I went away this weekend with this guy I've been seeing a few months now. It was absolutely magical. Secretly, of course, part of me had been thinking that I would break it off with him after we went on this trip because I just didn't see it working out.
Instead, he stunned me.
We had this wonderfully romantic weekend away that was filled with laughter, awesome conversation and most of all, the best kind of relaxation possible: the effortless kind. At one point we spent hours watching as a log we maneuvered into the water drifted lazily down the Delaware River. At another point, we daydreamed (and eventually visited a realtor) about houses to buy on the water. During my favorite point, I performed a clumsy sort of water yoga and learned how to better skip stones.
The trip surprised me. Because I loved it, and I was afraid it was going to feel like work. I was afraid the pressure would be on me to entertain us -- or that I would have to pretend that I was actually relaxing and having a grand old time when in fact I'd rather be at home reading a book or watching a movie or writing or anything that allowed me to have the few precious moments of spare time I manage to eke out in a week.
I've always had a very hard time relaxing. It doesn't come easily to me, and it never has. Part of me make-every-moment-of-life brain thinks that even relaxing needs to be bullet-pointed, triaged, prioritized and spun to maximum effect. WTF. I know. It's terrible.
On the up side, I have become so much better at this as I've gotten older. I think the most powerful lesson was living at home with my parents for two months last summer as I happily watched every shred of glamour of my previous life prancing around New York fade into the very quickly dated distance. Now, it was just me, my writing and the bike I bought for $100 off of CraigsList to shuttle around San Diego to go to 12-step meetings as I took real authentic moments of reflection on what I wanted out of life, once and for all.
A few months before this, my friend Taylor Negron told me something incredibly powerful as I was thrashing about some flitting crisis. It was a lesson that bloomed fully during my time in San Diego. What he told me was that I needed to learn how to appreciate a flower. He told me I was a drama addict. He was right.
I only discovered the full truth of this through living this very simple, very beautiful life where the highlights included laughing to the point of tears with my mother on the couch every morning and sleeping every night with my father's guide dog curled up in a dedicated, softly breathing ball beside me. I finally got it. That's the only thing that matters: these true moments of love. That's it.
So when I returned to Manhattan a year ago this month to begin my job at xoJane, it was a fun experiment to see how New Mandy would experience Old New York. The beginning was rough. Housing mishaps led me to move around. I got hung up on a cad who blew me off on my birthday (to say nothing of the fact that I would even let myself get wrapped up with someone who would do that in the first place). But right around when the hurricane hit, things started to look up. I wrote a piece about sleeping in the cold and the dark and never feeling happier, and I meant it. I think sometimes you have to be hit upside the head to remember what matters most in life. I got my little dream studio apartment in Chelsea, and then I got the current love of my life, my dog Sam.
I was starting to exhale. I was starting to feel less volatile. And then one day I remembered that it was important that I start dating again.
I really missed that, and I wanted to feel the tug of desire that comes when you are out there in the dating world, experiencing the thrill of wanting to be with someone, when they are wanting to be with you.
It happened accidentally that I started dating someone who I then kept on dating. Not my boyfriend, but a man I was starting to enjoy hesitantly, and now, after a few months, starting to feel trust toward.
But tonight when I decided to finally respond to his several sweet texts after a weekend we spent together in Frenchtown, N.J., I decided not to blow him off with the usual response of work and busy-ness, and I told him how I told my mom about him tonight and that I looked at videos of his kids on his Facebook and would love to meet them someday. He wrote back that they were great kids. I called him after I got the text. I knew what it meant. The non-answer that is in of itself a very strong answer.
Of course, I absolutely know that when you are a single divorced dad you have to be extremely careful about who meets your children. I respect that. But what he said on the phone was that he didn't know yet if he was falling in love with me (the requirement for meeting his kids), and he believed in being straight with me about that. He said how much he liked spending time with me and how good I was for him and how he thought of the world of me. Several other wildly nice things. This made me happy. That's a happy sentiment. I like sweet kind things.
But I didn't feel happy or sweet or kind. I didn't feel anything except hollow and tinny. I felt that I had finally for the first time let myself like him and his response was to say that he didn't know if he was falling in love with me. Which I hadn't asked. But he said. And I heard. He said he wanted to keep spending time. Yes, yes, I mumbled and hemmed and hawed and then the television small talk, yes, yes, "House of Cards" is a great show, indeed.
Then I got off the phone, and I logged onto OKCupid. I chatted with someone who has been trying to get my attention for a bit. He asked how I was doing. He called me "adorable girl." I felt cold. I thanked him for the chat, and I said I hoped he had a good night, and then I logged off.
I honestly don't know if I will ever meet a person who will be a partner in life for me. I don't know how many more times I will hang out with this man who I had the wonderful weekend with and who I bestowed upon the cute name of The Rugby Player. But I know that being single can sometimes sting.
Yes, I'm particular. Yes, I'm bitchy. Yes, I'm a workaholic. So it is on me. It is always on the person who makes the choices that they make that lead them from Point A to Point B.
Point A included a failed marriage which made me the (fairly) strong person that I am today. Point B I'm still discovering. It might be me and my dog and my work and my friends and my family and all the things I love in life and the truly glorious adventures along the way -- but with nothing permanent sticking romantically. I'm OK with that.
Because I think it's crazy to approach relationships any other way. In my experience, it's never been hard for me to be in a relationship or to have a partner. The hard part is for me to be in relationship or to have a partner -- where I would actually rather be in that relationship or have that partner than be alone. It has to be something very special to command the most precious resource I have of all right now in my life: my time.
Which leaves me -- nowhere near to reaching Point B. Wherever that is.
Instead, I suppose for now, as I feel whatever it is that I am feeling, I'm harkening back to something a good friend of mine once told me.
"There is beauty in joy, and there is beauty in pain, Mandy," she said. "Resist judging the difference and resist judging the journey if you can. Instead, just concentrate on the beauty."
I'm trying. I really am.
I'm aiming -- just to be. It is a point I feel comfortable in reaching.
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.