Friday, June 5, 2020

Sunshine

This week started off with lots of sunshine and good news on the personal and professional front.

I discovered I didn't miss a beat when it came to my student evaluations for last spring. (I really didn't know how people were going to feel about my course-conversion efforts.... whew!)

An article I'd written was accepted for publication. I'm slated to give a presentation at a major convention in my field next January, which may entail a little road trip with my BF.

I was staring down my last week without a haircut. Although it's held up better than I could have imagined, after three months (I missed my March haircut), it's time.

Meanwhile, the weather has just been getting nice and nicer, letting us know we're officially on our way into summer.

And then, it just... turned. The Jonathan Edwards song of the seventies described my mood by Tuesday.

Sunshine go away today, I don't feel much like dancing
Some man's come he's trying to run my life, don't know what he's asking
When he tells me I better get in line, can't hear what he's saying...

He can't even run his own life,
I'll be damned if he'll run mine, sunshine...

I work with young people (obvi), so it always makes me sad to see them making really poor choices and then being insulted and ridiculed and painted as something they're not. (Sorry, not sorry, not buying the whole "it's antifa!" BS.)

Seems to me like more people should make an effort to connect with young people and be a role model and mentor for them, particularly when you see them behaving badly, instead of name-calling and sitting in judgment. (Shine that light inward.)

So needless to say, on Wednesday, I was happy to see that Obama and I had the same approach to this issue. Deescalate, offer positive encouragement, redirect.

I think the young people are our best hope for a better future, and I'm glad they don't settle for the "status quo" that they're being told is "just how it is."

Doesn't matter if that's how it is, it isn't how it should be. Black Lives Matter. Always have. Always will.

And to those who say "All Lives Matter!" I offer the following suggestion: you might consider why you feel so threatened when someone says "Black Lives Matter."

If you're not a racist, why not just agree and leave it at that, "Yes, they do--absolutely!" Doesn't seem like a terribly radical statement... certainly not one that requires a "well, buuuutttt...."

Why respond so fearfully and feel the need to caution against any possible hint that a black person's life should be considered at least as valuable as a white person's?

The phrase isn't "Black Lives Are Better" or "Black Lives are Best," just that they "matter."

I can't imagine anyone not agreeing with that slogan, quite frankly, but I know some people don't.

And no, I don't want to hear why any more: I've listened, and I'm now officially tired of hearing it and no longer interested.

On a more light-hearted note, I told my BF that we now have a very useful phrase that can serve to alert me that my anxiousness is making me a bit extra.

"Do you need to inspect the bunker?"

I couldn't help but laugh at how truly pathetic that argument was.

Yeah, just happened to need to "inspect the bunker" on that particular day-- catching hold of Melania and Barron along the way, I'm sure. "Hey guys--what-say we inspect the bunker?"

Actually, I suspect his decision played out a bit more like this:



It's funny when the person doing it isn't the president, of course.

I guess what I would say to all of this is, this is just how it is with some people.

They always have to stir up drama. And if there is drama, they're never going to really help anyone except themselves.

They're certainly not going to calm a crisis, because in a crisis--particularly when it's one of their own making-- they get to be "in charge."

Everyone else is in tizzy, and they're spinning you around like a top, playing your sympathy, doing the smoke and mirrors, the whole nine yards.

It's like when unhealthy people write poison-pen letters and emails to themselves or they create a fake account in order to troll their own website or FB page. 

They aren't getting enough attention, so they try to drum some up by claiming they're being persecuted.

Sadly, it often works the first time around and people occasionally fall for it.

What eventually happens, though, is that they get enough publicity that it becomes apparent what's going on.

Because it inevitably comes out that, well, they didn't actually save the letters, and no, they're not going to let anyone check their computer to ensure that they aren't the ones sending the stuff... and hey, isn't it funny how the communication seems to stop for a while, but then suddenly starts up again, for no real reason?

Seems like the person was caught at it, but then, ooops! no, they weren't! 

Meanwhile, over time, there's a clear pattern to when and how this all cycles--when they want to distract people or drum up sympathy, it starts. Once they get everyone in tizzy or focused on them, it seems to die down...

It's exactly what Trump does, and it's a sign of a person with a problem: attack and then play the victim. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Over time, people finally see it for what it is.  And when they do, you can never reclaim their attention the way you used to.

Eventually, everyone gets tired of being lied to constantly. In my experience, they no longer even care why you do it, they're just done--and once that happens, we get a better world.


Sunshine, come on back another day,
I promise you I'll be singing
This old world, she's gonna turn around,
brand new bells will be ringing


Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The Art of Indifference

This is the last in the series of videos I've found helpful as I worked through several challenging relationships over the past year or two.

I hope others are finding these helpful too! If you need more advice on what "going grey rock" means--and how to do it--it's explained here.

As someone who was raised in a family in which guilt (and anxiety) were big elements in the grab-bag of relationship dynamics, I can speak to the benefits of both "gray rock" and "no contact" as long-term strategies that help propel you toward that "height of recovery" from narcissistic abuse, namely, Mount Indifference.

It's a beautiful and surprising place, where your life unfolds in front of you, without the person in it, and you don't even feel sad about that. It just seems ... normal, or like a good idea and a great choice.

You're no longer even tempted to look back over your shoulder at the past, because the view of the future is so much more compelling.

The best part is, you don't feel anger or wish the person harm, and you also don't feel anything about any successes they may enjoy, because those things officially have nothing to do with you or your life anymore.

You've let go of trying to revisit or repair past experiences with them, and you've opted out of any kind of future with them, so their life really doesn't affect yours anymore.

Yes, you'll have to shore up boundaries from time to time, because difficult people always try to breach the walls again. (The video explains what that's about and how the respond.)

If you work with the person or have some kind of family relationship with them, you may even have to occasionally maintain some kind of superficial interaction.

But the fact is,  when "grey rock" and "no contact" have worked, even those situations become so superficial, you walk away thinking, "meh--whatever"--and actually marvel at the fact that you once thought this person was worth engaging with, arguing with or ... well, caring about, basically.

I think Gov. Cuomo articulated "gray rock" when asked about his reaction to the latest "offer" to deploy the military in NY.

"Thank you, but no thank you."

That's peak "gray rock," located at the very top of Mount Indifference.

He knows he has to have contact with an abusive narcissist who is always trying to stir things up and get a reaction, but he also knows he doesn't have to engage with it on more than the most superficial level--and the engagement can be about simply reaffirming boundaries, not reacting and arguing and debating.

In my own experience, this moment has been marked by a brief pause in which I find myself mentally reflecting, "Do I have anything to say to this person that I haven't already basically said? I mean, obviously, they never listened before, so they're not gonna listen now, soooo.... whatever, I guess. 'Not my circus, not my monkeys.'"

In the same vein, when difficult people email or try to contact me to rope me into their... whatever..., I've learned to simply pause, look at the message and then say, "Yeah--there's no law that says I have to respond to this in a timely fashion... or at all, actually!"

Instead, the "delete" button has become your new friend!

Because the fact of the matter is, if a difficult person can't rope you in, s/he will be compelled to find someone else.

And that really is the only mutual feeling you want to experience with respect to an obviously difficult person: indifference.


Saturday, May 30, 2020

"Forgiveness Pressure"

Speaking as someone who has, in the past, been subjected to "forgiveness pressure," I think this video offers good advice that I've successfully implemented in my own life.

When someone hurts you and you forgive them, but they later turn around and do the same thing again, you're not only not required to keep "forgiving" them or accepting it--you shouldn't.

Their behavior is perpetually violating your sense of self, devaluing and cheapening the power of forgiveness, and diminishing all of your other relationships.

You're settling for less from this particular person, but meanwhile, everyone else in your life has to "show up" and do the work of being kind, considerate, honest, committed, etc. etc.

Your "forgiveness" is not only not fair to yourself, it's not fair to them. They'd probably like to do whatever, whenever.

They don't because they know that being a responsible human being with integrity and commitment requires that you don't always cave to impulse or do what you want whenever you want, particularly when you know that it's going to create a situation in which you're going to be deceiving or misrepresenting a situation to someone who has decided to recommit to trusting you after a previous deception or betrayal.

"Forgive, but remember" is a good way to shield yourself against others' "forgiveness pressure," because it means you commit to forgiving while also recognizing the potential need to protect yourself from someone who has shown that they are capable of betrayal.

I've done this, and I think it's a helpful way to approach a ruptured relationship that you agree to try to repair with forgiveness.

You can agree to give it another chance, but you never again proceed blindly.

Instead, you bear in mind what you know.

That there's a chance--and if you're dealing with someone who has narcissistic tendencies, a good chance--that they will simply do the same thing again because on some basic level, they think "forgiveness" means you agree "it didn't really happen."

In short, they interpret "forgiveness" as "permission."

If they aren't able to be uncomfortable in the moment and refrain from doing what's easy, if they haven't really "learned" from their behavior and changed, if they always give in to impulse, regardless of the consequences, odds are, they're going to keep doing the same thing time and again.

Your role in life is not to keep "forgiving" that. You have your own life to live.

As this video suggests, "letting go" becomes in that instance, not forgiveness, but "letting go" as in "walking away."

You release the relationship, once and for all. And when you do, that becomes the "forgiveness."


Thursday, May 28, 2020

Finding Better Prospects

I've offered a lot of negative commentary in previous posts about emotional manipulation, abuse, and narcissism, so this morning I want to offer some positive relationship advice.

I've spent a lot of time lately hashing out what I've learned about what shouldn't be happening in relationships (whether romantic, familial, or friendly), but it's equally important to figure out how to find relationships that suit you--ones where people offer you support and love and friendship that aligns with your own needs, values, and priorities.

In Gaslighting: Riecognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People--and Break Free, Stephanie Sarkis offers the following simple suggestion:

Make a list.

List the qualities and behaviors that you want in your life. Sarkis advises, "Get as specific as possible" and offers the following suggested list as a template:
Likes dogs/ cats
Family gets along
Listens
Wants to work out conflict
Exercises regularly
Has a stable job
Speaks respectfully to me and others (60)
Sarkis advises that your list accentuate the positive ("speaks respectfully" vs. "doesn't call people names"), because the goal is to highlight what you want, not what you don't want.

As Sarkis points out, gaslighters and narcissists don't really want to pursue relationships with healthy or happy people--they want the walking wounded. In a relationship that's premised on control, it's easier to emotionally manipulate someone who's already a bit vulnerable.

So focusing on positive attributes already inoculates you a bit.

When I look back at my own life, I realize that, whenever I ended up dealing with a "relationship" (whether friendship or romantic) that was not reciprocal and that ultimately caused me more stress than happiness, I was always under the gun a bit in life: my career was not going the way I wanted or someone close to me was very sick.

I unwittingly put out flags that made me an easy target and gave them a foot in the door into my life. I was frustrated and sad. I wanted someone who seemed to offer emotional support or an "escape" from the stress of a bad situation. I was tired and worried and, at the end of the day, emotionally "needy."

This is the kind of thing that gaslighters, narcissists, and people who cannot navigate healthy relationships look for: someone who will defer to their perception of reality and/or feel things like guilt or gratitude.

If you make a list of ideal relationship qualities, you have a shield that you can put up when you meet someone new, even if your life isn't going the way you want it to at that particular moment in time.

Regardless of whether the person is a new "friend" or "love interest," does their behavior generally align with the values and ideals you've identified on your list?

If you have a trusted friend or relative that you can consult with--someone who will hold you accountable and not let you make excuses or exceptions (who will point out that "HAD a stable job" is definitely not the same as "HAS a stable job," for example)--all the better.

Then you've got a shield and a little warrior by your side: someone who's got your back.

As always, though, be careful: I've seen many people who, in the early days of a relationship, mimic the ideals on the sample list that Sarkis offers, only to abandon all of these behaviors or attributes (or reveal them as the sham that they always were) once they've reeled you into an emotional connection.

Ask a lot of questions: do they exercise regularly now, or have they always done so?

Do they seem to "listen" only as long as you're talking about the topics they've chosen to discuss? When you're not, do they always seem to sorta... change the subject?  Or resort to saying, "Yup... yup... oh really?" and either stare at their phone or gaze off into the distance when you happen to mention or  try to talk about something that interests or is important to you?

In my own case, I also realized that I had been leaving things off my list on the assumption that it wasn't "fair" to require them of others.

The one that stands out to me is, I used to think it wasn't "fair" to expect people to ... read.

Let's pause on this a moment.

Reading is what I do, all day, every day. It's a huge part of my life. It shapes who I am and how I am.

One day, I realized, it needs to be on the frickin' list. At the TOP of it, in fact.

Because I don't want to be spending a lot of quality time with someone who doesn't read, because that right there tells me that they already have zero interest in something that's a big part of my life.

By the same token, when I was in my 20's, I used to think, while observing the behavior of the husband of a friend, that I would never want to be involved with someone who watches TV all weekend long.

My friend's husband was a sports fan, and he would turn the TV on by noon on a Saturday (which was when he got up), and he wouldn't turn it off until midnight on Sunday. 

I let that slide when making my own relationship choices, and I shouldn't have. (Especially since that particular friend's marriage slowly deteriorated over the years--and she didn't even mind the TV thing.)

But I do, so it's on the list now. And it includes Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube.

Don't get me wrong: I don't mind the occasional binge-watching of whatever-- in the winter, when it's cold and snowing or on a holiday or when people are staying home during a pandemic or if there's an exciting sporting event scheduled-- I say, have at it! Relax! Enjoy!

But constantly staring at a TV or device is now officially a relationship red flag for me. I don't want it in my life. Sorry, not sorry--find someone else.

Likewise, anyone who talks to me constantly about their problems (I'm not your therapist). Or anyone who always seems to view whatever difficulties I'm going through as somehow "really" an opportunity for us to talk about their problems (I'm not your therapist).

No smokers, no drinkers, no porn-watchers. I've learned over the years that those need to be absolute deal-breakers.

Rephrased in a positive fashion: people who actively value health and who actively endorse and pursue healthy behaviors, emotional connection, and ... wait for it...  basic feminist principles.

People who bike, who hike, who travel, who take walks, who go to movies, who listen to music, who enjoy being outside, who like to laugh, who have healthy and happy friends and family members that they would love for me to meet, who are emotionally available, happy to spend time with me and pleased when they're seen out and about doing so.

That's not too much to ask, but when or if it is, I no longer care.

I'm an introvert, so I'd rather be alone than with someone who doesn't value the things on my list.

I've spent time with people who don't more times than I care to count at this point, and it's always devolved into chaos and misery.

And in several cases, that chaos and misery ended up added onto the problems I was already dealing with in my own life.

That's when I realized, I need to carry a shield, have a couple of well-trained warriors at my back, and lock the gates to my life.

If you do get reeled in by someone who doesn't embody the qualities on your own list, remember: if you haven't married, divorced, bought property or had children with someone, you can leave.

And you should. Ignore their protests to the contrary. They're wasting your time.

If the person isn't what they presented themselves to be when they were at their best, trying to attract you, then it means they have no qualms about deceiving you for their own advantage.

You're not required to stick with them, no matter what, when you see what they're "really" like.

That's not "friendship," they're taking an emotional hostage. You don't want that. (It's not on the list.)

If you have married, bought property, had children, etc., you can still distance yourself.

It will just be a bit more complicated and a lengthier process, unfortunately.

But I know many who've done precisely that--gotten away from people who were not what they pretended to be.

And they've never regretted it.

In fact, in most cases, they didn't even miss the person, really.

They simply had to adjust to no longer walking on emotional eggshells and/or looking over their shoulder constantly, waiting for the next shoe to drop with yet another problem that would be (allegedly) their fault, somehow, and/or theirs to address.

Better prospects--and fewer problems--await. 

Make a list.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

How to Not Play

I've blogged about the "Narcissistic Harem" before, and other women have since written to me about this issue, so I've posted a video below that I personally found helpful in explaining why the thing with the exes happens and what it's all about.

The other video explains what happens--and why-- when people with narcissistic tendencies cheat and why that always looks different from what happens in other situations where a significant other (unfortunately) cheats.

I have my own personal experience and red flag moments with this issue--times when I really wish I'd heeded the warning signs, because my gut told me in no uncertain terms "something's wrong!"

I distinctly remember feeling worried and kinda queasy and thinking, "I dunno... not good..."  on more than one occasion, but I chalked it up to my "anxiety issues."

Pro tip: In my experience, some "anxiety issues" go away quickly--and completely-- when you stop interacting with people with narcissistic tendencies or behaviors, because the fact of the matter is, narcissists always fuel anxiety or insecurity in others because it works to their benefit.

They thrive on telling other people they're "wrong" or "crazy" or "delusional" (or whatever), particularly in stressful and chaotic situations or conflicts that they themselves have created, fueled, and fostered.

It's a way of controlling and emotionally manipulating others so they feel powerful and important.

In particular, I've seen the kind of behaviors Dr. Ramani describes with respect to collecting exes, where there's a semblance of it all being oh-so-very above-board and transparent and "mature," but it's actually not.

It's actually quite secretive and quite sick. The "secret communication" and "secret get-togethers" are always in play to a far greater extent than you realize.

They can't give that up: it's the only way they feel powerful and "in control" in their lives, through a relationship gamesmanship.

In my experience, you're considered "introduced" to an ex because she's barrelled on up and either introduced herself or compelled someone else to do it.

I remember an angry girlfriend once telling me, "I didn't even know who you were!" I think she meant to hurt or insult me, but my mental reaction at the time was, "I know!"

Because when a previous ex-girlfriend (who had dated him for far longer than I did) approached me, I didn't know she existed either. At the time, she said, "Great to meet you! He's talked a lot about you!" and all I could think was, "Well, he's never mentioned you at all, actually..."

See the pattern?  That's how you know you've been enlisted to play "the Game."

What you think, and how you feel, and whether or not you're going to be ambushed and surprised (and maybe even publicly embarrassed) in the moment-- or stalked and harassed and privately threatened over the long term--simply doesn't matter to people with narcissistic tendencies who play this Game and who compulsively enlist others to play it "with" them.

The only way they can "win" is when you lose. And they always play to "win."

I remember a situation in which I suddenly found my name included on an email list (comprised entirely of other women) who were occasionally, collectively, sent funny memes and whatnot.

Completely harmless, right? After all, none of us was receiving any messages that weren't going to quite a few other female friends and family members.

Except that, behind the scenes, we were. Quite regularly, in fact.

And when I looked at the addresses on the meme list, I noticed that the only person not included in the loop with all of us was... the current girlfriend.

And Facebook? O. M. G. It--and the internet in general--is the perfect venue for narcissistic gamesmanship.

In hindsight, I know that people who do things like this need serious help and are just sad and basically sick, but... you know what?

Too bad.

That doesn't give them the right to make the rest of us sad and sick too.

And they're never going to stop, so you simply have to stop participating by no longer interacting with them.

In the past, I ignored my gut and told myself that since I was only casually connected to the situation and we simply had what I thought was an understanding or a "friendship," it would all be "okay."

I'm stressing the word "casually," because, when I look back, that's the thing that highlights how high the level of manipulation and dysfunction and gas-lighting are in situations like this.

You can't even be casually connected at a distance. Time and again, I mistakenly thought I could.

What I've since realized is, I always thought I was participating in one thing but what I ended up dealing with was something else entirely. It's just never going to be honest or healthy.

That's because these are situations in which another person is always quietly crossing out and rewriting the terms of any "understanding" or supposed "agreement" you reach or think you have, to suit themselves.

And they're often doing this without your knowledge, and to your potential--and often actual--disadvantage.

They truly do thrive on secrets.

That's their problem to address and solve, if they want to do the work that would be required to solve it. No one is automatically obligated to stick around and endure it.

Because what makes it all particularly toxic is, they will nevertheless insist that they are being nothing but above-board and "transparent" the entire time that they're either actively lying, lying by omission, or being deliberately evasive (changing the subject, refusing to respond until you change the subject, giving you the silent treatment, etc. etc.)

That's "the Game." That's how they know they've "won"--when they've beaten you.

For me, the truth, in the end, turned out to be quite simple: I'm not married, I'm not divorced, and I don't own property or have children with anyone.

So I'm not required to stay connected--whether casually or otherwise-- to anyone, including and especially my exes, if I don't want to be.

And I don't.

So I'm not.

If some ladies want to be, well, then, do you, ladies! Or do the narcissists and play the game. People have to figure out what they want and make their own choices.

I'm happy to say that everything in my life is now, officially, exactly what I've wanted and chosen for myself.




Monday, May 25, 2020

Cracking the Code

I'm reading a really interesting book by Liza Mundy, Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code-Breakers of World War II (2017). It's quite wonderful.

In a biographical sketch of Elizebeth Smith, one of the predecessors of the WWII code-breakers, Mundy notes that Smith and her husband represent an example of "homogamy"--"marriage between equals"--an instance in which "like marries like."

They shared similar values and backgrounds and it was precisely their emotional and intellectual equality that turned them both on and made them decide to forge a life together.

Smith's husband didn't get involved with her expecting that she would eventually defer to him as proof of their love. Instead, they worked together throughout their entire lives; theirs was a union based on mutual support and respect.

In many ways, their collaboration as husband and wife reminded me of Ruth Bader Ginsberg's marriage. In that case, however, the marriage seems to have been one of "heterogamy," in which people with notable differences marry.

Nevertheless, the result was the same as in the case of Smith. A brilliant woman found an equally brilliant man who supported and promoted her as much as she did him.

A week before he died--after years marked by his own success as a tax attorney and as an advocate for his wife's advancement to the Supreme Court--Martin Ginsberg wrote this note to his wife:
"You are the only person I have loved in my life, setting aside, a bit, parents and kids, and their kids. And I have admired and loved you almost since the day we first met at Cornell some 56 years ago. 
What a treat it has been to watch you progress to the very top of the legal world."
That phrase--"what a treat it has been to watch you progress to the very top" of your profession--that's a sign of a marriage between equals.

It's a sign of a man who isn't threatened or afraid that his "manhood" is jeopardized if he's not the center of attention-- who doesn't have to posture and preen and bully to feel like he's being a "man."

He doesn't sit behind a computer being a big-ole "keyboard warrior," cyber-stalking and trolling and occasionally insulting people's looks or their intelligence and pitching a fit when they don't agree with him.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine said, "Don't you just want to give guys like that the finger? They certainly deserve it."

To which I said, "Nah--I ain't so much as lifting a finger for a guy like that anymore." 

I was thinking of that this morning as I read Tom Nichols' article, "Donald Trump, the Most Unmanly President."

Nichols, like many, is bewildered by the fact that working-class white men endorse a man who so clearly behaves in ways that run counter to their purported values--to their "code" of manliness, if you will.

As Nichols points out, citing Windsor Mann,
Trump behaves in ways that many working-class men would ridicule: “He wears bronzer, loves gold and gossip, is obsessed with his physical appearance, whines constantly, can't control his emotions, watches daytime television, enjoys parades and interior decorating, and used to sell perfume.”
Can you imagine if a 6-foot tall, 200 lb. woman wearing a wig and maybe a bit too much makeup ran for President of the United States and bragged that she'd received "beautiful letters" from Kim Jung Un and that they "fell in love" as a result?

Nichols chalks the working-class male support for Trump up to "immaturity," but I think he overlooks the fact that the "code" of masculinity he's describing isn't necessarily internalized by those who purport to uphold it.

I think many simply pay lip-service to the code of "manliness" that Nichols describes while also upholding the idea that it's their prerogative to indulge in any number of "bad boy" behaviors and that women, by default, should be appeased with a little wink and a shrug and a boyish smile.

Or--if that fails--a seriously, penitent boyish frown and a little promise to "never do it again."

Until he does, that is.

As Nichols notes,
the working-class white men in the president’s base don’t seem to care that Trump had an affair with a porn star while his wife was home with a new baby, something for which many of them would probably beat their own brother-in-law senseless if he did it to their sister.
I was raised by a working-class man who actually lived the values implied by the "code" of working-class manhood that Nichols describes (integrity, honor, responsibility).

For the record, my father would have never suggested beating someone senseless--or even threatening to do so-- for any reason, actually.

First of all, it's against the law. My dad would have pointed out that you're not much of a "protector" of anyone or a "provider" of anything if you end up, you know, arrested or in jail.

My dad used to point to that kind of braggadocio as the mark of a bully and a thug-- a sign of the immaturity that Nichols notes.

In my dad's mind, you made the women in your life know that they were loved and supported and valued.

You didn't have to get in touch with your feelings and sob, you just weren't afraid to tell the women you cared about what a "treat" it was to see them progress and succeed in life.

You put your shoulder behind the wheel to help them with that. You could be counted on.

That was how you ensured that when some immature ... dude... with a penchant for porn and a history of shabby, low-maintenance, and/or non-monogamous relationships swirling in his wake--like the little dust storm around Pigpen--strolled on up to her assuming he could just do and say whatever to her, whenever, because he was, you know, " a man," he'd find himself unable to gain much traction, in the end.

Men like my dad held themselves--and taught others to hold themselves--to a higher standard.

Some people never learned how to do that or how to instill those values in others.

What they did learn, however, was how to mimic the "code" in order to hide their own vulnerability and weakness.

That's why the messages they send are always nonsense, marked by double-talk and incongruity and hypocrisy.

And, I think, why they resort to things like anger and bullying and trolling and stalking when they don't get their way.

Sooner or later, every code is cracked. And, as Mundy's book makes clear, women have usually led the way when it comes to that.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Obviously

The latest phase of fatigue has passed.

Last fall, I looked at my office window at my strawberry patch (pictured below, as of yesterday) and decided I wanted to make some changes.


I wanted it to be bigger, if possible. I wanted it to be better protected. I wanted it to be more easily accessible when the time was ripe. 

I realized last fall that instead of what I had--a hastily put-together, "good enough" arrangement--I need to plan, be patient, and insist on something better.

So, as I worked on my strawberry bed on Thursday and Friday, I realized that had become a little metaphor for my attitude toward relationships.

Not too long ago, I would approach relationships--friendships, romantic attachments, family connections, what have you--in a well-intentioned but haphazard way.

I wanted good things; I wanted good things that could be shared with someone else. (I think the technical term for that is "happiness.")

In terms of structure, I wanted something that would remain sturdy during unexpected storms, so I wouldn't have to go out and rebuild the darn thing every time we had a gusty day or know that, after a heavy snow, I was going to have to wait for a thaw to do the work of putting it all back together somehow.

I wanted the frickin' birds to stop swooping in, poking holes in the berries, and then flying off.

Ditto for the sneaky squirrels. They dart in like they own the place and then run away at the first sign of trouble--much like the rabbits.

Last fall, I decided to take stock of the situation with the strawberry beds and think things through more carefully, to prevent the things that I've known for years now are problems.

I made a mental inventory of all the pests I needed to keep out and the problems and challenges each type of pest posed.

I knew I needed to devise a structure that worked for me, on the basis of what I know about my own individual circumstances.

Because yes, you can go online and see what others have done, but sometimes those structures are not really feasible, won't solve the particular problems you face, and they're overly complicated and high-maintenance.

You have to know your own circumstances, as well as your tolerance level and capacity to maintain what you put in place.

When I established the strawberry beds years ago, I started small, with very limited expectations. So I realized that, basically, I'd outgrown them and both wanted--and could expect--far more.

Last fall, I simply opened up the space, so things could grow better and branch out a bit more.

I knew I could take down the structure that was there, because birds and squirrels and rabbits leave when there's nothing for them.

They only come around if they need something and you have something they want.

While they were away, I applied some overwintering TLC in the form of straw mulch and, after the holidays, the limbs of my old Christmas tree. One of the reasons why the strawberries have done as well as they have is, there used to be two huge pine trees on that particular spot. Since strawberries prefer acidic soil, a used Christmas tree makes a nice mulch.

This spring, it has had the added benefit of making me smile while I work. It's a reminder of a happy (pest-free) holiday season.

When the pandemic hit, I really wasn't sure what would happen. Would I be able to maintain what I'd started and build the structure I'd imagined all winter?

Or would I once again default to a catch-as-catch-can mindset of "It's better than nothing, you can make it work"?

In some ways, being down for the count for a couple of weeks helped me, because it forced me to be (a) patient: I knew I couldn't work on it as planned, so I resigned myself to just thinking through what the possibilities might be--both the good and the bad.

Quite frankly, I wasn't even sure I had the materials I'd need to make the structure I wanted.

But as it turns out, I did.

Even during the months (years) of sloppily-built or shoddy structures, I'd acquired solid materials and used them to build hastily constructed arrangements.

I discovered that I didn't need to go out and get anything new or develop any new skills. Everything I needed was all right there--I just needed to open the shed this week, sort through what was there, and figure out a better way to acquire the structure that I wanted.

As I was doing that, I couldn't help but think of an incident that occurred last fall.

I was working on a major landscaping project, and an acquaintance happened to drop by.

He quickly offered to help, and told me a better way to do what I was doing.

When I said, "No, it's okay, I got it," he left.

He came back with tools--that I didn't need--and a friend. Who just happened to want "loam." That's when I knew that, no, he hadn't just happened to drop by, that in fact he and his little friend had an ... understanding... that I was not ever going to be made aware of.

He started working on my landscape project "for" me, and announced that he was sure I wouldn't mind if his friend "helped himself" to the loam he was digging up.

My BF was stunned when I related this story.

The idea that someone would take it upon themselves to 1) work on my yard, without my permission, and 2) attempt to give away things that in no way belonged to him was astounding.

Unfortunately, I've seen this before. (I hate to say how many times.) When there's no "man of the house," some men--not all--assume that means they get to be the "man of the house."

For the record, the only "man of my house" is the one pictured on the right.

And he has officially delegated all managerial responsibilities and executive decision-making to me, actually.

As you can see, he and I regularly consult on projects over a cup of coffee, but overall, he trusts my judgment.

His general reaction to the other male creatures who happen to enter my house is to hide in the basement until I get rid of them.

When it was announced that the very ground under my feet was going to be given away to an absolute stranger, I simply said, "No."

Actually, what I said was, "I've dumped some stuff over there--if you guys want to sift through that and see if you can find anything useful, you're welcome to. But I need this right here for my garden."

In response, my "helper" said, "You have a garden?"

In fact, I have several gardens, all of which can be seen from the point where this person was digging.

And in fact, this person has chatted with me about gardening, on more than one occasion.

What was happening here was something that I've also experienced before.

A man claims he's "helping" you, proposes (assumes, actually) that you'll agree to his predetermined arrangement (he's left out some very key details) and--surprise, surprise, this arrangement ultimately  benefits him more than it does you and may actually be to your detriment.

And when you say, "No...you know what? I don't think so," you get dinged with an insult or a thinly-veiled attempt to undermine your perception and/or confidence.

In this case, I laughed, gestured broadly, and said, "Yes, I have a garden! I have several, actually! So I need the dirt. You and your friend are more than welcome to what's over there, if it's of any use, but I need this stuff and I'm keeping it."

They dropped their tools and left. So much for the "help."

And yes, this too has happened before.

So, to All the Single Ladies, I say this: if someone offers to "help" you and you either don't need or want said help or if you have a vague sense that they're really helping themselves, somehow... it's best to say "no" and see what happens.

Because no one who's really a friend and a helper will ever insult or ding you when you say, "Nope--I got this" or "I want this for me."

I was lucky because I was raised by a dad who taught me this early and often, inoculating me against the... "helpers" of the world.

I would come home from school and say, "Bobby said..." or "I was working on this thing and Johnny told me... and then when I said I wanted to do it myself, he said..." or "I thought Pete was my friend, but then I found out he told Sally that I was... why would he say that?"

Time and time again, my dad would say things like, "What makes Bobby the big expert all of a sudden?" or "Tell Johnny to mind his own business and go play with someone else" or "Pete's no friend of yours--he sounds like a liar and sneak and my guess is, Sally's no better--get away from all of them: you’ve got better things to do with your time!"

In short, my dad taught me, time and time again, that you need to know who your real friends and helpers in life are, and who's just pretending to be one of those people because they've got a little agenda of their own.

As far as the strawberry beds go, on Friday morning, even before I'd entirely finished building the structure that I wanted, this was the view from my window.


I think the moral of the metaphor here is, pests--like people with their own agenda-- will always sit and peep at the good things they want and try to find a way in.

Once you build a structure that keeps them out, you can see the sneakiness for what it really is.

And you no longer worry about it-- because, as my dad said, you've got better things to do with your time.