standards and the single girl
I worked nights for most of my early and mid-twenties. Despite the desperately low pay, I didn’t mind it all that much. In college, I worked three part-time jobs–which meant I was usually at work (on-campus) by 5 am…which meant leaving my house by 4 am to take a bus cross-town, from Westwood to Berkeley. A few nights a week, when I didn’t have night labs, I’d work in the dorms as a writing consultant. Often, that meant I’d do homework because no one was scheduled or people no-showed. I got used to not sleeping.
After college, my night jobs were actually not too bad. I got to sit in an air-conditioned office and talk on the phone. My co-workers usually were my age, and we had a lot of fun. As I got more experience under my belt, I became a manager–which meant I was non-stop busy the entire night. So, things went by quickly.
Since I got home so late, I’d usually sleep in, watch television, talk to Mama, and then go to work. That was a pretty typical day. I never really had a “wild” streak. I never drank much or went out much–and never really wanted to. Since I worked opposite shifts, I rarely saw my friends during the week. So, I was pretty boring and didn’t date much. Which was totally fine with me. I wasn’t looking.
Then, I went through what I guess you could call an early life crisis. 9/11 probably started the wheels turning, but a friend’s suicide cemented it. I needed to do something to be happy. I realized I was really lonely. I was dissatisfied with work. I realized I’d been settling for a lot for things I didn’t quite want. So, I made some decisions. I decided to date people–though I really wasn’t sure how I would do that. I decided to be 100% honest and vulnerable with the person I decided to date–to let it all hang out for the first time ever. I decided to go back to school and study writing. To really find my purpose and my joy. And to figure out something else to do with this life. And to travel.
It was a joyful, but tortured time. And it changed my life forever.
One of the shows I used to watch before work was this show called Starting Over. It featured two life coaches and a psychologist. Basically, a bunch of women would move into this house and receive help to fix something in their lives. The coaches were Rhonda Britten & (later) Iyanla Vanzant. I absolutely loved the whole thing. I watched that show for years–taping it when I eventually started working days again. It was there for me during all kinds of scary times. And then, it was there for the year of the cyclone…the year my life fell apart–and the year following, when I was trying to figure out who I’d be now.
When my Mama died, I remember watching that show and wishing Iyanla would magically show up in my living room. I wanted her to hug me and give me some tough damn love. I wanted her to be the mother I never had. I can’t tell you how much her words inspired me–healed me–and helped me have the courage to do incredibly scary-ass things.
Despite my love of Oprah, I never knew Iyanla was on her show. I was, after all, working three jobs and double majoring at the time. So, I was fairly delighted when I heard Iyanla was coming back to television–on OWN–and would be doing some sort of Daddyless Daughters thing with Oprah. I ended up watching Iyanla’s new show, marathon-style, the weekend before last. It’s classic Iyanla. I’m hooked. And I watched the Daddyless Daughters thing this past weekend.
I’ve been working on myself for a long time now. I’m pretty self-aware. I usually know what’s causing me problems. I usually understand what needs to be done. I often struggle with the how part, though. How do I change myself, after all these years of being this way, so I can be that person I need to be?
It’s not an easy answer, usually. It’s hard. Especially when you lack a support system. I’m the only person really holding myself accountable. And I can be full of excuses. I’m a queen procrastinator, too.
For the most part, everything Iyanla said was stuff I knew. I saw where she was going with her questions. I knew what was wrong with each woman. Even as I identified with them. Which was pretty comforting since I want to be a therapist. I think I think like one.
But when it comes to me? It’s harder. One of my good friends from a few years ago and I used to joke about how we were so good at “fixing” each other, but we had no idea what to do with ourselves. It was nice to have a partner in cluelessness who was basically the male equivalent of me.
My Daddy “stuff” is further exacerbated by the idea that he was an alcoholic who died–basically killed himself. So, I struggle with all the usual things Daddyless daughters face, but I get the bonus fun time of also being extremely prone to hiding. Which means there’s a whole battery of issues that pop up to clock me every so often.
The biggest thing I got from this lifeclass was this: that my father never taught me to have standards. He was never really there, even when he was alive, so I never had anyone to show me how valuable my time was. I never had anyone to veto my choices. My mother, bless her heart, was just like me–in so many ways…accepting things because she didn’t value herself enough. So, she really couldn’t teach that to me.
Love was kind of an evil thing to me. It almost destroyed my Mama. When Mama would ask me when I was going to get married and have grandbabies, I told her I was never doing it. I didn’t want to date anyone. Or even kiss anyone. I wanted to be alone. In college, my freshman year, I took a class on Love, Sex, & Gender. I remember my professor was blown away by my final project–because it was simultaneously jaded and ridiculously hopeless romantic. Here was all this writing about how stupid love was and how worthless it was…juxtaposed against poetry and ridiculously romantic art. Love and romance? I believed in those things. Hell, I loved those things. But I thought it wasn’t for me. So, I made it bad.
I was a piece of work.
Guys would ask me out, and I thought they were being mean. So, I’d brusquely say something rude and walk away. Never ever thinking they actually wanted to see me. I was content to work all the time. I didn’t need that crap.
It was me protecting myself, of course. If I kept it as a non-option–kept people away from me–I’d never get hurt or abandoned.
When I finally did decide that I was lonely and was going about life the entirely wrong way, I made just as many mistakes–only in the wrong direction.
The first guy who tried? Oh, I jumped in. I wasn’t particularly attracted to him. He was plain, honestly, but not offensive. He had an odd laugh, but whatever. Back in the day, he wouldn’t have stood a chance in Hell. But new Alma wasn’t being picky. I could work with this. So, I opened up. Wide open. Shared everything. And so did he. Crazy as it was, I ended up really liking him. And then loving him.
Only I’m not sure I did. I meant it at the time. I felt it at the time. But, in retrospect, maybe I just really wanted to love someone and he was there. Maybe that’s why we couldn’t stay friends.
Other men would happen and the same could be said for them. With one of the more serious relationships I was in, I really think I did love him–but I think it was the idea of him more than him that I loved…because when it ended? All warm feelings and respect went out the window. In retrospect, the whole thing was based on a lie. I was shielded from things that–had I known about them at the time–would have stopped our relationship from starting at all. When I found out about them towards the end of the relationship, it made me withdraw in subtle ways. I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d lost trust in him. So, when really hard things happened, I couldn’t lean on him the way I needed to. That’s not to say he broke the relationship. In retrospect, it really never should have happened to begin with. And I knew that.
Understanding these things now makes it easier to reconcile certain other things. It used to be so painful to me that people I’d spent so much time and energy with–people I’d invested in so heavily–could just walk away and forget I even existed. We’d had some rough times, but when you feel like that about people–when you say certain things to people–you don’t just stop talking to them forever. I couldn’t understand that. I couldn’t understand the urge in me to distance myself. But my need to do so usually came from them being such dickheads that I just couldn’t accept it anymore. Not to say I didn’t maybe deserve it. I was bitchy, too, but–eventually–don’t you just stop and try to fix it?
These days, I sort of feel like the ones who aren’t in my life anymore aren’t here because–well–a true connection wasn’t made. As much as I thought they were soul mates–family–part of my “tribe”–they weren’t. They were experiences, not mainstays. We needed to know each other…needed to learn those lessons…but whatever I thought it was? Well, it wasn’t that. I see more of who they are now. I know more about myself. I know that the people who deserve to be in my life will be in my life because they want to. I’ve made my peace with it. I’ve forgiven myself. I’ve forgiven them. I’ve owned the situations we were in. And I no longer try to make them something they aren’t.
I continue to struggle with the idea of standards, though. I have my wish list of things I want–things I look for. And these things are really not that hard to find. But you have to find them along with the chemistry and the yadda yadda. The guys I’m truly attracted to? They don’t like me. They have girlfriends. They’re completely as effed up as I am–and afraid to do anything. They think I’m quirky or too intense. Or they ignore me. Or they play with me for a little while and then disappear. Or we tried and one of us messed things up so ridiculously that the idea is forever off the table. Or the timing’s wrong. Or something.
I get really really tired of holding out for the ones that fit. So, when okay guy #2279 shows up–seeming to like me–my instinct is to give them a chance. And, hopeless romantic (yes, really) that I am, I could probably fall in love with a rock if it showed interest.
But I’m just as guilty of putting up walls. Mostly just by making mistakes, learning from them, and saying–“Oh, I’m not doing that.” I don’t let people even think I’m an option.
Right now, I think I’m blocking everything simply because I refuse to be open–not intentionally, of course. It comes from being pretty jaded lately and just tired of bullshit. It’s not exactly fun to be single in your mid-30s. People are judgmental. And most of the good men ARE, in fact, taken. The ones still out there? They usually have some problems. I have problems, too…don’t get me wrong…problems aren’t always deal breakers. But I have seen and heard some shit…enough shit that I have restarted and canceled my OKStupid account about 4 million times this year.
My last relationship was so bad after the break-up (I broke up with him) that I literally have a huge amount of disdain for him…when I had no disdain for him when we broke up. It took me months–and many half-assed attempts–to finally do it. And then, he never saw the attempts as red flags. I was terrified of hurting him, even though I was miserable…so much so that I preferred staying miserable rather than saying it directly. And then, because of that misery, I just got exhausted by it–which made me mean. Which then made him mean afterwards. Even after we tried to be friends. It sucked, and I guess I have this fear that I’ll settle for someone again who I know isn’t going to make me happy–only to go through it all again. I just don’t want to deal with that.
And I guess I believe all relationships have expiration dates.
Of course, my being involved with someone really doesn’t seem to follow any sort of intention. When I decide to be done with guys, they come out of nowhere. And all it takes is me sick of being single to make it happen. But that’s not to say the right guys show up. I used to reject long distance relationships, only to end up in long-term relationships with people 14 hours away or in freaking Canada (which, may I add, is MUCH HARDER to deal with than the 14 hr thing). I would reject people because they claimed to be writers–because, HOLY HELL, why do I get involved with so many of them?
I really don’t have any standards for how I want to be treated. What’s okay and what isn’t? I do have standards for eye color, though. Jeebus. No wonder I’m single.
I actually don’t even know how to begin to set standards. A part of me feels like a jerk for saying it. And if I ever enforced such things? Hell, I don’t even know what that would be like.
It’s so bad, when I was thinking about this, I actually googled it to see what people said…to see if there was a procedure out there on the Interwebs that would advise me on such things. Because I don’t have a clue.
So, like my homework assignment from long ago, I’m going to attempt to write a list of standards–for guys and myself–when it comes to love. I don’t know if this will help me or not. But I guess it’s good to think about.
This was fairly helpful: http://www.wikihow.com/Set-Standards-for-a-Guy.
What I want from Someone, in regards to respect
- Gives me his full attention when we’re together in any way (doesn’t play with his phone or do multiple things while talking to me–or when we’re spending time together).
- Looks me in the eye.
- Recognizes my boundaries and doesn’t make fun of them.
- Tells the truth, always, as soon as he knows it’s the truth. Expects me to do the same.
- Is on-time or calls if he’s going to be late.
- Treats my opinions/feelings as important and valuable.
- Sticks up for me when other people attack me.
- Supports me, but doesn’t try to fix me.
- Treats each situation as a new situation (doesn’t keep score or poke at old wounds).
- Understands that I’m doing the best I can–even if I frequently make mistakes–and that I’m trying to be better.
- Assumes my innocence.
- Fights fair. Doesn’t make me feel small. Doesn’t raise his voice to me or do things he knows are intimidating.
- Listens to me.
- Exhibits loyalty to me and our relationship.
- Never calls me a demeaning name.
- Treats others well, at all times. (Never talks down to people, no matter who they are).
- Stands up to me.
What I Like/Dislike in Other People
- Open communication
- A sense of honor without duty attached
- Childlike wonder
- Adventurous spirit
- Snark/sarcasm (usually mean-spirited, at least on some level)
- Constant negativity
- Superiority/putting on airs
- Someone who pretends/avoids
- Liars by omission
What standards have you set for yourself?