New Age Twaddle and a Swift Kick in the Pants

Coping mechanisms are strange, often costly things.  They serve a good purpose, but at times they can slip out of our control and mutate into things that we think we’re using to better and protect ourselves, when really they’re contributing to the damage.   I know a few people who are hurting, confused, unhappy, feeling entirely lost, and are coping by attempting to find the easy, unlocked door out of pain.  I get it – more than you might think I do. We all want concrete reasons for things.  These people are smart, and important to people, and loved, and supported regardless of any questionable decisions they’ve made.  But they are weak-minded.  Now, being weak-minded is a temporary illness, one which can be cured through an individual’s hard work and acceptance of reality.  And because we care, sometimes for people to regain sight of reality, they require a much-needed swift kick in the pants.

New Age systems and mindsets are a bubbling crock of plasticky nacho cheese dip.  You really think you want cheese dip, and it tastes sort of like cheese dip so you’ll probably keep eating it for a while.  But it will never be real cheese, it’s not good for you, and will never give you the fulfillment you’re looking for.  New Age methods and ideas make up theories about imaginary energy and power, and then convince people that they have control over things they do not.  One of my favorite examples is crystals.  Crystals don’t do shit. It doesn’t matter how much you power them up by the light of the blood moon. They are rocks. They sit there. They do nothing, and have no mysticism or power. They are affected only by a strong enough force which can change their location or composition: things like a strong wind, or erosion. They’re pretty, yes. But they’re still just stupid rocks.

This rock looks like the Earth! That means it will decrease the pollutants I breathe as long as it's in my pocket!

This rock looks like the Earth! That means it will decrease the pollutants I breathe as long as it’s in my pocket!

Someone has convinced these people that forcing life’s weirdness into neat little imaginary boxes will help you feel better, or that objects or fake energy manipulation will give you a leg up in solving life’s problems. That person is a misguided or mal-intentioned asshole. They are either delusional, or they want your money. Probably the latter. Oh? You already paid $2000 for a course in Finding Your Inner Goddess? Shit, well it looks like you’re out $2000, and gained nothing but a whole lot of made-up crap that manipulates your emotions to make you feel better about losing $2000.

There is a difference between spirituality and commercialized spirituality, and it’s time to learn the difference. Spirituality is when you find methods and ways of thinking that help you to be or become whoever you want. It can help you through difficult times, and help you maintain a positive attitude. Commercialized spirituality is when you find methods and ways of thinking from a self-help book, or an internet article, or some lady at a Renaissance Faire, or anyone who claims they’ve discovered something new about things you can’t see, or figured something out about life. They want attention, money, praise, and devotion. If their methods temporarily help you, then they will absorb your glowing reviews and continue to spew forth bullshit and unsubstantiated claims. If their methods do not help you, then you’re clearly not doing it correctly. You have a lot to learn. How about you purchase these weekly reiki sessions? That will surely clear the invisible wisps of bad energy they see floating around your head. Oh, you don’t see any wisps? That’s because you must not have the gift. Only they do, so you’ll just have to take their word for it.  I hope you’re seeing the issue here.  Hint: it’s not your wisps.

Say the money doesn’t matter at all though.  For the sake of argument, let’s say all the self-help books, blessed crystals, Inner Balance Retreats, Chakra readings, and tarot cards are all free of charge for life. There’s something I want to say about all of them: I get why people think they’re cool. I understand the appeal. The idea that this gorgeous, shiny, multi-faceted crystal could hold unrealized powers is an AWESOME concept.  The idea that there’s another realm, or plane, that’s full of unknown energy that we could discover and harness for ourselves is COOL.  It’s a combination of beauty, an unexpected object, and an impossible benefit to the possessor, which is fascinating.  This recipe has done insanely well in literature and movies of the last 100 years for a good reason. The Philosopher’s Stone, Draconite, The Necklace of Harmonia, The Flying Dutchman, Pandora’s Box, The Book of Thoth, Lembas bread, Mead of Poetry, the list is endless. It’s a concept that’s been used since storytelling first began, since the first myths were spoken, and since humans first wanted to try and rationalize things that happened to them. They are beautiful descriptions and fantastic stories. But they are not real. Objects do not have inexplicable power. Magic does not exist, no matter if you call it astrology, reiki, meditation, healing stones, or raindances. I wish it did, because the world would be far more interesting, but it doesn’t.

So what’s the problem?  If people like those ideas, then why not just let them have it?  Are they hurting anyone?  The answer is yes, they actually are – they’re hurting themselves, and by proxy, their relationships.  They have taken these mythical concepts and twisted them together with their own unhappiness and pain as a coping mechanism. And they’ve convinced themselves that it was a good idea. Somewhere deep down they know it was an awful idea, and it’s all just a waste of time.  They’re stuck in a cycle of trying one new trend or system or ritual after another, and it’s all a bunch of lunchmeat that distracts from the real problem: themselves.  They are ignoring the causes of their pain and the root of their problems, and are trying to smear a magical salve over it by rearranging their furniture or carrying the right stone around their neck.  They are avoiding putting in the work to process how they’re feeling, fix relationships, acknowledge their own mistakes, and talk about the things that hurt in order to truly start healing.  It’s not that their energy flow isn’t right, it’s that they are complacent.   It’s time to come back to the reality of being a human, which is that you’re going to get hurt sometimes (sometimes by ourselves), and it’s awful, but you process and you grieve and you get over it – that is the way to “inner peace” and “balance” and mental and emotional health. You will not achieve those things by burying yourself in empty promises and mystical cards.

An important study was done recently, by some very intelligent and astute people. They realized there’s a problem in our society today: the quickly expanding production and acceptance of bullshit. The entire paper can be found here, and I encourage you to read it. But the concentrated point is that people are startlingly gullible, and easily convince themselves that there is higher meaning to be found in meaningless things. An example from analysis of literature:

“As noted by philosophers studying the topic, the bullshitter oft has the intention of implying greater meaning than is literally contained in the message, though the nature of the intent can vary. For example, the literary critic Empson (1947) describes the use of ambiguity in literature, including a type of intentional ambiguity used by poets in which a passage ‘says nothing, by tautology, by contradiction, or by irrelevant statements; so that the reader is forced to invent statements of his own . . . ‘”

If you are highly susceptible to bullshit, my friend, it does not mean that you are stupid.  It just means that you fell into a hole, and you need someone to turn on the light and help you throw away the plasticky cheese dip.  People who have not thrown it away sooner have held onto their newfound beliefs and rituals because they are scared – understandably so. But the hatred and judgment they believe they are feeling, or will feel from those who love them, is manufactured by their own fear. They are afraid of being wrong, and being ridiculed for admitting it.  Perhaps most nerve-wracking of all: they are afraid of being loved and accepted, because that opens the door for them to soften, become vulnerable, and reciprocate.

Cheese Dip Friends, we will not shun you, we will not insult you, we will not berate you.  But we see that you’re clearly struggling.  Everyone does except you.  It is your job to take a sledgehammer to your own walls.  Those walls are not for us to try and climb over, because you will make them increasingly higher the closer we get to reaching you.  It is your job to self-regulate, accept yourself as a fallible human, and accept our support of you in the dark times that you’re in.

It is terrifying to announce to people that you no longer believe in the thing you preached so hard about.

It is terrifying to embrace the idea that the only thing that can better your life is you alone, with no magic, no prophetical cards, no crystals, and no books to tell you how you should course-correct.

It is terrifying to release the death-grip you have on your pride, because your pride is the shield you use to keep people at a distance that’s comfortable.

It’s terrifying to let go of all the reasons and meaning that you’ve created and believed, and to realize that there aren’t any reasons for things sometimes.

But all of those things aren’t nearly as scary as the possibility of living in a dark, disquieted state just because you believed a bunch of new age lies.  Throw away the self-help books, bury the crystals in the dirt, and throw the tarot cards into the fire.  They will never help you, but the people who care about you will.

 

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The Evitable Holiday Stressageddon

I love the holiday season. I love putting my Christmas tree up immediately after Thanksgiving is over, I love when the temperatures plummet and I can build a fire, I love the food, and I love how stupid my cats look when they chomp on the branches of my fake tree. This time of year is all about an assortment of cozy, intangible things: giving, togetherness, charity, etc. Everyone talks the talk – but Christ on a cracker, people get intensely stressed out. It amazes me how common it is to squeeze past the point of The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

There will always be those people (you know them – don’t lie) who just can’t pull their heads out of the snow and appreciate this time of year. They have to complain and be bitter. Their lives depend on it, I think, otherwise they may deflate. There are others of us who want to savor the season, and we make an effort to every year. We try to make the sugar cookies look perfect, the lights over the garage taut and straight, our kids happy and entertained, and have the perfect, stylish centerpieces for Christmas dinner. None of those are bad things to want, or to have. But when the pressure becomes all-consuming, not only does the purpose of the holidays get crushed, but so does your sanity.

Below, you will find a list of things that will lighten your load this holiday season. These are not life hacks. They are not 3-ingredient recipes that will still wow your guests, nor never-before-seen ways of curling a ribbon. They are changes that are hard, and at times unpleasant to start. But they are long-term, and if you are serious about implementing them, they will drastically lower your stress level during this most joyous time of year.

  

Be Helpful

Yes, you’re overwhelmed. Yes, the possibility of assisting others seems insurmountable right now. But it’s important to make a concerted effort to remember others.  The concept of “the village” is valuable, although it’s been largely tossed aside these days. We were meant to help each other – and not only when it’s convenient for us. If you know someone who is overwhelmed, offer a spare afternoon to help them clean before their out-of-town guests arrive. If you know someone who is strapped for cash, offer to help them with some small gifts for their kids, or even offer to give them some of your childrens’ lightly used things. Offer to bake a pie or a casserole for someone you know isn’t the best cook. Offer to take someone’s kids for a drive through the neighborhoods with the prettiest Christmas lights to give them time. Offer to pick up someone’s family members from the airport. There are endless possibilities here, but the most important element of all of them is the offer itself. Do not wait to be asked. If someone turns down your offer, that’s ok. They probably have their reasons. But offer, extend the kindness first, and be glad to do it.

The village mentality dictates that these people will do the same for you when they’re in the more comfortable position. That’s how it works. It’s not a system of “you owe me,” but rather of “I’d like to return the kindness you gave when I was in need.” This is a practice that has been lost for too long, even though it’s foundational to our communities. The old-timey idea of neighbors running over a cup of flour because you were short for a recipe, or children helping older neighbors shovel snow from the driveway is not a pipe dream, nor a marketing scheme. It used to be reality, and can become so again as long as enough people participate. 

Be Helpful to Yourself

You cannot be Santa Claus. Nor can you be Super Parents, nor The Best Husband/Wife Ever, nor The Most Thoughtful Child, nor any other interpretation of perfection. You can’t be those things because they don’t exist (except Santa, obviously). Doing it all, being it all, achieving it all, affording it all – you can’t do it. Not because you aren’t an exceptional human being, but because chasing all those things will make you a lesser human being. 

I’m about to say something unpleasant. Maybe sit down first. Ready? You have to ask for help. You have to. You. Have. To. You are imperfect, and that is ok, and that is the way it will always be, so you might as well learn to be accepting of yourself. It is wholly, and entirely acceptable to ask for help from your family and dear friends. Once you’ve come to terms with the fact that you are not flawless and omnipotent, follow these two steps: Prep, and Delegate. 

-Prep your kids by explaining to them that December is going to be a lot of fun, but it’s also very busy, and you’re going to need their help more than ever. This gives them a concrete reason to be more participatory. Prep your spouse by discussing the things you’re most anxious about, and be sure you’re on the same page about holiday plans, budgets, parenting choices, and anything else that’s important to you. Prep your friends who get upset if you don’t attend every holiday party, and explain to them that you have other time commitments.

-Delegate age-appropriate, helpful tasks to your kids. Not tasks to keep them busy – tasks that help. Invoke the words of the prep when they whine, and use consequences when necessary. Your kids are capable beings that can take care of the piddly stuff that muddles up your day and ends up in the Latent Stress Pile. Delegating to your spouse is very different than delegating to your kids. Coming up with a game plan of who is responsible for what is an equitable system. You also must trust your spouse to do the things they have agreed to be responsible for (Stop hyperventilating. Seriously, you’re going to pass out). Do not micromanage. You will perish under the weight of your own nitpicking. Delegating to your family can include things across a vast spectrum, from “Aunt Genevieve, please bring the turducken,” or “Grandpa Joe, please make sure Grandma Ethel does not get blitzed from putting Frangelico in her coffee.”

Save Time for Traditions

Traditions are not only a great way to bond and make memories with your family, but they’re a great reason to slow down and pace yourself. A few breathers during the holiday season are very helpful to put things back into scope. If you find yourself wanting to cancel or skip traditions, you’re too busy. Cut some of your expectations, or delegate to other people. Spending time with your family or friends is far more important than vacuuming Goldfish crackers from under the couch cushions or knitting brand new stockings for each family member. 

If you don’t have any, or it’s not really your thing, I would recommend asking around or researching things out there. Not all of them are kitschy like the Elf on the Shelf, or involve too much time/money like going ice skating every year. You can go as a family to decide on one new ornament for the tree, or new candles for the Menorah. You could have a traditional “Christmas-time” food or meal. For example, my Dad used to make ice cream out of snow for us when we were little, and I still make it to this day. You can take an afternoon to put up decorations together, or celebrate St. Nicholas Day on the 6th (a mostly-German tradition that involves little gifts found in your shoes, or a big boot). There are thousands of options, or you can make one up that would be fun for your family. Regardless of what it is, it’s worth carving out the time to purposefully be together.

Don’t Pretend to Be Happy

It’s so tempting.  But do not prescribe to the ill-guided belief that people should be happy 98% of the time, and that all life’s challenges should be like water off a duck’s back. That’s falsified contentment, and it’s a steaming pile of road apples. It will turn you into an unhappy, stiff-grinned exoskeleton of the person you used to be. It is not important to be happy all the time. It is important to acknowledge your feelings, whatever they may be, and react appropriately. You are allowed to be tired. You are allowed to be stressed. You are allowed to be overwhelmed. No one thinks you are weak, or lazy, or in any way lesser. I swear.

The Childless Choice

“Your biological clock is ticking…”

Yes, thanks.  I’m nearing 30, and there’s no possible way I could have ever been told that before.  The choice to have children is a discussion that I believe is far more complicated than simply, “she doesn’t want children” or “she can’t have children,” which seem to be the only two avenues society can conceive for the milestone of procreation.  I can only speak about the former, because I don’t pretend to have any expertise or view for the kind of emotional wracking that wanting children, but not being able to conceive your own, must bring.  Have you ever considered, perhaps, that it is permissible for a woman to not know if she wants children?  No one seems to be willing to consider the major factors and consequences into that choice, instead condensing the argument into a variety of blister-packed judgments.  The inevitable: “Oh, you’ll change your mind some day.”  The threat: “You’ll regret it.”  The pushiness-disguised-as-encouragement: “But you’d be such a great Mom!”

Here’s the thing: I am not the only thing standing in my way.  Men have to — not “should,” not “it would be nice if,” not “as long as they pay child support” — have to have equal stock in the parenting game.  The largest concern that many single women have these days is not whether or not they will have children, but whether or not they will be able to find a man who will support them in that endeavor.  So before you ask me again if I’m ever going to have children, or why I don’t want them, or what makes me hate them so much, or suggest that I’m just scared of the pain of childbirth — consider these factors first.

 

The Example

I need a man who is supportive and committed to me, first, in order to prove that he will be a good father.  It would not be difficult for me to find a man who has the proper equipment required to make a child.  But it requires a much more particular process to find someone who would cherish me first, and then our children.  In the dating world, I have come across absolute hordes of men who say they’re excited to have children one day, and that they like kids, and will teach them to fish, and camp, and scrutinize the game of football.  And yet, these men are unable to make plans farther than 6 hours out from the present moment.  Some of them make a habit of showing up to dinner 45 minutes late, just as I’m gathering my things to leave.  Some of them are fine with being punctual, but have such drastic emotional insecurity that they’re unable to have a conversation about anything that’s not video games, or the shelves of Star Wars memorabilia that adorn their bachelor pads.  Some of that emotional insecurity throws them into a pit of people-pleasing behavior, or into child-like tantrums, or sometimes they just shut down entirely.  Some of them are perfectly confident, and funny, and wonderful — but require any plans to be at the mercy of their work schedule, causing 4 out of 6 dates to be “rain checked.”  I just recently went on a few dates with a man who is very kind and intelligent, but extremely aloof in conversation, causing me to have to “manufacture” any fun that was had for the both of us.  He would laugh at my jokes and stories, and then the table would go silent until I either came up with another funny something to say, or a conversation topic he was comfortable with.  If we can’t even have a normal conversation in a quiet restaurant, how could we have a normal conversation with a child shouting Barney songs at the dinner table?

Quite frankly, the relationship/marriage comes first, both chronologically and in priority.  If a man is not able to communicate with me, respect me, have fun with me, and maintain a healthy emotional state for himself, what kind of message is he going to send impressionable children?  I don’t want my children growing up with constant disappointment because “Daddy can’t make it to your dance recital/baseball game…again.”  Or, “Daddy doesn’t really mean to yell and call people names — why don’t you go play in your room for a while?”  Or, “Daddy isn’t ignoring everyone else, he’s just a little shy.”  The other kicker about having children with a man who isn’t stable is that I am automatically everyone’s Mom/therapist.  I am forced to “have conversations” or “nag” or any other tactic to try and get the father of my children to set a good example.  That, on top of trying to explain my husband’s behavior to my children in a tactful way that doesn’t include the actual truth.  No thanks.  “Having children” isn’t the real question for many women who are getting older and haven’t taken the plunge yet.  It’s “mutual parenting” that becomes the larger worry.  I will not agree to have children unless I marry a man who I trust to fully respect and care for me first, who is able to care for our children when I’m not around, and will fill in the holes in their development that I can’t.  I’ve been told by many to just “give him a chance,” or assured that he’ll grow up or change, as though the Menopause Train is bearing down on me and I should really just get on with it, lest I be run over.  Really?  Is that a gamble you would make with your children?

 Kids Kind of Suck

My best friend has two kids.  They’re awesome, loving, funny little people.  But they’re gross, and needy, and socially tactless, too.  All children kind of suck in a lot of ways, and I require a partner who is going to jump into the fray, and tired-laugh with me as we clean poop off the walls.  I have not yet found a man who I believe would be willing to launder vomit-covered bedsheets so I could take a shower and get the barf out of my hair after caring for a sick child.  I have not yet found a man who I believe would walk up and down the hallway with a screaming infant for 4 hours, without being prompted or begged, so that his wife could have a break or a nap.  I also find that many men begrudge having to spend time alone with their children, and go so far as to consider it “babysitting.”

You want to have kids?  Great.  Then you are signing up for the ride of a lifetime, and your contract states that you do not get to hide in your mancave when Little Timmy has the runs.  Too bad.

 The Ultimate Label of “Mom”

Next time you see a Mom, ask her when was the last time she got to do something for herself.  Her response will probably be something like, “Oh, I got to have a cup of tea last Wednesday — it was lovely.”  It will be said playfully, but for many women, there’s a deep amount of pain attached to those jokes.  I fully realize that having children is a massive sacrifice, but many women find themselves in a situation where it becomes a sacrifice of who they are as a person, an individual.  Many women go years without a break, without a weekend, without even an afternoon to themselves to do whatever they want.  They feel they no longer have that kind of intangible “permission” to have hobbies, and to want to see new things.  Women are not good at saying, “I would like to go do this for myself.”  We need a partner who is going to recognize when we need a break, and offer it to us willingly, without making us wait until we’re at the breaking point of our sanity.  Many women carry an intense, crippling level of guilt when it comes to asking for things they know are necessary for their own health.  I don’t know why, but we do.  And without a husband who will pay a little attention to our state of mind, and remember who we were before the kids came into play, it’s a slippery slope that will lead many women directly into a bog of depression and complete depletion of self-worth.  We become consumed by the label of “Mom.”  We’re no longer “Laura, ” or “Charlotte,” or “the woman who double majored in biochem and engineering,” or “the woman who loved to go to Sunday brunch once a month,” or “the woman who really hates restaurants that allow you to throw peanut shells on the floor,” or “the woman who’s actually an incredible dancer,” or “the woman who hopped 5 countries in two weeks, ” or “the woman who fell in love with you.”  We are the mother of our children, and are seen as nothing else, and we allow it because we feel guilty.

Some of us are terrified of the idea of having children, yes — but not because we don’t think we’d be good mothers or because we’re scared the pain and nausea.  We’re scared of not having a support system, having to beg our husbands for help because we haven’t slept in two days, being looked at differently by our husbands because our bodies are no longer as attractive as they once were.  We are terrified of becoming just another frumpy Mom who gave her soul for the sake of her children, whose past accomplishments now mean nothing, and whose future accomplishments will be saving enough money to send the kids to college.  And we know that without support from our husbands, that’s exactly what we will become as we slowly forget who we once were.

 He Doesn’t Want Kids…

…but I love him.  It’s fully possible that I might find a man who is my perfect match in every way, but who does not want children.  As mentioned before, the relationship and the marriage come first.  If we’re happy and it’s a conversation that we’ve had, I see no reason to kick him to the curb.  I realize that some women want children badly, and that’s great — that can be a very specific criterion in her dating life.  But I do not believe in hoping my prince will someday change his mind, and am open to the possibility of a very happy life that does not involve children.  It’s possible, I promise.  Oh, but you’ll regret not having children! they say.  Fine, maybe we will.  But do you regret not seeing the world’s wonders, lunching under the Eiffel Tower, walking through the tulip fields of Holland, seeing the Pyramids, or SCUBA diving in the Mediterranean with your husband?  Maybe you do.  Do you regret not joining a book club, or learning a new language or how to ski, having quiet nights next to a fireplace, or going on road trips with your husband?  Maybe you do.

 

So when a woman answers your questions about children with some trepidation or uncertainty — cool your jets.  We are not dumb.  We are not ignorant.  More than likely, the woman you’re interrogating is far smarter and more mature than you realize, and she is considering whether or not her world is a good one to bring children into.  We’re ok biding our time until the right situation presents itself to make a decision.  And until that happens, we’re not going to have an answer for you.

Pop Quiz

I consider myself a seasoned veteran in the realm of online dating.  I have tried all of the major sites, written and re-written my “self-summary,” and waded through years of doubt and guilt, constantly questioning my own standards and the motives of others.  It’s a complicated task, dating — and like most people, I’ve tried to streamline the process as much as possible, weeding out those who I will not be compatible with before I invest much time into them.  Some people make calm, well-considered additions to their profiles, such as, “I DONT DO DRAMA SO IF UR A HO WHO DO DRAMA DONT GET NEAR ME.”  Others might add preferences to the multiple choice questions asked, such as only marking “Athletic,” “Hot,” and “Slim” as their preferred body types for a partner.  But I, never one to follow the general traffic pattern, have taken a separate approach.  It is inflammatory and offensive to some — but it is precisely those people whom I wish to avoid.  In practice, it has worked flawlessly for my purposes.  If I find someone on the Internet that I think I would like to have a date with, my method comes in two parts:

1) I must speak with the person on the phone before meeting.

2) They must take my 3-question quiz.

The Phone Conversation

Why do many people choose online dating?  Because they’re not stellar with social interaction or live conversation.  The kicker is that (in theory) you’ll eventually have to participate.  These are skills that are difficult, yes, but unavoidable if you’re looking for someone to spend time with.  It is frequent that someone is quite eloquent while typing or texting, but have absolutely nothing to say when speech is required.  You can try and make your case for “people who are just shy” and “well what’s wrong with that,” and my answer to all of your arguments will be that that’s not what I want.  That’s not what most people want.  If I’m going to spend a significant amount of time with someone, I need them to be on a similar level of communication skill.  You can be shy and a little reserved at first — but you’re not allowed to be silent and continue to hide behind the Internet’s skirt.  The phone conversation ensures that they are capable of relaying thoughts and opinions via vibration of the vocal chords, which, in my book, is required.

In addition, people these days don’t seem to understand that dating is not really about common interests.  I don’t care if you love football, or build and paint miniatures.  What I care about are the facts and potential implications behind those interests.  I need information about you as an individual, and what you need from me, as an individual.  Since the idea of dating (for most) is to find someone with whom you would like to spend the rest of your life with, living in the same general space, and talking to each other every single day, I need deeper, more concrete information.

If you really like football, it might mean that you used to play and really enjoy a physical challenge, and respect the athletes who play professionally.  Or, it could mean that you’re extremely competitive, and you get a buzz from Your Team winning over Their Team 4,006 points to 12.  Or, it could mean that you’re really concerned with maintaining an image or a status in a group of people, and you participate in watching and talking about sports with them because you’re nervous that they won’t like you if you don’t.   All of these, and combinations thereof, are options.

If you really like to build and paint miniatures, it could mean that you might be a person who needs a lot of alone time to feel balanced.  It could also mean that you’re really artistic, and need someone who can really appreciate the creations you put time into.  It could also mean that you’re rather antisocial, and prefer the company of yourself to others, and only want a woman around when you’re bored.  All of these, and combinations thereof, are options.

As an adult, you need to be able to recognize these things in your own personality and then articulate them to people you want to date.  If you cannot do that, it will show in grand and terrifying ways during our phone call when I ask you, “so, what do you enjoy so much about Korean horror movies?”

The Quiz

Is quizzing people unconventional?  Yes.  Is it potentially scary or frustrating for the quizzee?  Sure.  Does it give me a wealth of information about that person’s personality, attitude, and abilities?  Absolutely.  I am not going to divulge the three questions that I ask here.  But I will tell you that they are general intelligence questions, set to a fair benchmark of life experience and knowledge.  They are not obscure questions about 1940’s noir films, nor are they calculus equations.  Also, potential suitors are told well in advance of even speaking to me for the first time that there are questions involved before the first date, so there is no surprise.  If you agree to the phone call, you have also already agreed to the quiz, which serves two different purposes.

-It weeds out the insecure ones.  This is by far the most helpful benefit of the quiz.  The quiz, in the grand scheme of things, is nearly meaningless.  It’s a silly little thing, and one of the questions doesn’t even have a right/wrong answer.  Really, none of them do if you’re creative enough.  But the pressure to perform and impress can be overwhelming for some guys, and the risk of failure too great.  One gentleman who took the quiz became angry after I asked the second question (he had answered the first with no problem), and began berating me for being a man-hating bitch, and accused me of solely wanting to make him look foolish.  Another gentleman answered the first two questions and told me that the quiz was pretty fun.  I then asked him the third, and after over-thinking it for a few minutes, he became highly emotional, and explained to me for 10 minutes about how he had been bullied in 4th grade by a kid named Lance.

Only one gentleman has ever said, “you know what, that’s a little too peculiar for me.  No thanks.”  I greatly respected him for making his choice based on his own comfort level, and I wished him luck in his future dating endeavors.  Less than ten minutes later, he wrote me online again and said, “due to the fact we’ve written this off, I’m curious what the questions are anyway?”  I explained to him that unfortunately, the questions were for potential dates only.  He then proceeded to condescend me, saying, “Just as a heads up, for us level headed and confident people, it comes off as a red flag. … You may be doing it to avoid bad dates, but may lose out on other great dates because of it.”  Among a few other things he said, the oh-so-subtle implication of “what you’re doing is stupid, all the smart people think so,” was enough for me to bid him a permanent adieu.  Although I was tempted to ask, “if you’re so level-headed and confident, why dodge the quiz?”

Insecurities are a part of life; everyone has them.  But I believe adults should be able to prioritize which threats are real, and which are constructed in our own minds.  Answering three normal questions from some girl you’ve never met, and who you have no obligation to meet anyway, should not be a threat large enough to induce a temper tantrum, tears, or passive-aggression.

-It weeds out the less intelligent ones.  “How dare you assume some people are less intelligent than others!  For shame!  I’m never reading your blog again!”  Ok.  Now that that’s addressed, let’s move on.

If you’ve ever worked with the general public, you know that some people either don’t pay as much attention as others, or seem to exist in a constant haze of ignorance.  If you haven’t worked with the general public, just go peruse any hashtag on Twitter.  Some of these people are good at concealing their true mentality online.  There are plenty of services that will write your online dating profile for you, so that you make a better impression.  If someone chooses to use one of those services, that’s no problem — but this is why I have a quiz.  I have wasted too much time explaining ridiculous things on first dates to people who just don’t bother to look around, or who are incapable of absorbing outside information.  I have explained that coffee comes from a plant.  I have explained what the little tab is for on your rear-view mirror.  I have explained that a different city hosts the Olympics every round.  I have explained that you have to hold a compass parallel to the ground in order for it to function.

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I fully understand and appreciate that these are not qualities that everyone looks for in a partner — but they are important to me, and I find it highly unlikely that I’m the only one.  My methods may be overly formulaic and rigid, and many consider my standards to be “too high.”  But after a hundred dates with the wrong guys, what do I really have to lose now by using an out-of-the-box method?  A date with the guy who promises me that I’ll regret not dating him?  Thanks, I’ll make a note of that.

Straddling the Fence

I just recently told someone that dating him wasn’t going to work out, and that he wasn’t able to give me what I needed.  Why?  Because he was incapable of conversing and answering questions in a clear, non-passive-aggressive way.  When I informed him of what he was doing, he told me that yes, he does have those problems… “But it’s possible that lots of people do that.  Well, maybe I don’t really have those problems even though I already said I did, and well, ok, MAYBE I do that, but maybe I don’t.  Maybe only sometimes.  I’ll try harder to do better, but you need to monitor how I’m speaking to you and tell me when I’m doing things wrong — even though I might maybe possibly perhaps sometimes deny that I’m doing anything.  And then it’s possible that I will change my mind again and admit to things just to get you to be quiet.” *throws self into the lashing sea* So, in light of this inspiration, I would like to talk about non-answers.  Akin to “non-apologies,” non-answers often are composed of an impressive amount of words, all of which are not really related to the situation or question at hand, or which give no actual information and often make no sense in context.  It’s like gibberish that still adheres to the rules of grammar and syntax.  It’s a method of purposeful, although likely subconscious obfuscation, so that the passive aggressor can “respond,” without actually giving an answer.  If you ask them to explain their answer, they can’t, and will continue to ride their delusional carousel around and around, whooping in faux delight, driving you closer and closer to a prescription for diazepam.  They’re presented in a number of different fashions, but my personal bane is the “middle of the road” response, which aims to cover any and all sides of an argument in one fell swoop.

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Why This Sucks:

Because you’re manipulating the other person.  You’re not trusting the other person to respond in a way that’s comfortable for you.  You might be worried that they will be offended or upset by your real opinion of something, or it might be a topic that you feel very strongly about, so you’re not prepared to handle any strong opposition to your stance.  Therefore, you’re trying to control their emotions and response by only giving perfectly neutral answers.  If you don’t give a definitive answer, they can’t take the opposing side.  Additionally, they can’t be angry with you, because you didn’t actually say anything.  This is a direct attempt to control the entire conversation, including anything the other person might want to say. “Do you think that there should be stricter regulation on unicorn hunting?” “Maybe.  I mean, we should try to preserve the unicorns, but they’re also a really important magical commodity.” …AND?  You just stated two sides of the argument.  You did not take one, nor did you explain any alternate opinion you might have.  You did not answer the question — you squeezed through the sliver of space in the middle to avoid confrontation. 

Because you are lying.  There’s a reason that lying by omission is considered a crime.  Not that you’ll be arrested for being passive aggressive, but that should give you a hint that it really is an issue, and it really is, in fact, lying, contrary to many defenses.  By not giving an answer, you’re not giving truthful information.  Yes, yes, I know: you’re not giving untruthful information either, but I can’t even describe to you how weak of an argument that is. You are hiding the truth behind a musty, heavy velvet curtain of insecurity and distrust, while expecting the other person to be completely honest about everything they say.  If you’re not secure enough in the situation to talk about your own thoughts and handle the situation well if someone disagrees…then what’s the point?  What are you even trying to do?  Are you just trying to gather information about that person, while concealing everything about yourself from them?  What a terrible way to build a solid relationship.

Calvin_And_Hobbes-Report

Because you’re already blaming and judging the other person in your head — and we know it.  You’re fully prepared for someone to unleash a torrent of brimstone and rage at you for your opinion, when there’s likely no evidence that they’re going to do so.  By defending yourself from something that hasn’t happened yet, you’re indirectly, but by default, blaming the other person for what you think they might do.  People are not stupid, and can pick up on these cues very well.  You’re confused about why your partner is so upset when you’re “just having a conversation?”  It’s likely because you’re deploying an unspoken line of defense which stands ready to attack at any flinch or wiggle in the other person’s story.  You’re ready to be attacked and have drawn your sword, and in doing so, the other person feels they must follow suit, although they have no idea why they’re being threatened. Even if you have good reason to believe that the other person will attack you for your opinion or belief, it does not excuse being a passive aggressive coward.  You need to either speak up and tell them how you’re feeling, or leave.  If you’re interested in a more in-depth explanation of this confusing defense-against-the-offense-that-doesn’t-exist business, you can read about a related issue here. If you’re not going to give people the courtesy of honest conversation, then you’re probably not ready to date.  If you’ve been hurt in the past by someone who belittled you, or if you’ve had a relationship which left you feeling smaller than you should, it’s understandable to take some time to build yourself back up.  What is not understandable or acceptable, is allowing yourself to stay small, and pretending as though other people are going to kick you for it.  It’s also important to note that passive aggression is considered to be emotional abuse — it’s not something to take lightly, as it can have crippling effects.  Learn to communicate respectfully, and honestly.  It’s not that hard.

The Emerald Isle, Pt. 3

After inadequate sleep, an awkward breakfast (the Gremlins and their parents joined my table), and a few helpful tips from a lovely Australian couple, I departed for County Clare.  There was a distinct difference in driving conditions in County Clare, and “two-lane roads” became a mere 7-8 feet wide, and were often flanked by seemingly harmless bushes.  I came to discover through second-hand experience that those bushes are really just unkempt decoration for the SOLID STONE WALLS that line the country roads.  Suddenly the zip ties on Seamus’ passenger-side hubcaps made more sense.

I did my best to stay on my side of the road, not that there seemed to be “sides,” really, and eventually came across a small sign that read, “Burren Perfumery.”  It sounded interesting, and considering my nerves and the numbness of my ass from sitting for a few hours already, I made a snap decision and followed the arrow.  It turned out that the roads in County Clare could get even smaller, who knew?  Toss in some blind corners and hairpin turns, and you’ve got one hell of a ride.  I spent at least 20 minutes following sign after sign, hunting through the Burren for some dinky perfumery, just waiting for the moment in which some Irish farmer would come tearing around a corner at 80km/hour and headbutt me into Heaven.  Half lost, I constantly wondered, “what do you do if you meet another car on the road?”  Part of me was optimistic enough to believe that I might get through the Burren and back to the highway without having to answer that question, but it was wrong.  The moment of truth came when I whipped around a half-circle turn and slammed on my brakes as a car appeared out of thin air.  My tires ground into the gravel and my adrenal glands prepared me for impact, but I opened my eyes and saw that the other car had seen me and stopped.  There was a moment where I thought, “oh god, what if this is just the longest one-way road ever, and I’m the asshole American who missed a sign.”  But in true Irish fashion, the other driver was very kind, and he gave an emphatic “go ahead” gesture.  He then proceeded to stuff 1/4 of his car into the bushes, which scratched and squealed against the metal and windows.  Not wanting to seem rude (or stupid), I slammed the car into gear and smashed Seamus into the bushes on the opposite side of the road, barely slipping past as my Farmer Friend waved goodbye with a huge smile.

He disappeared in my rearview mirror, and I was left to ponder what the hell had just happened.  The more I thought about it, the more the answers became clear to me: What happens when there are two cars passing on a teensy road?  You drive through the damn bushes, duh.  But what if there’s a stone wall underneath the bushes?  Zip ties, duh.  In that moment, I realized how much of an uptight American I was being, and proceeded through the Burren with a newfound love of Irish simplicity.

I found the perfumery, watched a video about flowers that I would not see in bloom, poked at some old-looking bottles, and toured a garden the size of my living room at home.  Huzzah, perfumery.  The woman who owns the Burren Perfumery was wonderful and very informative, but it was clear that I was not a member of the usual demographic she served.  I encountered a few more cars on my way back to the main highway, and had perhaps a little too much fun driving through the bushes (sorry, Seamus).  It really is liberating, you should try it.

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The Burren Perfumery

The Burren Perfumery

Seamus really took a beating that day.  Not only was he whipped with branches on several occasions, but he was forced to chug up mountain switchbacks for a better part of the day.  I drove a significant part of the way to the Cliffs of Moher in 1st gear, solely because that was the only gear that kept us moving forward and up.  There’s a great little restaurant at the Cliffs of Moher, with stunning views and really decent food, and also a few little crap-trap tourist shops of no consequence.  But the Cliffs themselves are stunning, and 100% worth the arduous drive.  I’m not going to bother posting my pictures of the Cliffs of Moher because they’re completely worthless.  Every picture I’ve ever seen, including mine, make them look like they’re a part of a Polly Pocket scene compared to their actual scale.  “Majestic” is a word I heard often from people who had seen them before me, and that’s precisely what they are.  I have included below, however, a picture of O’Brien’s Tower, shot from on top of the Cliffs themselves.  There’s also a picture of another buddy of mine who thought my coat was delectable.

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County Clare

County Clare

I left the Cliffs of Moher and took the car ferry from Killimer to Tarbert, and continued on until I reached my next destination, Killarney.  Upon arriving, I checked into the Muckross Farm B&B, a working farm with a wonderful family who were excellent hosts.  I was shown to my room and then told that I was welcome to go see the horses in the barn.  Horses?!  Hell yeah!  Turns out there were not only horses, but also bunnies, goats, sheep, chickens, and THESE GUYS:

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After satiating my intense need for puppy snuggles, I set off in search of dinner and landed at Molly Darcy’s restaurant/pub.  Having consumed half of the most amazing meat pie I’ve ever had, I became aware that there was apparently a very important sports event occurring, and many of the patrons in the bar were engrossed.  There was a group of gentlemen to my left, who were kind enough to say hello and briefly explain the Irish national sport of hurling to me.  I also learned from them that I should root for County Clare to win the game, solely because County Cork people suck.  Having dated a Cork man in the past, I was inclined to agree with them, and we had a great time watching County Clare become champions.  Once the game ended, the gents informed me that they were actually at the hotel next door for a wedding, and would need to return now that the game was over.  They also invited me to join them, so I did.  I was introduced to many people as, “Kaylynn, the American,” and promptly had a Guinness shoved into my hand.  I had a fantastic time meeting the guests of the wedding, including the lovely girlfriends of my newfound pub friends, and left the event in the wee hours of the morning feeling very privileged to have been included in the celebration.  I also learned that the traditional wedding cake for the Irish is fruit cake, which, as an American, I thought was highly entertaining.

Stay tuned for Part 4, in which I’m nearly run off the road by sheep, and have an unsettling encounter with someone’s baby in a pub.

Earwigs and You: Personal Discovery through Metaphorical Dermaptera

Earwigs.  Pinchies.  Forficula auricularia.  Grey Matter Manglers.  We all hate them, right?  Those nasty, skittery insects with mammoth butt-pincers who seem intent on chasing you, and burrowing through to their new home in your corpus callosum by way of your ear canal.  They are nasty, terrifying, and will now likely haunt your peripheral vision for a few days.

OMG, what’s that on your neck?!  Just kidding.

What if I told you that you might be keeping these guys as pets?  Not only that, but you may be dropping them into your ear yourself.  Ok, so not literally, but you may be metaphorically allowing your head-pudding to be violated by subconscious earwig-like mental items.  Not only will you freak people out and eventually lose all your friends, but your mind will become more and more infested with pinchy mofo’s who control your actions and your words.  What in Hell’s blazes am I talking about, you ask?  I’m talking about “just.”

Such a seemingly simple word, but along with his older brother, “only,” they are capable of destroying your relationships and your self-esteem.  When used in a certain context, “just” and “only” create a castle, indomitable and fierce, from which you will launch volleys of flaming arrows at the people around you, and where you will sit comfortably “safe” on your Throne of Passive Aggression, with the glittering Crown of Self-Victimization digging deep grooves into your forehead.

“I was just trying to help.”

“I’m only trying to be honest.”

These words are far more complex than most realize, and are simultaneously offensive and defensive, which puts your conversation partner in an uncomfortable position.  These words automatically assume and suggest that you are under attack, and that you must defend your position.  They also wrongfully assume and suggest that whoever is speaking to you is the attacker, and is therefore the, “bad guy.”   So both you and your conversation partner are forced into a position of trying to protect yourselves from insult and hurt (you by assuming the other person intends to hurt you, and he by trying to defend against the intangible label of, “assailant”), and making sure that your point is understood…without hurting the other person…while still communicating effectively…but not insultingly…

How does this destroy relationships?  In reality, you (the Earwig Charmer) have positioned yourself to be mostly in control of the situation in a couple of ways:

1. You have attempted, and likely succeeded at making the other person feel guilty.  For what, exactly?  Nothing.  You have made that person feel guilty for disagreeing, or giving you constructive criticism, or having an idea that differs from yours.  By manipulating their emotions, you have created an environment in which you have restricted the actions and words they are comfortable using.  Example:

Boss: “Hey, Team Member.  I see you stacked the boxes of things over to the NNW.  I think they would be more out of the way if we stacked them farther to the SSE.”

Team Member: “Oh, well I was just trying to unpack them as quickly as possible.”

You see, rather than just accepting direction from The Boss, our Team Member friend has already taken offense to the alternate suggestion, and assumes that The Boss is belittling him for his choice of location for the boxes of things.  It’s oh-so-freaking-subtle, but that’s what makes this mindset so dangerous; people who make impersonal requests or comments manifest as nightmare marionettes within the passive-aggressor’s mind.  Over time, if you use this tactic with the same person many times, they will eventually become frightened to speak to you, because every time they do they will feel horrible and wrongfully accused and under attack, and there’s nothing they can do to defend themselves.

2. Why can’t they defend themselves?  Because you’ve already made yourself the victim.  It sounds a little bass-ackwards, but self-victimization is a defense mechanism.  Someone can’t hurt you if you’re already hurt.  They can’t power-play over you because you’re already the victim.  By degrading yourself and lowering your own self-esteem (putting imaginary earwigs in your own ear), you have tried to avoid more emotional damage by emotionally damaging yourself first.  You have made yourself seem weak in an effort to control how much someone is capable of hurting you.  The most difficult part about this entire situation is that we develop these passive aggressive defense mechanisms because we have been hurt before – so we hurt other people in order to avoid being hurt.  By other people.

3.  Although the underlying fodder is still emotional defense, “just” and “only” can also be used in a more malicious method.  It can be used to degrade and invalidate another’s opinion or feeling with swift and crushing force.

Person: “I feel very angry that you got hammered at my birthday party and threw up on my bed.”

Other Person: “I was just trying to have fun.”

This power-grab insinuates that Person’s feelings of anger are less important than Other Person’s desire for and goal of having fun.  It’s a sneaky, hurtful way to avoid responsibility for one’s actions, and will likely cause Person’s self-esteem to take a nose dive.  Because language is so volatile and creative, Other Person could even change his response to displace even stronger blame, perhaps with something like, “I was just trying to celebrate with you.”  This implies that not only is Other Person innocent, but Person is an ungrateful hack who does not appreciate the effort put into an event that was all for him.  This is obviously an extreme example, and it should be mentioned that the most hurtful method of employing this evasive tactic comes in small, gradual doses over a long period of time.  Almost imperceptible to most people, insinuation is the ninja of defense mechanisms.  It slithers in through the attic of your soul and quietly peppers your confidence and self-worth with shuriken.  The consistent invalidation of someone’s feelings, particularly in extremely small doses that are difficult to detect, can wreck souls.

Passive aggressive behavior is meant to punish and hurt the other people who may have hurt you in the past, or who may hurt you in the future (read: EVERYONE).  That is its purpose and function, and yes, that is what you are doing.  You are hurting people.  They may be authority figures, they may be your parents, they may be people that you love and adore, or they may be total strangers, but by “just trying to protect yourself,” you are causing similar emotional damage to what someone once caused you.

I most often see instances of “just” and “only” in situations where no one is making jabs at anyone.  They are innocuous circumstances that quickly become hostile via one party’s insecurity and inability to deal with pre-existing emotional baggage.  Whether or not you have actually been insulted does not matter, there is never an excuse or an appropriate time for passive aggressive behavior.  If you feel hurt, betrayed, disrespected, condescended, made fun of, wrongfully criticized, whatever, it is your responsibility to acknowledge those feelings and deal with them in a respectful, clear manner.

Now that I have a nosebleed from trying to explain this very important topic, here’s the bottom line: Getting hurt or offended sucks.  But hurting yourself because you’re afraid of other people hurting and offending you, which hurts and offends other people is just as creepy and disgusting as earwigs.

Don’t Want Yo’ Shit

Stop buying me stuff.  I don’t want your concert tickets, or some “stylish” piece of knitted cloth, or some piece of shiny metal with shinier rocks attached to it, or the latest tech gadgets that will be irrelevant in 6 months, or any other material object that does nothing for my SOUL.  Each time you offer me something or ask me what I want for Christmas, my heart breaks.  There is no value in these shallow offerings of tangible crap, and if you think I’ve been ignorant to your game, you are gravely mistaken.  The sad likelihood is that you don’t even notice or understand your own game, and will continue hunting for love and acceptance through something that lives in a bank account or was made in Taiwan.

You ask me what I want–the answer will always be, again and again, your time.  Don’t you dare get me something that fits in a box of specific dimension; I want your attention.  Your conversation, your eye contact, your engagement, and temporary, exclusive access to your Wernicke’s.

I realize that your “gifts” make it easy and painless to connect with another human being.  With a gift, the cognitive stress of listening and responding is eliminated.  With a gift, your most-important life remains basically unaltered, with the exception of the 9 minutes you wasted shopping online.  Gifts are a perfect, socially acceptable response to nearly every situation, so you can never be blamed for being inattentive.  They’re an ideal replacement for any messy apology, as well–you can mop up any indiscretion with the lick of an envelope or a click of the “Place Order” button on FTD.com.  If you’re feeling inadequate, a gift can easily express your message when words are too difficult to find.  Need a good distraction? A gift can easily divert from those silly little secrets in life that are best left unnoticed.

When it comes down to it, gifts are a lovely way to degrade and ignore someone.  When someone isn’t worth your time, effort, love or honesty: send a gift.  Send a teddy bear, or a card, or a check.  They come in all forms: everything from Tiffany’s boxes to “favors.”

But there’s another perk to gift-giving, isn’t there?  That heady element of control and obligation, the scot-free condescension, the unbridled power over those who are less wealthy.

I paid for dinner (you owe me).

Here, let me help you out of a bind (you owe me).

Surprise! I bought you that {item} you had your eye on (you owe me).

I support you financially (you owe me).

You somehow believe that gifts don’t always have to be free for the recipient, although you’ll never state the terms.  Maybe you’ll expect a direct payback, or perhaps you’ll just hold onto your emotional collateral for the future.  This method not only allows you an investment with high expected ROI whenever you wish it, but also allows for the immediate dismissal of the previously mentioned ignorance and degradation.  “How ungrateful! After everything I’ve done for you.”

Minimal effort to maintain relationships, the illusion of authority and a limitless Get Out Of Jail Free card? No wonder you’re so generous!

Call me an ingrate, call me ignorant, call me poor.  Call me benighted, call me ridiculous, call me rude.  Call me whatever you wish but know that without the depth and humanity of a real relationship, you will not continue to own the title of friend, companion, father, mother.  Your gifts do not excuse you from honest interaction.  Your gifts do not garner you automatic respect.  You gifts do not replace your presence in my life, and are unacceptable as such.