On Convention. Or, Lost is the New Normal. 

I’ve tried about 13 times to go to University, and once to college. Each of these times, I have found a reason not to finish. I was bored, or broke, or both. I hated the coursework, and the professors annoyed me because they were often stuffy and I felt like they lived in musty old houses with many cats and drank weak tea and had no time for the actual students they were meant to be teaching who were paying for this pointless course on 18th century writers that no one ever actually cared about with the promise to surrender their firstborn child. 

I am still one school year away from completing my University degree, and every once in awhile I get spasms of sheer panic that accompany a dialogue that goes something like this: 

You have to finish school. If you don’t finish school, you will be a waitress forever and you will get varicose veins and seriously it is time to grow up and just finish something and you can do this (no you can’t) look at all of the people out there who finish degrees when they are like 78 years old and go on to be wildly successful for the last 7 months of their lives it’s never too late to go back to school. 

This continues for a few months, and then I forget about it, and go back to the job that I really like and just sort of plod along in life like I suspect most of us are doing, regardless of our job titles or our annual incomes. 

I respect the people who have done things the right way, and I also feel a little envious of them. Having a life that has followed a straight line to an acceptable and normal outcome is something that I applaud. School, more school, job, mortgage, spouse, child, retirement, cottage, death. For many people, this is the trajectory of life, with the occasional surprise or setback thrown in. And I think this is great. It must be, right? Because this is what we are taught, as soon as we can get our heads around the concept of convention. Do what you have to do in order to have a life that is comfortable. But do it quickly, so you can work as many years as possible, in a job that is suitable and stable, so that you can have enough money to buy stuff when you are old. 

While I applaud this convention (cautiously and also sort of sarcastically) I have also spent most of my adult life ignoring it. 

I live in an apartment, I don’t have any kids, I have no interest in a mortgage or a yard or in owning mechanical things that are used to cut grass and blow snow and essentially make me miserable in climate conditions that I prefer not to be outside in. I have a lot of tattoos, I still dress like I am 17, and I often speak my mind when the socially advisable thing to do would be to shut up. My spouse and I work in an industry that is gruelling and leaves little time for family life. We sleep in separate bedrooms by choice, we don’t ever want to have a wedding, and we hate all-inclusive vacations for the very legitimate reason that they feel exactly like what I imagine a real-life Groundhog Day would feel like except with palm trees and shitty booze. 

I spent years being uncomfortable with most of these things. I struggled when I saw that people I went to high school with were living in enormous houses or becoming doctors or enjoying their vacations. I felt like I was doing life wrong because I didn’t want any of the things that everyone else seemed to. Pregnancy and childbirth actually alarm me so much it’s embarrassing – your body does what? And you did this on purpose? And you’re going to do it again? 

The amount of people – sometimes people who are little more than strangers to me – who feel entitled to ask if I own my home or rent it is staggering. These are the same people who are shocked and, inexplicably, saddened to learn that, no, I don’t want kids, I never have, and my ownership of female reproductive organs doesn’t really make me feel like I have to guiltily slink into motherhood with my head down simply because it’s what I am (supposedly) biologically engineered to do. 

As I get older, I am learning to stare these people down and hold my head up a little higher. I don’t know if this is because I am maturing into someone who is proud of who they are for reasons that are not dictated to me by other people or if I am just generally too exhausted to give a fuck what anyone else thinks about my life. Either way, it feels a lot better. There is no conventional life, anyways, I don’t think. I think a lot of people are struggling, even if they took the right path, the one that was properly timed and didn’t have too many detours. 

I see a lot of humanity in my line of work. Some of the happiest people I know are filthy rich, and some are just getting by. Others have families so big it actually makes my head hurt to comprehend what it costs to feed and clothe so many individuals, but they are so blissful and content with their situation that it also makes me smile for them while at the same time feeling immensely relieved that I am not them. I see regular folks who seem sad or angry or discontented, and I see husbands and wives who have been married since probably 1918 and are clearly still in love. I watch young people who are so obviously unprepared for the life that is coming at them and hope that they take their own route to get there, even if it seems messy or wrong or unconventional. 

I still don’t know what I want to be. The long road from divorce to happiness seems, in a lot of ways, like the biggest victory I could ever imagine. Also that I have found someone who seems to want to tolerate me indefinitely is definitely something I didn’t expect to happen twice in one lifetime. In the meantime, I’m happy to wander along my little path, screaming at people who don’t understand me along the way until I have offended so many well-intentioned strangers that eventually no one will ever go out of their way to speak to me ever again, until I reach the place where I am supposed to be, with Moe beside me, rolling his eyes and rubbing his face at the sheer level of frustration I bring to his life. I could have ended up a lot of places (most likely under a bridge talking to myself), but the fact that I am here, right now, in this life, is enough for me. 

And we pay $1400 a month in rent. If you’re wondering. 

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Real Life Interlude

There is a great website that exists that is called 6dollartshirts.com. As I’m sure you’ve surmised, it sells t-shirts for six dollars apiece. About once a year or so I order a bunch of them. They reference pop culture things, mostly, like television shows or music. Loosely translated, pop culture means stuff that is POPULAR in our culture.

Last night when Moe got home from work, I was wearing one of my t-shirts and obsessively watching a show on the CW network that, like every show on the CW network, is meant to be watched by teenagers and that I pretend to scoff at but that in reality I am very familiar with because I have actually googled almost every cast member to find out what they look like and who they are dating in real life and whether or not they have any pets or interesting hobbies.

In my peripheral vision, I could see Moe staring at me. This is uncommon. Even though I know that Moe naturally considers me to be fascinating and interesting and stimulating to be in the presence of, we are past the point where we just look at each other for no reason other than to marvel at our good luck at finding one another and blah blah blah.

“WHAT are you looking at?”

“Nothing, I just…”

“Is it my facial hair? I KNOW I have some right now I just haven’t had the 13 minutes it takes to use the cream to remove it, ok? So I think you’re being PRETTY rude by pointing it out like that”.

“I didn’t…what?”

“Shhh. I don’t want to miss this part. God, this show is so juvenile”.

*ten minutes pass*

“Ok, seriously WHAT are you looking at?”

“I don’t get your shirt”.

The shirt in question here is one that says 9 3/4 on it. That is all it says, and it doesn’t need to say any more than that because literally every person over the age of 3 months old KNOWS that the number (fraction? whatever) 9 3/4 is the number of the train station platform where Harry Potter and all of his fellow wizards and muggles board the train to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

“You don’t know what this means? Are you serious? Where do you live, in the forest or something?”

“I…what?”

I will spare you the dialogue involved in my long and very detailed explanation of platform 9 3/4 and the complete and total disinterest on the part of Moe and also the growing heatedness of my tirade on how a grown man has lived his life up to this point without bothering to educate himself on the details of how the MOST FAMOUS WIZARD EVER uses public transportation.

What I will tell you is that when Moe is done talking about something, the subject is firmly closed. There is no going back, no combing over details and wondering about other possible endings and imagining what would have happened if something else had happened and was the right decision made or should we just go over all of this again from the very beginning? He politely yet firmly disengages. He is never, ever rude and always provides a gentle verbal nudge to me to let me know that whatever conversation I am convoluting and distorting and essentially ruining is now over.

“I just thought that 9 3/4 meant that you considered yourself to be not quite a ten”.

The conversation (indignant rage-fuelled rant) that followed is currently under review in my own psyche, so maybe I will be able to untangle it in a few decades and turn it into something approaching coherent writing.

For the record, I consider myself a ten in every rating category that counts (except for interpersonal communication and personal hygiene in those categories I’m probably a 2 and a 7 but I’m working on them just not really the first one at all) and I hope that you consider yourself to be a firm ten as well, which, if you are reading my blog you probably are, provided of course you understand what platform 9 3/4 is and also do not confuse Dumbledore and Gandalf, ever.

On Friendship. Or, Table for One, Please

I work in a restaurant that has very good food and very good wine. Because of this, a large majority of the people that I serve are women. They are all different. Most are very nice and some are awful, some have four carat diamond rings and spouses that work ninety hours a week so that their wives can drink during the day and some wear sweatpants with writing across their bums and some have kids and some don’t and some are in their sixties and some are young and speak almost entirely in hashtags and tweets and make me feel like I am in MY sixties.

As varied as these women are, they all have one thing in common.

They travel in groups.

Sometimes they appear in groups of two, but very often they come in clusters of four or six or nine, or, very occasionally and most appallingly, in groups of fifteen or twenty one.

These women eat food and drink wine and laugh and protest loudly and indignantly that they DO NOT WANT DESSERT and while they are doing all of these things they do something else at the same time.

They talk.

And talk and talk and talk.

They stay long after their one shared appetizer is gone, and well past the consumption of their requisite glass and a half of wine because no they don’t want another one they have to drive and get up in the morning but they are going to stay a little longer anyways and what kind of herbal tea do you have and can you make me a non-fat latte actually never mind I’ll just have more water. No ice this time.

These women are friends. Maybe co-workers, maybe neighbours, maybe relatives, but friends nonetheless. And they intrigue me.

We all know that girl who always rolls her eyes at “typical” female behaviour and shrugs off not being invited to a baby shower/wedding/girls night/bachelorette party/paint social/ by saying “I’ve never really liked other women that much….I prefer to hang out with guys. SO much easier there’s no drama and I love how men are just SO laid back and don’t judge you and you can just like BE YOURSELF with them and yeah I don’t really WANT anymore friends I totally have my mom and this cousin I saw in 1997 so I’m good. Really”.

I am THAT GIRL.

And those excuses? They’re all bullshit.

If female friendship were a body of water, it would be a murky, dark, confusing, and very loud pond. There is so much involved in being a woman who interacts with other women. Nuances and grey areas and jealousies and insecurities and anger and sadness and the constant flow of feelings, both spoken and silent. When it works, when it is at its very best, female friendship is pretty awesome. It lifts you up, and makes you feel included, like you’re a part of a good club that takes care of it’s members and gives you fun perks like free movie admission or hotel discounts.

When it doesn’t work, it’s like Costco. Sensory overload, too much stuff everywhere, and a level of exclusiveness that really feels like elitism.

I have belonged to both of these clubs. I have had Costco friendships, the kind where I take on too much, and try to be someone I am not and can’t figure out why I am there, buying 8 litre containers of peanut butter and large quantities of meat that need to be carved before they are cooked and consumed and I don’t even like meat that much. I’m just there because I feel like I am supposed to be. And it’s making me feel bad about myself. But it’s what women do they make friends and they stick it out and they LOVE each other. So I will do it.

I have also had the privilege of belonging to the good club. Good friends, some gone now because I didn’t see them for what they were at the time (sick of my nonsense) and some still around. Do I always treat them the way I should, as a card-holding co-member of this excellent, rewarding, totally worth-it group? Probably not. I can be an asshole sometimes. But I do recognize something now, something I didn’t in my twenties (always drunk no time for self-awareness) or even in my very early thirties (always drunk and also stuck in self-pity-hole) – that good friends, the real ones, the ones who let you be you and express and even flaunt your unhealthy character traits and understated but possibly concerning narcissism, are sometimes women. The I Like Guys Better Because Women Are Awful Excuse is a separator, a wall that divides us from each other in a growing social climate that already pits women against each other way too often. I’ve come to realize that it’s not other women that are the problem in the never ending issues that I have when it comes to connecting with other human beings. The problem is me – my insecurities, my jealousy, my fear of not belonging. And that’s ok, just like it’s ok, awesome even, that many (MANY) women have countless female friends who all come into my place of work and ask me for things that I frankly don’t understand but will happily (that’s a lie) do anyways because I love my job (that’s not a lie).

I don’t want to travel in large gaggles of women, ever. For one thing, I’m too impatient to sit down for the apparent amount of time it takes to have these meetings, and for another, I don’t know that many women. I DO want to sit down with the few friends I have made and managed to keep, some younger than me, some older, some male and some female, and eat food and have drinks and laugh and shake our heads at our mistakes and those of the people we know. I want to watch over these friendships, because they are precious and I have let other ones die from neglect, but I don’t want to tend to them too much, because I have learned the hard way that if you water a plant a lot it also dies and then you have a soggy plant and I am way too lazy to repot it or replace it so now it’s just rotting in my living room slowly growing mold.

So if you are reading this and you are my friend (very likely since I doubt anyone BUT my friends are reading this), thank you. For seeing me through my self-inflicted tough times, and for letting me whine a lot and talk about myself constantly and for knowing I am annoying and repetitive and a terrible judge of character with a quick temper and no patience and a bad tendency to dislike people on sight, while at the same time knowing I love you and would do anything for you. Unless it involves making actual plans or committing to going somewhere on a certain date at a pre-set time. Then you are on your own.

On Marriage. Or, An Ode to Sweatpants

I am in a relationship with my sweatpants. It is not monogamous, since I have several pairs that I am involved with on a rotating basis. They have been loyal to me, my sweatpants. They have guided me gently through countless naps, walked many miles with my beast of a dog and I, nurtured me through endless hangover days, and have never, once, offended me by requiring  me to wear undergarments with them that squish or invade parts of my anatomy that should never be squished or invaded.

However, dependable as they may be, my sweatpants are not sexy. Not, at least, in the conventaional, don’t wear faded, saggy, stained and eleven year old items of clothing if you want to remain attractive to the person you live with sort of way.

Is sexiness important to a relationship? Or is sexiness too narrow a term to describe what keeps us tethered to someone over the long-term? Does sexiness include the broader scope of attraction, like someone’s sharp mind or kind heart or quick sense of humour?

Of course it does. These are the things that grow our relationship, keep us hanging around despite all of the cover-snatching and snoring and throat clearing and socks on the floor and open containers of orange juice that you go to shake and get literally all over your kitchen ceiling because the lid was, ONCE AGAIN, not screwed on properly. These things calm the anger and mitigate the endless irritation that simply living with another human being inevitably brings. They remind us why we were drawn to this person in the first place, when there is a sea (pond) of other mates available to us at every turn.

And then time goes on. The nerves go away., You don’t have to run the water when you pee in the same house as them anymore, or pretend you aren’t hungry because god what kind of an attractive person eats food in front of someone else, or frantically wash your feet in the bathroom sink at work after an 11 hour shift before you go over there. You pee with the door open. You eat regularly and probably not with a conscious awareness of how much food you are getting on your face, the floor, or your shirt. If your feet have that 11 hour shift smell, you aren’t worrying about it.

But if you were a French woman, you would be. The door to your bathroom would remain closed. Your feet would probably not be smelly, and if they were, no one would ever know, because you would swiftly and elegantly take care of the issue before it even had time to become one.

French women (and this is a bit of a generalization I am not saying all French women are any one thing in particular because I realize all people are varied and unique and vastly different regardless of geography, race, class, ethnicity, gender, and every other possible category so relax everyone) view marriage and relationships differently than we do here in North America. In France, extra-marital affairs are more common – often even expected since the tight-assed view of monogamy that we hold here isn’t the norm there. The way that French society views sex and cheating and seduction and marriage and everything else that encompasses the way that humans in love and lust connect with each other hugely affects how women in relationships behave. Does every French woman have a spouse who cheats? Probably not. But because the expectation is there, women, like in so many social situations, have to be reactionary. So what do they do? Do they go Carrie Underwood on their partners and key their cars and take a Louisville Slugger to both headlights?

No.

They wear lingerie.  They flirt. They use little jealousies to their advantage, seducing their partners over and over again by reminding them of their own attractiveness to others. They remain unavailable sometimes, both emotionally and physically. They fulfill their own needs, under the assumption that an intelligent, well-rounded woman will always be the better bet.

They behave like their spouses’ mistress. Because if he already has one, why would he go looking for another?

Part of me loves this whole French woman philosophy. But another part of me wants to know that there are French women who are insecure and afraid and sometimes have bad breath or prickly legs or shitty temperaments when they see their partners looking casually at a 23 year old woman who seems to be able to pull off this stupid crop-top trend that should have died in the 90’s pretty bloody well. I can’t believe that they all have Bridgette Bardot bangs and Catherine Deneuve eyes and roving husbands who slink around at night looking for and finding illicit sex.

Maybe we need to reach a compromise here in North America. Like, a little less sweatpants and a little more lingerie and I’ll TRY to flirt sometimes but only if YOU try to stop making that stupid noise when you’re concentrating on something and if you DO cheat on me maybe I won’t LITERALLY kill you but I WILL ruin your life somehow make no mistake about that and I’m not emotionally unavailable but I AM exhausted so I’ll maybe play that off like I’m teasing you but in reality I just want to go to bed so don’t get too interested over there.

Based on my own staggeringly legitimate credentials of exactly one failed marriage, I feel like I have the authority to say this – marriage, raltionships, need to be largely about compromise. You do the dishes, I’ll do the laundry. You walk the dog, I’ll clean the toilet. So if I am going to behave like a lofty, liberal French woman with great hair and swinging morals wearing underwear that hurt and chafe me in spots, you are going to avoid getting a pot belly. You will never wear socks with your sandals. You won’t putter when you’re 58, getting in my way and accomplishing nothing. You will stay sexy, too.

And I am keeping my sweatpants.

 

 

On Divorce. Or, Guilt & the Drunk Girl in a Hole 


(Part 1 of 47 or 843)

 When I was deciding whether or not to leave my then-marriage (spoiler – I did!), I was at a bit of a loss in terms of finding people to talk to about it. If you’ve been through a divorce, or a break-up, you will know that suddenly people seem to become pretty thin on the ground in your life (more on that in another post). You will recall that, often, you are alone somewhere (your house or your car or the bathroom in the grocery store that smells like urine and weak disenfectant and seriously has anyone ever cleaned this bathroom? Because I buy my food here, grocery store employees) and need so desperately to speak to a human being that isn’t your potentially soon-to-be-ex partner that you end up resorting to the only logical action that is left to you. Google.
One Sunday (I know it was Sunday because I remember weepily watching The Walking Dead and feeling like I would rather deal with a zombie infiltration than deal with my own life situation), I sat on my then-couch and googled “getting divorced in your early thirties”. I was positive that some answers would appear that would ease my guilt, and the pain, and the uncertaintity. That some woman, somwhere, would have something to tell me that would resonate. Like “hey you! Weepy, bloated woman on the couch over there! Ive been through this! Listen to my story and learn and be reassured!”. Shockingly, this did not happen. Not even close. NO ONE in ALL OF THE INTERNET wanted to help me. A quick summary of topics that I encountered every one of the four hundred times that I googled some variation of this theme:

– Divorce in your 40’s

– Divorce in your 50’s

– Divorce in your 60’s

– Divroce when your spouse is gay

– Divorce when you are gay

– Divorce and money

– Divorce and real estate

– Divorce when you have between 2 and 9 children under the ages of 5 who all need dental work and one needs glasses

– How to throw a divorce party

– How to throw a divorce party if you live in Wyoming OR have a horse farm

– Divorce and pets
Henceforth, the conclsion can be drawn that I am the only woman (or person, apparently) who has EVER considered divorce in her early 30’s. There is an ENTIRE POPULATION of people out there who are happily married in their early 30’s, skipping around at Home Depot buying things to improve their already very happy houses, while I squat greasily on a couch, in a bathrobe, frantically looking for answers online that ARE NOT THERE.

Fuck you, Google.

Of course, my need to have reassurance from strangers online is not Google’s fault. It comes from Guilt, the most elusive and useless of emotions, and one that women seem to fall victim to constantly, especially within the parameters of our personal relationships. Guilt drove me to seek answers to questions like: “how did I fall out of love with someone?”, “how do I fix this person and still have a life that will make me happy”, and “am I the worst person in the world and if so is there any kind of assistance for that?”. When I didn’t find them, I had to look at myself. This is probably the most frightening and sobering and mind-fucking aspect of a life-changing experience. I don’t even look at my outer self that often, except when I know I am going to be seen by others in flourescent lighting, and then I look at myself very critically and wonder- were all these blackheads here yesterday? and – are these dark circles under my eyes a symptom of some illness that is still laying dormant inside of me but will expose itself any day now?

The inner-self examination was even scarier than the flourescent-lighting one, and I didn’t get around to really doing it until I had broken all kinds of hearts. The one of the person I was married to, those of the good friends I had made over the years, and my own. When we end something of our own volition, we have a million consequences to deal with, ones that we are rarely prepared for. When the dust I had created settled, I was left with one person to reckon with – myself. I made shitty, selfish life decisions, and was angry and hurt that no one had stuck around to pat my head and tell me it was ok, that I was still a good person, that I would be fine. For a long time, rather than put the work in to understand what I had done, and why, and how it had affected people around me, I fell back on Guilt. Guilt was there for me. Guilt was comfortable and reliable and it understood me. It let me sleep too much, and drink a lot, and treat people however I wanted. It let me be my worst self and never judged me, unlike irritating Self-Reflection, who was ALWAYS on my ass to do pointless things like eat well and sober up and apologize to the people that I had hurt.

But no matter how many times I avoided it and tried to keep partying with Guilt, Self-Reflection, like that really annoying person we all know who is smug and has their life together and wants you to go to the gym with them and drink kombucha and run a half-marathon, kept hounding me. Did it work? Did I look at myself in a calm and meaningful way and decide to ditch the guilt and woman up to the choices that I had made and stop whining and feeling bad for myself? Not really. At least not right away. But Self-Reflection did make me realize something – I had created a situation for myself that I was blaming everyone else for, and my guilty conscience was proof of this. Some sane and rational version of myself (still seen very rarely) knew that this was the case, which is why I was letting guilt bubble to my surface like a PMS-induced zit. Then I would run and hide from the guilt, usually somewhere super inconspicious like behind 7 pints of beer and a double scotch.

Guilt still hangs out arond me a lot, but it’s not my best friend anymore. It’s more like a casual aquaintance that I try to avoid eye contact with in the mall but who races up to me anyways and asks when we are going to go for coffee together and I mumble something about not really liking coffee that much these days and so we end up out at an all-you-can-eat sushi place and I awkwardly order stuff I only sort of like and then leave full and annoyed that I even wasted my day off with this person who I don’t honestly like that much.

It isn’t always the actual thing that has happened that makes our world tilt. Divorce is awful, no question. But it’s our reactions to what has happened that change us, for better or for worse. Sometimes, it’s the shove in the right direction that we were needing all along. In my case, it was a violent stumble backwards, into a huge hole, that I had to crawl out of alone. It’s this long, dirty, muddly crawl that is finally giving me the answers Google couldn’t and that Guilt was hiding from me. I looked, slowly and cautiously, at this person I didn’t really know and definitely didn’t like anymore and told her that she wasn’t going to stay in the confines of being messy and weepy and self-pitying. She glared back at me for while, and it was uncomfortable because we all know that the girl I am alluding to here is myself, and no one has ever had a successful staring contest with themselves. If you have, I want to hear from you.

The moral of the story here? There isn’t one.  A lot of days, I still feel like the drunk girl in the hole. Confused and tired from questioning myself. Some days, though, I can see some light at the top of the hole, and then other days I am like a conditioned athlete (that is a lie) who jumps out of the hole completely and manages to (weakly) tackle life with no self-doubt.

The days where self-doubt reigns and the hole is deep and musty and the sides are too slick to pull myself out? On those days, I am learning to look to other people (shout out to Moe for putting up with me and my constant slides back into this fictional hole I keep talking about that frankly has him totally confused) to help me out.

I think we all have holes that we have dug, or that other people have kicked us into. Some holes are where we hide, and others are where we feel safe from whatever is following us around, be it that asshole Guilt or something more sinister like Self-Hatred or Fear. Whatever the hole is, wherever it came from, it can be filled up. Mostly with Time, or Self-Love, or things that seem so unattainable when we first fall in. Those good hole-fillers are out there, though, trust me. I’ve run into them a few times when trying to outrun Self-Reflection.