Thursday, June 30, 2011

Step One : The Book Store aka Turning the Light On

I didn’t expect my first Step to be all that eventful. I mean… it’s a book store, for god’s sake. I’ve done it before. It’s kind of akin to making a big deal about going to Target without my kids. While this is undeniably much less of a train wreck than going to Target WITH my kids, that’s beside the point. What I’m getting at here is that I didn’t expect my trip to Barnes and Noble to be life changing. 

However, I also didn’t expect it to be totally depressing. I thought it would be an easy one, you know? It should have been, for all intents and purposes. There were so many people there alone, there were comfy chairs to sit in and linger. 

First and foremost you should know that when I pulled into my parking spot, there was a man two rows down that was standing outside of his car, with his trunk open, taking off his shirt. He was not an attractive man. He took his shirt off, unleashing a lot of really pasty white skin on my eyeballs, then used the removed shirt to swab off his armpits and then wipe off his head and face. I might have gone face THEN armpits, but I’m a bit of a renaissance parking-lot-whore’s-bather. He then pulled a new shirt out of his trunk, put it on, and put deodorant on from his trunk too. I almost had sex with him, but I controlled myself somehow. 

But I digress. My first mistake once I got inside was going down the self improvement aisle. I don’t know what I was thinking. I think I was imagining I’d find some great, quirky little book on going it alone that would be just perfect. Instead I spent about 5 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back browsing through Suze Orman, Dr. Phil and titles that actually included “How to Make ANYONE Fall in Love With You”. At one point I thought, “What man am I going to attract from this aisle?”, but I just as quickly reminded myself that wasn’t why I was there. As a final jab from life, I had to walk through the “Sexuality” aisle to get to where I was headed. Not a concern, life. Evidently I’ll be taking a break from sexuality. Pretty excited about it.

I got to Fiction eventually. This was my element, this was more within the boundaries of my comfort zone. I walked through aisle after aisle, running my fingers along the spines of carefully crafted stories of life and loss and love. After an hour, I hadn’t found what I was looking for. Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult came and went, Nicholas Sparks haunted my footsteps. Soooo many novels are about love; finding it, losing it, needing it, wanting it. What about me? Where are all the novels where people are okay on their own? Where they are their own happy ending? Blech. I had reached a certain level of bitterness and mild desperation when the poor employee approached me. The conversation went a little bit like this:

Her: Can I help you find anything?
Me: Um… I’m not really sure.
Her: Well, is there something in particular that you’re looking for?
Me: Well… I’m looking for a love story, but it can’t be too happy because I just got dumped, but it can’t be sad because that will be too depressing and I’m already depressed. So maybe not a love story… but nothing with somebody dying, or having some horrible tragic life, or about people that are just horrible human beings.
Her: …Okay… so maybe something funny?
Me: Oh, no, I want it to have some substance. Something profound.
Her: …So… something profound that isn’t sad or romantic or tragic?
Me: Yes.
Her: …
Me: …I think I’m just browsing.
Her: (as she’s walking away from me really fast) Okay, well let me know if I can help you find anything!

It was about then that the Lonely started to set in. It snuck in like smoke. It began with my mind wandering to Ben. I considered that wherever he was, he was not having to fight this so fiercely as I was. I wondered what it was that made me so easy to leave. I pulled book after book off the shelf whose back covers gave brief tales of a person finding love, a person who never thought they’d love again loving, a person loving against all odds. I felt my shoulders droop and my brave heart began to sink. I was Lonely. I considered calling it a night, I had been there 45 minutes already, surely 45 minutes would prove the point, right?

When I stumbled upon the (much too small) section of Tom Robbins books accidentally, I immediately sat down in the middle of the aisle. There were so many I had wanted to read over the years: Skinny Legs and All, Still Life with Woodpecker, Jitterbug Perfume, on and on. I sat cross legged on the floor and poured over page after page from each book I was considering – weighing the typeface and the prose. I realized somewhere in the midst of all those books that I didn’t have any reason to leave just then. I don’t have anyone to come home to tonight, I’m not expecting a call or a text that I’ll need to take. I am alone, but I am also untethered. I have no dinner time – I choose my own schedule. I can sit in this aisle, pouring over these books until this store closes if I want to. Or I can buy them all, hurry home and open one right this very moment and I won’t have to hear about anyone’s day before I do it. I won’t have to make anyone laugh or feel better or be comfortable before I can read them. There were people passing by me in the aisles, but I was alone. 

I reminded myself, with gentle prodding, that ending up with someone is not just a matter of Who, but of When, and that this is not my When with Ben. I need this time and space, every minute of it. I am still a mess, my life and mind and heart are still riddled with chaos. I am still unable to stand without leaning. I can do better than this. 

I grabbed a Harry Potter book, too. As much as I love the movies, I’ve never read any of the books. I took my two new treasures and found a chair in a corner and tucking my knees up toward my chest I opened one and began to read it. I spent almost 3 hours at the book store, alone. I took perhaps the smallest of steps, but I took it on my own, and that made all the difference.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Words from the Precipice

I’ve had my kids for the last few days since I decided to start the project, so being “alone” hasn’t really been an option. When they’re here, my life is a whirlwind of movement and sound. I’ve been realizing more lately, watching from the sidelines as Ben takes our break-up as license to be pretty self-destructive, how important my kids are to my life and my healing. I’m pretty self-destructive myself, but having kids (more so than just having a spouse or partner) makes it so you don’t just have to keep your head on your shoulders because you are held accountable for their safety and well-being, but also because you are held accountable for your own. My kids watch me. They watch me eat, they watch me sleep, they watch me smile or laugh or cry. I can’t kill myself or cut myself or pickle my liver in vodka because I am the foundation of our family and I have to stay – even if a little stumbling and fractured – whole. Does that mean they make it effortless? God, no. Every breath is still a struggle, and I constantly have to remind myself that it will be so much easier to stay off of my knees than to try to get back up once I’ve let life put me down on them.

They don’t lessen the pain, even if they are distracting. Some times all I want in the world is to be able to just sit somewhere quiet and breathe and shake out all the stress and pain and I don’t get to do that because there are baths and dinner and they want to sit in my lap to watch TV. 

Today they went back to their dad’s house for the week and I am staring down the barrel of another week alone. I’d be lying if I said it’s not difficult to stop myself from trying to shove someone in the void. I want to have a man to be calling, texting, flirting, meeting me for drinks and telling me how pretty I am. At the very least I want to be filling the time and space with my friends. I want to fill it with anything other than myself, because that is the ultimate unknown. The ultimate vast expanse of broken, ugly, unlovable wasteland.  

Still, for one reason or another, I have seen the project as a beacon for the last week. When I wake up in the morning and have that groggy realization that in fact Ben is gone, and the nightmare is continuing even as I wake, and my stomach turns and I begin to tremble, I think of the project. I imagine forging ahead and I have something to look forward to. I don’t just look forward to a momentary respite or distraction, I feel like I’m going to be able to do something real. I don’t want to just recover from Ben, I want to become so comfortable in my life alone that when the next guy comes along, I won’t be afraid to lose him. I won’t gloss over his flaws, I won’t lie to myself about how he’s treating me and if it’s what I deserve. My life will be strong whether he’s in it or not. 

For the first time, I am lighting my own path.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What is the Project?

The rules of the Project are simple, there is only one: Do it alone. 

The goals are two-fold: 1) Stay single for 6 months. I’ll reward myself at the end of it by allowing myself a date on New Year’s Eve – to seal the year with a kiss and celebrate the year to come. And 2) Make my way through my list of activities – steps, if you will, on the journey to being okay with spending my time alone. I can add to the list, I can repeat items, I can skip around, but I have to do them all. 

The steps:

The Book Store. Any easy start. The video suggested the library, but I’ve been needing to add to my own library anyway. My goal won’t be just to buy a book and leave. For the first time, I intend to linger. Find a comfortable chair, sit in the aisles paging through art books. 

The Coffee Shop. Another easy one. Lingering alone at the local Starbucks should suffice. With a book, a cup of coffee, and a good chair in the corner, I can sit in the quiet and watch the people filter in and out. 

“The Gym”. Well, the video suggested the gym, but I don’t have (or want) a membership so I’m going to go with what I would do if I were to exercise: a walk around Greenlake in Seattle. A 3 mile path surrounds the lake, where people walk, run, bike and skate. Most often in pairs or groups, but also alone, I think this will be the first time I feel like I’m really starting to push my comfort zone, but I’ll definitely just be dipping in my toes to test the water.

Public Transportation. Another suggestion from the video. I know a lot of people do this alone every day, but I don’t. When I do take a bus (I’ve never taken a train), it’s been to take a quick trip to work while my car’s in the shop, or with someone else. I think I’ll take the bus or train AS my destination, instead of to one. 

Church. I’m not terribly religious, but as my life has careened downward out of control, I’ve begun to pray. Another suggestion from the video, I think taking a Sunday to slip in the back pew of a church and tip my head amidst all the people – yet alone – would be good. 

Sit on a bench. Another one from the video. I’m thinking Seattle Center here, in the sun with a book, watching the people pass by. Kind of ala Forest Gump, which is admittedly dorky, but I think it offers up the chance to fall into an interesting conversation or two. I’m by no means shy.

The Woods. I fell in love with hiking while I was with Ben. I think it will be a good stretch to tackle this one alone. The quiet and solitude punctuated only by the occasional smile and nod at people passing the other direction. 

The Movies. This is a typical date activity, or for friends who are out and about, but I always thought that was so strange – you aren’t supposed to talk to them at all, and you can’t really even see them. I’m going to be stretching my comfort zone pretty good with this one none-the-less. 

Visit a Museum. Another typical couple/friend activity, this time I’ll be walking around among all the people, obviously alone.

Lunch. Simple, yet not. Nothing to really distract you or see here, you just eat. But I can’t rush through it, the point is to enjoy your own company.

Resist the Urge to Hang Out With Your Cellphone. This was in the video, though I know she was intending to mean “while you’re at lunch”, to encourage you to do what I mentioned above – enjoy your own company. I’m going to take this to the next level, because I believe that I am in some ways addicted to my friends as much as I am my relationships. I am going to spend a whole Saturday or Sunday – perhaps a whole weekend, untethered from my phone. No texts, no emails, no Facebook or Twitter. Easier said than done, this one is gonna be rough.

Visit An Unfamiliar City. I’m going to make the 4 to 5 hour trek to Portland alone. I was there once several years ago, and I wished I had more time to spend there exploring. I plan to trek the city alone for the day, walking through the parks, stopping in at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant for lunch. 

Dinner at a Restaurant with Linen and Silverware. Dinner. Alone. At a restaurant. Enough said. I think I’ll even try somewhere new. Somewhere nice. I’ll wear a dress.

Go to a Concert or Sporting Event. I love both of these things, but so seldom get to experience them because I’ve always relied on someone coming with me, and when they couldn’t make it or didn’t feel like going, I’d just give up and skip it. I’m going to make this one happen, even if its way outside my comfort zone.

The Coup de Gras: Dance at a Club. Until You’re Sweating. This is going to BY FAR be the hardest for me. Being able to do this will be how I know that I am where I need to be. If I can do this alone, I can do anything.

I have chosen to chronicle my journey on this blog because I think it will keep me accountable for making the changes I need to make and following through. If I think even one person is following my steps and rooting for me, or waiting to see what the outcome might be, or who even is standing where I’m standing and needs to feel like they’re not alone – maybe I’ll stick with it. 

If I do about 2 a month, I'll be able to complete all of them in my 6 month window. I'll be out dancing in time for my birthday and get my kiss on New Years.

My life needs to change. Despite what I’ve been trying to tell myself for the last 17 years, no one can change it except me.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Origin of the Project

My name is Jennifer, I’m 32 years old, and I have never been alone. I have been consistently dating for the last 17 years, with no break longer than 2 months between relationships. And even THAT was because my boyfriend at the time DIED. 

We can go round and round about the many reasons WHY I do this. I may be a relationship addict, I may be co-dependent, I may just hate myself so much that the idea of spending time in a room alone with me sounds like a fantastic new form of torture. But I digress, the reasons are irrelevant to the project at hand. Let’s focus on the catalyst for beginning the project. On the long and winding road that led me to this point, let us take a look at just the final crushing blow to my lifelong pattern of relationship-cidal self-destruction.

Intertwining amidst the many relationships I’ve had, dating all the way back to that tender budding age of 15, was one man. My connection with Ben was immediate, intense, and unmistakably special. No matter where our lives have taken us – other states, marriages, kids, highs, very lows – a thread has always tied us to one another. My eight year relationship with my then husband led us both to believe that we were at an end for good. I was a faithful wife to Rich, and we were in love. When my divorce happened, Ben was living with another woman. Our ships kept passing in the night. Finally, a little over a year ago, our relationships at the time both unraveled simultaneously. Finally, we had our chance to try again. Without going too on and on about the whole thing, the relationship felt epic, I was deliriously happy.  The underlying problem was always there though: Ben (for reasons I will not elaborate here, as they are not mine to elaborate upon) was even more commitment-phobic than the average man. This isn’t to say he wasn’t faithful, or loyal, or loving, because he was. But you take a divorced mother of two (my kids are 9 and 6) and set her up with a guy that has thus far had a “no single moms” rule, and you’ll run into problems. He wasn’t big on responsibility, commitment, or settling down. But it was ME, you know? He was going to try, because it was ME. And try he did. He really put his back into it. He did the zoo, he helped us decorate the Christmas tree, he watched TV with my daughter in his lap, he was ON. BOARD. Which is probably why I got comfortable. And that level of comfort is probably why I got antsy. I didn’t want marriage (good Lord no, I’m not sure I ever want to get married again. Been there, done that, and all I got was this lousy bankruptcy), I wanted him to move in. After dating for roughly a year, I started applying pressure about shacking up. I was giving him another year, is what my statements added up to. He could have another year of freedom, and then it was time to leave his bachelor pad (it was a really nice bachelor pad too) and come be step-daddy and we should probably start talking about having a baby too and what kind of car should I buy and should we get a dog?

As you can clearly see, I assumed “I don’t want to get married” equated to “I’m not demanding a commitment from you” and I let the rest fly. When he said he wasn’t sure, my insecurities kicked in, followed quickly by that sickening need to pull him closer, hold him tighter, where are you going don’t leave me LOVE MEEEEE. I’m not positive so don’t quote me here, but I’m pretty sure it was SEXY AS HELL. So imagine how shocked I was when he left me. After 17 years of waiting, after a year of being the happiest I have ever known myself to be capable of, it was over. (Well, I mean… “over”. It’s us. We don’t really do “over”.) 

I have thus far proved myself incapable of being alone. I never learned how to do it, and now it is like a terrible wasteland that haunts me in my dreams. Being incapable of being alone meant that when Ben needed space, I couldn’t give it to him. I literally wasn’t able to. I could leave the room, I could leave the house, but I couldn’t leave alone the idea that we needed to shack up and fast. Living alone seemed alien and lonely to me, and I wanted him to hurry up and fill the void whether he was ready to or not. Ben loved me very much, I believe he still does, but he couldn’t match the pace I was setting for him and he refused to be dragged by my frantic horse through the dirt so I could get there. If I had been okay with who I am on my own, Ben wouldn’t have gotten the pressure I placed on him, and I don’t think he would have left. Ben has been the great love of my life, and facing the loss of him leaves me realizing just how out of hand this whole thing has become.

Now whether Ben comes back, or I find Mr. Right somewhere else, or I live the rest of my life alone is beside the point. I absolutely cannot be happy if I don’t find a way to be happy on my own. To be comfortable in my OWN life, and my OWN skin. I don’t know who I am when I am standing anymore, because I have spent the last 17 years leaning. I am not even my own woman anymore, I am just a Frankenstein of the corpses of my relationships; I am the bits and pieces of what was left along the way. Today someone offered to set me up with a great guy. I turned them down quite bluntly and said I didn’t want to date. They said “The best way to get over someone is to get under someone else.” I said, “I’m a fucking mess right now and I don’t want to meet Mr. Right because I don’t have a damn thing to offer him at the moment.” That probably sounds very sensible to you, but that is incredibly uncharacteristic of me. I tend to find a back-up plan as soon as I feel my current guy edging out. By the time he’s out the door, I’ve been chatting up someone else on the regular for weeks. I’m telling you, my baggage is SEAMLESS.

For the last month I have been grieving Ben. It’s hard to get out of bed, it’s hard to go to work, it’s hard to focus on my kids. Hell, it’s hard to just eat. I know part of that is because I loved Ben so much, and I miss him so much, and because it is normal to grieve losing something that means such a great deal to you. But I also know that a big part of that is because I am having such a hard time being ALONE. Now, I’m a pretty girl. I’m thin, blonde, blue eyed, I have a high wattage smile and an ass that won’t quit. Having such easy access to men is one of the reasons I have such a hard time staying single – the wolf is always at the door. So I have to make a very purposeful, calculated effort to be single. Thus far, when a handsome man turns on the charm and asks me out I have followed the addiction to whatever end. I don’t want to do that anymore. I need to be alone for a while. The only problem is I have no idea HOW. I have no comprehension of finding happiness in being alone. 

To me, alone equates to one thing, to one word that is perhaps the most confidence shattering, heart breaking word I know: Lonely. 

God, just typing that made my palms sweat. 

I have been asking myself since the split, simply begging myself really, for 6 months. Please, just 6 months. To try yourself on for size. To feel out who you are when you’re not living for someone else. To see what you’re capable of. 6 months. 

The loneliness  closing in has done nothing but make that feel absolutely unrealistic. “6 MONTHS?! OF THIS? Are you batshit?! Where’s okcupid, let’s knock this shit off and get real.” Today, I was hit by a bit of inspiration that I’m guessing many of you (how cute that I say “you” as if I think anyone will actually read this blog) have seen before: How To Be Alone.

And thus the project was born. The goal is to reach a point where I am okay being alone. Where I can do those things that I love and want to do without having to have companionship, where I am the only companion I need. Where I need not turn my head to speak the words of something’s beauty or charm, but simply know them and be at peace in knowing them. The project is to be willing to embark upon life without the help or hindrance of any other.  The project is about baby steps out of my comfort zone and into something that is essential to my being happy. The project is to be able to know who I am, so when the day comes that I offer that to someone, I know the importance and value of what I’m offering.

I have written a list of things I am going to do on my own. Some are from that video, small things, like going to a coffee shop or the library, and that is where I’ll begin. But I’ll get more daring; the point is to push myself to do without another those things that I have taught myself people shouldn’t do alone. I hope to give myself some purpose, some distraction from my grief, something constructive to do with my time (because thus far I have found that no matter how many glasses of wine I race to the bottom of, no answers are to be found there) and most of all, hopefully, to learn that although I am alone that does not have to mean that I am Lonely.

This blog will be a chronicle of that journey. Godspeed, stupid messed up heart.