Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fight, Flight, or Flip the Monopoly board when he's not looking.

If I learned anything from The Notebook, it’s that relationships are about commitment, no matter the odds. When your true love leaves, write 365 letters and then build her a house. Then when she finally comes back, yell at her and tell her she’s a pain in the ass. 

Then take her out the middle of a lake and let a rainstorm ruin her clothes.

Because when it’s love, you have to fight. Not just for love, but also, for your right to party.

Well, maybe that’s the rule if you’re Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, and you live in South Carolina in the 40’s, but from as far as I can tell, that’s not really how it works for the rest of us. Because not every love story is a novel. Yeah, I said it, Nicholas Sparks, what are you gonna do about it? In fact, not every love story is even a love story. The problem is that it’s rather difficult, especially being right in the midst of it all, to tell whether it’s right to fight, or throw in the towel. What is the maximum number of letters a guy can write before the next one is substantial ground for a restraining order?

As living, breathing beings, we are armed with two coping mechanisms: fight, or flight. When we feel pressure, when we're put in a position that inspires stress or panic, we can respond to stand and fight whatever it is, or we can get the hell out of there. Given these choices, I am a flighter – not a fighter. When push comes to shove, I fake left and make a break for the nearest exit. But often times, the concept of “flight” is automatic acknowledgement of defeat, and that is something I simply cannot accept. So as a society, we have developed a third choice, “flip the Monopoly board.” No one wins, no one loses, and no one owns Park Place anymore because the top hat is now under the futon. It’s called quitting, and I’m a fan.

I’ve been in relationships. The good kind, the ambiguous kind, or as I like to refer to them, common law relationships, and of course, the cliché and devastating bad kind. Clearly, none of them have really worked out, as evidenced by my current singledom. Yet, maybe more importantly, I’ve seen relationships happen. The beginning parts, where everything is awesome and "he’s so wonderful and smart, did I tell you he’s smart? Gosh, he’s got TWO degrees." The middle parts, where "all he ever does is talk about his degrees and they weren’t even from an Ivy League college, I mean what the hell is that about? He might as well have just gone to Chico State and majored in sleeping with drunk sorority chicks." And then the ending parts, where he actually went up to Chico State for a weekend and slept with said drunk sorority chicks. Well, you ARE the one who suggested it.

It's surprising to me, sometimes, how long it took to get to the ending parts. And then, even after it’s over, after the hair dryers have been thrown, the long soliloquies and monologues have been screamed across parking lots, what baffles me most is how often that’s not even the real ending. No, it seems that the break-up is merely a fake end of a band’s set, where they say goodbye, walk off the stage, only to come back on after a few minutes for the expected encore performance. Relationships really don’t need encore performances when all you could think about for the last 4 songs was what you were going to do after the show, how uncomfortable your shoes are, and how you didn’t even really like the band that much in the first place. Their first album was pretty good, but then they went and tried to do this indie electronic thing, and the keytar just looks stupid on everyone.

I think the real issue is that everyone has this negative connotation about the concept of quitting. It’s not necessarily our fault; we’ve been bombarded with anti-quitting propaganda for years. “Quitters never win,” “Wars are not won by evacuations,” and my favorite, “Pain is temporary. Quitting last forever.” Look at that pressure! Throw around a couple of those, toss in a, “there’s no crying in baseball” here and there, and you have a bunch of fully committed, entirely despondent couples. Everyone is just so convinced that giving up is a cowardly act, and yet sometimes, giving up is the most courageous thing to do.

I was in a relationship a few years ago, and at one point I realized, we were both miserable. We were so miserable, but so accustomed to being miserable that we didn’t even realize that we were unhappy. It just became the thing that defined our relationship. We were together because we loved each other, but for that very reason, we resented each other.  Because quitting was what weak people did, and we were stronger than that. We were so strong, in fact, that it quickly digressed into a contest to see which of us could squeeze the very life force out of the other on a daily basis.  We kept a tally sheet, which actually turned into more of a scroll, but it was a causality, like many a photograph and t-shirt, of our love’s termination. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, to walk away, but after the fog cleared, it was the bravest thing we could have done for each other. To walk away, and to let the other go.  I flipped the board, but he didn’t even look under the furniture for all the pieces. No winners, no losers. Well, except for the person who owned the game, because those pieces are kind of important if you ever want to play again.

 If it’s so easily accepted that people change as they age, priorities shift, personality traits mature or adapt at varying paces, then why is it so surprising to some that people who were once compatible don’t necessarily remain such? When I was 19, I really liked dying my hair black and listening to Anti-Flag. I dated people who shared my affinity for those things. My hair is now red and I really enjoy the musical stylings of “Florence + the Machine.” Do you think I’m dating the same kind of person I was dating when I was 19? Hell no. Seriously, back off the hair. It was a thing I was doing at the time. It was just a phase. When something stops working, it’s okay to walk away from it. And when someone makes the decision to walk away from you, it won’t do much good trying to hold on to him or her. If he decided to go, you can't tie him to you. He knows how to undo the same knots you do, and if he doesn't, well, there are books.

I’m not advocating quitting because things are difficult. I’m advocating quitting when it hurts. I’m advocating letting things die peacefully. If you have to keep using the defibrillator every 5 minutes just to revive a six-times-stopped heart, maybe you just let it go that seventh time. It’s not so cute, showing up at her work with flowers a week after you threw her journal out the window and she called you “certifiably insane.” Maybe she didn’t mean it exactly, but I can guarantee she meant it kind of. It’s a fine line, between dedication and stalking, but a very important one to locate, and abide by.

After all, true love is never having to hear him read his Miranda Rights. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Peter Pan Generation: Second to the right, then straight on 'til late morning, early afternoonish. Text me first.

The other day, I called my mother in a panic.

Mom: Hello, dear.
Eleanor: Am I a fuck up?
Mom: It’s so unattractive when you use that language.
Eleanor: Am I?
Mom: Are you what? Unattractive? When you talk like that, yes.
Eleanor: No, Mom. A fuck up.
Mom: You know I don’t know what that means.
Eleanor: Useless, directionless, a failure at being grown up.
Mom: Oh sweetie, you’re just…a free spirit.
Eleanor: A free spirit? Dear God. You know who else used to be called free spirits? Fucking flower power hippie children. I can’t be a hippie, Mom. I hate people. I hate them.
Mom: Your anxiety attacks are fascinating.
Eleanor: …Thanks.

This proceeded with the “what do you want to do with your life?” question to which I responded, “live off my parents until I find my rich husband. Or get hired as a professional friend.” These are also the same careers I wanted when I was 7. I often joke about my blog being the voice of “disenfranchised youth and functional alcoholics,” because that’s how I view my life; I still think of myself as “youth,” regardless of my governmentally instituted “young adult” status. If I’m not responsible enough to rent a car, then I don’t have to be responsible for anything.

I am a proud member of the Peter Pan Generation.

I cannot possibly be an adult. When I was in school, I was only a piece of America’s “future.” I was preparing for the future – I wasn’t there yet. And as I look around at my current state, I don’t think this is really the “future” they were talking about. If the future is now the present, then don’t be expecting this economy to turn around any time soon. The adults of the future, who are now the young adults of the present, are not really adults at all. There’s still a part of me that wants to give up the day-to-day life and be a vigilante crime fighter. Is that who you want spear-heading the years to come? Didn’t think so. That’s who you want at least 20 feet away from you at all times.

Recently, the New York Times posted an article entitled, “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” where the author discusses several different explanations for why the 20-somethings of today’s America are taking so long to grow up. Changing social circumstances, new discoveries in neurological developments, and the workplace shift from skill-based trades to information-based jobs: it all boils down to the same issue. My generation is in denial.

There are five generally accepted milestones of achieving adulthood in our society.
In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had, by the time they reached 30, passed all five milestones. [In 2000,] fewer than half of the women and one-third of the men had done so.

Let’s take a gander at these life goals that I’m supposed to be working avidly towards.

1. Completing school: Well see, there you go. I have not one, but TWO pieces of cardstock paper protected by overpriced custom frames. Level 1, completed.

2. Leaving Home: Okay, well I did that. Then I went back, not unlike 40% of my generation, so back off, and then I left again. I think this level is only really complete when your old bedroom is a gym, or crafts room. Or in my parent’s case…a room belonging to a family you don’t know. Level 2, completed – but I think I lost a life in the process. Hopefully one of the next levels will have an opportunity for a 1UP.

3. Financial Independence and Stability: This is where I stumble. This is the level I can’t seem to get past. I get pretty far, past those stupid skeleton bird things, and past the big chomper on the chain, but just as I get my confidence up, a plant spits a fireball at me and I’m dead. Back to the beginning. Calling Daddy, making small talk before he finally just goes, “how much do you need now?” Level 3, GAME OVER.

4. Marriage: To this, I say with eloquence: do what now? I have my own apartment. I manage my bills, avoid evictions, I grocery shop, or don’t, and consequentially skip entire meals, sometimes I even clean. This is, however, only for myself. And it would be horrifying to admit how often my dishes go undone, and laundry piles up. The only relationships I’m even halfway good at are with my local bartenders and sandwich shop owners. Whose love, I believe, is only semi-conditional. I’m not hating on the concept, but sometimes I wonder if people realize once you marry someone, they’re there…ALL THE TIME. Throwing their laundry in with yours, eating the food you bought without telling you, putting the mixing spoons back in the wrong drawer even after you’ve told him a hundred times where the mixing spoons go. You can’t send them home. They are home. And I think marriage makes people boring. Don’t believe me? Go on my Facebook newsfeed.

Unmarried McAwesome: is going cliff diving in Costa Rica, and then is going to meet up with Indiana Jones for a secret excursion.
Married LeNolife: is spending Friday night with her new puppy, and making Banana Nut Bread.

See? And the crazy thing is, Married LeNolife used to go cliff diving! But then she had a party in a white dress and moved in with a guy who sells real estate and now they have a puppy and that’s all they talk about, and that’s all they will talk about until she gets knocked up. And then THAT’S all she’ll talk about. Which brings me to the final level:

5. Having a child: Clearly I’m out of the running of achieving adulthood. I couldn’t get past the fire plant. But if this is the rest of the game, I think I will just see the sights around Level 3, and hit up the sky bars to collect all those coins arranged in the shape of dollar signs and hidden power stars. Remember when I talked about how I skip meals because I’m too lazy to go to the grocery store? Remember when I said I don’t ever do my laundry until I’m absolutely out of clothes to wear a fourth time? Remember when I talked about never doing the dishes? I can’t even take care of myself, let alone be responsible for another human life; a little one, who can’t read the “don’t drink the poison” signs on bottles, and doesn’t understand sarcasm. Having a kid is the kiss of death for a social life. We’re 20-somethings! We’re young enough to do all those really stupid things that are gonna make great stories in our 30’s. What better a time to get arrested than when you’re in your 20’s? Why would I give up spending a night in jail to spend 4 hours trying to get my kid to stop writing on the wall with my eyeliner? Not for me, thanks.

Our parents lived in a different world. The American Dream was all about building a life with a family and kids, going to college or going to war; the world was in a state of reconstruct, and it was up to them to do the reconstructing. The Peter Pan Generation’s American Dream is to study abroad undecided for as long as possible. 'Don’t pick a major until you’re stateside,' that’s the life for us. Then once we've got that ambiguous bachelor’s degree, we spend a summer pretending to look for a job, all the while complaining about this damned economy, and then just go back to school for a graduate’s program because, well, what else is there to do? Move back in with my parents? Hell no, I still haven’t studied in Australia!

In my generation, most 20-somethings are “remain[ing] un-tethered” to romantic partners or permanent homes. We avoid ties like we avoid responsibility, like we avoid dinner with the parents. Essentially, the Peter Pan Generation is just a bunch of wild cards running around the country, changing direction as often as we change hairstyles. Jumping from “passion” to “passion,” a habit that was reserved for the artists and drug addicts of our parents’ generation. No wonder they’re looking at us like a bunch of coked out vagabonds. It’s been their experience that if a kid is listless, impulsive, and lacking any interest in planning for the future, he or she is probably addicted to crank. It’s hard to explain that most of us aren’t meth-heads, we’re just overly optimistic, and immensely confused. In evaluating my own life, I treat my skills like receipts to an auditor on my kitchen table. Take the box, dump the whole of its contents out on the surface and sardonically state, “good fucking luck.” This is what I’ve got – you tell me what to do with it.

Whether it’s fear, laziness, economical circumstance, or some crazy neurological development process, and let’s not rule out the ever-popular mommy-and-daddy-issues, the fact is that my fellow 20-somethings and I are simply in no rush to be grown ups.

Because grown-ups become pirates. And we kill pirates.

Lookie, lookie – I’ve got Hookie. I couldn’t help it. Sorry.

"What Is It With 20-Somethings?" by Robin Marantz Henig

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Bottom Line: I'll be Queen with or without you.

Recently, I’ve been throwing around the word “accidentally” too often. I accidentally gave a guy my number. I accidentally went on a date with him. I accidentally told him I was a lesbian. It was an accident.

Okay, the last one was really just my fault, because sometimes I try to play along with movie references I don’t get because I don’t want to admit that I don’t get them and then four days later I realize that I told him I was gay and I mean, how do you bounce back from something like that? You don't, that's how.

But seriously, the first two are a direct result of the communication breakdown between boys and girls of the 21st century. The girls are embracing the challenges and structures of romantic confrontation, and the boys, well, the boys just want to "kick it."

It usually goes something like this:

There's no honor in it anymore. It's all "whatever" and "I don't care" and "I'll text you" and no one is getting chased by the campus police for illegally singing, "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" with the entire marching band during soccer practice. Not to mention that Smarmy Pete never even slightly resembles Heath Ledger, but that's almost irrelevant at this point.

And I think I know how guys and girls got so far off. For my fellow ladies, I like to call it "Disney Princess Propaganda." From the early, impressionable ages of my youth, I was bombarded with fairytales and love stories, subliminal suggestions and heightened, unrealistic expectations. Sleeping Beauty falls in love with the first guy that kisses her and they're soulmates fo' life. Ariel gets her man without saying a single word. (Maybe that's my problem.) Even when I was six, all I remember thinking is, yeah, but I mean, boys can fall in love with the really annoying seagull-type, too, right? And Jasmine. Fucking Jasmine. Jasmine falls in love with a broke, homeless guy who pretends to be rich, lies to her, and then ends up getting to be King of Agrabah anyway. I mean, what the hell kind of life lesson is that? But they were all happy. So by the time I was seven, I wanted to be Queen of the United States, and I was planning on marrying into it. I didn't have much patience for governmental logistics.

Then I graduated to PG-13 movies. I grew up enough to realize that the US wasn't going to make me queen, but I still had the terrible notion of true love swimming treacherously through my mind. I just knew that Justin Timberlake was going to stand outside my house with a boombox above his head, declaring his undying love for me, and then we would dance to "Kiss Me" by Sixpence None the Richer in my backyard with outdoor string lights and I could say that line about not being a hooker. I was in love with my conceptual theory on love - it's rules and protocols. I wanted all of it. I'm 23 years old, I still want all of it. I'm just much more pessimistic about the entire practice now.

Because while my I was watching "Runaway Bride" for the 30th time, daydreaming about all the ways Brian, the adorable drummer from fifth period Geometry could prove to be my very own Richard Gere, the boys of my generation were playing baseball, stealing cars and running over pedestrians in Grand Theft Auto, and shooting each other with bottle rockets.

Translation: They were doing everything humanly possible to avoid learning the rules of dating.

Consequence: "wanna hang out?"
Answer: No. Pass. Super pass.

Why? Because it's wrong. You got it all wrong. Try again. I do not want to hang out. I want you to talk me out of jumping off the side of the Titanic into the Atlantic Ocean and then take me dancing with a bunch of drunk irish people. I want you to use the word "date." Don't try to be smooth and elusive, because that's how I accidentally end up on a third maybe-date wondering what the hell I'm supposed to do with my hands when we get to the driver-side door of my Scion.

It's a wonder anyone gets together these days. I swear, I walk around and see "couples" and I wonder how long they've just been "hanging out." The Victorian Era had it right. There should be a courting process. It should involve fancy clothes, hard-soled shoes, flowers and love letters sealed with wax. I honestly don't think I'd care one bit if the only reason a gentleman caller was interested in me was because he wanted to usurp my father's reign and be King of France, just so long as he holds the door for me and takes off his top hat when I walk in the room. Even in my fantasy life, my standards and lowered and realistic, because really, King of France? Can you say 'under-achiever?' All I want is a little definition. A little effort. A little...commitment to the cause. Am I demanding a ring before you kiss me? No. Although a ring would be necessary if you want those goats my father talked about. Actually, in my case, I think the dowry would be cattle. Or barrels of unrefined oil. You know, cause of Texas and whatever. Just man up, say what you mean, and under no circumstance should you shrug at any point during the conversation.

I know that the male population won't change, so I'm sure I'll continue to "hang out." But I'm not happy about it. And don't get mad at me when I don't know we've been dating for three months. Getting my Facebook status to change from "Single" to "In A Relationship" takes a blatant simple sentence, or two.

...and "Tuesday" presents.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Clause 13B

In the television series, Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw is a writer whose column in the New York Star is heavily, if not strictly, based off her life experiences in the tumultuous world of dating and relationships. Conceptually, this is makes for not only an entertaining series, but also an incredibly helpful one. In actuality, there was one major difference between Ms. Bradshaw’s upper-side Manhattan romances and my north-side Oakland dating life that provided a substantial road block in the show's usefulness.

None of the guys that asked for Carrie Bradshaw’s number then continued to text her at 3 AM to see if she wanted to “hang out.” It’s three in the morning. That’s when I’m watching Law & Order: SVU marathons, duh.

While Carrie Bradshaw got to concern herself with designer shoes and menus in French, I have been much more preoccupied with establishing the foundations of an exit strategy for times when my seemingly harmless conversations with GenericName O’PotentialStalker go horribly, horribly awry. Ladies of the realistic dating scene need to have plans. They need plans, pass codes and safety checkpoints. On more than one occasion, I have felt the overwhelming urge to shout out, “Send the away team!” only to be met with perplexed, furtive glances from eavesdroppers, and blank stares from everyone else.

So I have developed the contractual agreement that I like to refer to as “Clause 13B.”

Clause 13B is an amendment to the binding friendship contract signed, and mutually adhered to between two “friends.” (intensity of relationship to be defined previously in the contract.) Clause 13B is a particularly precarious one, and isn’t present in just an average friendship agreement. Only contracts of the highest caliber have this amendment, due to the sensitive nature of its contents. Certain experiences and milestones must be successfully met and achieved before this clause is added. And the activation of such a clause is only acceptable in the more dire and desperate of situations.

For example, lets talk for a moment about Tecate Tony. Tecate Tony is named such for two reasons; the first being that he is one of those guys who gets drunk off Tecate, the cheapest beer served in an already exceedingly cheap hipster bar. Secondly, Tecate Tony is so stereotypically sketchy, I have to call him “Tony” because knowing his actual name would just be acknowledging that he was a real person, and it’s hard to live in a world where people like Tecate Tony breathe the same air as I do. 

He is not someone I would ever notice, at least not until I can feel his eyes boring into my skin like some kind of heavy-handed tattoo artist. Even his gaze from a distance is unnerving. He is so thickly coated in grease and sleaze that the reflection of the dim lights of the bar make him glow in a most ominous way.  Tecate Tony eyes his target, and immediately goes in for the kill. I use the term, “kill” because once he starts talking to me, I wish I were dead. He doesn’t make any secret of the fact that he wants to sleep with said target. His opening line is either, “I saw you from across the bar, and I knew I had to at least try to speak with someone so beautiful,” or “Is your man here? No? Well that’s good for me, and too bad for him.” Next, he usually asks if I’m okay, on account of how I just threw up a little bit in my mouth.

Tecate Tony is relentless. Tecate Tony doesn’t take a hint. Tecate Tony is so intense and overbearing that once he gets my number because I’ve run out of ways to say no and I panic with the truth, I walk away feeling shell-shocked and light-headed. In the “I was just attacked with a road-side bomb by a bunch of militant vigilantes in the desert” kind of way.

 This is where Clause 13B is useful. Clause 13B is a text message that says, “My battleship is sunk. Send reinforcements to scavenge the wreckage and search for survivors,” or the simple phrase, “I went to Guam once, the forced labor conditions were truly appalling,” uttered loudly enough to be heard by a 5 foot radius of potential rescue workers. Clause 13B distress signals are received, and then met with bathroom trips, cigarette breaks or the ever finite, “Your boyfriend just called me, he says he’s going to work on his motorcycle with his gang of biker buddies who drink whiskey and potentially run a fight club out of the basement of an abandoned meth lab, and he wanted you to pick up his shotguns from the place where they were getting cleaned.”

Result of Clause 13B execution: Tecate Tony is temporarily thrown off his path, and I am able to slip away silently into the night. 

Now, while Tecate Tony’s are easy to spot, or at least smell by the distinct aroma of dollar store cologne, the Smarmy Pete’s are a different story.

Smarmy Pete has game. He doesn’t open with a line, he opens with, “how’s it going?” Smarmy Pete strikes up a normal conversation, and asks a lot of questions. What’s your name? What do you do? Are you a musician? Did you see the A-Team movie? Batman or Spiderman? Come on Pete, is that even a question?

He looks average, sometimes he’s even mildly attractive, but the sneakiest part about Smarmy Pete is his unassuming nature. Where Tecate Tony was creeping me out before I even decided to go out, Smarmy Pete is harmless, and even kind of funny. He doesn’t have lines, and holding a conversation with him doesn’t make me want to gouge out my eyes with cocktail straws.

My problem with Smarmy Pete is that I don’t realize he’s flirting with me. Call me naïve, but I still operate under the notion of men and women being able to hold platonic conversations. It’s not surprising when people, ladies or fellas, want to talk to me – I’m an easy person to talk to. I tell stories, I have an interesting job, I make self-deprecating jokes that kill. What gets me are the people that don’t think I’m funny.

*Yeah, I’m talking about you, CargoPants Todd. What’s WITH you?

So the Smarmy Pete’s of the world have consistently eluded me. Because one minute we’re talking shop about analog versus digital recording, and trading phone numbers under the premise of recording an EP sometime, and the next minute, I’m being asked if I prefer Thai or Chinese.  Is this an independent study, or do you work for a national survey group? I only ask because if at all possible, I’m trying to avoid that foreboding ‘Oh, crap,’ feeling.

This is a situation that needs an earlier, unexpected initiation of Clause 13B.

In cases of Smarmy Pete’s, the activation of Clause 13B hinges on the rescuer, rather than the rescuee. The rescuer, as explained in the textual legal document, is morally obligated to alert the other signed party to the hidden agenda unfolding right before her very eyes. There are a number of ways to accomplish this, though one suggested method of shouting out, “THAT ONE IS SMARMY” was officially rejected after a trial-and-error period, ending almost exclusively in error. A text with the phrase, “these are not the droids you’re looking for” or the interruption, “Hey El, remember that time we saw that plastic bag, only it wasn’t a plastic bag, it was a bird and it flew right at you and you were all like, ‘nothing is what it’s supposed to be!!’ Man, that was the craziest thing” are both valid signals.

Result of Clause 13B execution: Smarmy Pete was unable to segue into his inevitable, "can I walk you home?" speech, and before he realizes the bathroom is the other direction, I'm halfway to Taco Bell. 

I accept that most people don’t have problems like I do. I acknowledge that my life is an anomaly, and sounds almost entirely fictitious when recapped. Still, I think most things in my life would run smoother if I had appropriate exit strategies in place. Dating, grocery store trips, wars in the Middle East. Clause 13B is merely an attempt at establishing such safety measures. Maybe it wouldn’t be necessary if my dating history read more like Big from Sex and the City and less like Bender from Futurama, but it doesn’t. I guess that’s the difference between Manolo Blahniks and Chuck Taylors.

Yeah, THAT’S the difference.