People aren’t machines. It’s a liberating fact to accept on the one hand, because it means nobody can really control us, but it’s also a hard fact, because it means that we can’t be fixed.
Fixing involves changing, adding, subtracting parts, substituting pieces that work for pieces that don’t. The fixed item becomes like new, at least in that respect. People don’t work that way. We all know this, but we act like we don’t. We act like pieces can be replaced and we will work better, whether on a physical or emotional level. Sometimes pieces can be changed (heart valves, joints, etc), but these replacements don’t mean healing in every case. Sometimes they just mean maintenance. And sometimes replacing things doesn’t work, because there really are once in a lifetime things that can’t be replicated, despite all the best technology.
It’s a hard fact when we are faced with health problems that we want to change. We can’t be fixed the same way things can be. It’s easy to fall into an absurdist mentality as a result. But I think that meaning can still be found, and perhaps even more readily. Meaning comes from struggle and uncertainty, and that’s the way life really is.
I had a conversation with a friend a little while ago in which I realized that modern dating (especially on mobile apps) has become like an unpaid Human Resources internship, during which I read reports, schedule appointments, interview prospects, evaluate experiences, drink too much coffee, and wish I had more free time to do the things I enjoy and that bring me life, or at least that pay me a salary. It’s like work, but my boss is a tiny imaginary tyrant who berates me for being single, judges me for being divorced, and is mad at me for being less available And less engaged in the process than I should be. And that was when it really hit me: Why would I want to do any of those things, when there are so many things I actually would like to do? Why work an imaginary internship that takes time away from what I really value, that drains me emotionally and keeps me from being a better person?
Lots of people take a year off from dating in early sobriety. It’s not required, but it’s often recommended. I didn’t. My sponsor didn’t care whether I did, and I think wisely saw that making it a rule for me would have resulted in me pushing back against it anyway. Instead, like many things in my life, I had to come to a point where the pain of staying the same became greater than the pain of changing. Once I realized that all of my time spent single had been entirely unintentional, and how much of that time had been spent (unhappily, I should add) trying to not be single, I knew something had to change, and I was ready and willing for that change to take place.
So, it’s official. I’m off the market for 2019, and not just because I’m not meeting anyone. I’ve had some decent dates, but my life is ready to level up. I’m looking forward to the rest of 2019 being a time of real intentional growth as an intentionally single man, not as some kind of punishment or “woe is me” experiment, but because life is so damn full and rich and short, and there’s a lot I want to do and see.
I have a long history of taking shortcuts. The experts (if you believe experts, and sometimes you should) say you should give yourself significant time after any major life change. For example, they suggest that you hold off on involving yourself romantically with anyone for a year after a marriage ends or a spouse dies. In 12 Step communities, the guideline is to not start a new romantic relationship during one’s first year of sobriety. Unsurprisingly, I have heeded neither of those guidelines, and I’ve ignored quite a few similar ones. As is the case with other people, part of it has been that on some level, I believe that the rules don’t apply to me. Kind of arrogant, but there it is. As it turns out, you can ignore the rules, but the rules carry on whether you agree or not.
I spent the last month or so in a long distance relationship with someone I met online. Unlike some of the individuals I’ve met online and dated for any length of time, when things had to end, despite feeling sad, I still had nothing but admiration and respect for her. She is an excellent person, and I enjoyed our time together so much. Sometimes things just don’t work out logistically, and while that is unfortunate, it’s the way of the world.
After things came to a close, I started to evaluate the direction my life had taken. The past two years of sobriety have been almost all upward trajectory except for my romantic relationships, which have been a mixed bag. While I’ve had some good experiences and have learned a lot about myself, I never took the time to have a clean break of any length, but I’ve reached the point where I don’t think I can put that stage of self development off any longer.
So last night, a week or so after my long distance relationship ended, I threw one last Hail Mary pass and went out on a date set up by an app with a name that starts fires. I told myself that if this didn’t work out, I’m taking some intentional time to working on my life off the dating grid. So of course we had a lovely conversation and a nice afternoon, and for a couple of hours I thought maybe I wasn’t ready to take that next celibate step. But then she responded that while I was funny and sweet, she was going to pass on a second date.
Message received, universe.
It’s time for me to stop the swipe fest and really commit to this thing. So the apps are deleted, the profiles erased, and the online dating shop is closing down. For the first time in my life, I think I’m actually willing to live life intentionally single and learn from it. I look forward to seeing what I can become.
A little less than three years ago, I had a few dates/hang outs with a woman with whom it was never going to work. We were at significantly different stages of life, and while we had some fun, she saw earlier than I did that we didn’t have enough to sustain anything longer. Retrospect has proven her right, and we have sort of maintained an acquaintanceship since. (This isn’t the rant – I have no resentments about that time or relationship that didn’t materialize.) I ran into her recently and had a brief conversation about how things have been going, and the subject of online dating came up. She asked how I was handling it, and I said something about how I don’t take rejection as personally as I used to (which is true for the most part.) She said she wasn’t being rejected but that she was dejected because everyone out there is just so “uninspired.” To be honest, it was a surprising remark. Maybe it’s the difference between dating in your 40s and dating in your 20s. Maybe it’s the difference between being a man and being a woman. But I think more than anything, at least from where I am right now, I see that I am truly happy with my life, grateful for every little thing that I get to experience, and curious about other people as they are, rather than as something they aren’t. I once heard it said that “it’s your job to find something interesting about everyone you meet – it’s not their job to show it to you,” and I’ve found that so profoundly helpful in terms of accepting life as it is.
When I woke up on Monday, March 18th, I was mostly refreshed, fairly wide awake, and overall in good spirits. I had a few things to do before I got started with my job, but had plenty of time to reflect and relax before things got underway. After a few cups of coffee, I realized for what feels like the thousandth time what a very different place I am in today than I once was.
Two years ago, I woke up very differently, although so similarly to many Saint Patrick’s Days prior. I had a skull splitting headache, a broken heart, a fear that I’d made mistakes that would be impossible to reconcile, and a growing realization that I had some consequences ahead of me. I still don’t remember everything that happened the day before, but I knew that if I hadn’t hit rock bottom yet, I was definitely getting closer, like an anchor skipping along the sea floor before it finally comes to rest.
It’s not that I have no good memories from my drinking days. There were times that I had a lot of fun. And in many respects, some of those experiences probably served some purpose. But eventually, the consequences caught up with me, and they outweighed the benefits pretty quickly.
Today, the consequences of deciding to quit drinking, to turn my will and life over to the care of God, to make amends for the wrong things I did before, and to do my best to serve others have also caught up with me. Every day gives me new opportunities to be grateful. My bills are paid – not just on time, but often early, and my credit rating has skyrocketed from what it once was. I don’t wake up with a splitting headache unless it’s due to actual illness. I have clarity about how to handle relationships, particularly ones that are difficult. I’m not as afraid as I used to be. I wake up with a sense of anticipation and excitement for the day, and at the end of the day I have a greater capacity for review and reflection as I fall asleep with peace and serenity, with more hope for tomorrow than I ever had before.
Allison married Kevin Bannister, her first boyfriend. Not Rob Gordon, who had been her makeout partner for approximately two hours over the course of two weeks, before the Rockford Files.
Or so the story went.
It’s funny how things go sometimes. The Reverend, referenced in a previous post, recently posted pictures from Paris, where she and her daughter are visiting someone who is clearly a special friend who came into her life “over the last year and a half.” Doing the math quickly, it appears that he is likely the one who frustrated her into getting into online dating and consequently meeting me. I get to be a footnote, if that, in The Story of Them and How They Fell in More Love in Paris.
When I write the story of my life for myself and play the broken hearted jilted protagonist, it’s hard to keep things in perspective. It’s hard to remember that even though I am always the audience of my life story, my limited role in anyone else’s is reality too. I don’t know how things will turn out in the long run, but I’d say the odds are that I’ve ended up better off.
So far, Lent this year has been, unfortunately, much like “ordinary time,” as it is called in the church calendar. Not only have I not been as observant of spiritual realities as I idealistically hoped to be, I’ve only gone maybe one day without social media. While not having any apps on my phone has limited me somewhat, and I haven’t done any personal posting, I have logged in and observed others marking the time as I previously did. And perhaps the worst part is that I haven’t been nearly as present as I thought I’d be, even with limited social media.
But today is another day, and every moment is an opportunity to start again.
I grew up in a church that wasn’t especially sacramental. We observed the “ordinances” of baptism and communion, but much of the historic mystery of faith remained, well, mysterious to me for many years. My first wife’s family was Catholic, and although they were largely observant, they never seemed especially overcome by any of the mystery of faith either. It wasn’t until I entered recovery from alcoholism that I began to really appreciate the actual depth of Christianity, and even that came about after some time spent deconstructing what I had grown up with, since, as my sponsor pointed out, maybe my conception of God wasn’t quite really God.
This year, I’ve felt called to set aside social media for the forty days of the Lenten fast. Giving up certain foods has never been terribly hard for me, only because there are so many other foods to eat. Giving up alcohol nearly two years ago, while not without its particular challenges, wasn’t really that hard in contrast with the life I got in exchange. But social media is an insidious one. I genuinely feel a sense of connection just snap in half when I turn it off – perhaps all the more reason to do so.
But here we are, day one. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 A.M. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.
I’ve been asked a few times about whether I miss drinking, and it prompted me to look back on the older pics on my Instagram feed. In a few instances, I can look back and see memories of times spent with friends, of moments of quiet reverie, of enjoyment and fun, but I also see a lot of that “unattractive company” that Didion describes, and maybe that is part of what keeps me from wanting to drink again.
But I haven’t deleted those pics, because I don’t want to forget where I’ve come from. Instead, I want to continue to come to terms with that person and make right what can be made right. The idea of “forgiving myself” has always perplexed me a bit, which was hammered home during my fourth step, when my sponsor pointed out that “there’s one person notably absent from your list, and that’s Pete.” Part of making things right with Pete is clearly acknowledging everything Pete went through, without justification, rationalization, or overdramatization. Glad to be where I am today, but I got here because I was once there.
The first person I knew who was open about her experience of dissociation due to trauma was a friend in college. She’d experienced some form of abuse from a relative as a child, and in an attempt at self-protection, her childlike mind had created a narrative that those things happening to her had actually happened to a different little girl who had just told her about those tragic experiences. I’ve had a heart for people who have experienced such trauma since, even if I didn’t always understand their thought processes entirely.
I don’t begin with that to suggest that I’ve gone through something of that magnitude – only to illustrate the degree to which the human mind is a truly amazing thing. Tonight, as I was driving back downtown for yoga class, I passed a brewery I used to frequent, and instead of thinking about how great it would be to stop in, I had the strange feeling that my experiences there had actually belonged to someone else, that some other guy named Pete had sat in the beer hall, raised a toast to his second marriage finally ending at the bar, or experienced heartbreak to the soundtrack of clinking glasses and heavy metal. It feels the farthest thing from who I am becoming now – not in an angry revenge seeking way, or a mournful memory driven way, but more of a confusing identity seeking way. Who was I then? Why did I do those things? What was I thinking?
Perhaps I’ll never have answers to those questions. The most peace I’ve had in years has come from accepting that my present moment is all I have, and that living now is more than enough. And so, as I focused on last week during yoga: “right now…it’s like this.”