Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Ultimate Battle

 
As I reflect on recent events; more specifically on the relationship with the young man which has affected me so greatly, I ask myself the age old question, "What is more important to follow, the head or the heart?" 

When we first started chatting, I was not interested in a relationship at all, let alone with someone thirty-plus years my junior and with quite a different background than mine. So, we settled on being just friends though he wanted more. Yet, as the friendship evolved over time, and I saw so many positive qualities developing in him as he grew, I began to want to explore a more serious relationship with him, and now the differences didn't seem to outweigh the benefits I saw. I followed my heart. Earlier, my head was pointing out those differences I mentioned above, yet now they were taking a back seat to the benefits I now saw. Among them:
  • We shared a willingness and an openness to talk about the relationship itself.
  • We shared a commitment to not let things go unsettled any longer than possible.
  • We both were are very creative and supported each other in our endeavors.
  • We both were exploring a spiritual path to find inner peace and supported each other's journey.
I came to realize these were very important to me in a friend, boyfriend or life partner, as well as someone who could fit all three categories. I also came to realize how crucial it is for me to have my partner start out as my friend, more specifically, as my best friend.

So, all this begs the question-at what point do the challenges and differences by themselves justify ending a potential relationship with so much going for it and where both people feel a very deep connection and a genuine affection for each other? Or could using them to end said relationship be masking an underlying fear, especially when the relationship is already flowing relatively smoothly in spite of them?

I think it depends on the individuals and one basic element: they together must decide their approach to the challenges, provided said challenges do not appear on the deal-breaker list. We all have certain behaviors or characteristics we consider a deal breaker, no matter what. I remember meeting a very attractive man many years ago. He was a walking cliché: tall, dark, very handsome, shirt open revealing a nice patch of chest fur, dark mustache, brown eyes, great smile, broad shoulders...and he was eyeing me. I was already melting, fantasizing what the night would be like. I'd already decided on my answer should he ultimately ask me back to his place. That is, until he pulled out a box of cigarettes from his jacket pocket and lit one up. Growing up in a house of smokers, cigarette smoking is one of my deal breakers.

So, if the challenges and differences appear too insurmountable to only one of the two, then the other must suffer the death of the relationship.

I guess it all boils down to both partners choosing together to follow their heads or their hearts. And if they don't agree?

What then?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Unsolicited Advice

Sometimes, I just can't let things go. I'm like a dog with a bone that way.

I recently received a great deal of unsolicited advice, opinions and comments from a number of people, all of whom had great intentions. Yet, I ended up feeling frustrated, miserable, stressed, and quite angry at them. While I knew they had my best interests at heart, it was hard for me to be at peace with their actions. 

I will also go on to say that the number of people offering their advice and opinions did indeed play into the sinking feeling I had because, at the same time, a relationship I was in was disintegrating and their advice and opinions had to do with the relationship and the other man involved.

While I had shared some of my frustrations around the relationship, which admittedly was new for me, and quite different from what I envisioned for myself, (and what they saw for me) I also tried to share with my friends what positives I was getting from the relationship, which seemed to fall on deaf ears.

I eventually talked out my frustrations with many of those who had offered their unsolicited advice, comments and opinions, yet I am still rankled by it. I had also talked it out with my therapist and came to accept that the advice was offered with my best interests at heart. Yet, I couldn't drop it. And I couldn't understand why.

Maybe this post will help.

I did a little research on why people might offer advice/opinions without being asked. And these are the following reasons most therapists offer:

  1. Altruism-the adviser might offer advice simply because they truly believe it will help out, it is within their nature.
  2. Friendliness-perhaps a stranger might offer advice/opinion to start a conversation or a friend might want to forge a stronger connection.
  3. Excitement-a friend was in a similar situation and found a solution that helped him/her and therefore it should also work for you.
  4. Needing to be Needed-the adviser might simply feel the need to be needed, maybe due to their expertise.
  5. Feeling Helpless-the adviser sees their friend as unable to solve their own problem and wants to help solve their friend's unhappiness.
  6. Sick of Hearing of It-the adviser sees their friend as not taking any constructive steps to correct the situation, which is what the adviser would do, so they "encourage" a solution to stop their friend from continuously emoting.
  7. Narcissism-the adviser just likes to pontificate, or feels the need to be the "leader".
  8. Dominance-the adviser likes to be in charge in any relationship dynamic.
  9. Judgment-the adviser sees something about their friend they don't like or approve of and feels the need to change it.
  10. Drama-the adviser loves drama, conflict or debate, and always seems to have a need to express their advice/opinion. This may be a conscious or unconscious desire.
The first three do indeed come from a good place-meaning those individuals truly wanted to help out of kindness; the last three are from a much darker place-the motives are less kind-and the perpetrators might not even be consciously aware of their motives; while the middle four are from a gray area with somewhat nebulous motives.

Yet, one piece of research I did not find was how the recipient felt about the unsolicited advice/opinions. This would indeed be hard to document, as it would be left up to each individual recipient to determine their own feelings at the time the advice was offered.

I have also come to believe it depends on the source and type of advice. I recently received some advice from perfect strangers regarding purchases I made; I recently bought a bunch of tulips and was told to put some pennies in the water to help keep them from drooping. I also recently purchased a Fitbit tracker, and the cashier commented on it saying she and her boyfriend loved theirs-coincidentally the same model as mine-and she thought I would truly come to enjoy mine as well. I simply thanked both of these people and went about my business. I think I'm having such a hard time with the advice from my friends, because it also happened during an emotionally difficult time for me and in a very sensitive area of my life-a very challenging relationship that showed a lot of potential. Yet, I sensed there was even more to my discomfort.

I was once advised by my therapist to pay more attention to what people do than to what they say. While these people may truly want me to be happy, their comments, advice and opinions were actually contradicting it. Their wanting me to be happy didn't seem to coincide with what they were actually saying, which only added to my confusion and overall emotional state. "Yes, I want you to be happy, but you can't be happy with him. He can't meet your needs." The fact that they actually voiced their opinions weighed more heavily than the words themselves.

A few of my friends stated they didn't trust or believe the young man I was trying to develop a relationship with. They don't have to. I never asked them to. Yet, offering this unsolicited opinion suggests that I, too, shouldn't trust or believe him and therefore I have no idea what I am doing. 

When I shared with a friend I was angry at the end of the relationship, I was asked if I was angry with myself for not seeing what everyone else saw-the young man's faults. Again, this implies I was too naive, innocent or stupid to see what was so painfully obvious. To them. Yet, they formed their advice, opinions and comments on only a tiny fraction of the much larger picture.

Perhaps, it's best to call it for what it is. An opinion is a type of judgment. While my friends believed, out of their love for me, that they were expressing an honest opinion on something they saw that was frustrating me, they were also forming a judgment against this young man, and ultimately against me for choosing to be with him.

There, I've said it. I felt judged. By my friends, and that's what hurt the most.

We each walk our own path, which crisscrosses, intersects, and sometimes parallels others' paths. While many people will question their friend's choices, it is no one's right or duty to express their advice or opinion on such a personal matter, unless specifically asked. We do not know why the Universe/God/Spirit has brought a particular individual into our life, or much less into our friend's life. To avoid any bad karma, or at the least to avoid bad feelings among friends, perhaps it's best not to say anything. At all.

Unless specifically asked.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Relationships Revisited

I've visited this topic before but now feel I need to revisit it as a relationship I was involved in has disintegrated into ashes. As a result of that disintegration, I was recently asked if I even saw myself in a relationship maybe down the road sometime in the future.

I do.

Yet, I don't. 

I do, because I admit I'm lonely and I think the companionship would be nice. I'd have someone to talk to who'd respond. My plants aren't quite as responsive. They're lovely and relatively maintenance free, when not being attacked by spider mites, root rot or some other unidentifiable problem.

A pet could ease the loneliness. But, I don't have a lifestyle suitable for a dog as I'm gone almost 10 hours a day when I'm teaching and that would not be fair for the dog. I've considered getting a cat, but many of my plants are on the ASPCA toxic list which could injure the cat (or dog), and cats (and dogs) are notorious for eating plants. Then there's the vet visits and subsequent expenses.

I've thought about a roommate, as she/he would also be someone to talk to, and maybe socialize with. But, there are too many other considerations. The roommate would have to:
  • be comfortable with my being gay
  • not be into drugs or heavy drinking
  • be financially stable
  • be emotionally stable
  • be generally compatible with me
  • not smoke
  • be trustworthy
Plus, I would have to seriously want to allow (and be comfortable with) someone else in my house, when I'm not here. I'm not sure I'm there, yet. I just finished removing all traces of my ex making the house mine, and now I'm thinking of sharing it?

If I were in a relationship, I'd have someone to take day trips with. Plants don't travel well. Dogs do, sometimes. Cats can be finicky when it comes to traveling.

If I were in a relationship, I'd have someone to share the responsibilities of the house. 

Yet, I don't see myself in a relationship due to my current state of relationship-fatigue. I don't feel I have the energy, desire or drive to take the time to figure out what some other man wants or needs. I find the idea of coming up with ideas for dates to be daunting.

Right now, I find the maintenance of the relationship to be overwhelming; the calling or texting, letting him know I'm thinking of him, as well as his letting me know he's thinking of me seems to send shivers up and down my spine. Setting boundaries and trying to figure out what he wants/needs/means while I'm trying to figure out exactly what I want/need feels daunting.
 
I've been alone now for a while and am used to doing things my way, on my schedule, and having someone underfoot would take some major adjustments on my part. I've discovered I have a huge tendency to just give in to avoid conflict, and now that I am more set in my ways, I see some more adjusting to do.

It's also very difficult to even want to date when many of the articles I come across have titles like How to Spot a Narcissist, or Are you Dating a Sociopath?

Or my newest personal favorite, Yet Another Problem for Older Gay Men: "Internalized Gay Ageism." The article describes how the gay male community, more so than any other community, focuses on youth and beauty, the young virile male. As gay men mature, we develop an innate sense of uselessness, of unattractiveness simply due to our age because we see the focus in gay media on the handsome, the muscular, the barely legal young men. And our bodies don't necessarily look like theirs.

It becomes very difficult not to internalize this sense of unwantedness as we grow up seeing it, living it, and therefore adding it to our already internalized homophobia.

The article does offer hope, or at least a way of not feeling so hopeless. It suggests finding a sense of "mattering". Find a way to feel that you matter to someone, some way that you make a difference. For me, that might suggest focusing on my teaching, internalizing that I matter in the education of my students. I could focus on the readership of this blog, hoping that somehow, someway, I am making a difference in the life of someone somewhere.

Evidently, I'm in a very non-trusting state. Some may say it's because of the deterioration of this last relationship that has led me to this state. I disagree. I was feeling this way before this relationship began to take off. This relationship opened my heart to wanting to explore the possibility of one with this young man. Now that it's over, I've returned to not trusting, and therefore, not wanting one.

And yet, maybe it's just the right man, at just the right time, in just the right place with all the planets in alignment that just might somehow possibly change my mind.

And my heart.

To read the entire article on older gay men and ageism, click here.

To check out the ASPCA toxic and non-toxic plant list, click here

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Piñata

I pay attention to signs.

I don't necessarily mean traffic signs, though I do pay attention to them, but other signs. Like from the Universe.

Sometimes, I notice the first image I wake up with thinking it's an image from a dream, and I try to recall the image so I can remember the dream. Or, maybe I think it's some kind of message from my subconscious for me to be aware of throughout the day, some kind of inspiration or lesson to watch for. Or, possibly it's some deep emotional epiphany that simply surfaced subconsciously during the night and needs to be addressed.

More often than not, it is a song, an earworm. So, I listen to it to see if there is a message in there for me, or if it's maybe just one of my newest favorites stuck on repeat in my head.

The other day I woke up to the image of a piñata. Could I have dreamed about one? Possibly, but what would it mean? I usually don't remember my dreams anyway.

So, I sat with it, and let the image refocus itself. It wasn't a piñata at the beginning of a party, but at the end.

And then I understood the significance of the vision. The recent emotional turmoil I've been experiencing has left me feeling like I'd been hit over and over from all sides until I realized I was the piñata at the end of the party, all battered and broken with my insides spilling all over the floor ready to be picked over.

(Note to my readers unfamiliar with a piñata: It is a hollow papier-mâché figure filled with sweets. It is usually part of birthdays or other celebrations where it is hung by a rope and party guests take turns being blindfolded and try to hit it with a stick until it breaks and the sweets fall to the ground, only to be gobbled up by the vulturous party goers.)

I recently terminated therapy with a counselor because I was leaving the sessions feeling worse about myself than when I arrived. While he claims he was challenging me to look deeper into myself and my current situation, his methods began leaving me feeling like he was drilling for oil in the North Sea, digging far deeper and faster than I was ready to go, questioning nearly my every motive to remain in a relationship he felt was unworthy of me, and wondering why I wasn't following his advice as soon as I possibly could.

I also had some well-meaning friends offer advice and opinions over said relationship that didn't quite produce the results they had hoped. It ended up leaving me a bit guarded and protective of myself and I'm seriously considering keeping any future potential relationship a very closely guarded secret until I feel the time is right to introduce him and subject myself to the possible haranguing by my friends.

This most recent relationship was indeed very challenging and multi-faceted, but it recently came crashing to a disastrous end, possibly leaving the friendship in tattered remnants.

And all of this came beating down on me in the last three months to the point where I felt the Universe may have been conspiring against me.

But, unlike that poor piñata, I can piece myself back together. I can gather all my inner turmoil and allow it to settle itself into place, sort itself out and move on.

Yet, again.

Seems like I'm becoming quite good at it, as exhausting as it is...over and over.


 Then there are those times I'd really rather not piece myself together as I suspect that somewhere down the road I'll be doing it yet again.

I don't really think the Universe is conspiring against me, but trying to teach me something, and prepare me for something sometime down the road.

I guess I'll just have to wait and see. And try and avoid becoming a piñata, again.


For a detailed and quite surprising history of the piñata, click here.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Trust


                Don’t you sometimes wish your heart was a heart of stone?
                (With a heart of stone, you’ll be well protected.)

Trust can be like the tides, ebbing and flowing between two people; sometimes high, sometimes low.

Or it can be like a living creature, growing ever stronger, though weakening at times.

Or, it can be like a delicate figurine, easily broken yet difficult to mend. And if it can be mended, there are cracks running through it, whether they are visible or not.

I suppose I see it more like the last example.

Due to a recent confluence of multiple interrelated events, I'm feeling very distrustful of a number of people lately, and by extension, of people in general. And of gay men, somewhat specifically.

Don’t you sometimes wish your heart was made of stone?

I see all interpersonal relationships, whether they are romantic, platonic, familial or professional, as a stream. The relationships flow on, sometimes very calm and smooth, and somewhat turbulent at other moments. If the Rock of Broken Trust is dropped into the stream, the course of the stream is altered forevermore. Even if it falls in during a calm stretch, once the ripples settle down, that rock is now lying at the bottom and has altered the path of the water, as the current must now take that foreign object into account and alter its course accordingly, however slightly.

I ask the river for a sign,
(In a dream, we go on forever)
How long is love supposed to shine?
(In a dream, diamonds are forever)

I’ve been in this place before, where someone close to me has broken my trust. In time, we moved forward, yet the incident that broke this trust lies deep within my soul, like the Rock of Broken Trust at the bottom of the riverbed. Our relationship has forever changed, if only a tiny bit.

Get the picture? No room for the innocent,
Peak season in lonely town,
Knocked out of the ring by love,
Are you down and up, or up and down?

I have no idea what the future holds, does anyone?

                Sweet rain like mercy in the night
                (Lay me down, wash away the sorrow)
                Caress my soul and make it right
                (Lay me down, show me your tomorrow)

I know that broken trust hurts. Yes, I am hurting. Like the priceless figurine that gets knocked off the shelf, trust can inadvertently be broken. When I spoke with those who’d broken my trust, they were quite shocked and were truly very sorry. I also believe they didn’t intentionally mean to break my trust. But, the little figurine is still cracked; yet, we are moving forward.

                But, you and I, we hurt together, hurt alone,
                Don’t you sometimes wish your heart was a heart of stone?

Yes, I do.

It can be smoothed out, but that little wrinkle is still there.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Listening

I recently learned something.

People don't know how to listen correctly. 

I recently went through a complicated relationship where there were some major green flags which told me to proceed. There were some red flags as well, and I tried to exercise caution. As this was a new and very different type of relationship for me, and the red flags were a bit confusing and frustrating, I expressed my concerns to some friends. 

And they listened. 

Then they told me what they thought. 

Then they told me what they thought I should do.

Then they told me what they thought of him. 

Then they told me why they thought he was wrong for me.

Yet, when I tried to explain that I wanted to stay in this relationship for the tremendous personal growth I was experiencing and that-despite the challenges-I was learning so much more about myself and about what I wanted and needed in a relationship because of it, none of that seemed to matter. They stayed focused on the negative. They stayed focused on what they thought was right for me instead of listening to what I felt was right for me. Instead of allowing me learn more about myself, they became the experts on my life.

It seems they listened to reply. They didn't listen to understand.

They replied to address my concerns, not to understand my point of view.

They didn't listen to understand what was important to me, which was my growth. And the more I tried to point out the positive signs I saw, the more they brought up the negative they saw, thus negating and discounting what mattered to me; my feelings, my growth and my happiness.

By extension, I was beginning to feel they were negating me.

They didn't seem to realize that he and I are different people and a different type of couple than they and their significant other are. They seemed to believe that what was right, or what worked for them, absolutely had to be right or work for the two of us.

Life experiences bring us change, and with change comes pain and with pain comes growth and vice versa.

I will take the responsibility of not stating ahead of time that all I wanted at that time was a sympathetic ear and a silent mouth. Just listen, say nothing. My bad.

I can accept my friends were trying to look out for me. I get that. I really do. They are good people with good hearts. But, it was on their terms, not mine; from their past experiences, not mine; their past battles, not mine. And again I take responsibility for not being clear to what I wanted from them.

While not all of my friends were so vocal in expressing their concerns, I think the number of my friends who did speak their mind, so overwhelmed me that it began to undermine my self-confidence in my relationship skills. Plus, the longer the relationship went on, the more determined they became that I should heed their advice.

Unfortunately, as human beings, we have been conditioned to listen to reply. We have not been taught to listen to understand what someone else needs or wants from us. And as a teacher I do it all the time. I pose a question and expect an answer. Simple recall. I try to ask some questions of my students to understand their thinking so I may address misconceptions in their understanding of the subject matter. When there is a conflict between students, I try to get one to restate what the other's concern or feelings are in order to see the consequences of their actions. In short, I'm trying to teach empathy, which is sorely lacking in today's society.

One thing I learned in this relationship is that I need to set boundaries and ask for what I need/want from my boyfriend. Maybe this incident also serves as a lesson for me to do the same with my friends. 

I'll start asking for them to listen, not with their ears, but with their heart.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas Gifts


I have a light little anecdote to share. I realize my posts have been a bit heavy lately.

I finally treated myself to something I'd wanted a while back, yet allowed myself to be talked out of; the tattoo I'd designed after my husband divorced me five years ago. It was my Christmas gift to myself.

I drove down to the studio for my 3:00 PM appointment, signed the papers concerning all the legalities while the artist set up his workstation and dealt with a couple of other things. We then finalized the design, and after about forty minutes altogether, I finally settled myself in his chair for a long session as we'd booked two hours for it. I was ready for it, even if I hadn't been feeling well lately due to a minor illness and major emotional upheaval.

About an hour into the session, I was dying. Not because of the pain, although there were moments and I had forgotten to take something beforehand, but for a cup of coffee as it was now close to 5:00 PM, way past my afternoon coffee/tea time.

As luck would have it, one of the other artists announced he was headed to the Starbucks across the street as he was between clients.

My ears perked up! Starbucks??!! I really wanted to ask him to bring me something, but dare I? I understand that if you don't ask for what you want the answer is always no, and I do feel uncomfortable asking complete strangers for even a simple favor. He did ask the other artists, some of whom put in orders. And I hoped he would ask me, but as I'm a customer and he didn't know me, would he?

He did indeed ask if I wanted something. 

Hallelujah! Praise the arabicas!

I asked for a tall cup of coffee with cream as I wasn't about to trouble him for my usual afternoon beverage from Starbucks; a venti, extra hot, no foam, no whip coconut milk mocha. And I thanked him.

He soon returned precariously carrying the assorted orders and I gratefully accepted mine, took a sip and felt the warmth of the coffee fill my soul and I began to zen out for a moment even while the needle was preventing me from doing so completely. 

Then came my real dilemma. As my arm was still occupied with the needle, I couldn't reach my wallet to  pay him, but I assumed he understood my situation.

What I find interesting about me here is how I entertained the thought of what he might think of me for not offering to pay him just a few dollars for a simple cup of coffee. While I was not having anxiety over it, it still bothered me, as I was brought up to at least offer to pay for something someone does for you. It's the right thing to do. And I hadn't been able to do that.

Yet.

Soon after, he got ready to leave, as his last appointment of the day failed to show up. As he was walking past my chair-it was the one closest to the door-I thanked him again for the coffee and said I'd leave the money with my artist as I couldn't reach my wallet.

He said not to worry about it as it was only a couple of bucks. I replied I didn't want him to think I'd forgotten or was skipping out on paying him, and he said it never entered his mind.

I again realized that I think too much about the most trivial of things.

I also learned that sometimes a nice gesture is just that...it's simply a nice gesture.
The finished tattoo