Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Feeling Replaceable

I love my friends intensely. Fiercely. So you can imagine the depth of my concern when I received this online comment from a good friend of mine: “Today, I hurt so much. Today, I feel tremendously replaceable.”

How do you respond to that? Well, I’ll tell you how I did… I sought her out and made her tell me what happened. She was reluctant. The last thing someone wants to do is recount the events that would make her feel less than appreciated, less than special. But in this case, I wasn’t taking no for an answer. When she was finished, and when we had re-established firmly the fact that she is unique and precious and wonderful, she gave me permission to share this with you. Why? I’ll tell you at the end. (Stories are best when you reveal the moral last!)

My friend is single.  Let’s start there.  She’s wonderful and smart and beautiful.  She simply hasn’t found the right man yet... but I’m getting ahead of myself.

So my friend – let’s call her Jill, because that’s nothing close to her real name (as far as you know) – recently started to feel a little crushy on a guy she’s known for a long time.  As luck would have it, this man started to show interest in her at about the same time. Voilá!  Romance begins. 

Because Jill and this guy both hang out with many of the same people, often in group situations, the guy suggested that they keep their budding relationship quiet for a bit.  He made the cogent argument that they needed to determine on their own, with no friendly interference, if their relationship really had long term potential before “coming out” to their friends. This way, if things worked out, they’d know it was because of the relationship, not because of pressure from the group. Similarly, if things didn’t work out, no one – either of them, anyone in the group – would feel awkward about the situation.

No matter what the arrangement was, Jill was beside herself.  She was happy.  She clearly thought things were going well.  If I had to guess, I’d say she was falling hard for the guy.  She never said it in so many words, but to me, from the outside listening to her, it was obvious.

So this went on for a few weeks, when Jill started to notice a slight change in this guy’s demeanor. It was slight, yes, but Jill’s a perceptive woman. Still, he gave no direct indication that his interest was waning. In fact, Jill gave him several “outs” which were never acknowledged or taken. Then, in recent days, Jill noticed this guy paying the slightest bit more attention to another friend of theirs. A hint of it. A whisper of it. Nothing anyone from outside would notice. Nothing anyone else on the inside seemed to notice.  Anyone but Jill.

Jill thought about bringing this up with this guy, but she didn’t want to seem jealous when they’d barely started dating. That’s all sorts of uncomfortable, right? So instead, she took a circuitous route that you may question… she went to the other woman.

Now, before you get crazy, Jill did NOT let on to the other woman that she (Jill) and this guy had anything special going on. Instead, she lightly mentioned to this friend that she’d noticed the guy paying a little bit more attention to her (the friend), kind of in that wink-wink-nudge-nudge way that friends will do. I’m sure you can guess what happened next… the friend was beside herself excited to confide in Jill that she and this guy had decided to start quietly dating to test the waters, to see if their interest in each other was something worth pursuing further.

You know the rest of the rationale.  And I’m sure that by now you, like I, can completely grasp what Jill meant when she said she felt “replaceable.”  After all, the guy set things up with this other woman the exact same way he set them up with Jill – things he said to her, things they shared, ways and times they spent time together, including some details I can’t share here at risk of revealing to a select few who Jill is. Identical.

Is Jill going to say anything further to her friend, the other woman in this situation?  She considered it, more to protect her friend than anything.  But she also doesn’t feel it’s her place to presume that this guy will treat her friend with the same disrespect as he showed her.  It’s a crap shoot, really. 

And of course Jill is going to end things with the guy. That part is tough because she considered him a close friend for many years prior to this. Now she wonders if they can continue to be friends at all, since he lied to her and betrayed her trust.

So what is the moral of this story?  There are several, but these are the points I want to drive home with you:
  1. Trust your gut.  Yes, sometimes your gut will be wrong, of course. Sometimes you may come across like a crazy person.  But listen to it.  Even a little.
  2. Be direct and be honest.  Jill gave this guy many opportunities to be direct and honest with her if he felt he wanted to revert to “just” friendship or felt interest in someone else.  She would have been hurt, but she would have felt respected by his honesty, and their friendship could have recovered. Now, this guy likely will lose a friend, and by being dishonest he augmented Jill’s pain tremendously.
  3. Trust people.  Just because this happened to Jill, it doesn’t mean that all men are dishonest or that relationships are fraught with disaster.  This happened to Jill.  Not to everyone.
  4. Most important of all:  YOU are not replaceable.  Jill is not.  You are not.  You are unique in all the world.  If someone you desire doesn’t recognize all the special qualities you have or feel the same way about you, or if someone you care about betrays your trust, it doesn’t diminish you one iota.  It simply says something about that person. You continue to be wonderful, amazing you.   

This still leaves us with Jill’s dilemma. Does she go back to her friend (the woman) and let her know the full story related to the guy in this situation, or does she leave it to fate?  Any thoughts?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Weird, Unimportant Coincidences

[Spoiler Alert:  If you’ve never seen Sleepless in Seattle or Field of Dreams, and if you think you may someday, and if you don’t want any information about either one before you do, and if you somehow have never encountered any other spoilers about these movies that are now 20-ish years old… you may actually learn a very little something about these movies in this post. Very little. But something.]

As my BFF pointed out recently, I’ve been in a bit of a nostalgic mood lately. One of the results of this all-encompassing nostalgia is that I’ve spent time lately introducing my children to some of the classic movies of my youth. E.T. Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Star Wars. Ghost Busters. Black Stallion.

It’s been fun seeing them fall in love with these movies that captured my imagination when I was young, and it’s also been interesting to see these films through their fresh eyes. Some of the observations have been enlightening or even funny. For instance, there are scenes in E.T. that involve a rotary phone. Many kids these days aren’t fully familiar with original touch-tone phones that connect to land lines, and even land line phones often have cordless headsets, so explaining a rotary phone circa 1980 was a fun challenge.

Last weekend, I had a late evening “sleepover” with my kids in our basement playroom. The kids thought this was the most fantastic thing ever.  Kids tend to think sleeping anywhere but their own beds is the best thing ever, really. Anyway, I had one rule: the only movie we would watch would be a “Mommy movie.” I knew they absolutely would not fall asleep if we watched a kids’ movie, and I assumed that if we put on a romantic comedy or light drama, the kids would drift off.

After flipping through the channels, I happened upon the last maybe half hour of one of the best, sweetest romantic comedies of all time, Sleepless in Seattle. I took a moment to give the kids a quick overview of what the movie was about, and then we settled in to watch. By the time I was done with my kid-friendly film synopsis, the movie was at the scene where the son Jonah’s little friend Jessica helps him secure a seat on a plane to New York. To my happy surprise, the kids watched raptly until the end and were giddy with excitement when Sam and Annie finally met at the end.

Bear (smiling ear to ear):  Mommy! Will they get married?
Me:  I don’t know, baby.
Bear:  I think they will. They have to. This is so great!

Well, last night I held another sleepover with the kids. This time I was determined to show the kids a complete, start-to-finish Mommy movie.  I gave the kids a choice between my all-time-favorite movie, Field of Dreams, and Sleepless in Seattle (so they could see how it begins). After some debate, the kids agreed they wanted to see Field of Dreams (Ballerina’s first choice) first and Sleepless in Seattle (Bear’s first choice) second or the following day. 

We settled in – the kids in their sleeping bags on our couches, I on a “bed” of couch cushions laid out on the floor – and turned on Field of Dreams.  Ballerina zonked out about halfway through the movie, but Bear was rapt and fascinated throughout.  He was crushed for Doc Graham after he left the field – sacrificed his place on the field, in truth – to save Ray’s daughter, Karin, from choking on a hot dog. Bear felt indignant at the end when Terry was invited “out” with the ball players but Ray was not, he asked over and over during the last scene between John and Ray, “Do either of them know John is his dad? Do they know yet?” and he quietly cheered when Ray called out to John, “Hey… Dad? You wanna have a catch?”

After the movie was done, Bear asked if we could start Sleepless in Seattle.  It was late, and Bear was sick, but I thought, “Why not?” and put the movie on. About ten minutes in, Bear yawned and the following exchange happened:

Bear:  When does Karin show up?
Me:  Um… who? 
Bear:  Karin. When does she show up?
Me:  Karin… from the last movie?
Bear:  Yeah.
Me:  But this is a different movie.
Bear:  Right. So when does she show up?

At first I thought that these were perhaps the sleepy ravings of an exhausted, mildly feverish, almost-6-year-old who wasn’t used to staying up past 11:00pm. But then it hit me.  The little girl who played Jonah's friend Jessica in Sleepless in Seattle is the same girl who played Karin in Field of Dreams.  I would never have made this connection, but my sweet little Bear saw it right away. It kind of gave me chills. Not entirely sure why. But isn't it interesting?

From Field of Dreams (c/o IMDB.com).
From Sleepless in Seattle (c/o stargalaxy.com).

This observation must have switched on the “find commonalities” part of my brain, because I almost immediately made two more interesting connections between the movies… well, interesting to me, at least.  First, baseball figures prominently in each.  The baseball connection in Field of Dreams is obvious, of course – if you can’t sort that one out, you likely haven’t actually seen Field of Dreams, and if that’s the case, then your assignment for this week is to rent, borrow or buy the film and watch it! – but if you watch Sleepless in Seattle, you’ll find that it’s a baseball reference within Annie’s letter that is the first thing Jonah refers to as “a sign” that she’s someone to whom Sam should consider speaking.  And speaking of Annie, the main female character in both Field of Dreams and Sleepless in Seattle is named Annie.  That’s right.  Not Ann or Anna or any other iteration of the name.  Annie.

Now that I have impressed you with my son’s powers of half-asleep observation and my own ability to make inane connections between movies, you may go about your day. As for me, I’m going to try to sort out what sort of “sign” all this is. Because it must mean something, right?

Or not. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tips to Make Your Early Morning Flight Fellow Passengers Not Hate You

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Atlanta, GA
July 18, 4:30am

When you have to take an early morning flight – which qualifies, in my opinion, as any flight before 9:00am, thanks to the need to arrive at the airport so flipping early to muddle through security – it’s frustrating enough just to wake up early enough to get to the airport on time. That alone is worth several high fives, a hearty pat on the back and bit of “kiss my arse.” Then you have to navigate check-in, the myriad of TSA rules, finding your gate and staying awake until your flight boards. It is not a situation that leaves one in a forgiving, kind and congenial mood.

Because of this, it is more imperative than ever, when you fly early and interact with your fellow travelers, to follow a few simple rules in order to prevent a cavalcade of annoyance or even outright hostility.

  1. For heaven’s sake, tone down the cologne. Let’s ignore for a moment that some of us actually get headachy and nauseated by heavy cologne scents. You’re in an enclosed space. Don’t make the rest of us feel like the migraine-burdened Jeanie in your bottle of overbearing musk.
  2. Talk just a little quieter, please. If you’re in a group, if you’re on your cell phone (pre-flight, of course, ahem), if you’re speaking to your small child, if you’re having a conversation with the voice in your head, if you’re practicing your monologue for your new film…look, it’s whatever-crazy-hour a.m. Even though we’re in an airport, it’s still quiet. You don’t have to make it your personal mission to show us how loud the airport will be later.
  3. Please, PUH-lease, ditch the smelly food. We have covered the problem of smelly food on an airplane before. This one is universal and holds true at any time of day. ‘Nuff said.
  4. As with #3, this one holds true always – please quit with the nail clipping out in the middle of the airport or on the plane. I’ve seen it too many times myself and have read way too many posts on Facebook about it to leave this one out. Is it a ritual? Are you sacrificing your nail tips to the gods of flight in hopes of a safe trip? No? Then do this at home, or at least in the restroom.
  5. Sit up like a grown-up on the chairs at the gate. Yes, you in the pajamas who obviously crashed in the airport overnight. Believe me, I’ve slept in an airport. Recently, in fact. But when people start showing up at the gate, you know what? It’s time to share the seating. Because we all would love to lay down and fall asleep at this early hour. Possibly more than you, since we already had to attempt to wake up. Don’t make us go all Lord of the Flies on you.

There are so many more tips that I could share with you to make your morning flights less aggravating… for the rest of us. But I have to board my plane now. One nice thing about early morning flights: people are too tired to stand in a lunatic mob around the gate entrance once boarding begins. We’re all going to the same place, people. In the same vehicle. We will arrive at our destination simultaneously. In the mornings, travelers seem to get that. That or they just want sit still for as long as possible before lumbering through the gate and down to the plane. Because it’s early, people!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Break-Up… or Say What You Need To Say

My best friend texted me yesterday morning regarding my latest post about my best date ever to call me out on being in a romantic, nostalgic mood. Well, she’s right. I’m in a pretty good mood lately, and it’s boosted by an upcoming visit I have with one of my oldest friends. Not that he is old, but he’s known me since I was an infant. Which I suppose actually would make him old. Anyway, I’ve been giddy as a Bieber-addled tween for a few weeks now looking forward to my upcoming playdate, so yes, she’s right.

Still, knowing my BFF, I know she’s hinting at me to tone it down a smidge. Hence this post is a sort of book-end to the other.  That post described my favorite date. This one talks about break-ups.

I suppose the ideal book-end would be a post about my worst break-up ever, but I’m not sure at my age there is such a memory, barring break-ups involving violence and cruelty. Fortunately for me, that’s not part of my history.

Still, I’ve learned something that I would like to share regarding how to make awful moments like break-ups, or really delivering bad news of any kind, maybe a little less awful. What is this magical advice, oh sage one, you ask? It’s so simple it’s scary. Ready? Be honest.

What, you ask? Be honest? Tell someone something unpleasant? Like, directly to them? In direct terms? And hurt them?  Here’s the easy answer: Yes.  As John Mayer says in his song that aside from the title and refrain has nothing to do with this post, "Say What You Need To Say."

Let’s face facts here. If you’re going to break up with someone, or fire them, or get them to make a tough change of some kind, it’s almost a certainty that the other person is going to be hurt. Right? You may be able to soften the blow a tiny bit with a white lie of some kind. But the harsh truth has a way of coming to light eventually, and when it does, it hurts like hell to know someone wasn’t honest with you. Sometimes that hurts more than the tough message you were trying to convey in the first place.

And let’s be real. Rejection is rejection is rejection. Disappointment is disappointment is disappointment. Failure always eventually feels like failure. Just because that first moment is eased in some way and you don’t have to deal with it directly -- that you can lie to yourself and pretend you didn't actually hurt the other person -- it doesn’t mean that the pain won’t creep in for them. Sometimes that creeping pain hurts more, and longer, than that harsh, rip-off-the-band-aid, stinging pain of being given a tough message directly, with respect and honesty.

Long before I met my husband, I had a couple boyfriends in my time who played that game of slowly but surely allowing our relationship to dwindle until I finally broke up with them. Of course, each of these boys from my past wanted to end our relationship, but they took the coward’s route and tried to make things unpleasant or lonely enough for me to make that break-up decision, so they wouldn't have to. They were afraid I’d be upset or mad and would have a few words for them. And in almost every case, they didn’t want to be “the bad guy.” They were right, of course, about my potential reaction (damn skippy), and sure, by not initiating the break-up they avoided looking like they were hurting me. But in reality, those weeks of emotional turmoil and confusion were worse than a day of “ouch!” and the ability to start healing. And when I realized what they had done, that they hadn’t been direct and honest with me – because it would always come to light – that pain kicked right back in all over again.

These days, in my life this same advice applies to work and home and friendships. My husband used to try to address challenging issues with me “sideways” to avoid conflict, but now he just hits me over the head with both the compliments and the challenging discussions. And I do my best to give him the respect he deserves for treating me with such respect. My boss also is very direct with me, as are many (most?) of the people I work with, and for that I’m immensely grateful. 

My best friend… ah, what can I say about her? There are too many reasons to enumerate why I love her so much and why I feel so fortunate to have her as not only my friend but my BFF. But one of the primary reasons is that she is unfailingly honest with me. There have been many times during our long friendship when I have reached out to her with some admission or confession, looking for someone to help me feel better about whatever rough spot I’ve managed to create for myself. And you know what? While she has always stuck by me, she has never been afraid to tell me if she disagrees with me or is disappointed in me. She doesn’t pretend to be anything or anyone she isn’t. Not for my sake. In other words, she treats me with respect; she trusts and loves me enough to be honest, even brutally so. And I love her for it.

Well, this post has wandered through advice for break-ups and advice for treating someone with respect and has ended up on why my BFF is such a great friend. There’s a theme here that ties it all together:  honesty.  And considering that my BFF inspired this book-end post, ending this just after the paragraph about her seems fitting to me.

Do you have any advice to share for someone who needs to deliver tough news?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Best. Date. Ever.

If you’re an adult who has ever been on a date in your life, you can probably think of one date that stands out above the others as “the best date ever.” Perhaps it was a special moment – first “I love you “ or marriage proposal – with the man or woman you love most in the world. Maybe it was a first date that held amazing promise; maybe it was an experience that proved the other person really “got” you and clearly had listened and learned about what mattered to you.

Tonight, I want to share my best date ever. Because it made me feel special. Because it warmed my heart then and it warms my heart even today, 23 years (ugh!) and innumerable dates later. And I hope experiencing it in your imagination gives you a smile.

I don’t remember the day of the week on which my best date ever happened. I do know that it was late in the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, and it was a warm, sunny day.

It was already an odd day, because I was joyfully spending the day cleaning my room. There are two points that are strange about that. First, I was cleaning my room. I was not an instinctively neat child, so the fact that I was cleaning my room of my own accord – and doing so quite happily – was just odd. Really odd. Second, and you likely have to be from the northeast to understand this, I was happily cleaning my upstairs bedroom during a warm summer day. You see, in the northeast, central air conditioning is not the norm, and as most of us know, heat rises. As in, into upstairs rooms. I think I may have had one of our very few, very precious window air conditioning units in my bedroom, but even so, spending time upstairs on a hot summer day in the northeast is not something that is considered desirable.

So there I was, happily cleaning the bugs out of my ceiling light (no joke), when my mom yelled up that a friend had stopped by and was coming upstairs.  I turned to see my friend B walk into my room. 

Let me give you quick insight into B.  B was a year younger than I, and not someone I hung out with a ton, but definitely someone I counted as a friend.  He and I were in chorus and drama together – gotta love a boy who likes to sing and can get into the whole drama thing – and we spent time in similar circles. Not that I had a circle. But that’s for another post someday.  The short is that while we were friends, he wasn’t someone who typically came to my house, so I was pleasantly surprised to see him, and a bit bewildered.

B and I chatted for a short bit, and then he asked me to take a drive with him, which I accepted quite happily.

We drove up into the hills in our medium-sized town, and he eventually turned onto an unpaved driveway that led to an open hilltop which was clearly being prepped for major construction.  On that day it was still grassy and open and pastoral.  The day, as I said, was sunny and warm, but not hot, so the setting was simply lovely.

B opened up the back of his truck and asked me to sit on the open back gate, which I did.  I don’t recall what we talked about, but I remember that while we chatted, he wove me a crown of white flowers and gently placed it on my head. If you’re a woman, have you ever had a man make you a crown of flowers? It was so unexpected, so completely sweet… it is an understatement to say that it made me feel immensely special.

No, this is not me.
Photo thanks to theflowerdrum.blogspot.com.
But that’s not all. After he did that, he sang Elton John’s “Your Song” to me. Are you familiar with this song? Because if not, here it is:

You know the bit in “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” where the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes? That’s how my heart felt. All the clichés were alive that afternoon. My heart swelled. My heart sang. I felt like I might cry and I felt like I could fly.

When the song was finished… well, I don’t remember if he kissed me. I don’t remember if we talked any more. I just know that after a bit, B drove me home, and I didn’t see him again until school started. We never “went out” and we never had another date. I don’t know if he wanted to be more than friends after that or if it was an impulse on a lovely afternoon.

I’ve fallen in love a couple of times in the many years since that day. I’ve had some truly incredible dates and experiences. And I’ve been fortunate to have been made to feel honestly, deeply loved. And… there is something about that late summer afternoon before my senior year of high school still stands out as the most precious “date” of my entire life, the time that touched my heart in a way that I don’t think will ever be equaled.

How about you? Is there a date or experience that stands out above the rest?

Friday, July 6, 2012

It's a Free Country, Baby... or "I Wonder Why You Still Have a Dad"

Actual conversation that happened this past 4th of July, at a friend’s house, while my 5-year-old son and I were changing back into street clothes after going swimming:

Bear:     I wonder why you still have a dad.

Me:        … Because I’m lucky?

Bear:     Sure, but someday your dad will die, and you’ll just have a mom.

Me:        Yes, and I’ll be sad when that happens.

Bear:     And then one day both of your parents will die.

Me:        Yep.

Bear:     And then you’ll be free.

Me:        Um… what?

Bear:     You’ll be free then. When you have no parents.

Me:        Okay… um… but I’ll be sad and have no parents.

Bear:     Hey, it’s a free country, baby.

Belated Happy 4th. May you appreciate your parents and your freedom. Simultaneously, if possible.
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