How Do You Spend a Lonely Life?

Wanted:

Someone who breathes from the diaphragm.
Compassionate. Balanced.
With a strong inner ear.

Must love reading
The sun as it shines through the windows,
Stretching, dancing, laughing, telling stories,
Making breakfast.

Someone who feels music with their whole body.
Who wants to grow things,
and decompose things,
and grow things again.

Someone who puts their hand on my lower back as we cross the street,
and their arm around my shoulders when I am cold,
and their fingers through my hair before we fall asleep.

Someone who is strong in ways that I am not.
Who stands on all four corners of their feet
Someone who listens for understanding.
Who weathers a storm.
Someone who chooses me.

I’ve been single for nine years. It hasn’t felt like a choice, but looking back, it probably was. They say in numerology that energies move in nine-year cycles. Last year, was a 9 year (2 + 0 + 1 + 6 = 9), which represents the end of a cycle. This year is a 1 year (2 + 0 + 1+ 7 = 10, then 1 + 0 reduces to 1), which is the year of starting over. The year of my last break-up was 2008 (2 +8 = 10 = 1), also a 1 year.

I’m not big into numerology; I just found that interesting. Normally, we think of the beginning and ending of a thing—a relationship, an event—but this hasn’t been so much a thing as the lack of a thing. While I’ve watched many friends start and grow their families, I’ve spent the last nine-year cycle in a relationship with myself. As with any relationship, I’ve learned a lot about the other person.

For example, I’ve learned that, left to my own devices, I can eat an alarming number of chips. (After all, chips are my favorite food.) I also will watch a wide variety of shows on the old Netflix, sometimes following whims that I’m sure another person would find annoying.

That’s the beauty of being alone; no one to argue with. Not that I ever have been much of an arguer. All my relationships have been very polite, which is probably another reason I don’t mind some solitude. As a people pleaser, I often will give up my own wishes to avoid confrontation, or because I just don’t care enough to fight about it, and all that compromise leaves me feeling drained.

When I’m alone, I can feel whatever I need to feel, process it however I need to, recharge, hide out. I can put myself back together in peace, without the pressure of anyone else’s gaze. I’ve often thought you must have to be brave to be a parent—to know that your children always are watching you and learning even the things you don’t intend to teach.

I asked my friend DeAnna what it’s like to have her children and husband always around. I think I said something like, “You must feel like you have no place all your own.” Her reply had never occurred to me. She said, “Well they can’t get in your mind, Cara.”

DeAnna’s such a cool mom. She really treats her kids like whole people. For example, as she lists the children’s activities in her holiday letter, she says things like “he seemed to enjoy it,” or “she appeared to have a good time.” Even while her children are young, she doesn’t presume to know what their inner lives are like. She also knows that if she’s not happy, her kids are not going to be happy so she continues to pursue her own passions. It doesn’t hurt that she has a supportive husband who seems to take his role as a father equally seriously.

These are the kinds of things I think about as I try out some new farro-kale salad recipe for dinner and end up watching a show called The Fantastical World of Hormones.

The first couple years after my break-up, I really didn’t think I would be single much longer. I held onto the hopeful notion that my new life, my new self was just around the corner. But as the years have gone on, I’ve grown less hopeful, and I’ve had to grapple with the idea that I might not ever be married, or have children. That’s been a tough one to swallow. I’ve had to ask the question: What is my life worth if I am single? Does it still have value, even without a husband or kids?

What Do You Do With Eternity?

According to fan sites, Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) spends 12,403 days, or about 34 years, living the same day over and over again in the movie Groundhog Day. He goes through stages of disbelief, anger, fear, ecstasy, hopelessness. He indulges every sin without consequences. But even with total freedom and power to do whatever he wants, Phil grows bored. He gets depressed. He tries to kill himself. Yet every day he wakes up stuck in the same place, at the same time, like a needle stuck in a groove on a record.

Eventually, after trying every self-serving thing he can imagine, Phil gets the radical idea to turn his time to helping others. At the same time, he starts to pursue his own passions, a little bit every day. Time begins to have meaning and purpose. He learns to love others, to be loved by them, and to feel the pleasure of mastery. He becomes a musician, a sculptor, a doctor, an intellectual. And that is when he really falls in love with another person, and when she really falls in love with him.

I like to think that I’ve spent my last nine years in a similar process. While I haven’t achieved much mastery, I have put in a lot of effort to get to know myself. And I’ve stripped away a lot of layers, dealt with a lot of pain, uncovered a lot of hidden wounds, grudges, arrogance. One thing’s for sure: when you’re alone with yourself, you find out how imperfect you really are.

It’s like the mirror of truth at the Southern Oracle in The Neverending Story. Atreyu is told that when he looks in the mirror he will see his true self. Even great warriors have fallen at the realization—kind men discover they are cruel; brave men find that they are cowards. When I am alone, I have no one else to blame, or deflect my anger to. There are no scapegoats. Just me. If there are dirty dishes in the sink, it’s because I left them there.

I have chosen to stay single because I haven’t felt the right way about anyone, and they haven’t felt the right way about me. It’s not that no one has been worthy; I just haven’t been in the right headspace for dating and also, the older I get, the fewer people I am attracted to. (Maybe it has something to do with hormones. I should watch that documentary again.)

When I was young, I was constantly, deeply, hopelessly in love. The object of my love changed periodically, but the feeling always was there, that obsessive, possessive need to be wanted by another person. I thrived on romance like a drug.

Over the last three years, I’ve pretty much stopped dating all together. Again, it’s not that there haven’t been worthy candidates, or that I haven’t tried at all, but it doesn’t feel the same. I can’t play the games anymore. I want something deeper than drama, something more consequential than sex, something more balanced and sustainable. I want a whole relationship with another whole person.

I don’t know what the next nine years look like, or whether I ever will get married or be a mom of any kind, but I can tell you one thing: If I am still single nine years from now, I’m going to be a hell of a guitar player and a much better cook.

 

Hiking with Dad

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Toward the end of our first hike together in a long while, my dad asked if I ever regret not getting married.

We were back on the asphalt after four hours in the wilderness, walking the final stretch to our parking space, way down in the Day Use Lot, which Dad said would have seemed unbearably far from the trailhead back when he and his brothers first started coming up here 25 years ago, when barely anyone knew about this place yet.

I said no, I don’t regret it, mostly because of what I have learned about relationships since calling off my wedding five years ago. I have dated rich guys, poor guys, train-hoppers, musicians, writers, a painter, a chef, the VP of an ad agency, an evangelical Christian, a Muslim, an amputee, and lots of other dudes with lots of other things that made each of them unique. What I learned was that none of that stuff matters. Not money, or physical perfection, or even religion. What matters is that soul connection—humor, laughter, communication, trust.

Dad: “I guess we’ll just find you a one-armed, homeless Muslim and you’ll be all set then.”

This is the kind of wisdom you get on a Friday hike with Dad.

We left the house around 9:30 a.m., cutting across the Diagonal, past Coot Lake, where the roads are called Niwot and Neva and Nebo. We went up James Canyon, through Ward, the kind of funky little mountain town where things are just a little too rusted out and broke down to be quaint. The charm in a place like Ward lies in the freedom to live however you want to, I suppose.

The sun was already blazing and there wasn’t a significant cloud on the horizon when we arrived at Brainard Lake and bought a $10 day pass from the salty old ranger woman, who nonetheless told us to keep our “eyes on the skies.”

Dad had packed us a lunch of turkey sandwiches, chips, Sweet Cajun Fire trailmix, and yogurt-covered pretzels. We sat on the hillside just above Lake Isabelle, and Dad told me about a time long ago when he and his brothers tried to take the trail further beyond the tree line, up to the ice field on Isabelle Glacier. None of them had done much serious hiking then; they were eager and enthusiastic, until they found themselves stuck on the rocky slope as the sun started to set, and their excitement turned to fear. They eventually made it down, but they still talk about it to this day.

Dad’s older brother, Dave, has become a kind of shaman, an evangelical from the church of the mountain. For Dad and Dave, these hikes are like spiritual pilgrimages. They don’t rack up 14’ers or trudge road bikes up the twisty roads just to prove they can. It’s not about speed, endurance, or fancy gear. It’s about tapping into the deeper wisdom of the natural world.

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On the way back, as we crossed over a sparkling creek, Dad bent down and submerged his bandana in the water. “This is what we call BDT,” he said. “Bandana Dipping Time.” IMG_3435

A little while later, we met a family on the trail. The wife asked Dad if he spoke Japanese, and if he knew what the writing on his bandana meant.

Dad said no, but he heard that the same kind are worn by street vendors in Japan who sell ice cream and cold treats. “So, every once in a while,” Dad told the woman, “someone will look at me like, ‘Hey, you got a Sno Cone for me, or what?’”

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The bluebird skies started to turn to gray, and thunder followed us down the mountain. Dad joked around like he was afraid, but he wasn’t. When you’ve been coming up here as long as he has, you know how to watch the skies.

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These wooden paths remind him of the moving walkways at the airport.

We took the scenic route back, around Long Lake, where every vista was more beautiful than the last. The bark on the trees looked silver under the muted light of the rainclouds and their insides burned orange and gold.

We talked about the husband I haven’t met yet.

Dad said, “You know, he’s not just going to materialize out of thin air. He is out there somewhere right now, walking around, not knowing that he is looking for you and that you are looking for him.”

“I know, I know,” I said, but I must have still seemed skeptical.

“Don’t worry,” Dad joked. “This will all make a lot more sense when the ‘shrooms kick in.”

The Rob Delaney School of Manhood

Last Friday, I was lucky enough to score a free ticket to see Rob Delaney at the Scottish Rite Theater, aka, Austin’s freemason headquarters. Apparently, when they aren’t performing ritual sacrifices and inventing new satanic tax codes, they open their doors for comedy and rock shows.

On the outside, it looks like a church. On the inside, it looks like a place where Scooby-Doo would hang out with Phyllis Diller and the Harlem Globetrotters: dim lighting, red walls, brown wood paneling, ornately framed paintings of old white dudes whose eyes follow you as you walk down the hall. And globes. Lots of globes. Maybe they use these to plan out the New World Order to scale. When I went looking for the women’s restroom, I expected it to be a port-o-potty in the back alley. The first thing my friend said when we walked in was, “this place makes me want to break some shit.” Luckily, there was also a sign with an arrow that said BAR.

The actual theater had old wooden auditorium seats and a backdrop depicting some kind of ancient vista as seen through Greek columns, which I imagine the Austin Illuminati uses as a set when they videotape themselves shaving designs of pyramids and eyes into each other’s balls. As we sat down with our $7 rum and Cokes in between a nice Dell employee named Tab and a woman with the loudest and most awkward laugh since anyone ever, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

If you don’t know Rob Delaney, let me lay down some knowledge on you. I first fell in love with his writing when I read an essay he wrote for Vice.com, titled Problem Areas. It begins like this:

Hi everybody! How’s it going? If you’re a woman, I hope your answer is “I’m fucking starving!” Bikini season will be here before you can say “Jamochachino Surprise,” so you better be torturing yourself and focusing your meager intellect and out-of-control emotions on shedding those pounds, girlfriend!

He goes on to mock the ridiculous culture of beauty worship (perpetuated by both men and women), that routinely mind-fucks generation after generation of women into believing that their natural bodies are gross, that their instincts are untrustworthy, and that their value as human beings goes up as the numbers on their scale go down. He rattles off a list of just some of the things that are probably wrong with your body, including:

Saddle bags, upper-arm fat, cottage cheese thighs, midriff-bulge (aka F.U.P.A aka “gunt”), flat chest, asymmetrical breasts, butt-beard, bacne, pit-cheese, cankles, surprise tampon string cameos, eczema, ham spatula, ashy elbows, feet of any kind, hairy knuckles, beef knuckles, uncle’s knuckles, vaginal halitosis, bald spots, loaf latch, sideburns, flatbottom, creeping jimson weed, dowager’s hump, treasure trail, Pepperidge Farm, razor bumps, leakage, phantom dangle, and panty dandruff.

My favorite is Pepperidge Farm.

Of late, Delaney has become a pretty big deal on ye olde Twitter. He has more followers than God and is routinely hilarious in his political commentary, bathroom humor, and sexual non-innuendo. It’s non-inneundo because he doesn’t innuendo it at all. He just comes out and says whatever the fuck is on his mind, and I respect that.

Have I mentioned that he has the bone structure of Superman, crossed with Jon Hamm, crossed with a Kennedy?

My adult woman self wanted Mr. Delaney to come out like the James Bond of comedy and deliver a cleverly crafted satire of our current socio-political climate. My inner adolescent fantasized that somehow the house lights would go up, we would lock eyes, and, he would take me out for an innocent, but sexually-charged post-show ice cream cone and then we would become best friends, and then I would meet his wife and we would all three become best friends, and then they would invite me to a party in LA where I would meet Ryan Gosling and we would get married and Rob Delaney would be the maid of honor at my wedding.

What actually happened was more surprising and, in many ways, more satisfying. (Ok, maybe not more satisfying than sex with Ryan Gosling, but still.) He was just really real. He talked about the humiliation of being a bedwetter as a child, about his struggles with alcohol, and a drunk driving accident that landed him not only in casts on both arms, but also in jail. (Sounds like a laugh-a-minute, right? Well, it actually WAS.) He talked about the joys and fears of fatherhood, and about how insanely hard it is to maintain a healthy marriage. Perhaps the biggest laughs of the night came as he described how sometimes he wishes that he and his wife could forego the infuriating difficulty of talking and just beat the shit of each other.

I left that creepy-as-fuck Scottish Rite Theater having laughed my ass off and with a much clearer idea of what I want in a man: Honesty. Strength of character. Humor. Vulnerability. Willingness to admit and learn from mistakes. Passion for the adventure of life, even when it is painful, and raw, and messy.

I am sure if I knew Rob Delaney in real life, I would sometimes think he was an insufferable shithead. But that is what it means to be human. We are all insufferable shitheads sometimes. Thank you, Rob Delaney, for having the courage to joke about it.

Lady Midlife Crisis (Strong enough for a man. Made for a woman.)

I accidentally went shopping today. Well, I meant to go grocery shopping, but the fancypants HEB is surrounded by boutiques, just like impulse items at the register—the gum and trashy magazines of stripmalls.

Suddenly, I’m thinking, “Why, yes, I do need some expensive paper” and “I should probably just look at the sale dresses” and “Holy shit, there’s an Origins here? TWO free samples with a purchase of $55 or more!? Yes, please.”

Actually, I made that last one up. I mean, they really had a sign that said that, but I am a total cheapskate when it comes to beauty products. I am more of an N.Y.C. section of Walgreens kinda girl. If any one item costs more than $10, I’m splurging.

Intellectually, I know that this is one area where I should not skimp. Aside from the cocktail of chemicals in most brand-name makeup, they still rub mascara in rabbits’ eyes and shit, don’t they?

(Just writing that makes me never want to give those fuckers one more cent.)

Which brings me to my point: I don’t want cheap things anymore. I want sturdy, well-built things. I want to grow herbs in little pots. I want to go to dinner parties. I want to eat, pray, and love.

But I don’t want to read that book. I tried, but I couldn’t get into it. Maybe because I don’t have a buttload of money and all the time in the world. If I did, I would have been reading that thing like the fucking bible. I saw the movie. James Franco looked a little bloaty. Javier Bardem? Rawr. And who should play the protagonist? Why, Julia Roberts, of course.

Which reminds me of this exchange that took place once among my BFFs:

S: “I don’t like anything Benjamin Bratt has been in.”

H: “You mean like Julia Roberts?”

You probably had to have been an avid reader of People magazine in 2001 to get that joke. You would have to know that Benjamin Bratt and Julia Roberts were a couple for a while. And that there was once a guy who was kinda famous named Benjamin Bratt.

You might further remember that Julia Roberts was kind of a whore. She married Lyle Lovett and almost married Keifer Sutherland, whom she left for his friend, Jason “hottest guy to ever have a mullet” Patric.

(Not in this picture, where they appear to have gone to the same stylist.)

The point is, I think I’m growing up. Just as Julia finally settled down with a cameraman, stopped playing trashy sluts with hearts of gold and started playing plain old rich white ladies (with hearts of gold), I am entering a new phase of my life.

That’s right. I’m getting my groove back.

Just hopefully not with a gay dude.

Don’t sweat the small dudes

About four years ago, I was coming out of a long, serious relationship. I had also quit my high-fallutin’ magazine job because I hated it. I got rid of my car because I couldn’t afford it. And I moved into my parents’ basement because I didn’t have anywhere else to go. This might seem like a fairly normal thing for a person of a certain age — say 22, but I was 32. And I suddenly felt that my life was one big, messy do-over.

Luckily, my bestie got me a waitressing job at the hotel where she was a manager. Suddenly free of all my adult responsibilities, I was transported back to a time when I had nothing to do all day except lay out at the pool, and nothing to do all night except hang out with my friends and crash on their couches. It was a full-blown renaissance of my teenage years. I allowed myself to become totally immersed in it. If I was going to have a fucking mid-life crisis, then I was going to do it right.

So I guess it makes sense that I developed a crush on a tiny dude. I mean, not a dwarf, but a pretty small dude. With the delicate features of Brandon Walsh and the aloofness of Dylan McKay. Definitely with smaller hips than me. Smaller hands. Smaller feet. I think we were about the same height. Just like junior high.

He also worked at the hotel, so I crafted elaborate plans to casually bump into him in the storage room. I loitered near the place where he was often seen smoking a cigarette before his shift, gazing meaningfully into the parking lot.

One day, I timed this perfectly and we ended up chatting for a few minutes. It was just like being 16 again — I felt nervous and fluttery, as we shot the shit about the weather or our plans for the night. Then, as the conversation started to lag, I threw out one of those lame questions that people use to get to know each other.

“So, if you could have any super power, what would it be?”

No response. Oh my god. Such a stupid question. Ugh, he must think I am SO LAME. He isn’t saying anything. He’s just looking sort of blankly at me. This. Is. The. Worst.

Then, finally, after a really long time, I started to think maybe I should just tell him I had to get back to work. I was about to say this, when he replied:

“I would drink as much as I want to without passing out.”

(I told this story to my friend Brian, whose response was, “Maybe that guy’s superpower should be thinking of things faster.”)

You know that sound when you’re pinching the hole of a balloon together and then you let it go and the balloon goes flying all around the room with like a ssssssshhhhhhwwwwweeeeeeooooouuuummm sound? Yeah, it was like that.

I was suddenly snapped back to the reality that I learned the first time I was a lovestruck 16-year-old: Too-cool-for-school pretty boys with smoldering looks and quiet intensity are just bundles of goofy awkwardness wrapped up in high cheekbones and overstyled sideburns. It was over. Crush. Canceled.

A few months later, I got a real job at a magazine again. I moved into a great apartment, and I began to rebuild my life. So, what did I gain from my summer of ’92 in the summer of 2008? I learned that sometimes you can go back again, knowing everything you know now. But you really don’t want to.

And, btw, lest I give the impression that I am a mature adult who learns from her mistakes and uses her experiences to become a more fully-actualized human being, I still TOTALLY made out with that guy. And had several more awkward interactions with him, culminating in one of the most surreal moments of my dating life, when he creepily lurked near my group of friends, mouthing all the words to “Shoop” by Salt N Pepa. Crush. CANCELLED!

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Dude tasting notes

Just like wines, dudes come in many varietals—from the subtle and complex, with a lingering finish that will keep you guessing—(i.e., but what did he mean when he said he “had fun” and we should “do it again sometime”? Does that mean he’s going to ask me out? Does that mean he’s going to booty call me? Does it mean I am supposed to invite him to do something??)—to the cheap and easy that will fuck you up fast and leave you with a wicked hangover (i.e., OH MY GOD. WHAT HAVE I DONE? I AM NEVER LEAVING THE HOUSE AGAIN WITHOUT A RESPONSIBLE CHAPERONE. I REALLY NEED A LIFE COACH.)

There is no one “right” dude for everyone. You need to test out lots of different types to find out which suits your tastes. And just as with wine, the best way to keep track of which characteristics you like and which you should probably avoid is to keep detailed tasting notes. Here are the basics:

Sight
Find a neutral place for viewing, such as against a white wall with no other dudes around. Look for discolorations or abnormalities, such as spray-tan streaking. Also scan for shitty tattoos.

Smell
Try to get the dude to come to you rather than approaching him. Keep your head straight. It will help you take a better sniff and maximize the surface area in contact with the air. After the sniff, slightly agitate the dude — maybe do something that gets him to raise his arms a little. **The harder the aromas are to identify, the more complex the dude. If you can smell cologne from across the room, you can reasonably discern where this is headed: dry-humping in his mom’s basement.

Taste
We’re talking about kissing here. I mean, you’re not trying to MARRY the dude. Taste, also called smatch (!) or gustation, according to Wikipedia, is sensed through your approximately 100,000 taste buds at the back and front of the tongue; and on the roof, sides, and back of the mouth and throat.

There are five tastes distinguished by your tongue. There is no right or wrong here, just what suits your personal taste. You will probably encounter a combination of these tastes with any given dude.

Sweet: These flavors help to identify energy-rich foods, but in the guy department, too much sweetness might be concerning. I mean, are we talking very sweet, like he has been drinking schnapps all night (i.e., are you sure this kid is 21?) or mildly sweet, like milk. (Same question…?)

Salty: Could have been that tequila shot.

Bitter: In nature, bitterness is a warning sign of poisons. Conveniently, that tall vodka tonic you are drinking contains quinine, the bitter medicinal found in tonic water, which can be used to subjectively rate the bitterness of a substance.

Sour: Leaves a certain aftertaste, like cheese and feet. Excessive sourness is often found in heavy drinkers and smokers, especially toward the end of a bender. Unless this guy is the next Charles Bukowski (and frankly, even if he is the next Chuck B.) you should probably reconsider this life choice.

Umami: Difficult to discern and even harder to define, umami is marked by a “meaty” or “savory” flavor. Unless you have just eaten a gyro, kebab, or bratwurst from a late night food truck, this could also be questionable. **Important note: whatever you do, do NOT put that wrapper from your gyro in your purse and forget about it until the morning.

Download the dude scoresheet here. Happy hunting.