Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like ‘struggle’. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now. -Mr. Rogers
When my boyfriend texted me last week to tell me that he felt a “vicious” man-cold coming on, I thought, oh good god—here we go again. The sad grey sweat getups, the lethargic responses to any and all questions asked, the air of quiet desperation as he sniffles his way through boxes of tissues. A fairly tough, athletic guy who takes decent care of himself, he kind of melts into a puddle when faced with some congestion and a scratchy throat. “I’m shutting it down,” he’ll say to me when he feels a cold approaching—and that he does. He puts his hat on or his hood up, drinks a lot of fluid, and sinks into the couch for the remainder of the battle. No grocery shopping, no errands, no favors, no dinners. Sometimes no return-texts or family functions.
And it’s all a little much for me.
I’m not exactly what you’d call “maternal.” While I love working with kids and I feel fiercely protective of those I love, I’m much more likely to show that love with a little elbow or a punch in the arm rather than a warm, gooey hug. Think Elaine from Seinfeld (unfortunately, complete with her rockin’ dance moves). Which is not to say that I’m not a good girlfriend—I believe I am. I can be thoughtful and patient and compassionate. I try to listen and put myself in his shoes, and consider what Mr. Rogers would tell me to do.
But not when he’s sick. When he’s sick, I lose all capacity for that “beautiful-day-in-the-neighborhood” kind of mentality. When it comes to illness, I’m just not a coddler. I’m more of a “grin-and-bear-it”er. And so, when my boyfriend first got sick, I gave him my usual level of support: I tossed him a bottle of Vitamin C and asked him to pass the remote. Continue reading →
My relationship with a divorced father of three has been one of the most grueling, maddening, fulfilling, self-revealing things I’ve ever done, and it has taken me a ton of wrong moves and bad fights to find my way. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:
It’s not personal. Despite wanting to smack someone whenever this is said to me, the fact is that it’s true. His kids dislike you only as a concept, not as a person — they’re just looking for that same safety and stability we all are, and you just happen to be the embodiment of all that threatens that.
It’s not personal except when it is. While it’s true that his kids wouldn’t like anyone with their father, it isn’t anyone — it’s you. You’re the one who’s there, feeling resented, in the way, and often pushed to the margins of his life. You’re entitled to your feelings about that, and you get some space to make it about you too. Because some of it is.
I’m not sure that I’ve been doing this long enough to start repeating posts, but an old piece of mine is up on The Huffington Post right now, and people seemed to dig it the first time. I’m trying to be more consistent about my posting schedule (because I know everyone is waited with baited breath), so Wednesday nights people. Wednesday nights.
Until a few years ago, I never let anyone get close enough to hurt me. Vulnerability was not a color I was willing to wear, and for years I thought that that made me pretty badass. I didn’t need a man to take care of me — I could do it just fine by myself, thank you very much.
Turns out, what’s actually badass is having the guts to be in a relationship — to show up on a daily basis for someone else and allow them to show up for you. There’s nothing harder or more revealing of self. My friend rightly calls being in a relationship the final frontier: raw and primal and often desolate. So, based on my extensive experience, I figured I’d compile a list of things that I’ve learned since moving to the final frontier:
Love is a choice you have to make over and over again. There will be times when you’ll want to punch this person that you love in the face — hard — and then leave. Times when the only thing you’ll be able to see is all the work that lies ahead, unfurling in front of you like a roll of garbage bags, and you just won’t be sure that you’re up for it. Intimacy is hard and it’s sloppy, and inevitably it will make you decide whether or not you’re up for the job of earning it.
Humility: Part 1 — The wood never fits. Admitting I’m wrong doesn’t come very naturally to me — especially, ironically, once I realize that I’m wrong. That’s when I decide that if I just whack this huge rectangular piece of plywood enough, I’ll get it to fit in a teapot. Spoiler alert: the wood never fits. That’s what she said. (Oh c’mon, you were thinking it too.)
Here’s what I think is true about love. But what the hell do I know…
Feelings are the easy part of love. Feelings of love can be great, and can make you feel a lot of warm and squishy things. But in and of themselves they don’t actually mean anything for your person. It’s what you do that matters. It’s the daily grind—the communicating and listening and compromising and forgiving and finding patience and running out for frozen yogurt at 10:00 at night—that’s what’s hard. Feelings only matter to you—it’s making your person believe your feelings are real that’s all the trouble.
Go to bed angry. Sometimes, there is a point beyond which, nothing good is coming down the pike. You’ve talked and yelled and fought, and there is no progress to make that day. If you haven’t already said things you’ll regret, you’re about to. A good night’s sleep can be your saving grace. (But don’t be an idiot and refuse to sleep in the same bed, if your only alternative is an uncomfortable couch. Not that I’ve ever done that. (Twice.) Just respect that invisible line down the middle of that deliciously comfortable bed.)
Love does not always conquer all. Sometimes timing does the conquering. Or logistics. Or baggage, or fear or wanting different things out of life, or mental illness or money or kids or sex or lack of sex or too much booze or too many Daddy issues or too much debt. None of those things necessarily negate the very real love that may be at the center of it.
Love is not a hypothetical. You have all these ideas about who you are but that’s all they are–ideas–until a relationship either confirms or denies them. You learn what you’d actually do in a situation, and sometimes it’s miles from what you thought you’d do. Sometimes you’re kinder than you might have thought, sometimes weaker. Sometimes you surprise yourself because you’re better and stronger and more, sometimes you shock yourself with your smallness. You can’t know until you know. The worst thing you can do is berate yourself for not being “the kind of person” you thought you were. You’re not a “kind of” person, you are just you, just a human being who is fallible and scared, and who made some choices you didn’t think you would.
Laugh at everything, especially yourselves. The best parts of wading through the muck of a relationship are the funny stories you get to tell.
Let your person off the hook because you can. Cut slack whenever possible.
Stay in your own goddamn lane. Don’t consume each other, tempting as it may be. Make sure you’re still your own person, with things that have nothing to do with one another. The best thing that you can do is remain in a place in which you know that you’d be ok without your person. You’d be devastated and lost for a while, but your world would not end. There’s a pressure that your person will feel when you’ve made her your entire world.
Motives matter except for when they don’t. The trick is figuring out which category any given situation falls into. Ultimately, if someone can make you feel loved then all the other details fade away, and if they can’t then at a certain point the reason why becomes irrelevant.
Love is not salvation. You cannot save anyone. No one can save you. You cannot be “fixed” by a relationship. You can help bring out the parts of someone that are capable of saving himself—provide the scaffolding for him while he does the actual work–but that’s it. If you try to save him, you’ll fail and you’ll both end up feeling small. And if you’re relying on him to save you, he’ll feel that pressure, and he’ll resent it. And then he’ll come up short.
Allow for weakness. Hers. Yours. Yours plural. We are all weak and pathetic sometimes. We all have buttons that can be pressed, deep-seated issues that make us especially vulnerable and unable to see the truth. Quiet fears run deep. You have to give your person the space to be her lesser self sometimes, despite how frustrating it can be. Knowing that she can be weak in front of you is called safety.
It’s not always personal. One of the hardest things to do is accept when someone’s behavior affects you but is not about you. We all have our own baggage, all of that soft underbelly that gets touched randomly on a 4:00 on a Wednesday afternoon when you don’t load the dishwasher correctly or buy the wrong kind of apples at the store. Don’t make it about you when it’s not.
But your feelings are always personal. Even when her behavior isn’t about you, if you’re hurt by it, you’re allowed to be hurt.
Surprise! Flowers on a random Tuesday. An “I love you” out of the blue. Making her spinach when she’s off carbs even though everyone else is having rice. Turning her seat warmer on before she gets in the car. Telling her how much you hate all the same people as her. Small surprises go such a long way.
This past fall had its way with me. I struggled with a lot of questions on a very primal level about who I am. How do I adjust to the unexpected? Where do I turn when my legs are taken out from under me? Am I really capable of taking care of myself? In the face of profound hurt, do I harden and close off or do I find the courage to remain vulnerable? What does it take to change? When it comes down to it, how do I define my sense of self?
I sought answers to those questions by writing this, and I could not be happier to have made my Huffington Post debut with it.
Here’s how change typically works in my life: It’s like I’m standing at the top of a mountain and I begin to realize that it’s time to climb down. Maybe the weather’s turning or I see a lion charging up. Maybe it’s just the vaguest of realizations that fear has accumulated all around me, and it’s making me uncomfortable. So I get out my telescope and my tape measure, and I try to calculate whatever I can: the angle of the slopes, the height of the mountain, the rate at which I think I can climb down. I think about the imminent trek downward constantly, and I massage those thoughts obsessively like silly putty—molding and re-molding—sculpting my thoughts into all kinds of scary shapes. I peer down and contemplate all the work I’ll have to do and how much it might hurt and how scared I am—and I wait. I want to get down but I’m too afraid of the trip.
So the Universe kicks me in the ass and sends me tumbling down the mountain, head over heels, ready or not. And when I finally reach the bottom I’ve got a mouthful of dirt, I’m bruised and bloodied and dehydrated, and I’m not sure where I am.
I am now in enough pain to make my way to the nearest triage.
A few months ago my boyfriend of two years came back from a weekend away with his kids, walked into our apartment, and told me that I distracted him from his responsibilities and that he was worried he was failing his kids by being with me. He was re-considering everything that had happened since his divorce (especially me) and was thinking about trying to put his family back together. He just wanted to go home, he said, but didn’t know where that was or if there was room for me there. And he couldn’t figure any of it out with me around.
And there was my kick down the mountain.
To find out how that trip went for me, click here.
They say that the first step is admitting you have a problem. So, I have a problem. I’ve tried to stop on my own but this thing is bigger than I am—I can stop, I just can’t stay stopped. Every time I do it, I wake up the next morning remorseful and I swear that I’ll never do it again. But then I do.
My name is Dani and I launch text-grenades. I want to stop—I really do—I just don’t know how. Continue reading →
“It is not all bad, but it is not all good, it is not all ugly, but it is not all beautiful, it is life, life, life—the only thing that matters. It is savage, cruel, kind, noble, passionate, selfish, generous, stupid, ugly, beautiful, painful, joyous—it is all these, and more, and it’s all these I want to know and, by God, I shall, though they crucify me for it.”
-Thomas Wolfe’s Letters To His Mother
February 17, 2016
I’ve been recovering from some pretty invasive oral surgery this week, so I’m re-publishing an old post that I think is particularly relevant this time of year, when many of us fall off our resolution-wagons. ‘Forget it,’ we say when the results aren’t what we thought they’d be. ‘I don’t know why I ever thought I could change in the first place.’ We set unreasonable goals, beat ourselves up when we fall short of them, and then use those shortcomings as proof that real change simply isn’t possible. And by believing that, we make it so.
So I’d like to reiterate my objection to the whole idea of new year’s resolutions.
Change is slow and subtle. It isn’t about grand gestures or sweeping declarations. It’s about the small decisions you get to make on a daily basis that eventually add up to something bigger. And the beautiful thing about “a daily basis” is that a new one starts every day–you get to decide to start the process of change right now, even if the scale is smaller than what you had in mind. Smaller scales are better anyway; sudden, sweeping change never ends up being real. It’s the painstaking, repetitive, meandering change–the kind that takes place in the grit and muscle of life’s grind–that’s what ends up sticking.
I’ve been doing more thinking about what I’d tell my younger, dumber selves, I suppose because my present self needs the help too. It’s funny how I can learn something–sometimes over and over again–and still need reminding about it. I guess knowledge and acceptance often run on very different tracks. (See Part I of my sage wisdom here.)
David Bowie’s death a few weeks ago unsettled me—not the death itself, but the phenomenon that followed it. Initially, as my social media feeds filled with pictures and quotes and song links, I was uncomfortable and annoyed. Then I started to feel like a sociopath—the world was letting out this great, collective gasp in mournful unison.
Why wasn’t I?
It’s not like I didn’t try. I put up a few different elegiac Bowie pictures, but took them down soon after. It just felt icky. The fact was, I wasn’t grieving. Sad? Sure. But not grieving. And so it felt like I was trying to co-opt his death and make it mine in a way that it wasn’t. I was using this awful thing (though there are things way more tragic than the death of a 69 year-old man who lived an incredibly full and exciting life) to get…well what was I trying to get? Attention, I guess. Isn’t that always the point of a social media post? Whether it’s for personal or professional reasons, posting something on social media is us waving our arms back and forth, trying to signal to people that we need some attention. Look over here. This is where I am. This is what I’m doing. This is how I’m grieving.Continue reading →
***I’ve been thinking back to where it all started for me and this little blog. Y’know, all the way back to October (when I was still doing the e.e. cummings thing). Thanks to everyone who has read and supported me, especially those who’ve reached out to tell me when something resonated with them. For a writer just starting out, you can’t know how much it helps to know that my words are landing somewhere. Happy New Year everyone.***
the other day, my blonde-haired blue-eyed 7 year-old charge looked at me and said, “what do you wanna be when you…” and there he stopped, an impish grin forming across his sun-splashed summer face. he knew i was already a grown-up, but he also understood that being a nanny isn’t a response to the question of what you want to be when you grow up. babysitting is something you do, not something you are. and though he didn’t want to offend me, he did want an answer to his question. he thought about it for a moment and then said, “well, besides this, what do you want to be when you grow up? i wanna be an engineer—so i can make roller coasters.”