Category Archives: Personal Musings

Thoughts on my life and the lives of others.

The question for 2013: Does it have to?

As 2013 approaches I find the question, “Does it have to?” popping into my head at a pretty steady frequency. The question doesn’t actually refer to the imminent arrival of a new year, but to each assumption I subconsciously make when thinking about my future. I notice that there are patterns to my expectations of what life will hold and that perhaps those patterns are limiting. The thing I love about the question is that I didn’t come up with it on purpose.  It organically popped into my head while watching a character on a favorite show struggle with what they believed to be an unavoidable outcome.  They stated “Now, this means…” and my immediate reaction was, “Does it have to?” Of course the answer to the question is no.  Our interpretation of life events, what different occurrences mean and where they take us is entirely up to each of us. 

For me the biggest assumption that I make every new year is that the year to come will in some way resemble the year that just passed.  I go into January expecting that I will continue in a job that makes me happy, live in my condo with my cats, hang out with some friends every now and then, and spend time with my family.  All of those things are awesome and bring me joy, but does 2013 have to look like 2012 to make me happy?  It would be easy to believe the fact that there’s nothing overtly wrong or challenging about my life situation means it should continue as is, but the question won’t stop badgering me. “Does it have to?”

In my work, does being good at what I do mean I have to continue to do what I do? In my relationships, does being content on my own mean I don’t pursue something new or that I couldn’t find some new level of happiness if I took a risk? In my home life, just because it’s good and easier to stay where I am, do I have to? Asking the question in regards to just those three areas opens up mind boggling possibilities to sincerely explore. I have been in a holding pattern with my career and relationships for a few years now.  It’s a pattern born from a strange cocktail of contentment and laziness.  The question “Does it have to?” pushes me to switch up my drink of choice. 

I find the question exciting.  For instance, continuing to teach while starting my Masters in Educational Technology could be overwhelming.  I could see it as something that will make my life harder and my schedule crazier, but does it have to? Don’t I have control over what I put into each area of my life? Can’t I choose to view each lesson as a joy filled experience of learning instead of a “to do” list to move me to the next stage? Another example: Does being ready to be in a relationship again mean I have to get set up, join an online dating site, or go out to more bars? Or can it mean that I intuitively listen to who I want to spend time chatting or talking with? Can it mean that I let go and just see who pops up in my life?

There’s a lot of freedom in the question, but there’s also an inherent responsibility that when denied could lead to a lack of decision-making or commitment to any one path.  Ultimately we do have to choose or we default into deciding by not deciding. Having been guilty of this quite often in the past, I feel aware enough of the consequences of indecision to avoid its recurrence in 2013.  As I make my way into the new year, I hope to examine my assumptions and self-limiting patterns in order find the meaning I am searching for in life. Good luck to you as you do the same.

Are You Faking Your Life?

I’m always surprised by the height of drama that surrounds me.  People pledging revenge, crying like the world is ending, stressed out to the point that they make themselves sick.  I wonder sometimes what makes each human so different in their response to the trials and tribulations of daily life.  Why does one person lose the love of their life, pick themselves up and love again, when someone else sinks into a depression never to recover.  Did one person truly love more than the other? Is one person’s hell really that much hotter or painful than mine? Is it really individual differences that make us react like night and day or do cultural expectations brainwash some into thinking they’re entitled to be selfish, stage hogging, attention grabbers?

I guess I wonder if everyone around me is overly influenced by the visual entertainment of our time? I’m sure generations before ours dealt with revenge, depression, anxiety and fear…great literature proves this to be true, but was it as acceptable then as it is today to throw a fit? It almost feels to me like people think they’re starring in their own movies and the people that surround them are just extras put there to revolve around their story. If we couldn’t watch the sordid, crazy, unreal situations in the cathartic presence of others, would we be so easily influenced towards the melodramatic?  Does the fact that we’re having a communal experience that seems so real make us believe that it is reality?

I remember when a friend who suspected her fiancé of cheating told me before her wedding, “If I find out he’s cheating on me I will call his boss and he will lose his job.  His life will be over.”  There was more…it was a tirade but I don’t recall it all.  They’re now divorced, but I remember thinking, “Why are you marrying someone you obviously don’t love?” If she loved him, how could she so easily have ruined his life – even if he did hurt her? It became obvious watching their marriage that in the saga that she saw as her life, truly loving that person didn’t matter.  She was living out her own soap opera – and still is.

I wonder if people were left to truly gauge their own level of emotion without reference to media, would we have the level of violence, craziness, and drama that exists in our society? I’m sure there would still be women like my friend who would take their revenge to excess, but would there be as many?

Sometimes I feel like I’m walking around watching people fake their lives and I can’t help but think that’s really dangerous to the authentic human experience. What would I expect of a relationship if I hadn’t watched a zillion romantic comedies? Would I be so quick to diagnose myself and others with depression or as needing therapy if I hadn’t watched so many people in therapy on the silver screen? How do we know what we are really feeling when we follow a script?

I’m not just judging others, I’ve been there.  I’ve caught myself listening to words come out that I I didn’t think up.  I’ll catch phrases or moments that came from conversations I’ve observed in shows that I like or movies I’ve seen.  People always tell me I’d be a great counselor, but is that because they really feel like I can connect to them, or am I just good at sounding like the movie script they want their life to be?

When I went off script with my friend who wanted revenge on her fiancé it was totally ineffective.  There was no way she was going to see reason.  Was that because love and hate are so closely related or because she was experiencing pain and it was easier to handle it in a way that she’d observed and found fascinating than in the way her authentic self would have processed it?

I don’t have any answers.  I’m just truly hoping that by raising the questions I can up my own level of awareness and maybe that of some people around me.  Maybe the next time I catch myself about to go ballistic, I’ll put myself in check and examine my genuine feelings instead. I hope that I can.  I fear the day we can’t tell the difference anymore.

Leaving the “Waiting Place”

I remember reading Oh the Places You’ll Go when I was seventeen, a graduation gift from a cherished first love complete with obligatory love letter of platitudes appropriate for the occasion. I skimmed it, quickly surmising  that said first love believed in me and I would definitely be going places in my life sooner rather than later. Looking back, I wish I had paid more attention to the twists in the road of life Dr. Seuss so aptly described. If I had, perhaps I wouldn’t have lingered as long as I did in the “waiting place”.

I think we’re fed a lot of bull as we grow up about what our lives should look like.  Some people wade through the manure easier than others.  An ailment from which I suffered that made it harder to get clarity was that of being a people pleaser.  I did a good job at faking independence and looking like I was making choices for myself but really, I went to work for the CHURCH after twelve years of Catholic school.  I was addicted to approval.

I guess I just thought that everything would fall into place and I’d be a teacher, get married, have kids and I don’t know what…that’s what all my friends were doing and I was sure that’s what everyone wanted me to do, too.  So I waited because, let’s face it – sometimes the waiting place isn’t that bad a place to hang.  I was never lonely. I was never bored.  But I was also never proactive when it came to really making my life what I wanted it to be.  I guess what I thought was “just happening” with my friends getting married and starting families was really them making choices in their lives.  And working and teaching religion was easy and fun, so I lived in the waiting place – stuck in a nice existence where I never made a choice because everything was good enough.

It wasn’t until I started writing a few years ago that I finally saw the path out of that waiting place.  It was illuminated by this creative urge that started blinking off and on.  At first it was more off than on.  Now it’s more on than off, but it’s still not as steady as I’d like.  I need it to shine bright enough that I can’t find my way back to the waiting place.  Writing woke me up and helped me say, “Wait, I never really knew if I wanted to get married or start a family and I never really wanted to teach religion my whole life.” So maybe I need to start choosing.

The actual choices I’ve made in the last few years have been full of risks I never would have taken in the waiting place.  Writing conferences, directing, performing, teaching marketing in addition to religion…they’ve all been steps away from that old molasses swamp.  I’m starting a Masters in Educational Technology in the spring and I’ve finished two books (although still haven’t made the choice to actively work towards publication).  I’ve worked on myself both inside and out.  I’m in a good place now and it’s one where I really can’t wait to see what MY future will hold. I’m leaving the waiting place behind.  Guess I should dig out that book and see what’s next!

Voices of Thanksgiving

Thanks to a nasty cold, I’ve spent the last few days without my voice.  At first it was novel and somewhat entertaining, and while it hasn’t crossed into annoying or truly frustrating yet, it has given me pause to consider its worth in my life. It’s Thanksgiving morning and as I sit at my laptop contemplating what to give thanks for today, voices, not just my own fill my mind.

When we come into the world our voices are instruments we instinctively use as a means to have our needs filled. We give thanks for the strong wails of babies that keep us up at night and tear our hearts open in order to fill them with the insatiable need to care for the tiny body from which emanates the voice of a new soul. As they grow and change their voices produce giggles and squeals that delight and plant in us the seeds to stay with them on their journey.

The stumbles and mispronunciations of toddlerhood give way to the attempts at grown up conversations and connections as the purpose of our voice changes from meeting our own needs to connecting with others.  Voices produce “I wuv yous” and start to ask questions like the ever present “why”? Listening to a three year-old list off every person he knows when you ask him who he loves, or hearing a kindergartener’s attempts to be a little adult when she explains things to us about how things work or what her little brother wants forges a connection between generations.

As we enter our teen and young adult years our voice takes on an attitude and a confidence.  We begin to understand that this gift of a voice isn’t only there for our needs and connection but that it can change the world around us.  The leash of authority that perhaps quieted our voices is suddenly loosed and we say what we mean and what we want to become.  Our voices make mistakes and sometimes speak to soon during these years.  They can spray harsh words and then struggle to find apologies. But this is a transformational time for our voices.  We own them in these years.

As our voices age, they start to reflect our purpose.  They may take on the gentleness or fierce protectiveness of the voices that nurture us and welcome other voices into the world. Parental voices saturated with love and concern help us to feel a part of a family, they soothe us and give us the courage to get up each day. They discipline and encourage with thoughtfulness and care.  They fill hearts with unconditional love that envelops you whole with acceptance, making you feel like the most important person in the world.

We start to appreciate the voices in our lives that inspire us and help us be more than we thought we could be.  The voices that offer confidence, encouragement and solace and those that show patience and never give in to the mean side become the voices we seek out. There are voices that always believe in dreams and ask to help and some that show vulnerability and strength as they teach us to keep going, keep trying, keep reaching, and never give up.

Later in life our voices begin to tell stories. Stories that help us make sense of our lives and stories that connect us to our past and our future.  We become voices that connect generations to memories and people of the past. We create links to the voices that are no longer with us and help others feel like they knew people they never met.  Eventually we all become voices that are only heard in the hearts of those we loved, but for those of us with faith, we believe our voices will all be united again someday.

Today I am thankful for the voices that surround me and for my own voice, quiet as it may be at the moment. I choose to raise it in Thanksgiving for my home, enough food, the country I am blessed to live in and those who serve and protect it.  I hope that those who go without will have their lives filled with voices of hope and that we may all find the strength to let our voices reflect true good.

A night with Theresa Caputo

For an early Christmas present, Tuesday evening I took my mom to see the Long Island Medium.  If you’re unfamiliar with this New York dynamo named Theresa Caputo, she’s a mid-forties married mother of two that talks to the dead.  Having recently passed the threshold where more people know her than not, she is touring the country giving group (really large group) readings.

Long Island Medium is an addictive guilty pleasure.  I love watching it every Sunday, mostly for the cathartic cry that, for me, happens every show. Since I have a tendency towards believing in the supernatural anyway, it’s not hard for me to totally believe in Theresa and her abilities.  She’s not a psychic and she’s not trying to read the future, she’s a medium and she’s bringing messages of comfort and healing.

Seeing her in person after watching her show was like being in the room with an old friend.  She is vibrant and familiar.  She races around in her sparkly unbelievably high heels reading people in the audience with her familiar vocabulary (validate, anyone?) and infectious laugh.  I think my mom really wanted a reading but with more than 1,000 people in attendance we both knew that was a long shot.

When she explained that what we were all going to get was an experience, and that we would all hear what we needed to hear even if we didn’t get read, I’ll admit I was a little skeptical.  But as she moved through the crowd telling people that their loved ones were OK and sharing things with them that not even the most talented “cold reader” could know, it did become an experience for me that I won’t soon forget.

As Theresa shared messages with a young couple who had to take their three-month old daughter off life support after a tragedy, I watched the tension and disbelief drain from the face of the young father who had been coerced into attending.  Smiles and tears replaced his anxiety as he learned their daughter still knew of the things in their lives and that she loved them. When she spoke to two sisters about messages from their sister, mother, and father, she gave them a way to move forward together knowing they had their family with them in spirit, if not physically present.

Perhaps the most moving moment of the evening for me was when Theresa spoke with a twelve year-old boy and his mother.  The crowd was somewhat taken aback when at first he seemed to be giving her attitude.  She’d ask a question, he’d get lippy, she’d walk away, but she’d come back again. Each time with the puzzled look she gets on her face when she’s listening to “Spirit”.  The third time she returned she read for him.  Tears came to my eyes when his façade of toughness and anger disappeared as she said his dad was there.

She asked if his dad called him the miracle child (he did).  She told him his dad was there with him through all of his visits to the hospital and he wanted him to know how strong he was and to keep fighting.  His dad thought he had lost some of his fight after he passed on.  As it turned out, that child suffered from cystic fibrosis and had been really angry with his father for leaving him alone.  Adding details to their conversation that no one else could have known, she eased his pain and gave him the gift of believing his father would always be with him.  She ended with a gift of generosity no one expected.  She offered to bring him to New York via her fan club to spend the day with her.

At the end of the evening I left the Palace Theatre with two realizations. I believe Theresa is the real deal, but even if she’s not, I’m not sure it matters.  What she gives people isn’t a false hope in the future.  She’s not taking advantage of their grief.  She is giving messages of healing, hope, and love.  People feel better after they talk with her.  You can watch years of tension leave their shoulders and faces. The other realization was about myself.

I am blessed. True, I have lost people in my life that I have cared about – some under tragic circumstances, but as I watched these people experience forgiveness of self and peace in their souls, I knew that I was already in a good place.  It would have been wonderful to talk to the mother of my God-children, but I know she sees how I love them.  It would have been amazing to hear the code word my pawpa and mom shared said aloud, but I know he’s with us anyway.  I walked away knowing that I didn’t need messages from the other side to know that the people I loved still love me and watch over me. What an awesome gift.

Wishes

The penny flew from his hand and he scrunched his big brown eyes tight. Small lips mouthed words I couldn’t hear; secrets that filled his mind.  I envied his concentration, but more than that, I envied his belief.  We went to the mall to throw pennies in the fountain.  When we talked in the car I asked him what he’d wished for last week.  “To be the richest man in the world,” he said. “It didn’t come true.”  I told him it was still possible and he shook his head and nodded, “Yeah, that’s true.”

Sitting by the side of the fountain, I gave him five pennies and waited patiently for his wishes to form.  With each passing moment, I reminded myself that there was no more than now, nowhere else to be, nothing more important to be doing.  What could be more valuable than wishing? I held two pennies in my own hand.  I thought of how often I’d hastily thrown pennies in the fountain since growing up.

As a child I was like him. I believed. I wished.  Somewhere along the journey, the pennies became symbols of dreams that just didn’t come true.  Along the path, wishes changed from thoughts on which to concentrate as I pulled them from the depths of my soul, to bland, general desires.  I wished to win the lottery.  I wished to fall in love.  I stared in horror at the splashes that followed my two pennies into the water.

I wasted my wishes again.  I watched a beautiful seven year-old boy show me exactly what wishing should look like.  I formulated the thought in my head that my present moment was precious and magical. And yet, habit took over and the pennies launched by routine, thoughtless requests hitchhiking a ride.  I guess it took more than realization to change something  engrained in my actions for so long.

Like most adults, I like to think I live in reality.  I like to think that I’m logical and smart enough to know that there are some things I won’t accomplish or get in my life and that’s OK.  Today at the fountain I caught a glimpse of the wisher inside of me.  For a fleeting moment, before I thought about what a realistic wish would be, I wondered what I would ask for if I had five wishes I KNEW would come true.  After all, that’s exactly what Ben had.  In his perfect, trusting mind he took his time because his wishes were reality.  He only had five so he had to make them good.  In my cynical aged brain, I could have wished from here to eternity with no guaranteed results.

Except…except for the fact that one of my wishes came true.  I didn’t (sorry to say) win the lottery, and I didn’t fall in love, but before my conscious mind called out for love and money, my subconscious called out to be more like Ben.  I wanted to know what my real wishes would be. Eight hours later as he laid in his bed, probably dreaming of those wishes he held so dear, I sat in the hallway, laptop in hand, and searched.  My eyes weren’t tightly closed and my lips weren’t moving, but the wish came true anyway as my fingers flew across the keypad.  I wished to write.

Online Dating Sites…Just Not For Me!

Recently I decided to try the world of online dating again.  I went back to a particularly well-known site that I had tried about 10 years ago because the number of people using it had grown exponentially and I thought that would guarantee a better experience than before.  In a way I was right and in a way I was crazy.  While there are so many more attractive men using online dating services than in the early 00’s and the stigma of admitting you’re on a dating site has decreased, I haven’t really been happy with my time there.  I’ve searched my soul trying to decide if I’m just too picky or if maybe, I just really don’t want to be dating, but I haven’t come to any firm conclusions.

I can be a little picky, but not in the way you’d expect.  I’m not looking for Mr. Perfect in the looks department, but the bar is set pretty high when it comes to his brain.  With this is in mind, you can understand how frustrating it is to get one e-mail after another that doesn’t even attempt to show that they read my profile, or can manage a full sentence. I’m sorry guys but an e-mail that just says, “Hi!” leads me to believe you’re either lazy or lacking. Then there are the guys that must not be able to read.  If the first line of my profile says I’m serious about you living in my city, I don’t really want e-mails from other states.  So, while there seem to be more guys to choose from, it feels like the good ones are still pretty difficult to find.

Which leads me to my other concern regarding myself – not them – if I feel “done” and bored by the prospect of having to meet any more people after 1 week…do I really have it in me to FIND anyone? I’m thinking about pulling my profile because I ‘m already annoyed by one guy’s texts who I haven’t even met yet. He was probably just being nice when he texted me two mornings in a row just to say good morning and in the middle of the day after I had made plans to meet him later in the week for coffee, but I kind of felt like it was an intrusion on my time from someone I hadn’t had a chance to decide if I wanted in it or not.

I guess I just really don’t like the whole process. I know myself well enough to understand that it takes me a while to know if I’m into someone or not.  People I find very attractive can become less so after spending time talking and people who at first I don’t find attractive can really grow on me.  The thing is – with a dating site it’s hard to give the people who might grow on me a chance.  It feels like so much work!

I ran into an old friend on the site and facebooked him instead of using the site’s communication system.  We went out for drinks to catch up because despite mutual friends, we’d never really gotten to know one another.  That was fun.  He was attractive, intelligent, funny and I enjoyed the conversation. That experience leads me to think that it’s not the actual dating I’m having issues with – it’s the starting from scratch that irks me.

The laundry list of qualities that you use to narrow the search would never have led me to my past relationships. The ages, religions, and interests of my old boyfriends would all have been things I could have used to eliminate them – but those men I didn’t “match” with added up to the awesome years that were my early thirties.

I’m pretty sure after writing this blog that I’ll be pulling my profile in the next day or two.  I don’t think my desire to “date” is strong enough.  I do have a desire to be with someone, but not enough to continue a process that feels more burdensome than fun. I’m thinking I’ll return to the old what’s meant to be is what’s meant to be mentality and just keep my eyes open in my daily life.  My life’s too happy and good as is to make it miserable by dating just to date!

A Reflection on Faith, Trust, Pixie Dust and Mom

“You think you’re very adult, but you have a lot to learn.”  – Wendy to her daughter Jane in Return to Neverland 

While overnight babysitting, the 5th grade boy I watch decided to leave the channel on Return to Neverland, the follow-up to one of my favorite movies ever, Peter Pan.  I didn’t say anything because I was afraid he’d turn it off and it seemed such a better option than Spongebob. At the beginning of the movie, Jane, Wendy’s daughter, tells her little brother that all of their mother’s stories about Peter Pan and Captain Hook aren’t real.  The tears on the small boy’s cheeks elicit a slight feeling of guilt, but you can tell Jane feels her rationality and knowledge are something the young child needs to grow up.

Wendy’s response to her daughter is to tell her, “You think you’re very adult, but you have a lot to learn.” She then follows her young son and holds him as they look off together towards the second star to the right, obviously affirming his burgeoning beliefs about faith, trust and pixie dust.  As Mother’s Day approaches I can’t help but think of the times in my life when my mom used that same message, whether spoken or not, to teach me the heart trumps the brain when it comes to growing up.

Most of us remember moments we’re ashamed of – moments when we pushed an argument to far, made a cutting remark we knew would hurt, or tried to make someone feel inferior in order to boost our own self-worth. I know in my everyday life I like to pride myself on the fact that I think I am smart.  I have hurt my sisters, cousins, and especially my mom in order to make myself feel better or right.  I guess that’s why watching Jane squash her tiny brother’s beliefs constricted my chest and moistened my eyes. I related to Jane.  I felt her regret in the moment she heard Wendy and knew she’d messed up.  Return to Neverland closes, of course, with Jane’s transformation and understanding, a transformation that wouldn’t have been possible without Wendy’s firm faith and trust in all things magic.

I believe my transformation – the reason I can even begin to right some of my wrongs –  comes from the admonishment that so often showed up in “a look” rather than words from Cathy, my Wendy.  While Wendy told Jane straight out, my mom used her beautifully expressive face to say, “How could you?” And when my heart heard it, I always felt the deserved guilt that came from not living up to what she believed I could be.  Because of her, as I have “grown up”, especially these past few years, instances of my “know it all” behavior are more easily identifiable to me and I try to swallow that icky pride and apologize in order to set things right.

The ability to say you’re sorry and mean it or to admit you’re not infallible takes a lot of faith and trust, faith in the growth process of the human spirit and trust in your relationship with the person you’ve hurt.  But it’s truly impossible without pixie dust. When Wendy looks at Jane and delivers the words to help her learn from her mistake, the pixie dust is love.  The only way the rebuke doesn’t harm the child is if the child feels and knows that she is loved.

My mom sprinkled my whole world with pixie dust and continues to do so today for me and many other children – related or not.  Her love, faith, and trust envelop me in a cocoon that I continuously emerge from at each new stage of my life journey. Sure, I’ve worked hard to develop my intellect and my brain and I’m not going to stop, but she’s taught me that true maturity comes from being able to turn off the brain and lead with the heart.  Some people see growing up as a negative, but if growing up means becoming more like her, then there’s nothing more positive I could do.

I love you, Mom!

The Lucky One, Time, and Romance

Watching the credits roll for The Lucky One, a few thoughts floated around in my head.  I pondered Zac Efron’s age and if it was appropriate for a woman my age to be so absolutely smitten and the fact that despite the panning from critics, it was a perfectly satisfying movie for its intended audience – hopeless romantics.  But the thought that brought me to my laptop relates to romance and our experience of time. I don’t think I’ve ever really noticed how intricately they connect.

Time is a funny thing.  When you’re doing something you love it can seem to fly by, or exactly the opposite, it can saunter and meander with the best of them.  For me, watching my favorite love stories always slows time down.  There’s something about settling into a film, liking the characters and trusting love will triumph no matter how bleak the picture so you mind as well enjoy the ride, that actually allows me to enjoy the ride.

In a way, real life love leads us into the same kind of experience.  There’s something about falling in love that lets you savor the moments. Days seem longer and hours last forever when you’re with the person you love.  Not only that, the time that you spend away from that person seems to take on a different quality as well.  People you couldn’t stand get a smile and the two minutes you couldn’t be bothered for seems easier to give.

While I’ve experienced both of the above examples, I’ll admit it was something I haven’t that left the little tug in my heart at the end of the movie.  It’s probably the intertwining of time and romance that is least likely to be real, the most mythical part of the romance novel or film.  It may be the reason I sit through sappy flicks, read romance novels, or even choose to write.

In The Lucky One, Logan ends up with a job at Beth’s home.  They are in contact every day.  She watches him reluctantly at first but as TIME goes by she ever so slightly opens herself up to possibility.  The circumstances of their existence give you the confidence that they have all the time in the world to get to where they are going – true love.

How many of us ever really get that? In my everyday life, even if I were to meet a man who I could be interested in (and I am finally ready to really date again), it would have to happen in the small openings of free time here or there.  He would have a job.  I would have a job.  There are family obligations and too many things crowding our lives for what happens in the movies to ever really happen in the light of day.

Sitting in that movie, I could believe for a second that there are places that exist where people have time to fall in love.  When I read a romance novel I enjoy all the time the leads have to spend together without reading about what happened in the 16 hours they weren’t together.  When I write, I can spend as much time as I want with any of my characters.  Is it too much to hope that a love can be organic instead of scheduled? Does love only happen that way when you are independently wealthy or a lottery winner? Or is it in the choices we make? Is it that when we are faced with finding the person we are attracted to, we must choose to see time differently? Do we make our own reality?  Does romance come from time or does time come from romance?

The Flawed Premise: How When Harry Met Sally Kept Me in the Friends Column

Warning: Friends with Kids spoiler ahead…read at your own risk.

I think When Harry Met Sally ruined my life.  Well, at least I think it ruined my dating life.  I came to this conclusion after seeing the movie Friends with Kids this past weekend.  The premise is that two friends decide to have a kid together so they can skip the romance sucking whirlwind that children seem to be to a marriage and leave themselves open to romance in their future relationships with their respective “person”.  As in When Harry Met Sally, when the woman voices her love for her friend there is the inevitable break-up of the friendship, followed by the overwhelming romantic moment when the man realizes he was in love with her all along and pleads for her to still be in love with him.

For a good fifteen years I bought into waiting for, as have millions of other women, the moment when a man who has been your friend suddenly realizes he is emphatically in love with you.  It’s what should happen – what I should wait for!  If I can just be a good enough friend, one day it’ll pay off.  He’ll realize I’m the one.  While watching Friends with Kids I realized with horror that the truest moment in the movie, the one that has happened over and over in my own life, is the moment at the woman’s birthday dinner where she spills her secret and he honestly says to her, “I love you. You’re my best friend, but I’m not attracted to you.”

Truth is – in real life – that’s where the movie would end, and it would be a tragedy.  The guy moves awkwardly on and she spends the next year getting over her feelings just to go ahead and fall for another “friend”…always hoping for that When Harry Met Sally moment when the guy will realize it’s been her all along.

This realization made me consider how I’ve approached attraction and dating since viewing that Billy Crystal/Meg Ryan classic romantic comedy.  The thing is, I think, (I’m not a guy so I can’t know for sure) that guys aren’t looking for a best friend, at least initially.  I realize that I have been operating from a flawed premise.  While I may be able to fall in love with a best friend, a guy’s not going to really be my best friend until after he falls in love with me.  I have watched so many guys I’ve been “friends” with that I’ve had crushes on over the years pick/marry the girl that I looked at and thought, “Seriously?  She’s nothing like him.  They’ll never make it.  She doesn’t even like the same stuff he does.  How can he stand hanging out with her?”  What I didn’t see was the attraction that comes from the fact that she’s not like him; the mystery that comes from her otherness.

Once a man has put you in the friend column it’s extremely difficult to get out.  Unfortunately, I’ve been sticking myself into it on purpose for quite a while.  “Hi, let me show you how great I am at talking sports.  Let me listen to your stories about your ex or the girl across the way you want to hit on.  You want to hang out after your divorce but you’re not ready to date anyone yet?  Of course – that’s fine.”  I’ve been pretty stupid. (Caveat – if I wasn’t truly repressing my girly/romantic nature and trying to be his “friend” this wouldn’t have been stupid, but I was.) I like soap operas and romance novels.  I like when a guy opens the car door for me.  I like jewelry and flowers and chic flicks with other girls over football games with the guys.  I want to wear clothes that make him think I’m beautiful and desirable as opposed to non-threatening and laid back.  I want him to like my mind but not because it’s like his…I want him to like it because it’s mine.

Flipping it the other way, I wouldn’t really want a guy that acted like my girlfriends either!  When I look at my successful relationships there’s no question they didn’t start out as friendships.  In fact, only my biggest heart breaks have come from this common romantic comedy formula for love.  So why is it so hard to give up on this silly dream of the best guy friend that suddenly sees he’s been in love with you the whole time?  I’m not 100% sure but I definitely place a good portion of the blame on a guy named Harry and a girl named Sally.

Singledom, Marriage, and Divorce

Lately it seems I have been surrounded by divorce.  Having grown up in a family of relatively stable marriages my experience with divorce has been somewhat limited. Now however, it seems every which way I turn, another friend has filed.  Some of these separations weren’t shocking.  I knew sitting in the church that divorce would one day rear its head in those relationships. Others shook me; I had truly believed they would make it. All of them have caused serious contemplation of life and partnership.

I think I like being single.  I am pretty sure that I enjoy my alone time and own space. What has been hard over the years is the disappearance of married friends as they built homes and families. Of course, I have been included in their lives as much as possible, but it was obvious our life experiences were miles apart and that they had as much interest in my latest date as I did in their child’s diaper rash.

As divorces take over the present, I have found all of a sudden friends that have shared custody of kids have free time on their hands.  My social life has been on the upswing.  And I’m not talking about nights of drinking and looking for men.  I’m talking about friendly lunches, dinners, movies, and conversations where more is discussed than the daily routine.  Recently though, one friend – after a few glasses of wine – confessed that while she was happy to be out of that particular relationship, she wanted to find a new love to commit to and build a life with.  She didn’t want “this” life. My life.

I have to admit at first it was hard not to be insulted. But, I do realize that just as she’s not lived my life – I’ve not lived hers.  While she is unaware of the bliss that can come from true independence, I lack perspective on the bliss that can come from true partnership. Still, as more and more of my friends separate, I kind of feel like I dodged a bullet.  If they were all going to end up where I am anyway, (because most say that even though they want a committed relationship again, they don’t want marriage) then why bother with all the societally induced angst over missing out on marriage?

I have seen good marriages, a lot of them later in life and a lot of them second and third marriages.  I think that if I ever met someone that I wanted to build a common dream with, I might be convinced to sign on the dotted line, but I’m not 100% convinced it’s worth it.  My friends and I have taken different paths but in a roundabout way we’ve all ended up in the same place.  The biggest difference is children. For some friends they were the primary reason to marry to begin with. The older I get the more I feel like that ship has sailed anyway.

I don’t really have a conclusion to draw from all this.  I think some friends will re-marry and get it right the second time, some will re-marry and divorce again, some will stay single and love it, and some will stay single and be miserable.  As for me, I can honestly say that up to this point in my life, I have never experienced misery from being single.  I have experienced joy and the feeling of loving my life.  I think if you can say that, then you’re on the right path no matter what lifestyle you’re living.

Losing Weight and Gaining Self?

On the way out for a dinner with friends I started getting anxious about the fact there would be people attending I almost never see.  Not only that I almost never see, but people that when I do see I feel incredibly awkward around, people that I edit myself around to the point where I am not myself.  As the anxiety wrapped its familiar grip around my heart, I was suddenly overcome by a sense of peace and confidence.  It was like my soul was speaking to my ego saying, “No, that’s not who you are anymore.  You know yourself, you like yourself.  They’re people – just people and you are a good and impressive person.”

That comfort stayed with me through the evening, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and is still humming in me as I write this.  I have been pondering why now? What is it in my life that has finally allowed me to feel this authentic confidence in myself?

When I was younger I was physically confident.  I liked my body and knew that others liked it, too.  I knew I wasn’t going to be excluded from things or judged because of my looks, and I often used my looks to gain acceptance.  I think that maybe that’s where I was in my personal understanding of self when I met this group of people.  I remember clearly thinking that I didn’t want to talk for fear they would think I was a fraud or didn’t have anything good enough to say.  I knew that they wouldn’t judge me negatively on the outside, so why give them a chance at the inside? This refusal to open myself up to criticism or rejection played out in my personal life as well.  I would choose relationships where I knew the other person liked the outside, not realizing that it was the inside stuff that sustained real romance.

After years of relationships that never got to the level I wanted, I started to see that I needed to be seeking someone who was into the inside me.  Unfortunately this also ended in self sabotage.  My discomfort now came from my physical self.  I didn’t want to be used for it and started to hide it.  This manifested in weight gain.  I put on 60 pounds in 8 years.  The relationships I was in during that time and the friendships I formed were deeper and sincerely based on my inside self, but I was still hiding. I hid beneath the fat and used the defense that if someone really loved me for me they would look beyond the weight.  It didn’t matter.

About 4 months ago I joined Jenny Craig and have lost 30 of those 60 pounds I started hiding behind. I am feeling really good about myself physically and spiritually.  I feel like I am finally ready to be my whole self. That was what dawned on me in the car as I drove to dinner.  I felt pretty and smart.  I felt like I was ready to let these people see me, all of me.  And, I did.  I left the dinner feeling gratitude for the experiences that have shaped me, gratitude for the changes that are taking root in my life, and genuine affection for my dinner mates. I can’t wait to see what the future holds now that I feel like I both know myself inside and like who I am on the outside.

“Entertainment News” or “Network B.S.” – Neither is Neutral or Fair.

***This reflection is about the power of the media. You may or may not agree with my opinion on the cases I mention, but I’m not trying to take a stand on the cases. I believe you are entitled to your opinion. Please read with that in mind.

So, I’ve been debating writing about the Casey Anthony trial because it’s such a hot button issue, but I am relenting and writing due to some internal need to share my thoughts. While I do believe that she probably is guilty, the main thing that bothers me is how this trial became “entertainment” for the country.  How can you not call something entertainment when it is showcased on Entertainment Tonight, Extra!, and written about in US Weekly?  I guess it all started with O.J., as the news outlets are quick to tell me, but it has really got me thinking about the role that the media plays in shaping the world we live in.

One of the things I found so disturbing about this particular case is how the media covered it from the guilty until proven innocent standpoint. Sure they seemed to do the opposite but it was always with a wink, wink. Let us show you the “evidence” they would say. Well, excuse me but if the true “evidence” was so compelling, shouldn’t the prosecution have been able to convict? It’s not the first time I have seen this happen with our media. I say our media purposefully because we as a people choose what gets airtime or not in this country with what we choose to watch. They blame the “CSI” effect…that a jury has to be shown DNA and that a case has to be tied up with a ribbon on top. Excuse me? Aren’t you the ones that made the CSI effect famous AND since when can you convict for a murder where you can’t concretely identify cause of death?

I think these thoughts started brewing in me with the Anthony Weiner scandal, even though I can take the examples back further. I watched as the coverage built from a small story to one in which the media actually controlled the message telling him to resign. His colleagues, his constituents, many people looked at the mess as a personal one. But the shows mentioned above, along with the mainstream news media refused to drop the issue and when other people in power realized this, they capitulated for fear that they too may face the wrath of “The Media”. So now, an extremely effective and well liked politician’s career is down the drain and the New Yorkers he served are at a loss. His actions were reprehensible – again – it’s not about him. Who gave the media the right to tell him to resign or the power to scare others into making it happen? Was it us? I wanted so badly for him to force their hand, to stand up and just say, “No, I’m not resigning – take whatever steps necessary, but I’ll do my job exactly as I did my job before this scandal.”

Let me stop here to say that whether or not he lied, the severity of his crime or where his “pics” were taken, my issue is with the power of the media in the situation. They called for his dismissal as much as they called for Casey Anthony’s conviction. In Weiner’s case they won, in Casey Anthony’s, though she didn’t get convicted, they created an environment where she will never be safe from psychos that think they know the truth. I know because I have friends out there posting that she will get what’s coming to her – and they are the sane ones who wouldn’t really hurt anyone.

It’s a scary situation when a group can sway public opinion so openly and with little effort or proof. In studying for my Communications degree almost 20 years ago, I remember teachers drilling into me the fact that ethics and responsibility play a vital part in the role of media in our country. I was taught how to write headlines for articles that were neutral and didn’t take sides or influence opinions. I guess the lack of responsibility and neutrality of the “entertainment” news media wouldn’t bother me so much if I could tell a difference between it and outlets that claim to be unbiased real news sources. As it is now, instead of being the integral safeguard of society that protects us from corruption, evil influence, and lies, I truly feel these organizations are at the heart of what’s wrong with the direction our country is headed.

Things We Don’t Want To Do!

Clean the bathroom, be nice to people who drive me nuts, chaperone a trip, get out of bed…the list is never-ending.  There are just a lot of things in this world that I don’t want to do, but find myself doing anyway.  Most of the time I won’t even let myself complain about them because I hear my dead great grandmother’s voice in my head telling me I have to eat the last Fruity Pebble in my bowl because there are starving kids in Africa; There are people out there who have it worse.

Unfortunately, the knowledge of this truth doesn’t stop what I’m FEELING about doing these things I don’t want to do.  That’s when all my years teaching Affective Skills and Interpersonal Communication kick in and I tell myself I need to stop complaining for other reasons.  You don’t “have to” do anything in this world.  You make a choice because the consequences of not making that choice aren’t ones you want to deal with.  You can control your feelings. It’s all in your attitude.  Attitude is angle of approach – change it and you change your life.

Blah, blah, blah, blah…I wonder when I’m going to have my break down? I have brainwashed myself into ignoring these feelings for so long. Can I really believe these things and stay on the positive side of life forever? Is it fair to expect that of  myself? I’m already hearing the voice in my head telling me I’m a whining baby that has it easier than any generation of my family before me…would I even allow myself my breakdown?

I did really good for a few years at learning to say no.  I think I need to work on that again.  I do believe that it’s OK to say no to something, even if it’s a good cause or something that no one else is going to do.  That’s what’s been getting me into trouble lately…taking on jobs it looks like no one else will.  So maybe I need to be selfish in a good way in order to stop feeling selfish in a bad way about all the crap I have to do that I don’t want to?

Sounds like a plan.

The Joy of Solitude?

This past weekend I spent the majority of the time by myself.  I wasn’t lonely. In fact, I reveled in the solitude.  There is something regenerative in spending time with just self.  When I do, I am constantly reminded that no matter what happens in the world around me, I will be OK. I know this because the only person that I HAVE to be with, ever, is someone who I like and respect.

Solitude isn’t for everyone.  I have many people in my life that would be depressed or stir crazy if forced to be alone for a weekend.  I don’t pretend that I am superior to these people.  Just different.  For me, being able to be alone with myself is a sign that I am doing alright in the areas of self-esteem and integrity, but for someone more social, the world may be their mirror. To each their own.

Loving solitude has caused me to contemplate some complex questions about myself lately.  Can someone who enjoys alone time as much as I do really be successful living a life of relationships – Marriage? Children? 

The “outside” answer to that question varies depending upon the lives of the people I query.  It seems most people fall squarely into the camp of their own choices.  People who are married with children give me a spiel about how I would be missing out on a form of loving that no one should live without. But I occasionally find a parent or divorcee who will venture into the discussion of the sacrifice of their personal contentment.  It seems rare to find someone who has balanced their need for solitude with marriage and family.

My “inside” answer seems to lean towards the take it or leave it/grey area.  I have enjoyed being in relationships in the past, so I know I could probably do marriage.  I have enjoyed being a caregiver/nurturer of children on many levels, so I know I could do parenthood.  But it seems that both choices would preclude a weekend like the one I just spent, one where I was perfectly content and happy with myself.  Is that something I am willing to give up?  Is there someone out there that wants the same thing? Is it possible to have all of it, the marriage, children, and the solitude?

I also wonder…Is the me that I like so much when I am all alone, a lazy version of me?  Is it someone who won’t necessarily grow because I’m not challenging myself? I have felt at times that I am a nicer, more giving, and a happier person (outwardly) when I am in a good relationship.  My family would definitely agree.  Is my alone time a “selfish” act that keeps me from being my best self?

Complex questions for which I don’t have any answers.  Maybe I need to take the next weekend alone to think about it some more.  Or, maybe I should go on a date with someone who likes their alone time just as much as I do to see if we can find a balance that makes us both better. I think I’ll just sit back, decide not to decide and see what happens.