Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why is it so hard to ask for what you want?

Anonymous commented on my last post, "[...]Ask yourself what kind of relationship message you are putting out? You are afraid of getting hurt and so often keep men at arms length. That message comes out that YOU are afraid of commitment as well. That YOU aren't capable of being close to another person, because of your fear."

In an instant I recognized this as truth. The timing of the comment was perfect, because its message was actually something that I have been thinking about a lot over the last couple days. In one of the most surprisingly helpful conversations I have ever had with Pete, he led me to this fairly life-changing idea: If you're not getting what you want, why don't you try asking for it? Ask for what you want. 

My gut reaction was immediate and visceral: No way! With his well-duh question of "Why not?", suddenly, in a flash, I finally saw myself from the outside, saw every relationship and pseudo-relationship of the last few years, and their freakily similar demises: boy meets girl. Girl hopes against hope that boy will fall madly in love with her and give her everything she's ever wanted, all the while pretending she could care less. When inevitably he doesn't give her what she had hoped for in the time frame she would have desired, girl writes off boy forever. He gets vilified as a jerk for not giving her everything she wanted, when the fact is, she never asked for anything in the first place. 

The fact is, the past four and a half years I have been so afraid of not getting what I want that I've been afraid to admit that I want anything at all. I've been so afraid of getting told 'no' that it seemed easier to never ask a question at all. This whole time I've been waiting for "The One," he who would fall madly and deeply in love with me and prove this with overwhelming displays of his passion and also long-term commitment, only after which would I finally feel safe and secure enough to begrudgingly admit that I returned his affections. If this plot sounds familiar it's because it's at the root of every single rom-com ever made, but in real life? PEOPLE DON'T DO THIS. Any kind of relationship is a mutual endeavor and requires effort and encouragement from both parties; it's not supposed to be some big pass/fail test that the guy doesn't even know he is taking. ("YOU FAILED!" "Wait, but...what was the question?" "Didn't you know you were supposed to read my mind? You lose, get out!")

Pete's advice was surprisingly pragmatic. So, I am upset that the Moroccan doesn't seem to want to spend more time with me. Have I asked him to spend more time with me? Well, no, he should just want to! I am upset that he still has his online dating profile up or that he has not Facebook friended me, but have I asked him what he thinks about taking down his profile? Have I sent him a Facebook friend request? Well no, but... "But what?" Pete says. I don't want to be that girl, I think, and then just as quickly I think, wait, what girl? The girl who has a boyfriend? Suddenly it occurred to me that all these married women I see everywhere probably didn't just sit around twiddling their thumbs until someone asked them to marry him, and when he did they probably didn't respond by saying, "Oh, gosh, wow! Honestly I had never even thought about it before, but now that you ask, well, okay!" But, in a way, that's what I've been doing for years. I've been so afraid of scaring guys off that I wait around hoping he'll give me something, and when he does I say, "Well, ok, if that's what you want!" But I have never once even hinted at what I want. 

It seems so revolutionary, and at the same time so astonishingly simple: Ask for what you want. ASK for what you want! It's a new way of life, it's a new way of dating, maybe a whole new me. 

Of course, the downside of "ask for what you want" is that you could be told no. But, as Pete put it, at least then you know where you stand, and you know it a lot sooner than if you keep dragging things out indefinitely as some people (ahem) are wont to do. 

I should mention after my last post that the Moroccan is not a jerk, and he is not just like every other guy. I was disappointed that things weren't progressing as I wanted (even though I had never told him what I wanted), and I wrote that post under the influence of some pretty serious hormonal fluctuation. I am not saying that things are all good, but they might not be as hopeless as they seem (although they also might be). 

Stay tuned for part 2 of the "Ask for what you want" saga, otherwise known as, "But you might not like the answer..."

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Why it's the end of the beginning

In the end, it always ends. It's the Six Week Slow Fade, and by now I can see it coming from miles away. Six weeks being the length of time that my charm remains charming, apparently. It's become so predictable, so routine, that this time I don't even have to hang around for weeks more, wondering if that's what's really happening or if I'm just going crazy, if he's just busy; I don't have to wait around to find out exactly how little he's willing to give me, not this time. It's happened all before. Andrew. Jimmy. Luke. Just enough time for my guard to drop. Just enough time to hope. And then the disappearing act. I tried to hold back this time. I always do, now. I always try not to let myself like him too much. I try to remain a bit apart. Did I succeed? This awful, knotty, crushing feeling that is much more than just wounded pride tells me that I didn't. I let myself get hurt again and I could kick myself, could slap, pinch, pull hair, and I have been, only on the inside where you can't see.

And in the end, contrary to the dire predictions, it wasn't even because he was Muslim, and it had nothing to do with cultural or religious or linguistic differences. I thought that maybe this time I had found someone different, but in the end, he ended up to be just like every other guy. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Why my Thanksgiving will be turkey free

This year my sister and I decided fairly last-minute to do Thanksgiving at my house, just the two of us. Our parents are going down to Virginia to see family that my sister and I don't know particularly well, and we both have to work on Friday, and so we responded to our parents' offer to join them with a resounding "meh." Although it was less us "deciding" to have our own Thanksgiving at my house, and more me attempting to lure her out of her anti-social bedroom hidey hole with promises of gratin dauphinois! Butternut squash, brussel sprouts, a whole pumpkin stuffed with bread and cheese and cream! And pie, Becca, pie! The one thing I didn't want to bother with was the turkey. I mean, turkey. Meh. Who needs it? We would have a Very Vegetarian Thanksgiving, I decided, and after way more convincing than you would think would be necessary (I will take care of everything! All you need to do is show up!), my sister finally agreed. 

While I like to keep my gustatory options open, I've been eating vegetarian about 90% of the time for the last couple of years now, and don't really feel like I am missing out on anything. (The other ten percent of the time is reserved for special occasions, like restaurants or pretty much anytime someone else is cooking, and for Bacon Fridays at work. Yes, I may only get four paid holidays a year and one measly week of vacation only after I've worked there a full calendar year, and maybe they "don't do" direct deposit, but by god, there is bacon every Friday.) Plus, everyone knows the best part of Thanksgiving is the carbs and the veggies drowned in butter and cream. And the pie. And the wine. Doing a turkey-less Thanksgiving just made sense for us.

Although just try telling that to some people.

"Oh," my mother said after I told her about our Very Vegetarian Thanksgiving. "Is that because you couldn't get a turkey?"

Well, no, I explained to her, it's that both Becca and I enjoy eating vegetarian. And, you know. Gratin dauphinois! An entire pumpkin stuffed with goodness! Etc.

"Well, maybe your father and I will bring you back some turkey," she said.

Nope! Won't be necessary! I explained. Totally good on the turkey. No turkey needed. Enjoy yours, but, you know, we're fine. 

I thought the matter was settled, but my mother was not giving up that easily. I missed her call tonight and she left a voicemail on my phone. "I have great news!" the message begins. "Your father got a spiral ham from work, so I can give it to Becca to bring with her if you'd like!"

I think I'll wait a while before I break the news that I'm dating a Muslim. The vegetarian thing seems to be enough for her to handle right now. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Why I'm looking for snowflakes

Sometimes I think I'm only really happy when things are snowballing. It only feels right to me when we're both spiraling out of control, tumbling towards some kind of present and future happiness, always more, ever bigger. When this doesn't happen, when, god forbid, things sort of just stay...the same, it almost feels like a rejection to me. Why don't you want more? Why won't you fall with me? Must we always walk on tiptoes? I want to run.

Sometimes I think I'm only really happy when things are snowballing. And so, sometimes I think I am never really happy. But still, there are the quiet moments in between. If you keep looking for the snowball you might miss them, but if you pay attention, you might find a snowflake.
"Anti," he said, placing his hand on my chest.

"Anta," I said, placing my hand on his chest.

"Nahnu," he said, drawing me to him with his arms around me. 

"Nahnu," I repeated.

Pronouns are tricky in Arabic. I, he, she...fine. But there's a feminine you and a masculine you. Then there is a different you for you plural (feminine) and you plural (masculine). Then there is they, when you are referring to a group of women, and they, when you are referring to a group of men. My head spun. We is a different story, though. There is only one we. We practiced it again, and I thought, now this "nahnu" I can get behind. I liked the way it sounded. I liked how the second syllable of it sounds like the French for we, which meant I actually stood a chance of remembering it. I liked how every time he said it he wrapped his arms around me, enclosing us in our own little we bubble. And so, without much thinking about it, "I like nahnu," I said, snuggling in. My brain a half second behind my mouth, I only then realized the implications of what I had said. A half second after that, I realized I didn't really care. I did like nahnu. And perhaps, deep down, I had actually known what I was saying all along. By now we were kissing, which is always a good way to gloss over potential awkwardness. But then he stopped. "I like nahnu too," he said. And there it was. Not a snowball, but a snowflake moment. Each one small and perfect and unique.

When you want to run, leap, and tumble with wild abandon, when you want to let yourself fall, standing still can be the hardest thing in the world. In the stillness comes doubt, and the too loud shrieking of your own inner voice. But, if you are very quiet, and you pay attention, sometimes you may find a snowflake.                    

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why (hi ho, hi ho) it's off to hell I go

In case you were wondering how things with my new job are going two months in, I think it can best be described in list form.

Things that can be found on my desk at work:
  1. a paper calendar, the old-fashioned kind that doesn't sync with anything, for reasons that will soon become obvious;
  2. an adding machine. Who knew that when I was four years old, tappy tap tapping on my grandpa's old adding machine in the basement I was actually foreshadowing my own fut....*snore*.
  3. an actual, I shit you not, Rolodex.
Things that cannot be found on my desk at work:
  1. a keyboard;
  2. a mouse;
  3. and oh yeah, a motherflipping computer.
I mean, there is a computer in the office, of course. A mid-nineties model that we all share that runs our DOS-based accounting program. (DOS. DOOOOOSSSSSSSSSS.) 

There is also a brand-new computer with flat-screen monitor (conveniently in direct view of my boss's desk) that we only use to check our company e-mail account, the address of which ends in hotmail.com. 

And before you go getting ideas about ends and means and bootstraps, this is a company with several hundred employees and millions of dollars in profits.

We don't even have voicemail. There's an answering machine in the corner that no one ever looks at and I have no idea how to use. The thing has flashing lights and about five different buttons and not one of them says "play." 

So I guess that's about how my job is going. Any questions?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why dating is difficult

While things with the Moroccan are all still for the most part glowy and goofy and good, there is a part of me that knows that this is all still very precarious. The part of me who has seen this all before knows that, historically speaking, this happy, swoony europhic feeling is usually what comes right before the part where I start feeling really, really bad. Pessimistic? Maybe. Realistic? Definitely. 

This is usually the part where I lose all interest in dating other guys and turn all of my attention towards what I think will be (though inevitably never is) the beginning of a promising new relationship. Right around this time, the remaining POF or OKC prospects start looking even worse than usual (and that's saying something), and the desire to actively search out new people to meet dwindles down to practically nothing. But, in the interest of learning from my mistakes, and not putting all my eggs in the same basket, and all manner of other cliches, I decided that until a conversation was had dictating otherwise, I would actively try to continue dating other people. Which is easier said than done (as I mentioned, the POF prospects are looking particularly sad as of late). But when a French gentlemen I met over the course of a couple French meet-ups began e-mailing me, I thought, well, why not. I had already met him and conversed with him, so I knew the date couldn't be that bad. When he suggested a museum one Sunday and I shot him down due to not enough notice and a full list of errands already planned for the day, he backed off. So I figured, what the hell, and a few days later, I asked him out for sushi. He quickly accepted, and so we met in Chinatown after work one night.

I cannot express to you the dull awfulness of this date. The awful dullness. The tedium. The drear. I had thought, you see, that since we had already met and had a perfectly fine time, we were in the clear, but apparently having other people participating in the conversation was a key factor, and one that was sorely lacking this time. It was just awkward, from beginning to end. The conversation dragged, he talked softly, the happy hour crowd was raucous, and it just wasn't good. After dinner he proposed going somewhere for a drink, but I declined, saying that I had a lot of translation work to do. (Bonus points for being true!) He offered to drive me home on his motorcycle, and I again declined. But after about the third time that he asked, and again mentioned that be had brought an extra helmet with him, I thought, You know what, Rachel? Maybe live a little. When was the last time you were on a motorcycle? How bad could it be? (Famous last words.)

If it is possible for something to be both awkward and terrifying, it was. It was awkwardly terrifying, and terrifyingly awkward. With my work pants riding halfway up my shins, and my helmet (no visor) that I realized too late I hadn't tightened enough slipping down the back of my head, I held on for dear life, the cold wind causing tears to stream down my face. At every red light I thought I was going to pitch over his shoulders, and every time we accelerated I thought I would fly off the back. I held on with one hand behind me, as he had shown, and the other I placed hesitantly and uncomfortably on his waist, prompting him to tell me not to "squeeze" him. "Not that you are," he said, "it's just that some people do. They squeeze hard!" Not particularly wanting to be touching him at all, I didn't really have any other choice in the matter, since my quickly formed goal for this trip was to make it home alive and in one piece. My fingers ached from my death grip on the handle behind me, and all my muscles tensed as I concentrated on not "squeezing" him, while bracing myself to not go flying into the back of him every time we slowed down. Half a mile from my house I got a foot cramp. It was the longest six miles of my life. 

Once I had said goodnight and was safely inside my apartment, I laughed a bit at the sheer awfulness of it all, and thought, well, at least we gave it a shot. Can't win 'em all! But then who, I ask you, sent me an e-mail not two days later, asking if I'd like to watch a French movie with him sometime that week? Was it Mr. I-don't-see-the-problem French guy himself? It was. I hedged, not particularly wanting to see him ever again, but thought, well maybe I could go see a French movie in an indie theater somewhere, as long as I made it clear that I would be taking the Metro home after. I asked him what movie he had in mind, and he sent me an IMDB link to some French movie from 1973. So, clearly what he had in mind was a dvd home-viewing situation, and hellllll no, that was not at all what I wanted to do, was this guy kidding? Had he not been on the same, terrifyingly awkward date as me? Guys---I do. Not. Get. Them.

So, fast forward to the very next day post-terrifying sushi date. The bearded Canadian scientist (who had already put me in the just-friends zone) texted me, asking if I had plans for dinner. It was a Thursday night, and I didn't, and so he picked me up and we went to a little Burmese restaurant that he had picked out. The food was good, but the conversation was...rough. He had always been a bit difficult to draw out of his shell, but at least when we had gone out previously multiple beers had been involved, perhaps slightly aiding conversational efforts. He did have a beer with dinner, but it didn't seem to help. He is just generally a very quiet guy, and I found myself straining to ask him questions, and yet thinking, Even as a friend, I'm just not sure if I can do this... I mean, it's not usually so hard to talk to your friends, right? It just felt like maybe we were forcing something that wasn't meant to be. After dinner, he offered to take me to Whole Foods, knowing I don't have a car and can't often get there. I jumped at the chance, and loaded my cart down as quickly as I could with all manner of things my local Safeway doesn't carry (hello, red lentils!) After this, as we headed back, he said he didn't know what else I had planned for the evening, but would I maybe want to watch a movie or something? A bit stunned, I gaped for a minute and resisted my initial reaction, which was to say, "Oh, um...no," and instead fumbled around for an excuse (translations, again!) The fact of the matter was, 1) it was a Thursday night, 2) we had already done two activities (dinner and Whole Foods), on a weeknight, which as far as I was concerned was already more than enough, 3) we had only ever hung out in public venues before, 4) he was supposedly dating someone else, and 5) now he wanted to watch a movie on the couch together?! It just didn't add up.

Safely home, I shook my head and marveled at the mysterious thought processes of men, which come to think of it are probably not all that mysterious at all, and go something like: Penis   Boobs   Penis   Penis   Movie   Penis   Couch   Penis   Boobs   Penis.

So far I'm 0 for 2 in this trying to see other people thing, and I'm running out of options, so for the moment it seems that I still have all of my eggs in one precariously held basket. Let's just hope someone doesn't get hungry for an omlet.           

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Why I don't know why you say goodbye I say salam

When I went to his house he made us Moroccan tea, a complicated affair involving a mix of tea leaves, herbs, and spices brought over in suitcases from the homeland, and stored in plastic bins in his kitchen. Oh, and sugar. Lots and lots of sugar. There was an intricate silver tea pot and those tiny clear glasses with no handle that burn the prints right off your fingers.

When he came to my house, he brought the tea ingredients with him. It was too hot in my furnace-blasted apartment for tea, even with windows open, but he left the stuff here, anyway. "Next time," he said. Next time, I thought to myself, knowing how precarious this all is, but allowing myself to hope, anyway. 

I melt for a man that tells me stories in bed, and he did, in franglais and with accompanying funny voices and dramatic gestures. He told me one that he performed while volunteering in Morocco with a non-profit organization that works with children, and could he just stop already, with all the extraneous heart-melting information that I did not need to know?

He brought me cereal in bed. He puts honey in his Honey Bunches of Oats. He makes me laugh. I make him laugh.  

"Leila sa'eeda," he whispered, before falling asleep. 

"Leila sa'eeda?" I repeated.

"Yes, it means good night. Actually, it means...happy night. Sa'eeda means happy."

"Sa'eeda," I whispered. Sa'eeda.