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I hate clichés, except when I love them.

A year and five days ago, I went on one of the worst dates I could have ever imagined. The guy was unattractive as he pounded beers, talked about how much he hates his job and hates the place he lives and hates that he has no friends, but nothing was as unattractive as when, at the end of the date, he made a homophobic joke about merchandise in a store window. It is the only date I was ever on when I texted my sister and had her make a rescue call. In retrospect, I should have just ended the date with a “no thanks, I don’t need your negativity!”

I was so tired of bad dates that it made me twitch, so I decided to take a break. No more reading profiles, no more awkward coffee dates, no more waiting for a text that might not come. Clichéd… so clichéd.

Three days later, I was up well past my bedtime, had already put my glasses on the bookcase, and I get a message: 

Ok, Mike, I guess I will take a look at your profile, but I don’t know… an hour later, having read what has to be the longest profile in the history of dating sites, as well as answers to questions, I figured that if I was interested enough to read that much, there is enough to respond. Except, I was tired. Like, really tired. I had no idea how to muster up the charming sweetness I tried to have in messages. So that is nearly exactly what I said: 

I wasn’t sure that the little smiley face at the end was going to make up for my complete inability to flirt, but I went with it. I had said I was done dating, but he said he wasn’t looking for serious. What harm was there in having someone who lived in the same little town, who could meet for dinner once in a while?

Our first date was July 29, 2015. At a tavern downtown, I walked in and was greeted by a huge smile and a white and orange Hawaiian shirt. I sat, terrified that I was going to be too nervous to be interesting. And then suddenly, it was three hours later, and I was fascinated by this guy. We left the restaurant and walked up and down the main street, flirting and laughing and oh my god, why won’t he just hold my hand already!? We got to his car, and he asked if he could kiss me. Swoon. Finally. He walked me to my car, and we stood there, talking, and he kissed me. I was not ready for this date to be over. So it wasn’t. We ended up sitting in his car for a few more hours, never running out of things to say, always smiling, wishing that the clock would stop. Our first date was seven hours long. 

But we didn’t have “serious” on the horizon. He had other commitments, like his show, which was just getting started. I had just started a new job, and was looking for a place to live, trying to get settled. A short while later, date three or four, maybe, there was a moment after he reacted unexpectedly to something I said, when I thought, oh no, I’m in trouble. If this keeps up, I’m going to fall really hard. 

I swear to you on my mother’s life, I did not expect the next year to go like it did. I couldn’t have imagined it. I had dreamed about it, but never thought it would happen. Not to me. Falling in love like this was something that happens to other girls. Prettier, thinner, funnier, braver girls. 

All those clichés, the annoying ones that keep young actresses on a steady diet of rom-com roles, happened. Have you seen Trainwreck? That part when she and her new boyfriend become that obnoxiously new, starry-eyed couple who make eyes at each other in restaurants, kiss in the freezer section, and all that stuff? Yeah, that’s us. AND I LOVE IT. I’ve become one of those women.  

There have been hard moments, when I’ve had to deal with insecurities or have a conversation I would like to avoid. But in each and every one of them, his response has been nearly perfect. 

When we got to the point that we were serious, I made a very conscious choice to not keep a running catalogue of all the things he has ever done “wrong,” or when he has done something to really upset me. Instead, started another list: romantic things he has done, and moments of sweetness. I didn’t want to overlook those things, and I wanted those things to be what I think of when I am upset. I wanted to remember, even when it was tough, that I have someone who loves me, and whom I love very much. Ugh, that is a cliché right out of a relationship expert handbook, except I started it without it being suggested. Can’t I just be normal?

In truth, there have been two times that I have been upset, and one of them was so minor that now, I can’t even remember what the cause is. But I would make Hallmark roll its eyes over the list of sweetnesses. 

The last year has been one surprise after another. Meeting people, going places, doing things: all great. What has surprises me more, though, is how easy it is to be with him. He is my home, no matter where I live. He is the first person I want to see in the morning  and the last person I want to see at night. He makes me laugh, encourages me, and believes in me, even when I struggle to. He is every damn cliché in the Guidebook for Lovely Boyfriends and sometimes I think my heart and head will literally explode. 

I do have a list of things he does that annoy me to the point of giving him the stink eye. In its entirety: 

  1. He leaves cabinet and microwave doors open (though he has mostly stopped leaving he dishwasher and kitchen drawers open, so there is hope).
  2. He squeezes the toothpaste in the middle and sometimes gets spit splatters on the faucet when he brushes his teeth. 
  3. He likes everything too loud.

I mean, ugh, men can be so annoying… meh, who am I kidding. He does the dishes without asking, so I totally don’t care about the toothpaste. 

I cannot believe how lucky I am. I know that people say that all the loveliness of a relationship changes and often lessens as it gets older, but that is the cliché I hope desperately to avoid. So far, I still think he is the best thing since peanut butter. 

Today is our anniversary, and we are going back to that same tavern. Despite having woken up next to him this morning, and having gone to work, holding his hand nearly the whole way, and having kissed him about two dozen times before I went to my office, I can’t wait to see him. I never expected him, or us.  But holy hell, I couldn’t be happier about it. 

Before one of his shows

After a very long, very excellent birthday

He was mid-laugh on this one. It’s one of my favorites.

Crazy Happy

A few weeks ago, I lay in bed with my head resting on my boyfriend’s chest, arm thrown across his torso, and we spoke in circles and tangents about a bunch of things, and at one point, I asked him what he wanted for Christmas. He said he wasn’t able to think of anything because he is in a place in life where he doesn’t really pine for objects. His desires are largely related to his comedy career. He paused, laughed, and said that the Mike of a few years ago would not recognize his present self.

I laughed and said that the old me wouldn’t recognize me, either. My own reflection would seem foreign.

Two years ago, I did not see myself in this town, job, apartment, or with him. I could not have fathomed it at all. I would not have anticipated the way my faith and religion would change. Maybe change isn’t the right word, but there isn’t another that seems to for either.

At no point in the first thirty-three years of my life did I see myself as happy, either. I was so certain that happiness – lasting happiness – was something that other people got to have. And then my life exploded and fell to pieces and floated back together in a completely different arrangement.

This kind of happiness is new, and sometimes scary. I am often terrified that it will vanish. That fear becomes anxiety, and a couple of times, I have found myself trying to explain it to him.

How do you explain anxieties to someone without sounding like you are crazy or messed up? I don’t really know, but I know this: his response has been breathtaking. It’s like someone gave him a cheat sheet that lets him in on how to listen, reassure, make me laugh, and redirect, all in the right amount and order, so that I come down off the panic ledge. It doesn’t take long, and I find myself back to normal – my new, happier normal.

Last week, my brain was pickled in hormones and it responded by making me feel like every minute was a swing between wanting to cry and rage. This is really unusual for me, even with hormones involved. For a week, my brain latched on to everything it could find as evidence that I wasn’t happy, that all the good things happening are ending, that I didn’t deserve to be happy. I knew it wasn’t true, but knowing that doesn’t mean anything when anxiety is involved. It made me feel like I was going crazy.

And for a week, whether he knew he was doing it or not, he helped me hang on, believed in me when I didn’t, loved me even when I didn’t feel like myself. It’s no wonder I love him to pieces.

There are a few things going on in my life that make me feel like I am at the start of a new chapter. It’s exciting, terrifying, overwhelming and exhausting. That has meant some bumpy days, but good days, too. It’s a new chapter in this weird ass adventure that has become my life. He is farther into his adventure than I am, but we get to figure it out together. I can’t wait to see what happens.

Three Sevenths Yooper

It takes seven winters to make someone a Yooper, I was told. Seven full winters in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, during which massive blizzards and week after week of snow would set the stage for thousands of miles of driving on sandy, packed snow, up and down the Porcupine Mountains. Lake Superior is its northern border, and the vast beast rages while it brings more and more snow to the wooded grounds and the flannel clad people to the south of it.

When I read the brochures for Northern Michigan University, my alma mater, the amount of snow mentioned was unfathomable. 170 inches? Who knows what that looks like? I chalked it up to “a lot of snow” and sent in my application. I moved up north in June. The drive across M35, along the north edge of Lake Michigan, was lovely. The trees along interstate 41 were kind. It was a freakishly hot summer, so I got familiar with the beach that was a few blocks away.

Then, it started to snow. And snow. And snow. I wasn’t a stranger to snow, having lived in lower Michigan as a young child and then northern Illinois. It wasn’t like I was from Mobile, where a few flakes would surprise me. But there is something interminable about the snow in UP winters.

I am only 3/7 Yooper, since I only have three winters under my belt. However, the UP is where I learned to love snow. Snow in the UP has quite a few lessons to teach those lucky enough to live there. It teaches you a different shade of friendship and neighborhood, where you don’t hesitate when lending your snow brush to a neighbor whose own brush is trapped inside their frozen car.
It’s where I learned to like shoveling, both for the workout and the feeling of satisfaction I got after digging out the cars in the parking lot. Snow teaches you, over and over, that you are not the master of the universe. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in ourselves, building up our own importance, until the snow moves though, and there is no controlling it. The only way to work through the snow is to work with it, much like the other storms in life.

I love the first snow of the season, when the world I live in suddenly gets turned into a glittery globe of wonder. This week, most of the people I know here in northern Illinois were pretty worked up about the coming snow. When the forecast was three to five inches, people fretted. When it was increased to six to eight inches, people had palpitations. By Thursday, meteorologists were saying eight to ten inches, and you would think it was the coming apocalypse. That isn’t an unusual amount of snow for Northern Illinois, but enough that stores were busy selling rations.

I, on the other hand, could not wait. I needed a good snow storm. It was oxygen to my deprived soul.

It started snowing when I left work on Friday, and I picked up Chinese take out a few blocks from my apartment. I took the dog out and went inside where I ate too much kung pao chicken, read some Green Lantern comics, got my laundry done, and drank half a glass of chardonnay. I opened the blinds and watched the snow fall. That’s one of the best things about a good snow fall: you pretty much have to resign to it. It is nature’s way of forcing me to stop doing and start being.

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I slept deeply that night and woke to about eight inches of snow. I had breakfast, put my boots on, and headed out to go to Target. While I was clearing off my car, a couple teenagers were trying to clear the snow off of their car with a paper towel covering their hands. I lent them my snow brush. I cleared off my car as the snow kept falling, and I breathed in the smell of snow. It was beautiful and I was happy. So happy that I forgot about putting on makeup before I went about the rest of my day.

When I posted that picture on Facebook with a caption about being happy on the snow, my sister commented that I looked “so relaxed and happy.” I was. The rest of my day was awfully good, too: I made pumpkin cake bars and took them into the city, where I met up with Mike, we ate Italian take out in the hallway of the Irish American Heritage Center, then watched Mystery Science Theater 3000 with some friends before heading back home.

It was a really good day, and would have been regardless of the weather, but the snow took it to a new level.

By April, winter in the UP feels endless, relentless, and cabin fever is tough. When the last of the snow melts in June, people are thrilled to see muddy grass coming back to life. In Illinois, spring is rarely so desperate. In four months, I will probably be anxious for warmer, sunnier weather, but for now, I delight in the heavy white blanket that lays on the ground and weighs on the trees.

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Wait Gain

I’m just a few days shy of the anniversary of my resignation from The Salvation Army, a day that changed every itty bitty piece of my life. Last night, after pizza and a movie at my mom’s, she hurried out the door to give me something that I had forgotten in the move: my scale.

I didn’t really forget it. I was trying to, though. By the time I’d resigned, I’d lost about 82 pounds. Then, I had a year of nonstop change and uncertainty, and I plateaued in clothing sizes and gained a few pounds. For the last six weeks, since moving into my own place, I hadn’t weighed myself at all. And I ate a lot of food that wasn’t the best for me. Like hell was I going to step on a scale!

This morning, I couldn’t help it. I had to face the music. I stepped on the scale and in the last six weeks…. I gained a pound and a half. I was so happy!! Partly because I was certain it was going to be 10 pounds, but mostly because for the first time in maybe forever, I really didn’t care so much.

Since resigning, I’ve gained 14 pounds back. Not the best, but given the colossal changes I made in the last year, that is a huge victory. As a lifelong megafatty, it would have been so easy to wallow and eat everything and be back up to where I was.

I thought about all I’ve gained and lost in the last year, and I can’t help but think that this morning feels like a really big victory:

Lost:
– Some people I thought were friends
– My need for daily sleep aides / anxiety meds
– Guilt for “not measuring up” to TSA standards
– Fear of my bosses and pastors

Gained:
– 14 pounds
– Confidence
– Joy
– A handful of strangers who are my support, cheerleaders, and source for really inappropriate jokes (that’s you, LSKs!)
– My own car and apartment
– So much time with my family
– New friends
– A job I love
– A kickass boyfriend who makes most men look like chumps
– Better credit
– The ability to sleep at night
– So much faith in myself

I honestly don’t care at all about 14 pounds. Well, I do a little, but I know I can lose them and I don’t feel like my worth is at all tied to that number.

Each of the last three years has felt like the universe is trying to kick my butt. This year, I finally feel like I’m making progress in my fight back. A year is a super long time sometimes. But oh, the things you can gain in a year.

Brighter Days

January has been a hard month for myself and a lot of my friends, and it has been hard to not focus on those things. Despite rough moments, there have been amazing ones. Brighter moments that are worth hanging onto when darker days prevail.

Friday, it was a kiss. Simple and sweet. Fun and familiar. Just what I needed.

Saturday, it was my great-grandma’s 107th birthday:

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Nanny and me

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Me, Uncle Curt, and cousin Corrina

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Me and my teenaged cousin, Corrina. She has turned into a woman of such great character!

Sunday, it was a blizzard and the annual Super Bowl/Birthday party at my sister’s:

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Finally six years old, this boy defines precious. He is the best solution to a crummy day.

Simple and common as they may be, they are some of the best things life offers, and I’m thankful for them.

If You’re Happy and You Know It… Help Me Out!

I’ve been happy lately and it’s weirding me out. Seriously.

For more than thirty years, I’ve been told that I’m too serious, that I look perpetually bored/angry/sad (a.k.a. “bitchy resting face”). I’m told that I don’t have/show enough emotion. I’m pretty Spock-like, in that it isn’t that I don’t feel emotions, but it’s that they are intense and the way I handle them is to control them. For a long time, as long as I can remember, the prevailing emotions were anxiety, fear, loneliness, frustration – almost always unpleasant ones, in one way or another. I am a cynic, and I’m usually good at it.

You would think that becoming jobless, car-less, and technically homeless right before the holidays would make those things worse, but what I realized months ago is that the source of much of that trouble was the mismatch between me and my old denomination/work. In walking away from that, as scary as the rest of it might be, I walked away from those miseries and towards a lighter life.

This week, I start a new job. An unglamorous job that is nowhere near my field, but in a town with an astronomical unemployment rate, it’s a full time job that is willing to pay me 20% more than they usually pay someone in this position. That’s a decent start, I think, while I keep my eyes and ears open for something better.

What’s really different for me, though, is that this is the first time in years that I am going to work to live, instead of live to work. That is really liberating. Another thing that is really great is that it is second shift, four days a week, and then first shift on Sundays, which means that during the week, I will have the same hours as CJ and I won’t miss family things on Sunday afternoons. One of my days off, Monday, is the same as CJ’s and the other is Saturday, which means I’ll be able to go to my niece and nephew’s games. The only sucky thing about the schedule is that first shift on Sunday means missing church, but they said they can try to work something out so I can have an occasional Sunday off.

I have a new church I love. I am close to most of my family. I have tremendous friends who are so kind and supportive. I’ve had two months of God providing for me in ways I didn’t expect. My anxiety level is almost zero compared to what it was two months ago. I have a boyfriend who seems to be an exceptionally good fit. I have a new job that is in some ways better than I’d expected. I have a place to live that might be a little drafty, but I also have a space heater and blankets galore. I have the best parents in the universe, even if they watch way too many episodes of NCIS. I have a dog that is my best friend some days, always willing to listen and forgive me for my bad moments.

And all of this is weirding me out.

I don’t know what to do with myself when I’m not afraid. I don’t know how to think about myself when I’m not beating myself up. Some days or hours have still been rough, but not like they used to be. I am nowhere near where I want to be, but at the same time, I am not so miserable about where I am. I am smiling a lot more – I think – at least on the inside – and this less Spock-like expression just feels weird. A good weird, but I still feel like I don’t quite know what to do with it. If I’m honest, sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t be happy, that I haven’t done anything to earn it, or that it’s all going to fall apart just as soon as I settle into it.

I’ve realized that I kind of don’t know how to be happy. This new homeostasis is more pleasant, but like all transitions, it’s also a little exhausting. New ways of thinking, new habits, new bits and pieces of life coming together, combining into some weary days sometimes. It’s in those weary moments that I struggle the most, when I’m tempted to revert back into my cynicism and dwell on the things that AREN’T making me happy. Usually, I can catch myself before I’m too far down that rabbit hole, or I have enough good sense to let Melissa and Brandon remind me that it’s going to be OK.

Learning how to be happy is an unexpected task, but one that is long overdue. Sometimes, I’m in such a good mood that I kind of annoy myself because I feel like all those perky people who used to annoy me. As tiring as it may be, I’m going to try to keep this up. It’s bound to make for a much more pleasant Cindy for everyone involved. I may even find that I like the newer, more pleasant me.