dear day: just end already

My two presentations are in some semblance of order.  There is text on slides and that text leads to a relatively thoughtful conclusion.  That’s really all I can ask for at this point.

My grant application is still halfway done, so that’s tomorrow’s project.  I’ve promised Niece #3 that we’ll go to the book store and the farmers market tomorrow, so I’ll fold that into the day’s efforts.

I miss TA. Call me clingy or pathetic or delusional; I miss talking to him and I miss knowing he was in my life.  He gave me something to look forward to, at the end of the day as well as in the future.  Looking forward to a conference: really not the same thing at all.

professional versus personal

I met up with a former student today – who finally, having known me at least eight years, worked up the nerve to ask if she could call me by my first name.  I totally understand it but it still makes me giggle.

So, this lovely young woman emailed me weeks ago, asking if I would be around this week; as she explained, life was somewhat tumultuous at the moment and she could use more Dr. Me in her life.  I’m pretty good at reading between the lines, so I assumed she was having a professional crisis and was considering leaving the classroom.  When she met me at the coffeeshop this afternoon, however, I was shocked to see how thin she was.  So, not professional, personal, and likely related to a man.

I hate it when I’m right: she’s in the middle of a divorce.  We talked over two hours, about the implosion of her marriage but also her efforts to find some equilibrium, her ideas for classes this fall, her plans for the summer, her newfound realization that being alone was less anxiety-producing than being with someone who didn’t want to grow up.  It’s never simple, of course, and it’s not what she wanted, but it’s what she has, and she’s doing pretty well, all things considered.

And she didn’t need advice, she just needed someone to listen.  As I explained to my niece, my former students are used to me having all the answers, because I did have them (or evidently made them think so) when they were in my classroom.  I think that’s what brings them back at first – I will illuminate the answers to all issues with my wisdom! – but when they sit down to talk, they don’t want me to tell them what to do, they want to know that someone cares. I mean, seriously; as my personal life attests, I am no fount of wisdom when it comes to relationships.  Of course, they don’t necessarily know that but they aren’t stupid; I’m single and there must be some reason.  I do think, though, that they find some comfort in having someone they look up to (yes, I will admit it) acknowledge just how human their situation is and reassure them that they’ll come out the other side.

I don’t talk about my personal life with my students.  Every now and then, a certain situation will provoke me into sharing some tidbit but, generally, they don’t know much about me.  I talk about my former experiences in the classroom, obviously, but I don’t talk about whether I am, was or will be married, I don’t mention the presence or absence of children, I don’t divulge medical issues – I just don’t discuss my life outside the university.  The only reason I told my students I’d been diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago was because whatever was going to happen with me was going to affect their education and it didn’t seem fair for them not to know.  When I showed up with a cane after the last back surgery, I didn’t tell my students why; it didn’t make a difference to anything – and it kept them on their toes when I waved it around to emphasize a point.

So, my former student heard me say I was divorced for the first time today and perhaps it was reassuring to also hear me say that, yes, this hurts and, yes, you’ll come out the other side whether you want to or not and, yes, you are allowed to wish you could punch the next person who pats you on the arm to assure you that things get better. I don’t have any answers but I do have the experience of surviving and maybe that counts for something.

Funny, isn’t it.  I’m so good with other people’s issues and so awful with my own.

aunt me is very boring right now

If I just didn’t have so much work to do… I don’t regret having Niece #3 here for a visit but I am sorry that I can’t be more entertaining.  Thank goodness she’s a pretty low-key young lady; still, this visit isn’t exactly going to fare well with others.

I am putting together two conference presentations – from scratch – and writing a grant application – from scratch.  I’ve been thinking about all three for months but I’m just now getting to the actual doing of them (don’t judge).  I leave Friday for my conference, so you can imagine the stress level.  I’m also fielding quite a few issues and concerns connected to the conference in my leadership role, resulting in numerous emails that require actual work to answer.  And I haven’t even started writing whatever I’m going to say at the conference in my leader capacity.

We went to a movie last Thursday and the farmers market yesterday.  We did some clothes shopping Friday. We’ve been out to eat a few times, by ourselves and with friends.  We went for a short walk today. There’s been some TV viewing during meals.  High times, I tell you.

My only saving grace is that she’s completing online courses, so she has homework herself.  We’ve been sitting at opposite ends of the table, typing away as she writes a paper on Greek art and I outline one of my presentations.  She’s also a reader, so she doesn’t mind being left alone with a book; I have a very comfortable sofa for just that purpose.  She’s already finished a hefty book she brought and started on two of mine.

Let’s just say I owe her, big time, the next time I visit Home State.

to be frank

The first shock was when Niece #3 asked me what happened with TA: “Was it all about you being far away or something?”

You have no idea what it means to see my niece taking an interest in things outside herself.  She’s made huge strides in the last year with her various issues, among them her ability to socialize with others. Granted, we’ve always been close but that’s a relative term for someone who struggles with anxiety and under-developed social skills; I’ve always talked to her but it wasn’t always talking with her, especially in the last few years as she’s struggled so.

So having her not only ask me a personal question but do so because she was paying attention to content clues: huge.  After my mouth caught up with my mind, I gave her an extremely shortened version of how we ended up going our separate ways, finalized with the following wisdom: “It really doesn’t work to ‘just be friends’ once you’ve slept with someone; there are feelings that get in the way of being all casual about things.”

The second shock was when we started talking about sex: “I’ve never had sex with a guy.  I don’t know if I want to, though.  I mean, I heard it hurts.”

Again, you have no idea.  I’ve really tried to be straight-forward with all my nieces when I talk to them, whatever the topic.  We aren’t exactly forthcoming in my family when it comes to sticky subjects; I’ve wanted them to know they can tell me anything, ask me anything and expect my honesty along with no judgment.  That hasn’t always been easy for me, by the way; I was raised in the cone of silence, too. Luckily, I’ve always been the blunt one, and it’s only gotten better with age, so now, have at it, I say.

Which is how Aunt Me found herself discussing all sorts of things today: how you can’t know if you’ll like sex until you’ve experienced it, ideally with someone you care about; how hurt is a relative term; how birth control controls birth, not STDs; how having a penis doesn’t put you in charge; how intimacy comes from more than attraction; how you won’t care so much how you look naked when it comes right down to it. It wasn’t all serious, of course; there were plenty of wisecracks and witty asides to keep things moving along.  I dispelled a few inaccuracies, provided a few new pieces of information, encouraged some sharing of personal experiences and, hopefully, opened the door to talk more if she’d like.

I realized today that I didn’t have someone like me when I was growing up.  I talked to my friends, of course, but they weren’t exactly fonts of accurate wisdom; I most certainly did not talk to my parents or my siblings.  I talked to a favorite aunt about everything but I’m fairly certain everything did not include the wonderful world of sex.  Honestly, I asked one of my high school teachers whether I should sleep with my then-boyfriend; I remember waiting outside her door at lunch, scared to death to talk to her.  I adored her, obviously, but I still can’t believe I worked up the nerve to do it.  I don’t remember what she said, actually – but seriously, that poor woman.

So, yeah, fun times at Aunt Me’s house.  If we can talk frankly about cutting and bulimia and depression, we can sure as hell talk about sex.

the literal and metaphorical box

I boxed up some of the things from TA today to send back to him: two of his t-shirts that he gave to me because “I looked better in them than he did” (yes, naked woman in men’s shirts do tend to look pretty good); a trinket from his vacation a few months ago; photos of him and his kids; his favorite book that he sent with a meaningful inscription that just hurts to read now.

Maybe it’s passive-aggressive.  If so, I don’t want to hear it.  Yes, part of me wants to give him a small slap in the face; I will admit that because I’m no saint.  Overall, though, it’s that these things are his and they belong to him, not me. He can wear his shirts; his kids will enjoy playing with the trinket; he can put the photos on his fridge; and his book can go back on his shelf.

My sentimentality exits pretty quickly when a guy throws me over; I don’t keep the stuff that will send me down memory lane because those aren’t memories I want anymore.  (I have absolutely nothing in my life from my ex, not even a picture of him, and I was married to that guy; then again, he really scorched the earth in that relationship.) It’s not quite a purge: I don’t have many pictures of SG left – I kept a few for posterity – but I did keep most of the presents he gave me over the years.  Likewise, I decided to keep the birthday present TA gave me.  Somehow, those gifts don’t hurt as much, perhaps because they don’t have the same sentimental connection; they were bought for a specific event rather than given from a romantic impetus.  It’s a fine distinction but whatever.

If anything, I think this is my effort to compartmentalize and move on – something TA is obviously quite expert at!  There’s no use lamenting what won’t happen – even though I really do miss him.  Daily conversations for five months, talking about everything under the sun, and, then, nothing: yes, it hurts. I can’t change it, though, and I can only cry about it so long.  Things need my attention – like my life.

I want out of this goddamn box.  I feel trapped in my own life, completely unable to have any sort of lasting relationship, and that isn’t right.  I don’t know what I’m doing wrong but I want to figure it out and I want to fix it.  I deserve better than this, much better, and surely there has to be a way to do better.

the will to work

I need to muster up some energy pretty quickly because it was not in evidence today.  I have a list a mile long of things that must happen in the next week or so, including two conference presentations, a grant application and a reference letter.  Instead, Niece #3 and I went to lunch with a friend before going to the movies; she sat and worked on her summer classes this afternoon while I staved off a nap by reading a magazine; after dinner, she read while I watched several episodes of a new show.

I’m just tired, I think, and probably a little overwhelmed by the things that I need to do.  It’ll happen simply because it must. It’ll start happening tomorrow.

I needed some time

Well, I won’t say that I’ve reached any higher levels of enlightenment in the last week but I’ve certainly had plenty of time of wonder.  Maybe it isn’t good to wallow but perhaps it’s necessary.  Even if I am just as confused and hurt as before, I’m more resigned to the outcome.

TA and I talked twice last week, once in person and once on the phone.  I knew it wasn’t going to change his mind – trust me, I’m quite clear that when a man has made up his mind to finish a relationship, he is done, period – but I needed to feel like I had a say in the conclusion.  Since TA obviously did all his thinking prior to informing me where we stood, I had to catch up, and that meant working through a lot in a very short amount of time.

The highlights of our conversations:

I asked if he had been lying to me with all the effusive assurances of my loveliness and our intimate connections.  Not that he couldn’t lie to me again, of course, but he assured me rather vehemently that he had never lied (and to be fair, he hasn’t…with words), he wasn’t now and he never would.  Okay, then, how, at our age and with our life experiences, does it make any sense to turn away from happiness when it’s right in front of you?  He didn’t have any answer beyond repeating that this wasn’t a sustainable relationship and we needed to be friends now.

I asked him how he thought “friends” was going to work, exactly, given the sudden dissolution of what I thought had been going well.  Did he just expect me to sit quietly across the dinner table when I’m back in Home State and happily help him work through his new relationship?  He asked what I meant.  I said, clearly, it meant we might be friendly – I don’t hate him, that’s ridiculous – but he didn’t get to flip a switch that simply turned off the romantic entanglement and act like it never happened.  He was a little upset about that analogy but it sure seems appropriate to me.

In a moment of self-esteem, I quietly reminded him that he would be hard pressed to do better than me. I’m all sorts of good stuff – funny, intelligent, articulate, thoughtful, caring, supportive, good-looking – and we had all sorts of connections – likes, dislikes, professional, personal, physical, emotional.  Did he really think he would find that so easily with anyone else?  I don’t remember an answer to that.

In a parting lack of self-esteem, I told him that I wish he had found me worth the effort.  I realize that there are significant miles between us; they existed when he started this back in December so it isn’t news.  I realize that relationships, especially fledgling ones, are difficult to negotiate; he’s an adult and he should surely recognize that.  Still, with the connections that seemed to exist between us, it seemed worth a try. In a moment of introspection, I also said I wish he had never started this.  It could have been nothing more than a hilarious story about an out-of-character assignation; instead, he pursued me, with daily phone calls, mailed mementos, meaningful words – and that hurt much more than a one-off ever could have.  He seemed hurt by that statement, actually, which I do find a little odd.

In the end, we parted as amicably as we could have.  I said, and I meant it, that he shouldn’t pull away from Cool Friend and her husband because of this debacle – although he probably never thought of that, given his singular lack of introspection at this point – since he needs friends, and they are good people. He seemed a little bemused when he said he’d call me soon and I asked if he thought that was fair to me; he might be able to act like nothing ever happened between us but I can’t do that.  Maybe in the future, since we’ll both be a part of CF’s life, but not now.  He said he’d think about it.

The rest of my visit to Home State was quiet and devoid of drama.  CF proved both her coolness and her friendness by not slapping me out of my pit of despair but listening and consoling while offering her thoughtful commentary on the whole thing.  I visited a few other friends and family members, all of whom offered commiseration and disbelief at the whole mess.  My aunt understood that facing a future with so little hope for companionship is a difficult thing.  My college girlfriend agreed that he had a screw loose to expect platonic friendship after enjoying the wonder that is me.  Two high school guy friends shook their heads and summed it up well: “No, you don’t get to turn into friends, especially when he was lucky enough to have you as more.”  I have good friends.

I spent some time with my youngest niece and nephew, which was by far the best medicine.  I did some shopping at stores I don’t have access to here.  I went out for dinner one evening and celebrated Father’s Day on Sunday with the entire family without having a breakdown. And then Niece #3 and I packed up the car and drove back to PRU City yesterday.  It was awful, quite frankly, between the traffic, the distance, the time to think and my stress level, but we made it and now we’re here for the next two weeks.

My niece and I were discussing depression today.  She was diagnosed a few years ago and, in the interests of breaking the family wall of silence, I have tried to talk casually and freely about it with her through the years, both her experiences and my own.  She commented today on how I was always so busy when all she wanted to do was stay in bed.  I gave her a quick squeeze on the shoulder: Oh, sweetheart, I feel that way, too, sometimes.

But the world keeps turning and I keep swallowing the rejection while I do my laundry and write my papers and respond to my emails.  The misery passes.  I just need some time to get back to my normal state: uncertain how I always end up alone but fairly certain I need to accept it.  I’m great and all – evidently a wonderful friend – but not when it comes to relationships.  I’m not sure I have the will to try anymore.