I am going to die alone and merry christmas.

I learned the other day that Jon (Scott) is engaged. I was cleaning my room when I got the message from his sister in law. At first I didn’t react much – it’s just one more engagement that doesn’t really affect me. Also, he’s a douchebag.

(just now, I typed “douchebage” which made me think of douchebadge. Maybe that could be a new slam.)

But then I remembered that we had dated for two years. That statement isn’t actually correct, since the second year we weren’t dating – not even remotely committed to each other – just messily involved. He kept making promises he couldn’t (or wouldn’t – that detail remains a mystery to me) keep. He kept claiming he loved me while refusing to stop talking to the girl to whom he’s now engaged. He kept telling me he wanted to be with me and that he was sorry. Each time I tried to move on, he refused to let me and I mistook his controlling and abusive behavior as affection. It shocks me, the things I put up with. He said some of the most vulgar and offensive things to me – words so horrifying I refuse to put them in print. And yet, when he apologized, I accepted it and gave him another chance.

When I finally cut him out of my life (after a session with a therapist who told me  – and I quote – he was akin to a swirling vortex of insanity which would be near impossible to escape should I entangle myself further), it was complete. Though his behavior didn’t stop immediately, I simply refused to take part in it. Turns out if you stop indulging a psychopath, the drama stops pretty quickly.

That switch has since remained in the off position and I haven’t even considered flipping it in the other direction. It’s strange too, because I consider myself a somewhat sentimental person. Yet I feel a void looking back at our relationship. Surely there must have been some good there for me to be so reluctant to leave it behind, but I’ll be damned if I can find it. There is virtually no part of me that feels the slightest affection towards him, yet the news still struck a chord.

I’m reluctant to say that I cried over it, because that phrasing isn’t correct. It suggests longing and regret over the death of the relationship. The news prompted not only a ridiculous tweet (“Another of my exes is engaged. I’m going to die alone with my crochet projects.”), but a crying spell. Quick messy tears that made my day-old mascara flake off. I did the predictable self-indulgent girl thing where I made a mental list of my exes and compared their lives with mine, taking note of a single criterion. Of my five relationships, two of the men are married, two are engaged, and one is still single to the best of my knowledge. If the sitcoms are right and every breakup has a winner and loser, I’m pretty sure I’m the loser in all the cases.

NewGirl

Fortunately I had a couple friends to lean on in my time of need: Andrea, who told me to remember why I’m single (I’m not one to settle) and also that if he could get engaged, then anybody can. And Logan, who remarked, “Hahahahah! Good luck, sucker woman. Hope you have fun dealing with that for the rest of eternity!”

I decided to step back and take a look at my situation. I was on my freshly made bed, curled in the fetal position, and crying about a man whose existence no longer matters to me. Also, Flight of the Conchords was blaring out of my Kindle:

Hey Bowie, do you have one really funky sequined space suit? Or do you have several ch-changes? Do you smoke grass out in space, Bowie? Or do they smoke astroturf? Receiving transmission from David Bowie’s nipple antennae: Do you read me, Lieutenant Bowie?

And then I started laughing, because if there’s one thing that should never happen, it’s crying in the same room as Flight of the Conchords.

Life can be disappointing: sometimes the people you wish would burn with herpes sores for all of eternity end up getting engaged, but it doesn’t make any sense to cry about it. So the best thing you can do is pour yourself a cup of coffee, put on some lipstick, and laugh at the ridiculousness of Flight of the Conchords.

Anyway, I hope you all have a great Christmas. Go drink some wine and hug a family member.

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And then I reread Sloane Crosley…

If you have to ask someone to change, to tell you they love you, to bring wine to dinner, to call you when they land, you can’t afford to be with them. It’s not worth the price, even though, just like the Tiffany catalog, no one tells you what that price is. You set it yourself, and if you’re lucky it’s reasonable. You have a sense of when you’re about to go bankrupt. Your own sense of self-worth takes the wheel and says, “Enough of this shit. Stop making excuses. No one’s that busy at work. No one’s allergic to whipped cream. There are too cellphones in Sweden.” But most people don’t get that lucky. They get human. They get crushes. This means you irrationally mortgage what little logic you own to pay for this one thing. This relationship is an impulse buy, and you’ll figure out if it’s worth it later.

So, assuming you’ve gone ahead and purposefully ignored the first adage because it doesn’t apply to you and you are in love the way no one in the history of spooning has ever been in love: now what? You’ve gotten what you want, but the state of mutual ownership has shifted. Like that piece of jewelry that you’re never quite comfortable wearing, you become concerned with its whereabouts, who borrows it and for how long. You wonder if you’ll lose it, if it might look better wrapped around someone else’s neck. Admit it: wouldn’t it be less stressful not having it touch your body at all?

The first time I read  Sloane Crosley’s essay “Off the Back of a Truck” I was at the university gym almost two years ago. I was on the elliptical and I had to stop several times to make notes in my Kindle. The way she talked about relationships in such a frank way was refreshing. At the time I was with Bill and didn’t think I would ever need to seek salve for the pains of a breakup. But it resonated so fully that I wanted to stop other girls on the treadmills and bikes nearby and read paragraphs to them.

When Bill and I broke up, this book was the first book I bought, only hours after the initial exchange. I couldn’t remember the passages. I couldn’t remember the name of the title. I just knew that I wanted the paper copy of the book. I needed the tangible thing to hang on to and to underline those paragraphs that had literally given me pause. I also wanted to be able to point to something and say, “This got me through it! This got me through that first day and helped me make sense of everything in one fell swoop.”

Of course, the book didn’t really get me through it. What it did was remind me a couple things. First, that I needed to figure out how much this was costing me. Was it going to hurt me more than give me satisfaction? Did I have to sacrifice my self-respect, goals, hopes, interests, or even passing amusement in order to make this relationship work? What, exactly, was the cost? It was a rhetorical question, one I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to answer in a quantifiable sense, but I knew that for then, at least, I couldn’t afford it. The second was that I would eventually be okay. Eventually. Eventually I would be able to walk past his old house and think, “That’s where Bill used to live” the same way I might make note of a post office or grocery store. Eventually I would just look back on it as a part of my life.

That was what most struck me that afternoon on the elliptical – I knew what she meant. I had passed landmarks with ex-boyfriends and just seen them as cold facts. That was where we went on our first date. That was where he first saw me cry. We rented movies from that Blockbuster. We walked together along that trail. I recognized how those same facts that had once torn me apart now read like an uninteresting pamphlet.

I had the first promise of that the other day. I was getting ready for a wedding on Saturday night, and I digging through my desk drawer when I came across a picture from our sixth month anniversary. It was of us kissing – one of those barf-worthy things that I hate seeing on Facebook. But it was a picture I had once had framed and sat on the table next to my bed. Instead of crying and wiping my tears on my dress, I set the picture aside. “Oh,” I thought. “There’s that picture. I was wondering where it had gone.” And then I continued getting ready.

Later at the wedding, I was by the bar by myself for a few moments and I thought about how remarkable of a step that was for me. It was the first time I had come across something of us – something significantly tied to fond memories with him – that didn’t physically hurt me. It gave me hope that I was moving forward and that things would be okay. So when my friend returned from the bathroom and asked if I wanted to dance, it only seemed natural for me to accept his invitation and to enjoy myself, even if I was dancing to disco.

There is one thing you know for sure, one fact that never fails to comfort you: the worst day of your life wasn’t in there, in that mess. And it will do you good to remember the best day of your life wasn’t in there, either. But another person brought you closer to those borders than you had been, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Knowing what you can afford is useful information, even if you don’t want it.

You can find the above selections and more gems in Sloane Crosley’s book How Did you Get this Number. It would be a great book to read on the beach.

Ten Tips for Surviving the First Two Weeks, Ashley-style

As far as I can tell the worst part of this whole thing has been the unpredictable nature of my mood. I will go entire days feeling invincible only to have a line from a song I’ve been listening to all day long send me into a fifteen minute sob session. Then, just as quickly, I go back to feeling fine. I have to wonder if this is what it feels like to be bipolar. It certainly feels like some form of insanity, especially during the low moments. Regardless, I’m still fervently believing that each day gets a bit easier. I’m still holding onto the idea that there is a linear progress to this mess. How straight that line is, I can’t really say. But I’ve been trying to think of ways to quantify my progress, which is ridiculous since I’m operating at an 80-20 ratio of emotion to logic. Emotions cannot be quantified, but it sure as hell makes me feel better if I can pretend otherwise. I thought about tracking how many times I cry, how many times I think about him, how many times I feel the bottom of my stomach fall out, how many times I feel like hurling because I’m so sad. All of these things sound completely psychotic, thus my insanity diagnosis. Then I thought about the progress: How often I see friends, how often I do things that make me happy, how many times I’m able to pull a mental u-turn, or how many times I’m able to cancel the pity party. Again, this is impossible since I’m far too close to the situation to assess it objectively.

Tossing all of this aside, I’ve compiled my own list for how to survive the first two weeks after a breakup Ashley-style.

  1. After making the decision, listen to Taylor Swift songs for approximately two days. Do this in the shower when nobody else is home and you have the opportunity to interrupt Last Kiss with terrifying sounds you’ve never previously heard come from yourself.
  2. Since you will have virtually no appetite, nutrition will be a nuisance. You’ll feel the affects of hunger – the dizziness, empty bile-bubbling feelings, the headaches, and general feeling of lethargy – but you will have no desire to eat anything. This includes your beloved carbs, gooey caramel and chocolate bars, ice cream sundaes, as well as the salads you’ve been eating in an attempt to lose a few pounds. I recommend drinking a lot of fruit protein smoothies by Naked and Bolthouse Farms. Since you don’t even have to chew, these are ideal for the days when you’d rather be in bed than sitting in a cubicle.
  3. Listen to Somebody that I Used to Know at least 300 times in a period of 72 hours. Claim to enjoy the entire album after two or three obligatory listens, then plug in your headphones, abandon any sense of self-respect, and put the song on repeat. Hey, at least nobody has to know about this. At least until you advertise it on your blog like a real genius.
  4. Sing karaoke. Don’t feel like you have to go by yourself. Agree to sing My Heart Will Go On with two girlfriends, and Dancing Queen as a duet. This may require you drink four 7&7s. Apparently you will also close the night with Losing My Religion, have only a vague memory of that and laugh about it when you pick up your car the next day. Promise yourself and friends that you will sing Rich Girl next week by yourself.
  5. When things are just too much to think about, turn to Grey’s Anatomy. You’re in luck since Netflix has the first seven seasons. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, you can watch McDreamy and McSteamy do their surgical thing, wonder how Cristina’s hair has so much volume, and decide Meredith looks best with bangs. Be sure to wear sweats and cuddle up in fuzzy blankets. Forget that one of the blankets is one that his mother gave you for Christmas two years ago.
  6. Go to bars with friends on and be reminded of the fact that the only  men who approach you are 40-somethings in pleated pants. Decide that men your own age are children who sometimes wear men’s clothing. After reminding yourself that you are single and the “I have a boyfriend” line is no longer valid, adopt your own dating mission statement that eliminates the possibility of you wasting time with boys who are afraid to ask you to dinner: “If you don’t know how to pursue me, I’m not interested in you.”
  7. Expand your breakup music collection to include Fiona Apple, Lykke Li, Ingrid Michaelson, Lily Allen, Kate Nash, the entire new Norah Jones album, and one Cake song. Do not include Adele  since her music requires you to be drinking from a bottle of red wine while weeping. Seriously, it’s obnoxious and you will not let yourself sink to that level.
  8. Make it official by throwing away his clothes and dying your hair one night. That same night, decide to be a fearless bombshell and go to a party on your own and rock that red lipstick look you’ve always wanted. Enjoy yourself. See friends you haven’t in a while. Realize the elation that comes when you’re not tethered. Do your best to savor that feeling. You’ll need it when you’re feeling lonely.
  9. Buy a new journal. Your old one chronicles the entire relationship, but it’s far to painful to actually put pen to paper and describe how it all came to an end. So get a new journal, or at least tell yourself to, one that will allow you to write about your new life as a single twenty-something.
  10. Go to your cousin’s wedding. Realize that family members will want to ask questions or offer words of support. Tell them through watery eyes that you don’t want to talk about it. Run into the bathroom when Norah Jones’s Come Away with Me is played. Allow yourself only to let a few tears fall. Return to the dance floor only to cry when a Bee Gees song is played. Tell your dad you want to go home. Realize the next day that it’s kind of hilarious that disco makes you cry.

I can’t guarantee recovery if you follow these steps, but I do know that for all intents and purposes, this will ensure your survival. You will not crumble and waste away and you will live to see another day.

On Hope

A few weeks ago, Bill and I made the decision to finally bring this whole long distance thing to a close. We’re both getting tired of it and I’d been planning on doing this anyway. I was going to move in with him in his two-bedroom apartment in Oklahoma. It was exciting. Finally, I was going to see the man I love every day instead of a few days at a time with weeks or months in between. It was exciting. It seemed inevitable that we would do this. I’ve been told by acquaintances that we look like a couple who has been together forever and who will be together forever. When we were both living in Oshkosh, if I went somewhere alone, I had a half dozen people ask me where Bill was. It was the kind of relationship I’ve been longing for since I was fifteen – one where you’re inexplicably tethered to the other. My past relationships were nothing really like that. I often felt like an optional accessory, one my boyfriends felt they could wear when they wanted and throw in the back of the closet when they were bored.

Basically, I felt unimportant. And my romantic experience hadn’t afforded me opportunities in which I felt allowed to feel important. That fact is an issue entirely its own. Berate me for low self-confidence and I’ll tell you every girl struggles with that. Berate me for dating assholes and I’ll tell you if a girl hasn’t, she’s at least been tempted. Berate me for realizing the signs, allowing this to happen and I’ll tell you I have no idea what I was thinking. I have no explanation.

But then in walked Bill and all was changed. He constantly made me feel beautiful and important. Other boyfriends told me they valued my intelligence, but Bill was actually interested in what I had to say. Bill challenged me and loved when I could challenge him. It was invigorating. I always felt free to share things with him. Early on, I was able to tell him the things I was most ashamed of. Scary yes, but I was not afraid of him judging me as other boyfriends had. I felt as if I had found a partner and an equal with whom I could spend years with.

Of course everybody feels like that early on in relationships. The beginnings are always blooming with possibilities and anticipation. You’re eager to learn whatever you can about the person. You kiss them so many times you become numb to what a kiss actually is since you never have to worry if another will follow. You take for granted those silly moments – naps on rainy afternoons, white zinfandel-soaked Scrabble games, Arrested Development marathons, and the times you unenthusiastically  watched Star Wars movies with him. Those moments become lost in your mind because every day is full of them.

When things changed and I was 900 miles away from him, those moments took on a fresh sweetness and importance. Each interaction we shared on visits was something to be cherished since they were so few and far between. So the prospect of the distance closing and being able to create new moments and memories was exciting to me. It was that same invigoration I felt at the beginning of our relationship.

Relocating from the home I’ve known for 24 years was an intimidating prospect. But the fact that I had someone there to help me figure things out and to support me when I became overwhelmed, lonely, or scared made it easier. The fact that I was going to be with the man I love made it okay. So I got excited about it all. I decided to take this move as an opportunity to sort of reinvent myself. I began to work out and eat better. I started getting rid of things I hadn’t used in months. I started looking at all the possibilities. Instead of limiting myself to searching for clerical and administrative jobs, I began applying for writing and editorial positions. I began writing more. I read more, studying the way great essayists craft their pieces, seeing how the at first apparently unrelated threads of an essay braid together to create the meaning.

I was excited about the future and I couldn’t wait to do this with Bill at my side again.

But yesterday I woke up to something that put all of this on hold. Without going into detail, I’ll just say that the plan to move to Oklahoma has been put on hold. I’ve been a mess ever since. Having to re-evaluate my plans has caused all sorts of crying spells. I go through moments when I mourn what might be lost, then I think of the newness of my situation and I’m a little hopeful at the prospect of figuring this all out for myself without that tether to Bill. But it inevitably relapses to the mourning bit. It’s been incredible to see the amount of support of family, friends, and acquaintances that has come pouring forth.

I mostly feel like staying in bed in my own filth, crying and drinking obscene amounts of whiskey, but I realized that in order to feel better I needed to ask for help. It’s only been a day, but my friends have been there with open ears, sushi meals, and chocolate vodka to get me through this. My family has been there, not minding when their shoulders get wet. It’s great to know that though this is incredibly difficult for me to do, I don’t have to go through it alone.

I realize that if this relationship is really over, it is not the equivalent of my life being over. But that doesn’t change the fact that it hurts like hell. I feel like I’ve lost a great deal of hope – hope and possibility and all those things we talked about. Losing hope has got to be the hardest thing to lose. Having to rebuild it takes time and determination. I have none of the latter at the moment though I feel compelled to do something. I can’t be sure what that something is, but I’m pretty sure it’s buying a puppy. However, I realize when I’m feeling vulnerable, I have the tendency to make irresponsible and rash decisions, so I’m staying away from animal shelters and instead comforting myself with Taylor Swift songs and Sloane Crosley essays.