‘Twas A Bittersweet—More Sweet than Bitter, Bitter Than Sweet—Year

For me, 2011 was the year of truly living SingleInMy30s. At age 33, it was in fact the first time in my 30s I was not involved in some exclusive—usually long-term—relationship for the vast majority of the year. The V-Man and I finally ended our second attempt at being together a couple months into the year…and from then on, I was free.

I can’t say that it was an easy year. My body slowly stopped allowing me to beat it into submission, to work it day and night with little to no rest. Soon my dream job became a nightmare job for my immune system, and I was left facing four months of chemotherapy.

I was forced to go on medical leave from my job, and when I wasn’t back on my feet fast enough, I had to leave it outright. To be honest, I think that hurt more than saying goodbye to V-Man, though those losses are somehow linked. Still, saying goodbye to that old dream, that exciting chapter of my life has led to an awesome new career path and wonderful opportunities I would never have expected.

Most importantly, it re-taught me something I thought I already had down cold—how to listen to my body. Now I truly do understand it’s not worth Hurtling Against the Brick Wall—again. My mantra for 2011? Find your balance.

From the dating perspective, I enjoyed dating a variety of men, broadening my horizons a bit more than ever before. There was the Ballroom Dancer, the Christian Rocker, the Cop, the Karaoke Crooner, to name but a few Up Next On the Stage… I didn’t regret every single one, though there were a couple of opportunities for a bruised ego–most famously, the experience captured in The Appeal of the Exotic Woman. Yet I didn’t allow myself to get too involved in the hunt. Timing was certainly off in 2011.

With all the time I had for myself this last year, there was plenty of time for self-reflection. I dealt with the love I’d left behind in 2010 and finally learned how to say goodbye, with A Letter to a Love Lost & A Lesson Learned and several other entries. I gave the bird to societal expectations of where I should be as a woman of a certain age, Tossing Out the Ticking Time Clock, and embracing my own unique path.

I also focused on my self, recognizing my own faults and weaknesses, and embracing my new strengths, while acknowledging the me-ness that I sometimes allow to get buried behind bitterness/reticence/resignation or tucked under the plastered on happy face for show. With a little help from surprise, surprise Shania Twain, I was reminded about Finding Your Voice Again.

And then finally, sweet romance did sneak up on me when and where I least expected it. We fell hard and fast. Since it is my love life, it couldn’t stay smooth sailing for too long. So I wound up the year with the realization that I wasn’t actually in a relationship. It looked like one, smelled like one and tasted like one, but apparently it wasn’t one. And after that was established, it acted even more like one…conveniently for the holiday vacation anyway.

So I’m not sure where that leaves me in 2012, except that I’m not looking to bring drama from 2011 into this year. I am a survivor of last year. I more than survived, I thrived and feel more alive than I have in a really long time, and I plan to only go up from here. Nothing and no one is allowed to take me down.

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Becoming Unstuck

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my memories. They are frequently comforting, or at least familiar. There are no surprises—they have already happened. Though it seems new insights can be (re) learned with each visit down memory lane.

It’s easy to get stuck in the past. You don’t have to worry how new people will perceive that person who is still slightly unfamiliar when you glance in the mirror. In the past, there is a shorthand. He already knows you. The real you. From before.
You don’t have to give your health history (again) to every potential boyfriend, in addition to the really cool things about yourself. Trying to exude that confidence, while secretly worrying that the health stuff is a scarlet letter, or alphabet really, branding you UNDATEABLE.

Or at least, it may seem as if the ones who still want to date you are the guys who normally wouldn’t be your first or second choice. They are really nice, but… Or they aren’t so nice. They might just be horny freaks who only care that they might get the chance to see you naked. As if.

Src: thechampionsheart.com

So I put my earbuds in and turn the iTouch up loud, listening to my lectures for school, getting excited about my potential future. Trying not to let fears about being good enough in a new career hold me back there as well. Watching other classmates zoom ahead of schedule, and wondering what’s keeping me from sprinting along with the rest of the pack.

But then a chance conversation leads to a friend spending an hour and half with me, treating me as if I really know what I am doing, like I know something useful, like I really can help her. She eagerly asks me when we can next meet to follow up on some of the things she wants to work some more on together. I don’t have the heart to tell her this isn’t how things are generally supposed to go because while I am helping her, she’s helping me. Giving me a dose of that rocket fuel that pushes me forward instead of keeping me stuck.

Src: beyondrice.com

Suddenly, my dating life is moving forward again as well. Tomorrow I have a date with a handsome nurse practitioner with a lot of energy, great attitude and a seemingly good heart. We have a lot in common, we agree. But I dread the conversation where I have to fill in the blanks with this triathlon athlete who runs daily, kayaks and does all the great things outdoors my old body would jump up to do in a heartbeat.

Surprisingly, the Jock With a Heart brings it up first to find out what we should we do on our date. “I don’t want you to have to talk about it if you’re not comfortable,” he says. “I just want to know what you can do, so I can plan our date.”

So, I hesitantly share some details. He sounds curious, jokes that he’ll look it up tonight and have a cure for me by tomorrow. I ask if I’m scared him off yet. He says not at all, adding that if I am going to go hiking with anyone, he’d be the best person to be with if anything went wrong.

He was reluctant to get off the phone. I’m trying not to let me insecurities ruin this before we even meet. Obviously he sees something in me he likes enough to go on his first date in a long time. So I will remember my awesome me-ness and just be my self.

Src: jweekly.com

The next day a teacher from Albany is driving down to spend the day with me. We’ve been talking for several weeks and are building a nice friendship. He’s very passionate about education, community activism, and bringing people together. He previously formed a kibbutz in Israel for two years, and he’s been running a non-profit in Uganda, and he’s starting a school in upstate New York.

Albany Activist is extremely intelligent, a great conversationalist, has great compassion and empathy—and he has great taste in music and seems to enjoy every aspect of getting to know me, even why certain books or albums are my favorites. Sounds wonderful, right?

It is. And he is. Though he comes with some complications of his own that may or may not be of concern. And while I wouldn’t say I have a type—Jock With a Heart, for instance, doesn’t really look like any other guy I’ve liked—I would still say Albany Activist’s look isn’t usually what I tend to be attracted to. But he looks like a lot of fun and very kind. Everything he’s said over the last few weeks reveal a great guy, and I’m really looking forward to spending time with him too.

So life is moving forward, just as it should. And I am looking to the future, while learning to enjoy the present. The past? Been there, done that. Thanks for the memories, but it’s time to start making some new ones.

30-Day Blogging Challenge, Day 1: Me in a Nutshell

Inspired by Miss Jess Downey, I have decided to start the 30-Day Blogging Challenge. Most of my readers know I tend to write long, emotional entries about the ups and downs of my dating life. I thought this would be a nice alternative to get me in the habit of blogging more regularly and to perhaps allow me to reveal a side of me that you don’t often get to see.

So first, a little about me: I am, as my pseudonym implies, single in my 30s. This is a rarity. While this blog has revealed a serial dater, I am more a serial monogamist. Except for brief interludes, I have basically been in serious romantic relationships since the age of 17…until more recently, hence this blog.

In addition to blogging about dating and relationships, I write about health and wellness. It’s a subject I know more intimately than I ever expected I would, and I have turned it into my strength, rather than a weakness. I also am on leave from being the editor/writer for online daily hometown news.

I currently live in Connecticut again, where I grew up. With my parents, and there is an extremely good reason for that. I also live with my 5-year-old cat, who is not my substitute child, though he sure is loved.

And now for 15 interesting facts about myself.

1. I have lived in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Connecticut, California and Las Vegas, Nevada. Yes, Las Vegas, baby!

2. Up until grade 5, I wore my hair in braided pigtails nearly every single day of school. I was long known in my hometown for those and my begged-for tumbling displays at recess.

3. After locking myself in the bathroom when I was a kid, I never close any door at my home all the way shut…unless the niece and nephew are sleeping over because I need those precious hours of sleep in the morning.

4. I have traveled cross-country several times and been to Toronto, the Bahamas, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, England, Switzerland, Austria, The Netherlands, Thailand and Nepal. Has that satisfied my wanderlust? It’s only just scratching the surface.

5. The reason I went to Toronto was to meet a man I stumbled across on the Internet…back in the ’90s. We had spent a couple months IMing, video chatting and talking on the phone beforehand. I still count it as one of the best weeks of my life.

6. While I have had multiple sprains and strains growing up as a competitive gymnast, soccer player and track and field athlete, I only broke a bone once. It was in Germany when I was 16, insisting on playing soccer with the boys just like I had since I was 5. After the hard fall, I kept playing, and in fact didn’t get treated for it until I was in France several days later.

7. I am 5 feet and have been a lightweight most my life, but I am very strong. I have literally pulled down trees, yanked out bushes, and carried sheet rock more than twice my size. I was an indoor rock-climbing maniac thanks to my arm strength. In middle school, I broke the record for doing the most pull-ups for a girl. A little more than a year ago, I finally broke my own record. Not bad for an ole’ gal.

8. I was 17 when I had my first real kiss. I was 17 when I had a lot of other firsts.

9. I am the proud aunt of an almost 4-year-old nephew and an almost 2-year-old niece. They are adorable, funny and incredibly smart.

10. I have a strong fear that I will never be able to have children of my own one day, biologically or otherwise.

11. I tend to organize potato chips by size and M&Ms by color before I eat them.

12. I am a true melting pot, with African, Bulgarian, English, French and Native American heritage (and probably more.)

13. I haven’t been legally been able to drive a car since January 2010 for health reasons. It is one of my biggest frustrations.

14. I hate reading directions, but I am a great troubleshooter, creative cook and baker as a result.

15. I have recorded an album, become a professional writer, traveled to incredible places, swum with the dolphins and knocked off so many things from my “bucket list.” But I still think that bucket list won’t carry much weight for me until I find that lifelong love. In spite of everything, I’m still a romantic, so sue me.

Does No Mean Bring Me Chicken Soup?

I was about 10 minutes into the latest disappointing RomCom. Not so disappointing because it had the predictable arc of boy meets girl, girl resists boy’s charms, boy falls in love, girl denies she’s in love and breaks things off, boy moves on, girl realizes “wait, I’m in love with boy,” but it’s too late…or is it? I honestly did like the sex buddies twist.

It was more disappointing because it starred Natalie Portman, from whom I’ve come to expect great things, for the most part (cough, certain Star Wars movies).  While she brilliantly played her dark role in Black Swan, the last film I’d seen her in, I would certainly never choose to see that twisted movie again, and I was looking forward to seeing how the beautiful and talented actress could tackle comedy.

Anyway, I was just settling into Natalie’s recent foray in romantic comedy when the doorbell rang. It was nearing 9 p.m., we weren’t expecting anyone and we very rarely had unexpected guests, unless you’re counting Jehovah’s Witnesses or lawn maintenance guys trying to sell their services. We all—my mom, visiting brother and sister-in-law, and I exchanged quizzical looks; no one knew who this could be. But I had a sinking suspicion that the person on the other side of the door was probably looking for me. The question was, exactly who was doing the looking?

My brother gamely went to answer the door, and I continued chomping on my second dessert of the night. Hey, I was celebrating No Rapture Day. Then I heard his voice.

A near anxiety-attack inducing déjà vu flooded my system when I heard the unmistakable Philly accent of Karaoke Crooner snake around the corner. “Is SoloAt30 up in her room?”

Not another one. Not again.

I knew I had to stand up and face the music, as much as I wanted to sink into the sofa. “I’m in here,” I said with heavy resignation. In he bounded in with a plastic container of chicken soup—fresh from the grocery store.

“I brought you some soup since I know you aren’t feeling well,” he said, too afraid, I noticed, to look me in the eye. “But I didn’t know you’d have company,” he said hesitantly (and accusingly).

“Karaoke Crooner, my brother and sister-in-law,” I introduced.

“Do you want to go outside and talk?” he asked.

“Um, no, I’ve had a rough day, and I just want to relax as I’d planned for now,” I said. “We’re watching a movie. You’re welcome to watch, if you want.”

Chick flick with the girl’s family. I could see the wheels spinning in his head. He decided to stay. Throughout the movie, he was obsessively doing who-knows-what on his smartphone. Trying to ignore his presence, I kept thinking to myself, “What is he doing here?”

The situation almost immediately made me sick to my stomach. Okay—that may have had more to do with the apple-filled doughnut I was eating when he came in, but he certainly wasn’t helping. (Tip: fried foods and chemo don’t mix. Hope you don’t ever need to know that, but just in case…) My body went into uncontrolled spasms.

He showed no concern for me or my health, except to say, “I can leave if you want,” in between fiddles on his phone.

Yes I want. “It’s up to you,” I said with an unmistakable tone—I could give a rat’s ass if you walked right out that door right now, and I never heard from you again, chicken soup or not.

The movie ended. “Do you want to go outside and talk?”

Ugh, no. We opened the door. Thankfully it was pouring rain.

Not to be deterred. Karaoke Crooner suggested going to his car. “Help!” I tried to send vibes to my mom, but she was leaving me on my own this time. I grabbed my raincoat, ignored the hand he held out for me as we went down my front steps and walked to his car.

He told me how he figured he had to drive over here, or we’d never break this cycle of not seeing each other again. Smart one. “I didn’t know if you’d think ‘how sweet, he brought me soup,’ or if you’d think I was being a stalker…”

He said he knew he was ‘messed up mentally’, but he was really a nice guy. I agreed that for the most part, he’s a fairly nice guy. He wouldn’t intentionally hurt anyone. He holds the door open for people. He tries to be polite when he’s not spinning in his own world of depression and/or anxiety and/or extreme OCD or whatever cycle of the bipolar condition he happens to be at the time.

He said he felt bad for getting irritated and picking fights when I wasn’t able to get together before, when he should’ve said what he was really feeling. Which was, “I miss you.” Oh no.

I can’t remember the entire sequence. He grabbed my hand and tried to rub it. He hugged me and tried to pull me in for a kiss.

I pushed back. “No. I don’t want this.” Damn, I was proud of myself.

“Come on. You can’t give up this gorgeous specimen of man,” he joked. Tall, missing a front tooth, face frozen in clownish expressions, though when I still had favorable feelings toward him there had been a boyish charm to him. Now that I knew him better, there was just nothing I found too appealing.

He worked a maximum of 15 hours per week on the clock in medical sales so he could still collect unemployment (he was a certified high school teacher in PA, and has been just shy of getting a master’s degree for several years.) Instead of using gas money to go to the other office location on certain days, he would take the day so so he could drive further away at night to get drunk with his friends at karaoke.

His vision of being a karaoke venue reviewer was pretty much frozen because he was caught in a really bad mental/emotional cycle, but he had refused to pick up one of his most important medications for more than a week. This guy didn’t need a girlfriend—he needed a life preserver.

“Are you sure you really meant it when you said you just wanted to be friends?” he said coyly, trying to pull me in again. “Seeing me again doesn’t change your mind?”

“No,” I said as honestly as I could muster. For my health, no!

“No, as in you don’t want to stay just friends or no as in—“ he said with a cocky grin.

“No as in, I haven’t changed my mind,” I said as gently as possibly. “I don’t want to be any more than friends.”

I tried to steer the conversation away to other things for a couple minutes. Then I told him I was tired and needed to lay down inside. After desperately trying to lock another date commitment out of me, I told him I was going back in. He hugged me and of course tried to give me more kisses.

I finally pushed him away. “That was sweet of you to bring chicken soup,” I said. “Have a safe drive home.”

He texted me when he got home, asking me to let him know when I got up. I didn’t.

Readers: seriously, what do you do when someone in a really fragile state of mind really doesn’t take no for an answer?

Things To Remember About Myself

My self-worth is not determined by:

• My work (or ability to do it)

• Whether my boss thinks of me as bringer in of “ratings” or as a human being—I know being really sick can’t compare to having a cute baby

• Whether my “boyfriend” thinks I am a high enough priority to spend time with

• Whether I have a boyfriend or not…and I decided four weeks ago, regardless of what he’s thinking, I don’t want his half-assed approach to dating anymore

• The fact that I am once again bed-bound for most of the day, that I have to crawl or have someone help me to the bathroom and walk the halls or risk a fall, and that I need a wheelchair to go out in public.

• The fact that I can’t take a shower (and sometimes brush my teeth) unless someone else is in the room with me

I am:

• Still intriguing because of my mind, my sense of humor, my looks, my interests and my intelligence. Men from OKCupid keep telling me so, haha.

• Still sexy and beautiful, despite the extra 6-10 lbs that taking prednisone for too long puts on my body. A sexy ex told me so–even after seeing me puke into a pink bucket. No, just having my parents and doctors tell me I’m beautiful doesn’t resonate in quite the same way.

• Not an old maid just because I am 33, currently living at home, never been married and have no kids

• That my body is still strong, my mind is still sharp and that I still have a bright future and this is all just temporary. I can get through all of this one day at a time

• So blessed to have people who love me, books, music, videos, a weird cat and more to keep me occupied, intrigued and entertained.

• Never finished learning more about this world and about my self.