Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Job

I haven't responded to a 100 Word Challenge in 100 years. Last time I looked, it was Velvet Verbosity prompting us to write, but the torch has been passed to Thin Spiral Notebook, a regular contributor. This week's prompt is "Job." I gave it a whirl for old time's sake and because I need to get back to more creative pursuits:



"It's not my job to fuck you on your birthday!" She said it with a smile and a wink.

"Good thing it's not my birthday." I winked back.

She was hot shit, and used to be she didn't know it. Used to be she was pretty beat down, but she came back from that pure on fire. Tore up jeans, tight t-shirt, and no makeup. She could drop any jaw she wanted.

"So..." I asked, looking her up and down and grinning. "Whose job is it to fuck you on your birthday, doll, and where do I get an application?"

Monday, May 2, 2016

Jabs

I've been thinking about and observing married people a lot lately, for reasons so obvious that I'm going to state them anyway, because that's how I roll: I was married for a long time; it didn't last forever, even though we both promised each other it would; my perception of myself was negatively affected; I'm rebuilding my self-esteem now, and I'm interested in how to avoid that damage in future relationships.

So I've noticed how often married people pick at each other. They deliver small criticisms with frequency in all sorts of conversation, publicly, in front of friends and relatives. Newly married couples do it. Couples married 50 years do it. Couples whose love and partnership I respect and admire do it. It's surprisingly universal, at least in my relatively small collection of empirical data.

And me, I internalized that criticism. I took the blame and built up a lot of resentment towards myself for not being able to be the man my wife wanted me to be, and towards her for not being the woman I wanted her to be. And towards her for not being satisfied with who I was. That's what I want to avoid in my future relationships: that moment when the honeymoon phase is over and the stars in the eyes have faded, when we begin to believe that we have the right to behave in a corrective manner toward this person that we love.

I want relationships with people who are happy with me and aren't focused regularly on ways that I should change. I want relationships with people with whom I'm happy and am not focused regularly on ways that I want them to change. If I'm in a relationship with someone who is not happy with who I am, I'd rather the relationship end than I begin to resent myself or her. I've done the resentment version of marriage. I never want to go back.

Is that impossible? Is it co-habitation, and not marriage, that makes us all snipe at each other? Is it just at root human nature to focus on the ways in which we want other people to be different from what they are right now? Or is it just that I'm the only one that took all those jabs to heart?

Friday, April 22, 2016

Continued

As I may have mentioned, I went from a monogamous relationship that lasted more than half my life to living single. From that perspective, dating seems like a strange solution to a strange problem. And the problem is not just physical intimacy, but the natural craving for companionship and emotional intimacy. There's not a quick and easy way to find those things, to find someone who fits well enough to make those things with me. So I make more or less random connections, hoping that one (or more) becomes real, that there's someone on the other end who matches up with me in some meaningful way. Every time I swipe right or optimistically send a message to a stranger, sometimes funny, sometimes earnest, sometimes tired and half-assed, I think of "A Noiseless, Patient Spider" by Walt Whitman:
A noiseless, patient spider,
I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.
And most of those filament, filament, filaments that I launch forth out of myself catch nowhere at all. There's probably a thorough science made of how attraction works in the various online dating apps. Often my magical words and charm are met with silence. Often my profile photo does not inspire anyone to swipe right on me. It is fascinating to me how different we all are, how different our experiences and likes and fears are. I ain't for everybody, certainly. Sometimes, though, the gossamer thread does catch somewhere. Sometimes I am told that I am "easy on the eyes" or that I "sparkle." I sparkle! Me and Robert Pattinson, we're like twins separated at birth!

When, now and then, those threads do catch, I'm stupefied by how quickly all my free time disappears. I always thought I had tons of it until I started filling it up. I'm scheduling casual interactions weeks ahead on my Google Calendar. I'm way behind on my blood donations, and I wouldn't be surprised if I've dropped from a Level 5 to a Level 4 this quarter. My weeks with my son are for him and me, so they're off the table for my social explorations, but still, with half my time I thought I had great swaths of evenings to fill. But in reality I have no time to drive for Lyft, my brilliant solution for additional money to afford my social life. So far I've given exactly 8 rides for a grand total of $37. That's not going to pay for many dates. And it was inevitable, but somehow I thought I'd avoid the pitfall of mixing up which plans I had with which women. Happily, when it finally did happen, all parties were already aware of each other and able to express feelings of awkwardness and hurt without making it more awkward and hurtful. Still. Embarrassing. I need a secretary. I make it sound like I have a harem of women clamoring for my attention. That's not at all the case, but I'm still juggling. I don't know how they do it, the guys who maintain two separate families, each completely unaware of the other, for years. I'd need an entire staff to help me keep up with all that.

So I've had first dates. Not so many seconds. I've been brushed off, blown off, and stood up. Now I'm involved with a woman (she was my second first date, and my first second date) with whom I've gone from "going on dates" to "dating" (we stopped counting after 6). She is exactly the person I was looking for when I started this weirdness: someone who is on board for the open relationship, who values openness and honesty, who derives as much value from this experience as I do. She's learning about herself and pushing her own boundaries, too. It's odd and refreshing and liberating to discover from very early on that it's not just OK, not just acceptable, but downright safe and desirable to be as direct and genuine as possible. About everything. About feelings! Madness!

Madness because still, with most of the people I meet or interact with online, it's all a dance. All of it. It's a performance. It's a manipulation. It's a test to see if we can pretend to be what we're not in order to attract someone we wouldn't. I was told by one of my first dates that maybe in the future I shouldn't tell the woman sitting at a table at a restaurant with me that one of my goals in life is to pick up a woman at a bar. Nope. I absolutely should tell her that. Because if she's not a willing and informed participant in the adventure as I intend to pursue it, then she should know as soon as possible that this particular adventure is not for her. Fair play all around! I'm not hiding a damned thing, and that's incredibly refreshing.

It's all much simpler than I would have guessed when I was conceiving of what it might be, and it's all much more complicated than I thought it would be when I actually started doing it. The feelings are real, and not always under the immediate control of the people who are having them. Feelings in general are messy and riotous and rebellious, and they don't listen to the calm and reasoned logic of the brains that they agitate with their messiness. I've more than once been surprised by the emotions passing through me and the physical sensations in my body when they do. I don't think I've ever before in my life gleefully texted somebody to say, "Huh! I think I might throw up!" because I was stunned to feel something that I thought I had logically processed right out of my soul. Nope! Your heart doesn't give a shit what your head has decided, and your body is more than willing to go along with the example your heart is setting, even while your brain is yelling, "Guys! Come on! This isn't what we talked about at all!"

The beauty of emotions, a beauty I already knew but am now beginning to really understand on a deeper level, is that they are always temporary. Every single one of them, the ones I want to stay forever and the ones I wish would never come back again. They may come and go, and maybe even many times, but no matter what, they will pass through me like a hot or a cold wind, and I will still be here, and still be me, when they've blown on down the road. I'm still here. I'm still me.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Why

I haven't labeled what I'm doing much. I haven't put it in my OK Cupid profile. Sometimes I think I should, though I'm going on the assumption that the act of online dating implies non-exclusivity in and of itself. I suppose it's best described as "in an open relationship."

It gets raised eyebrows sometimes when people ask me about it, and sometimes furrowed brows. I've been on the receiving end of high fives and fist bumps. Some of the conversations I've had are goofy, and some are thoughtful. A couple of people have mentioned the old adage of "If you love someone, set them free..." etc. One person told me, "It's like that old saying, only you're really doing it. Everybody says it, but nobody really does it. You're actually doing it. That's cool."

And it is cool. But I wanted to verbalize what it is I think I'm doing, and why.

For me, this is about two things most of all: fear and genuine human connection.

Fear


I have been afraid, and I have been dishonest because I was afraid. Fear has done more damage to my interpersonal relationships in the past than anything else. And the greatest fear of all? Fear of rejection. I have not been honest about who I am and what I want because I have tried to be and want what I thought other people wanted or expected. It didn't work. I was insecure because I couldn't know what they wanted, so I couldn't know who to be.

An open relationship brings that fear of rejection to the front and center of everything. I am reaching out and asking women to meet and interact with me to see where, if anywhere, it goes. Friendship? Romance? Rejection? It was a terrifying idea to me, reaching out. But now, already, only three weeks in, that particular fear is nearly gone, at least in the online realm of dating apps. I still haven't made that leap in person, but I have no fear of messaging women anymore. I have almost no fear or nervousness in meeting them for the first time. I've been rejected twice after first dates now, and even that wasn't the horrifying, embarrassing, or even mildly awkward experience I was afraid it would be. Both times, it was a "Fair enough. Best of luck to you!" sort of experience, and one of them even told me, "You are a gentleman, and you deserve to be happy!" How terrifying is that?

What I'm learning is that the world is full of an infinite variety of human beings. Some of these may be a good match for me in personality, temperament, humor, and taste. Many will not. If we are not a good match, then what's the harm? None, unless we arbitrarily determine that staying together is more important than being a good match, and then, damage is done to both of us. That's a silly path to take. So peace be with you! Go with God! Fare thee well!

Jealousy, too, is only fear of rejection. If the woman I love chooses to date other people, what shall I choose? To be afraid that she will find someone she likes better than she likes me? No. I can choose to set aside that fear response and look at it from a distance. She loves me. I love her. If we go on our separate adventures, just like anything else we may do separately, we can come back to each other and talk about it. We can each find in other people human characteristics that we do not find in each other, and that is part of the joy. Each person we meet, interact with, and connect with meaningfully will resonate within ourselves a different set of tones, and by discovering the differences in how we connect and relate with others, we discover truths about ourselves we would not otherwise have had the opportunity to bring into the light and examine. We have new pathways through others toward change and growth in ourselves.

Connection


That's the real treasure of this weird scavenger hunt I'm on: human connection. For me so far it's mostly been first dates, which is only the first step in developing connection, a first step with its own challenges, but it's a necessary first step. I've told and listened to tales meant to reveal something of who we are. How we tell and hear these tales is the beginning of a kind of connection that we as humans seem incapable of having with the hundreds and thousands of nameless strangers that surround us. It is the first step in humanizing The Other, in turning a Them into an Us, and it's a joy. And with second and third dates, it's an even greater joy to begin to see how that connection can, with openness, honesty, and a rejection of fear instead of a fear of rejection, begin to blossom and spread into something even more meaningful.

And the connection with the woman who started all of this for me has deepened, too. Maybe that's a surprise. Maybe not. When we come back together, missing each other and craving each other's company, we talk. And some of what we talk about is what we are learning about ourselves and each other through this process of opening up, reaching out, and connecting. That, in turn, brings a new and higher level of connection between us. And missing each other, by the way, is a wonderful thing. Being apart long enough to yearn for each other's company is far preferable to seeing each other so much that the connection becomes stale and taken for granted.

Bonus


The added bonus to all of this is that I'm finding that I really am losing interest in maintaining the relationships I have that don't fit, that provide no real connection, that make me feel bad about myself. And that's a relief. If you don't like me, that's fine. You don't have to. But I don't have to listen to you tell me all about why you don't. That that is a revelation to me says a lot about who I was and who I'm working to become.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Swimmingly

I suppose an update is an order, and really I should get that shameful obscenity out of the top spot on my little corner of the web here. So here ya go:

You may have heard: I'm dating. This is still a mind-boggling turn of events for me, but how many times exactly can I keep telling you that you met me at a very strange time in my life? I started with Tinder. I did communicate with a couple of women through it, but mostly it was silence. It was crickets chirping. It was the sound of one hand clapping. So I deleted my account. A friend told me, yeah, that's mostly for hook-ups. Even though all the women with profiles say they're not there for hook-ups. But notice that it wants your GPS location, and a whole lot of the women have no profile at all. So: current location + picture only = hook-ups. And I wasn't getting any of those. Not that I wanted those. At least, I don't think I did. A few more tests. (That's a reference to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Mom). (Yes, I just spoke parenthetically to my Mom while talking about hook-ups).

So I started using OKCupid. Because I'd heard of it. And because it also was free. But then I lost my mind and started paying for it anyway? Because I'm easily lead? Because I was in an internet-fueled feverish haze? Anyway, what was I saying again? Oh yeah. Dating. OKCupid. Right.

I was stunned to discover it worked. I made my profile. I answered my questions. I added my pictures. I browsed my "Matches." I sent messages. I got responses. If the banter went well, I asked women out. Some said yes. A couple even asked me out! It was madness. Pure madness.

So now I've gone on two first dates, with a third scheduled for tomorrow. I have my first second date on Saturday. I have no idea what's going on here. And that's OK!

I have to say, my favorite exchanges have been with women who've been on dating apps for a long time and feel qualified and justified in critiquing my approach. It probably has a name, talking about courtin' while courtin'. Meta courtin'? Meta dating? I don't know. It's hilarious. Experienced women love to take me under their wing. I'm a newb. I'm a rook. Ha ha!

Wait, what was I talking about again? Oh yeah. Here's the most amazing part of all of this: I did something that terrified me. And it was fun. And shows every sign of continuing to be fun. And (I notice this is a recurring theme in this blog) the thing that I feared most didn't come to pass. I was afraid that I would be unappealing to women, that I would attract no interest myself and all of my interest in others would be rejected. Looking back over the last week, I see now how silly that is. In the world of online dating apps, where a person is defined almost entirely by his words, I am a man who can use words well. That has appeal. I have appeal. Also, my fellow men have largely set the bar pretty low, as evidenced by the jaded comments women sometimes feel compelled to include in their profiles, like, "Don't message me if your profile pic is your chest or your crotch."

In the last year, I've had a dear friend with relevant life experience tell me that I would be happy again, when I was sure I would not. I've had an amazing, beautiful woman that I thought of as out of my league demand, "Are you going to kiss me or not?" And now I've asked several women out, and they said yes. I've asked one woman for a second date, and she said yes. My self-esteem has gone from completely bottomed out a little over a year ago to bobbing along at a pretty damned healthy level right now thank you very much, and I couldn't be happier about it.

If I keep dating, though, I'm going to have to get a second job to boost my disposable income. This social life business is expensive! But if I get another job, how will I have time for dating? Such a conundrum.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Fuck It, I Ain't Skeered

As long as I'm handing out advice about being unafraid, I've decided I'm going to do a few things that I wasn't doing for fear of what might happen. First among these is dating. I kind of stumbled into a new relationship almost as soon as I was available, which I didn't see coming at all. I was suddenly available after being faithfully committed to a monogamous relationship for over half my life, then true story: I was asked, after a few weeks of escalating flirtation, "Are you going to kiss me or not?" So I did. And she did. And the upshot is: I've done some flirting, but I've never really done the whole dating thing.  I met my ex-wife in my first year away from home at college. I have never in my life tried, successfully or unsuccessfully, to pick up a woman in a bar. Never. I've never been on any dating websites or used any apps. Never. Never! When I got involved with the woman who was getting tired of waiting for me to work up the nerve to kiss her, I was relieved in part because she's awesome and way more than I thought I deserved at the time, but also in part because the idea of putting myself out there and risking rejection was more than a little terrifying.

So I'm going to do it. Because it's terrifying.

I made a Tinder account two days ago, and it's already a weird mixture of hilarious and depressing. The profile of every fortyish woman in the Greater Austin Metropolitan Area contains the phrases "outdoors, hiking, and wine" as well as "looking for a partner in crime!" And for some reason, height is really important for a woman's Tinder profile. Should my height appear on my profile? Does it matter for men as much as it seems to for women? I'm 6'2". Does it matter that I'm 6'2"? I used to be 6'3", so I'm shrinking. Maybe that should be on my profile: 6'2" and shrinking. Fuck it, I'm going to go add that right now.

So I've done a lot of swiping. Which is getting pretty dull. I feel like a heel making straight up yes/no judgements on so little information, but I suppose that's the point. At first I kept screwing it up, left swiping when I meant to browse pictures. Right swiping when I meant to say, "Nope!" I mostly say no when there's no profile text at all. Saying absolutely nothing about yourself is an attraction strategy I don't really understand. I'm mis-swiping less now, but I think I did accidentally Super Like someone. I don't know what that means. I almost dropped my phone when I got my first match notification, then proceeded to immediately make an ass of myself when I messaged her. I think I did pretty well on my two other matches, but I still haven't heard from anyone.

So there's that. I'm dating. Or will be, if I can get a date. Even though I already have a woman in my life that's very high on the list of Best Things to Ever Happen to Me. Brave? Or stupid? Don't answer that.

Another thing I did because I'm pretty sure I was afraid of it was to invite that amazing woman to date other people, too, if she were so inclined. When we first got together, I told her that monogamy was important to me. On reflection, I thought I may have said that out of fear of competition, that if she put herself out there again, she'd find someone she likes better than she likes me. But fuck it, I ain't skeered. Who's better than me? I'm awesome! And if she finds someone who makes her happier, then more power to her. I want her to be happy. She's awesome, too!

Which all makes me solo poly? I guess? I'm Googlin' all sorts of acronyms, abbreviations, and other mysterious shorthand that appears in Tinder profiles. I'd never heard of solo poly until I saw it on my first night of swiping. I get that the poly part is polyamorous, having multiple relationships. I'm not clear on the solo part, though. I guess. Maybe that makes me fuzzy poly? Maybe I should wait until somebody actually responds to a message before I start wondering what all this makes me. Or maybe I shouldn't give a shit what it makes me. The acronyms are fun, though. There are a lot of personality types, like INFP and ENFJ, on Tinder profiles, which are apparently related to Jungian Functional Preference Ordering. I dozed off before I could slog through what exactly Jungian Functional Preference Ordering means, but it does give me a giggle to use phrases including the word "Jungian" in the same sentence as the word "Tinder."

Another was "6+4+3=2." The woman suggested in her profile that if I knew what that meant, I might have one up on the competition. So I Googled it. She and I were clearly not made for each other.

My favorite so far, though, was TDTF. I assumed it was another personality type. One profile said, among other things, "Please don't be TDTF." I tend to text in full sentences, so I didn't recognize it as texting shorthand. I Googled it, thinking it would be another of the personality types. Am I TDTF? I wondered. Turns out it stands for "Too Drunk to Fuck." Ah. Well! No problem there then. I have not, in fact, been TDTF in quite some time.

Next, I'm going to try hitting on a stranger in a public setting. Maybe a bar. Is it weird for a dude who doesn't drink to hang out in a bar trying to pick up women? If I have a Topo Chico in a glass with lime, who's to say it doesn't have a shot of something in there, right? Do fortyish women go to bars to be picked up? Ah, fuck it. I'm doing it. I ain't skeered.

I'm thinking of trying karaoke, too. And dancing in public. Why not? What's the worst that could happen?

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Be Not Afraid

Have you read "The Rise of American Authoritarianism" by Amanda Taub on Vox? It's making the rounds on social media, at least my social media. It's fascinating. I know nothing about her or the website that published her article, but... wow. Reading it creates in my head the sound of tumblers clicking as they fall into place.

And as these things do, it clicks because it meshes with recent experience in my own life. Not political experience. Nothing to do with Donald Trump, or immigration. But still, it was an experience of fear of The Other taking from me what I see as my own, my right. My experience has no place here, as it is not my story to tell, for the most part. Let it suffice that my "other" is just a blowhard drunkard (read: douche!), not the specter of a horde of inhuman invaders (read: Muslims, LGBQT, atheists, environmentalists, etc.) whose values are terrifyingly foreign to my own experience. Although that particular douche is, in my mind, inhuman. And his values are as foreign to me as they could be. But still!

What I noticed in my own experience is this: the fear was more real than the reality. The possible was more real than the actual. As such, it was not a possibility, it was a certainty. And thus it demanded something from me: a response, a prevention. Action!

Does this make me authoritarian? God, I hope not.

What my own fear experience taught me, though, is a lesson I should have learned before now, because I've had this epiphany before, particularly when I gave up reading What to Expect When You're Expecting about a third of the way through, when little Thumper was still a bun in the oven: the fear experience can be nearly orgasmic. The pomposity of feeling like you're expertly preparing for the thing you fear is also nearly orgasmic.

But! The thing you fear and prepare for is likely not the thing that will happen, and the thing that will happen is likely not the one for which you prepared. And obsessed. And worried. And drove yourself to ecstatic levels of stress and anxiety imagining.

Don't read that book, by the way. If you're expecting, don't expect all those worst-case scenarios. Expect joy, instead. Deal with what comes, if it comes, as it comes. But don't read the book first. It preys on fear. It profits by the uncertainty of the inexperienced and their powerful desire to be ready for whatever experience may be coming.

But! That's the nature of life. You can't be prepared for every possible experience that is approaching you from beneath the curve of the horizon. Besides, if you did know with certainty that the worst-case scenario was actually coming, would that make you any more prepared, really?

And here's the thing: in some of those cases, the fear itself brings about the very experience of which you were afraid.

For instance: the military industrial complex, of which Eisenhower warned us, employs over decades the rhetoric of fear of Islamic fundamentalism (which, by the way, is to Islam as the KKK is to Christianity) to help justify and build support for what is largely a gigantic money grab. So for fear of Islamic fundamentalism spreading across the globe and attacking us at home, we approve of putting boots on foreign ground and everything that entails, which engenders a deep hatred of us globally even beyond the existing Islamic fundamentalists and fuels the growth of fundamentalism, providing new motivation for exactly the kind of attacks on American soil of which we were originally afraid. Which makes us more afraid.

Oversimplified? Yes, of course. But to some degree, we fueled, because we were terrified, the growth of the very thing that terrified us, and now we're even more afraid.

So is fear the answer? Is voting for Trump going to make anything better? Instead, be not afraid. Be not afraid of the Mexican immigrant. Be not afraid of the protestor who wants only for his child to have as little chance of being murdered as your child does. Be not afraid of the woman on the bus who has covered her hair out of the same kind, if not the same flavor, of piety that motivates you as a good Christian church-goer. Be not afraid of the sex lives of those that aren't having sex with you. Be not afraid of those who suggest that unrestrained consumerism may, in fact, be ultimately destructive. Be not afraid that the weed will lead to the heroin will lead to the children dying in droves, impaled on the pikes of syringes on every street corner. Do not dehumanize the other, nor fear his values, though they seem on the surface foreign to your own.

Please don't vote for Trump. Forgiving for the moment that he speaks in sentences and thinks in patterns far less complex, sophisticated, and nuanced than even my 8-year-old does, remember always that a political leader cannot defeat your fears. Only you can. Instead of fearing, live. You do you. I'll do me. Let each of us be calm. Take deep breaths. Meditation is good for that. So is yoga. But hey, I'm not militant, so if that's not your thing, that's cool.
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