We’re all the lucky ones

Because it was on a weekend this year, Valentine’s Day might have passed without me noticing if it weren’t for a few Facebook friends sharing photos of bouquets and festive table settings. Unlike some previous years, I wasn’t bitter or envious of those in a pair. Sure, it would have been nice to have someone be like, “SURPRISE! Here’s a first edition Lolita with a butterfly doodle on the title page. Now let me buy you a steak!” but I wasn’t aimlessly hurling frustration just because I don’t have a guy to buy me flowers and a card.

When I think of Valentine’s, I recall an album I heard a few years ago: Daughter’s “If You Leave.” It was a dark winter morning & I was getting ready for work and I decided to buy the album on Amazon on a whim. I was groggy, craving soft sheets, snuggles, and the adoration of someone else and the lyrics hit me in the gut.

And if you’re in love, then you are the lucky one,
‘Cause most of us are bitter over someone.
Setting fire to our insides for fun,
To distract our hearts from ever missing them.
But I’m forever missing him.

It was a melancholic day in my cubicle. I spent most of the day thinking of loves lost, envious of those lucky ones who took their companionship for granted. I missed the days of democratic valentines when I didn’t understand the holiday, I just knew I was going to get 28 poorly torn and folded cards from my classmates. In middle school when I actually did get the holiday, the first three weeks of February were a slow roasting hell, seeing the halls covered in advertisements for the carnation sale. I think I received two $1 carnations – both were from female friends whose generosity felt cruel because they weren’t boys. High school was where I started seeing that it wasn’t so much about love and affection as it was about the things guys bought girls. Since boys weren’t buying me anything, it was fortunate that it was cool to hate Valentine’s Day.

I had several vaguely memorable gifts Valentine’s Days that I can fondly recall; The lunch, latte, and bouquet from the produce boy. The blood red roses from Jon. My first Kindle & pearl studs from Bill. The Second City tickets from the professor. Last year’s dozen roses delivered at work after a first date.

What I hate most about Valentine’s Day is how reductive it is. That list isn’t representative of those relationships. They ranged from simple blushing and hormone-heavy infatuation to complex and sustained commitments. But somehow, whenever Valentine’s Day rolls around, the first thing that comes to my mind is all the previous February 14ths – not the relationships I was in at the time. It takes a while to recall how the produce boy made me blush every time he delivered a white chocolate raspberry latte from my favorite coffee shop – longer still to remember how badly I craved any sign of love from Jon and how deeply I celebrated any instance of affection. It’s somewhat easier to recall the easy tenderness Bill and I shared, and the thrill of the professor’s support of my hobbies.

I listened to “Youth” again the other day, and it didn’t hold the same sadness it once did. Instead of focusing on the lingering bitterness over someone, I consider myself lucky to have experienced such a range of love and despair. It means I’ve been able share myself with a person and he’s trusted me enough to share himself with me. A successful relationship isn’t necessarily one that ends in marriage and eternal commitment. A successful relationship can also be one of mutual discovery and growth. Even the relationships that ended badly were ones that lead to further self-awareness. It’s cliche, but it really is better to have love and lost than to have never loved at all.

While the ego bruise from Valentine’s Day might still be fresh for some readers, I still want to tell people to treasure wherever they’re at. Whether you’re in a relationship or not, don’t place any importance on this arbitrary day. Just treasure your moments and savor whatever you’re doing.

Vonnegut sums it up better than I can tonight: “We are here on earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.”

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Throwback Thursday: It Gets Better (Seriously.)

Every Thursday, I dig out an old diary and share an entry sans editing (in hopes we’ll all see my grammar and apostrophe use improve) with a short commentary. If you like laughing with/at Young Ashley, feel free to use the handy search bar to the left and simply type “Throwback Thursday” and you’ll find the whole archive. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday August 8, 2001

“The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” Romans 6:10

How do you feel when you know you’re loved? 

           Really giggly

I so don’t know what to do. Ok, I was checking my e-mail when I came across one from Nikki. She replied to a bunch of questions I asked her, then she was like, “Well in case you haven’t guessed, Cory’s been calling like 10000x for me to ask u. So just give me an answer so I won’t be bugged anymore.”

I wrote back, saying I didn’t get what she meant, to buy myself more time. He wants to go out with me. What do I do? Should I say yes and see what happens? Or say no and not take the chance? I’m afraid I’m going to get freaked out like what I did with Tony and dump him a week later. I’m also afraid he’ll try to pull something on me. But I seriously don’t know what to do. But then there’s another thing: I barely know him! I’ve talked to him maybe a total of 5 times. I didn’t even know who he was till Nikki’s B-day Bash in February!

Oh Jesus. 

Luv ya, Ash

I need time to think. 

Good lord, I’d like to smack this girl. You know what you do in this situation? You say no and tell Nikki to give Cory your phone number and tell her that if he decides to grow a pair, he can ask you himself. Then you move on with your life, like a self-respecting young woman.

It’s not so hard.

For the record, I’d like to say that I’ve matured quite a bit since 2001. I don’t accept second-party boyfriends. I don’t keep boyfriends around unless I am absolutely crazy about them. I do this because wasting time in this fashion is frustrating and painful for both parties.

The handful of “boyfriends” I had in middle school came to me by way of Nikki. She was the pretty popular one, but in a pinch I would do. One of them was a boy named Tony, whom I remember only for looking like a pumpkin. Eventually Cory got my number and we would awkwardly stand next to each other at lunch and while waiting for the buses after school, so yeah. It was pretty serious.

I got the feeling that they felt they were settling for me, but I was just happy to have the attention of someone for a while. Being able to say that I had a BF was prize enough – I didn’t really care who it was. This is probably why I spent the first part of my dating life believing any guy’s interest was genuine. I figured they were just bidding time till a prettier girl came along. It didn’t matter if we were just hanging out in his dorm room while he organized his Radiohead discography or if he had planned an afternoon of hiking (complete with disposable cameras, granola bars, and a thermos of cocoa) with homemade chili in the slowcooker at home – I just refused to invest myself. I’d like to maintain it was because I wasn’t sure I felt a connection with him, but you could just as easily attribute my commitment reluctance to self-preservation. Eventually I met men who intrigued me for years at a time, but that’s for a different post. But if there was a message I could relay to Young Ashley, it would be this:

You feel really giggly when you’re loved? That’s the best you could do? I don’t think that’s the kind of love your bible’s devotion was asking you about. Even though you lack critical thinking skills, have some faith in yourself. If these turds don’t see how great you are, don’t waste your time, energy, or emotions on them. You’re meant for greater things than to be the second-choice girlfriend of a pumpkin.

Heart shaped glasses

If I had kept these glasses, I never would have had an issue getting a boyfriend.

This is a post about Valentine’s Day.

I know, I know. This is supposed to be Throwback Thursday. Due to excuses I’m fabricating in my head, it’s not happening this week. I’m just not in the mood to look through my sixth grade journal and reminisce.

It’s been a while since I’ve gotten serious here, and I’m not really sure why. My head hasn’t been here for a while, I suppose. Work has been busy. I’ve had an actual social life for the last few weeks (don’t worry, couch: I’m about due for a week-long introverted self-huddle). I’ve been reading great books on my new Kindle (The Best American Non-Required Reading, Margaret Atwood’s Positron, and e.e. cumming’s six nonlectures). I’ve been working out (my 5k on Monday night was almost four minutes shorter than last week’s). I’ve been baking. I’ve been cleaning. I’ve been playing my violin (I sort of want to apologize to all of my neighbors because my Bach sounds terrible). I haven’t been getting enough sleep. I’ve gotten into a weird pattern of waking very deliberately each morning around 1 or 2am, walking to my kitchen, pouring a mug of milk, and eating two cookies. I only have two left, so I guess tonight is my last night, so I wonder if it will stop on Friday. I do this in an attempt to get myself back to sleep, but really it’s just an excuse to eat an extra 400 calories. In the morning, I just pretend not to know why there are crumbs in my sheets or why my milk is gone.

Anyway, Valentine’s Day. Before you all freak out, I’ll let you know that I don’t have plans. I mean, I do. Thursday is cross-training, so I’ll be doing 45 minutes of rowing and weights. But romantically-speaking, there are no plans. This is by choice more than circumstance. I was seeing someone for the last few weeks who said he had made plans for us, but it didn’t feel right committing to them. He’s a nice guy, but spending Valentine’s Day together makes things serious, doesn’t it? If a relationship goes from casual to committed, it should happen naturally, not because the calendar dictates.

I had intended to write some meaningful diatribe about Valentine’s Day and how it’s not as big of a deal and people make it out to be, but by even mentioning it I’m participating it the same hoopla I’d be attempting to condemn. When it comes down to it, the pre-packaged and pleasantly arranged tokens of love we’re presented with from December 26 – February 14 make us fall into one of the following categories:

True Love

ee cummings

Neither is superior. At some point, each of us will experience love. At another, we’ll feel bitter and jaded. The beauty lies in the fact that we’re capable of experiencing both of these states. With the right attitude, bitterness can  be turned around to be the promise of something better. What that “something” is is for you to decide: a more honest relationship, a more contented sense of self, or a stronger connection to your reality. And love? Whether you’ve been in love or you have yet to experience it, you know that e.e. cummings perfectly captures that sense of blissful isolation that only love produces.

So instead of being focused on whether you’re in love, out of love, done with love, or having fun with love, why not just be content that you’re capable of it?

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.

I know I’m confusing, I’m a woman.

While lying in my bed earlier this evening, I saw a tweet that I nearly retweeted until I saw it had already been retweeted over 400 times. Just to spite it (the tweet, like it has feelings or something), I didn’t partake. Also, because I’d rather help out the little people rather than some woman who gets 400 retweets for a mildly clever and poorly punctuated tweet. Bitch.

I can’t remember the exact phrase of it, and it’s too far back in the day’s tweeting history to check, but it said something like, “I’m a woman. I don’t know what I want, but I can be mad anyway.” And while that probably sounds psychotic to most men, I’m sure it makes a lot of sense to women. It’s a good thing that I don’t write a political or advice blog, because I’m sure feminists would be all over me for going on about this, but whatever. With all of the other personal details I’ve shared on this, I shouldn’t have any problem admitting that I spend a great deal of time not knowing what I want.

This point is moot though, because for right now at least, I think I do know what I want: I want to know that I don’t have to depend on someone else. I started seeing someone a few weeks ago, and I’ve decided to try this new thing where the guy in my life isn’t the single most important thing in my life. Fascinating concept, right? I’m excited to try this new thing out. I’ve spent a decent amount of time on my own. I’ve finally discovered the peace that comes in the absence of other people. The sort of peace that comes when drunk cleaning your apartment and dressing up your piggy bank like Walter White, writing snippets to your 21-year old self, decoupaging Vonnegut quotes, and experiencing the unique horror that arises from OkCupid messages and consequent awkward dates.

I’m not going to claim that I enjoyed every moment of this solitary period, but I know that it made me a stronger person. It forced me to examine myself, reevaluate my priorities, solidify my goals, establish a career, and see myself as an individual.

But this new-found independence comes with its own setbacks. For instance, now that I’m sort of seeing someone, I don’t particularly know how to handle the fact that he’s willing to bring me whatever I need when I’m sick. So instead of telling him I could go for some homestyle chicken dumpling soup, cuddles, and rewatching four episodes of Breaking Bad, I heat up a can of soup, turn on a heating pad, and watch Netflix on my own. Of course, an episode in, I discovered that I did sort of want him there, but it was past the point of a reasonable request, so I didn’t tell him.

How bizarre is that? I’ve spent the better part of six months aching for someone to be there for me, and now that I have someone willing to do that, I’m like, “Nah, I got this.” I’ve gotten used to taking care of myself and I’m not quite ready to give that up. Call it pride or self-preservation, it amounts to the same thing: me, fairly content on my own. I think it’s just me not wanting him to see me vulnerable like this. By vulnerable, I mean sick and terribly whiny. So far, I’ve been able to present myself with semi-styled hair and matching outfits. I don’t want to destroy the illusion that I’m consistently lovely by him seeing me in pajama pants and a ratty college sweatshirt. Since he reads this, I’ll just let him imagine it. With any luck, the image is better than reality.

What I’m trying to get at is that I think I’ve always struggled maintaining my sense of self while dating. Instead of seeing myself as just Ashley, I tend to see myself as Ashley in relation to X. By acknowledging that it’s unreasonable for him to drive a half hour to bring me soup when I could spend 90 seconds heating up a can of Healthy Choice, I’m asserting that I’m not the kind of girl who needs to be taken care of constantly.

I think that’s what Destiny’s Child was talking about in that Independent Women song, right? The shoes on my feet –  I bought them, the soup that I eat – I heat it.

It’s all the same.

I used to be a nostalgic person.

Good god. I love that sentence. For more reasons than one.

It just a few years ago when I furiously scribbled in a notebook about how special I felt the night I wore a swirly boatneck tank and Eric told me, breathless, “You look amazing.” For years, I hung onto a piece of torn neon green paper to remember when Jon taught me to play cribbage while we drank mint juleps at the rented cottage. My heart gets a little sore whenever I listen to disco, because I remember the nights I spent dancing and kissing Bill between sets.

I feel like I’m not investing as deeply into my life right now. Maybe it’s because I’m not forging memories with somebody right now. Maybe it’s because for the first time in my adult life, I’m doing this all on my own. At the moment, I have no perspective on my immediate life, not that it’s possible anyway. But even back when Eric and I lied on our stomachs, watching the rain in the streetlights, I knew I was experiencing a moment I would remember forever. I don’t ache to solidify moments anymore.

My moments are an endless series of facades – like I’m just passing by it all. Life has turned into a collection of muted repeats – the same drive to work, the same cubicle, the same empty bed at night. Weekends offer a bit of variation, giving me glimpses of striking honesty and glee with my friends. Where are the moments that I’ll be able to look back five years from now and tell what temperature it was, what song was playing, how my mouth tasted, or what sounds were echoing off the streets?

I think this is part of growing up. Though the moments I described above happened in the same order, the vividness of the memories is reversed. It was late evening and Eric’s bedroom was filled with this cool amber light. He rarely turned a fan on because he said it made it warmer, so my face was damp with perspiration. The neighbors across the street were talking loudly, but it all seemed to fade out when he looked at me that way. Later that night, Eric would give me a copy of Wuthering Heights and we’d spend twenty minutes saying goodbye, stopping to kiss on the stairs, in the dining room, in the living room, and on the porch.

I know that Jon crushed the mint leaves and the whiskey made me shudder. The windows were open and the air was steady with the hum of boat motors. His breath smelt lightly of cigarette smoke as he jotted notes on the piece of paper he had found in a drawer. We went to bed early, he played sudoku while I read a book – Anna Karenina, I think. The next morning, he brought me coffee and we ate powdered donuts and did a few games of sudoku in bed before we went on a hike.

Bill is different. He played so many gigs that most of them blend into one. I would either go to the bar with him to set up, or I’d go later on, joining a friend on the dance floor. I liked to watch him play – he always seemed so focused on the music that I was surprised when he would catch my eye and grin. At the end of the set, he would walk over to wherever I was sitting and give me a hug that stunk lightly of sweat, polyester, and the Dolce & Gabanna cologne we picked out together. I remember feeling this strange sensation – a mix of excitement, affection, and pride – when he came over. I felt most at home when his arm was around me, but my favorite part of the night was after we had loaded his drums into my car, when we finally slipped into my twin-sized bed, our bodies laced together, and slept until 11 the next morning.

The memories are all still there and to illustrate them, I obviously have to fabricate some details, but it’s easiest with Eric and hardest with Bill. Maybe it was the length of the relationships – it’s harder to process two years than three months. Maybe my my brain chemistry was different at 18 than at 23. Maybe it’s self-preservation; I’ve become hardened and have subconsciously decided that shallow memories will hurt less than visceral ones.

I think romance just lends itself to nostalgia. While I’m actually very happy to be writing two nights in a row, it doesn’t make for a very memorable night. Maybe someday I’ll hear an Alison Krauss song and remember when I lit candles and popped off the cap of a hard cider before opening my laptop. And maybe I’ll be filled with a warm contentedness when I remember my apartment smelling like a late autumn rain and a peppermint candle.

For now though, this dreary weather and melancholy music just makes me think of times before. Not in a way that makes me depressed, mind you. I’m appreciative. I’m glad to have such charming moments to recall.

Five Ways to Win My Heart

I stumbled across a 30-day challenge on a blog (here). Day one was yesterday. I’m not sure if you realize it, but I didn’t post yesterday. So I guess I’ve already failed the challenge. But whatever. I’m doing it today. I probably won’t do all of the topics because a lot of them remind me of my days on Xanga (oof) when I was a melancholy fool who was certain her views on boys and emo bands were vital to everyone on the internet. I’ve matured since then – I’m certain my views on men and books are vital to everyone on the internet. Priorities, people. I’ve got them.

Anyway, I’ll start out with a strong and mature topic: FIVE WAYS TO WIN MY HEART.

Are you reading, men? Because you should be.

  1. Don’t suck at basic grammar and punctuation. SERIOUSLY. This is a deal breaker for me. If you don’t have a firm grasp on your/you’re, there/they’re/their, and its/it’s, don’t even bother approaching me. If you don’t understand how and when to use an apostrophe, don’t try to date me (or make produce signs – I don’t want to buy your “apple’s” or “onion’s”). I’d like to see proof that you understand these rules, preferably in a handwritten letter, but a well-organized Facebook message will do in a pinch/the current decade.
  2. Dedicate a song to me. Something really sort of cheesy and romantic, but not in a top 40 way. This means no Jason Mraz, no J Biebs, or even Gotye. I’m talking something good and sexy. Like “No Sunshine” (I love me Bill Withers) or “Inside and Out” (either Bee Gees or Feist’s version will be fine – with the latter, don’t worry, I’m smart, I can change pronouns). Also, since it just came up on my itunes shuffle – do not play Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me”. We’re not living in a Dawson’s Creek episode.
  3. Buy me a book. Not just any book, but a book that shows you get me. If we’re at the point where you’re buying me a book, you know that my two favorite writers are David Sedaris and Vladimir Nabokov…and Kurt Vonnegut and Anton Chekhov if you catch me on a cloudy day. You also know that I don’t own all of these writer’s books.This does not mean that I want to read Gonzo – Hunter S. Thompson’s biography. I’m sure he’s written some great things, but Fear and Loathing freaked me out so much that I have no interest in reading a word of his. By the way, an ex (Scott? Scott.) bought me that book for Christmas. I threw it away a few months later. OH! Bonus points if you buy me the newest Kindle. I love my 3g keyboard Kindle, but I wouldn’t object to a higher contrast and pixel count.
  4. Be a musician, apparently. I have a history of dating musicians.  I’ve dated two drummers, a singer/cellist/drummer (?), more than one guitarist, a bass player (short lived, but it was very romantic in a freshman year, let’s-kiss-in-the-practice-rooms sort of way). When I say musician, I don’t mean that you have a band that plays in your garage and records their ep using GarageBand. I mean that you have serious talent and dedication to your craft. I prefer classically trained, but I’ll settle for self-taught prodigy. Of course, none of these relationships were very successful, so maybe I should rethink this whole musician thing. I thought about dating writers, but I’m afraid I’d either be super competitive or intimidated by the guy, depending on his talent. But let’s face it, if he’s a crappy writer, I’m probably not interested in him.
  5. Never underestimate the importance of an Arrested Development reference. I’ve devised a pretty simple elimination test for potential boyfriends. I ask if they’ve seen Arrested Development. If the answer is yes, then I proceed to ask which of the ridiculous cast is their favorite. Most guys say Gob, which I say is the wrong answer, but it’s really an acceptable answer because Gob. I say the correct answer is either Buster or Lucille Bluthe. (Buster is adorable and amazing, Lucille is underrated.) If he haven’t seen the show, I subtract 200pts from his initial score of zero, then invite him over to watch an episode or two. If the guy doesn’t laugh at least eight times in the first episode, I’m pretty sure we won’t be seeing each other for much longer. Anyway, a simple “I’m afraid I just blue myself” or “I’ve made a huge mistake” will make me laugh and probably put my hand on your arm.

I think I’m making myself sound really easy. I’m not. I’m very particular about the men I date. My main criteria are the following: Be intelligent, don’t be a douchebag, have goals, be passionate, be empathetic, and be okay with the fact that I’ll blog about you. As far as I’ve seen, the above mentioned points eliminate about 97% of the men I encounter.

Oh, you also have to be approved by my dog. If he doesn’t like you, shit isn’t going to fly. Also, if you hurt me, he’ll tear your balls off.