Um, hi. It’s me, Penny. I’ve been away for a while.
Life got real hard there for a minute, you guys. And then it got easier. And then it got hard again. I assume writing is like riding a bicycle – you never forget how to do it? But… well, I’ve never been great at riding bicycles. And there are a lot of hills around here. And I’m super rusty. And so is my bicycle. Or it would be, if I had a literal bicycle and not a vaguely metaphorical one.
Where do I even start?
Sullivan and I are well and truly divorced now. It wasn’t all that hard in the doing-things sense; the paperwork got submitted and looked at by the state, it got reviewed and approved and stamped and signed, sealed, delivered (I’m yours! Ooh baby). There’s a new name on my driver’s license, one I chose that’s all my own. And that feels good. It feels like a concrete step away from some parts of my past I’ve been struggling to leave behind. New name has been my official name for over a year now.
Fun fact: Banks can not EVEN DEAL with it when you change all your names. Last name? Easy. First name? It’s been done, not insurmountable. First, middle, and last? Blank stares…. crickets… ominous clouds gather… a wolf howls mournfully in the distance… a wild wind tosses leaves across a cold pale moon… the pine trees rustle and sway… a raven bursts into flight from the shadows with a raucous cry… a quiet, soaking rain begins to fall… awkward cough.
It was hard in the emotional sense. In the space of a few months the conversation turned from being best friends, supporting each other, staying in each other’s lives… to jealousy, insecurity on both sides, squabbles about mostly petty things, and what I can only imagine must have felt like a pretty big betrayal.
I, uh… I fell in love. With a dude.
Not like I meant to. I was pretty invested in the image of myself as a lesbian. I was pretty sure of myself for a while there. I had an amazing summer romance with a lady I fell head-over-heels for; a lady I am still fortunate enough to count a dear friend. I knew she was moving away when we started dating, and that was fine. I didn’t want to give her any reason at all to rethink that decision, so I learned how to love deeply and let go freely. All that is to say, if I needed to prove anything to myself about my sexuality, I think I did. I’m definitely not straight.
Sullivan disliked that I was dating women while we lived together, waiting for the lease to run out. Tried to be supportive; but, I think, couldn’t shake the feelings of possessiveness that come with several years of monogamous marriage. Maybe he found it threatening. Maybe he didn’t like confronting such clear evidence that our marriage was ending. I don’t really know; he never told me, it just came up in hurtful ways. It made for some very mixed messages. We had a hard time communicating our needs and boundaries to each other. We argued. The lease ended. We moved out.
This dude, The Dude, was someone I knew through a shared hobby and a mutual ex-girlfriend. He had also been divorced. He was from the same city as me; in fact, he and Sullivan were in the same high-school class. (Sullivan was not impressed by this; I found it fascinating.) After Sullivan and I split, he invited me over for wine and trauma-bonding. We drank and laughed and took long walks and talked about our Feelings, Of Which There Are Many. By the end of the evening it was clear to me that this was a friendship I very much wanted in my life. I became close with The Dude. Trusted him because it was clear he wanted nothing from me but friendship, and that made me feel comfortable and respected.
I don’t really know what happened there, exactly. I mean, I fell for him and we started dating and so on and so forth but… like, how? Why? Wherefore? I dunno. As I suppose most of these things happen, it just happened. I loved spending time with my best buddy, and at some point I realized I loved my best buddy. I wanted things from my best buddy that were more than just best-buddy things.
We quietly started dating. I was very confused about what that meant for my newly-formed sexual identity, but pretty quickly decided that the whole point of the exercise was to be less concerned about how anyone anywhere thought I should express my attractions and desires and just kinda threw all the labels out the window. These days I go by queer, or mostly-gay. Or, if I’m in a particularly self-effacing mood, The City’s Least Successful Lesbian.
Sullivan was not thrilled to find out about me and The Dude. There was a confession on my part and some very angry highway driving on his part. By the way, people, for the love of – DON’T CONFESS THINGS IN MOVING CARS. JUST DON’T. DON’T EMOTE AND DRIVE PLEASE. We were fine, nothing happened, he didn’t do anything scary but fuck – come on. Emoting, much like driving, deserves one’s full attention. Never the twain should meet. Leave them twain. The twainest of twains.
Interactions between me and Sullivan got colder after that. More distant. More terse. It all sort of fell apart. I wanted to stay friends but could understand that he needed time to process, to decide if he wanted me in his life, to forgive whatever hurt I’d caused by destroying the illusion that the breakup of our marriage was solely about my sexuality. There are things I feel about a lot of this now, there are lots of things I could say about what went down and how it happened… but I am doing my best, with the benefit of hindsight, to try and see it from his perspective this time around. In the interest of being honest and not hiding things, in the middle of signing paperwork and exchanging stuff and figuring out what our relationship looked like now, I did sort of drop a bomb.
Ultimately, I did what I could. I told him I hoped to remain friends, but wouldn’t push the issue. He could reach out when he was ready, and I would wish him well in the meantime. I unfriended him on social media, hoping it would give me some freedom from second-guessing everything I posted, fearing he would see it and be upset. Trying to protect him from further hurt. Fearing that just being myself and settling into this new life would seem, to him, like I was rubbing it in his face. That’s part of why I stopped writing here, too. I sent texts for holidays and birthdays – just to say I remember you, you were important to me, the door is open if you want. I’m willing to talk, to listen. If you want. If you want.
I don’t think he did. The replies came later, got shorter, stopped coming at all. He moved away, spent his birthday with my family, which I found out through Facebook. This still disturbs me; not that my family is close with him, but that they never mention it to me. Like most uncomfortable things, they just pretend it doesn’t exist. Later, they told me he moved again; going back to school in a different state. I hear he’s been seeing someone. (Okay, the few times I’ve ill-advisedly looked him up on Facebook tell me he’s been seeing someone.) I truly wish him all the best. I hope his life now is better than it ever would have been with me still in it.
I’m sometimes sad that we didn’t stay friends. Sometimes I think maybe it’s for the best, that we would have just clashed endlessly as we tried to become the people that we are now. People who are each different from the one the other married, and yet uncannily similar. So much has changed for me that it feels really odd to step this far back, to remember how it was, who I was then. Reading back through the archives here feels like I’m reading about someone else. Someone very familiar to me, but whom I disagree with on some key points. Sometimes it all bubbles to the surface and seems very fresh; sometimes it seems a lifetime ago. Like clothes in the back of the closet that don’t fit anymore and aren’t really my style – is that mine, or did someone else leave it here at some point and I forgot who it belonged to?
So. I guess I have three years’ worth of posts to catch up on. Sorry I disappeared for so long, guys. Let’s get reacquainted, shall we?
There are weird things going on with my heart lately. In the metaphysical place-where-I-feel-feelings sense, not the literal muscle. My physical heart, as far as I know, is doing just fine.
But I’ve got this weird ache. It feels a little like loneliness, but a little like freedom too. I am untethering my life; casting off the lines and floating up into the sky. It’s terrifying. Exhilarating. And lonely. But not necessarily bad lonely – just solitary. I keep trying to tell myself that I need solitude. Time to stand on my own two feet. Chart my own course.
At the end of the day, when everyone who inhabits the spaces of my life goes home to their own dreams and desires, I am left to face myself in the gathering darkness and ask: what do you want? The question is enormous. I was never taught how to make decisions for myself. There was always someone else to consider, someone to defer to.
What do I want? How do I get there? If I acted thinking only of myself, where would I be and what would my life look like? What dreams would I dream for myself?
It’s not like there’s nothing I want from this life. I’ve just lately been realizing that I’ve put my career and professional dreams on the back burner for over a decade while I searched for that fairy-tale romance the movies promised us. Like somehow finding a husband would land me a role in that movie somewhere, or get me a job correcting the spelling and grammar in novels by newly-discovered authors. Funny enough, though, the harder I searched for that perfect relationship the more I sacrificed of myself in order to find it and keep it. Being alone was worse than being mediocre and meaningless and unfulfilled. Somehow.
Don’t think that I look back on the years I spent married as wasted. I learned a lot about myself, about how I function in a serious relationship, and about my limits. I learned how to speak up for what I want and need. I learned how to even figure out what I want and need. I still have a wonderful friend in the man I married, and I am finally at a point in my life where the life I’m living seems authentic and my own.
Sometimes I think it is easier to pair up. It is so much easier to give someone else what they want than to forge your own path and follow your own bliss. Especially if you’re doing it alone. That aloneness can really get to you. It can convince you that you’ll never get what you want. It’s scary to forge your own path without a partner there to share the load. It’s hard to walk your own path, knowing there’s no one there to guide or encourage you. It can be tempting to settle into the path of least resistance instead – to find the spouse, have the kids, dedicate your life to the tedium of surviving… rather than seeking out the thrill of really living.
So there’s this weird little ache in my neurotic little heart, telling me to keep looking for that fairy tale ending. It’s telling me to get swept away. It’s telling me my own dreams aren’t worth following, because I’ll never get them anyway. I am doing my best to ignore it. I know where that leads. Instead I am doing my best to remind myself of the freedom I feel when I’m walking on my own through the city; the feeling that I can go anywhere, be anything. The feeling of being untethered. The feeling of standing on my own two feet. The feeling of floating free.
It’s time to see how far I can fly.
So, an email chat with this lovely lady got me thinking. Why don’t we know how to be alone?
She and I are both going through similar things: mourning a transition in close relationships in our lives, getting used to the idea that we may have to be and live and exist on our own for a while… for maybe a long while. We’re both frightened by the prospect, both nervous about moving through this new world of aloneness.
I spoke with my therapist about that very thing this week. I find myself positioned between my past self and my future self. My past self is young and afraid. She doesn’t believe she can care for herself. She knows she’s going to be lonely. She worries she’ll fall apart. On the other hand, she’s a romantic. She loves and values the people in her life, reaches out when she’s in need, allows others to take care of her.
My future self is confident, comfortable with being on her own. My future self enjoys the people in her life but is ultimately self reliant, needing and relying on no one. She can take care of herself, motivate herself, reach all her goals. She follows her own path and doesn’t make life decisions based on what others want from her. In all honesty, though, this supremely independent future self is also a little bitter, mistrustful of those close to her because she’s learned that others will always let you down. She doesn’t let herself get too attached to people. She’s convinced herself that she can’t – and thus, won’t – trust other people to come through for her or be there when she needs them. So she convinces herself she’ll never need them.
Neither of these women is fully me. They both have strengths and faults. They’re each wrong about certain things, and wise in others. My challenge right now is finding the balance between them.
Bottom line is, it takes a lot of courage to be alone. It takes a lot of trust in oneself, a lot of determination. But being alone is not without its perks. It means the freedom to self-determine; to make the choices that work for me and only me. I think women are often taught to sacrifice their dreams and desires on the altar of Family, Responsibility, or Relationship. There’s always someone else we have to take care of, watch over, look after, nurture, encourage… And in return we’re given the vague impression that it will come back around somehow, that there will be someone to take care of us, watch over us, look after us, nurture and encourage us. I think there are probably more lonely women who are in relationships that lonely women who are alone.
So I will take care of, watch over, look after, nurture, and encourage myself. First and foremost. By myself. Without expecting or hoping that there will be someone else there to do it for me. And when loneliness does strike (and it will)… I’ll do what I need to do to get through. I’ll call a friend. Play an instrument. Paint a D&D mini. Go for a walk. Learn a language. Write a blog post more than a day in advance. Browse the internet until my eyeballs fall out. Develop interests.
I’m good at being a friend to others. Let’s see how good a friend I can be to myself.
So I’ve decided to try and eliminate “I’m afraid” from my vocabulary. As in, “I’m afraid my date will find me unattractive,” “I’m afraid my girlfriend will leave me,” “I’m afraid of the dark.”
Instead, I’m replacing it with the phrase, “I’m aware.” As in, “I’m aware of the possibility my date may find me unattractive,” “I’m aware my girlfriend may someday leave me,” “I’m… aware of the dark.”
This serves two purposes. The first, and most relevant, is that it re-phrases certain fears. “I’m afraid my girlfriend will leave me” is a phrase laden with insecurity and anxiety. It’s ever-present; there is no time frame around her leaving. It could happen at any moment. It connotes a desire to hold on, to prevent the leaving from happening. It connotes a clinginess, a neediness, an ever-tightening grasp.
“I’m aware that my girlfriend may someday leave me” is not only a more accurate phrase, but also a calmer and less insecure one. We’re aware. It could happen. That’s kind of okay. Sure, it would suck if she left – but we were prepared. We knew. She’s free to leave, here. We can let her go. And we’ll survive being left.
Or let’s go with an even more literal version. “I’m aware my girlfriend will leave me.” Here we’ve directly swapped afraid for aware and left everything else the same. While the sentence itself is a bummer – she’s definitely leaving, we already know about it – it’s a much more confident voice that speaks than the one that says, “I’m afraid.” In fact, this sentence almost sounds like the speaker is making a choice. The leaving is a done deal, a foregone conclusion – so no use worrying about it or fearing it.
This highlights another purpose: the groundless fears. “I’m afraid of the dark” vs. “I’m aware of the dark.” The second sounds almost nonsensical – almost everyone is aware of the dark. Or what about “I’m aware that darkness may happen.” Also silly. Using “aware” helps pinpoint fears that are not exactly grounded in reason – fears that needlessly hold us back.
That said, here are some of the fears I’ve been wrestling with lately:
I’m afraid of living on my own and failing to pay the rent.
I’m afraid I’ll end up alone.
I’m afraid of being judged and left out of my community.
I’m afraid no one will believe me.
I’m afraid I don’t deserve to be happy.
I’m afraid I’ve wasted my life.
I’m afraid I’ve made a huge mistake.
I’m afraid of what everyone in my life will think when I tell them I’m gay.
I’m afraid the divorce will be hard.
I’m afraid I’ll lose my friends and end up lonely.
So, to rephrase:
I’m aware that I may fail to pay rent once I’m living on my own. (I will have to budget carefully, work hard, and remember that I have options if I can’t afford to live on my own.)
I’m aware that I may end up alone. (Part of me is almost comfortable with this notion. The other part of me thinks it’s only a very very remote possibility anyway.)
I’m aware that some people in my community may be judgmental and want to exclude me. (That’s life. They’re assholes anyway.)
I’m aware that many people may not believe me. (This is a lot of big heavy news to swallow. It may take some folks time to process. And if strangers don’t believe me, well… they don’t have to.)
I’m aware that I may not deserve to be happy. (Okay, that’s just patently untrue.)
I’m aware that I may have wasted my life. (Also patently untrue. I’m not done living it yet.)
I’m aware I may have made a huge mistake. (Yeah. Wouldn’t be the first.)
I’m aware of what everyone in my life will think when I tell them I’m gay. (Well, no. If I knew what they’d think, I wouldn’t be afraid of it now would I? But I can’t control it anyway, and I don’t know what they’ll think, so why spend the energy?)
I’m aware the divorce will be hard. (Truth. But I can prepare.)
I’m aware I’ll lose all my friends and end up lonely. (Wild hyperbole and also untrue.)
So there it is. I have a lot of big changes ahead of me, but they’re not quite as scary anymore.
And, yes, all of the above is true. About a month ago, I finally came out to my husband as a lesbian. The story behind why and how I know I am is one for a different time, and telling it will probably involve the consent of a few involved parties. Suffice it to say this is a period of massive upheaval for both myself and my husband, and I am currently re-evaluating nearly everything about my life as he and I navigate what will eventually be a separation and divorce. I am posting this publicly not to gather support or sympathy, but merely to give anyone who regularly reads this thing a heads-up. I do my best to post every Friday; there will probably be a period coming up here where I can neither vouch for the regularity or quality of these posts. I am aware that I could burn myself out on this, and I like this blog too much to blow it off and just let it die. I’d rather take it slow for a while.
If any of you writerly types would be interested in doing a guest post and giving me a week off, I am certainly open to the thought. Send me an email at pennypennybobenny [at] gmail [dot] com and let’s bounce some ideas around.
Thanks for reading, everyone. I’ll keep you posted.
What fresh hell is this? Some feminists are upset at First Lady Obama for not, uh, feministing enough?
The article itself is pretty well-balanced and raises some good points. I have no beef with the overall tone of it. I guess I’m just annoyed that there even needs to be an article like this. Once again, folks are looking around on the front lines and going “Well, I’m way more feminist than that woman over there.”
Seriously. Stop it.
So First Lady Obama likes gardening. And being a mother. So freaking what? I highly doubt the solution to the struggle that women face – really to any of the struggles that anyone faces – is to point to someone and say “She’s letting down the team!” “She’s not a REAL feminist!” “She should be feministier!”
When are we going to get it through our heads that what works for us might not work for everyone? That looking down our noses and pooh-pooh-ing the work of others is part of what reinforces the kyriarchy that holds us all back from living full and engaging lives? Accepting that everyone has a right to live life on their own terms means accepting that some people like to garden, that some people like being mothers, that some of us actually enjoy makeup and clothes and fashion magazines. That doesn’t make those people any less feminist.
Hell, the days I do wear makeup, I consider it a radical act of feminism. That’s because I’m wearing it for no one’s gratification but my own. I don’t wear it to please the men around me; the only ones I care about couldn’t give two shits about my makeup or lack thereof. And I certainly don’t wear it to please the feminists who would call me out as a traitor for doing so. That leaves… just me. I do it because I like it. I figure, if I’m ever late to work or an event because I simply couldn’t leave the house without a full face on, then I’m no longer doing it for me. Till then, the “must reject feminine things to be a feminist” camp can bite me. I’m not here to please them, any more than they’re here to please the men in their lives.
“Are fashion and body-toning tips all we can expect from one of the most highly educated First Ladies in history?” asked author Leslie Morgan Steiner in an online column last January.
Well, yeah, if we have a highly educated First Lady who’s passionate about fashion and fitness. What’s the problem there? Or, sorry – did you want to try and force her into a preconcieved model of what your ideal woman should be, regardless of her individual talents, passions, or circumstances? Hmm, that sounds familiar somehow…
Of course, the same writer then generously throws the First Lady a bone.
“I’m sure there is immense pressure — from political advisors, the black community, her husband, the watching world — to play her role as First Black Lady on the safe side.”
Ah, yes. She can’t show interest in something because she’s interested in it; it all has to be engineered by The Man. She’s only conforming because she’s being pressured to conform. Poor soul. If Michelle Obama could really be herself, of course she’d drop her interest in her children and her garden and run off to… I don’t know, become a radical butch dyke polyamorous oil rigger? Or something? She can’t like that stuff just because she likes it, right? She must be bending to pressure somewhere. Nobody actually likes raising children and gardening and getting schoolchildren to eat healthier.
Look, it’s easy to fall into the trap. The system we live under now has us believing that in order to get to the top of the dogpile, we have to throw someone else father down. It’s easy to forget that the only way we win is by walking away from the dogpile altogether. That’s what equality is, right? Equal footing, level playing field?
Let’s stop sneering down our noses at each other, okay? Let’s stop trying to pretend like our way of life is the only one that works. We talk big about acceptance; let’s start by nurturing that seed of acceptance within ourselves. No one will take our demands for acceptance seriously if we’re just as prejudiced as the folks we want to accept us.
I don’t care what the First Lady likes to do with her time. She has every right to do it without being criticized as “un-feminist” for it. It’s her life.
It is the heart of winter.
The snow is falling but the grass is green.
My heart has been ailing.
I have come down with a bad case of the aches.
I am afraid to show her this congestion.
Afraid to be seen in this state,
coughing up my insecurities, sniffling,
afraid I’ll sneeze and spray her with something disgusting.
My hair is a bird’s nest, untameable.
My voice is hesitant and rusty.
I am weak. I am recovering.
I sip her poetry, her letters, like a tonic.
They are Alka-Seltzer fizzing in my chest.
I can see sunshine when I close my eyes.
My breath comes easier now.
Climb out of bed, heart. It’s a new day.
You can hear the birds in the backyard singing.
The sun’s peering in the window
and she’s smiling at you.
Throw back the covers, heart.
You are not too sick to go outside
and a little fresh air would do you good.
The snow is falling, but the grass is green.
The world is cold, but the birds still sing.