Tag Archives: relationships

How to make the first move

I went out to lunch with a coworker today. She’s someone I have known for years, and have always thought she was just a wonderful person. As long as I’ve known her, she’s been bubbly and upbeat, cheering others on around her in their endeavors, and just an inspiration on how to be a decent person. But being a natural introvert, I’ve never been one to make the first move to get to know her better – or anyone at work, for that matter. I’ve always left it up to others to try and get to know me better because it’s just easier that way, you know? There’s less risk involved. Naturally that must mean I have tons of friends, right?

You’d think, huh.

Surprisingly, it doesn’t work that way. But regardless, this coworker and I connected recently and came to the mutual decision that we should really have lunch. We ended up having over an hour of fantastic conversation as we discussed everything from our kids to our faith, and everything in between. When we got back to our desks, she emailed me the kindest note. In it, she mentioned that while it might not seem like it, she’s actually a very shy person.

“I’m not one to socialize much,” she wrote, “but you make it very easy. Let’s do it again!”

When it’s hard to make friends, maybe we just need a reminder we’re not the only ones who are shy. Somewhere out there is another human being who is longing for a friend and not sure how to go about it. It’s not just us who are afraid to make the first move. Others are too. But if no one makes the first move, then no one will go forward.

This truth is currently being illustrated by my stepson, Frizz, as he agonizes how to ask out the girl he has liked for the better part of the school year. As a senior, he is closing in on the end of his high school years. He is also closing in on the last chance he has to even talk to the girl he likes – let alone ask her out on a date, and perhaps even ask her to be his girlfriend. But just making that first step is terrifying enough, let alone any of the steps that follow after that.

Not sure how to advise my stepson, I asked my daughter, DQ, how she has been asked out in the past. She shared her most recent experience with me. The boy got to know her by asking a lot of questions about her, keeping his attention focused on her. The attraction proved to be mutual, and both of them dropped hints about their interest in each other. And when this boy was able to see that DQ was into him, he asked her to be his girlfriend.

“I guess what Frizz should do is just really try to get to know this girl better, then get her number, and when the moment seems right, tell her how he feels and see if she feels the same way,” DQ advised. “If he does it right, he might even know that she likes him back when he gets to that point.”

Of course, she makes it sound so easy. And truthfully, if you put your nerves aside, it really is that easy. But for someone as shy as Frizz, as shy as my coworker, as shy as ME, taking that first step can feel like preparing to jump off a cliff.

But if no one makes the first move, then no one will go forward.

I guess this could be a lesson in anything. We never know what will happen unless we make that first move – whether it be making a new friend, expressing a feeling of adoration, publishing a book, taking a stand for yourself, risking it all…. If we live a life so full of caution that it keeps us from living life to the fullest, we can’t claim we know the bad that will happen. We also will never know the good that will happen.

Being social for an introvert might feel totally unnatural. But while painful at first, barreling through that shyness isn’t lethal. It might seem that way, but taking that first step won’t strike you down dead. The worst that can happen is that you might get turned down. Sucky, sure. But you’ll be able to move beyond it rather than getting stuck in the unknown. And the best that can happen? You’ll get exactly what you wanted in the first place. A new friend. That special someone who likes you just as much as you like her. Or a published book (only a few more weeks left until A Symphony of Cicadas is officially published).

We’ll never know until we’ve made the first move.

What I bring to the table.

Table

“Your writing is so amazing,” Shawn told me, coming downstairs after spending an hour with the rough draft of my novel he’s been proofreading for the past several days. “I can see that you’ve taken some of the suggestions I’ve given you and grown as a writer.”

He meant it as a compliment. And I swear I heard it in there. But what I also heard was, “I’m glad I happened to come along and save you from a doomed life of writing badly. How would you have every survived if I weren’t here to hold you up?”

“I haven’t even read the revisions from the last novel,” I told him. Well, that was only partially true. Admittedly, this was at the same time I was revising a novel I wrote last year, reading over the notes he had made in the margin on parts that needed a little more help. While I hadn’t taken the time to pore over the suggestions he had left me, I had skimmed through it and appreciated the honest remarks he had left, both exclaiming over the parts he loved and suggesting places that needed a little more fleshing out. And now as I went through the physical act of revising, his notes gave me clear-cut clues on what a reader would be wondering as well.

But still, my pride wouldn’t let him take credit for all I had pored into it.

“What do you mean?” he asked. I could already feel the half-eaten foot in my mouth swelling to try and prevent me from speaking. But I only pushed it aside and continued.

“I mean, I’ve grown as a writer because of continued practice, not because you’ve taught me how to do it,” I said, trying to sound light but feeling backed into a corner.

“I’m not trying to take credit for your writing,” he told me. The smile on his face had long since disappeared, leaving behind a look of bewilderment at a reaction he hadn’t been expecting.

“I know, I’m sorry. It’s just, what if I were to say ‘Great job on selling search engine optimization at your new job. Thank goodness you have me to teach you all about the internet so you can do your job properly’.”

“I’m not saying that, though,” he stammered. “I’m trying to pay you a compliment! Maybe I should just stop reading your novel.”

“If you don’t want to read it, then don’t!” I yelled at him.

And just like that, things went from dumb to completely idiotic.

I didn’t know why I was reacting so strongly. Of course he wasn’t taking credit for my writing. I knew that deep down. But for some reason his statement was pecking at me, taking away from my accomplishment even when that wasn’t Shawn’s intention at all.

When we had cooled down some, we gave each other a wounded offering of apology. I’m not sure either of us meant it completely, both still smarting from the earlier argument. But it was the only way to move past the surface and dig deep into what was really going on.

“What is going on?” he asked me.

“I don’t know,” I told him.  But it was starting to come to me, a series of past hurdles I’d overcome that decided I wasn’t done running from them yet.

“I once dated a man who told me to my face that he had saved me from being a white trash nobody, how he had single-handedly raised my standard of living just by his presence alone,” I admitted to him, detailing how even then that statement hadn’t sat well with me, yet my meek little self had accepted it in the moment. I described how my ex-husband had also placed himself in this pedestal position – or rather, I had placed him there on my own. I had spent so many years building him up and letting him shine that I had forgotten to work on my own being. And somehow I was able to explain something I hadn’t even realized was haunting me, how important it was for me now to stand on my own two feet in recognition of my accomplishments.

“You’re organized and responsible,” I told him. It was in reference to a statement he had made earlier last week, stating that he must be rubbing off on me as I encouraged the kids to clean up their mess. “But I have some of those traits as well, and I had them before I even met you.” I was firm in my insistence of this, but we both could hear the question that lingered within it.

“Are you unsure of what you bring to the table in this marriage, how you help ME to be a better person?” he asked me. I paused, suddenly realizing I didn’t know the answer to this question, at least not in this moment. I had spent so much energy fighting against another pedestal that  I couldn’t think of any of the strengths I possessed that helped bring Shawn up.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess I help you with patience, and how to parent a teenage daughter.” The answer was weak, I knew it.

Unfortunately time was not on our side. We were minutes away from needing to get in the car and drive to my parents’ house for dinner. We made peace with the conclusion of our discussion, deciding that even if the conversation wasn’t finished, we could still end it with a hug and a mutual unspoken agreement that it was over.

We spent a really good evening at my parents’ house, visiting with my family over dinner and dessert before saying goodbye and driving back home. On the way, Frizz turned on the radio and let it scan through the stations. Every time it landed on a song we knew, the kids and I would break into song and fill the car with mostly on-key versions, belting out the words we knew and stumbling over the ones we didn’t. Even Frizz joined in, the act of singing in the privacy of our car still cool in his 17-year-old mind.

Once home, I began to decorate the Christmas tree, a task we had been putting off for days. Little by little, everyone joined in, placing their favorite ornament on the tree as we remembered where each one came from. It was done in no time, slightly lopsided in the areas that were decorated more than others, but beautiful just the same.

DQ and I then set to filling out December’s activities on the dry erase calendar that hung on the wall. We took turns giggling as we noted the End of the World with a zombie apocalypse on December 21st, adorning it with pictures of hungry zombies that invaded the day’s space. We continued our giggles as I noted the San Francisco trip we were taking the very next day when we ultimately survived the day of doom. I finished up the calendar with various doodles depicting a month of activities in a colorful display.

Calendar1

 

 

Calendar2

Shawn leaned over me in my dedication to the calendar, kissing me lightly on the neck. “Do you know what you bring to this marriage, and to the family?” he asked me. “Fun.  You help me to be more fun, and you make things more fun in this family.  I never would do stuff like this.  But you do, and we all appreciate it.

The whole family was in the living room, enjoying a few last moments of silliness before bedtime.  The evening had been spent with mostly smiles.   The calendar had become a monthly point of anticipation as everyone wondered how I would decorate it at the turn of the month.

And I believed in what Shawn said.

I know I have improved in every facet of my life by the steps I have taken to get to where I am today. This is true in the quality of my life, just as it is true in the skills I possess in my writing. But these accomplishments didn’t just manifest entirely of their own accord. They were inspired partially by those that influenced me along the way. Each novel I have written in the past few years has proven to be better than the last, proof that practice makes perfect. But admittedly, this last novel improved leaps and bounds as I (ok, I admit it) took the suggestions Shawn had made and kept them in mind as I extended my description and prose. It’s ok to be inspired by others. In fact, it would be a lie to believe otherwise.

And it doesn’t make my accomplishments any less great than they are. 🙂

How to answer "Does this outfit make me look fat?"

DQ was in our room this morning putting her hair up and borrowing my make-up – our usual morning routine while I’m getting ready and Mr. W is getting his coffee on. “Does my hair look bad like this?” she asked me. And I paused long enough for her to realize I wasn’t crazy about the look. “You hate it, don’t you,” she asked.

“No, I don’t hate it. It’s just not my favorite,” I admitted. She messed with it some more before finally taking it out and brushing it to start over. Mr. W came back in the room and I booted her out so he could shower. “Sorry, DQ,” I said, knowing she was struggling for her hair to work the way she wanted it to.

“It’s ok,” she said, leaving her mess on the counter for me to clean up. “I think my hair looks better down.” And she closed the door behind her.

“Sorry you have to kick her out,” Mr. W said once she was gone. “I guess this is like your bonding time, right?”

“Sort of,” I replied. “It’s more like her opportunity to use up all my make-up and hairspray, get an opinion on her hair and see if her outfit makes her look fat.”

Mr. W paused thoughtfully, mulling that over before turning back to me.

“How exactly do you answer that question – ‘Does this outfit make me look fat?’” he asked me seriously.

“Well you never say ‘yes’,” I told him. “Even if it does, you never say an outfit makes a girl look fat.”

“So what do you say?” he asked me.

“You say ‘Well, I’ve seen you look better,’ or suggest an outfit that is really flattering on them.”

“Really? That’s like 6 words compared to 1.” He held up his fingers to mimic people talking.

Finger 1: “Does this make me look fat?”
Finger 2: “Yes.”

Or…

Finger 1: “Does this make me look fat?”
Finger 2: “Well, I’ve seen you look better…”

“See?  It’s just way more effort than just telling her that it does,” he said.

“Except that’s not exactly how it would go,” I corrected him, then held up my own fingers.

Finger 1: “Does this make me look fat?”
Finger 2: “Yes.”
Finger 1: “Really. So you’re calling me fat?”
Finger 2: “No, wait. That’s not what I meant.”
Finger 1: “Oh I know what you meant. You think I’m fat.”
Finger 2: “You’re not fat. That outfit doesn’t make you look fat. In fact, it makes you look really skinny.”
Finger 1: “It’s fine. Whatever.”
Finger 2: “I’m serious! Have you lost weight?”
Finger 1: (no longer speaking, but finger manages to give a dirty look)
Finger 2: “I’m really sorry, sweetie.”
Finger 1: (still not speaking, but gives him the finger)
Finger 2: (sighs) “Can we just go now? You look really great.”
Finger 1: “I’m no longer in the mood. Just go without me. I’ll be here starving myself so I’m not so fat.”

Or…

Finger 1: “Does this make me look fat?”
Finger 2: “No, but I think those other pants make your butt look really hot.”
Finger 1: “Hmmmm…. You know, you’re right. I think I’ll wear those. Thank you sweetie!”

I smirked at Mr. W and went back to doing my hair. “See? It actually saves you a ton of time.”  He laughed out loud.

“Really?” he laughed.

“Really,” I told him matter-of-factly. I concentrated on my hair that was having it’s own issues. I had blow dried it, curled it, put it up, brushed it down…and it was flat as a pancake and just not cooperating. “Ugh! I hate my hair! It’s just not working!” I said. I managed to finally get it up in a messy bun that looked almost decent, and then checked it from the back.  I looked at Mr. W and raised my eyebrows quizzically to see what his opinion was.

“Well, I’ve seen it look better,” he said, then ducked behind the bathroom door to take his shower before I could smack him with the towel.

The imperfect part of love

If you are wishing to find out more about the person you love, and how compatible you’ll be with them for life, I suggest you build something with them. Once before it had been a polite affair. But this time I found myself on the holding end of the side of a shed we were building, Mr. W performing the extremely hard job of twisting a screw in while also comparing me to a workman on the freeway holding a stop sign. Not that I’m against anyone whose job it is to hold up traffic while road work is being done. But it was the way he said it, totally downgrading my offer to help him out – demoting me to a sign holder while he was actually CREATING (insert man howl here). And when I gave him “the look”, he had the audacity to ask “What?”, as if I weren’t saving his life in my use of balance and tenacity in the holding of this metal wall, fighting the urge to let it fall and have him build the whole damn shed by himself.

Of course, I may have been a tad bit sensitive over the whole thing, totally making a bigger deal out of it than it really was. When building something with the person you love, it’s possible you might learn something about yourself, as well – like, I’m not always as sweet as pie or totally reasonable. And that I really could (as I promised him I would) keep bringing this story up and not let him live it down.

There eventually came a point when there wasn’t anything else I could do to help him, making me more of a body in the way than a body that was helping. So I assisted Mr. W by ensuring his coffee cup and water glass were always full, and making him a sandwich so he wouldn’t go hungry. And then, just to make sure I wasn’t totally abandoning him while he worked, I sat on the grass near the building and snapped photos of him building our shed in between talking with my sister on the phone. That way I could be at his side in a moment’s notice should he need my assistance. However, my willingness to be there for him must have been missed, as he strongly suggested I talk on the phone elsewhere so he could actually understand the directions he was trying to read.

He obviously didn’t appreciate my help.

The next level of helping required some necessary tools.

Living with Mr. W has been a wonderful experience. And just like I feared, it has changed our relationship dramatically. But I’ve realized that isn’t a bad thing. It’s interesting how we have graduated from the nice stage of being totally smitten and fawning all over each other to the occasional snipping at each other in moments of frustration. What’s even nicer is the fact that we can snip at each other and not feel like everything is doomed. Being around each other daily has allowed us the opportunity to see each other in unflattering lights – and still appreciate each other. In fact, sometimes I think the unflattering parts are what help us to love each other more. It allows for honesty on a deeper level, stripping away our need to always appear perfect and wonderful to the other person and just be 100% ourselves. That person I am when I’m singing in the shower or doing silly moves when no one is looking or does something totally unladylike and totally embarassing? She is the same person that wakes up next to Mr. W every day. And he knows it (and still loves me!).

And in times when our loving tones are replaced with snipping sentences that are voiced out of frustration, there are less hurt feelings than would have been previously. So he snapped at me over a building project or likened me to a sign holder, or I playfully made sure he’ll never live down poorly chosen words. The ease we have come into with this new phase of our relationship has allowed there to be imperfect parts while still possessing underlying tones of love and respect. Our relationship isn’t threatened. And we can walk away from those snippy moments and move on with the rest of our day.

Day One of Project Build Shed ended up being a full day affair. And both of us wouldn’t have been sad to see the whole building disappear overnight, forcing us to buy a pre-built shed that didn’t require a million screws like this one.

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But it was still standing the next morning, needing just a bit more work until it was done. And this time, we left the snippiness out of it while we worked together. Soon we had a fully functioning shed with sliding doors and a (hopefully) leak-proof roof successfully standing in the corner of our yard, ready to be filled with every single item we can’t bear to give away but no longer wish to look at.

Of course, days later it’s still empty. But we’ll save that snipping session for another time.

Hey, Jealousy

“My boyfriend left the house and I don’t when he’s coming back,” Jenny told me the other day on the phone. I listened sympathetically while she sobbed, relaying the whole story. A year ago in her single days, she’d had a few too many at the bar while out with friends.  She ended up going home with one of her guy friends. Their friendship crossed the line quickly, but stopped after a heavy make out session when they had sobered up enough to realize that where they were going wasn’t somewhere they’d want to be in the morning. They stopped it short and promised to never speak of it again.

Several months later, Jenny’s new boyfriend asked her about her past relationship with this friend, and true to their agreement, Jenny denied that anything had ever happened. It was when she was still single, and she decided that telling him would only make him uncomfortable as they were all mutual friends. And mostly, she knew that he would be pissed that she had hooked up with a friend of theirs.  Keeping mum about the situation was the only thing she could think of doing. 

But as time wore on, Jenny felt guilty about lying. So she fessed up. What resulted was a yelling match, a slammed door, and Jenny on the other line with me sobbing into the phone. And as she wondered what she was going to do, I couldn’t help but feel my anger seethe at how the blame was being placed entirely on her.

Jealousy doesn’t feel good.  I’m not sure who those people out there are that claim a little bit of jealousy keeps the interest going in a relationship, but I don’t believe it for a second.  Having been a part of a jealous relationship, I can honestly say that it is not healthy, and it’s totally unnecessary. Sure, we all have been hurt in the past, and it’s a natural impulse to ensure that it doesn’t happen again in the present (even when we know that if it’s going to happen, it will with or without us monitoring the situation). And it’s true that there are many situations when jealousy is warranted because someone is truly untrustworthy. But in other times, jealousy has nothing to do with the accused, and everything to do with the accuser. It’s their issue, stemming all the way back to a time when someone did them wrong. In the past, I’ve been yelled at because a guy so much as looked at me, and I’ve been called horrible names if my eyes ever met another male’s gaze. And then there’s the questioning about past relationships before the current beau was even in the picture. Curiosity is one thing. It’s ok to know about the person you love before they knew you, and what their past relationships were like. It gives glimpses into your loved one’s past that explain a bit about who they are today. And if honest curiosity is all it is, then by all means, ask away. But when past behaviors are held against someone who has moved on from it, that’s when it gets hairy. I’m sorry to say that I have divulged too much information in the past when put under the bright lights and interrogated. I did it in the name of trust, to show that person that I had nothing to hide. Let me be the first to tell you, it doesn’t work. If someone is so adamant that they are going to catch you in something, and you placate this little fantasy by giving them everything they think they need, it won’t stop. No matter how many times I gave away the farm when it came to my own personal past life, nothing was ever good enough. My life before them was consistently held against me. And the questioning continued until the relationship inevitably died.

What I came to realize years later was that, while I had felt like I was in the wrong, it was actually my significant other who should have been in the hot seat. They had no right to be asking me about things from my past when they only chose to use it against me. I, like Jenny, and like many of you out there, am not a saint. I have done things I regret, but have learned lessons from these blemishes. They have helped me to grow in many areas as a result. While I wish I had the wisdom then not to make some of the mistakes I did, I wouldn’t take them away. I am the person I am today because of them. And I’ll be damned to make the same mistake twice.

Hearing Jenny go on and on about how she was 100% in the wrong, and wondering how she could ever regain her boyfriend’s trust again, I couldn’t keep quiet any longer.

“Jenny, have you ever wondered about WHY you lied in the first place?” I asked her.

“Because he would have been mad at me and at our friend for having kissed,” she told me.

“Besides the fact that kissing him was not wrong, have you ever thought that maybe you lied because it wasn’t safe for you to tell the truth?” I asked her. She murmured in agreement. “Jenny, I can’t help but feel pissed that this guy is even bringing up the past. He has made it an unsafe place for you to even tell him about your past, and yet he still expects you to answer him honestly when he asks you questions that don’t have anything to do with him. He has no right interrogating you when he knows how he’ll react if you confirm his suspicions. He really needs to grow up in the jealousy department. And instead of getting mad at you, maybe he should be mad at himself for making it impossible to be honest with him over these hard issues.”

She didn’t take this so well, and the conversation almost ended. I’d gone a little farther than I knew I should. But I was really angry at this guy, who I usually think highly of, but who was also making my friend’s life miserable in this moment.  Not to mention that he was being a complete jackass.

“This is fixable,” I said, softening the blow a little. “The black and white of this situation is that you lied to him. And now he feels like he can’t trust you. But the gray part is the reason that you lied in the first place. That’s the part of this conflict that needs to be addressed so that you two can grow from this. It’s just going to take some communication. Good news is that when stuff like this arises, it gives opportunity for growth and can actually strengthen your relationship. A successful relationship must be worked on every day.”

“Well, right now he doesn’t even want to talk about it, or to me. I’m not sure what to do except to just give him his space.”

“That’s all you can do,” I told her. “Wait until you two can talk rationally before you try and work it out.”

Jenny wasn’t totally convinced with what I had to say, and is still taking a big brunt of this on her shoulders. And I wonder…

Am I wrong?

Should she have told him the truth upfront since they are in a committed relationship?
Is there a line in relationships where honesty is not the best policy, or should honesty be adhered to at all times? 
Did her lie make her untrustworthy and guilty of withholding information?
Or am I right in thinking that he shares a large part of the blame here for her lie?