There You Are

So I haven’t posted any personal reflections in awhile – seven months and a week to be exact. In early March of this year, the blogging platform with the built-in audience where I’d been publishing for years unceremoniously shuffled off its mortal coil. This created several weeks of existential panic. How would I recover my work? Where would I find a new forum for the personal therapy which blogging has become? And once I return, will anyone care?

The answers: Blessed be STEM friends with IT credentials, my own branded website, and who knows? But here I am. Once the dust settled and my legacy work was archived, I benefitted from the wisdom of several female champions who offered a provocative challenge. “You’ve been writing for years. Aren’t you ready for your own site? All your work collected in one place?”

And so for the last half year plus, my team and I (redundant, as the rest of the squad includes my sister, life partner of 35 years) have been building beckysarwate.com. When Jenny finished collating the posts last week, I needed a moment. There it was – all of it, all of me, in one place, with my name on it. All 610 of the theater reviews, magazine and website articles, political columns, feminist rants and yes, blog posts that represent the bulk of a six-year career. With each piece I was convinced it was the last. Every time I hit “publish” would be the death of my creative spirit. I’d run out of things to say. This site is evidence of that fear’s misguidedness.

2015 has been an eventful year – even by the whirlwind standards and pace by which my life is usually measured. The launch of this site, a change in 9-5 day job that has brought greater satisfaction and financial security, travels, a new elected office and forum switches for publishing my freelance work.

But what I want and need to write about today is Bob. My dude. My lobster. The biggest 2015 revolution of all. It’s no secret that romance has long been a rocky road for this woman. Divorces, partners with addiction issues and my own catastrophic struggles with co-dependency. As I recently wrote in a piece for About Women, my romantic world was an endless repetition of the broken dynamic I “enjoyed” with my parents: “Dominate me, make me feel small. In silent martyrdom, at least I know who I am.”

Fucking gross right? So after my last long-term relationship exploded in early December 2013, I took a long overdue break for reflection, individual and group therapy, for celebrating my selfhood. I wasn’t a nun but I kept it light as I strengthened bonds with my family, cherished friends, saw more of the world and cultivated a new identity. No longer the exhausted serial monogamist, I started to enjoy a revision of myself – the unattached bon vivant, the adventurer, the woman who actually believed that if the right man wasn’t out there, that might be just fine. I had Prosecco to drink, Spanish wedding songs to sing and tap dance lessons to take (loudly).

Toward the close of 2014, a sweet younger friend of mine who regularly affirmed, “I love your life,” nonetheless started to work on me. Maybe she suggested, I could keep having it all AND find someone with whom to share it. Someone who would appreciate me, embrace the quirks and support my commitment to ambitious, constant evolution. I scoffed of course. Ridiculous. She’d heard about the divorces, the colossal failures of subsequent relationship forays. It wasn’t meant to be, and I was no longer sure I minded. So there.

But she was persistent, and when it’s abundantly clear that someone has my best interests at heart (a phenomenon I’ve not enjoyed often enough), I will often relent. So we struck a deal. She’d create me a Tinder profile (“What? Tinder??!! I am 36 years-old missy and not that kind of woman. Ok, maybe I am but I have heard horror stories!”), and I had to give it a few weeks of swiping. However, if you’ll refer to my parenthetical objections, it follows that I acquiesced in my own way. There were ground rules for this trial period.

  1. No swiping the profile of any man who was: overtly religious (I’m an atheist, so let’s just avoid the tension), holding a gun, shirtless or standing proudly next to a car in photos (siphon off some of the douchebaggery), living in the suburbs (I don’t own a car, don’t want to and will never leave my concrete jungle again) or adamantly seeking a wife (you’d be surprised).
  2. Upon first contact, the man in question had exactly three exchanges to say something intelligent and/or humorous – or I was out.
  3. To those who got past the first two gates, I would offer two chances to meet in person. Occasionally shit happens, so one cancellation earned a pass. But I am a busy woman so a second flake was the limit.

This system worked fairly well. I didn’t meet anyone terribly exciting, but no serial killers or furries either. Eh. I tried something new, right?

Just before the conclusion of the trial period, I came across the profile of a cute, slightly younger man with a stated passion for running, books and dogs. It was early February, typically Chicago’s cruelest month and Dino and I were sick of the cold. This man’s profile boasted a picture of a fluffy, warm looking pup frolicking in the snow. So I messaged him in my typical blunt fashion: “Hi. What’s your favorite Sedaris book?” If he gave me an uncertain answer, I’d keep moving.

Messaging led to a first date at a BBQ joint. Major plus. Over drinks and conversation, Bob informed me that he lived in a condo across the alley from my grade school. In my tipsy state, I wanted to go, right then, sneak into the playlot where my Lutheran primary cohorts and I jumped off the geodesic dome. Bob was game. And then I met the dogs: 10 year-old Meko and 8 year-old Jude, both large black rescue beasts who slobbered all over me with love and joy. I started to feel my heart ignore orders to play it cool.

Seven months later, Dino and I are happily ensconced in that condo across the alley from my grade school. My name is on the mailbox. That existential panic I mentioned when my old blog crashed? None of that here. After 25 years of pushing romantic boulders up the hill, the work stopped when I met Bob. I told him recently that I lacked words (ironically) for this level of comfort and certainty. The best I can offer is this. After a few weeks of developing a bond that is now the strongest I’ve known with a man, it felt like: “Oh there you are. I didn’t know I was looking for you. But thanks for arriving. Now give us a kiss, a glass of wine and a pat on the bottom.”

Tindering My Dating Resignation (December 24, 2014)

For most of 2014, I’ve lived in self-imposed romantic exile. What began as a logical recovery period from an early December 2013 breakup, became a determination to reroute the dark serial monogamy patterns that left me lurching from one co-dependent mistake to the next.

Once I grew comfortable saying “No, thank you” or “Not now,” I was mortified to discover that while the decline ratio was up, my natural tendencies hadn’t changed a whit. Left to my own devices I was still drawn to the alcoholic, the emotional cripple or the one who could never understand or appreciate me. Without fail. Apparently some psychologically diseased part of me still loved to be hated, but I made the choice to stop indulging it.

As the year progressed, I recognized that my own company, or the community of friends and family, was infinitely preferable to awkward small talk with another strange man who would surely lead to some form of ruin (based on a near perfectly disastrous 35-year record). As the painfully funny comic, writer and actor Louis C.K. once observed: “How do women still go out with guys, when you consider that there is no greater threat to women than men? We’re the number one threat to women! Globally and historically, we’re the number one cause of injury and mayhem to women.”

It’s not that I’ve been a nun. There was a short fling with an informed Libertarian who inflamed my passions with a staunch belief in marriage equality. There was a brief interlude with a co-worker’s brother. But mostly, there was just me and the merry band of misfits I call my nearest and dearest. For the first time ever, that was enough.

In November, a relatively new friend of mine in her mid-20s asked me to give online dating one final shot. I had barely processed the offer, “Let me set you up with a Tinder profile,” before I found myself numbly agreeing. After all, 2014 has been the unofficial “Year of Yes.” What’s new and scary must be sampled, especially if it means cutting another tie with a repetitively agonizing past.

But Tinder? The notorious hookup app that bills itself as “How people meet. It’s like real life, but better.” Doesn’t that just sound like bullshit? Aisha did her best to reassure me. She vouched that the extra level of vetting provided by the application’s mutual “swipe” requirements would distill a better brand of suitor. In hindsight, I think the sweet girl was so invested in seeing me coupled, she would have said anything. She has a future in marketing – and a long tenure ahead as another one of my partners-in-crime.

I lasted 24 hours on Tinder, halfheartedly ignoring the New York Times and my treasured books to “play” the game. As I’m 36 years old, I didn’t need to be told to avoid the profiles featuring shirtless douchebags, inspirational quotes from Don Draper and other obvious rif-raff. Yet those offensive maneuvers were not nearly enough. My inbox became crammed with ingenious conversation starters such as:

“Hey sexy.”

“You’re hot. You don’t have kids, do you?”

“Oh I see. You’re into hot chocolate.”

The following morning, my Tinder experiment concluded, as did any lingering idea of meeting someone this calendar year. I was hardly pining for it, busy with holiday plans, work, theater, weight loss and the unfailingly satisfying time spent with loved ones. I preferred evenings in front of the Christmas tree with a glass of champagne and Frank Sinatra carols to the chase. I was done. See you in 2015 dating world – maybe.

It’s strange how important, game changing people can walk into our lives when least expected, or even desired. I was in the middle of a loud happy hour conversation (as though I’m capable of any other kind) with my colleague Duane when I felt the tap on my shoulder in a crowded bar. I wheeled around and found myself staring into the earnest, nervous face of an adorable young man with a soft looking beard. Wearily skeptical and more than a little intoxicated, I accepted Kurt’s offer to buy me a drink, figuring I could check momentary courtship from a recent college grad off my bucket list.

Instead the last few weeks have been one surprise after another. But this time, the amazements are pleasant and welcome: a synthesis between words and actions, physical chemistry and a growing mutual disregard for the generation that separates us in age. There is nothing recognizable about the unself-conscious honesty that has recently permeated my world, and as Martha Stewart famously said, “That’s a good thing.”

Maybe I was a bit hasty concluding there’s no one kind and interesting for me. Perhaps I haven’t let all the good ones slip my notice through a firm, lifelong commitment to self-defeat. Kurt recently gifted me with a book, The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. It’s the memoir of a woman who survived a complicated and tough childhood. The inscription on the inside of the jacket read:

“Becky,

I know this is a little different than your normal literature, but the book reminded me of you. Let it be an inspiration to writing your own story.”

I’d come to believe that the romantic section of my autobiography had been figuratively copy edited and typeset. But maybe it’s just getting started, because I’ve finally fixed my compass so it points toward promise and away from learned helplessness. I think I’ll hold onto that resignation a little while longer.