Wednesday, March 28, 2007

“In a relationship”



Pumping my bike tires at the 6th Avenue Bike Shop this Sunday, a man leaned over my handlebars to ask if he could assist. While he aligned my tires and adjusted my breaks, he pushed a baby and stroller up against the nearest wall. “It’s not my kid. I’m watching him for my friend inside. My buddy. He’s a guy.” After he corrected my seat, he asked me out. And as I heard myself giving out my number, I suddenly realized that I probably should not. That I was now "in a relationship".

Last week, before Gabe and I had ‘the talk’, an attractive man gripping the leather of my seat would have been rewarded with a number and possible coffee date. But now that I have changed my MySpace status to “in a relationship” I need to gather some research on what that means.

It’s been awhile since a man called me his girlfriend in public. It’s been since 2003. A lot has changed in the past four years. What has not changed, is the fantastic feeling of acceptance and appreciation when a man introduces me for the first time as his girlfriend.

“Hey Juan, this is my girlfriend Inrid.” Tingles. Really. But a moment of short lived jubilance barely had time to register before being replaced by a creeping fear.

Oh shit. Wait. What did I just accept? Have I been labelled. Do I really like that? And it’s been so long, what does it even mean to be someone's girlfriend?

So far, it means regular phenomenal sex, an assured date on Saturday night, someone to talk to on the way home from dinner parties, an excuse to order three entrees and two desserts, an increase in text messaging charges, not having to shave my legs, a regular receptacle for tales of my daily resentments, and a reason to lay in bed on Saturday until noon. But in my joy of all the things you get from being "in a relationship", I had completely forgotten about the things you lose.

My friend Max has sworn off sex for the last year in order to avoid an accidental relationship. He despises the thought of being tied to someone, a label or his own lust. Max thinks a relationship is being denied access to an independent life, the punishment of copious amounts of restriction. He reminds me every time we get together that if he were in a relationship then we could probably not be friends.

“Does that mean that when you are in a relationship you can no longer be friends with the opposite sex?” I ask him over Panini at Vesuvio’s on a Saturday afternoon stroll through Soho.

“Unfortunately, I think the answer to that is, only if they are grandfathered in.” He continues, “The social rule seems to allow you to maintain your current opposite sex friends, but limit your ability to make new ones.”

“But that doesn’t make sense. If your partner is worried that your friendships will tempt you to cheat, then wouldn’t your partner be more concerned about your long standing opposite sex friendships.”

Max sips from the small Espresso cup in front of him.

“Listen Ingrid, it doesn’t make any sense. It merely reveals the human frailty of insecurity. Two confident individuals should be able to make and maintain true friendships with others as well as each other. To be quite frank, it is exactly these types of ridiculous rules that drive me to abhor sexual relationships.”

A few weeks ago, Gabe and I went to see a friends band at Iriving Plaza and afterwards my friend introduced me to the bass player. Gabe and I cracked jokes and traded stories with Mr. Bass, but the next day, the married bass player sent me a MySpace message.

“You and I should get coffee some time.”

The single Ingrid wondered what his wife would think of the request, but then the “in a relationship” Ingrid thought maybe he just enjoyed my company and wanted to be friends. We do have common interests and he is really hot. Does being married mean he can no longer make friends with the opposite sex? Am I allowed to pursue new friendships with hot bass players?

When I told Gabe the story he just sort of shrugged his shoulders. Was that the protocol? Am I supposed to tell the boyfriend? Won't that hurt his pride? Does being "in a relationship" means I have to think about these solicitations with more care?

My Souther artist friend Bella has a boyfriend that lives in Upstate New York and she was recently asked to a gallery opening by a gorgeous male model/art collector.

“I love my boyfriend, but it would be so wonderful to go out to dinner with this guy.”

Bella and I are catching a late Sunday brunch at Cafeteria in Chelsea.

“Well, why don’t you just tell him that you have a boyfriend and see if he wants to be friends?”

She leans in and lowers her voice, because our waiter has sat someone directly next to us and Bella's southern sensibility makes her cognizant that the table next to us can hear just about everything we are saying. “But what if he does just want to be friends? Then I’ve insulted him by insinuating that he has romantic interests in me."

I lean into her, “That’s crap Bee. You don’t want to tell him you have a boyfriend because you are afraid he will cancel.”

She falls back into the chocolate booth and sighs. “Oh God, you are right. It’s just that this guy is so great. He’s interesting and funny and talented. And Jack is so far away and I’m starting to wonder if he will ever propose. I really want to be this guy’s friend Ingrid.”

Bella has demonstrated what the boyfriend label does not mean. It does not mean security. It does not mean that your girlfriend will stop dating other men. It does not mean that your boyfriend is ready to get married. And I am right back to questioning what it means to be "in a relationship".

I’m not going to over think it. I’m not going to let my OCD brain develop a list of bullet points, format it into a power point and present it to Gabe over our next dinner date. Now I wouldn't do that, right? But one has to wonder, why I, an independent and self-professed professional single, was so eager for the false security of this clearly bogus label. Is it too late to take it away? Don't get me wrong, I'm happy being "in a relationship". But, if we just take away the label, can I go out with the bicycle guy?

Why was I in such a rush to get here? And while honestly, there is simply no other man with whom I want to spend my time, perhaps Gabe was right and we don't need a label. You see, like most benchmarks in a relationship, once you pass them there is no going back. There is no such thing as a second first kiss.

The truth is, I really don't want to go backward. I'm just scared of going forward. Scared and confused. I haven't been here in a while.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The “B” Word



How could I be back here again? How could I be right back here, smarting from the same wound inflicted over a year ago?

This is how it begins, "You have a boyfriend? Have I met him?"

Gabe thinks he is funny. He is responding to the word that has slipped out of my mouth during our phone discussion about the details of our upcoming weekend.

But it’s not funny. Should I think it is? Should I just laugh and let it go? Or should I feel like an asshole for just calling Gabe my “boyfriend”, for like, the third time this week. At least this time, he stops me. But now I'm totally embarrassed.

And I shouldn’t be. This man adores me completely. He is falling for me more and more each day. What we are doing, what is happening between us, transcends all these stupid words. We are creating something really great. Right?

So, why does this particular benchmark in a relationship cause me so much duress. And why am I so pissed right now that I want to go out and fuck someone else?

Why? Because that is what I did last year when a man said the exact same thing to me. And Gabe knows this.

I hang up and go back to work.

He Texts: You can call me your boyfriend if you want. I don't mind.

Insensitive. Why does this shit piss me off so much? I read the message again and this time it makes me so angry that fucking water comes out of my eyes. I'm so angry that this water starts gushing and spilling onto my freakin’ phone and it won’t stop. And I know it's ridiculous.

I Text: That's a kind offer, but I'm not pushing anyone anywhere they aren't ready to be. I'm cool with "friends".

After I press send, I get that horrid, painful, wrenching itch. And it's in a place I haven't allowed myself to feel for a very long time. And I want toscratch it. The ball of anger, disappointment and resentment begins to churn and burn and pick up intensity as the tempest swirls within.

He texts: I only tease you about it because you make it a big deal. It's just a word and more accurate than friend, I think. But go with whatever is comfortable for you.

I have the urge to throw the phone across the room. I have the urge too implode, to sabotage, to behave immaturely.

He texts again: As for me I haven't been a boyfriend or had a girlfriend in quite awhile and it might be fun. Let me know if you know someone who's looking for a job like that.

And suddenly, it is November 27, 2005. R has met me for a late dinner at Lucky Strike in Soho. My Mother is visiting from Seattle for Thanksgiving and I left her sipping cocktails with my sister at a bar around the corner to come meet R for a late dinner. It's the only time he has to spare. He's been working on the set fourteen hours a day. He took one weekend off in the past month and has just spent it with his family in Jersey. While rested from the three days away from work, he still seems tired. Perhaps from the drive back to the city. He came back to try and get one last late dinner in with me before the torture of his job begins again. But I can't help thinking that he could have made a little more time.

We are finishing dinner when I say it. "What would your girlfriend say about all the time you have been spending with me in dimly lit Manhattan restaurants?"

He looks confused. "Girlfriend? I don't have a girlfriend."

I wink at him and tilt my head to the side.

"No girlfriend?"

His confused expression melts away as he realizes what I’m saying. "I mean, I think we are going there, but we aren't there yet."

Oh God. I'm such an ass. I realize how ridiculous I must look, my head tilted at this angle, my eyes gazing up at him with batting eyelashes, my retarded smile of assurance that I am in a committed relationship with a man that is completely crazy about me. It was an accident.

I hadn't meant to confront the question. It was just an innocent turn of the conversation.

I'm an idiot. His response surprises me. For the past month, he has sent me 15 texts daily, each starting with the words 'Honey". And lately, when we stand in my doorway, lips locked, legs intertwined, his hand gripping mine tightly, trying to pry our bodies apart so he can leave for work, I have a hard time letting him go.

And here he is, chomping French Fries off the late night menu in some trendy cafe, telling me that we aren't both thinking the same way about one another. And it hurts.

Extraordinarily.

I let go off his hand under the table. "So, I'm not your girlfriend?"

"Well, not yet."

"So, I'm single than?"

"Well, you aren't married. "

"But, I don't have a boyfriend?"

In my mind, if I don't have a boyfriend then I'm not in a committed relationship. And if I'm not in a committed relationship than I am single. And if I am single than I am dating other people. I'm not dating any other people, and I know he doesn't have time to be dating other people. So, this shit is whack and I should be dating other people. Fuck that.

R excuses himself to the bathroom. I pick up my phone and see that I have a new text.

The Text: Hope you don't mind, but your mother gave me your phone number. I was your waiter tonight and I have to see you again. Sushi on Wednesday?

The Israeli born model that waited on my table an hour ago seems to think I am single. And obviously, my mother, who has been in town for the past five days and not even seen the back of R's head, also thinks I'm single. And clearly, the man I thought was my boyfriend, he thinks I'm single too. So then, what should stop me from going out with a single, gorgeous, man that wants to buy me dinner, listen to me talk, make me feel important and wanted?

R returns to the table, we get the check and leave. On the corner of Grand and West Broadway, he turns me around and grabs my face with both his hands.

"Jane, are we okay?"

I look at the fear in his eyes. He doesn't want to lose me. But he’s willing to allow a word to take that risk.

"I feel stupid R. Like a fool. I just thought we were doing something different."

"We are. I just don't know why we need the titles and the labels."

"Yeah, it's stupid. I know."

He smiles. Because he thinks it's okay. But it isn't. After he puts me in a cab, I can't stop thinking about that simple word and what it means. I finger my cell phone in my pocket. And then I decide. I take out the phone and text the Israeli.

I Text: I could be convinced.

And he must have got more than my phone number from my mother, because the next day, two dozen orange tulips show up at my office.

We meet at Bond Street for sushi. He is charming. He talks me into a walk in Washington Square park in the dead of winter. In the park, he throws me up against a statue in front of six cops cars to stick his tongue down my throat . It feels kinda good. And he wants more. He wants me so badly that I can't resist the comfort of feeling wanted. I take him home and feel wanted all night until the sun comes up. When my apartment door shuts, I pick up the phone. Five missed calls and six text messages are registered on my cell.

His last text reads: Fine. You win. I'm your boyfriend.

But it doesn't feel much like a victory.

And now, here it is. A year since R and I ended our fling. I should have known that morning that things would never work out with R. Why did I care so much about that word? Why do I still?

I stare at the phone and think of an appropriate response to my dear, sweet Gabe.

Proposed text: It's not the word that hurts my feelings Gabe. It's the painful realization that I'm standing somewhere I was a year ago, and I'm still standing there by myself. I hoped I would be with someone that's proud of that. Actions are a better judge, but when you are rarely around each other, sometimes words are all you have.

I don't push send. It’s too f'ing long. Texts are not a place for this discussion. I reread the previous texts and the waterworks begin again. I'm so angry. I'm so done. What an ass. I should run away from any man that isn't proud and honored to call me his girlfriend. I put the phone down. Because while I’m entitled to my feelings, I am responsible for my actions. And I want to pause. I don’t want to react.

But I can’t stop the committee in my head. I can’t stop loading coal into the pity caboose of my own personal pain train headed for unnecessary sufferageville in my head.

Gabe is not the man for me. I'm bored. I miss being single. Sure the sex is mind blowing and it's nice to have the comfort of someone in my life... but let's face it, I haven't really been myself lately. I like being wanted, but do I really like this guy?

He texts: Save all replies for tomorrow. I'm not sure my lightheartedness is coming through the medium of text messaging.

He is right. It's not funny. And I'm not laughing. We are supposed to go away together this weekend to meet some of my friends and I don't want to introduce Gabe to my closest girlfriends as some guy I’m dating. I'd rather enjoy their company on my own. Plus - having him along will fuck up the flirt fest I plan on having after dinner when we all go out to the nearest lounge. I think I might be done. He's a wonderful man, but it's time for me to face the reality that he's not actually going to make the long haul. So what now? How should I break it off.

And just like that, I have taken a simple word and made it the end of me and sweet Gabe. The only man I can ever recall feeling so safe around, so adored and so comfortable with. I’m ready to trash it all, over a word.

And then I realize that while circumstances and other people may not change, I can. Instead of throwing away an entire foundation for a lovely relationship with an undetermined future, I can step back, gain perspective, breathe, and simply say "you hurt me".

"That hurt. That was not nice. That did not make me feel appreciated or valued. It made me feel like we don’t want the same things here. "

And actually, I believe we do want the same things. There is nothing about this man's actions that resemble R. He treats me like he intends to be around for a long while. I'm making this into something it is not. There are many other responses to the problems in my relationships, other than drama and tears and walking out. God, I just want to do one relationship differently.

So I do.

I don’t text back. I call a friend and let it out. She helps me visualize an appropriate response. She helps me sort the facts from the snowballing drama in my mind. Then I try and let it all go. I go back to work. I finish the day, I go to a meeting. I try to throw myself into service. I stack chairs, I volunteer for a new commitment, I go to dinner with a newcomer, I offer to take her to a meeting in the morning. I come home, brush my teeth, climb into bed, and Gabe arrives.

“Ingrid, I’m so sorry.” He says before he has even taken off his coat.

“I shouldn’t have sent those texts. I was trying to be funny”

I pause. “You hurt me.”

“I know. Considering your history, I can see why you would think my teasing insensitive. I want you to know how very proud I am to be with you. I can’t stop telling people how lucky I am to have you in my life. Ingrid, I don’t use it in front of you because I’m afraid it will scare you away. You can be weird about that stuff. ”

He kisses my head and holds onto me tightly. He thinks everything is okay. And it is.

I decide to do something different.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Love Texts

Dear Gabriel,

I just had this funny feeling when you left last night that maybe I wasn't on your mind.

Dear Ingrid,

Like it or not the attached diagram is a pretty accurate diagram of how much you're on my mind... Thank you new job buffer or the black lines would take up the whole circle and I'd forget to bathe and eat and sleep and stuff that keeps you alive. Bad Ingrid, Bad.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Fourteen



Today, I am fourteen years sober.

And I feel fourteen.

Many changes since
last year, but there is one that makes me the most grateful.

Acceptance.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Sobriety Rules!



Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to show up this Thursday, between 7:30 and 8:00 PM at the house of Jane Schmo.

Possible obstacles include the following:

Obstacle #1 – My apartment will not be accessible on Thursday. Instead, you will be expected to enter the apartment from the back alley. Some of you may be accustomed to these sorts of entrances. Don't be alarmed by the garbage and cars. I will leave a subtle marker on the gate from the alley. But use your training. Do not be discouraged!!! No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to following directions. Call if you are utterly lost.

Obstacle #2 – You have been asked to bring something edible, small and capable of being eaten without using silverware. This is a tricky assignment and for some of you might be so overwhelming you will want to stay home. But don't give up hope! We alcoholics, are quite creative. Many things do not need silverware. Chips, nuts, and cupcakes for example. And the truth is, that I would rather have you than your tiny food. So eliminate this potential excuse for cancellation. I will provide the napkins, plates and beverages… and there will be plenty of food!

Obstacle #3 – You can't stand f'ing alcoholics. Me either!! That's why I like you. And to be honest, most of the people coming can't stand f'ing alcoholics either. So come be grumpy and antisocial with us. Misery loves company.

Obstacle #4 – You are socially awkward and hate parties. You have obviously never been to one of my parties. Buck up camper, I promise to make it as easy as possible. And if it really sucks, just remember that pain is the touchstone of spiritual growth.

If any of these obstacles prove too harrowing to overcome, and you choose not to accept this mission, please RSVP. But should you choose to accept this mission, I promise gratuitous non-alcoholic beverages, gluttonous amounts of cheese, cramped enough quarters to force human interaction, plenty of examples to see people practicing the principles in all their affairs and quality fellowship.

This message will self-destruct the minute it hits your trash box.


Agent Schmo

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