single life

Relationship kryptonite?

Hello, it's Valentine's Day.I adore this holiday from the chalky conversation hearts — FAX ME — to all the contrived expressions of affection. Because even though he may have been guilted into going to Jared by jewelry-store ads and chocolate companies and the Hallmark Corporation, I'll bet his heart's in the right place. Usually. Some men really do just suck. Okay, women, too. But mostly men.

Bitterness and cynicism are a real turn-offs. All the anti-Cupid sentiment? I'm anti-that. Yes, we should tell our loved ones how we feel, show them how much they mean to us, every day. But what's wrong with one day out of the year where we go out of our way, go big, to spoil them?

I don't have a big hetero Valentine this year. There's a heart-shaped iron the fire, to be sure, but I'm not jumping to brand anybody for now.

But when I love, I love with my whole heart. Then I write about it. And apparently, the fact that I reveal so very much about myself, my relationships, my feelings, bothers some people. A few weeks ago, after I wrote "Second-Fiddle Girl, a male friend sent me an e-mail. He doesn't read my blog regularly, but some turn of phrase in my many pleas to read it drew him in. And what he found there that day was enough to prompt this: Question: Do you think your blog could be relationship kryptonite? In this day and age, you can Google or FB someone in .3 seconds and find out a good deal before you meet for date number two. Do you think this guy did some background work on you, found your blog and said, "No way; I don't want to be a part of this"? Reason I say that is…I'm a pretty normal guy, and if I saw your blog, I'd be like thanks, but no thanks.

Well. I never.

I never even considered it, actually. Good thing he's not my type. Maybe I have much too high an opinion of myself, but I'm not sure how anything I write here would be seen as a dealbreaker. Yes, I have a cat — we probably shouldn't shack up if you're allergic. Yes, a guy pulled a shady move and hurt my feelings, and I wrote about it — you probably shouldn't screw me over. Yes, I have issues about my weight — you probably shouldn't call me fat. I have the occasional problem with men. With my family. With…posting to Craigslist. I have webbed toes. Okay? Who doesn't? Okay, don't answer that.

Honestly. Men know women are complicated. It's part of our infuriating allure, n'est-ce pas? I'm really no more complicated, no more of a mess than the average woman; I'm just better at articulating my complications. Which — if you think about it — actually demystifies me a little. Because at least you know what you're getting into. Anyone I would want to be with would read my posts and think, "I can deal with that." Better yet, he'd read my posts and think, "I should get to know her better in person." And ideally? He wouldn't be completely batshit. But that's a risk I'm willing to take at the outset. (Something about coordinating baggage?) If some cookie-cutter Ken Doll in Wrigleyville reads my blog and decides not to pursue a relationship with me, more's the better for both of us. I can only listen to so much Dave Matthews Band. I've had people call my tendency to share details about my life problematic. I've been told I have no filter. Boundary issues. So, with varying degrees of success, I've tried to force myself to hold back when I'm first getting to know a guy. (And in saying that out loud, it seems horribly backward?) But I'm not embarrassed about my choices or their consequences — or, if I am, talking about it helps ease my pain. I'm young, okay? I've made some stupid decisions. And I've learned from them. But I've actually made some smart decisions, some brave decisions, and I'm not the type to stay tight-lipped about my successes. I'm not some stupid girl running my mouth because I have a skewed sense of propriety. I like to share things about myself. I'm kind of an oversharer, actually, and that's probably not going to change. I'd love to think I could restrain my flood of personal information to a trickle — I suppose a lesser man could drown in that deluge, and maybe it's cheated me out of a few nice dates — but what comes out comes out, and I'd rather have it out from the get-go and save us all the pain in the end. If I'm going to be too much, I'd rather offer the so-called kiss of death before either one of us gets attached. So pucker up. Go ahead: Read my blog and pass your judgments before you get to know me. Or get the story behind the words. Love's all about choices.

Pick me. Choose me. Love me.

Happy Valentine's Day. Bring on the haters.

Second-fiddle girl.

I met him on a night when I wasn't expecting to meet anyone special: an event called a Mingler.The e-mail said to bring a snack to share. I brought chocolate-chip cookies, my surefire instant friend maker. Wear comfortable clothes, it said, and pack a pair of slippers to keep your feet warm after you've taken your boots off. Romance wasn't on my agenda. At all, actually.

Men with no heads.But he was tall (!!!) and had kind eyes, looked strong underneath his loose-fitting sweater; his first job, I learned during an icebreaker game, was collecting trash at Six Flags. He had a golden retriever and loved his family. Who am I to argue with fate? So I went home with him.

It's not what you think. He had to walk the dog; she'd been home alone all night. So he invited me to his apartment for a glass of wine. The dog had taken a crap in the kitchen while he was gone. A great story to tell our friends later. He poured us glasses of sweet white wine; he gave me the grand tour of his bi-level Lakeview apartment, showed me "where the magic happens." He lit candles, and we listened to music on his iPod stereo as the golden retriever, duly chastened, nudged at my knee and begged me to throw the toy just one more time. Just one more time. One more kiss.

When I finally got up to leave, my contacts were gritty, my lips were chapped and I was drunk on possibility. We linked arms and walked to Southport, where he hailed me a cab, handed me a $20 bill to get home and made me promise I'd let him know I was home safe. He kissed me on the forehead. Sigh.

Clearly, it's all downhill from there.

That charmed first meeting happened three days before I left Chicago for the holidays. We exchanged a few texts and enjoyed a lovely phone call a couple of days after Christmas. We arranged to spend more time together when I returned. I was so excited. Then he got the flu.

Don't hate me, he begged. He'd really been looking forward to it, too. Then his dog got sick. (Should have known she'd be a problem, after our messy first meeting.)

Then I was traveling. He was busy at work. The calendar was not our friend.

We finally set another date for mid-January. For this past Saturday, actually. More than a month after our first meeting. He'd pick the place; he'd pick me up — just as we'd planned. Yes, a real date!

Then, after my run on Friday — before my much-needed shower and before the voicemail from the Knight, who had spotted me from inside Starbucks — I got the text. Don't hate me. He was canceling our rescheduled date, canceling me for good. He wanted to see where things might go with another girl he'd been "hanging out with."

What. I. Don't. Get. Rejected.

Okay, that's not true. I've been rejected a lot. All throughout high school, in fact. I was rejected wholesale by the fraternity community of the University of Kansas (except for the cliché of a man who got me belligerently drunk two nights in a row, then ditched me when he realized I wasn't going to put out no matter how much jungle juice he pumped into me). The men of New York rejected me in my infinite virginity. Rejection, yes. Fine. But what came next: No hard feelings? Can we keep in touch? You never know what will happen in the future.

Right. So. If dream girl doesn't work out, you can feel free to schedule and cancel some more dates with me. Second-fiddle girl. Rejection I can handle, but I'm not used to being second choice. All or nothing, bucko. I'm a gem, dammit. Asshole. Cue irate, rapid-fire tweets and responses from an army of 140-character supporters. His loss, they told me. Yeah. His loss. I wiped one hot, bitter tear from my cheek, and I washed that man right out of my hair.

Later that day, he wrote to ask how I was doing. And I told him I didn't want to be friends. Didn't want to wait around for him to decide whether I was worth his time. I wasn't hurt; I just wasn't having any of it. Dramatic? A little. But the waiting around, the wondering if he's going to change his mind? Not worth my time.

The truth is, he's not an asshole. I'd rather have known before we went on a date, before I got attached to his dog and his bi-level Lakeview apartment, grew accustomed to drinking wine on his sofa and riding in his car. He did the right thing. Until the "you never know" moment.

Men are so dumb. They are really dumb. For real.

He thought he was doing me a favor, thought he was letting me down easy. He thought it had broken my heart that he'd chosen another woman, so he planted a little false hope for the future, something to dampen the blow he'd dealt me.

And actually? Maybe he's not even dumb. Maybe other girls relish the possibility of a second chance with a guy like him. A guy like him. What is that, even? I'll probably never know. Darn.

It's easier to place blame, point fingers and call the man out for being an asshole and an idiot. Hell, it's more fun, too. But I'm realizing, again and again, that it's really no one's fault. He just wasn't the one for me.

And false hope is just that, and it doesn't get me anywhere but disappointed. The only sure thing in my future is sitting at this keyboard typing. Yes, it's me. And for now, at least until my next accidental romance stumbles onto the scene, I'm surprised to find I'm actually all I need.

Reverb 10: Only five minutes?

On the last day of November, I signed up to participate in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here. Here’s hoping it keeps me honest. I've dropped the ball recently, but I'm forgiving myself. Life steps in sometimes and demands attention. Anyway. Today’s prompt: December 15 5 Minutes. Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010. (Author: Patti Digh)

Two things before I start:

  • One, Patti Digh is a genius. I love her. She's where the monkey bars thing came from.
  • Two, this is a damned disaster. Give me five minutes, and I'll give you some e.e. cummings, scattered, half-to-poetic but mostly just ludicrous crap. So.

Five minutes. It would take longer than that just to get through the bad stuff. I'll try. We played Apples to Apples on New Year's. Kissed at midnight, played the guitar. Then spent the next day in our pajamas. The trouble started when we moved in together. But there were moments. I have grainy pictures of me in my purple hat, holding up some stupid tchotchke in the furniture store. Buying our bed together. Picking out drawer pulls at Anthropologie. We were planning a life together. Out of order: That first night, dragging my chair down a flight of stairs and spending 20 minutes jamming it back through the new door. Blogging in the cold and dark, feeling like I was embarking on my next big thing. Which I guess it was.

The panic attack over how short the curtains were, that was a big thing. The little bruises peppering my upper thighs because there was never enough room to get past the bed without bumping it in the night.

Then one day, I left. Took my bruises with me.

The summer of social media, the summer of indecision and heartbreak, more heartbreak. His, again, and a trail of rebounds who I still love dearly for beautiful little things. My now-friends, which isn't a euphemism. Then one day, I let go of the monkey bars. And everything was scary and free and mostly just scary, but I did it anyway.

There aren't a lot of vegetables in my life now. But I have friends. Lots of friends and lots of time.

Sticks and stones.

"I hope you live long enough to forget half the stuff they taught you."— Alejandro Escovedo, "Down in the Bowery," a song he wrote for his teenage son

On Monday morning, I was in Lincoln Square, land of the NPR breeders and beautiful babies, camped out at Starbucks. Working. Checking my e-mail and reading Twitter.

A woman brought her two children in and had set up shop in the corner, on a bright-colored plastic picnic table. Her baby boy had the biggest blue eyes I've ever seen. We were flirting. We were in love. Mom and I had a moment, too: I was happy she was there, happy she'd brought her children. If I didn't adore children, I'd hang out somewhere else. Because they're everywhere in Lincoln Square. Seeing is believing. Minutes later, that soul-mate baby had disappeared under a little green coverlet, pressed to his mother's chest; she was feeding him, in the middle of the café.

I'd never seen this before, breastfeeding in public. (Which is odd, given that this neighborhood is practically the epicenter of liberal parenting in Chicago.)

And I was weirded out. Okay? I was weirded out.

I didn't say anything to her. Just cast my eyes downward and tried to focus on my screen. In an attempt to quietly diffuse my own discomfort, I tweeted this: "Really happy we're sharing this moment together, nursing mother FIVE FEET FROM ME. #gross" Oh, mistake of mistakes.

Those 76 characters set off a firestorm of backlash that honestly made me wish I'd never opened a Twitter account in the first place.

And I have become infamous in the past three days among a group of Chicago mothers and their supporters. They wrongfully assume — though possibly rightfully, if based solely on those tweets — that I don't support their right to breastfeed in public. That I'm part of the problem, part of the intolerance that makes their already difficult lives even harder. And that is just not the case.

For my first tweet, I will not apologize. The fact that it made me uncomfortable that a woman was breastfeeding not five feet from me at Starbucks, while I was trying to get my work done, is not something anyone can fault me for. That was a gut reaction. As was my tweet.

There were some hilarious lactating-at-Starbucks jokes — "Venti breast milk chai" entered the arena, for example — but for the most part, it got ugly. And fast.

What I am sorry for: letting that conversation spiral out of control. It turned into a shouting match, with me doing most of the shouting. I ended up looking ridiculous and childish. Most of what I said was, in retrospect — retrospect, meaning three seconds after I hit "send" — mean-spirited and ignorant. None of those are actually words I'd ever use to describe myself.

My instinct when someone attacks me is to fight back. And my responses became more irrational as I went. But after a certain point, I almost felt like I couldn't turn around, couldn't retreat. I regret this. Wholeheartedly.

My biggest gaffe that day: "If it's too tough to walk to a private place or make a bottle before you go for your caffeine fix, maybe you're not cut out for motherhood." Jesus. Did you hear that? That was me snapping. That was my snarky sense of humor rearing its ugly head, completely out of context, completely un…funnily. A response to someone else who refused to hear my side of things. Stupid, stupid, stupid Paige.

The first woman to unfollow me on Twitter was a woman named Claire, who I hadn't interacted with much at all until she got angry enough to delete me (without attempting to educate me where the debate was taking place), then wrote a blog entry on her site that called me out publicly. Linked to my site and quoted my tweets. I actually really appreciated what she said in that entry, even though she made a point of making me look like an asshole in the process, so I'll link to it here. (Please, if you go there and feel compelled to comment, be constructive. As I wrote this, she e-mailed me to let me know she'd removed all the links to my tweets and blog, but the damage had already been done. I have a lot of respect for her, even more so now than I did when I began writing this.)

Reading the comments there make me want to cry. Maybe I deserve it. But the person vilified in all those comments is not me. I know this, but it still hurts to read. (And for the record, my remorse began about five minutes after that Twitter dialogue ended. I've been embarrassed for three days now.) I'm afraid to log into my Twitter account for fear of more of the same. I wrote those things a few days ago. Off-handedly. In the heat of the moment. And I'm sorry.

What I wrote hurt a lot of people — I had no idea it would — and apparently now it's my turn to be hurt. On purpose. By a lot of people who, if they took the time to read through other things I've said, would understand that's not who I am. After reading Claire's post, one woman took it upon herself to find my e-mail through my site and put me in my place.

Anonymously.

"We are a nation that is so intolerant of public breastfeeding that it's imperative we educate, encourage and support each other," wrote that "Proud Breastfeeding Momma." "Are you proud of shaming women? For making us feel bad about feeding our children when people are around? You and others like yourself only continue this unwarranted response. It is very mean and very wrong!"

I didn't understand what I was saying that morning. I have no idea what it's like to be a mom. And maybe one person actually attempted to educate me as it happened. Everyone else had a pretty similar knee-jerk reaction to mine, albeit in the other direction. Anger fed anger, and shit got out of control.

Out. Of. Control.

So these proud breastfeeding mommas, instead of taking the time to educate a single woman with 1,700 Twitter followers and a pretty healthy blog following herself — a hopeful future mother, who could be a wonderful ally if she were properly educated in a sympathetic, nurturing manner — chose to alienate and further polarize me. Unfollow me instead of engaging me. Call me out in public instead of reaching out to me in private. Shame me for shaming them. We live in a first-world country; "eye for an eye" isn't really the way we do things here, is it?

Is this how you're going to raise your children?

To be combative and hyper-defensive, racing to judgment on anyone whose opinion differs from yours? All that healthy breast milk, suckled defiantly in public for all the world to see, won't do a lick of good (so to speak) if you poison them with the negativity I've seen in the past few days.

I'm a proud feminist. I've written about it on several occasions: here and here, for example.

And I'm very supportive of mothers. I hold doors. I pick up dropped binkies and cast-off blankets and run after a fast-departing Maclaren. I understand babies cry. I understand little girls are going to play their tiny pink harmonicas and little boys are going to get uncomfortably close to me with food all over their faces. And I understand that most parents don't feel the need to apologize for that, because their children are perfect in their eyes; after all, kids will be kids.

And I think they should be able to feed their children.

I may not have understood where feminism applied to breastfeeding on Monday, but I do now. I'm all for public breastfeeding. If it makes me uncomfortable the next few times I see it happen, maybe I'll just keep quiet about it. I'm going to be in this position myself at some point. I want to have children, and they will need to be fed. Possibly at Starbucks. I don't know what choices I'll make at that juncture (though I can say I'm already looking forward to a big, fat epidural, and I won't apologize for that either). These women have given me an inkling of the challenges I could face — though, who knows what the climate will be like in 10 years, or whenever I finally grow up enough to be able to take care of a puppy, let alone a child — but I hope I choose kindness and tolerance, education and support, when confronted with people who challenge me. And I hope I can remember how I felt as a single woman who was a total outsider to the difficulties of motherhood. Because that's important, too.

Mothers, don't forget what it's like to be in someone else's shoes. You have your rights, yes, but a little patience with people who don't understand where you're coming from wouldn't hurt. Self-righteousness doesn't look good on anyone. Not me and not you.

Nothing happens in a vacuum these days. In a world where we live out huge parts of our existences online — and some people choose to hide anonymously behind their computer screens and smart phones — words become our sticks and stones, and they do hurt. A lot. And they're frozen in time to haunt us for as long as we'll let them.

Will anyone who read Claire's post read this and try to understand me as a person? As JQ, the Proud Lactating Momma, wrote, I won't hold my breath. But it's not like me to back down from something like this without saying my piece, and I'll end that piece by saying I hope I can approach situations like these with a bit more empathy — and maybe fewer tweets — in the future.

Maybe you will, too.