Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Beginning

Four years ago I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

About 2 months prior, after my friend Katherine suggested it, I had begun to use OkCupid to meet people. I had decided I actively wanted to seek dates and see how it worked. I'd never tried online dating, but here's the thing, I had a bad habit.
Out of all my guy friends, I've dated most of them. I don't know if this is actually "bad," but it certainly has the possibility of making things awkward. Luckily for me, most of my friends have been really cool about it and have maintained a friendship with me with little to no ill effect. Because, I suppose, I believe a good friendship is the best basis for a good relationship, male friends would often become attractive to me and/or would continue to be attractive as friends after a relationship didn't work out.
But, there is (as always) a cost to this. Not only does this run the well dry, so to speak, it also had the negative effect that having dated (and not been successful) with those guys and being somewhat infamous around here, word had spread about me since I was 17. There are still people who believe I am the ridiculous spaz I was when I was a kid. I'm 28. It's been over 10 years.... let's move on, shall we? So sometimes, when I would meet someone new, it was always because they were a friend of someone else.... and had heard about me from them. And possibly even heard about my divorce. That doesn't mean they all thought poorly of me, or even acted negatively about that information... but that information is still there. I was tired of meeting people who thought they had some idea of who I am. (Nowadays, it's amusing to do so, because I can either act like I meet their expectations, or completely confuse them. But that's irrelevant here.) When it comes to dating, you don't want all those notions. Since I'm not really into the bar scene, and school meant most of the guys were significantly younger than me, I decided the best way to meet people who hadn't heard of me or had preconceived ideas about me was through the internet.

If you're not familiar with OKC, I'll give you a quick description of how it works (and a high recommendation because the whole thing makes a lot more logical sense than other sites). There's lots of ways to meet people, but the biggest ones are just setting up search parameters and browsing, or using "quick match." What I liked the best about OKC is that it's free. Seriously. They have a paid option, but all it really does is remove ads. Otherwise, it's fully functioning. You can do a few things to help your profile be searched by potential friends and mates. You can answer a virtually endless supply of questions, many of which are user generated (reviewed to keep from being repetitive). These run the gamut of serious to silly, from asking how you feel about controversial issues like gay marriage and abortion, to asking you "WHAT is your quest?" (The correct answer is obviously "To seek the Holy Grail!") But even more important about these questions is that OKC follows each question with two more. First, what answer would your ideal mate give, and second, how important is this question to you? When talking about nerdy things or political issues I strongly believe in, I'd say it's high in importance that their answer match mine. But someone else might not care about politics. See how much sense that makes? These questions then make percentages that you see when viewing other profiles. Romantic match, friends match, and enemy match. I usually aimed to keep my romantic matches over 85%. And you can set up your search parameters to include that. You also can take quizzes to see how others match up to your results, and a few other tools create search parameters to browse. You can read their whole profile, check their interests, pictures, "stats" (things like if they're a cat or dog person, if they smoke, use drugs, drink, have a job, etc), and if you so choose, send em a message and see if it fruits anything. The other way to meet people is called Quick Match. You click on the option, and it gives you the abbreviated version of their profile, your percentage match, and their primary profile picture, and you give them a quick rating on a 5 star scale. If you rate someone a 4 or higher, they get a notification that someone has done so. But they aren't told who. They simply have to do the same thing and the profile who rated them high will be somewhere in the first few profiles they view. If you BOTH rate each other a 4 or higher, you'll both get a notification and are encouraged to speak to one another.

The second is how Alan & I got matched. I rated him first, he was exactly my type. Scrawny, ginger, geeky and cute, and then he picked me out of the random sampling to rate high as well. And then HE messaged me. Though his confidence was lacking because he opened with "So it seems we both rated each other high, and that doesn't happen to me very often, I figured I should say hi."
Awwwwww. <3
My favorite thing on his profile was the portion marked "The first thing people usually notice about me is: That I'm really tall, I'm 6'4"! :D" I like me some tall dudes. I'm kind of tall myself, I don't like towering over guys.

But getting him to actually come out and meet me was quite an exercise. We probably spoke online for 3-4 weeks before our first date. I kept urging him to come and meet me out at Denny's or some other innocuous public place. He kept waving it off saying it takes him a while to meet people in person from the internet. I shrugged it off. I had a few other dates as well in this time period, so I wasn't worried, but I did want to meet this guy.

Finally, the final week of the year, both of us had plans fall through for NYE, and this was finally enough time (and fb stalking) for Alan to meet me. He suggested I come to his place to watch movies.
I know, I know, go to some stranger's house alone, I'm dumb.
But I felt pretty confident that I could handle myself if something happened. I'm pretty good at telling when a situation is going poorly.
And the day finally came around. I had some running around to do earlier in the day, including stopping in to see my grandpa. My grandmother had died a little over a month before, and we were all trying to make an effort to check in on him and chat, it kept his spirits up. So I stopped in to see him. My grandpa is really old fashioned and is a huge worrier. When X left me, mom made me tell him myself and this resulted in a 30 minute phone call in which he asked me over and over why I wasn't trying harder to change his mind, why was I getting divorced (even though I tried to tell him X left me, it wasn't my choice), and moaning about all his children who've been divorced, and now his grandchild. Frustrating, but I try to remember it's because he loves me and wants me to be happy. But as I sat speaking to him about how he & grandma used to spend NYE, he asked me if I had any plans. I told him I had a date that evening.

He was quiet for a moment, and then asked me, "How do you know he's the one?"

The divorce had only happened earlier this same year. It was still pretty recent. I had to stop myself from being really offended and just snapped back with "I don't, that's why I'm going on a date. I haven't even met the guy."

He didn't really say much about it after that. We spoke about other things, and then I left. I went home, got ready, and then drove over to Alan's apartment. Which turned out to be 5-10 minutes down the road. Practically around the corner.
Go figure.
I called him when I pulled into the parking lot of his apartment complex to find which building was his and where I should park. I was shocked by how deep his voice was, since his pictures just gave me the impression of the scrawny kind of dweeb. I almost thought I'd dialed the wrong number, but seeing as we'd been texting for a week, I knew it wasn't wrong. We hadn't spoke yet, though, so his voice was quite a shock. When I finally got up to his apartment, he was in the middle of playing a level of God of War.
I was working at a video rental place at the time, so once we got past our awkward introductions, and I politely let him finish the level he was on (I understand man!), we decided our plans for the evening would be to go use my free rentals on some movies and games (he had a PS3, which I wasn't super familiar with, but he DID have Rock Band, and gorram if I don't love me some Rock Band!), and make dinner at his place. We picked up Lego Rock Band, a few movies, and headed back. Alan made me a nice alfredo pasta for dinner, we played some games, and sat on his couch and watched movies. Because I wasn't keeping track of the time, we missed when the new year rolled over, because Alan hadn't thought it was a big deal. When I had noticed, I told him happy new year, and he said the same and that was it.
I was totally into this guy, but he seemed so uncomfortable.
And then I realized he was so awkwardly cute. Because he was almost the text book definition of a nerd. Online dating had been his choice because the internet made him comfortable. He kept suggesting another movie for us to watch in order to get me to stay, rather than just telling me. And he wouldn't make a move if I wasn't more obvious. So my first move was to sit closer on the couch and make contact. Once that happened, he relaxed a little bit. Finally, when one movie ended, and he began looking at his collection of dvds to suggest another, I leaned into his line of sight and told him "You can kiss me, you know?" He kind of blinked at me, got a little flushed and said, "Oh!"

That was our first kiss, lol. Adorable. We watched a few more movies, and he started to loosen up and got to talking. We realized we did know a few of the same people, but not enough that he had ever heard about me. BUT enough of those people who did know him I knew I could trust their opinions, and later they all confirmed what a great guy he was. We stayed up until 7 am talking and laughing, and then I headed home. On New Year's Day, Alan met me out for dinner at Red Robin, in a snow storm, before I had to head in to my very first shift at the job I have hated the most (midnight janitor at a movie theatre), and we saw each other every day for nearly the next month.

The first year was a lot of growing pains. It turned out that Alan's struggle with anxiety was more than just his general geeky awkwardness and may have been a factor in him not maintaining any real long-term relationships before me. As I came to understand more and more of his dating hang ups, I taught him that not every problem means we have to break up, that some differences can be solved and worked through. And he learned that there are some issues which I will never change my mind on, and as we dated, he became more vocal about what he believed as well. We grew and challenged each other, and we both learned a lot about what an adult relationship means. I learned when to give space, and Alan learned when to get close. And we have fit together like a puzzle ever since.

I knew I had found something special that New Year's 4 years ago. I didn't know how special yet, but I knew he was important.

Thank you, Alan, for being exactly what I was looking for, and more than I ever thought I deserved. <3

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Wedding Video!

So here it is, our wedding video! I'm so excited to share this with all of you!



Mad props to our videographer, Tyler Clark. I highly recommend him if you're looking for a videographer for ANY function in the NE Ohio area. Love this video SO MUCH.

But not only is this VIDEO awesome, look at the awesome packaging it was delivered to us in!!








Saturday, November 9, 2013

Married Isolation

This blog began as a way to help me deal with the possibility, then reality of getting married a second time. Now that I am married, I imagine more posts are going to deal with being married. I'm sure that the fact that it is my second marriage will be relevant to some posts and irrelevant to others.

This is one where it will be irrelevant. 

So let's talk about marriage. 
It's really funny, with all the pressure there is to get married (check), to have a wedding (especially that it should be a GOOD wedding), to do all the "right" things like buying a house (check), a nice car (check), a college degree (check) or two (in progress), and have kids (future plans), how isolating these things suddenly become. How much they segment us from each other. 

Hilariously, even with this being my second marriage, I am still the only one in my immediate friend circle that is married, and honestly, I'm about the only one even in a long-term relationship. I have some people in the secondary friend ring that are married or in long-term relationships, and perhaps I should reach out more to those people, but that's not exactly my point here. I laugh every time I see people complaining on facebook about how "all my friends are married or have kids." Only a portion of my friends are one or both of those things. And my best friends cannot seem to relate to my position in life at this point. And it's beginning to isolate me, it seems. 

My best friend Katherine told me something beautiful once, that Alan & I are what everyone else strives for. With all the struggle that Alan & I face with each other, I have to admit I think we really do have something unique and special. So when someone else tells me that we are a goal that others reach for, it makes me feel good about us and about what we do for our friends. I hope with a large part of my being that we make a good example of a solid relationship. No partnership, platonic, business, or romantic, is without turbulence and strife, but we work hard to love and respect one another. 

But now it begins to isolate me a bit. I remember bits of this when X and I were married/engaged, and it's coming back now, but sometimes I worry that people think "Oh now that they're married, things are different," and it feels like we're not as relevant as we were even a few months ago before we were married. I don't actually think people are actively excluding us, but sometimes I feel like things have still changed. I can't even totally put my finger on it.

And in the process of trying to make new friends, I feel like my marriage is somehow tainting others' view of me as well. I am in my Master's program now, and I am struggling to make any connections with my fellow classmates. I have made attempts to hang out or go to social functions, but I kind of feel like it hasn't made a difference. They all post to Facebook about cool things they are doing together, and I feel like maybe I'd get invited out once in a while if I was single still. I don't want to be single, but I do desperately want a relationship with the people I'll be sharing classes with for the next two years. I was repeatedly told what good friends I would gain from this experience, and it's not to say there aren't people I really enjoy being around or who haven't been incredibly kind and reached out to me, but I still feel isolated. One of my classmates suggested it was because I am married, while agreeing that it is a stupid reason to not be included. And I know that I can't force friendships, and I cannot make people love or even like me. But seeing as I spend so much time with them, I want to feel like I belong with them.

And with so many new changes around me, not just my personal changes, but some of the changes in my other friends' lives, changes in their relationships with me and with each other, I feel my role in their lives diminishing. I feel unneeded and obtrusive. My concern has begun to feel unwanted, when before it had been so welcomed. It is hard to adjust to being someone else in the eyes of your friends, and I genuinely wonder how much my marriage has to do with that. Or my continued education. Or any other number of factors that are changing around me. But it feels like I am losing my grip these days. I thought I had all this turmoil from May under control, but it keeps rearing its ugly head to remind me. Much like the scar on my leg, I very much doubt it will ever truly abate. A constant reminder of a failure I should have seen coming.

Marriage is an amazing thing. If you ask me how married life is, often I will smile and say great, because it is. Alan proves, now more than ever before, how much he loves me and believes in me. He has really worked hard to try and provide stability in all my flux and emotional breakdowns. I have never believed more in another human being than I do in him, and I have never believed more in a relationship in my life than I do now. But Alan cannot be everything for me. No one can. That is why we form friendships, why we have different friends, different types of friends! Because we have needs in our social lives that no one person can fulfill. Your married friends still need you to be their friend. They still need you to have the same ear to listen and shoulder to laugh and cry on as before! Maybe even more than before. As I am adjusting to so many new things, I need my best friends more than I ever did before. And I want them to continue to come to me for whatever they are dealing with as well. I never feel better than I do when I am helping a friend, by listening, giving advice, or just being there. If I can do that for people, I feel like I can handle anything else. But the sudden lack of need for me is making me feel less than capable I guess. 

I had hoped to make a point out of all this blather, and I hope that you got one from it. I suppose the point is, that no matter what changes your friends' lives are going through, it is likely that it is still important for friends to come around and continue their relationships as before. Change doesn't mean changing friends, it means needing a little extra support from your friends to make that adjustment. So if your friends are going through a change, don't just assume you're not needed anymore, assume you're needed more than ever.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Games We Play (?)

If we take a more cynical, pessimistic view on the world, one might begin to believe that we all are simply playing a game, that we are all just trying to manipulate those around us. That everyone has an ulterior motive and you can't truly trust anyone.

I genuinely hate this view point. But I understand why it it exists. I'm a realist. I understand that not everyone in this world acts according to anyone's, including their own, best interests. That there are people who only think of themselves and never care how their actions affect those around them. But I'm also an idealist. I truly want to believe in the good in people, I want to trust that the things people say and do around me are because they are being honest with me and about themselves. I know this cannot always be the case, but I genuinely would rather live in my world than anyone else's.

Recently, I made some mistakes.
Well, let's be honest. I always make mistakes. I misstep a lot and I usually catch myself before I fall flat on my face, but I still make those mistakes. I have always know that my trusting and idealistic nature was generally thought of by some of my more pragmatic friends as a bit of naivete. That perhaps I am being taken advantage of or ignorant of things going on around me. I usually brush these concerns off with a laugh and say "No, there's no way that's true," and move on with my day.
But recently I began to suspect something had happened. When someone else continued to reaffirm the belief that my suspicions were correct, I suddenly let all the possible situations pour into my head, sit there, ferment, boil, and sour my whole body. I became sick and anxious. Paranoid.

Why was this able to happen?

Because in the last year, despite all the amazing things that have happened to me, I have suffered two huge losses at the hands of people I trusted. Last summer I stuck my neck out for someone that had a million red flags, but I wanted so badly to believe that she could pull through and beat the odds. That she would stick to her word and be the friend I thought she was.

I ended up losing about a month of my time and $400. This isn't the worst of all costs, but I was angry for a very long time about all of that.

And then earlier this year, for reasons I am still trying to sort out, my best friend of 15 years stopped speaking to me.
This isn't meant to call her out. I don't even know if she reads this, but if she does, there's nothing I'd say here I wouldn't say if she was speaking to me.
But she ripped the biggest hole in my life I have ever experienced. 15 years is a really long time. Even the pain of X leaving me was nothing compared to the gaping hole I am still dealing with. And she had become such an integral part of who I am. She was the one person I trusted more than anyone else. Ever. And she abandoned me. That everlasting trust I have always had was because of her undying belief in me. Now she has ripped it away from me, and I feel like there is so much I have to reevaluate about how I see those around me. Unfortunately this means I am becoming paranoid about the rest of my friends, all of whom haven't truly done anything to deserve it. I am truly blessed and lucky to have the friends that I do, because they acted quickly and swiftly to try and help me mend this wound, and I know that truly, without them and Alan, I would not have come through this. But it isn't completely gone. I still feel the pain of it, nearly every day when I want to text her something that makes me laugh and I know she'd laugh at too. And then I miss a heartbeat when I remember I can't do that. And any attempts on my part to do so would just be interpreted as me ignoring the issue that caused this in the first place.

And that issue? I bet you were wondering how I was going to come back around the Game we all supposedly play.
I'll be honest. I don't actually know for sure what the problem was between she & I. I asked her, and she yelled at me and told me how I just don't get it, but never truly told me what it was she wanted me to do about it, making it impossible to resolve. (See my tips for conflict here.) What I did hear is that she seems to believe that myself and, to a lesser extent, "everyone else" around here makes judgments, whispers, talks behind backs, and manipulates everyone else around them to their own ends. I'll be honest, I'm not totally sure who "everyone else" includes, so this makes it very difficult for me to assess. This silence was later followed by an email from someone else, following up on this discussion, telling me what a terrible piece of shit I am. How controlling I am, how terrible I am for telling other people what to do.
A good month for me, for sure.
As mentioned in a previous entry, I have never tried to control anyone. But now I feel the need to make this distinction more clear. Maybe the problem in all of this comes from my communication style. While many women, who generally use the feminine speaking style, view talking and conversation as a way of building relationships, most men view it as a way to accomplish tasks and fix problems. (I will add the point here that these are not meant to cover every man or woman or whatever, it's just the general speaking style associated with either gender.) There are also women who have more masculine speaking styles and men with feminine speaking styles. There are also those who are androgynous speakers. I'm clearly not androgynous myself, but my speaking style is. I certainly view the value of building relationships via long conversations, being a good listener when my friends just need an ear, sometimes just needing to say things out loud to a listener to calm down. But I also view it as a way to solve problems. When my friends bring me their problems, they generally seem to want my advice too. This was kind of the standard for my estranged friend and I. For 15 years, she and I would come to each other with our problems, talk about them, commiserate, and sometimes that involved advice giving. She never told me this was a problem, she never stopped asking my opinion about things, and she often didn't like my answers. But I always thought that this meant even if she didn't like my opinion, she appreciated my refusal to sugar coat my beliefs about a situation. She often did what she wanted, against my feelings on the matter, but it was no skin off my back, not my life. Somehow, later when this big fight began, this frankness and willingness to give advice was turned into me trying to control her life. That somehow for 15 years all I had ever done was tell her what to do.... even though this "telling her what to do" was a direct result of her asking what I thought she should do.

So, the point here is, do we all try to get what we want and manipulate those around us? The plain answer is... yes. I guess there's no way to sugar coat that.  A very close friend recently told me to "remember I'm not a cog in your social group," and I was instantly hurt. But we, as a species, are manipulators. Look around you. Are you sitting in a cave or a den of bushes? Chances are, no, you're sitting in a building. The most obvious form of manipulation is that of our environments. Humans change everything around them to suit their needs. I'm not here to get into the debate of whether this is a good thing or not, we just need to accept that is what we do. I'm not a huge fan of using this word to describe it, but since so many people are accusing me of doing it, I feel I might as well go with it. However, when it comes to those around us, that manipulation becomes an especially precarious tool.

Humans are social creatures. In communication and psychological research, we describe some of our ability to learn through several theories that involve social learning. Social Learning Theory, Social Cognitive Theory, Cultivation, etc. These all describe that some of our most powerful learning is through social and media interaction. We learn from each other. I feel like this should be obvious, but perhaps I live in a different world, yet again. And we live in social groups. Tribes, cities, nations, social groups, workplaces, etc. Within our tribes, we grow bonds with the other humans. We grow to care about or dislike the other humans, we learn their likes and dislikes, we learn how to work with and piss off and push out and draw in other humans. At the base level, of us as animals, this is all pretty normal. You can see this happening in most every other kind of social animal that lives in groups. Hierarchies form, alliances build and deteriorate, etc etc. I don't view these tribes as a machine, with cogs that must be in a certain place/are replaceable. Because that's not what our friends are. But we all still have roles we fulfill within those groups, and anyone who denies this is blind. It has become very clear in the last several years that my friends look to me to be the social center. I organize events, I coordinate rides for those w/out the means to bring themselves, I provide sleeping arrangements for my out of town guests, I try to find opportunities for my friends who ask me for help, and I made my home the most warm and welcoming environment I could muster. That is my role. Alan's role is to support me and provide me with the stability so that I can continue to act in this role for everyone else. His role is also to temper me and to calm me when I get worked up. My other friends often fill other roles in as well. I'm not here to assign them, but I certainly see them repeating actions that suggest the roles they are taking.

As we begin to fill these roles and continue to function within this model, we grow close to one another, we begin to depend on the others to continue doing what they've been doing, and besides the occasional hitch or hiccup, continue to work as has been working. We're not a machine, we are individuals looking for a shared identity with each other, a sense of community and family with others that appreciate the role we fill.

Sometimes that bond gives us insights into the other members' lives that we might not have had otherwise. And we become concerned. Here is where the manipulation balance comes into play and intentions begin to play the bigger role. When those actions begin to concern us, we must decide why they concern us. Is it because we simply don't like this action? Does it really have any effect on me personally or the way this social group seems to fit? No? Do these concerns involve the person involved being in some kind of danger to his or herself? No? Maybe best to let it go. But if the answers to these questions are yes, then perhaps you are within your right to address them. Obviously, handle with care. Because the danger here lies in how your approach is perceived.

When I detect something I think I might need to concern myself with, I try to evaluate what possible outcomes my actions could have on this situation. I'm not the best at seeing every possible outcome, but I try. But what motivates me to do something is if I see even a slight possibility of something catastrophic or truly damaging happening, and not doing something about it. I don't believe I try to manipulate people, but I can see why many do. What I try to do is make sure that someone has all the information they could have before making a decision. As I've mentioned before, after X left me, I had people coming out of the woodwork to tell me they always knew what a snake he was, but when I was second-guessing the marriage before it happened, not a single person stepped up and said "Hey, dude, this.... isn't your best plan." It may or may not have stopped me, I'll never know. That's not important. What's important was the sense of disbelief I had when many came later and told me these things. Whether it would have changed my mind or not, I didn't have the info, so I never even had the chance. I had been mentally bludgeoned into believing he was my best option, so I was going to go ahead with it, but the chance that someone could have stopped me was there. Would they have been manipulating me to stop the wedding? The difference here between manipulation and trying to stop a friend from making a bad decision seems impossibly minute, if your definition of manipulation is trying to shape other's decisions and behaviors.

Let's talk about children for a minute. How do we teach our children our values and beliefs? How do we shape their behaviors to fit into society and our families?

Manipulation.

How do we teach our children and later college students to learn new concepts and ideas?

Manipulation.

How do we train our animals to do the things we want?

Manipulation.

If you want to cast helping others to see alternate possibilities as manipulation, then so be it. But I believe there is a vast difference between telling your best friend that you think her upcoming nuptials to a numskull are a bad idea and bending someone else to your own will. Forcing someone into a situation that benefits you, that somehow gains you something while they have no way out, that's manipulation. Subtly making someone hate oneself, while taking away the others someone cares about so that your viewpoint seems the most logical? That's manipulation. Using others to make someone feel like they must stay in a bad situation? Manipulation.

I have never truly stood to gain anything from my friends' pain. I don't relish in being right about douche bags they date. I wait and pray for the day I am wrong about one of them, but generally speaking, after my experience with X, I can spot them a mile away. Because I've been there. I know the flags. And I'll be damned if I don't do everything to try and help my friends avoid the same fate. No, I can't save every sad girl in the world. But no matter how many times Ian makes fun of me for starting the "Giselle Robeck's Home for Sad Girls Who Make Bad Life Decisions," I will continue to try and do my part to help my friend learn from my mistakes. No, I cannot and WILL NOT ever try to make someone else's life decisions for them. I don't want that burden or responsibility. But my definition of friend does entail the responsibility of making sure my friends know all the options before they make their decisions. If I point out all the red flags and they still want to go ahead. By all means, please do. I'm not going to stop you. That's not what I do. I love unconditionally and do not judge people for making bad decisions. I've made enough myself, how could I possibly hold that against someone.

I offer help when it is asked for. When someone repeatedly tells me they want something, I try to offer advice or take actions that encourage that direction, until they tell me otherwise. I have connections, and I try to make those connections work for those I love if I think this is what they want. But the second someone tells me "No, that's not what I want," I drop it. I don't view my friends as parts of a machine, but we all still fit together and function a little like one. And when my social circle grinds to a halt because of mistakes I made or because someone leaves it, it makes it hard for me to focus and function.

We are humans, we manipulate our environments for ourselves and others around us. Even our media, the music we listen to, the shows we watch, the news we read, all of this "manipulates" us to see the world a different way. It's why some people fight so hard for political correctness, because the media and our words shape how we perceive the world, and if we perceive the world as white, affluent, and full of beautiful people, no wonder progress is so slow. So we want our media to project a more positive image of homosexuals, a better representation of the minorities in our country, because the media "manipulates" public opinion. Humans manipulate their world. This includes the people within it, I suppose, from the cold calculating perspective. But do we do this for our own benefit, or because we believe we are helping? Because I think that intent counts for a lot in this case.

Edited to add this final thought:
I think the biggest thing here to understand is that we learn and grow from those around us, from the influences and experiences we have. If you are still able to be influenced by strong opinions around you, perhaps you are not yet done growing. I know that it took some really awful things for me to finally cement myself strong enough to be myself and never compromise that for anyone, but not everyone reaches that point as quickly, or sometimes ever.

Leave me some comments, what do you believe the difference between manipulation and influence are? Do intentions matter?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Resentment

I'm unsure if this is a product of our gender socialization, or human nature. But we are competitive creatures it seems. We are constantly comparing ourselves to each other in every way, especially with those of the same gender. This idea has been in the back of my mind for a while, and I've been observing the ways that it manifests itself, but I'm beginning to wonder what resentment or competition my life and my story spark in others, as I remember it sparking me in the past as well.

I love this picture. This is just after our first kiss, and I am totally cheesing it.
I've recently come into possession of a portion of my wedding photos. Not all of them, but the prep and ceremony pictures (which are mind-numbingly beautiful and emotional for me). As I look them over and begin to use a select few for Facebook, both my personal profile and the blog's page, I begin to remember how jealous and resentful I would be seeing other people post their adorable/beautiful/breathtaking/emotional wedding pictures. Or new baby pictures. Or new house pictures. Or graduation pictures. I could never explain this irrational overly jealous reaction. Their success has NOTHING to do with mine (or lack thereof) .... right?

Rationally, yes, that is correct. The idea that others being happy ruining your mood or chances at happiness is about a ridiculous as claiming Adam & Steve getting married down the street somehow ruins the sanctity of your personal marriage. ;) See, we all seem to be either programmed or trained to compare ourselves to others. I'm partial to it being a trained behavior, especially in our gender socialization. Women and girls are trained to compare ourselves to others. Especially in the areas I just listed above, mostly marriage, home, and babies. Also looks, but luckily for me, I don't hold that to a very high degree of importance and have escaped most (but not all) of the body/image issues many women do suffer from. But still, we believe we have to be better at these things than the other women around us. And men aren't actually excluded from this either, but it seems to manifest in completely different areas. How good is my job, how hot is my gf/wife, how sweet is my car/surround sound/computer/Magic:TG deck, etc. Also, it should go without saying if you are a regular reader, but for those not in the know, these are all sweeping generalizations. I am aware not every woman falls into those traps, not every man has virtual dick measuring contests, but this is a majority of interactions I observe in my daily life. And for those of you who don't care about the things listed, that doesn't stop others from bringing those kinds of topics up to you, does it? "When are you getting married/having babies?" is a question almost every single one of my female friends has heard, I am sure.

So here's the irrational side creeping in, I used to get a taste of poisonous bile in my throat every time someone posted their wedding/baby pictures. And that ever present whining voice in my head would creep in. "Why does SHEEEEEEE get to be married???? I'm SO much nicer than HEEEEEEER!" "I'm the one being RESPONSIBLE and WAAAAAAAAITING, why does SHEEEEEE get to be pregnant and have BAAAAABIES??? Aren't I more DESERVING????"

I'll let that sink in for a moment. As if my whether I deserved to be married/have babies/be happy is reflective of anyone else's experiences. As if my happiness is diminished by people who I do or do not like (which is irrelevant) being happy or having things I also want. Instead, why can't I see it as hope/motivation for myself? "If she can have a family, then I definitely can." "If he can graduate, there's no reason I can't." "If she can find someone to marry, so can I." Realize that every one of those people you're secretly hating for having everything you want has faced trials and obstacles just like you are right now. And the BIGGEST lesson I learned from getting over this ridiculous jealousy was that I only have one person to blame for not having the things I was so jealous of from everyone else's pictures and posts.

Myself.

Granted, many of the things listed are a team effort and do depend on more than yourself to happen, however the biggest key factor in me being divorced/single/not married, childless, poor, in a crappy job, without a college degree, and with a gas guzzling money sink of a car was my poor choices. I made impulsive, poorly thought through decisions.

Almost all of these shitty situations I was in related directly back to one decision: I married a man who made me miserable. I'm not really sure how else it could have ended. X was an asshole, hands down, and I still place a lot of the blame on his shoulder's but let's get real. It takes two to get married. End of story! I made the decision to marry a man who regularly called me fat, who demeaned me in front of our friends, who scoffed at and made fun of my beliefs, who was a complete filthy slob. I can make all kinds of excuses for his manipulation and verbal/psychological abuse, but in the end, I'm a fully functioning human and made my own decisions. And when I didn't suddenly turn into the woman he assumed I always was, he left me. I made a poor decision and I was dealt the consequences.
Had I not been fucking around in Cincinnati with X, maybe I would have met a more suitable mate(maybe even Alan!) sooner and gotten on the right track sooner to be married to the right person and on my way to a degree & babies. If I hadn't dated him at all, I may have kept on to finish my degree sooner. But with X, there was always a reason why a job was more important right now than a degree. That was for later. Seeing as he didn't really believe in college degrees anyways, this shouldn't surprise anyone. And the job jumping and not really transferable skills I got at the only decent job I had while I was down there put me at a huge disadvantage when I was forced to move back here and find a job. And finally, my car was yet another unresearched, poorly thought out, impulse decision. I didn't do the research to find out how poor Estelle's gas mileage was, or even that she would end up requiring premium gas only. X had finally given in and said I needed a new car, and I had been lusting over Eclipses for quite some time and jumped on the chance to have one when we found one in our price range. And since my income/credit wasn't good enough on my own, I had to get X to cosign, and then was stuck sharing a loan with him for years after our divorce. Things were already on the rocks by the time we bought this car. But there's no way he'd leave me.... right?
ANYWAYS.

So the longer this jealousy would swirl around in my stomach, the more I realized I only had myself to blame. I hung onto and stayed with a guy who was never going to give me what I wanted, and I knew that deep inside. All the things we want in life, whether its the domestic goals of marriage & a family, educational like completing any degree or certification, financial such as owning a car/house/business, or getting a better job, or something more personal, like improving a skill or hobby, are all within our reach. While we cannot control every aspect of our lives to guarantee we achieve these goals, I assure you that sitting around whining about why I, a pushy, bossy, "bitchy" woman, gets to have all the things I want is never going to get you the things you want. I don't actually  have everything I want, but I assure you the things I don't/never will have, that while I was working to obtain those things, I came upon opportunities for something even better or at least just as good. None of us will get everything we want. But you certainly won't get anything you want sitting around being jealous of everyone who is happy on your Facebook feed. Instead of being jealous, be hopeful. Be inspired. Be motivated. We're all in this together, reach out and ask for advice from those who have achieved your goals, you're not alone.

Photography by Diane Woodring.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Our Own Dynamic

As Alan and I learn to exist in our new roles and new environment, it has become apparent that how we live isn't for everyone. And I think that's an important idea that a lot of people haven't latched onto in their lives. Some might argue I don't get that idea. And it may be true that I struggle with certain ideas that some people have about how relationships work, but I have a much better perception than I am often given credit for.

I'm going to preface this with saying there are certain things I believe must exist in every relationship. Friends, romantic, family, maybe even professional. But mostly in personal relationships. If I don't see these things, I often have a hard time seeing the ability to succeed. Perhaps this makes me judgmental, or cynical, and it often makes me a target (see Lightning Rod of Discontent) but I do not budge on these beliefs. Doesn't mean I view you as any lesser a person for not falling into my criteria, it's just how I see the world. I've created this idea based on watching those around me as well as experiencing a number of these things myself. I'm no expert, I would never claim to be. But I am certainly an intelligent and logical person who can draw conclusions from repeated experiences.

That being said, here are some things relationships need to work, on the most basic level.

1. Mutual Attraction

This seems like a no-brainer in my book, BUT just to keep in line with the idea of basic level, I want to lay it out. In every relationship we maintain, platonic, familial or romantic, there is a shared attraction. That attraction can be physical, mental, nostalgic, ingrained. But you both find each other attractive for some reason or another. In the case of family, your shared sense of history and having grown up sharing certain experiences makes you attractive to one another, makes you seek each other out to commiserate or celebrate. This is also true in cases of long-term friendship, while likely also including shared interests, hobbies, intellectual and ideological beliefs, or even respect for contrasting ideas. And in romantic, you hope for all of these attractions. But at the very basic level, both parties have to have an attraction to one another. Or else it's not a true relationship.

2. Mutual Respect

This is something I have touched on before (see Written in Ink), numerous times, but more than anything, the idea of mutual respect hinges on understanding that other people's emotions are valid, even if they don't make sense to you. Just because their feelings seem irrational to you doesn't mean they are. Emotions, simply by definition, are kind of irrational, but they are all valid. How we react to our emotions, how we choose to express them, and how we let them affect those around us can be irrational, and (in most cases) it is up to us to monitor and regulate how those emotions manifest. This is all easier said than done, and I don't want to get into a tangent about self-monitoring, so for the sake of this entry, just understand the idea that emotions are valid, sometimes our reactions are irrational.

Even so, when our reactions are poor, impulsive, and even hurtful, it helps if the other person does their best to respect our feelings. This is so hard because our poor reactions to our emotions illicit emotions in the other party, but sometimes the best way to calm the irrational party is to be understanding. How we intend people to take our messages and how they actually take our messages are two totally different things, and even when you don't mean to hurt or offend someone, it can still happen. And explaining yourself as "I'm sorry you feel that way, that's not at all how I intended it," can make a world of difference. Because if you do respect the other person, it DOES matter to you that you have hurt them in some way. It doesn't even have to mean that you're sorry for what you did, simply that you're sorry someone you cared about was hurt. We are so focused on ourselves sometimes that it is difficult to remember that other people really do have their own lives and struggles going on at the same time, just as valid as yours.

Mutual respect also includes adhering to the rules you have negotiated for your relationship. For a lot of us, rules aren't actually spelled out, but rather discovered over time by either casual discussion, or breaches of these rules. In romantic relationships, it is often a combination of the two. When Alan & I began to date, I sat him down and asked him some pertinent questions and also laid out some things that were never to be violated. But other rules aren't so easily identified until they are broken. How to handle me when I am in a depressive state? Not a thought I often keep in mind until an extended depression comes around, and Alan handles it poorly. This then lead to a discussion about what my needs are and what he can do in the future to help. More casual, platonic and familial relationships find these rules over time and shared experiences. But as these rules are negotiated, we make our efforts to respect them to the best of our abilities. And sometimes these rules change. What was once acceptable might not be anymore. But if you don't notify the other party of these changes, they cannot perform accordingly. More than likely, the other person isn't psychic and can't just understand you, so communicate these changes.

3. Clear Communication

This is even harder for me to define, hilariously with my fancy degree in Communication Studies. Communication is such a variable factor, and what one relationship considers clear communication practices might not suit another. But at the very basic level, both parties should be able to communicate ideas, emotions, and actions clearly. For some people, this means talking things out exhaustively, and even circuitously. I am famous for this. To another skilled communicator, it sometimes becomes clear that I am repeating ideas, but changing the way in which I present them in order to try and get my point across to a possibly resistant audience. For others, very little words have to be exchanged to assure each other that they are on the same page, thanks to lots of time building up nuances and a repertoire of nonverbal and emotional shorthand. For some people email, instant messages, or texting on the phone is the best form because everything is recorded and has at least a level of thought given before the send button is pushed. When something is moving too fast, you can stop and reread every word that was typed and try to glean the intended meaning from that.

And these methods can vary from relationship to relationship. While I much prefer to talk things out verbally with my friends and partner, some people can't handle my high energy levels. X and I often did better (and maybe we perhaps happiest when) our main form of communication was through the Internet in some manner or another. IM, blog posts, and emails often fruited better communication and consideration of each other's feelings than when I would explode in circular logic trying to get him to understand my emotional needs. Alan tends to take in my verbal explosions, absorb my repetition, walk away from the situation, and email me later after having reflected on it with his apologies, rebuttals, or both. It's how we compromise, by compromising on our communication styles.

4. Happy in the Present

This one might be mostly for romantic relationships, but I imagine there are some aspects of this present in other relationships as well.

BE. PRESENT.

Your relationship cannot hope to survive if you are hanging all your hopes on the chance that things will be better later. Hilariously, a story about the last month of X and my marriage illustrates my point perfectly. It's almost a metaphor for our entire relationship.

X had sent me out to Seattle with a few "missions" to accomplish. While it was impossible for me to achieve any of them in the short amount of time I was there and the state of the economy, my failure to produce results was the topic of every other daily phone call we would have. X had told me to find a job, and find a place for us to live when he supposedly moved out there. We had gone back and forth about whether we should rent or buy, and I believed that renting for a year was the best bet until we knew the city and surrounding areas better. X wanted to buy because he seemed anxious to not be renting anymore. But with me jobless and him not making a whole lot, especially by Seattle standards, our price range put any houses we could afford in bad areas, on railroad tracks, or in awful terrible shape. Or all three at once. *shudder* In my frustration with his insistence that we buy a terrible house, I spoke to my friend Morte. X's claim was that he wanted to buy a cheap house in bad shape, we'd fix it up together and sell it later, all while living in it the whole time. (Keep in mind, X never did any level of hard labor around the house to begin with. He never fixed anything besides a computer, couldn't carry boxes up one level of stairs without getting winded and complaining, and generally knew nothing about how to fix up a house.) Morte and her husband had chosen to do much the same thing, but she made a clear distinction. I can't directly quote her, as it was so long ago, but it was something along the lines of, "When we bought our house, we knew this wasn't our dream house. Our plan is to update it and someday sell it and buy a better house. But we know that things change and life happens, so we made sure we were happy with this house too, if we never get to leave it. That I can live with this house, even if no changes happen to it." This stuck with me, not just in home buying advice (which I kept in mind as Alan and I shopped for our home), but in life. We have friends who have bad habits. We make the decision that we love them despite, or even because of, these bad habits. That their good habits and characteristics far outweigh any negative things they have. They provide us with something (see mutual attraction above) that is worth the sometimes negative characteristics. And we choose to be friends with them as they are. We don't plan for them to be someone else later on. And while anyone can change drastically in their life, we don't plan for that to happen. We accept people as they are. It's not to say we don't think our friends should better themselves, but these are the things that define our relationships.

This goes double for romantic relationships, however. Yes, we expect that our partner will continue to grow and learn as time goes on. But sometimes that doesn't equate to them changing their bad habits or negative traits. It might even make them worse. But we don't get into a relationship, specifically a marriage, counting on them getting better some day. That never ends well. You are setting yourself up for disappointment. Because even if the person does change and improve, 9 times out of 10, it won't be the way you thought it would. When X left me, he told me it was because he believed marrying me would "fix" me and change all the things he didn't like about me. And when I didn't meet those expectations, he dropped me. You have to accept your romantic partner as they are. You can try to help them improve, if they want to, and you can even try to urge them along a little if they are a bit resistant. But you must either accept them as they are and as they might always be, or get out. And especially don't marry someone if you are still waiting on them to become the better person you "just know" they will become.

5. Planning for the Future

And the flipside of this is that there must be a shared plan for the future. For most casual relationships, this mostly just means "We plan to continue to be friends," and sometimes there are some deeper plans like "I plan for you to be a part of my wedding someday," or even "I want you to be an integral part of my future childrens' lives," but these are still more abstract and loose agreements of the future. But you do both see yourselves as a part of each other's futures.

In romantic relationships, however, this is more important. This needs to be a shared plan. Now sometimes this shared plan is no plan. Say you're both super laid back and don't want to look that far ahead. But you are both on that page together and share in your no-plan plan of the future. Alan & I have changed our plans several times, from when we were going to move in together, when we would be engaged, when we would buy a house and when I would enter the workforce. But we have always talked to each other and made those plan changes together, making sure they fit our shared idea of what we want our future together to be. Some couples might even have a shared plan of one partner making all the plans and the other just tagging along for the ride. But again, this is an agreement reached together. But, referencing back to clear communication, both parties must be on the same page to achieve any future happiness.


With those things in mind, Alan & my existence within these ideas is not for everyone. We are mutually attracted in many ways. Physically, obviously. (He's kind of a hottie, I am so fuckin lucky!) But we are attracted to one another for each other's enthusiasm over the things we love, our ideologies, our nerdiness, our pursuit of knowledge, and our lack of fucks given about what most people think about us. I love his responsibility, his motivation, his patience, his talent in the kitchen, and his financial savvy. He loves my contrasting ideas, that I push him to try new things, that I bring new experiences to him, my brain, and that I am warm and welcoming to people of all walks of life.

We share a respect for each other's space, need for time apart, individual growth, and feelings. We are high energy and move faster than most, and sometimes this results in explosive clashes, but at our energy levels, we absorb as much as we sling at each other. We always regret hurting the other, and do our best to communicate what transgressed in order to make the offense happen. We call each other on our shit, and move at the speed of light. This ties directly into our style of communication. While most people see our conflicts as unhealthy and explosive, stressful and unnecessary, Alan and I, and even our counselor, see that it really doesn't bother us nearly as much as it bothers others. We do our best to keep these explosions to just us these days, but sometimes it happens anyways. I have a tendency to escalate, and Alan to dig in his heels. Stressful is definitely a descriptor for these fights, but we operate at higher levels of stress than most others to begin with. Even on days when I am in a good mood and super excited about everything, my stress levels are well above normal. It's a result of being a high energy person. So naturally our conflicts will be fast paced and high energy too. It is a concerted effort these days to try and slow ourselves down when we clash, and it is slowly improving, but it is likely there will always be some kind of fireworks when full on conflict happens.

And our present and future are right in step with one another. We recognize, and embrace each other's strengths and weaknesses. I love some of Alan's hang ups, because they endear him to me. We made the decision to send me to grad school together, and adjusted our future possibilities to match it. But it was still in line with the plans we aim to achieve in the end. It fits our view of the future we are building. We accept that we might always yell at each other when we fight. And we accept that we need to learn to censor that around others so we may continue to be their safe haven too. But we expect our friends to recognize that asking us to change is just as unfair as asking each other to change. We love each other, we love our friends, and we are loved by them. Life is good, I am in command of my path, and I am unafraid.

Are you?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

New Save File

I'm supposed to be doing school work, but I'm feeling pretty fried already, so I'm going to take a break to post a new update. :)
Pirate wedding complete! Alan & I are officially married, in a raucous party we celebrated the night with friends and family, dancing with each other and our loved ones. I'm so relieved to be done with the wedding and super psyched to get pictures and video back! And once I have those, I promise to post pictures, but I'll at least post this one:


Here we are during our first dance, belting out the words to "Starlight" as we couldn't stop smiling at each other. <3 (Many thanks to Laura for this pic!)

And now we begin our new, combined save file. ;)

So is it different? Not yet, but I'm sure it will be. Of course, anytime I say that, Alan insists it won't be since we lived together so long, but I remember things from last time. And of course if I say that, he insists he's not the same as X. And of course he's not, I wouldn't have married him if he was! Jeez! But that only means that the change will be different too, better I'm willing to bet. And I could never place my finger on it before anyways, so I don't really have a good explanation anyways.

But this new part of our life has come with some of it's own growing pains already. One of which was the transition to living in our house alone again, having asked our roommate to move out. I think it was a lot of hurt feelings and miscommunication, and I think it all got sorted out eventually, but it wasn't an easy choice for us. I've always preferred having more people in the house. I've never been sure why. Alan & I began seeing a couple's counselor a few months ago, and she expressed concern about our home and said we need to focus on building us and our home as a couple and preparing for the steps we plan to take in the next few years.

And perhaps that's a thing X and I never really did. There were oh-so-many plans and ideas for our future, but we never truly made any groundwork. Even the fact that we moved every year seemed indicative of our future. Never happy where we settled. We had plans to move across the country so "settling down" didn't seem a good idea yet, but we never really.... established a feeling of home, of togetherness.

I've begun my Master's program (with assistantship, WOOOOO!!!), but the program is a 30-45 min drive each way. It's not terrible, no worse than the commute when I live in Cinci, but every day when I am driving home I can't wait to get here. We've created a space that feels good to come back to and feels like it is truly ours. We've spent the time, we've done the work, we've taken the hard choices and taken some shit for it, but we've built this space, this home, this castle that truly has helped us to build the sturdy foundations for our future together, our new family and our future endeavors. I am ready for whatever comes because we are solid.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

When hope was lost, the universe said "Hey, it's ok."

It's been a rough summer for me. Between planning my wedding and dealing with all levels of social drama, I was losing my grip. I was becoming angrier and angrier, and this was becoming toxic. I had a falling out at the beginning of this summer with my best friend. Some of my entries have touched on why, but this isn't an entry about that, exactly. It hurt, and after losses I have suffered in the friend department over the last several years, it was the last straw and I was beginning to lose my grip. I felt my heart falling out of my chest and the hollowness begin to pull at me, which is a feeling I dread with all my being. I value my friends, I try my hardest to be as good a friend as I can so that they continue to provide me with the friendship I need. Perhaps this is a weakness of mine that I could improve upon, being able to not need friends, but I've always viewed it as a strength. So these blow after blow after blow hits were truly beginning to take their toll.

But then a few things happened. The first is sad. My aunt had been diagnosed with cancer some time ago and we knew it was nearing the end. We went to visit her a few weeks before she ended up passing away. Now, I was never terribly close to her, she lived a few hours away, didn't have kids of her own, so we only really saw her for holidays, but she was always there, always smiling, and I cannot think of a single bad memory of her. And while she wasn't terribly young, she really wasn't old either. It reminded me that life is short, cliche as this all is, and there isn't enough time to be angry and bitter at everyone who has ever hurt us. I have worked so hard to try and create a safe place in my home, not just for me and Alan, but for those we love to come and feel safe, recharged, and happy, if only for a little while, and my bitterness and pain was going to ruin that if I let it get out of hand. At the memorial service, I felt a weight lift, I felt better. My aunt always had a smile on her face when I saw her, even in the hospital during our final visit. She exuded positivity. I can do that too. I really can.

The second thing to happen was much more uplifting. After 3 years of silence and distance, my friend Jenn approached me at a mutual hang out to apologize for events that happened at the end of our time being roommates. I'm not going to go into specifics, but suffice it to say, it was a nasty and uncomfortable mess for all involved. Jenn and I had been friends for over 10 years at that point, and it had hurt to lose her and that history more than I could truly explain in a blog entry. People were hurt and lashing back at each other in a nasty back and forth that got out of hand and seemingly terminated our friendship. After 3 years of next to no communication except glances at each other across the bar we both go to, the sincere apology was more than amazing. It seemed to be exactly what I needed.

Besides mending our relationship, the timing of this event happened in the exact time that I needed. I just needed a little sign from anywhere that said, "It's ok, it's going to be ok. You're really not a terrible person. Just maybe a bit too loud." This little reminder was enough to say "It's ok to worry about your friends, it's ok to have concerns and to voice them." After the last entry, I was so hurt about how I had become a scapegoat for people's unhappiness that I could have lost my grip entirely, but now I am happily light and free. I've been working to rebuild the bridge that's now mended, and rebuild a strong part of my heart that was hurting.

Earlier in the evening, as I walked around downtown, there were beautiful chalk drawings everywhere. I happened to snap this picture of one, the only one I took, and later in the evening, it took on new meaning.


Hope is there, we just don't know where to find it sometimes. Thanks Jenn, for helping me find mine.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A lightning rod of discontent

Ian asked a good question the other night, and the discovery of an email in an old inbox from a fairly traumatic event that happened at the end of May, I am here to make a statement about it.

Ian asked me if we, as a culture, are too insulated from failure. Since when is constructive criticism a bad thing? Just because I disagree with you or your choices does not mean we cannot be friends or that I think you are a bad person. Yes, I am opinionated and loud. I always have been. But I am loyal, loving, and fierce. I am a good ally to have and a terrible enemy to make.

Someone has accused me of being controlling. This insinuates that I am trying to make choices for them.
Granted, when I was young, specifically a teenager, this may have been accurate. I was young, dumb, and impulsive. I can still be called impulsive from time to time. I don't mind this. But as a teen, yes, I suppose I could have been controlling. But in the end, any level of "controlling" behavior has been based in an intense emotional investment I have made in someone. It is because I love them and want to protect them from themselves.

I suppose it's because I have a lot of my mother in me.
I've often mentioned, in conversations about my childhood, that my mom was overprotective and did not allow for me to have much fun (read risks) or make my own mistakes in a time when I so desperately wanted to and needed to. To this day, I think that I could have been trusted a great deal more than I was. But my mother loved me, and I was her baby girl and she didn't want anything bad to happen to me. So a conflict arose and didn't end until I moved out. At which point this conflict seemed to almost entirely dissolve, my mom treated me like an adult most of the time, babied me occasionally when I needed it, and allowed me to make my own mistakes. But until then, it was a source of constant friction.

I must imagine, then, that this is what a lot of people who have chosen not to speak to me anymore must feel like. But like my mother, this desire has only ever been born out of love for that individual. But I have never actually worked to control anyone's actions.
We have not been taught to take criticism anymore. The parents I see at work, and the parents of my friends growing up have often been too busy trying to be a friend to their child rather than being their parent. Rather than tell the child no, they humor them, give in to them, and go along with whatever their kid is doing. So that kid has now learned that whatever they want to do is ok and there will be no consequences for it. I learned to take criticism. I didn't always receive it well, but I never stopped taking it in, I never stopped loving my parents because they disagreed with me or my life choices. I never once shut them out of my life completely, and I never thought to myself that I didn't want them in it. My dad thinks that my entire lifestyle, premarital sex, pagan beliefs, bisexuality, pro-choice, etc etc etc are sinful and wrong. But my dad loves me, and I love him. We love each other for who the other is and accept that no matter what, that person loves me. I would never tell my dad I never want to speak to him again. Nor my mother, my brothers, my sister-in-law, and the family I have gained through Alan. Because they love me and I love them.

Now, someone may point out that I have removed friends from my life. This is true. But I did not stop loving them. And more specifically, they began to take out their frustrations with the rest of their lives out on me, or have taken advantage of my goodwill and used it to hurt me. Because here is the crux of the situation. It has been pointed out to me by a dear friend that I am a reminder of how unhappy these people are. Especially female friends. I am a lightning rod for your discontent. If I have said "Hey, this relationship has a lot of red flags, and I care about you, so I figured I should point them out to you," I immediately become the attractant for all your misplaced anger. You can't possibly be mad at your significant other, because everything there is perfect and you are defiant against my criticisms (more on that in a moment), but you're not sure what you're angry at, so instead you point that anger at me. Because you so badly want this to work that I am somehow affecting it's ability to work because I disagree.

Now here, my friends, is where criticism comes in. My criticism of any choice anyone makes is simply a disagreement. We all disagree with each other on something. Alan & I disagree on many things daily. But we continue to love and respect each other and make our relationship function. Because we can agree to disagree. I have grown a lot in my ability to accept criticism since I was a child. Many people still think I receive it poorly because their only experiences are with younger me. I have learned to try my best to soak in what someone is saying, use logic to deduce the truth in the allegations, make changes to myself when necessary and realize when it is unfounded, untrue, or just pain that caused someone to say something to me.

So somewhere in here, my criticism of a situation, my disagreement with a choice someone made has become twisted into my reputation being that of a controlling friend. But the only ones who actually think this about me are the ones afraid to face the reality of their situation and don't like the glaring reminder I am of how much they are ignoring it. So if you think that I have somehow tried to control your life, its time to take a look in the mirror. I did. I looked and I knew that nothing I have ever done was done with ill-will or a need to control someone. But also know that I can see now that you don't want a friend, you want a babysitter. Someone to sit there and tell you how everything is fine and nothing will ever go wrong again.

I'm not that person. I will never just tell you that whatever choice you are making is fine if it is a bad decision. I will not stop being your friend just because you go ahead anyways, but understand that you cannot be mad at me for pointing out your bad idea. Because I am not to blame for your poor decisions. You want to make that relationship work? Fine, but when it's not working and you're not happy, I'm not the one who broke it, just because I saw it.

We are all wrong sometimes. We are all mistaken and made aware of our faults by those we love. I am sometimes lacking in delicacy, but I have always done my best to be there for my friends, no matter how poor I think their choices are. It has become clear to me that those people can't handle the truth in what I have said, and this is why they shut me out, hurt me, threatened me, and blamed me.

I am not to blame for your unhappiness, but that will not stop you from using me as your lightning rod.
It always was easy to dehumanize someone who becomes this much of a character.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

City of Specters

I haven't been back to Cincinnati in four years, not since the divorce proceedings. I haven't seen X since then either. Between emotional strain, money, and time, I haven't been back to visit, despite having friends I would like to see. But my cousin got married today, and the wedding was right outside Cincinnati, so Alan and I decided to take the opportunity to make a trip out of it, finally make it to King's Island, see some of my friends, show Alan some of my favorite things from the area like Newport and Jungle Jim's, etc. I gave lots of warning to my local friends about when I'd be down and tried to make it easy to meet up and visit, but the first two nights we have been here nothing has worked out to meet anyone. Friday we spent all day at King's Island, but after the park closed, Alan wanted a late dinner and drink, so we decided to hit up Bar Louie at the levee. We ordered drinks, and after we ordered our food it happened.
I looked up, and I shit you not, there was X. I looked down immediately. I'm honestly ashamed of my reaction. There's just some kind of effect he still has on me. Nervous, ashamed, as if I am some now in the wrong by being in the same bar as him??? I have no idea if he saw me, if so, he never approached me. Our server happened to be serving the group he was in, and seemed he was with some company event. We sat and ate our food, I chugged my martini, and got less anxious, but still weirded out. As soon as our accounts were settled, we hustled out of there. We walked out in front of the aquarium and I sat down on a bench. Of all the people I want to see this weekend, the first one I see is him? Oi.

It's sad because not only does Cincinnati remind me of X, but also reminds me of the two former best friends who I am now estranged from. Two friends who came to visit me here regularly. One of them I cut ties with due to her destructive nature, the other cut ties with me for reasons I'll not go into here, though I believe it to be a large failure to communicate on both ends. This city has minders around every corner of adventures and good or bad times had with them. Hilariously, I think this city is a more painful reminder than the one I live in now, where I grew up with all 3 of these people. 

But why the shut down? Why the frantic texting to my friends about what to do? Why the chugging of the martini? I'm stronger, smarter, and happier than I ever was with him. I'm accomplished, settled, handfasted, and in love. So why can he just reduce me to that mess?

Much like drug addictions and other decencies, when we encounter something we grew accustomed to, our body begins the preparations to deal with it. In this case, shame, fear and shrinking to prepare to try and avoid his attentions, avoid feeling like a fat whale, avoid his eye-rolling and demeaning remarks, avoid feeling like an idiot all the time.
This is ok, and I need to not beat myself up over it. We all have weaknesses, struggles, and reactions to people and things we had a poor experience with. We may grow stronger, but that doesn't mean that wound doesn't twinge when we see the knife that made it. Life is full of pains we'd rather not repeat. We learn to duck when Rafiki swings that staff the second time, or when Rafiki walks in your direction in a bar after you haven't seen him for 4 years. 
The universe is not without a sense of irony, or so I'm told. While the experience was mildly embarrassing and uncomfortable, it only served to strengthen my resolve about continuing to make my life better. 
Living well is the best revenge.

Alan dealt like a champ, and in the end, best I could tell, nothing happened. No looks or words exchanged, and if he didn't know I was there, if he ever reads this, he'll know now. But it makes no real difference in this account, as he has no true power over me, just the shadows of an old pain. The shock was enough to cause me to shrink in, rather than fan my feathers, but it doesn't change or diminish all my amazing accomplishments.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Break ups come in all forms.

I'm going to flex my shiny new college degree here. It's relevant.

Conflict is a natural part of any relationship. Romantic, familial, platonic, even our relationship with our pets.

I'm a human being. I'm flawed. I make mistakes. Sometimes monumental, sometimes minor. But forgiving your friends of these flaws is part of bonding and building a relationship. Talking out those differences and even arguing are all ways that we learn about each other, find out our friends' true natures. But these conflicts can only be helpful when approached and handled correctly.

In one of my classes in the fall semester, Interpersonal Communication, we learned about conflict. One of the best parts of that class was actually this section. Two of the things always stick out in my mind, and they are about the lead up to an argument.

Know what you're arguing about. Fight about problems that can be solved.

First, know what you're arguing about. This may be more tricky than you think. Very recently another situation in my life was causing conflict and forcing me to be on the receiving end of some very frustrating stuff. But when you dig deeper, you find that the person wasn't even that upset about the topic at hand, but rather personal issues from another part of life. We often let things boil under our skin for a long time, for any variety of reasons. But sometimes we leave it under there for two long, and rather than get directed at the actual source of the problem, it gets directed at the person who happens to trigger us next. But when that happens, that person has no idea why they have become the target, you have no idea why you're actually angry at them and just unload a bunch of feels on someone who didn't cause them. You have all these feels! And those feels are valid! But are they even remotely related to the person you're unloading them on? Or say it is the person responsible for all your frustration, you still need to be clear about what you're having a conflict over. If you can't articulate it, you're not ready for conflict. Because you can't adequately explain to the other person what is wrong, and the other person then can't understand what the problem is.

Fight about problems that can be solved. If you are fighting with you significant other because her mother has never liked you and you think she's got it out for you, there's no solution there. She can't magically make her mother like you, she can't find a solution that will fix the situation. There is no solution to that problem, and arguing will only make the relationship more tense, pick away at it, potentially breaking it in the end. But perhaps the problem isn't actually about the mother's feelings (again, know what you're arguing about) but instead they're about how your significant other is handling the situation. Perhaps she isn't standing up to her mother, or perhaps she just allows her mother to berate you in front of the family because she's too afraid to speak up. THAT is a problem with a solution. The two of you can sit down and talk about how she's handling her mother, and if the conflict is fruitful, she might see what she's doing (or not doing in this case) is hurting you and agree that in the future she will stand up to her mother and make her voice heard. This not only will strengthen your bond with each other, it might even have the side effect of making the mother quieter about her displeasure. And whatever the situation is, have a solution in mind. Even if the other person doesn't agree to it, having a solution in mind creates a good place to become brainstorming a good compromise or a different solution. If the other person (or people I guess) see what you want to happen, what you see as a solution, they have a direction to work towards. Even if the end result wasn't what you had planned, there is still a much stronger possibility that a solution CAN be made.

Conflict is part of everything, both in our society, and in nature. Conflict is what powers evolution and progress, conflict creates war but it also creates difference and beauty. Pain, as much as we try to avoid it, is a natural part of our existence, and without it we cannot appreciate the good things we have. And conflict leads to better solutions because it makes it more likely we can please both parties rather than just one, when handled correctly. I'm only human, and I hurt those around me just like we all do. But I have always striven to be able to bridge the gap and reach a hand across. As one of my Professors, Dr. Hollenbaugh, said in another class I took in the fall, "Trying to understand each other, trying to get there together, to find that overlap is often more important than actually understanding." All relationships are built on the strength of trying to get there, whether or not we actually do. I disagree with almost everyone about something. Some people find me contrary and frustrating, but those who see past that see that I'm not being negative, I'm making sure that people have assessed all options. That they have thought of all possibilities. Many of my teachers in high school and professors in college have appreciated my constant need to play the devil's advocate. I'm not here to make you feel wrong or stupid, I simply disagree to try and make you look at something from a different perspective. I'm not even a negative person, but many people perceive me as one.  I guess that's ok. People have to be angry at someone. I guess that's me. But ask anyone close to me and they will tell you about how I always see the positive in people, even the ones I don't like. I do my best to help those that I can help rather than just watching them flail and burn. And sometimes they flail and burn me instead of taking the help, and I deal with that too. I don't let people say nasty things about others, I do what I can to try and keep that to a minimum. Even when discussing situations that hurt me and hurt my friends, I always try to remind people that the one everyone may be upset with has feelings and needs too, and that this is less likely some malicious attack and much more likely another hurt person trying to defend all those feels they have.

And we're back to feels. Of which I currently have a mountain of. Because sometimes there really is nothing we can do when we are not presented with any solution. I am only able to do so much, I'm not a superhero. I'd be a terrible one anyways, "with my laundry list of character flaws, mistakes I’ve made." (Thanks Tony.) I can't give you the moon if you don't tell me that's what you want. I'm not psychic, though I am intuitive. I am a lot of things. But those things can only do so much, and expecting more of me is just setting me up to fail. I would do anything for my friends, but first they have to tell me what they want me to do.

I'm human, and I love my flaws.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Am I too cynical?

It's a fair question, seeing as I run an entire blog based on my divorce.

Someone told me today they were tired of my cynical opinion, and in specific it was relating to my opinion on marriage.

Which seems strange as I am currently excitedly getting ready to get married a second time, after the last one ended in a big ball o' flames that SHOULD have made me hate men forever. And wasn't even all that long ago really. I am cautious, at worst. Especially about those who marry young. When my brother and his wife got engaged, I told him I didn't think it was a good idea. They were 20. And I also had a 4 hour conversation with her about it. But I love them both and knew that if they made up their minds, it was going to happen, and that was the end of it. They seem to be doing just fine, and that's all I'm really concerned about. In the end, marriage is about what's right for you and your partner. Not what other people have to say.

But let's be real for just a moment...

People who marry young don't have great odds. I'm not saying that every couple that marries young will divorce, but the chances are higher for them than those who wait.

This entire episode today took place because this article was posted.
I married young. What are the rest of you waiting for?

It ruffled my feathers, to say the least.

Again, marriage is a decision each person has to make. And no one's solution is a one-size-fits-all. Mine certainly wasn't/isn't, but neither is the author of this piece's advice. The entire tone of it condescends to those who don't marry early, insinuating that either those who hold off and wait are under some misconception that marriage is a thing we do once we're done being kids, "all grown up" and ready to settle down for a life of boredom, or that the people don't get married young because they want to date around and find their "soul mate." She argues instead that it is it's own new learning experience and growing up experience, and that your partner "becomes" your soul mate, that there is no such thing all on it's own.

I don't disagree with the basic idea here, but I also know that most people don't finish changing psychologically until they are 25, if even then. And with divorce rates what they are, who isn't scared to get married and have it crash and burn? With the stigma still attached to divorce, no one wants such a public failure, especially after a lavish wedding! And the element of social media makes these break ups quite public. And why wouldn't I want to date around until I found the most compatible mate. Someone I know I can spend my life with? I'm not saying we all have to find a soul mate, marriage is a choice, but I'm still going to choose someone that is best suited to spend their life with me and I with them!

I fear for people around me. I am not cynical about marriage. I think it's great. It's why I'm such a strong supported of marriage equality. Because for those of us who want it, we should have it. I've said it before, marriage isn't for everyone. Some people function best without all that legal crap. And I respect that. But for those of us who do, marriage is a personal decision, best left to your personal beliefs, personal life, and personal relationships. Marrying young isn't for everyone. It's for a pretty select few as it turns out. I wasn't one of those, and I've seen enough of them crash and burn around me to not want to see people I care about fall there too.

People may think I write this blog to preach about my life, or how awful X was to me. People may think I do it to "hear my own voice." Maybe, in some way, that's true.

But the real reason I write this blog is because of how isolated and alone and ashamed I felt after X left me. Because no one around me could understand. Because I wanted so very badly to feel less alone, and the resources just weren't there. My life is a mostly open book, so I am putting it up here for people to read in hopes that my life, my poor choices can serve as a cautionary tale to those who may be where I was. I can't save everyone. I can't tell you what to do with your life, and I would never deign to do so.

This is another fact some people would likely contest and say I've butted my nose in where it doesn't belong regarding my friends' relationships.
This is also a direct result of my failed marriage.
In the weeks following my return to my hometown, almost 100% of my friends told me how they all thought X was a scumbag and all guessed that this would happen. They all said they knew he was not right for me.
And not a single one stepped up to say "Hey, he's being incredibly emotionally abusive." or "I don't think this behavior is healthy for you two, you should really think about this more."

No, instead, everyone just congratulated me on my engagement. And when I was getting cold feet and asking for second opinions? Just a second round of the above comments.

So I will not be silent. I will not shut up. I am not cynical about marriage. But I am cynical about our perceptions of what marriage is. The truth is... none of us know what marriage really is. Not me, and I've been married. But my former marriage was nothing like what my upcoming marriage will be. My parents' marriage is nothing like what yours is/will be. Marriage is as individual as those entering it. For some it is more traditional, but for some of us it is something completely new. And maybe I am preaching to the choir. But I'll keep preaching.

I do this because I love you. I love you even if I don't know you, and I want you to be happy. I don't want people to get hurt. If anything I write can serve as a warning to the things you shouldn't let happen to you, then I am happy to keep doing this. But if all this sounds like is a constant whine-fest about my life... then perhaps it is time to shut down this blog.

But I don't think that's the case. I think that I have readers who genuinely benefit from my posts. Even if it's my fellow divorcees who take solace in knowing they aren't alone in their struggles and pain. I know that you can't tell people some things. That people have to learn from their own mistakes. But that's not entirely true. So many of us DO learn from seeing those around us make bad decisions and knowing that's exactly what we don't want to do. So unless I get a resounded "STFU" response to this entry, I'll keep typing away for you.

Because I love you.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

"Don't ever change for anyone!" ..... Pshaw.

I'd like to address a common cliche people say. They say it to those who just experienced a break up the most, but it's said to lots of other people as well. It's come to my attention due to several people around me experiencing relationship woes, and their friends all leave comments on their statuses and pictures "You should never change yourself for anyone, they should love you exactly as you are!"

That's half true.

Yes, they should love you exactly as you are. But people, this is LIFE. Love is NOT the all-conquering power in the world. Determination is. And love is a two-way (or more for those poly readers of mine, I suppose?) street. Yes, Alan loves me exactly as I am, and we have had lots of conversations about behaviors and habits we both have that irritate the other. But we had to make a decision about those behaviors. Does Alan's nagging about my cluttered lifestyle bother me enough to break off the relationship? Of course not. Does my cluttered lifestyle bother Alan enough to break off the relationship? No, so we continue on as we are.

But there ARE behaviors that we have both had to compromise and learn to change. Alan has had some especially rough growing pains over our 3 years together, as I am his first truly long term relationship. There were lots of near misses and nasty bumps along the way, and he had to learn not only how to be in a relationship at all, but how to be in one with ME. I'm a tad high-maintenance and demanding and came with a bit more baggage than most. Poor guy! But he took it all in stride, he learned, he adapted and changed his behaviors, and if you met the Alan I met 3 years ago, you'd never know it was the same guy! The same can be said of me! I've become a more responsible, attentive, and considerate person thanks to Alan.

Now, a lot of people like to make the distinction "I'm making these changes for me, not for the other person." Let's all quit lying to ourselves about this right now. If we wanted to make those changes for just us, then why the hell are we dating and marrying anyways??? We're making those changes to make us a more complete person to make us more appealing to a possible mate. And there is NOTHING wrong with that. We learn from failed relationships and should often take some time after them to reflect on what went wrong, how we can avoid it in the future, what mistakes we made, what qualities in the other person we didn't find desirable, and what changes to make. We must GROW to continue on our search for happiness.

Now I know some people will say they are perfectly happy without a mate, and you know what, good for you. But the majority of us want a mate. Either to spend our lives with someone we love, to start a family, to find financial stability, whatever. Or just to have a steady partner in bed. Whatever the reason, most of us want some kind of mate. And in order to find happiness with a mate, we have to make ourselves "mate-able." And that means change.

And change is GOOD. Even if it's the wrong change, you can't learn from making the right choices all the time. Make the wrong change, and be like "OH SHIT that was.... that was just NOT the right path man." And then make another change. "Oh for fucks sake. Not door number 2 apparently." Until you get it right.

And finally, get the right tools. This is so important.

This often means stepping outside your comfort zone. If there is a need for it, see a counselor. Or get couples counseling. This isn't a sign of weakness, it's a sign of willingness to learn, willingness to make the changes needed to keep the relationship with the one you love more than anything. Don't make excuses, make time.

Or maybe the tools are something as simple as learning to let go a little. Or learning to cook (heh..... I'm pretty slow on that one), or learning to play a video game with your significant other. But if you need help with learning those things, seek it! Talk to a professional, OR talk to your friends. Sometimes your friends have a wealth of wisdom or experiences that might be valuable to you. Even if it means learning from them what not to do! Or both. But don't hide in your hole, don't be ashamed of relationship troubles. We all have them. Alan and I are a perfect match, but we are by no means perfect. We're human and we argue. Maybe a lot. Maybe a normal amount. Who knows, and who cares besides us? But bet your ass I go to my friends about our problems. I get advice, ideas, and perspective.

Take this to heart.