So a friend expressed surprised that I’m in a relationship and in an email said something to the effect of, that they knew I was trying to spend the year celibate and that struck me as, well, not really correct.
The more accurate thing to say is that I was sick of sleeping with people I wasn’t in a committed relationship with, and I didn’t think I could do justice to a committed relationship, so I was giving up both sex and dating until I turned 36. That was a great plan and I have mixed feelings about abandoning it. I don't have mixed feelings about the relationship I'm in, but reconciling my big goals for this year with trying to accomplish them while in a relationship is a challenge. A good one, actually, but it's a different challenge than trying to accomplish them by my stubborn self.
It wasn’t so much a rejection of sex and dating as such, as my ability to partake of them and also work on myself. I felt like such a mess, a failure on every front, and I wanted to systematically tackle all the Big Issues, the extra weight, the debt, the messy apartment, my chronic lateness, my inappropriate attachments. I fell into what felt like a very deep hole, and in November and December, it felt like only the already happily in love with perfect partners people were telling me they loved me, and I was instead sleeping with people who’d never love me no matter what I did. There was something so nauseating about that equation to me, so deeply, utterly wrong, and it hit me pretty strongly. I could see how easily I built fake, false attachments, how easily I’d be ready to give up anything and everything on the vague off chance someone might, I don’t know, smile at me. That’s how it felt, anyway. And in the meantime I didn’t even want to look at myself, really, up close, both literally and figuratively.
So I thought taking that almost-a-year, rather than keeping up with bad dating decisions and lusting after the most unavailable people possible as an avoidance of Real Life strategy, was a good way to go. Or at least, it seemed the only thing possible when I kept hitting rock bottom over and over, when I couldn’t seem to stop myself from failing to a point where I could not see an escape from the failure. That was all I saw and felt, guilt, failure, a sense of wrongness not just about the situations, personal and professional, I kept willingly going toward like a moth to a flame, but a sense of wrongness about myself. I hated that person and I sure as hell couldn’t see anyone else liking her, and if they did, they were probably even stupider than I was. I also just wanted to be alone for more than a few hours a day. I just couldn't, for a while there, even fake smiling and laughing and pretending everything was okay when it seemed like all I was doing was disappointing people, myself first and foremost. There wasn’t enough solitude when I was trying to turn myself into everyone’s good-time girl, into some amalgamation of who I thought the people whose beds I climbed into wanted me to be. I think on some level I truly believed that those fleeting moments with them would fix me, by, like, osmosis. Without the hard work. Without the introspection. Without patience. Or maybe it was more that when I was with them I didn't have to care as deeply about the bombs blasting at my career. I could forget, even though it was always, always there. I knew I’d never be like the seemingly perfect lady who haunted my dreams. I knew that and yet I still hated myself for being older, fatter, uglier, all the pejoratives I could think of.
I was trying to start over, to wipe, if not my entire past clean, then as much as I could. To heal and cleanse and figure out who I am if I’m not the girl writing the book, not the girl pining away, who I might be as the girl with everything in its place. And the thing is, I am still trying to figure all that out. It’s scary to take my clothes off in front of someone else when most days I just want to leap forward to what I think of as the magical age of 36 and not weigh so much, not be so indebted, so disorganized, so everything-I-hate-about-myself. But I decided that maybe it’s possible to work on myself and be in a relationship at the same time. Actually “decide” sounds much more deliberate than how it happened, but I did somewhere along the way make that decision.
I am a little nostalgic for that single time, because it was the first time in literally years that I was genuinely happy to be single, that I wasn’t single-but-looking, single-but-crushed-out, single-and-blaming-myself-for-it. I was just single=. I was also trying to figure out big things, like if New York is really a good fit with me, and if I truly want to be a writer, or just someone who dabbles in it. I was trying to figure out how to set realistic goals, rather than doomed-to-fail ones. I was trying to forgive myself and those around me. I was trying not to have crazy breakdowns where I throw butter on the street and cry.
So I really don’t have any conclusions. I haven't figured most of those things out but I'm trying to be a little less all-or-nothing in the way I approach them. Unlike my past relationships or even minor flirtations, where in my head I made the most outrageous, unrealistic leaps of logic and fantasy, I’m pretty much taking both my life and work and relationship one day at a time. To do otherwise would feel crushing at a time when I am trying hard to distress, to de-dramatize, to not reach that overloaded point where I have a public fit like I did before that kindof awful, kindof wonderful trip to DC. It is so easy for me to look at myself and only see the flaws, the failures, the money I didn’t make because I didn’t write X, or the things I could’ve been doing rather than thinking person Y liked me more than they did, or whatever. I have so much I’m still working on and I know it’s a lifelong endeavor, I’m not going to turn into a swan on November 10th.
I’m trying to be a little more optimistic than is my usual bent and when I’m not, I’m trying to break it down for myself into even the tiniest parts, like instead of taking the subway two stops, I walk. That is not going to lose me the pounds I'm going for, but it’s healthy. It’s literally a first step. It clears my head, it makes me feel proactive. I’m letting myself spend $7 on green juice because I feel really fucking awesome when I drink it. I’m trying to spend the energy I usually would berating myself for not submitting a piece to Z book by instead just writing a piece for the next one on the list.
I’m trying not to be such a walking basket case that I scare the people away who care about me. It’s definitely more vulnerable to try to do even a fraction of these things while in a relationship. I hate cracking open that shell and exposing myself, despite the fact that I’m writing this post. There’s still a distance, a veneer, with a computer screen, or a piece of paper, that I don’t have in person. At the same time, I’m learning from the person I’m seeing and trying to both think and live a little more sanely, calmly, to, as best I can, put aside my catastrophizing and just be in the moment. I’m not naturally good at that, but I’m hoping I can be more patient and empathetic with myself and other people while not using that as an excuse to wallow in all the messes I’m so good at creating. There’s a long slog ahead, especially because some of these things I'm tackling have been going on since at least 1999 when I yanked my life out of one course and steered it toward this course.
So, I don’t know what happens next. I do know that I feel healthier than I did at the start of this year, that having some of the pressure lifted means there is space to figure out what I actually want to do and to try to live up to that, not for anyone else, because that is a road to ruin, but for myself. To live up to my dreams, simply because I dreamt them, not for money or to keep up with anyone else or because it "looks good." I'm getting there, slowly, very slowly, but surely. I'm away that this post applies none of the lessons I’ve been absorbing in Adair Lara’s Naked, Drunk and Writing, which is like my new writing bible, about how to hone in on what you are truly trying to get at. There is no point or real story here except that sex, or its absence, are honestly the least of what's standing in my way. It wasn't sex that was the enemy but me. That I see pretty clearly with the clarity of hindsight. I was so eager to get in my own way it was almost eerie. So unlike the essay on Jewish mothers and the essay on shame I have committed to writing, with this meandering post I don’t know what my tone is or even what my conclusion is. But I wanted to say it anyway.