Taking the Higher Road

After my first post break-up kiss with a near stranger, I scurried home close to 1 a.m. on Saturday night, prepared to sleep in super late to catch up on lost shut-eye. You can guess my blighted hope when I got up, finally, after an hour or so of tossing and turning, around 8 a.m. Tired of wrestling with my thoughts and sheets, I decided to be productive and clean everything in my apartment I could reach.

After scrubbing the bathroom nearly from top to bottom, vacuuming my room with a nifty sucker for hardwood floors (who knew?), I showered in a hurry, dressed in a rush and headed out the door to meet R and M for brunch at one of our favorite places. Deciding the subway was too cramped and the weather was too nice to pass up, I decided to walk nearly 30 blocks in my fall wedges. But even the bright blue sky and cotton-like fresh air couldn’t lift me high enough to rise above the anger boiling inside of me.

I’ve tried – I really have. I’ve made lists of things I have to be happy about, I’ve declared my newly adopted Zen attitude toward my life to anyone who will listen. I’ve refrained from contacting Mr. P, I’ve tried to take a higher road instead of saying what it is I really feel. But all these efforts have kept me from…well, saying what I feel. Or really experiencing the motions, the stages, the terrible aftermath of a love that turned into a not-so-beautiful disaster (sorry, Kelly).

I didn’t fool my friends though. After a few sangrias and some bra shopping at Vickie’s, R settled into my apartment to escape an unexpected downpour. Proudly playing some empowering music, R sweetly looked at me and asked: “Aren’t you sad though, Linds? Aren’t you disappointed? It’s okay to cry about it. You don’t have to be so strong. We’ll all understand.” Then today, after book club with A, M and K, M asked about how I was dealing on the train back home.

My face flushed and I quickly gave a short speech that after second thought, sounded rather rehearsed and scripted: “There are good days and bad days, times where I’m alright and times where I’m not. But I’m fine, really.” She turned her head sideways and questioned me (she’s good at that): “But I think you’re sad because you think you should be, and then you’re ‘Zen’ because you think should be. The only thing you should be is how you feel – whatever that is.” Again, I brushed off her words as carelessly as I did R’s and changed the subject to hiring interns.

The truth is I don’t know how I feel. R’s right, I’m disappointed and M’s right too, I try to be mature and collected, not let it affect me too much, but that isn’t always what I personally express in privacy. Part of it is my own pride – I don’t want to let a heartache get under my skin because I envision Mr. P as actually fine and coping easier than I am. I see him finally having the freedom he seemed to so badly desire while we were together, when he would eye other women, and that’s what I imagine him doing just so: picking up chicks for the sake of picking up women, without any regard to how his heart feels. That is, if his heart is suffering at all in comparison to mine.

But it’s not a competition. I shouldn’t compare breaking up notes – especially when I can’t see his, considering we aren’t speaking. Rationally, I realize my ridiculousness, and I think that’s partly my problem: I understand that eventually I’ll feel less disposable and more dignified. I know that I’ll validate my own self-worth instead of wondering when he’s going to send the “I’m so sorry” email or I’ll run into him the same way I ran into Mr. Fire and he told me I was the one who got away. I know I’ll be moved on and happy, settled into my life – single or taken – and Mr. P will finally realize what he had, when at some point, he had me.

Then again – maybe he won’t. Our ending wasn’t what I expected, and there is no guarantee of the days, the months, the years to come. Relationships don’t always end with a pat on the back, a wish of good-luck and fortune and then placed on the shelf, categorized alphabetically. Two people don’t always feel the same way about one another, some feel different levels of love than most, and some people, sadly, don’t love themselves enough to ever give someone else the love he/she deserves. It’s a sad and awful truth, but one that so many lie to themselves about to be comforted. There may be another Lindsay to step into Mr. P’s life and be that same saving grace I was for nearly a year – but he may never value the place I held in a way that I think pays tribute to what we had. I can’t match our perceptions of the relationship we shared, and I shouldn’t need him to apologize to validate what I felt. Or to make the relationship, the love, seem as real in his eyes as it did in mine.

But I feel like I do. I want him to want me even though I don’t want him, just to feel wanted. That’s about as honest as I can put it into words. I could break out into song singing “Cry” by Faith Hill – but I do refuse to go that backwards into my Southern roots. At least for the time being, anyway.

Maybe it gets more difficult to suffer the older we get, or maybe we just choose to suffer in privacy. Maybe we still have those emotional outbursts that are unfounded and out of control, but we scream into our pillows instead of into the phone. Maybe instead of sending hate e-mail to exes, we send it to our friends so it’s read, but safe in their inbox where it can’t come back to hurt us again. Maybe we still eat far more calories than we burn, but it’s done carefully by nibbling at a single cookie at book club or accepting an offer of M&M’s at work from a co-worker. Maybe we still feel all those painful and tiring stages of releasing someone who once felt vital in the intricate design of our existence – but we don’t share them because it feels too personal to display such grief. Maybe we still harbor resentment and bitterness, but we know better than to let it get the best of us if we ever want to rise above.

But maybe we don’t really rise above much in terms of love. Maybe instead, that’s just called growing up and moving on because we realize there are so many more important things in life than the end of a relationship that was never meant to be, anyway.

With Loving Eyes

I stood wearing my only pair of expensive heels, a silky scarf from Urban I snagged during a fabulous sale for $10, a lacy black dress belted at the waist and my Longchamp dangling from my wrist. The ring I picked for the day was actual ruby, the necklace a diamond from Mr. P back when we were happy, and I was hanging out by his side as he chatted with a chairman.

We were in the VIP section of an Oktoberfest, wearing fancy bracelets that gave us free beer and grub. We even had a slightly fancier port-a-potty than everyone else. Girls in skimpy German outfits (even in the chilly weather, God bless ’em – they’re practicing for Halloween) served us bite-sized German-themed appetizers and we were part of an interesting, powerful group – ambassadors, diplomats, prestigious journalists, a dude from Beard Wars, and I even met a song writer.

Mr. P was going on about something with his friend and I started to drift away in my thoughts. I was still slightly hungover from my birthday party the night before but beer seemed to make the headache nearly existent. From the fun times had last night, I had nearly lost my voice, so even if I wanted to be part of their conversation, I sounded like a frog. I let him do his thing while I did mine; still thinking and analyzing our relationship. Or really, our lack of anything that looks like a relationship. I mean, we didn’t even last my birthday without having some sort of a tiff. I know it’s about as unhealthy as the amount of carbs I consumed but resisting is always easier when it’s something we really don’t want, in terms of food and especially in terms of love.

His hand was wrapped around my belt and I became distracted by a family within sight. The father was handsome and tall with glasses, his 3-year-old son looked about the same. The mother was shorter and tanner, their daughter an adorable little blond. The kids were dressed up in traditional German clothes, suspenders and braids and all. They were running around and giggling, making funny noises and genuinely having a good time. There was no alcohol involved, they didn’t need it to loosen up because they were simply that happy.

As the children played together, the wife walked over and I caught a glimpse of the husband’s eyes when he looked at her. And what I saw was purely love.

I obviously do not know anything about who they are or what language they speak or if those feelings are true or not – but his eyes said a thousand words I could never write to give justice to. He showed the same admiration (rightfully so) to his children – scoping them up and tickling them, kissing the side of their rosy cheeks. It all seemed so intimate and innocent, natural and inviting.

Here I was, among the distinguished and more intrigued by the ordinary. By the gentle, calming and warm feeling that comes from seeing people who really love each other. If given the choice, I’d trade the fancy clothes and by-invitation-only invites to have simple clothes and an open invite into someone’s heart who actually wanted to love me in return.

I didn’t watch them very long, maybe a minute or two, and Mr. P grabbed my attention, looking me in the eyes as he kissed my forehead. I smiled cautiously and attempted not to show my disappointment. This was fun, it really was, but is it what I want? Can he give me what I want? Does he have the ability to feel about me how I want him to? Could I picture any of this with him?

Could those eyes that I’ve looked in, searching for a solution, for a sign, for an indication, for anything, ever give me what it is I really need? Could he ever look at me with those loving eyes?

Or is it time for me to look elsewhere?

The Men Who Never Ruined Me

When you’re a New Yorker-wannabe who sports heels in 20-degree snowy weather while attending a college ripe with country-fied hipsters – you develop thick skin pretty quickly. And when those not-so-Southern graces finally land you in city places – that durability only gets tougher.

Or when your job is to criticize and analyze, and thus those around you do the exact same, and your dreamland also happens to be the Land of Hard-Knocks –being resilient is an essential part of survival. It isn’t survival of the fittest, but survival of the wittiest – the ones who can not only take a punch but challenge another one to even try and make them fall.

And while this thick skin has given me opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise and strength that always makes me push forward -the layer of power is actually quite shallow.

They say the first cut cuts the deepest but I’d like to think that every love has the chance to penetrate the most pain. And to be honest – the older I become, the better ability I have to sincerely love someone. Not to mention the better I know myself, so the people I date I’m more compatible with and the relationships, more serious and impactful.

But yet, amidst the qualifications and healthy self-growth, I’ve found myself unable to fully develop that protection against the men who come and often leave my life. No matter how hard I try or how much I hold off on being vulnerable and emotionally open to someone – somehow, if the chemistry and the man are right, they’ll find their way in. Often times, easier than I’d like to admit.

And when that happens – when love gets under my skin – I automatically set myself on guard. I become a protector of my heart like the fragile item it is; a soldier unsure if I’m fighting for the single or the taken team.  Because  this person, who I let creep in, has this ability to crush me, and if I let them dig their way in deeper – I may never recover.

Because doesn’t everyone have the man who ruined them?

The guy who made our skin tingle in ecstasy, caused us to lose our breath when he pulled away in the middle of an exchange, and gave us what we thought was the gut-feeling of just-right, the ever just-so. But then he left. Or things fell apart. Or he met someone else. Or we stopped being what he wanted or realized we never were close to his idea of a dreamgirl, regardless if he was our image of fate.

I’ve met many men who have broken my spirits and damaged my pride. There have been a few that for a matter of time after we parted, I lost my faith in finding love. I’ve cursed a couple names, I’ve taken all the blame and placed it all away, and there is one I don’t go a day without thinking of. They’ve each hurt me in their own respect, some by their doing and some by my own actions.

And I’ve also been guilty of manipulating and leading-on men who merely wanted to see me happy. My intention was never to be deceptive, but it’s difficult to tell someone that they aren’t what you want, that they don’t give you what you need, and that you’d rather try your luck in singleness instead of sticking around with them. Are these the men who we break? I’d like to think not, but that’s easier to say when you’re the one in control not the one receiving harsh, blunt force to your core.

But regardless of which spectrum I shine or burn out at – I don’t believe I’ve ruined someone. And all of the he’s of yesterday are all the men who neverruined me. The ones of today and tomorrow will never make me damaged goods either. It’s simply impossible.

Will I be hurt? Will I find myself buried in sadness and fear of never stumbling across the love of my life? Will I ache and cry, crumble and fall? Will I allow myself to love and be loved, to give and make love? Will it all be less than and more than I can take?

I hope so.

Because the thing about having thick loving skin is to build up the resistance, to be wiser about who we give enough power to leave a scar – we have to experience the bad. Without the pain, there is no persistence. Without the pressure, hope never develops its place. Skin can’t be durable if it is never tested. Hearts can’t be trusted if they never allow themselves to trust. You can’t experience love until you fall madly and severely in lust. You can’t appreciate a man worth your time if you don’t date a guy who wasted not only your time, but you, too.

And we can’t assure ourselves that being emotionally battered is out of the question if we’re never faced with a love that has the power to destruct. Not only our emotions, but what we think, what we believe, and where we stand. Until we come across a man who will change us for the better, he’ll never have the opportunity to damage us for good.

But even when this love rears is beautifully disastrous head; when we realize the strength someone has over us, the tight grip they hold on our hearts without really trying, and the skin they’re making softer by the hour – we should enjoy it. Savor it. Experience it for all that it offers and all the hope it gives us, even if they are left unfulfilled in the end.

Because there are chances worth taking. Mistakes worth making. Promises worth breaking. Life worth chasing. People worth dating. And at the end of it, if we can remember we’re worth all of those things too, that we’re people worth loving, who are worthy of a chance, that we are the women worth breaking a promise for, and we are the ones with a life that’s worth a great chase- then we won’t find ourselves ruined if something goes wrong. Instead, we’ll find ourselves seasoned, experienced, and with a new man who never ruined us to add to the list of the love we’ve had, lost, and found.

And, if we’re lucky, we’ll also have a little thicker skin for the next one who comes our way.