Chemical Cocktail, Please

His hand is outstretched with an ornament in his palm; he says, “Do you want to hang this one?”

A week ago, Bryan and I put up the Christmas tree in my living room.

With the new Gilmore Girls Series playing in the background, we spread all of the ornaments across the floor and began to hang.

It was a home-made ornament from my co-worker Heather with one of my favorite photos of Zen and me on it: I’m in my thread-bare bathrobe, snuggling him in a deep embrace while smiling.

me-and-zen

I immediately broke out into tears. Big alligator tears.

I don’t know if it was that I was completely taken by surprise or that it was the beginning of the week where my hormones get all wacky thanks to my silent passenger, PMDD. It probably was a combination of the two, but I was a tiny ball on my living room rug, crying hard while apologizing through snotty wails.

Losing Zen a month before Christmas last year was such a whirlwind that I had erased from my memory that I ever received that ornament. And unfortunately, it wasn’t the only one. After I recovered myself, we continued to hang ornaments, and minutes later, Bryan finds another customized Zen ornament that my sister had made. Another one I had forgotten about. He hands it to me, and once again, I am on the floor, tears streaming down my face.

I have always been “highly sensitive” and “overly emotional” since I was a child. In the past few years, it has intensified. Recently, I’ve discovered I have what is labeled as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, where my hormones go hay-wire for approximately a week to a week and a half each month, usually during ovulation.

So, it makes me wonder, was I really that distraught over my deceased cat or was it just my crazy hormones acting up?

Knowing that I have a hormone imbalance and being able to regulate it with birth control and natural remedies, such as exercise, dietary changes, and herbal supplements, has basically saved me from losing my mind and firing off at people with no self-control. Yet, it has also enabled me to use it as a crutch or an excuse when I do act ‘roided up on emotions.

That bothers me, sometimes.

Some of the magic of life’s moments are blanched when I have the knowledge that a specific combination of neurochemicals and hormones are having a rager in my body and that’s the reason why something makes me wistful, depressed, nostalgic, deeply affected, or impassioned. Things like my libido and emotional acuity can be altered with the application of a pill each day.

However, I cannot deny that PMDD is a real thing and I can actually see the signs of it now that I know what it is. It’s not just a made-up crutch with which I scapegoat my behaviors. I’ll come home from work and have that “I just want to go to bed now” feeling that I used to attribute to laziness and always gave myself a hard time about, but I know now that it is the onset of PMDD. Knowing that helps me get through it and actually motivates me to go to yoga, start cleaning the apartment, or make dinner. These subtle signs always happen during a specific time of the month, providing some proof that the chemical cocktail is coursing through my body.

Crying over Zen was unexpected and real. It may have been heightened by my levels of hormones in that moment, but I love and miss him fiercely.

I refuse to let the knowledge that we’re all varying mixtures of chemicals ruin the incredible luster that is cherishing a lost one, smiling because a memory with an old partner feels painfully beautiful, or hurting because my heart is breaking. It might not always be a fun feeling, but it’s me.

It’s always been me.

Disintegrating

I am sitting on my couch, alone in my living room, thinking about all of the people I care about and how I haven’t seen most of them in so long that I can’t remember their voices or how they smell.

My heart is breaking into a million pieces.

It might be my overly active hormones at play, but it is still real just the same.

My chest aches and my lower lashes feel the kiss of tear drops, because I miss these people. But it is more than that. I am proud of them. Real damn proud.

I think about acquaintance friends with whom I haven’t visited in many years—how they are married now or having kids. I can watch them through the filtered screen of social media. I see their lives growing and changing.

My old best friend from grade school is a successful fashion consultant with her own company in NYC. I was just visiting her website and admiring how professionally and elegantly done it was. My old best friend has accomplished so much. I can hardly believe the magnificence of humans, sometimes.

The first man I said “I love you” to recently got engaged.

Everyone’s lives are just branching out like a well-mannered fractal into outer space. These lovely branches curving and splitting, and my heart just wants to burst with genuine excitement and joy in the happiness that is others’.

I don’t know if my mind is searching out these longing memories tonight because my hormones are peaking for a window of time due to PMDD, or because I’ve experienced loss so near in the past.

I might not have another Tuesday night with my best female friend. Tuesday was our day. She’d come over with beer or wine and we’d sit and talk or watch a girly movie. There’s been a rift between us, and I haven’t even had the chance to explain myself or talk to her, because she has protectively boarded up her emotional walls and shut me off like water lines in the middle of winter, so the pipes don’t burst.

I said goodbye to a man I have loved fiercely and passionately for over a year. I don’t know if I’ll ever smell his hair again or try hopelessly to get him to open his eyes wide enough to stare into mine for more than two or three seconds.

And he—this man—has accomplished so much. I haven’t been able to be there for any of it, but I’ve cheered from the sidelines and been supportive from the other end of the phone. I’ve pushed him to fight for what he loves, and I’ve lost everything I could have ever had with him to the gamble of his potential success, hanging out there in the future like an amorphous, looming question mark.

I want to take this palpitating heart of mine and shred it up into tiny fibers. Little thread-like viscera. I want to connect myself physically to all of those people who have ever mattered to me. The friends I haven’t forgotten. Loved beings who have amazed me all this time.

Yet… I can’t.

I can’t, and that’s why it’s paining me. To have to stay whole when I want to be a part of everyone. To have to continue to live my own life when my memories dredge up nostalgic yearning to be close to others. To walk my own path, knowing I could never see any of these people ever again. And that I would just have to be okay with that.

Who can always just be okay with that?

Not even the strongest person is truly at peace with the reality that something they love so much might never be close enough to them again that they can just reach out and touch it; embrace it; breathe in the essence of it, whether it be their voice, their graceful demeanor, their smile, their laugh, or just the comfort that is silently acknowledged between two people when they are relieved to be in another’s presence.

And since I am only little Amanda and possess no tool set to cope with this massive sense of loss—this deprivation of familiarity—I wrap up into myself in the fetal position in my bed and cry. I write. I love everything and everyone I can while I can. I hug tightly, say I love you genuinely, and kiss like I’m nominated to win an award for it.

My body is the glue that holds me together, while my thoughts and tears scatter across time.

Not all of these people, or even most of them, probably know how much I hold love for them still in my heart.

One knew. He told me so. I whimpered to him through desperate, emotion-laden declarations that for so long I was afraid to tell him how much I loved him. Right then, he cut me off and said, “You didn’t have to say it. I knew.”

There’s a calming feeling that comes with the knowledge of his heart knowing my heart so intimately all this time without me ever having to verbally confirm that what we felt was real.

For those I’ve lost or not seen, and may never see again, if they could know my love is expansive and unyielding in its many forms, then I am connected to each, instead of my fear of disintegrating into a pile of ash, like every time the one I love steps out my front door.

Obsessed

I think every serious writer is a bit obsessed.

She’s infatuated with words. Specifically, her words. She’s never satisfied with her vocabulary. Scribbled notes adorn scrap paper—ideas for things about which she wants to write. Fearing a good thought will go to waste, she has a hard time parting with any of her years-old scraps, usually tossed into a folder or heaped in a desk drawer.

A serious writer reads and re-reads her work dozens of times before publishing. Even then, she reads it some more, in case she’s missed something. Always scouring for a grammatical error or the perfect position to place an important insight.

She defines herself as a writer. She jokes that ink runs through her veins instead of mere mortal blood. She feels like a conduit for the universe’s silent language and song. It is her honor to ensure the unspoken gets transcribed so it can be committed to the bank of human understanding and memory.

She reads a lot. She’s imbued with fantasy, whim, heaviness, and stardust. Hours alone are her favorite, as she can prepare her art form uninterrupted. Inspiration comes at a stop sign, while listening to a podcast, after a heart-breaking evening, and in the shower—every writer’s worst nightmare, because a pen is not nearby.

She thinks about the book she will someday write when the perfect storm coalesces with a stroke of genius. She knows she might never write that book.

She writes every day. On days when she can’t, she feels the withdrawal; the same pull that addicts experience without their muse or playmate.

A serious writer never gives up, because even if most of the world has never read a single thing she’s ever written, the pure ecstasy of putting thoughts into tangible strings of mellifluous sentences is her truest passion.

A serious writer is obsessed, head over heels, doe-eyed in love with the written word.

She loves it more than almost anything else, and will constantly take her experiences and those she adores and decorate them in poetry, in song, in memoir, in essay, in fiction, in creative nonfiction, in novel, in journal. Any way she can, she will.

And she does.

Ex-Lover

I look at my bookcase and see my ex-lovers, lined up.
They haven’t been touched in months; some, years.

Stiff and neglected.

I hesitate to press open the pages and hear that crack the binding makes.
That means I have to commit.

The more time that passes, the easier it is to walk by without guilt.
It’s like I never knew them.

Inside of my heart, amidst the clutter of other small tragedies, lies the reality that I am no longer the generous lover of collected words.

I am the girl with a shelf of skeletons who remind her of her failure to follow through.

Temporarily Out of Service

Love has always been a cipher to which I’ve lacked the code.

Capturing a man’s heart? Piece of cake. Keeping his interest after the first few months of puppy-love subside? Damn near impossible.

I recently read an article called Why I Love Unavailable Men. The author of the post describes how growing up without a father left her feeling cast out and left behind. In a sense, unlovable. She expresses how she mirrors her own disbelief that she can be loved in finding partners over and over who are simply not emotionally available.

I don’t necessarily believe that is why I gravitate towards unavailable men, but it certainly got me thinking.

I typically end up with one of two extremes: The Overly Ambitious Man or The Waste of Space Man. Both types, although polar opposites, possess this unattainableness.

My first real mature, adult relationship was this guy I met while on vacation in Vermont after graduating college in 2005. I went up with a large group of friends, and he was not there on our first day. The following morning, I came down the stairs in tiny red shorts and a wife beater tank and there was this very good-looking man sitting on the sofa in the living room. It was practically love at first sight for both of us.

The reason why he wasn’t there the first day? He was giving a lecture in Japan. Yeah. We fell in love and dated for six months, during which he moved to California to work on his PhD at Stanford. That guy truly loved me, I believe, but he made it clear that his career goals came first, that he always had to make time for that before talking to or seeing me, and that I would have to be okay with it. I was. Sorta.

Then, I reconnected with my first love as a teenager, and we fell madly and hopelessly for each other. There never was a doubt that he loved me fiercely, but it took him five years to propose, and during those years, I watched him throw his life away and fail over and over. I couldn’t have what I truly wanted, because he wasn’t willing to make the steps. By the time we were engaged, the relationship was pretty damaged and strained. It didn’t last too long after that.

I fell in love again to someone who seemed to be very available. Always there for me, a great listener, willing to bend over backwards for anything I needed or desired. Pretty soon, he won me and subsequently forgot about me. I was back-burnered, I was lied to, I was never told I was loved and hardly told I was beautiful. Such a stark difference from the first few months. He couldn’t get his life together, either, and I watched him sabotage anything positive until it was simply too painful to witness his stagnation and be pulled into the infested pool alongside him.

And now there is another. A completely swoon-worthy man who says the sexiest and sweetest things to me. When we do see each other, it’s explosively passionate. He falls into the Overly Ambitious category, constantly striving to make connections and work ’til he drops of fatigue because of his ardor for the entertainment industry. He’s a workaholic and lives two-and-a-half hours away. I’m not number one. I probably won’t ever be.

A friend, sometime last year, said to me, “I think you purposely seek out unavailable men.” She cited some instances of why she thought this was the case and astonishment and overwhelming fear rolled across my face. My god, I think she’s right. But how can she be right when I never intentionally do it?

I don’t want an unavailable man, yet I seem to attract them every time.

Do I just have shitty luck when it comes to men or am I subconsciously choosing men who can never fully be dedicated to me? Furthermore, why would I do such a thing?

I so badly want to fall madly in love. I want to SAY it. I want to hear it back. I want to live with someone and have children. I just want to be loved, dammit. And each time I find a man who I deem worthy it is because they are seemingly so open to the possibility of it. I’m not making that up. Any man I’ve been with in the last ten years has changed who they were after a couple of months of seeing them.

I always just assumed I was defective and, therefore, unlovable. Men find me very intelligent, beautiful, and inspiring, but it seems as though the luster fades eventually, and I am yet again struggling to keep the man’s heart.

Perhaps it really is unintentional. I mean, think about it:

Falling for the Overly Ambitious Man seems natural, because confidence, motivation, and independence are really attractive qualities. Atop that, they are unparalleled in passion, typically.

The Waste of Space Man will undoubtedly be all about me, because they have nothing else going on. They feed that narcissistic need I possess to be worshipped. I am seen as the independent, inspiring one, and it feels nice.

In this way, I don’t think I attract men that can’t love me or commit to me because I don’t think I deserve love like so many of these articles on the subject suggest. I think it’s simple psychology: Attraction comes in different packages, and often times, those packages are emotionally unavailable.

I don’t think I choose long-distance relationships because I gravitate to unavailable men; I think I like someone and if it’s worth it to me, I’ll handle long distance.

I don’t think I find men who are career-passionate because then I do not have to fear being hurt if I never fully open up to them; I think I find passion sexy.

I don’t think I seek out men who can’t get their lives together because I’ll be the center of their existence; I think I like the attention and want that from any man, but it just so happens that I find people at times in their lives when they are extremely available to me, since they aren’t busy.

Seeds are planted, love and disappointment grows.

I’m not entirely sure how to break free from these archetypes of men to which I always seem to be pulled. I like what I like. I will always find ambition, artistic ability, and passion sexy. I will always like being an inspiration to others.

Maybe I am defective in my reasoning and the only blockade from attaining emotional intimacy in full. It seems more likely that I am the one “Temporarily Out of Service”, rather than blaming the types for which I always fall.

The common denominator in every relationship I’ve ever had is me.

 

 

Tell Cinderella to Get Real

In my former life, I once tried on wedding dresses.

I recall not feeling that beautiful in them, nor was there a magical “yes to the dress” moment. My oldest sister and I went in secrecy, because I knew my step-mother would want to go and I would have to listen to her constant criticisms over what she liked or didn’t like, and I just wanted to have fun. 

We went to Alfred Angelo’s in Manchester. A friend of mine had gotten her dress from A.A. and I loved the styles.

Why didn’t it feel like a defining, life-changing moment for me? That day, I should have read the blatant sign screaming at me that I didn’t want to get married to this man, but I blindly ignored it and blamed my absent excitement on the notion that none of the dresses “did it” for me.

The day a girl tries on wedding dresses for the first time has been built up in our minds from everything we read in books, see on television, or gaze at in magazines. My assumption after that day at Alfred Angelo’s was that it just wasn’t as glamorous as media and Disney movies make it out to be.

It is true that I ultimately did not want to marry that man, but it is also true that we tend to these rituals and fantasies until they grow to unparalleled and impossible ideals that cannot be matched.

I found a bunch of photos that my sister snapped the day I tried on dresses. Standing there, in my very small frame of a body, I felt like I was swimming in those gowns. What I didn’t realize was the reflection in the mirror staring back at me was actually drowning.

wedding dress mirror

She was told as a young girl that she would someday fall in love, get married, and make beautiful babies of her own. She believed it whole-heartedly. Never was there a doubt in her pretty little head that a man would bend down on his knee and present his eternal dedication to her just liked she had played over and over in her head since she was about twenty years old.

What she wasn’t told is how much work it takes to keep love alive if you want to dress in white and flash your sparkly diamond.

Wedding gown side

No one taught her in school that healthy relationships require the most work and effort you will ever put forth towards practically anything in your life. No one gave her the necessary tools. Only time, experience, and many, many broken relationships provided some scattered bricks from which she could begin to build, after brushing away the dirt and debris, a steady path towards a symbiotic romance. So far, it has taken almost thirty-three years.

Why do we continue to beat into the pliable minds of children that there is always a prince charming who will be beyond romantic and make us swoon? That we will have to do little to entrap his interest, because if we dress and act a certain way, men will just fall head over heels staring at us from across the room the second we enter.

This is dangerous. This is quite possibly one of the biggest lies we can ever tell our youth.

Yes, trying on dresses is (supposedly) fun, an adrenaline rush, and bound to make women feel like a princess for a day–but that’s just one day. What about all the days leading up to that day? How about all of those days that will follow?

We are so focused on having our Cinderella moment of transforming from dull to enchanting that not enough energy is being transferred to where it belongs most: our actual every day romances and relationships.

We have been irrevocably irresponsible in promising our children that they will be loved and it will be seemingly easy. Only focusing on the Cinderella moments in our stories allows ill-prepared humans to sloppily throw themselves into relationships with reckless abandon.

dress with false smile

The false smile on my face is telling the camera to hurry up and take the photograph. Nothing else.

Up until that point, I had tried to no avail to create the perfect relationship, unaware of how volatile other humans were no matter how careful I tried to be with my actions and their emotions.

I regard myself as a hopeless romantic even knowing the truth about relationships now. I am wiser and know the incredible heap of man-hours it takes to maintain a balance and grow love that can sustain.

The complete dearth of realistic advice dispensed in my youth has not totally addled my heart and hopes for love, but I am jaded. I am worn, pained, and covered in battle scars. I am continually fighting my childhood-born urges to be a princess swept off her feet. In an attempt to remain pragmatic and sensible, I have come to terms with the fact that not every man I fall for or even every man who may love me back wants the “black suit standing at the altar” moment with me, because maybe he realized too early and without real warning that Cinderella and Prince Charming’s fantasies were a bit whack.

The biggest favor we can do for the younger generation is to be a bit more practical about what we tell them. I’m not touting that we should debase their idea of love completely, but for god’s sake, give them some useful knowledge about how hard it will be and how devastating it will feel to be broken-hearted. We need to refuse to lie to them, telling them they will without a doubt have these things some day.

I wish someone had helped me along the way instead of letting me stand there in my white gown wondering why it didn’t feel enthralling to finally be the princess.

I still want to wear a white dress; I want a man to devote himself to me in perpetuity. But I’m not a fool, and I know it’s not what every man wants from a woman, no matter how charming and romantic he can be.

I know that the responsibility that comes with adorning myself like a princess for one day means that I will work my entire life to be a loving person who negotiates, forgives, sacrifices, compromises, and listens.

You know why Disney movies always end with the perfect moment? Because if we saw what followed, then we would disillusion our youth and they would see what a real relationship consists of. Why this is such a horrible thing to display to our youth I don’t understand, except that maybe once people realized how hard commitment actually was, they wouldn’t want it.

I know how hard commitment actually is, and I still want it. Real romantics always do, because we don’t see love as a fairy tale; we know it to be a veritable force, because we dragged ourselves endlessly across hot coals to find it, and when we work that hard for something, white dresses are just one day out of the countless we spend making the ones we love feel adored, all while dealing with the messes we both make when we’re outside the ballroom and in our simple rags of every day existence.

dress facing forward

It Is Ours

The thing that makes love so great is not that it’s beautiful. It’s not that it makes us a better person. It isn’t even that feeling love makes us seem less alone in this world.

It is that it is ours.

Of course, we all know that sharing a moment with another human, complete with passion and adoration is beautiful. It more often than not inspires us to achieve greater things within ourselves. Having the companionship of another soul that complements ours helps alleviate the mundanity and hardship of everything we encounter every day: tough and trying days at work, hours running errands or scrubbing our toilet bowls. Paying bills. Choosing 401ks. Moving into a new home. Grieving a loss. Giving birth. Long car rides. Sitting at home with a television show or playing a board game.

Here’s the thing–all of that might be a hundred percent true, but that’s not what makes love so great. What makes love so magnificent and shiny, so unparalleled and desirable, is that it belongs to us. We are experiencing it. Ourselves. Together.

There are few factors in our existence that are greater than the driving, motivating force of what love does to us.

Love is way more than romantic words spilled between two people. It exceeds the actions we display and perform for others to show our affection and dedication. Lyrics and melodies of songs might move us to tears, but even they fall short. Commitment to our friends, family, and loved ones shows love. The ability to forgive and see a person for who they truly are without fault shows love.

But love is also so very relative. That’s what makes it so appealing.

Suddenly, a person who is seen as ordinary to others is extraordinary to us. Other people might see them as exceptional or amazing, but never quite in the way that a person who is swayed by love does. Suddenly, everything about them is a novel waiting to be unraveled. It might be the way their hair falls on their face, the pitch of their voice as they say certain words to us and only us, or the events in their life we know have crucified them–those crippling memories that have often kept them fearful and closed off to us–we learn to love those, too. And why? Because that’s love. It’s not rational. Not logical. No true calculations for how it works, when, and why.

It happens in that moment when we realize that the way they touch our collarbone makes our skin crawl with anticipation. It occurs when we only melt when they tell us we are beautiful. We spend minutes physically dizzy, thoughts spinning, trying to make sense of reality again. We smile just because we know they exist, and we smile harder knowing they smile because we exist, too.

Despite the thoughts and opinions of others, no one can take this away from us.

The world is seen through rose-colored glasses because of love, but we notice that it is never the same each time it is experienced. That is what makes love so great. It is never a repeated episode of something we’ve felt before. Each time, we swear it is the greatest, most unique thing we’ve ever felt, and it’s not because we’re idiots, it’s because it’s true.

I have tried forever to understand why humans put themselves in the blinding, gambling “trust” of love, and it’s not because we just continue to have hope that the “right one” for us is out there; it isn’t because we forget what heartache feels like. Most of us are starkly aware of betrayal and pain. Of situations which we thought we couldn’t overcome. But then that person comes along at the perfect time, saying the most perfect thing, touching us in the most incredibly perfect way, and we’re rapt. That’s just the beginning.

Over time, they continue to bare themselves to us. We share things with each other that only two people who are intimate do; we giggle in heated moments of lust when bodies don’t accommodate our wants, and we heave in extreme passion at the pure excitement and enjoyment the other is having, because theirs is ours.

Most of what I’ve ever read about love is how to make it work, how it doesn’t work, or what real love is. I could write about that, because I think I know at least a few things about love, but it has dawned on me that the epitome of what we all want when it comes to love is that personal experience. That “us” feeling. Those moments, those memories, that can never be shared between two others. Only us.

It is the wave we ride on that spawns great poetry, body-shuddering love songs, and most importantly, it is the intoxicating dance that enables us to feel as though we are taking part in something special. There may be millions of people across the globe feeling this love thing, but amazingly, love doesn’t care–it only cares that we feel it.

In that way, love is so rare and beautiful.

I have written for years about what it really means to love, and how I feel love can be achieved unconditionally. None of that matters, because when it comes to actual romantic love, what matters is what two people feel. The true beauty of what we all crave with love is that it transforms us. It makes us softer, sweeter, more optimistic. It adds spice and meaning to the menial. It leaves a sedative melody humming through our body before bed, and it gives us sparks on our heels and thoughts as we move about our day. We feel this not because everyone can have it, but because we, ourselves, in this very moment, have it.

It is ours.