love, sex and other comestibles

He sat down at his favorite Italian place and ordered his favorite pasta and a beer. College basketball played silently from a discreet TV in the corner. A couple nearby were in a huddle over a plate of bruschetta. His buddy Sean, whom he’d known since high school, was behind the bar.

Just a nice, quiet Friday night.

When she came in, it was close to midnight and the place was empty but for a birthday group on its third bottle of wine. She sat down with a stool between them and Sean poured her a glass of white.

Small talk developed. Relaxed, he let slip a controversial opinion. He felt like Seattle was becoming a cultural dictatorship, so occasionally he liked to test someone. See how easy it would be to offend their PC sensibilities.

To his surprise she was not only not offended, she agreed, rejoined in fact. They took it further. Next thing he knew she had scooted over to the stool next to his, and he had ordered her another glass, and then…

He remembered to mention his fiancee. She remembered she had a ferry to catch. And as quickly as their connection had been made, it was over. She was gone. He paid Sean for his meal. Friday night ended with him walking home to walk his dog, and with her vowing to herself to time her evenings better so that she wasn’t stuck killing time with interesting strangers.

Strangers who had other commitments.

Currygiving, or, fixing Thanksgiving

Last night I enjoyed a tasty slice (or three) of pizza at a local spot known for its arty, gourmet pizza combinations. I realized I was tense… but why?

Oh, right. Thanksgiving is two days away. I’m not even doing the whole Thanksgiving shebang this year, but just the angst of year after year of gunky food and bizarre family interaction has left me with a sort of mild turkey-induced PTSD.

If someone invented a holiday involving gorging oneself on sushi, I’d be an early adopter. I’d love to A/B test a holiday involving endless amounts of curry. Enchilada Day? I’m there, heap on that guac and let’s party!

As it stands, it’s a foodie’s nightmare. Turkey is the meat most well-known for its chemical propensity to put you to sleep. Stuffing is made of stale bread crumbs. Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce? Bland, smooth, gelatinous. This is food for people who have lost their teeth and have to gum their way to nourishment.

As for the day itself? Let’s play this out, pretending you’re a single thirty-something like myself or half my friends.

It hasn’t even started yet and you’re already stressing.

You stare at the closet, wondering what to wear. It has to be ironed so you don’t scare Grandma (Oh dear, look at that crease, she must be unemployed again). That’s the older generation covered, but what about the younger? There will be forty-two small children running around, the offspring of various spouses and cousins you can no longer track without some kind of GPS-enabled app. This means your ensemble has to allow for the “magical” moment when you kneel to “bond” with the seven year old who has pumpkin goo in her hair and wants you to experience the awesomeness of her latest iPad game.

The fashion criteria so far is smooth yet kneel-able (it’s a word now). Just when you think you’ve nailed it, grabbing that pink blouse you hate and the skirt with the elastic waistband, you remember this a holiday about eating. You may hate all the food, but admit it, gorging will ensue. You’d better reach further back into the closet for the skirt that not only has the elastic waistband but is also very stretchy… everywhere.

Okay, good start. But you slump as you don this outfit. You are single on Thanksgiving. You’re wearing the Mom Outfit, with the safe earrings, and the we-might-play-touch-football loafers…

God, is there anyone you don’t have to please on this holiday? This is what made Hillary Clinton such a train wreck.

– too soon?

…and the super-stretchy formless skirt. You’re dressed like a mom. But you won’t have the joyous, warm, rewarding experience of driving home afterward with your children and your exhausted but sympathetic husband, all of you bitching the entire way about how crazy everyone was and all the shockingly horrid things Uncle Fred said.

At least that might offer catharsis.

What you’ll have is coming home to the cats. Let’s be honest. You’ll start peeling your Church Lady outfit as you walk through the door. You’ll beeline it past your furry roommates for whatever cupboard you stash the liquor in. You’ll start to look for a highball, and then give up and pour the cocktail in a nearby juice glass. Downing it, you’ll glare at the birthday card on the fridge. The birthday card from one of these relatives. The card is covered in flowers, false sentiment, and now, the memory of that relative stuffing turkey in her face while espousing the need to kill everyone who ever lived in, visited or even bought online from a Middle Eastern country.

Your cats watch you drink long and alone. Carrying the second round and continuing your de-clothing, you walk to the bathroom and wipe off the eight pounds of makeup you put on to compete with the anorexic cousin who always makes you feel like you’re still an overweight, pimply fourteen year old.

Exhale. It is over.

Finally, free of the Mom Outfit, you carry your cocktail into the bedroom. The cats are waiting for you, stretched comfortably at their appointed corners of the bed. You climb in to join them, lift the remote, and turn on some old sitcom. Because, at the end of a day like this, that’s all you’ve got left. Just: where do I drop my earrings… move your furry paw out of my face… remember to buy more orange bitters… zzzz.

In my mind’s eye, I can see indigenous people introducing us to a new land. In my mind’s eye, we take the cornucopia from these people, and then… we hand it back.

Here. It worked for you. Thank you so much, but keep this. Keep this for you. We’re going to invent something that works for us. A holiday that doesn’t involve stealing your bounty, land, and life.

A holiday that with all due respect doesn’t involve THE MOST BORING FOOD ON THE PLANET.

We may, as family, be stuck with each other. That fact may even be worth celebrating. But does it have to be doused in yams?

We’re going to invent a holiday that includes being honest with each other without judgment or anger. A day without Mom Outfits, even – especially – for moms. A day when nieces and nephews wipe the pumpkin goo from their hair, just for the bitchy aunt who lives alone with her cats.

And goddammit, a holiday based, even if I die fighting for it, on curry.

Fall in Love With Yourself

It’s one of the privileges of the single person to be stuck with oneself. Doing so will push you through many evolutions, or it should, if you’re lucky. I’ve been reborn a few times over the past ten years. Sometimes I wonder about all the people who got into LTRs in their early twenties and have rarely or never been single since. Did they not need to take the same solo journeys I did? Are they able to accomplish the same growth within a relationship? Or is all this radical understanding waiting for them down the line . . .

In my teens and early twenties I always felt a little tall, a little ungainly, not able to relax in a bathing suit. I spent a long time dating people I wasn’t attracted to physically or didn’t necessarily like that much because I was of the “I’ll take what I can get” mentality. This led to a series of absurd relationships, and worse, I was one of those people who blame most of their romantic ills on the opposite sex.

You can only walk out of the pancake house with a stomachache so many times before you stop blaming the waitress and start wondering, Maybe if I didn’t order the Slam Dunk Breakfast . . .

Then came a period that involved four overlapping romantic and platonic relationships with men (lover, friend, boss, and father all slam-dunked in one three-year period) that altered my course permanently.

Although a great deal of it was painful and conflicted and melodramatic, each of them made it possible for me to become what I am today. The men whose encouragement set me on the career I now have. A man who helped me weather a family trauma, and a man who taught me to trust my instincts. I learned how to write naughty things while in a long-distance relationship with one, and I learned that I was finally a “woman” and not a “girl” from the other.

I could no longer blame the opposite team for my scars–I could now clearly see that we each held swords. And that even the wounds were making me the woman I wanted to be.

Over the years I have asked men for absolution, for validation, for visibility in their more complimentary eyes when my own glance in the mirror was far too critical.

I took every compliment as a challenge, as though each had said, “No honey, you don’t suck, but you could suck even less.” I had to test myself on my own, to prove things to myself: traveling, living far from family on my own, starting a career, navigating life in different parts of the world, teaching myself everything from train systems to CSS.

Maybe (no, probably) that drive is excessive and harsh. All I can say is that when I entered my twenties, I didn’t particularly like myself, and I do now.

I never trusted myself to push myself that hard within the warm embrace of someone’s love. I knew then and still believe today that if I had gotten involved with someone after high school, I’d probably still be there . . . and still feel overweight, uninspired, and not fond of myself.

Tonight I pulled up in front of my apartment after being at an event at my dad’s business and caught, in the corner of my eye, a peek through the half-open blinds into my living room. A mirror and candles on the mantle, a dim light, glints of orange and red. The thought that popped in my head was, “I want to live there.”

Then I realized, Psst–you do live there.

Then I realized, Wow. It’s only taken you ten goddamn years to want the life you’re actually living.

I say this because sometimes breakups happen. Or you’ve been single for too long and feel dry and crusty. If you ever find yourself in that position, make a bucket list. And then do something on it.

Or fall in a crazy counter-intuitive love.

Just . . . take a risk. For yourself. Someday, you’ll be glad you did. And the man (men) who love you will be glad you did, too.