Little Earthquakes

I can’t believe I allowed myself to be in that situation again.

Everything was normal. Fine. Maybe a little too fine. When I first arrived, he was overly eager to give me a hug. Exes aren’t typically overly eager to do anything unless it involves inflating specifics of their life to make things seem better than they really are.

I was standing outside when I heard him say it. She was here.

Immediately, my gut wrenched. My body went into a post-traumatic shock, where all I wanted was to flee. To smoke a cigarette and flee. Against my body’s persistent urges to get in my car and get the hell out, I stayed, reassured by others that they would be there to support me.

Jello shots and whiskey helped ease the anxiety for a time. But only for a time.

“I don’t hate her or anything,” I said to my ex, standing in the driveway and pulling drags of his cigarette without his consent. “I just have zero desire to ever be around her again.”

“The fact that no one thought to tell me she’d be here is preposterous and really inconsiderate!” I added.

The avoider of all conflict reassured me that he would not ignore me or act differently. To please just suck it up for one day.

Let me explain what it feels like to suck up PTSD:

It feels like you constantly want to throw up. Your body is uncomfortable. There’s a littering of egg-shells in every direction you walk. Your mouth is duct taped. Censored. Your actions are bound. Censored. Your thoughts are rampant and sweating. Outwardly, you’re silent. Outwardly, you act calm, collected, and cool, because you don’t want to ruin anyone else’s time, you don’t want to cause a scene, and you can’t let people know how much you are hurting because they won’t take you seriously.

They didn’t feel the shockwave blow a hole through my body when I walked in on him and her kissing on the same day as one of my good friend’s funeral.

No. They could never know how low I felt as I scraped the snow off my windshield at two in the morning, wailing at the top of my lungs, after having an argument with a belligerently drunk dolt of an ex-boyfriend who would not assume responsibility for his actions, which ended in a fervent slap across the face from me.

Only my good friend, who heard me crying and came out to offer support, could know the level of messed up I was. I was actually traumatized. My system had had too much at this point. What with the passing and grieving of a friend, the assumed trust I shared with a man, and the broken friendship that stabbed deeper than any of the rest, I was a total heap of distraught. She had repeatedly told me I was way too good for him only so she could climb into his drunken arms, while I was asleep upstairs, because I was invited to stay at the house so I wouldn’t have to grieve alone after Isaac’s passing.

When I arrived home around 4am, I sat on my bed and drank whiskey straight from the bottle. I had no cigarettes and would have to wait until a gas station opened. I was wide-awake and completely rocked from what my heart, eyes, and body had just gone through.

I would never be quite the same again.

And then, they all just expected me to be okay with this? I know it’s been over a year, but would you bring an ex-infantry soldier to a movie about war?

I don’t really remember leaving, except to ask my ex for a cigarette.

I woke up at 4am with several texts asking if I was okay. I felt anxious, so I took half a klonopin and went back to sleep.

Today is Sunday, and the dust has settled. For now.

My Fight for Love

What is it?

Stringing madness. An inferiority complex. A clichéd, struggled kiss in a summer rain on a city sidewalk. Grandiose? Multi-syllabic.

A truculent desire to rip humanity’s vulnerability from their throats, which persistently mislead with humor and misdeed.

A gentle susurration pressed into my cotton pillowcase. A fear of flight.

No.

My fight for love is not poetic. It does not want to be noticed. It does not need to be spoken about. No monumental or maudlin displays.

It simply wishes to be lived.

How often are we stuck in a purgatory of stagnation? We come up with words like “saudade”, which means we long for something that has been loved and lost; a decaying, former lust. We pray for change. For society to wise up on its own. We plant trees in hopes of new growth. We remain obstinately optimistic.

But optimism and pride never delivered us to the doorstep of truth. Not once.

Words and feelings never have, either.

I’ve done this wrong my whole life. Pleasantly grateful for each opportunity to learn. Degrading my human worth based on the lack of others’ affection or approval.

Love is not about us, while being entirely about us. It doesn’t want to be praised or pedestaled so high it’s out of reach. It doesn’t want to be looked upon by sympathetic and horrified eyes like a beached and bloated creature.

It wants to be lived.

Caviling each other’s motives with complete disregard for their capacity to love. Commending our intelligence when we make decisions that break us from the bonds of romantic or familial anguish. The human condition.

To live love is to be love. Not to find it or create it. Not to write about it or decorate it. It’s not apocryphal like we believe. It is because we want it that we cannot have it.

Love has always been there. It just doesn’t fit the mold of our ego’s view. Askew in our perceptions, it is like the man who couldn’t fathom three dimensions because he lived in two.

It is not a decree of promise, nor recordings of random acts of kindness. Love is only asking that you stop talking about it and start doing it. To cease being a demimonde of lovers and become warriors of life. Proliferators of humanity and the ethereal cosmic entity that encapsulates our silly stories and lofty ideals. Not to be so serious all the time, but to know that the only reason why we all struggle with winning love is because we fight for it all wrong.

We get to choose how and why we fight for love. So many styles, all the while, some are successful, some needlessly tormenting. While love should be appreciated, it never needs to be more than in the moment, radiating floridly, with impression not intent.

If I am love and live like I am love, then I never have to find it. Living love is a fight each day when pangs of animosity and malign atrocities tear up entire cities, render human hearts to tenderized meat, pumping life through us we wish we didn’t have to wake to see.

But there’s bravery in living love, which is why it is a fight for which I will armor myself, will never give up on, no matter how many times I think I might.

A fight is only a good fight if it is done right.

Summer’s Gone

Drops of luminescence beat the ground

After a cold night

In a Spring sun

 

I awoke with frost on my heart

Warm, tired tears

In a sunless, embracing bed

 

We always seemed shocked and angered

by the snow’s fall

After a pleasant day

 

I’m done being fooled by the chill,

by the icy words

that follow a once enchanting summer

Poorly Taken Notes

Last night, I read the words of an 18 year old girl’s personal journal. My hand traced over the sometimes red, sometimes blue or black ink, thinking about how the puerile mind doesn’t fully understand or know how to process others’ actions or heartache—how it barely does now, 15 years later.

Her thoughts trembled throughout the pages, yet agonizingly stuck in a purgatory of adolescent fear. Did he still find her pretty? Why is he suddenly not interested? How will things turn out?

It’s painful to read. Not because this naive girl is being foolish or simple, but because 15 years later, she faces a similar problem and still envelops herself in distrust and anxiety.

She wrote of being “unlucky”, like she, specifically, was peeled out of colorform and thrust into this bleak existence without predictability or smiling faces.

I know now that life is what you make it. That things don’t happen to us like there’s a celestial and surreptitious foosball match, where we’re constantly getting barreled over because we can’t see the ball.

But I don’t believe it. I seem to have shit luck.

That girl—she knew it even then.

She was really pretty. In some ways, prettier than she is now, although she’s more mature, curvy, and experienced. Boys turned their heads, but none ever asked her out. When they finally did, they became infused with the life of her voice and the joy of her effervescence, and then quickly deflated and became uninterested. Was it something she had done?

Probably.

I have made it my life’s mission since I was a teen to right the erroneous ways of my trysts. To figure out how to make things work, and to be a more self-aware and interpersonally involved lover.

And I still have shit luck.

The entry dated September 11th, 2001 chronicled the events of the falling towers, and as hopeless romantics do, that girl told of her own heart’s undoing. The boy revealed to her, while they poured over their scribbled notebooks from chemistry class, that he didn’t want to be her boyfriend, after holding her hand every weekend at every party, and spending nights next to her in bed.

I have never forgotten that day for very obvious reasons, but it was also the same day my emotions were crumpled up like poorly taken notes and tossed carelessly in the trash bin.

The Day You Find out Why

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. ~ Mark Twain

On a beautiful afternoon, while sitting in white plastic lawn chairs in the driveway, my father told me that quote. He said something about it taking him sixty-something-odd years to figure it out–that life is about experiences.

As he continued to pull drags of smoke into his mouth from his cigar, I took a sip of my IPA and realized that after 32 years, we had finally come to a place of real respect and appreciation for each other’s company.

Growing up, my father was always there, affectionate and stern. He was interested in taking my sisters and me to do things like play mini-golf, go spelunking in caves, and visit historical places across New England.

dad & me

Relating to my mother has always been easy, because she is so much like me: affectionate to the brim, understanding, and full of empathy for others. My dad is another story.

After my parents’ divorce when I was 11, the dynamic undoubtedly changed. My dad eventually pursued other women and I was becoming a teenager, disengaging, little by little, from the childhood father who would put me on his shoulders and run up and down the hall, turn into the Tickle Monster, or let me sit on his lap while he watched golf.

We would butt heads a lot, since my dad was probably consumed with the stress of taking care of teenage girls–a subject with which he’s hardly familiar. I was depressed, highly sensitive, and buried in a thicket of misery and emotion that my father deemed as overdramatic and “silly”. But when you’re a 16-year-old girl and your heart has just been broken for the first time, it really is the most massive and unceasing amount of pain you can imagine.

I asked for therapy, thinking it would help. I remember my father saying to me, “We are Volponi’s; we take care of our own problems.” The maddening insensitivity I felt at the time, gaining an impression that he just didn’t understand. He did take me to therapy, and I only went to a handful of sessions before insurance would stop paying.

Strangely, his commentary about self-sufficiency runs through my head all the time…

I am a woman who has grown to take care of herself, imbued with a resilience from where I do not know it came.

After going to college and eventually grad school, I moved out of my parents’ house for good. During this time, my father was beginning to recognize that I was a person of responsibility. I could save money, I didn’t get into trouble, I graduated with two degrees, and I could hold a steady job.

I felt like he was finally proud of me.

See, my father has always been the kind of man who is not very verbally expressive with his emotions. I remember showing him my senior yearbook photo only to get the response, “You look better when you’re smiling, but my girls are not half bad, huh?”

I was reprimanded for things like leaving a spoon in the sink or forgetting to close the garage door when I left. I, often, was not praised for doing extra things around the house to gain his and my stepmother’s approval.

It’s something that’s hard for me to admit, but my whole life I have always wanted my dad to tell me he loved me or feel like I wasn’t being judged for my mistakes. I wanted to feel like daddy’s girl.

In stereotypical fashion, I have constantly sought out attention from men to fulfill this longing of unconditional love that, at the time, I did not think would ever come.

But that’s when this story turns into a beautiful one.

Over time, slowly, we began to mend our relationship. I opened my heart to compassion and continued to try without giving up, and my father learned a lot about himself as the years went by. I can’t tell you exactly when it transpired, because there wasn’t one defining moment, but we began to really like being around each other.

OOB

My dad and I talk about science and movies; we muse about theories of human behavior. I teach him new words, and we share music we both like with one another. We talk for hours, we go to beer tastings, and he has even taught me how to ballroom dance (although I forget them now). We have the same sense of humor; we’re both rational and articulate. We both like to “shoot the shit”, yet always find ourselves in deeper conversation.

One of the most important things he’s ever taught me, however, was when I was much younger. I was upset about the falling-out of a friendship, and at a stop light, he spoke these words, “Not everyone that comes into your life is meant to stay. Some are only supposed to be there for a little while and serve a purpose during that time. Then, someone new comes along.”

It might not seem pivotal or grandiose, but to me it was. It relieved years of pain I was feeling about lost connections with friends and with boys. I was filled with a sense of peace that every connection has meaning and importance and that not one is necessarily greater than the other.

It changed how I impact and connect with people every day.

My father has always been someone I could rely on if my physical or financial world came unbound. It wasn’t until after my break-up with my ex fiancé that I realized how much my father could be there for me on an emotional, supportive level as well.

One of the sincerely most incredible things in this lifetime has been watching my father grow as a human being.

Not only has he become more in-tune with his own emotions, he has empathy for others. He has sagacious thoughts and uses words, now, like “soul-mate”. My dad brings pictures of me on his phone to social gatherings to show them off; he has even gushed to his driver in Italy about how beautiful I am. He constantly reminds me not to sweat the small stuff (a book I had bought him years ago), and he has admirable moral integrity.

Yes, I’m still working on him about killing bugs or wishing nuclear bombs would drop on the houses of people who’ve wronged me, but no one is perfect.

I have always been lucky to have a father who is capable of supporting me if I need help. I am even luckier to have a father who can also connect to me as a person, where I feel the amassing and ever-growing love.

I have never been lucky in romantic love. It is something I fear I’ll struggle with for the rest of my life. Men fall for me and then forget about me. It’s something I’ve never really understood, and it is something that haunts me.

Yet, when I examine what it is that I would like to have achieved in this life, I’ve realized that it’s already happened.

I would like to fall in love and feel that a man won’t abandon my wants or needs, but more than anything, I already have the unconditional, unwavering love of my father.

Some people never find that with a parent with whom they had always felt disconnected. In this lifetime, I get to have that. That knowledge is like an expanding, glowing orb inside my heart, because I feel as though something that was supposed to be accomplished in this life has happened.

So, I don’t truly know if my dad has ascertained why he was placed on this earth, but on his day of birth, I would like to tell him at least one very important reason why.

I would not be the person I am today. Aside from all the wonderful traits he genetically passed along to me, I am buttressed by a bond that has changed the way I view life.

I imagine every parent wants to know they’ve done the job of child-rearing well, and my father has surpassed that. I’m a well-adjusted, loving and intelligent human, but I also have fulfillment in life. That fulfillment allows me to reduce self-destruction, to be proactive about positively affecting other people’s lives, and helps me to love deeper while I am here, waiting for the day to find out why I was given life.

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

Fifty Shades of No Way?

[Spoiler Alert: Don’t read this if you don’t want some idea of what happens in the book/movie, Fifty Shades of Grey]

Okay, okay. I will admit it. I finally jumped on the bandwagon of Fifty Shades viewers and watched the movie. I had acquired the book on my kindle, because when someone says not to read something, it almost makes you want to read it.

I had heard mixed reviews from some of my friends that the movie does an injustice to the “kink scene”–as in, people who are actually into dom-sub relationships and specific fetishes.

I’ve read some of the book, and the writing isn’t very good–I’ll admit that–but the part that I thought was done with consideration, at the very least, was the subtleties of the art of seduction.

See, I’ve read The Art of Seduction, by Robert Greene. I’ve discussed the book with others. I’ve literally employed tactical devices within the book. Seducing men was never a problem I had; I’m what you’d call a natural at it, but I was lured in by the psychology behind the art.

In the book (as much as I’ve read) and the movie, Christian and Ana are in a constant “game” with one another to assert their dominance and have the upper hand–yes, even though she was characterized as the “submissive”. This might seem like something only relatable to the world of kinky sex fetishes and fantasies, but I assure you, it’s not.

Power plays occur every single minute of every day between all types of relationships, whether it be parent and child, boss and employee, friends, strangers, and of course, romantic entanglements. Humans are just naturally hard-wired to react and respond in ways which will allow our “status” to remain on stable ground.

Let’s say we go out on a first date with someone we really enjoyed. Obviously, we want to talk to them right away afterwards or perhaps even try to see them the very next day. Most people, out of a perceived level-grounded, almost nonchalant collectedness will back off for a few days. Or we get the text we’ve been waiting for all day from the person we care about and we don’t want them to know we had the phone right next to us. Seems too eager, right? So, we don’t answer for two hours.

These are all defense mechanisms, clearly, as are most embodiments of power plays. It’s important to have the winning cards, not only so we don’t get hurt, but also so that we sustain interest. That’s the part I’m most concerned with. I’ll attend to the former later on.

Interest.

How to entrap and intrigue the other party. How to keep them on their toes. How to, in the case of Ana and Christian, magnify the intensity to such a point that both parties are intoxicated and enamored beyond what they can any longer control. It starts to roll like a rock down a hill, and as it careens, it gains momentum. It does, unlike a boulder tumbling down a cliff, require maintenance and attention. But if the mystery and intrigue, the carefulness and affection, the let down and subsequent gentle caress are all there between both parties, then it piles and amasses until something like mind-blowing sexual chemistry erupts. Or complete infatuation. Or beautiful, romantic love.

It may seem like power plays are bad things, but they are not necessarily. If used with sensitivity and good intention, then they enhance and add flavor to our relationships.

In Fifty Shades, I see this occurring. There are the not so great parts–Ana continually wanting something she can never fully have; Christian being cold and emotionally distant due to an awful upbringing and abandonment from his biological mother. This is the part of the movie that I think (think?) critics take issue.

In having knowledge about the “kink scene” or dominant-submissive play, I know that respect, limits, pleasure, debriefing, and ultimately, a more bonded, intimate relationship are key elements. Does this seem to be missing from Fifty Shades? I actually don’t think so.

I think it’s a movie. In the book, there’s more elaborate description of what the relationship entails, but in the movie, like movies do, you have to gloss over a lot of that to make it engrossing.

Sure, there’s a business meeting to discuss the matters of the contract, but it’d be boring if it were just this mutual discussion with hugs at the end, or this ongoing play-by-play of every line in the agreement, complete with coffee and bathroom breaks, and phone call interruptions. This isn’t real life; it’s a movie.

The business meeting is, in fact, one of my favorite scenes in the movie, due to the tantalizing, empowering nature Ana suddenly displays when she teases the crap out of Christian and then leaves him high and dry. She didn’t do this to be cruel; she did this to pull him further in.

Well, it worked. There’s science in it. It’s like the dangling carrot in front of the chariot horse. What’s going to keep him running? What’s the prize? The ever elusive idea that he is *this close* to what he wants. Getting what we want is good too, we just have to know when and when not to give in completely.

This is the game.

In this way, I do not think the movie did anything wrong. There’s a constant give and take between the two of them for this attainment of “love”. Christian is also protecting himself–that’s part of why the idea of controlled, submissive sex and romance is so appealing. You cannot get hurt if you don’t allow anyone to penetrate your armor. He may have exemplified his guardedness and inner turmoil in a way that was not okay for a dom-sub agreement at one point, but we are all messy humans who continually blur the lines between what we should and shouldn’t do and with what intentions.

Having a degree in Psychology, I actually found this to be a natural (and cliché) path for the movie to take. A plot merely about fetishes with no depth: How are you going to make a box office hit? People like romance. We like protagonists and antagonists. We like movies that will our souls to seek change. We like anything we can relate to on a personal level.

I’ll come forward and say it: I related to this movie on a profoundly deep level. The movie itself wasn’t profound, but its effect on me was. No, I have never been whisked away by a stunningly beautiful billionaire, and I haven’t been chained to a wall in a “play room” (although it sounds fun). However, I know what it feels like to be entranced by an insanely gorgeous and charming man. I know what it is to have him forever far away, and often times, emotionally distant and protected. I know what it is to watch everyone around me go on dates with their significant others, and I know what it’s like to have plans broken at the drop of a hat because something career-wise has popped up and taken precedence.

I know what it’s like to be in the position of Ana, where it very much appears to be romance and love, and have the other person contradict it. I know what it’s like to be abused by the person I love, too. This isn’t all one person, of course, it’s a collective.

But I know.

In this way, I could so truthfully relate to the emotions felt, and as an “incurable romantic”, my heart spasmed when Christian confesses his fears and childhood trauma to a sleeping Ana, because he wishes he could tell her consciously.

I gasped at the scene in the elevator when their lust was first manifested, and I delighted in each passionate kiss Christian launched at Ana the second she walked in the door, because I know exactly how those things feel.

Christian is driven to say to Ana that she is everything he wants, and Ana tells Christian, choking through sobs, that she’s in love with Christian, which makes him recoil. I know what it is to feel as though I am everything that someone wants but never secure enough to say those three words.

When Christian smiles at the text Ana sends, expressing how she misses him and wishes he were there, was probably one of the most tender and painful moments for me, because every time I press send on the end of my phone saying the same thing to someone I care about, I am hoping, no matter how emotionally protected he may seem at times, that he is secretly smiling because he cares, too.

Fifty Shades, although not prophetic or enlightening, substantiated the art of seduction, the deeper, darker colors of humanity, which mold and shape our behaviors, and still kept present a hint of hope for change, which to every incurable romantic, is our raison d’être.

Sweet 16

I remember being sixteen years old, tightly stuffed into a friend’s basement in Worcester, MA, feeling higher and happier than a child chasing a trail of pearlescent bubbles.

It was New Year’s Eve, 1999.

I was there with my sister, mutual friends, and the boy with whom I was completely infatuated from the first moment I saw him that summer. I wore black vinyl pants and remember my crush saying to me on the ride to Worcester, “I can see myself in your pants. No, really. It’s not a pickup line. I can see myself in your pants.”

He braided me an aluminum foil bracelet as we stood by ourselves in the kitchen, tucked away in a corner, where we rubbed noses and giggled about how Eskimos and gnomes kiss.

I remember hanging out in one of my friend’s van outside listening to DMX and Dr Dre. I vaguely recall our friends’ band playing that evening in the tiny basement. I also remember eating peanuts while chewing gum, and realizing as my gum dissolved and slid down my throat, that that’s why people use peanut butter to get gum out of girls’ hair. Epiphany. I was hopped up on illegal substances and the world was my oyster.

As the ball was on its descent into the year Y-2-K, we all joked about how the internet would shut down, chaos would ensue, and the beginning of the end would follow thereafter.

None of that happened, of course, but when the countdown reached zero, I grabbed the boy and kissed him so sweetly. It was my first New Year’s kiss and I was on ecstasy.

Very early on the morning of New Year’s Day, I went back to the boy’s house and he laboriously peeled the black vinyl pants off my sweaty body. I lay in the boy’s bed, while he tried to do sexy things to me and I was coming down. I was tired, and it just wasn’t working. Frustrated and selfish, he broke up with me; I was mostly naked in his bed and trapped at his home without a ride.

Later that morning, forgetting what he had done only hours earlier, he in naive slumber, curled his arm tightly around my waist and pulled me in to snuggle. I just lay there and cried silently.

Happy New Year.

That boy became the man with whom I reunited seven years later and almost married.

Now, sixteen years after that emotional bumper car ride, I am sitting here in my favorite, thread-bare bathrobe in my cozy apartment. I am thinking about how many dull years have passed. How many of them I spent being a normal, young adult with a relatively stable existence. How many of them I spent with that same boy, and how many I have spent without him since we split. How so many of those years since we broke up were anything but stable or dull. How grateful I am to be where I am sitting today.

One thing that has always been consistent in all of my teen and adult years is my struggle with love. Oh, I find love, I just can’t keep love. The last three New Year’s Eves have been spent with friends, doling out hugs and cheek pecks at the ball drop.

Four years ago, I experienced something akin to my sixteenth year. I told the new guy I was dating since J and I broke up that I loved him for the first time. On New Year’s Day. It wasn’t planned. I wasn’t trying to be romantic by choosing a special day; it had just been six months together and fifteen years total since I had known him, and it came out of my mouth as we lay in my bed after drinking several mimosas and fondling each other. He reacted poorly. Understatement. His reaction was the worst reaction anyone could possibly have to being told they are loved by their girlfriend.

First, he laughed nervously. Really hard. Then, he pulled me in for a hug and swayed us back and forth for an extremely uncomfortable amount of time. It felt like three decades. We both silently shared a cigarette on my porch, and then, abruptly, he told me he had to go.

My New Year’s track record is excellent.

This year I feel good, though. I’ve been taking a lot of time to focus on organizing my life and my home. I have been writing a lot. I don’t really go out or drink very often at all and am in bed by 10 or 11 each night. I cherish my girl cat and lavish in all this extra time I have to be near her because I am not out getting messed up. I am yet again reconnecting with me, my favorite person to hang out with.

I cannot predict how the year will progress nor do I really want to. There are a couple of projects in the works that will keep me focused on my hobby and love for writing and editing, and I am finally loving my body and taking care of her needs.

Coming from the girl who always has put others before her, I am no longer content to be that person who lies there, quietly stifling her tears, while men abandon her right as a human to have her own fears, feelings, and thoughts.

And while I may be romancing someone currently who makes me swoon, blush, or feel dizzy, he is not the center of my world–he is just a very lovely and enticing piece of it. I like my life and I damn well should. It is mine after all. No one else’s. I live it for me and those who come into it, like my friends, family, or this romance, are all just enhancements and embellishments to the steadily polished bowl I’ve been working on for nearly thirty-three years.

I used to repeat the mantra, “I am happy; I am healthy; I am wealthy; I am wise.”

I think as I move into this new year of 2016, I am going to focus on the simple sweetness.

There’s a calm radiating throughout my being, because I’ve been chasing the metaphorical dragon for years and am finally ready to be me. To be the girl renewed from years of bad relationships and abuse; to be the girl strengthened against giving herself to men just to feel wanted; to be the woman who is comfortable in her new shape but still yearns to feel healthy in body, mind, and spirit. But mostly, to be Amanda, the person I know most intimately.

Amanda loves to read. She loves cleaning. Her home is an homage to the things she cherishes most: her cats, her friends, and music. She is nostalgic and loves to read her old journals (and then immediately shred them upon completion). She is sappy and enjoys eating popcorn by herself while watching comedy romances. She puts herself to sleep each night by petting her cat and listening to science documentaries. She writes in a gratitude journal. She requires time to herself every day to feel whole. She loves writing and making music more than she loves most things, and she gives her heart freely and generously to the people who mean the most to her. She does this not because she has to, not out of guilt, fear, or obligation, but because when Amanda feels like Amanda, she is a resonating channel of love.

From what I know of Amanda, she is sweet. She is kind, caring, and sweet. She’s snarky, sarcastic, whiny, and selfish, too, but no one likes a perfectly polished bowl, now, do they?

May I only hope that 2016 simply holds that presence of free love, if nothing else. It might just be the sweetest sixteen I’ve had yet.

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.