Category Archives: Relationships

Profound thought

As so eloquently stated by Paloma in Muriel Barbery’s novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

“We never look beyond our assumptions and, what’s worse, we have given up trying to meet others; we just meet ourselves. We don’t recognize each other because other people have become our permanent mirrors. If we actually realized this, if we were to become aware of the fact that we are only ever looking at ourselves in the other person, that we are alone in the wilderness, we would go crazy. As for me, I implore fate to give me the chance to see beyond myself and truly meet someone.”

I’m really a 16-year-old boy at heart

I’m totally not ashamed of my penchant for bodily humor. This scene is one of my faves and this episode magically appeared tonight to give me a much-needed post-family-Thanksgiving belly laugh. Every second is piss-yourself good.

Why I sobbed like a baby watching “Eat, Pray, Love”

OK, so this is just ONE of the reasons. And frankly, one of the many, many reasons I sobbed when I read the book three years ago. Ever since I saw the film, on opening day back in August, I’ve continually replayed this scene in my head (with Richard Jenkins – love that man! – brilliantly cast in the role of “Richard from Texas”). So much sage wisdom here, it’s ridiculous.

And now…tissue, please.

“What’s got you all wadded up?” he drawls, toothpick in mouth, as usual.

“Don’t ask,” I say, but then I start talking and tell him every bit of it, concluding with, “And worst of all, I can’t stop obsessing over David. I thought I was over him, but it’s all coming up again.”

He says, “Give it another six months, you’ll feel better.”

“I’ve already given it twelve months, Richard.”

“Then give it six more. Just keep throwin’ six months at it till it goes away. Stuff like this takes time.”

I exhale hotly though my nose, bull-like.

“Groceries [he calls her Groceries, because of how much food she can scarf down],” Richard says, “listen to me. Someday you’re gonna look back on this moment of your life as such a sweet time of grieving. You’ll see that you were in mourning and your heart was broken, but your life was changing and you were in the best possible place in the world for it – in a beautiful place of worship, surrounded by grace. Take this time, every minute of it. Let things work themselves out here in India.”

“But I really loved him.”

“Big deal. So you fell in love with someone. Don’t you see what happened? This guy touched a place in your heart deeper than you thought you were capable of reaching. I mean you got zapped, kiddo. But that love you felt, that’s just the beginning. You just got a taste of love. That’s just limited little rinky-dink mortal love. Wait till you see how much more deeply you can love than that. Heck, Groceries – you have the capacity to someday love the whole world. It’s your destiny. Don’t laugh.”

“I’m not laughing.” I was actually crying. “And please don’t laugh at me now, but I think the reason it’s so hard for me to get over this guy is because I seriously believed David was my soul mate.”

“He probably was. Your problem is you don’t understand what that word means. People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that’s holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave. And thank God for it. Your problem is, you just can’t let this one go. It’s over, Groceries. David’s purpose was to shake you up, drive you out of your marriage that you needed to leave, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light could get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you had to transform your life, then introduce you to your spiritual master and beat it. That was his job, and he did great, but now it’s over. Problem is, you can’t accept that this relationship had a real short shelf life. You’re like a dog at the dump, baby – you’re just lickin’ at the empty tin can, trying to get more nutrition out of it. And if you’re not careful, that can’s gonna get stuck on your snout forever and make your life miserable. So drop it.”

“But I love him.”

“So love him.”

“But I miss him.”

“So miss him. Send him some love and light every time you think about him, then drop it. You’re just afraid to let go of the last bits of David because then you’ll be really alone, and Liz Gilbert is scared to death of what will happen if she’s really alone. But here’s what you gotta understand, Groceries. If you clear out all that space in your mind that you’re using right now to obsess about this guy, you’ll have a vacuum there, an open spot – a doorway. And guess what the universe will do with the doorway? It will rush in – God will rush in – and fill you with more love than you ever dreamed. So stop using David to block that door. Let it go.”

And now – the saddest statistic ever

This just in, from a recent survey conducted by sociologists at UCLA and California State University (sample size: 25,000 – serious statistical relevance…says this woman with a B.A. in sociology):

  • 88% of single women today say it’s difficult to find someone they’d like to date
  • 76% of single men agree

20 years ago?

  • 73% of single women said it was difficult to find someone they’d like to date
  • 57% of single men agreed

Gee, hasn’t the internet been GREAT for our love lives?!?! Oh yeah, all that extra choice, all those potentially perfect partners just a click away, all those people we “might not meet otherwise.”

Wake up, people. It’s all a crock of shit, thanks to a phenomenon known as The Paradox of Choice. Author and Swarthmore psych professor (and another Dude Who Rocks), Barry Schwartz, provides a slew of evidence that “we are faced with far too many choices on a daily basis, providing an illusion of a multitude of options when few honestly different ones actually exist.”

READ IT.

Now read THIS

It took me a long time to finally dive into Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert’s follow-up to Eat, Pray, Love. When the book was released earlier this year, I came across it at the airport, while passing time waiting for a flight to SFO. Having loved and so strongly identified with EPL, I was eager for Liz’s next book, but when I picked it up off the shelf at SeaTac last January, I nearly broke into a cold sweat.

Committed? Couldn’t she have come up with a title that isn’t also synonymous with checking oneself into a mental institution? And how about the subtitle: “makes peace with marriage.” Is THAT all there is? And, more importantly, why wasn’t there another Twilight installment to distract me from reality?

Then last Friday, I saw the EPL movie, which was an emotional tornado for oh-so-many reasons. (I was prepared with an entire roll of toilet paper in my purse – so chew on that metaphor.) But it helped me purge a lot of mental baggage and convinced me it was time to finally face my demons. For years, I’ve been writing about divorce and dating, processing divorce and dating, talking about divorce and dating. Frankly, I’m tired of it. I also think it’s keeping me mired in the past and it’s time to move forward. If I don’t do some hard thinking about how I feel about marriage and what I want from commitment, how am I ever going to get there?

When I walked out of the Majestic Bay on Friday evening, bleary-eyed and sniffly, I headed straight to the bookstore for a copy of Committed. Then I picked up some summery comfort food (clams and chips at Lockspot – holy yumminess), went home, uncorked a bottle of vino, decamped to the patio, and started the journey. And what an eye-opening trek it’s been so far. For one thing, there’s nothing like personal narrative interspersed with sociohistorical data to serve as literary porn for the writer/behavioral scientist (a la….ME). If you’re looking for another Eat, Pray, Love, look elsewhere. But if you’re looking to ask yourself some tough questions, Ms. Gilbert’s got your number.

Love lessons

The heart has its reasons which reason does not know. – Blaise Pascal

From the moment I set foot in my first corporate job – in 1995 – I knew I wanted to work for myself. I couldn’t exactly articulate why – I just knew. Of course, it took 10 years, a lot of detours, and a fuckload of courage to do it. Though I’ve told anyone who’ll listen that the reason I finally made the leap  wasn’t so much about courage as it was that I’d lost everything else in life and was truly not in my right mind when I did it. I’d also just watched three friends – all under 35 – become widows. Three friends deliver stillborn babies. I was reeling from my divorce, my father-in-law’s passing, my own father’s three brushes with death, and my mother’s battle with cancer. My life was by no means tragic, but I’d become painfully aware that it was horrifically short. Even if all of the struggles weren’t mine, it was foolish to not heed the lessons each imparted. There’s something about surviving – or witnessing – the upending of life that makes you realize how very little is permanent or predictable, and suddenly you don’t want to waste time. You become very much about “Why not?” – or as we improvisers call it, “Yes, and.” You stop questioning and start nodding. Stop analyzing and start moving. Stop fearing and start living.

For me, the greatest lesson was divorce, which is as much – if not more – about shattered expectations and the loss of a dream as it is about the loss of a person, a relationship. You feel completely disillusioned: “What? I thought this was supposed to be forever.” Here was someone you swore – in front of God and everybody – you’d stick with ’til death, for better or worse. And suddenly, the worst has happened and you haven’t kept your promise. And you feel like shit and a liar and completely naive for believing there was a guarantee.

But there are no guarantees. EVER. Because, even in marriage, despite the ceremony and the vows and the marriage certificate, it’s all a choice. Relationships are a choice. EVERY DAY. You have to actively wake up each and every morning and choose this person. Someone once explained to me why she hadn’t married the father of her children, with whom she’d been in a relationship for over a decade. Until that point, I’d always thought people like that were really weird and commitment-phobic and fucked up. But her point resonated with me:

“I think people get lazy when they’re married. Like once everything is signed and sealed and tied up with a bow, they stop working at the relationship. They stop choosing each other. It’s very easy for me or my partner to walk away because we’re not married. Every day, we HAVE to choose to be here and work on it.”

Upon hearing this, I realized I hadn’t continued to make that choice in my marriage. And although I’m not sure perpetual cohabitation is an option for me, I now understand the importance of choosing to be with someone, whether you have a ring on your finger or not.

And who should that person be? How do you determine the qualities of a suitable partner? Years ago, I spent a good deal of therapy sessions talking about what I wanted in a partner, making note of my “must-haves” (intelligence, ambition, work they’re passionate about, integrity, dark hair) and “dealbreakers” (mental illness, substance abuse, no life or friends or interests of their own). Then one afternoon, my friend Jill looked me square in the eyes and said:

“Nicole. All that matters is how someone makes you feel.”

Oh. RIGHT. How do you feel with someone? Do you feel happy? Do you look forward to seeing them? Do you think of them often – and fondly? Do you feel – dare I say it – safe? Jill told me that her boyfriend “feels like home” to her. None of these descriptors are particularly sexy, but really – this is all that matters. When a friend of mine was clinging to a woman he wasn’t really into – going through his checklist of what was good and not-so-good about her, I finally said to him, “How does she make you feel? Do you like her? Do you like being with her? Stop overanalyzing and check in with your heart.”

One of my dearest friends is twice-divorced and has been with her current partner for six years. I once asked her – after having been married to two very different men – what she believes is the #1 ingredient in a relationship. Her response?

Passion.

Not necessarily “tearing-your-underwear-off-with-my-teeth” passion (although, really, who can complain about that), but passion for the other person. Strong feelings of respect, admiration, love, and desire – desire to be with them, near them. She said, “Without that, it becomes very difficult to work through tough times.”

Relationships aren’t a careful calculation of qualities and traits and hobbies and likes and dislikes – as the fucked-up smorgasbord “perfect person is just a click away” world of online dating would like us to believe. Every site out there tries to convince us they have the ideal formula for helping you find your soulmate, when the real challenge is to just trust your feelings – and then make a choice. It’s not anything that can be measured or explained. It’s how someone moves you – rocks you to the core. It’s knowing the difference between intuition and fear, which is another little inside voice that sounds a lot like intuition, but isn’t. It’s False Evidence Appearing Real. So how do you make the distinction, especially when it comes to love? There’s lots of kumbaya shit out there about how to “go inside yourself” and “get quiet within” in order to distinguish between the two. If you’re like me, you’re too hyper and impatient to crunch on that granola. So here’s a simpler solution, in the wise words of my friend Janya’s father near the end of his life:

“Don’t choose someone you can live with. Choose someone you can’t live without.”

Well, this is totally fascinating

This little ditty called “The Science of a Happy Marriage” from the NYT. It will, of course, shortly result in a lengthy conversation with Jules (who sent it to me – thanks, m’dear). If we can ever get our dang podcast up and running, we could share that chat with y’all. (Soon, I promise. Really.)

One excerpt in particular struck a chord with me. It’s the concept I’ve tried to explain multiple times to people who just can’t fathom how I (or my ex-husband) remained faithful through a 15-year relationship. It’s something I call The Marriage Mindset, which translates as: THE SWITCH JUST SHUTS OFF.

A series of unusual studies led by John Lydon, a psychologist at McGill University in Montreal, have looked at how people in a committed relationship react in the face of temptation. In one study, highly committed married men and women were asked to rate the attractiveness of people of the opposite sex in a series of photos. Not surprisingly, they gave the highest ratings to people who would typically be viewed as attractive.

Later, they were shown similar pictures and told that the person was interested in meeting them. In that situation, participants consistently gave those pictures lower scores than they had the first time around.

When they were attracted to someone who might threaten the relationship, they seemed to instinctively tell themselves, “He’s not so great.”

“The more committed you are,” Dr. Lydon said, “the less attractive you find other people who threaten your relationship.”