Them!

Them!

“As you know, Mr. Goodwin is not indifferent to those attributes of young women which constitute our chief reliance or our race in our gallant struggle against the menace of the insects. He is especially vulnerable to young women who have a knack for stimulating his love of chivalry and adventure.” -Rex Stout Prisoner’s Base

Believe me when I say you haven’t lived until someone says to you, you know? you’re a very attractive woman but there is nothing sexy about you. For a moment, I felt vindicated. Yes, I thought, I knew it! I was right all along! It really is me! I think I even raised a defiant fist in the air. Were the world populated by women like me, the human race would have lost to the menace of the insects millennia ago and I wouldn’t be sitting here writing and listening the The Heartbreakers I Wanna Be Loved. The more I thought about it, the sadder I felt. Being told there’s nothing sexy about you is like being told there’s nothing human about you, nothing relatable anyway. I realised that everything I’ve ever thought about myself and how men see me was true. At best, I’m one of the guys. At worst, I’m invisible. There is no word to rally around or reclaim. In the thesaurus, the antonyms to sexy are distasteful, disgusting, unattractive, and unsexy. Not exactly terms to build a movement around and rally behind. My friend out in Seattle told me to relish this and take the opportunity to “get my sexy back”. What does that mean, I asked?

Since this episode, I’ve asked countless friends what is sexy? The men in my life told me all of the things I’d heard before: kindness, generosity, intelligence, a sense of humour, confidence, no drama. (The one who said no drama got an earful.) Not one of them told me the obvious things like long hair, great breasts, long legs; because it wasn’t necessary. As one of the guys, I’d heard it all before. What does sexy mean? As for my female friends, one told me sexy is a feeling. Another told me that one morning while in high school she woke up and realised she was “hot”. What’s that like, I asked her? Another told me it was being comfortable in your own skin. I’ve been given all kinds of advice: wear sexy lingerie, wear red, wear clothes that fit, be yourself (because that’s worked so well so far?), make eye contact, wear heels. Once upon a time I was a secure, self-assured woman who didn’t care if men got her or not. The right ones would, I thought. If hope is the triumph of optimism over experience, I have some hope left-some.

When my brother died, my father gravitated to me and my mother gravitated to my sister. I learned how to change a tire, replace a washer in a faucet (when faucets required washers), thread a fishing line through a bobber, put a worm on a hook and take the fish off. He taught me to pitch sidearm and to walk off pain when I was injured in the myriad sports I played. He took me fishing and we went to baseball games. I helped him strip wallpaper and paint the dining room. Measure twice, in more than two places, then cut once. He taught me the metric system. I became, for those years between six and ten, my father’s surrogate son. Then puberty came. My sister told me she envied the attention I got from our father. It’s very easy to romanticise this chapter in my life. I was, for the most part, free of the gender-based restrictions placed on most girls my age. But it wasn’t me he saw, it was his late son. His attention was conditional, based on my ability/willingness to go along with his wishes.

When puberty hit I was handed off to my mother. It was a little like the urchin arriving at the door. My father withdrew almost completely. My life now had rules and boundaries I hadn’t had before. When my mother took me out to by my first bra she told me under no circumstances was my father to see me without a bra. That he could not see me in just my pyjamas, I needed a robe as well. She told me I could not longer sit cross-legged on the couch, particularly around my father. I now had to sit with my legs or ankles crossed. She had me walk up and down the living room with a book on my head. One day when I took the stairs two at a time (something I still do) she had me walk up and down the stairs, one at a time, twenty times. She told me boys, later men, were only after one thing, and it was up to me to be strong and resilient. I needed to be modest and covered. A girl who slept around was damaged goods and was going to end up crazy “like your aunt”. Yet, as I got older the pressure she put on me to be in a relationship was relentless. One day when I was home on break from college, I went to her for a hug and she said I was too old to get love from my mother. I needed a boyfriend. I went in to my father and said, dad mom said I need a boyfriend. He flipped down his newspaper and said, I got along perfectly well without one, flipped up his newspaper and kept reading. Mixed messages. Diametric opposites.

Being dragged into my mother’s feminine world where I wasn’t pretty enough or deferential enough and too independent killed what little self-esteem I had. She gave me a book that may have been called, I Care About Me. On the cover were two very Mormon, blonde, smiling teens. The book talked about nutrition and hygiene and proper conduct and all those things young people are supposed to care about. It didn’t talk about how you are supposed to feel when your parents are trying to force you into diametrically opposing molds. It was at this point that I found two things that probably saved my life: feminism and punk. Feminism and the punk scene allowed me to start getting more comfortable in my own skin. The punk scene was full of misfit toys. And I came of age when Bikini Kill made it OK for me to get up and say I was sexually assaulted AND emotionally abused AND my experience as a young woman was valid. These were the things that gave me the courage to start speaking up and walking away.

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Your Assignment for Today

Your Assignment for Today

I was given an assignment. List 25 shitty things your ex did. Is it keeping score if I’m at 41?

  1. When we were in the car he’d start conversations with, You know what your problem is? Finally, I got so fed up I replied, I’m sure I’m going to find out.
  2. When we first signed on with our chosen fertility clinic, I was reading the contract. As I did so he said if I didn’t sign we would have to reevaluate our relationship because we clearly didn’t share the same values.
  3. He flipped me off-to my face. Now I know many people flip their spouses off behind their backs, but in what regard do you hold your spouse when you flip her off to her face. I’ll tell you. None.
  4. He told me that if we had a child that he fully expected to leave me and raise him or her alone.
  5. He always took the last of something-milk, bread, cereal, toilet paper-and left replacing it to me.
  6. If something he said hurt me it wasn’t what he said, it was how I took it.
  7. My feelings were wrong.
  8. He made a point of telling me we were sexually incompatible.
  9. His temper got so bad I had to physically remove him from two social events that I can recall.
  10. His job required frequent trips out of town. I would pick him up if his flight didn’t get in too late, but if he had a late flight he took a cab home. The particular instance, his flight was getting in around 10 and he was flying into snow. Snow is a big deal here because they don’t have the means to clean the streets adequately. We made an agreement I would pick him up unless I was too tired, in which case he would take a cab. Sure enough, I fell asleep and woke with a start about 10 minutes before I was supposed to leave. I left a voice mail message for him telling him I was really tired and to take a cab home. I also told him that if there weren’t any cabs to give me a call and we would figure something out.He phoned shortly after he landed and said, what the hell kind of message is that. I said it was what we agreed to; I was tired and asked him to get a cab home. If there weren’t any cabs to let me know. He demanded to know how I knew there weren’t going to be any cabs. Huh? I thought. I told him I didn’t but these things do happen. In the end we agreed that I would pick him up at the train station. The car is not great on snow and by the time I got in the car the snow was still falling at a decent clip, there was about 3 inches on the ground and none of the streets had been cleared or sanded.When I arrived, he was waiting; he didn’t tell me for how long. He insisted on driving home. For the next hour he berated me on the following (in no particular order):
    * Knowing there wouldn’t be cabs at the airport.
    * The tone and content of my voicemail message.
    * Driving in inclement weather with my bad night vision in a car that is not good on snow.
    * Not letting him get a hotel room.
    * Having become totally unreliable. I was now someone who could not be trusted with routine tasks.The following morning the scolding continued followed by the silent treatment. I was in trouble for picking him up just as I would have been in trouble for not picking him up. I found myself in this double-bind many times over the course of our marriage.
  11. When my insomnia began affecting his quality of life he suggested that I sleep upstairs in the guest bedroom, so I did. No small part of my insomnia was sleeping with a man who snored. We argued about it several months later when he told me he made the suggestion so that I would “fight for our marriage”. Fight for our marriage? You kicked me out of our bed. His response was, Yeah. Guess I misplayed that one.
  12. He stopped holding my hand.
  13. I can count the number of time he apologized, over 14 years, on one hand.
  14. After we separated I was still living in the house. It was still my house, after all, he had yet to buy it off me. One day, I was in the kitchen he pinched my nipples. I slapped his hands away and told him he had no right to do that. I was no longer his wife and not his girlfriend and he was to never do that again.
  15. At a party at a friend’s house I was dishing lamb into a serving dish when he walked by and swatted me on the ass. As I had meat in one hand and a stoneware serving dish in the other, I couldn’t slap him or knee him in the balls. I yelled at him. Asked him if he’d lost his mind. Told him he had no right. Admonished him that this was the second time.
  16. One evening we were having dinner with a friend when the novel Death in Venice came up. My ex had not read Death in Venice, but our friend had. Specifically, the idea that someone can be so beautiful and yet you can desire him or her in a nonsexual way. In the book that desire to posses beauty ultimately leads to the protagonist’s undoing. Our friend asked my ex if he had ever looked at a beautiful woman and not wanted to fuck her? My ex said no. Our friend’s response was, the you’re a pig.
  17. He’d leave porn open on his laptop. His laptop was also open.
  18. If we went out he would drink and I would invariably drive home. Most of the drive home he would question my ability to see and criticise my driving. Finally I said to him, if I get pulled over I get a warning. If you get pulled over you go to jail for DWI/DUI/DWAI. Take your pick.
  19. One evening I came home from work and he was in a particularly bad mood. I asked him what was wrong and he said he was hungry. I asked him why he didn’t get have dinner? He said he wanted to have dinner with me, which I thought was very nice. I suggested he have a snack then we can have dinner together when I get home. He responded with we need to talk and then proceeded to tell me how my job was affecting our marriage. I told him that my job allowed us to live in this apartment, allowed him to see his specialists in New York, and allowed us to take a vacation. I was not quitting my job. He got up and left.
  20. He pitted me against my family.
  21. He called my memory into question constantly.
  22. We used to split holiday time between our families. As time went on we spent more holidays with his family and fewer with mine.
  23. He treated me like an invalid whose judgment could not be trusted.
  24. When I went to his house to get the last of my stuff, I found a used pregnancy test in the garbage.
  25. He left ahead of me to spend Thanksgiving with his parents, forgetting by birthday. Now forgetting once I can understand, but he did this three years in a row.

Writing this list I saw patterns emerge. He tried to separate me from my family. My relationship with my family is complicated. My mother is mentally ill and my father has his own unique set of issues. But his family is little better. His father is a verbally abusive tyrant and his mother is an enabler. Then there was the relentless negativity. He would point out a problem, I offer solution(s)/suggestion(s), he dismisses suggestion(s) out of hand. This happened countless times. It happened when I wasn’t home in time to make dinner. It happened with every job he had. It happened with the housework and the unequal distribution of labour. Nothing I did was right. His happiness was a moving target. Not that it was my job to make him happy. He even said that I shouldn’t let his moods effect me but when you love someone you want them to be happy. It makes that other person easier to live with. He stopped being happy with me around year two-the dinner incident mentioned above. I stopped being happy when we moved for his first post doc. By year three we were two unhappy people slogging it out together in a place we hated working and waiting for his big break. That break didn’t come while we were married. He thinks he’s closer now, but his job is still grant funded and his current girlfriend is not divorced.

I read this list and I have to resist the temptation to ask myself when did I turn into such a doormat? Each incident I have in my notebook, keep in mind there are 16 things not on this list, was like a slap in the face. I never knew when the next slap was coming nor the impetus. When it comes it’s still a shock and it stings and you just want it to stop. I found myself doing just about anything to make it stop. Mostly, I retreated into what I know-silence.

Splendid Isolation

Splendid Isolation

Tell me more and then some.
The way that you feel and then
When you told me that old sweet story
And you’re through, start right in again
I’ve made that old mistake
Know the awful ache
Of a heart that’s been double-crossed
The waiting’s been so long
Hard to believe in
If I’ve missed by guess, happiness is lost.
Billie Holiday

When I tell people I am planning for an extended period of involuntary celibacy, they laugh. They think I’m kidding. It sounds like I’m planning an extended holiday from sex. In today’s sexually saturated world surely there isn’t a person alive, much less a woman, who couldn’t get some anytime she wanted if she tried. Anyone, that is, except me. Now this is nothing new to most men, apparently. Over the years, I have had more male friends regale with tales of striking out. Philip Roth has made a career chronicling the sexual exploits and frustrations of men. The same can be said of Miller, Mailer, Updike, Allen, Cheever, Bukowski, and countless others. Recently, The New Yorker reviewed a Web series called Lonely and Horny. The premise is as follows, “each episodes runs between eight and ten minutes, and, within that span, tells the small story about Ruby’s increasingly desperate, and aggressively pathetic attempts to score with women. Ruby is enrolled in a ‘The Game’ style pickup-artist course taught by Josh… who appears to find his own class despicable.” Wow. Sign me up.

Where the Lonely and Horny for women? Trust me, we get lonely and we certainly get horny. Where’s the story of the young woman who’s invited along on dates where the couple insists she’s not a third wheel? Or the one where the older, prettier sister sets a young woman up on blind dates with men who agree solely so they can get closer to her older, prettier sister? Tell me the story of the young woman who set up a profile on Match.com only to get three responses and one date in two years. I got it, how about the one where the guy tells her she’d better change her mind about children, and fast, or “you’re gonna be alone for the rest of your life”. Then  there’s the you should grow out your hair, unless “you want to be alone for the rest of your life.” Or I may have to fuck you from behind because you look like a guy. Then there’s maybe you shouldn’t be such a  bitch or “do you want to be alone for the rest of you life?” Where’s the show where the heroine gets a phone call at 2AM from her codependent friend whose date has just literally run away from her, abandoning her somewhere in Brooklyn. Where’s the one about young woman sitting in the bar watching the men flirt with her friends as they ignore her completely. How about the one where the middle-aged divorcee watches middle-aged men flirt with young women and ignore her completely. That one where guys tell her she’s too good for them, where’s that show? Where the show where the guys tell her she’s the Yankees and guys are bush league?

Our modern, echo-chamber media is full of brash, ballsy women who do what they want, who they want, when they want. Single life is complex and complicated and personally and sexually rich, and sometimes it’s lonely. To that I say, huzzah! It’s about time! Women I know being represented fairly and without judgment on screen in shows like Inside Amy Schumer, Girls, Broad City, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Mindy Project, and others. In these women I see my brilliant feminist friends making our way in the world. But I don’t see feminist me. I couldn’t get laid if I tried. Perhaps now, so soon after the divorce, is not the time to plunge headlong into sex. It’s only been six months, after all, and he still takes up a great deal of space in my brain. But that doesn’t keep me from wanting what I want when I want it. He treated me like shit for nearly a decade and yet he finds someone. She’s nice. He seems happy. He gets what he wants. What goes around does not come around for him.

People tell me it’s too soon. I need time to heal. They tell me stories of how they found someone better the second time around. They tell me of five-year dry spells. Or that someone will come along when I least expect it, when I’m not looking, when I’ve given up. That once he takes leave of my head, those qualities that attract other people will emerge resplendent. I hope that is true. I want that to be true. But if experience has taught me anything it’s that I’m not sure I’ve ever had those qualities straight men find attractive. At best I am an acquired taste. That the best I can hope for is, as Warren Zevon put it, a life of Splendid Isolation, where “I don’t need no one”. That I am going to spend the rest of my life being “awesome” a “rockstar” a virginal object of veneration revered for her wit, wisdom, independence, fearlessness, badassedness and not a deeply sensual, loving, passionate woman. I want a man who thinks I’m intelligent and sexy. I want a man who isn’t put off my my fierce independence. I want a man with some fucking table manners. I want a man who appreciates good hygiene. Think those two are funny? You should meet my ex. I want a man who will do what I say and fuck me into next month. I want a man who will be mine. I want a grown-ass man. There’s more and more and then some, but not here. Not now.

I want more and then some
Oh how you feel
And then you done told me
about a million times
How much you love me
And then you’re through
Start back in again
I’ve made the same mistake
I know the awful ache
Of a little heart that’s been double-crossed.
The waiting’s been so long, so long
It’s hard to be believing
I thought I missed my guess
I thought that happisness for me was lost”
Nina Simone

I’m in for an extended period of involuntary celibacy.

Writing Longhand

Writing Longhand

This is my first post where I am “winging it”. Up until this point, everything I have posted has been written longhand in a notebook and revised two or three times. Then it is revised again on this page. The difficult part about all of this writing is not that I don’t have anything to write, it’s that I have so much to write-so much to sort out-that I don’t know where to go. There’s the infertility, coupled with my own complex relationship with my mother that makes Mother’s Day such a fucking joy. There’s the years of denial on both our parts; denial that revolved around the idea that the lynch pin will fall into place and all will be well. There’s the anger, so much anger. There’s how much mental space he’s taking up in my brain. There’s not fitting in; not with the culture, not with the standard of beauty, not with women my own age, not with men my age, the list goes on. There’s the pressure to conform. There’s the longing, the constant craving for intimacy. There’s my invisibility which is tied to any number of the other issues mentioned and wanting someone to notice me but on my terms. There’s the therapist telling me that once I let go, those qualities that attract other people will emerge. Really? That hasn’t been the case so far. Then there’s my carefully curated life. It’s mine now and I will curate is as carefully as I please, thank you very much. There’s me asking myself was I abused or is this self-pity. Then there’s what’s the rush? Let yourself heal. You were together for 14 years, give yourself some time and some credit. To that I say, see all posts that are and will be tagged with intimacy.

Then, of course,  there is outer space.