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Lusty Lady

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

the wisdom to know the difference

I have to preface this entire post by acknowledging the uncertainty I have about even writing any of this for public consumption. Dating someone who makes their living as a blogger only exacerbates that tension. I am highly cognizant that it’s a fine line I walk, and yet I’m also really way way over trying to worry about what anyone, no matter how close they are to me, thinks of the way I express myself. Part of what I’ve been plagued with this year is this gigantic fear about every word that leaves my fingertips, which has gotten me in a hell of a lot of trouble. But I notice that when I don’t get it down, here or in my journal or wherever, it eats at me, creeps into my days, my nights, my dreams. Messes with me, almost taunts me for being so fearful, and I can’t live like that anymore. Especially on the brink of my birthday, I feel like I have to start listening to myself a little bit more and all that loud, obnoxious, self-defeating noise a lot less. So that being said…

Last night I went home and voted, breezing in and out of the school where I vote. Then I got sucked into the internet, enthralled by art of Barack Obama made up of 1,240 cupcakes (photo of the day today on Serious Eats!) and a link to my Sarah Palin erotica site from Boing Boing. I didn’t make it to the Housing Works party my friend Rachel Fershleiser was organizing until a little before 11. It was kindof slow, and I was antsy. There was no Internet, so I got tea and black bean soup and said hi to my old friend Brian.

Then, in a moment, everything kindof exploded. I didn’t realize it would happen so fast. As much as I am good at math and can count, seeing all that red on the screen was disconcerting. But then we watched McCain awkwardly concede (he started off strong but then basically imo said it was a victory for black people, which is bullshit--Obama’s win is a victory for all of us). The room was cheering and I snuck off to look at books, because, well, we were at a bookstore and they were $3 each. Needless to say, I found a bunch and will post about them later, and my bookstore shopping habits.

Finally, after Obama's speech, I went home and then the night took a turn for the not so cheerful. I called J.--we’d been trading text messages--and you’d have thought McCain had won or something. There was nary a word about Obama’s win or its significance except that he was worried about how far toward the center Obama had gone. He was upset, rightly so, about Prop 8 and its prospects. “How can we be in favor of treating animals better but not granting rights to gay people?”

I am not at all saying he was wrong to be upset about that outcome--of course it’s horrific and is being fought--but, it was a shock, and not what I expected, and it wasn’t the first conversation we’d had like that. By the time I got off the phone, and certainly by this morning, I felt pretty sure that our politics are too different to sustain us--again, not the first time I’ve harbored such a suspicion.

It was more than that, though. J. reminds me achingly, powerfully, eerily of my dad. It’s not a physical resemblance, and I think you’d have to know each of them well to see some of the similarities, the thought patterns, and I do. Sometimes it’s something banal, seemingly random, and other times it’s this sense of déjà vu that sets off butterflies, and not the good kind, in my stomach. Butterflies that I know, despite my heart, are trying to warn me of something. I realized that there are going to be more elections, many more of them, in my/our future, and it wasn’t just my own discomfort with the turn the conversation took, but a realization that that’s not what I want for my children. I grew up with a very anti-establishment, cynical, outsider/loner parent, in direct contrast with both his brother and my other parent, and I’m only starting to see now the effect that had on me. It’s painful because I love my father dearly and can’t imagine having another person as my father, but like all of us, he’s flawed and only when I step way back do I see how some of those idiosyncrasies have wormed their way into my brain, my behavior. They aren’t irreparable, certainly, and I’m not blaming him for my own host of issues, but I don’t want to create those same patterns for my children.

And I think the Serenity Prayer is applicable both to politics and, perhaps more challengingly, to relationships. Because every time I come across areas where we differ greatly, where I’m not sure at all how to resolve those differences, or if there is any way to, I’m reminded that pretty much the only thing I’ve learned is that the only person I can be responsible for is myself. The only perspective I can change, right now, is my own. To want someone to change some fundamental part of themselves is asking for trouble and a direct route to many futile, fruitless hours.

Yet I do, fundamentally, believe people can change. I always thought that about someone I was very close with who had an eating disorder, but, like with my dad, it took an internal change to create an external one, and anyone else is just a bystander, an outsider. That process could take years, or forever, or never, and that most frustrating thing for me as an outsider is having no control over it, no say. I get it a little better now, and maybe have put up a little bit of a wall after S., to try to prevent myself from getting too close to people lest I start to think I can have more of an impact than is actually possible. I so easily sink into that world of trying to help, to fix things that maybe nobody, certainly not me, can fix, and in th process forget that my own flailing world needs some TLC, pronto.

One of the things I struggle with daily is how to approach the things I know I need to change, but don’t know how to. Often it seems that I can’t, that they are just Too Much. Nevermind Lewis Carroll’s Six Impossible Things, before breakfast or otherwise; I’ll take one, even just once in a while.

I’m sure the things that frustrate and upset us about other people are equivalent to the things that frustrate and upset us about ourselves, and sometimes I feel like I have no right to judge anyone else because I am so utterly flawed. I’m a mess, and lately it doesn’t take much scratching beyond the surface to reveal that. I’m a jumble of lost keys and lateness and missed deadlines and exhaustion and failure. And sometimes I think that’s all I’ll ever be, but I try my best to rise above that and at least believe there is a better future out there. Maybe I’m dead wrong, and there’s not, but if there’s not, I don’t want to know. And it felt to me like there was no point in even talking, even trying, and yet another challenge of the long distance relationship is working around moments like those. I wish and hope that I have it in me to do that, but the truth is, I’m not sure I do.

Someone on this The Frisky thread accused me of making it all about me, and to some extent, it's a valid criticism, except that is a Dealbreaker column about what is a dealbreaker for you, and, well, if we don't put ourselves first in our relationships, where does that get us? The gorgeous and amazing Hitha has been asking me, essentially, why we settle for things in our personal lives, Lori Gottlieb-style, that we'd never settle for professionally, and I don't have a good answer except to say that once your heart gets involved, somethings your own rock-bottom needs start to seem less important, or more malleable. It's not so crystal clear what's right and wrong, what is healthy and what's not, whose values matter most. In other words, even thinking some of the things I have been makes me feel like a selfish bitch. But just as with The Frisky thing, I am not saying anyone is wrong for having feelings or opinions. Those are yours, to own and embrace and grapple with, if need be. It's not that feelings or opinions are wrong (how could they be when they are of course so individual and subjective?) but that they may not mesh well, if at all, with another person's. Is someone to blame in that situation? I don't think so. I'm not saying that's totally the case here, but there was a giant disconnect for me last night, a hollowness that wound up staying with me till, well, now, tonight.

I tried to joke that I was going to go read The Get-Your-Man-to-Marry-You Plan (which I am reading, but to assess, not to follow) and was met with total silence, so I said goodnight and flipped through the book and eventually put my head down on my giant Hello Kitty pillow and tried to sleep. I woke up so ill at ease from the whole thing, unable to contain that depressing conversation in the same space as the international overjoyousness literally spilling into the streets and the Internets and everywhere. I wanted to contain them, because above all, I want to be someone he, or anyone I care deeply about, can talk to, and that I can accept him wherever he is, even if I don't necessarily agree. But I just didn’t and don’t know if I’m strong enough to keep having those kinds of conversations, and I’m not stupid enough to think the world will magically transform itself into some happy place free of prejudice overnight to warrant that. So I’m back to basically praying and reflecting and trying to figure out how, if at all, we can merge our lives, or if that task is way too daunting for the likes of little old me. Right now I have no idea.

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At November 05, 2008, Blogger Gail said...

Wow, Rachel. Love this post. I relate to much of it and I've been married a long time (as you know) and am writing my new book about marriage and intimacy. Would love to discuss this with you further at some point. I think you have my e-mail. xoxo

At November 05, 2008, Blogger Rebecca Walker said...

Hey-great post. I hear you sister. None of it easy. Not to make light of the post, but it's def good you got some good books. They can do wonders, especially yours, in bed.

At November 05, 2008, Anonymous Mike in Albany said...

When you are in a romantic relationship, or at least trying to develop one, it is critically important to you to make every possible connection with the other person and to make each connection as strong as possible. This desire forces you to be open to new ideas, with the possibility that you might be willing to alter your outlook and your perspective as you learn from the other person's experience.

Each person develops his or her opinions based on his or her life experiences. When you find yourself unable to solidify any of those connections because your opinions clash, emotions start to run high. Maybe it would help to step back and get clinical. The other person's opinions have back story. Maybe even a lifetime's worth of back stories accumulated. It may not be possible to remember and to retell every episode.

It is a simple fact that you have valid reasons for your convictions and the other person has valid reasons for his convictions. It is also possible that in each of your own experiences there are facts that the other person does not have. And adding facts that are inconsistent with one's own viewpoint will certainly challenge one's deeply held convictions.

Such convictions become part of your own makeup, so they are personal. Any challenge to those convictions can be upsetting.

Your situation is exacerbated by the fact that this is a long distance relationship. Your time together is limited by the fact that you are not actually face-to-face in the room, but on the phone and on the Internet. So you have to compress all your communication into neat little packages. This makes it difficult for each of you to fully explain why you feel a certain way about an issue.

It is also tough to try to convince somebody to change a believe that has been held for a very long time. People tend to become defensive when somebody tries to do that.

Is that what is happening? It is hard to get closer to somebody who is being defensive and resisting a challenge.

At November 06, 2008, Blogger NookieNotes said...

It is hard when the fears grab a hold and shake. That is when I most want to have "that" conversation, get that reassurance...

Yet, it is the time I am least capable of actually receiving the reassurance, so I push the person I wanted close even further away.

That was my pattern. Took me years to realize it. I have more still left to keep me company, but I sent that one packing.

You will find your center. This will look like a wise post full of portents, or it will not. One thing that will not change in perspective is the hug I'm leaving.

We all need them sometimes. *smiles*

At November 06, 2008, Blogger Ichael said...

I love this post.

Long distance relationships are really difficult. You don't always have the body language clues to help out in communication. And part of that communication isn't just sharing beliefs and ideals but also seeing when someone needs more or less from you in a moment or just being able to reach out put your arm around them.

I have so many thoughts on what I want to have in a healthy relationship, but for me it's not about finding someone who agrees with me on stuff, but someone who's perspective I can appreciate and find loving and intelligent who can also do the same for me. Everyone's ideas are going to evolve over time, so we need to be able to have mutual admiration for the way we think and change, not just some big compromise of our individual momentary beliefs.

I better stop before I start blabbering about relationship "teammates" and such. Good luck with sorting this thru, I don't envy your position. Long distance is something really difficult to navigate.

At November 07, 2008, Blogger Lisa Williams said...

I thought this post was very wise, and I agree that it's complicated.

If we saw a friend doing something self defeating, like, giving up an opportunity to be happy because pessimism feels familiar, it's easier to tolerate it and not take it personally. In a romantic relationship, it can be very painful to watch the person suffer, and frustrating that the person won't choose not to go to that familiar place, won't choose to be happy or share your happiness.

I'm sort of feeling my way toward a thought here, but I think in romantic relationships we give each other some amount of permission to change each other in a way that we don't allow in other relationships. If that's true, it makes it more difficult to know when we should stop trying to change the other person, or adapt ourselves to them.

At November 13, 2008, Blogger Nick said...


This is a powerful confession post of yours. I admit I don't have all the knowledge you do about your or this fellow's politics, but it sounds like he was just upset about centrism.

If you're not a centrist yourself, then you may find common ground there eventually -- even if you had different reactions in that one historical moment.

I reacted the same way to Obama, because I am a proud "political extremist". You might have picked up on that from my website at


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