second half of that sweet yearbook quoted saying, I am not so sure of. As I am finally seeing what appears to be a glimmer of a light at the end of this heartbreak tunnel, I am still the most committed cheerleader for love. I love love. I love the look on people’s faces as they sit together and revel in the joy that comes from just being. I love the wonder in the eyes of the pairs that can hardly believe what they have stumbled into. For better or worse, I am a most devoted romcom movie watcher. Yes, the plotline is very nearly the same 90% of the time, but the ending always makes me happy. People choosing love. So I believe in risking loving, but wisely. I think I have so rarely kept my wits about me when entering relationships that I tend to find myself 6 months to years in, wondering how I got there. These days, I believe in treading cautiously into love. Testing the waters and making sure that all of the things you bring to the relationship always have a place on the boat- that if the thing starts to take on water, it isn’t your interests and priorities and the stuff that makes you uniquely you that go first. But I do believe at some point, when there is enough to go on, to make you sure of at least the depth of the pool and that it is indeed full of water, you jump. And you love like it is the most beautiful thing on earth. You embrace the wonder and the joy and even the challenges that come up, and sink into the moment. And for as long as possible, perhaps months or a lifetime, you let go of the fear that it could all end in heartbreak and own the beautiful present that it is.

 

danicng beach   Image: Isadora Duncan

To Every Woman, A Set of Shelves

I was standing at the local lumber yard the other day waiting to order a chopped up 1 x4 and could not ignore the heightening sense of insecurity.  It wasn’t the upcoming lumber order, I don’t think anyone thought I worked in construction. It was just me. Standing there.  A single woman embarking on her own household project to build some shelves.

I have been wading around lately in a lot of emotions only now seeing the light of day after my breakup.  Lots of anger, at my ex but also at myself for staying in a relationship that had stopped being kind to me years before, and lots of inspecting. A memory will come up or a thought and I will stop and say, “well that’s interesting. I am feeling really pissed right now when I think about that. I wonder why…” or “That comment reminds me of the way I felt when I was little. What is that about?”  It is why I feel so strongly about holding off on starting to date again. This feels like the meat of it. The work that hopefully will help guide me toward a healthier relationship in the future.

Which takes us back to the lumber yard.  Although my fiercely independent self is slightly ashamed to admit it, there was something about being in a relationship that made me feel complete. It made me feel enough. Whole. Which is likely why I stayed for as long as I did. Because to let go of that relationship meant to let go of my wholeness. This might explain why there was always an unease at being single in the past. A rush to find someone and be okay. Even if I was alone in line, there was someone at home and that was pacifying.

The trauma of this breakup has been a gift, really. It has allowed me to see how much of myself was hiding behind my skirt, afraid to come out and take up space.  And finally when I was not performing for the sake of peace in the home, or shrinking to fit into the miniature space left over for me in the relationship, I got a glimpse at what had been waiting. And she is awesome.

I have a photo on my fridge of me from my second grade photo day. It reminds me how much of that second grader is still inside me and still waiting for the safety and assurance that didn’t come when I was young.  I think somewhere along the line I never learned that I was wonderful, just as I was. The message got skewed and my little brain got only, “perform and be rewarded” or “you’re dramatic and often too much but sometimes great.” The shipwreck of my former relationship continues to offer up lots of knowledge amidst the wreckage. And it’s helpful to stay mindful of the often untrue messages written within. For example, “You don’t know HOW to build shelves.” And the feeling that if ONLY I was dating someone he would be doing this. But the shelves were measured, built and painted- by my two hands alone. They hold my tea and spices and a growing sense that I am bigger than the little box I have tried to fit myself in to qualify as girlfriend material. That there is a beautiful, welcoming world out there for all of me.

Before:                                                           After:

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Taking Inventory

Yesterday I got to thinking. I was taking a bath and reflecting on all of the men I have dated in my life. I thought about the four year relationship, about the one year, about the months- long ones in college, about the series of okcupid dates I went on before I met my ex, and I had this somewhat troubling realization. In my ex audit, I realized that each relationship I was in, I wanted to be out of. That  somehow I lose myself in these relationships and my voice goes with it.

This is relevant because last week someone sent me the name of a man they wanted to hook me up with. This has happened several times since the breakup. Each time I have been adamant that I am not ready. And I’m not. But this guy plays the guitar. And I do too. And I was thinking it might be nice to just get together and play. As friends. And so, obviously, I googled him. And he’s cute, in a rugged professional gardner (which he is) kind of way. But almost instantaneously I was off, careening down this emotional spiral with a large burly hunk of anxiety as my wingman.  And my fears were so objectively irrational. What if he liked me and then we started dating and then I was stuck. Again. What if we started dating and then we had the same issues I had in my last relationship and I had wasted time dating him. What if he was boring or snored or was a vegan. All of these before even communicating with him!
In some ways, I  spent the last several years trying to get out of my last relationship…and the one before it…and the one before that.  Reading Huffington Post articles and blogs about relationships that are doomed and trying to compensate for the sinking feeling in my gut by burying myself in self-help books. My capacity for breaking up goes away after the first or second date (during which time I have a shameless ability to just drop off and not contact the person back) and then I just ride it out until it is very near unbearable.
I figure I can view this in one of two ways. The first is that it doesn’t bode well for future relationships if I’ve become afraid of even spending time with men. The second, and more realistic, is that I am in the middle of recalibrating. It’s too soon, maybe even to play guitar with a cute boy. And there’s work to be done on learning how I can reclaim my voice so that I will never again find myself in a relationship where I am not treated well, where I am not getting my needs met, where I feel stuck and where I am unable to initiate a frank discussion and if need be, walk away.

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The Gleaming Corner

I had heard the song before, but the words never resonated with me until I was curled up on my overstuffed chair sobbing into my shirt sleeves. The song is called “No Regrets” and captured exactly how I felt at that moment and many following. Here are some of the lyrics:

“Love is not a test
I know we did our best…
I wish you every happiness
Darling no regrets.”

Here’s the video if you want to listen.

After three weeks in Oakland, with all of my furniture in its rightful spot and my clothes hung up, art on the walls and food in the pantry, my new apartment is beginning to feel like home. And with this comfort has come the welcomed urge to get out of the house and explore a little. When I was in my early 20s I used to go to music shows and dinner, the movies and lectures,  by myself. And I really enjoyed it. I haven’t done that in a long time. For some reason in my last relationship when events came up either I went with my ex or a friend or not at all. Going alone felt lonely. But recently I’ve found myself excited about this autonomy. It means something somehow. This beautiful reclaiming of my independence. So when I woke up to an announcement on npr that Forest Sun, the same person who wrote No Regrets, was performing at a small venue in Berkeley on Saturday night, I knew I had to go.

And I went. No make-up, no dressy shoes, just me. The venue was tiny and the music was amazing. I didn’t shove my nose into the safety of my iphone or feel any discomfort. Even during the intermission I just sat there. Absorbing it all. There was a lovely couple around my age who arrived with wine and looked very much in love. And the feeling that came over me was not bitterness or resentment, but delight. Seeing people in love is a beautiful thing and I’m excited for that again one day. But not now. For now, I’m enjoying this broadening comfort at being just me. Remembering what brings me joy and how to be happy on my own. Someone recently said of this period, this time between relationships, that it is the most fertile territory for self growth.  I believe it.

The last month has been a whirlwind. A torrent of change. And with all of my fears and sadness and hope lashed to the bow, I decided to throw away the oars and just ride the current. And it has brought me here. To this new home and new job and new life. Four months after pushing off into the water, severing ties to the life that had held me for three years, I don’t regret any part of my breakup or decision to leave Sacramento. It has been so brutally hard. But also empowering and revitalizing and hopeful. And this weekend, as I sat there listening to Forest Sun sing about relationships and peace and new beginnings I radiated gratitude for what feels like the turning of a corner.

The Sister Ship

There is a card on my refrigerator, given to me by a dear friend right after my break-up, that says, “Hang in there. It is astonishing how short a time it can take for very wonderful things to happen.”  The past month has been a testament to how true this is.

A month ago I was despairing. I was more than three years into a job that usually held new attorneys for a year or two and had well surpassed burn-out status. I was living in the same apartment that my boyfriend (basically fiance) of three years had moved out of two months before. A mausoleum, despite all my efforts at making it my own.  And so small was our city that every time I left my house, I was nearly guaranteed to either run into my ex or someone affiliated with him. Then. Then, I received an email from a friend and colleague of mine who I had told about the break up and that I was thinking about moving back to the Bay. She had received a job notification from a friend for a great public interest organization and urged me to apply. I did. I had an interview a week later and two days later was offered the job. Then the house hunt, the perils of which I have documented in previous posts. In one month I managed to acquire a job doing the impact litigation I have been yearning for and an absolutely awesome apartment in what has become a very desirable part of the Bay Area. The sweet amazing universe. I am simply saturated with gratitude. I am also certain that this experience, of things falling into place exactly as they should, is not unique to me.

I have started a new chapter of my life. I am thrilled and excited and certain about this. But of course, there are parts of that last section that have stuck with me. When I was conducting the walk-through of my apartment before leaving Sacramento, my landlord offered me time to just walk-around. “Say good-bye” she said. I took her up on her offer. And as I paced the empty rooms, I had the most profound sense that I was walking head-on into my future and away from the life I had envisioned. It was a sliding doors moment.

I am still amazed at how real that other life feels. How real that other Deborah feels. How I can almost imagine driving back to Sacramento and having it there, like I never left. My ex gardening in the back, our apartment full of projects and stacks of things we had never found a home for.

Cheryl Strayed captures this feeling so beautifully.  She said, “I’ll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”

So I salute it. From Oakland. I honor its existence in some other realm and turn back to the life I’m leading now. This new chapter. In its beautiful infancy.

The Great Unfolding

After three weeks of panic, endless craigslist checking and visiting dark, carpeted studios that were out of my price range, I found a place! And I still don’t quite understand it. It is lovely, with hardwood floors and a view of the lake, a full 1-bedroom and about $600 below market price. It is everything that I had written on my “dream apt” list several weeks ago (absent a washer and dryer, but I can handle that). It is far better than the place that was offered to someone else on my birthday.

For the past few weeks I have been repeating this mantra incessantly and come to rely on it for reassurance and emotional soothing, “what is meant for you will never miss you and what misses you was never meant for you.” When I went to the open house for my current apartment, surrounded by about 30 adults of a similar demographic and my first inclination was to bolt, I stayed and filled out an application and repeated in my head “what is meant for you will never miss you. What is meant for you will never miss you…” It turns out this apartment was meant for me.

And so I moved this weekend. I signed the lease one week ago and spent last week packing- a process that has never felt so heavy hearted and sad. The apartment hunt has both humbled me and filled me to the brim with gratitude. The lesson I take away is this: In the darkest places, we have to allow the faith that things will unfold perfectly to create a glow bright enough to lead us out.