Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Ghetto

"Oh really," said my Thursday-night date after I mentioned what neighborhood I live in, "It seems like some parts of Roxbury are nice, and some parts are really ghetto."

I've been thinking a lot about his offhand comment ever since. I've told it to a few friends, and gotten mixed reactions: "I've heard a lot worse on first dates," "I'd say that's a dealbreaker for sure," "He wasn't thinking," and "He just meant it's a bit rundown in parts."

I know he wasn't really thinking about what he was saying, but I do think it's a dealbreaker for me (one of a number of dealbreakers: the fact that conversation didn't flow, I wasn't attracted to him, etc). I want to date someone who is thoughtful about the way they use language, and who is aware that in discussions of city neighborhoods many factors of race and economic status come into play. Someone who knows that the word "ghetto" comes from the separation of a group of people (Jews) in Venice, and that its use could be taken as an implication that it is a place where poor black people live, with the understanding that it would not be desirable to live in such a place.

Over the years, I have had to think a lot about the way I talk about the places I've lived and taught, because so many people have thoughtless reactions like my date's. I have emphasized how much I loved my students in Bed-Stuy, even while admitting how difficult it was to teach them. That I hated the cookie-cutter uniformity of the families in the wealthy suburb of Boston I taught in last year, while loving them each individually. How I admired the strong neighborhood community in the Brooklyn neighborhood I lived in with La Moustache, but felt uncomfortable with the fact that they prayed at community garden meetings. And, finally, how great it is to live where I do now, surrounded by all kinds of people: old, young, rich, poor, families, singles, black, white, straight, gay. All of them overwhelmingly kind and neighborly.

I was startled when a form of the same word came up on Friday during my date with an adorable Hipster Librarian. "It became ghettoized," he said, referring perhaps to the Brooklyn neighborhood where he was born or to some part of Germany he's been interested in exploring, I forget which. In any case, he knew exactly what it meant and he was using it precisely, with a full and complete understanding of the word and its history.

That, and the fact that when he went to the bathroom he left me reading material -- a treatise by an 18th century Irish philosopher -- left me utterly charmed. (And I have to admit, also the fact that I haven't dated someone so cute in years.) Go Hipster Librarian!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Kindy kids

My kindergarteners were hard at work last week finding rhymes in flip books I made for them. They had to match two pictures that rhymed, then think of another word that rhymed with the first two and draw it. One little whippersnapper thought out loud:

"Witch, witch... what rhymes with witch? I know! Bitch!!"

No reaction from the kids around her. The eight of them continued working without batting a lash. "Lizzy," I said calmly, "That's not actually a word we use in school. It's a word people use to say they don't like someone, but it's inappropriate."

"Oh!" she said, surprised. "I didn't know what it meant."

We continued working. A moment later, Adam approached me. "Jacob said an inappropriate word," he reported in a quiet, shocked voice. Another one?! I thought.

"Whisper the word in my ear," I instructed.

Adam leaned in, clearly embarrassed. In his quietest whisper, he murmured, "Underpants."

I managed to wait until I left the class ten minutes later before letting my giggles erupt.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Breakup narratives

Penelope Trunk has written about how when you lose a job you need to create a narrative to explain what happened -- for potential employers but also, I believe, for yourself. It doesn't really matter what the reason is that you got fired for; it's just important to have a reason that makes sense to you, a way to learn from the experience and move on. Similarly, I feel the need to have a narrative for every breakup, something I can take from the experience that explains why it didn't work out and how I can avoid that in the future. Here are a few of my narratives:

  • l'Artista -- wonderful guy who I truly loved and who truly loved me, but utterly incapable of commitment (and ultimately very self-centered because of his fear of commitment). Had I been older when I first met him I probably would have been a lot smarter about recognizing that.
  • La Moustache -- a snake in the grass, a chameleon with no real personality of his own who transformed himself into the perfect boyfriend for me because that's what he wanted at the time, then transformed himself again when he wanted something else.
  • Dreamy -- a safe choice after my difficult experience with Moustache, but we were never on the same wavelength. Just generally not the right guy for me.
  • Doctor O -- a very interesting man, but ultimately his Asperger's would have made him a difficult partner. I was fascinated by him but never felt that comfortable with him.

Given the suddenness and lack of explanation for how things ended with Monkeyboy, it's been a struggle to come up with a narrative. Two weeks later, the explanation that makes the most sense to me is that he couldn't handle the conflicting emotions of feeling devastated at the loss of his friend and excitement about me. That part of him wanted a relationship with someone he felt intimate and connected to, but part of him didn't, or didn't feel capable of it, or was scared (he had a long relationship that ended a couple of years ago with someone who sounds more like a good friend than a real love). It's sad that he chose to respond by slamming the door on my face so completely that when I asked a few days ago if we could meet up and talk more about it he (kindly but firmly) said no. It's not every day you meet someone who you feel so good with, and it's sad to have it end this way.

Part of me wants to be more careful next time, given how hurt I was by him. But finally, I can't say I have any regrets. I do want a relationship with someone I feel intimate and connected with, and in order to get that you have to put yourself out there.

Who knows, maybe I'll feel just as good about one of the three dates I have lined up as I did about Monkeyboy.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Messed Up

Student #1 (white, male, reading aloud from a book he's writing about grizzly bears): "In the springtime, James the grizzly found a mate. After the mating season was over, he left the female and returned to living on his own, as all grizzlies do."

Student #2 (black, female, working on something completely unrelated and absentmindedly listening to Student #1): That is MESSED UP. I mean, I get that they're animals and all. But in the people world, that is MESSED UP.

Me (inside my head): Shit. That's exactly what just happened to me. I am like a female grizzly bear.

You are so right, Student #2. It IS messed up. Thanks for the reminder.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Breakup recovery strategies

This breakup is small potatoes, so it's been a fast recovery. I'm well into the acceptance phase at this point. It's been interesting to notice how it progresses and think about what makes me feel better. Here are a few suggestions:

1) Make fun plans. I am going to be in a canoe race!! I will probably bring shame to my team, but who cares as long as it makes me feel better? Also coming up soon: trapeze lessons! Thank you, Groupon.

2) Let yourself perseverate on it for a few days. Not for too long, but perseveration is part of the process. Alternate perseverating with distraction.

3) Find friends who will meet you where you are. If you are perseverating, they will listen to you. If you are in the cocoon of denial, they don't try to force you out of it. Everyone (including me) forgets sometimes that the cocoon of denial is normal and healthy, but it is. Just don't forget to emerge from the cocoon when you're ready.

4) Write a goodbye card, then wait a week to send it. Some say it's giving him power by making him think you're still thinking about him; I say framing it in a positive way gives YOU power by not allowing him to feel you are the victim. E.g., "I think it's lame to act so excited about someone and then change your mind out of the blue. However, I enjoyed the time we spent together and am choosing to remember it fondly and think of you as a decent, if confused, guy." [Read: You suck, but it doesn't bother me and I'm not going to hold any grudges.]

5) Do yoga in the park with your neighbor, and embrace the fact that you're being stereotypically white and the black kids playing ball probably think you're ridiculous.

6) Defriend him on Facebook, erase all his texts and his phone number, and trash his Valentine's gifts. Well, maybe not the monkey, cause that was really cute.

(Damn him for getting me a gift subscription to a magazine! Did he plan it so I would be FORCED to think of him every month for an entire year??)

7) Read a good book. Detective novels are awesome at times like these. Fred Vargas is the best, and the fact that it's written in French puts me to sleep really quickly even when I'm feeling kinda tortured.

8) Let's not forget alcohol. Bless my friend R for reminding me that now would be a good time to break open that bottle of grappa. Thank you, grappa, for all your love and support this week.

9) And then move on. As a friend in my dating support groups says, NEXT!

Sunday, March 11, 2012


I believe in apologies. A real, heartfelt apology feels damn good to receive. One of the best apologies I've ever gotten came from an ex-boyfriend who wasn't very nice to me in high school. Ten years later, he got in touch to apologize. It was a short apology, and at first I thought it was strange and superfluous, since I was so far past caring. But after sitting on it for a while, I started to really appreciate it. He really HADN'T been nice to me, and it was good of him to hold himself accountable for it all those years later and not just chalk it up to being young. It made me feel like he is a good guy who had a momentary slip in judgment.

But lots of apologies feel empty, à la Newt Gingrich. I think La Moustache must have apologized to me about a million times, but he never took any responsibility for what happened. It was all, "I'm sorry, but the timing just ended up this way," and "Look, I'm sorry. I just feel really depressed and need to try something different," and "I'm sorry, I wanted our relationship to work and it didn't." Even now, if he were to write me and acknowledge how shoddily he treated me and tell me how terrible he feels about it, I think it would change the way I feel toward him. Instead, I imagine that he does feel guilty, and that he's still making excuses inside his own head.

Similarly, Monkeyboy's "I'm sorry. Truly," has a glib, hollow ring to it. Maybe it's just a question of time needing to pass before I can take it in. But if he were to say, for instance, "It must be very confusing the way I acted toward you. I came on so strong and really led you on with my behavior, and now I really regret that," I think I would feel differently.

So, if anyone has any apologizing to do, get out there and do it! And be sure to give details about why you feel bad (details are key). Hmm, who do I need to apologize to?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Happy birthday, Monkeyboy

I'm sad we won't be making dinner together this week for your birthday as planned. I won't be giving you the gifts I got for you, even if for the moment, I'm not ready to think about returning them. I was going to give you these, for hiking in the ice, along with a printout of information for a hike we could do together in the Whites:

And this, because you like my pottery:

And lastly this, so we could go see the movie together when it comes out in a couple weeks:

And also I was going to make you your favorite cake:

It probably wouldn't have looked quite that good, but I would've tried. I'm not going to send you a message to say happy birthday. I think you know I'm thinking it, anyway. I'm trying not to think about you and to find other people I'm interested in dating. This morning, I even threw out your toothbrush. But before the bristles touched anything in the trash, I grabbed it out again, because I'm just not quite ready for that yet. I'd hate to think you've thrown out my toothbrush already. And I don't quite buy what you said about things not feeling right between us. At least, they sure felt right from my point of view.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The stone vixen

Some people handle crises well. Others are sent into a tailspin, and rather than mourn and figure things out in a healthy way, they freak out. Turns out Monkeyboy is in the latter category, as I discovered after a friend of his passed away suddenly last week.

I don't mean to minimize Monkeyboy's loss. It's incredibly sad. I can understand him wanting some time to himself to mourn. But it's hard for me to understand why this would lead to him doing a complete about-face with regards to me. One Sunday, he was introducing me to his oldest friends and making plans for things we could do together over the summer. By Friday, he was unsure about things but didn't want me to worry, and told me he "didn't want to make any decisions while in crisis mode." However, 48 hours later, crisis mode was apparently over, and he told me that while he was more excited about me than anyone he'd met in years, it "just didn't feel right."

One thing I pride myself on is my comportment during a breakup. Sure, it's not always that easy, and I broke about a million of my own rules when Moustache broke up with me (rules like don't bite the other person, maintain self possession...). But this breakup was a snap. I quickly adapted what I call my "stone vixen" stance, maintaining a polite, amused smile on my face throughout the conversation and refusing any physical contact. Smiling all the while, I told him that he hadn't behaved very nicely to me. When he went on to explain his crisis in more depth, I very politely interrupted to tell him that I thought the best word to describe him is "fickle." Then I escorted him to the door, allaying his apologies by repeating, "It's all right. Believe me, it is QUITE all right."

I had high hopes for Monkeyboy. It's unfortunate he turned out to be so lame. Probably not worth crying any tears over, though.