Archive for the ‘Dating’ Category

Sitting on the Acela train leaving New York City has become a painful experience. I should be quite comfortable: the seats are soft and roomy, the air conditioning prodigious on a steamy July morning, and the speed considerably greater than the Northeast Regional train, which crawls between local stops, if it runs at all.

The problem, you see, is that I am leaving my love behind. A year ago this month, I began (again) a relationship with a man I’d dated years earlier, during a very difficult time in my life. It was after I ended the relationship with the “Big Ex” and before I’d stopped drinking.

Back then, we only lasted 6 months, largely due to my considerable baggage and an inability to see him for who he was. I regret that, although I tell myself that the intervening years were a necessity – he needed to follow his professional goals from Boston to New York, I needed to exorcise some of my demons (or at least begin the process). Still it’s difficult not to wonder what would have happened with us and where we would be had we stuck it out. Perhaps I would have more clarity in a life that seems marked by endless uncertainties at present. Or perhaps there wouldn’t be an us to speak of.

During the past 12 months, he and I have traveled to and from Boston and New York, skyped, IMed, called, and texted countless times. He’s taught me how to make pizza margherita, pasta with broccoli, mushroom risotto, and linguini with mussels. I introduced him to bad horror movies and planned weekend getaways to the Berkshires, San Juan, and the Connecticut shoreline. We’ve bonded over books, movies, TV shows, music, artists, playwrights, and even one unique video game and spent hours together walking, eating, sleeping, chatting, or just doing our own thing.

Slowly and steadily we have approached the subtle and delicate art of discussing the relationship in 5- to 10-minute intervals while I’ve restrained my need to discuss every little detail to within an inch of its life. We have slowly gotten to know one another over several hundred miles, intense weekend visits, and short daily check ins despite the fact that neither of us feels particularly adept at this “relationship” thing.

Somewhere during this time – perhaps between episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm and the 47th playing of Keith Jarrett and Charlie Hayden’s Jasmine – I fell in love. It’s a mysterious thing. Sometimes I wonder if we in fact have anything in common and I long for what seems like the perfect relationship standing next to us at the corner of 1st Avenue and gag me with a spoon. But then something happens – he looks at me a certain way, says something that cuts right through to my heart, or calls me on my bullshit – and I remember, while I can’t always explain it, I adore this person completely. (Mind you, all of this joy, intensity, awkwardness, and uncertainty were braved without the simultaneously confidence-boosting and numbing assistance of booze – more on this in a future post, working title: Amore Senza Vino).

Surprisingly, as our relationship deepened, I was also falling in love in New York City. It may seem a strange thing to be surprised about – how many millions of people have had a love affair with New York? How many have written songs, plays, and novels about it? But my relationship with this enormous, vibrating, incomparable city has been fraught since I was a child. Growing up on Long Island, my favorite things about visiting Manhattan were hot pretzels with mustard and leaving. The noise, the chaos, the crazy drivers, the impossibly gorgeous people – they were enough to make my poor head spin and I longed for the comfortable familiarity of the suburbs.

When I was 9, my parents took us to see the Broadway musical, Cats. It was May 10, 1984, a momentous day in my young life that I had fantasized about, memorizing the songs and studying a friend’s copy of T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. But as we surfaced from the Midtown tunnel, I spied the same homeless man sitting on the same corner as on our last visit to the city. A stout Asian man, his dusty face swollen likely from drink, although I didn’t realize that at the time. At the stoplight, we sat in our comfortable car heading for Broadway, he atop a crushed cardboard box, taking a break from weaving in and out of the cars begging for change.

In high school, my friends donned their hottest early-90s fashions (oxymoron intended) and boarded the Long Island Railroad bound for Manhattan. More sophisticated than I, they knew their way around the city’s neighborhoods, whereas I became flustered by whether to turn right or left out of Penn station. The city was hopelessly disorienting and I was sure to be lost among the throngs of tourists – or worse, my embarrassing lack of direction would be revealed to the locals, forever diminishing my chances of ever becoming one of them.

On one of these trips, while buying a cheap bangle at a street vendor’s table, I fumbled openly with the cash in my purse. The loose bills attracted the attention of an enormous homeless man nearby, who socked me hard in the chest as everyone looked on. Rather than feeling scared or angry or defensive, though, I was confused and figured I deserved it because I didn’t how to act here.

Even as an adult, I found Manhattan overwhelming. Faced with my first adult decision, I deliberately chose to move to Boston, a kinder, gentler, and less intimidating city, where I’ve lived for 14 years.

Even when attending a friend’s wedding just a few years ago – one of the last events to take place at Tavern on the Green – I opted to walk the outside perimeter of Central Park rather than risk taking a wrong turn.

But during the past year, I began to embrace the city I feared. With my boyfriend, or friends, and often by myself, I’ve ventured outside my comfort zone. For the first time, I walked around the streets of Manhattan or wandered the trails of Central Park without the fear of getting lost or looking stupid. Each turn became an exercise in exploring my curiosity. I took the F train solo – a first – to attend a friend’s son’s birthday party in Queens. Don’t laugh! This was big!

Sitting on this train, moving farther away from New York with each moment, I am contemplating doing the opposite of what I’ve done as long as I can remember: to move towards the uncertainty – of a relationship, of a new work situation, and of a city that has long challenged me to face my fears.


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During the last several years, I’ve become much more aware of the things I used to distract myself from my “stuff.” I’ve removed some – booze, shopping, certain friendships – that hindered awareness of my self and my life. I’ve even managed to cut down on Law & Order reruns!

Peeling away those layers, though, has revealed some really painful things – my fears, insecurities, feeling at once “too much” and “not enough” – things that probably caused me to take on all of that extra baggage in the first place. These are always with me but my awareness of them seems to be heightened by relationships, especially those of a romantic nature.

Fortunately, while I’ve stripped away some of the negative distractions from my life, I’ve managed to add some things that enhance my awareness – running, for example, and meditation.

About the same time I started my daily meditation practice last summer, I started (or restarted) a relationship – I realize now that this was no coincidence. It is in fact the first relationship I’ve been in since quitting drinking and since I stopped taking antidepressants (the possibility of coming off antidepressants was one of the major reasons I stopped drinking); both drugs served to buffer my feelings and now that buffer is gone. And I find myself feeling wide open, exposed, and vulnerable.

As I shared with Susan Piver in our recent interview, one of the reasons I started meditating was so that I could feel safer “out there” in the world, so that despite my vulnerability, I could be brave and take risks. In this way, I was secretly hoping that meditation would protect me.

When I sit on the cushion, I try to focus awareness on the breath. And when thoughts inevitably take that awareness away, I gently return it to the breath. While this sounds incredibly simple, there are times when it could not be more difficult. Thoughts about everything from the mundane (what am I going to eat for breakfast?) to the profound (what am I doing with my life?) to the painful (what if I grow old alone?) arise and make the breath seem like the least interesting thing on Earth.

An inherent bias for action makes me want to do something, not just sit there. There have been more times than I care to admit that I have wanted to give up – to turn off my little iPhone meditation app, get up, and walk away. Luckily staying seated also appeals to my inherent laziness so I’ve been able to resist that temptation for the most part. And I’m learning that part of the practice is exactly that: resisting the urge to give up and, even if you are having what you think is the worst practice of your life, staying.

In some ways, it is getting easier. I recognize my wandering mind a little earlier and can return awareness to the breath. At the same time, the practice seems to be deepening my awareness of my essential vulnerability. While I’d initially hoped that it would serve as a protective shield for me, I’m instead feeling even more raw, open, and exposed. It’s uncomfortable. But I sit. Stay.

Relationships, too, are inherently uncomfortable. During the past several months in my relationship, thoughts and issues have arisen and at times have made me want to run away. Letting go of past hurts, staying in the present moment, giving someone the benefit of the doubt, accepting uncertainty – these are not easy things to do day in and day out.

Like an abused dog that has been adopted into a new and loving home, I hold the memory of being hurt just under the surface, even when my tail is wagging. Sometimes I want to run away, fearing the beating. But if I ran, might I miss the biscuit? And when the outcome is truly unknown, isn’t the biscuit at least as likely, if not more so, than the blow?

Like meditation, this relationship has reminded me how powerless I am, but that there is strength in that. If I can tolerate the uncertainty and the empty spaces, there is great possibility. So I sit. Stay.

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Dating While Sober

Anyone who’s been “out there” knows that dating can be fun and revealing and full of potential as well as frustrating, confusing, and downright hellacious. One thing that seems to make dating possible is the presence of alcohol. In the words of Homer Simpson, To alcohol, the cause of and solution to all of our problems!

When you’ve made the decision to stop drinking – and you live in Boston, where booze is often the main course and not just a side dish – dating becomes an adventure. That is to say, an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks (at least according to Miriam Webster).

Since I stopped drinking, I’ve gone out on my share of first dates. Each one has been different in some way – the American of British heritage who was obsessed with being Italian, the former Olympic bobsledder who looked like a young Christopher Reeve and passionately argued his right to bear arms, the young businessman who resembled a crazed hedgehog when he laughed. There were nice guys, mean boys, great dates I was happy to just experience, awful ones I wish never happened, and a lot in between.

One thing they all had in common was that within the first 10 minutes of sitting down, the question inevitably arose, Oh, you don’t drink?

Faced with this, I initially took the honest route, Yeah, I decided it is better for me not to.

Honest? Yes, but this only led to more questions (oh, is there a story there?) and/or awkward silences (where can the first conversation with someone go from here?).

So I developed a small collection of responses that would hopefully introduce some levity or just plain distract my date. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • It’s a condition of my parole.
  • It interacts badly with my medication. [widen eyes for emphasis] We don’t want that, do we?
  • It makes me really flirtatious; you saw the movie Blind Date, right? [wink]
  • I took E before I came here tonight. I never mix.
  • It’s bad for the baby.

Over course of a relationship, the conversation has to happen at some point, but that’s another story.

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About a month after I took my last drink, my somewhat confusing outpatient recovery program behind me, things fell apart. I was dating the mechanic/bodybuilder/stand-up comedian who had supported me through this process and I had just started a new job.

The job was perfect…on paper. I loved their work, they loved me. The interview process was a great, big love fest. We finished each other’s sentences, shared the same hopes and dreams. When I asked the standard question of Where do your employees go when they leave here?, the response was inspiring, They don’t quit; they just love working here.

On my first day, I was given the tour of the offices, including the room in which I was to punch in. Wait. What?

When you arrive in the morning, hit 5-2-3-in; and when you leave, hit 5-2-3-out.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen! I was in a salaried position, just a step down from the president and CEO of the company, and I was back to punching in my hours like I was 14 and working at Ye Olde Rockville Camera Shop. I therefore should not have been surprised to learn that our work space resembled a travel agent’s office (many desks, no divisions, no privacy), that the number of times I went to the ladies room was being closely monitored, and that our fearless leader managed employees much the way Henry VIII managed his wives.

Help me, Jesus, I’m in hell!

Three weeks into my sentence, I mean my job, my boyfriend went missing. Not flyer-on-telephone-pole missing, but I-left-my-phone-in-my-car-and-was-home-sick-for-5-days missing.


Once he re-emerged, we actually managed to patch things up for about 3 weeks before he broke up with me one Sunday morning…right before Valentine’s Day…in bed.

I awoke one late-February morning to the Regina Spektor song, Field Below:

I wish I’d see a field below
I wish I’d hear a rooster crow
But there are none who live downtown
And so the day starts out so slow
Again the sun was never called
And darkness spreads over the snow
Like ancient bruises
I’m awake and feel the ache

I was awake, and I felt the ache.

Had I the option of checking out with a bottle (or two) every night, I would have embraced that approach like a starving dog setting upon a scrap of meat. I could easily have spent much of the 10 months of my job from hell in a hazy stupor.

Had I the option to drink, however, I might not have learned something important about myself. I found out that I’m stronger than I thought. I felt all the pain, confusion, heartbreak, and uncertainty – without ever taking the edge off – and I didn’t die. Who knew?

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