Posts Tagged relationships

The Fondness of a Father: a Tribute to Jane Austen and Mr. Bennet

I stood in my closet, hands on hips, tapping my foot as I surveyed my wardrobe. The floor around me was a tangle of jeans, sweaters, and black leggings.
“Woman of substance. Inner poise,” I repeated. “You can do this. It’s just a work holiday party.”
“No, it’s not,” said the small voice of insecurity that generally likes to make its opinions heard when I’m least interested in hearing them. “It’s a holiday party with your new sweetie. The first holiday party you’ve ever attended with a date in your nearly 30 years on this planet.”
“Shut up!” I hissed. “That’s classified information.”
“It’s blog fodder,” said the voice.
“That too,” I conceded. “Now, if you’ve finished lowering my self-esteem, I’ve got a party to go to.”

After much deliberation (and quite possibly the first game of eeny-meeny-miny-moe I’ve played since grade school) I’d selected what I hoped would be the perfect outfit and was debating the merits of comfortable and sensible versus sexy and stylish in the footwear department, when my phone rang.
“So, what are you wearing to the party tonight?” (It was my dad.).
“I don’t know,” I answered, contemplating the potential danger of blind woman and high-heeled shoe versus hard wood floor.
“What? What do you mean you don’t know? You’re going to a holiday party with your new beau. This is an essential detail.”
“Thanks, Dad,” I said, endeavoring to calm my breathing that had quickened through a combination of nerves, frustration, and tight pants.
“So what are you wearing?” he continued. “You want to look nice. Something that straddles the line between ‘professional’ and ‘slut.'”
“I-what?” Christopher Columbus! I wasn’t having this conversation with my father. I have a very short list of things that I never want to hear in my lifetime; it includes cats caught in a garbage disposal and Colin Firth’s American accent. Now we’ll just add to that any conversation with my father that includes or in any way references the topic of sex or sexuality.
“I, um, Dad, I don’t…want to have this conversation.”
“Well, whatever you wear, just don’t look too sexy, and behave yourself.”
No, not the “Remember-your-catholic-morals” conversation. Please. I mean, if the fact that I’m not dating a catholic already means I’m shopping for a condo in Hell, we might as well just move in together and have done with it.
“Dad, I’m going to be late,” I hissed into the phone.
“OK, but just one more thing.”
I sighed. “Yes?”
“Have a good time. I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

With what relatively little experience I’ve had playing the dating game, my father’s involvement can probably be best described as something between Steve Martin (think Father of the Bride here) and the Godfather. The thing is, my dad understands my taste in men about as much as he understands my taste in pineapple pizza. That being said, I have a long-cherished fantasy about the moment when I will some day announce my engagement to my father—a fantasy that is scripted along the lines of this conversation between Lizzie Bennet and her father about Mr. Darcy.

“Lizzie,” said her father, “I have given him my consent…I now give it to you, if you are resolved on having him. But let me advise you to think better of it. I know your disposition, Lizzie. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable unless you truly esteemed your husband…Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage…My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life.”

Elizabeth, Still more affected, was earnest and solemn in her reply; and at length, by repeated assurances that Mr. Darcy was really the object of her choice…and enumerating with energy all his good qualities, she did conquer her father’s incredulity and reconcile him to the match.

“Well, my dear,” said he when she had ceased speaking, “I have no more to say. If this be the case, he deserves you. I could not have parted with you, my Lizzie, to anyone less worthy.”

This passage echoed in my mind as, with one deep breath, I checked my purse for emergency cosmetics and headed out the door, and—literary geek that I am—I can’t help noting that I’m typing this on Jane Austen’s birthday; perhaps I’ve somehow managed to channel her spirit. I should try writing a historical novel set during Regency England, though I’ll leave out the zombies and seamonsters, thanks.
I might blame Jane Austen for enabling my romantic notions, but amidst the Darcy dreams, she taught me a valuable lesson: boyfriends come and go, but the fondness of a father is forever.

Happy 237th Birthday, Miss Austen.

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It is a Truth Universally Acknowledged that Diaries Are Full of Crap: 10 Signs You Might be Obsessed with Bridget Jones

Driving home from a party several weeks ago, a friend and I got onto the topic of relationships and marriage, as single girls often do.
“You know,” she said suddenly, “I kind of have this picture of you with a Mark Darcy-looking husband, reindeer jumper and everything, holding a baby.”
“Hmm, that doesn’t sound half bad,” I admitted. “But don’t get my hopes up, because it is a truth universally acknowledged that attractive English gentlemen in reindeer jumpers don’t casually stroll into my life on a regular basis. If they did, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in right now.”

As I reflected on her words, I wondered just what they said about me. The truth forces me to admit that Bridget Jones’ Diary is probably my personal scripture—one that’s proven alternately bolstering and baffling, depending on my mood. ON the one hand, every other page, I find myself identifying with Bridget as I would with any of my “real” girlfriends, and Bridget’s endless stream of self-deprecation about her weight, lack of a boyfriend, and culinary ineptitude makes me feel better about myself. ON the other, if Bridget is such a realistic portrait of the late-twenties/early-thirties single female experience, then it should logically follow that we will all find our Mark Darcy, but I digress.

As I found myself running late for the same event after which the above conversation had occurred, cursing to myself over my inability to locate a clean pair of nickers, I had a frightening realization: “Oh my god, you’re turning into Bridget Jones. It’s finally happened.” I’m now convinced that “Bridget Jones Syndrome” is going to become the modern-day form of female hysteria. Compilers of the DSM, get on this, stat! I’ll even do some of the work for you: ten signs you might have Bridget Jones Syndrome:

1. You find yourself running late for a party, searching in a panic through your closet and hamper for a pair of nickers muttering, “Shit. Shit. Arghargharghargh. Cannot find nickers. Maybe will check behind sofa.” (You subsequently discover said nickers behind the sofa with no recollection of how they might have gotten there).
2. You think that a man whose wardrobe includes a reindeer or diamond-patterned sweater or bumblebee socks has a superior fashion sense.
3. When the guy you’ve secretly fancied for ages asks you on a date and you immediately send an email to three of your closest friends with the subject line: “State of emergency! Meet at Café Rouge! Now!”
4. When you find yourself preparing for a date by making a checklist that includes the following items: hide diary, grannie panties, and incriminating photos; clean flat; wax legs; exercise stomach muscles; develop inner poise.
5. When you refer to your commitment-phobic ex-boyfriend as “Daniel” and fantasize about him being beaten to a pulp (quite rightly) By Colin Firth as Mark Darcy…or Colin Firth as self, because essentially in the collective female imagination, the two have become irreversibly conflated.
6. When the phrase “Turkey Curry Buffet” is code for dinner party at your parents’ oldest friends’ home, where people who’ve known you since you were running round the lawn with no clothes on will make suggestive comments about your singleton status and biological clock and men you’ve called “Uncle” since you were 3 years-old who aren’t really your uncle will pinch your bottom and inquire obnoxiously about your love life.
7. When your ex rings or texts you and you find yourself pausing before reaching for the phone to whisper the mantra “cool, unavailable ice-queen.”
8. When not hearing from your current boyfriend for several days leads you to concoct increasingly elaborate theories about his silence, ranging from the simple “He’s just extremely busy” to the slightly far-fetched (or paranoid) “Oh God, he’s been kidnapped, or eaten by an Alsatian, or fled the country to avoid having sex with me.”
9. When you find yourself studying an atlas before dates with your extremely intelligent boyfriend in the event he quizzes you about the geographic location of obscure foreign countries (or, you know, not-so-obscure foreign countries, like Germany).
10. When you consider your boyfriend’s tendency to diffuse awkward situations by going into the bathroom as good relationship diplomacy.
So: there you have it. If you recognize any or all of the above signs in your behavior, you might have Bridget Jones Syndrome. Extensive research has shown that the best remedy is eating chocolate and drinking a Bloody Mary (tomatoes =vegetable serving to counteract low nutrition value of chocolate) while watching the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

Now, I’m going to send this off with a suggestion for inclusion in the DSM, but—oh, goody! Telephone! Maybe is Mark Darcy! Byeeee!

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To Leap is to Live!: Reflections on 2/29

“She’s a butterfly, pretty as the crimson sky. Nothin’s ever gonna bring her down. And everywhere she goes, everybody knows, she’s just glad to be alive. She’s a butterfly.”- Martina McBride

I was 5 years-old, standing at the edge of the community pool, watching as plumes of spray rose around the other children as they splashed and swam. Across the pool, a girl performed an effortless swan-dive into the water from the diving board. Oh, how I wanted that—to leap, to fly, to feel momentarily weightless before the pull of gravity took its hold. I glanced down at the water below, squinting at the arc of sunlight bouncing off its surface into my eyes. Without my glasses, I could barely see the point where the concrete ended and the water began, but I could see the outline of my father’s shoulders against the glare of sun and sky reflecting off the water.
“Jump. I’ll catch you,” he encouraged. I gulped, envisioning broken bones and blood-splattered bricks.
“It’s safe. I promise.” (Sure, dad, and the Easter Bunny is real. Whatever).
“Nothing is going to happen to you.” (Really? I seem to recall a story about an overly ambitious pig with the desire to fly who wound up with a pair of melted wings and a squashed-in face. Moral of the story: creatures without wings are not meant to become airborne).
“You can do it. There’s no reason to be scared.” I swallowed hard, squeezed my eyes shut (because the view wouldn’t have been much different with my eyes open) and jumped…straight into the water and into my father’s arms.

As children, we believe in the miracle of flying—that all it takes is a superman cape and a rooftop to send us soaring into the sky. As adults, reality is the gravity that drags us down; we heed the caveat to “look before you leap,” fearing that, like the little pig who got his wings, we might fall prey to the failure of our fanciful, flighty dreams. Today, I am thankful that I learned to leap, for to leap is to live. Sometimes, I land on my feet with feline agility; more often than not, I cradle a bruised elbow (or ego), for with every leap there comes a lesson.

Nearly a year ago, I took a leap into a relationship (albeit a wonderful one, in many ways) that forced me to think I could have benefited from a few emotional skydiving lessons. There’s a reason why they tell you to tuck and roll when you hit the ground—part of learning to fly is learning to fall. These are not mutually exclusive concepts. And yet the only way to love is freely, without inhibitions, and with the bruised egos and broken bones comes the strength of survival.

“And you know,” my best friend said to me when we were discussing it recently, “one of the things about you that’s really amazing, and maybe a little intimidating, is that in spite of everything you’ve been through, you can still love so easily.” And this is why, when the opportunity to love comes again, I will leap at the chance, because to love is to leap, and to leap is to live.

Question: How did you celebrate Leap Day? Who taught you to leap—in either a literal or figurative sense?

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The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing: or, Valentine’s Day and the Commoditization of Love?

“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”- Oscar Wilde, the Picture of Dorian Gray.

This quotation has been marinating in my brain for the last several days as I’ve been rereading the novel from which it is taken, and I found myself reflecting upon it last night as I entered the grocery store with a friend and was immediately in danger of being sucked into a vortex of Valentine’s Day merchandise: cards, candies, flowers, cupcakes, cookies, balloons, and teddy bears offered fragrant, fluffy, and fatty reminders of the approaching Hallmark holiday. Now, I am in no way averse to the celebrating of Valentine’s Day, but I do think that it’s gotten increasingly like the commercialization of Christmas in the marketing campaigns associated with it.

When I was growing up, my father would come home from work on Valentine’s Day each year with a bouquet of flowers and a box of chocolates each for my mother and me. When I was in high school, the student counsel sold roses and balloons each Valentine’s Day, and my father (who taught at my school) would send me a rose and a balloon each year, anonymously of course, and he still won’t admit to having done it because there was, and possibly still is, the chance that some boy too socially aware of his reputation to openly like the blind girl might secretly have wanted me to know he was out there, somewhere. Forming an alliance with me might be “regarded as a highly reprehensible connection” by the rest of the school, but I was no less worthy all the same. My dad did what he did for the simple joy of watching me participate in the day with my peers.

The past two years, I’ve received a package from my mother with several dozen chocolate muffins from Vitalicious. Nothing says “I love you” quite like a box of fiber-infused, shit-your-brains-out chocolate chip muffins. More importantly, they’re practical, like my mother. These guilt-free, tasty treats are a weekend ritual for me—a hardy helping of indulgence on a Saturday morning. They are, however, rather pricy on a fixed income, and bank account, heart, and waistline appreciate the gesture.

Such sweet simplicity offers a stark contrast to the advertisement from Amazon.com that appeared in my inbox a few weeks ago: a special deal on the new Kindle Fire, an exclusive Valentine’s Day offer! As gadgets and gizmos replace candy and cuddly animals as tokens of our affection, is the price tag on love getting bigger and its value getting smaller? Perhaps, though we might argue that jewelry store sales have been indicating as much for years. Truthfully though, whether you show your love with candy or a Kindle, what matters most is that your heart is in the right place.

St. Valentine’s name is taken from the Latin word “valens,” meaning strong, powerful, healthy, and worthwhile, according to Latinwordlist.com. This day isn’t simply about chocolate, cards, and conversation hearts; it’s about cultivating strong, powerful, healthy, and worthwhile relationships, with yourself as well as with others.

So: love to all, not just today, but each day. Remember that you are worthy of love and are loved in ways you probably aren’t always aware of. Most importantly, remember that love, the most priceless gift we have to share, is also the freest. (Restrictions do not apply. Offer good year-round).
Happy Valentine’s Day!

P.S: Thanks to Yearstruicken over at Year-Struck for providing some inspiration for today’s post. Check out her post: Love in the Time of Garlic, because everyone deserves a bit of bloggy love, especially on Valentine’s day!

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Playing with Fire, Scorched by Flame: Ellen Hopkins’ Burned

I’ve had this novel in my “TBR” pile for several months, and in the humdrum of returning to work after the holiday, I decided to pick it up, thinking that some good young adult fiction would help me forget, at least temporarily, the stress of life. (Obviously I was new to Ellen Hopkins). I found, instead of the trials and tribulations of teen angst, a compelling story of love and hate, of faith and doubt, of feud and forgiveness.

Pattyn Von Stratten is a good Mormon girl: completing her chores, caring for her six younger siblings, dutifully attending sacrament meetings and seminary, tacitly tolerating her father’s alcoholism and abuse and her mother’s submissiveness to his domineering ways. But then a secret relationship with a “real boy”—a non-Mormon boy—incurs her father’s wrath and triggers a chain of drama that results in Pattyn’s “exile” to spend the summer with an estranged aunt in Nevada.

Banished from her home to be punished, Pattyn finds comfort in the arms of “Aunt J”. Battered and broken, she learns about the healing power of love. After years of attending sacrament meetings and adhering to church elders who rarely practice what they preach, Pattyn finds God in the thunder that rolls across the mountain range, in the rhythmic rocking of a horse’s canter, in the eyes of a boy who loves her. So long crouched in cold darkness, she blooms in the wild of the Nevada desert. But in these vast, wide open spaces where her heart is free to fly, is there a shelter in which she can escape her demons?

Burned is a story about the choice to love and the consequences of that choice—that with great gifts come great responsibility, and that even God, in his infinite wisdom, deals doses of tough love. Ellen Hopkins’ simple yet elegant pros at once touches and twists the heart of the reader, and Pattyn’s story is one that gives voice to any young girl forced to grow up in a narrow-sheltered world where questions are forbidden by adults who have no answers.

Note: not being entirely familiar with the Mormon faith, I cannot attest to the accuracy of the portrayal, but this is a story whose power is not bound by cast and creed; Pattyn’s family could just as easily be a Protestant family, A catholic family, a rich family or a poor one. It is a story that will resonate with anyone who struggles in a world where being lost seems far easier than finding oneself.

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“Are you still dating that what’s-his-name?”: and Other Holiday Party Conversation Killers

Ah, Christmas! What’s not to love about this season: the music, the chocolate, the chilly weather, the hot coco, the crackling fire, the time with loved ones…and, of course, the holiday parties. You know the ones: where one of your parents’ friends corners you in the buffet line to ask you what wonderful, exciting things you’ve been doing with your life, and you stand there with your plate in your hand, trying to formulate a polite response with one half of your brain while the other half engages in a fierce inner dialogue with your instinct to make a run for it and your craving for a slice of the honey-baked ham that comes only once a year. IT goes rather something like this:

“So how are you, honey? It’s so good to see you,” gushes friend-of-the-mother.
“Yes, likewise, it’s been so long,” I murmur. Hmm, there’s a spot on the couch next to Grandma; do I remain caught in a conversation with friend-of-the-mother about my nonexistent boyfriend or allow myself to become entrapped in an intellectual debate with Grandma about why anyone who’s read The DaVinci Code is (or is not) going to Hell? IN lieu of either, I consider stabbing myself repeatedly in the eye with a shrimp fork.

“So, how’s teaching?” Translation: I haven’t seen you since you were 5, so let’s talk about something while we’re cuing for our food. Let’s talk about work, for lack of a more stimulating subject.
“It’s going well. I really enjoy it.” Translation: I’m overworked and underpaid. Did you know that graduate teaching assistants at research institutions do roughly 60 % of the teaching and research and are the lowest-paid employees? Where’s the vodka?

“How’s your dissertation coming?” Translation: I thought you wanted to be a teacher, not a professional student. When are you going to get your degree and start teaching full-time so you can pay your parents back and they can finally retire and pay off their mortgage? (Insert small twinge of guilt as I remember that if not for me, my mother would probably be close to retirement).
“It’s coming along. It’s a fairly big project and a lot goes into it.” Translation: My dissertation is like an unruly toddler who spends its time pulling books off my shelves, climbing walls, and making a general mess of my life. Writing a dissertation is like being pregnant: all I do is eat and cry.

“Are you seeing anyone? Have you met anyone special?” Translation: where’s your boyfriend? Why haven’t you brought him? It’s time a nice Catholic boy put a ring on your finger so your father can stop worrying about you (AKA putting up with/supporting you)and pass the torch onto another poor sucker. (This is getting a bit too Bridget Jones, and I’m starting to glance anxiously around to make sure my parents haven’t invited any brooding young successful human rights lawyers in reindeer jumpers.)
“I’ve got a lot on my plate right now. I haven’t been dating much.” Alternatively: “My boyfriend is busy/working/visiting his family/under quarantine with mononucleosis.” Translation: Charley Brown’s Christmas tree has a longer life span than my relationships. If one more person asks me that question, I might seriously have to consider adjusting the brandy-to-eggnog ratio in my drink. Don’t force my hand.

“Your mom and I were at so-and-so’s baby shower last weekend. I remember when the two of you played dress-up.” Translation: Since we talked about marriage, you should have babies, lots of them, because Italians specialize in manufacturing robust, strong, well-fed babies, and you’re not getting any younger. (Apparently laundry isn’t the only thing in life I’m behind on. I really need to get my priorities sorted out, so it would seem).
“Yes, I’m really glad to hear she’s doing well.” Translation: That brat. Why is everyone my age married, engaged, or in a stable adult relationship? Last week I got an e-mail from a friend and her husband; they’re expecting their second child. Would people please stop setting such high standards? And about that biological clock innuendo, yes, it’s ticking, but I think I can afford to hit the snooze button a few more times.

Note: all of this is happening while friend-of-the-mother is helping me to food, because no one trusts the blind woman with a myriad of hot dishes that have spillage and splatter potential. Why don’t you just stick me at the little blue plastic kid’s table where I obviously belong, because I have no “real job”, no boyfriend/spouse, and no children, all of which, according to friend-of-the-mother, seem to be the minimum benchmarks for joining the adult table. Hmph.

“There you are, honey. Careful, it’s hot. There’s a seat on the couch right next to your grandmother.”

And off I scurry, careful not to spill my food, because grownups don’t spill food, and plunk myself down beside grandma to talk about the morally reprehensible Dan Brown, which is far more interesting than an episode of: this is your life, almost 30 and boring as Hell.

Then Dad comes over to refresh my drink, and suddenly, all is right with the world.

Question: How do you handle awkward holiday parties? Do you have a particularly cringe-worthy party experience?

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Platitude, Shmatitude

Project Give Thanks day 7:

“You’ll get over it.”
“It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
“Time heals all wounds.”
“Good things come to those who wait.”
“When the right one comes along, you’ll know.”
“What doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.”

Blah, blah, blah. I usually detest platitudes and the people who push them on me when I least want to hear them—especially those relating to love and relationships. It’s far easier to tell someone else that their turn will come when someone is warming your bed than it is when you’re clutching a pillow that still bears the faintest trace of an ex’s cologne and wishing that Mark Darcy would materialize out of the darkness, confess his high regard for your wobbly bits, and proceed to pleasure you until you’ve lost all sensation below the waist.

Having said all of that, today I am thankful that at least some of those clichés, crappy though they might be, hold a grain of truth. I am thankful today for healing. No one knows more than I do about waiting for good things to fall out of the sky into my lap; between the ages of 20 and 27, I went on exactly 3 dates and had (does swift mental calculation) 0 boyfriends. Call it a dry spell if you wish; I’d call it a sex drought of biblical proportions. It would naturally stand to reason that when something did fall into my lap by the grace of God, and, because we’re talking about me and my luck here, it didn’t turn out quite the way I’d expected, I felt gutted, to say the least. As my best friend would say, “It’s like waving a Wanka bar in front of a kid and then not letting him have it.”

I’m not the woman I was eight months ago, or even three months ago; I’ve learned, I’ve grown, I’ve loved, I’ve hurt. I’ve handed my broken heart to God and asked him to refashion it, but I’m not hoping for a more shatter-resistant model, because a heart that can’t brake isn’t a heart at all. I’ve thought, I’ve prayed, I’ve cried, and while I was doing all of that, God was tenderly and quietly filling in the cracks in my heart and healing it. Am I fully healed? Certainly not; am I better than I was a month ago? Undoubtedly. Am I ready to place myself in a situation that makes me emotionally vulnerable again? Not right now, but if you fracture your leg, you don’t go off and try to river dance the moment the cast comes off. Am I hopeful that some day God will bless me with another opportunity to share the love I know is mine to give? Truthfully, I don’t know, but I want to believe that when and if that time comes, God will remind me of everything I’ve been through and of the miracle that, despite it all, I can still love.

What are you thankful for today?

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