i’m uncomfortable

step back; dating is not a transaction

I matched with a guy who checked all the boxes. He was older than 30. Not a frat boy. Had a job. Benefits. Wanted a God-centered family, had friends, and was pleasant to look at.

Even better, he was intentional. He texted me, called me, followed up, and I responded. 

And then I turned him down. 

At first I felt guilty – how dare I turn away a perfectly nice guy who was interested? How dare I look down my nose at someone who’s crossed my path and actually paid attention to me and wasn’t a certifiable creep?

Something felt weird, though, and I couldn’t put my finger on it.

I spent a couple days torn between my head (He’s nice! Smart! Interested! Socially acceptable! Not looking to just get laid!) and my gut (This just feels wrong. Why did I wake up to four texts and a Bible quote when we’ve only spoken once?). 

My gut was saying get away! My head was screaming get over it!

But then- then!- my finger landed on the point my gut had been trying to make.

I felt like I owed him.

I don’t think that was his intention, but I still felt I had to keep up with the level of interest he was showing me. It started to feel pushy, not to mention ever-so-slightly delusional (why are you already so into me it’s only been four days you don’t know me). In the end, I just felt weird and I said goodbye. 

Sounds lame and felt lame, because what kind of excuse is that? I felt weird. Boo hoo. But then, my gut – that wise, mysterious organ of intuition – brought me to another point.

I don’t owe anyone anything. 

My discomfort is reason enough to step back. That needs to be okay.

Allowing the spirit of paying debts and fulfilling obligations to weigh me down is a social norm that might be harmless now but has the potential to spiral out of control. It is the mild-mannered gremlin with the capacity to evolve into something much more threatening. 

For instance: When he takes the time to call do I owe him one tomorrow? When he puts in the effort to set up dinner, am I obligated to attend a second one? When he pays for drinks must I stay for dessert? A kiss? A hand job? Sex? 

No.

Dating cannot be transactional.

Dating must be respectful.

He may have called, and I may have answered. We may have talked, and I may have been interested. He may have complimented me, and I may have been grateful. But then I was done, and I should not let these deeply ingrained, transactional, cultural standards pressure me any further.

It is time for me to practice ‘no means no’ in a much lower-stakes scenario. I’m now free to learn what I want to say no to and adopt my standards well before I’m faced with a situation where I feel like I want to say no but I feel like I can’t say no because the sense that I owe someone something has overpowered it. 

It’s time I practice making my own decisions and becoming obedient to my own intuition before the “you’re such a flirt” or “why’d you turn me on” or “but I want you” beckons the guilt back home. Before “don’t you want to make your man happy” feels less like a request and more like a demand to perform sexual services that no, I don’t want to provide if that’s what it takes to make you happy, especially at the expense of my security, safety, or preferences.

I must reserve the right to step back. We all must. Being uncomfortable should be an acceptable enough reason to do so.

I need to let it mean enough to me first. Men next.


In that same spirit, I’m going to bring up some things again that’ve gotten lost somewhere in my Instagram feed so they can get lost somewhere in my blog feed.

I repeat- again, I repeat: ‘No means yes and yes means anal’ is NOT a funny joke. 

This is a PSA for the creepos that’ve said it and a validation for the rest of us who’ve looked on confused. 

When we’ve agreed to become involved with one another, be that for a casual evening, a relationship, a marriage, or otherwise, we are agreeing to take on a small sliver of responsibility for that person. That person should be handled with care. With respect.

This means we are listening to the requests of that person and then ACTUALLY TAKING THEM SERIOUSLY. 

Behaving in a way that falls short of this, actually being douche-y enough to ignore someone’s NO, or joking about such inappropriate behavior is ridiculous. Ignoring consent is not funny, it never should have been, and it never will be to people who actually have fully formed brains.

Let’s also agree that ‘no means no’ is one of the weaker mantras we stand behind. At this point, evolved as we are, we shouldn’t be pushing each other so far that we’ve had to turn boundaries into a catchy marketing platform. As if they’re new.

Best practice: Ask for permission, not forgiveness. Don’t put people you date and love and care for in a place where they are on the defensive, awkwardly defending their decision to take your hands off their chest because choosing to kiss you did not also mean she wanted hands in her bra. 

So. To be perfectly clear. Me agreeing to step one did not automatically mean I wanted step two. You greedily taking what you assumed was yours is rude- you wouldn’t help yourself to my pantry without asking, my underwear drawer, my makeup box, the pages of my journal- and in the world of intimacy, behavior like that is barbaric and is also actually considered assault. 

This is especially true when I’ve been clear about what I did or did not want, you knew that, but then you tried it anyway.

Of course, there’s also those scenarios where no isn’t clearly communicated. Where it’s happened too quickly, where there’s a power imbalance, or where there’s simply confusion. Does that mean we assume all is fair in love and sex and take whatever the heck we want? Or does that mean we assume people have more boundaries than they’ve yet had the chance to describe? In practice it’s  the former. Best to assume the latter.

Also worth considering, what do we say about the situations where seduction has played a part? Where person A pushed the line so subtly and slowly that person B hardly noticed what was happening until it was too late and their no got lost in hormones and habits and appetite and then, even if mentioned, feels a little less meaningful because it’s a little more breathless and maybe the body now wants something that the heart and the head didn’t plan on. 

If we consider drunk college girls as incapable of providing complete consent, should we also consider consent incomplete when the body has been coerced, seduced, and is now practically drunk in a haze of endorphins? If nothing else, at the very least, it is altered. 

This becomes dangerous, especially when those seductions and coercions aren’t anchored in love or respect. Especially when those seductions are based in self-focused hunger. Especially when she’d made it clear days and weeks and months ago that she’d really feel most respected when you did/did not do X but you kept at it anyway because she looked hot or you were horny or she wasn’t complaining so that probably meant it was fine. 

FYI that does not mean it was fine.

Don’t take what does not belong to you.

Don’t push for a no. Listen for a yes. 

Then let ‘I’m uncomfortable’ be reason enough. 

We’ll practice that together.

to my person, someday

a letter to the future

To you, 

If I ever get to meet you,

Just so you know, I like to laugh.

I’m writing this to you, floating on the buzz of Malbec and gin (weird mix, I know), just to let you know about the laughing. It feels important right now. Don’t worry, though, I’m easy to please. I laugh easy, smile easy; life’s better that way.

I make lists, too, just so you know. I wrote this one months ago, on a little pad proudly titled “Eggcellent Notetaker.” I’ve got four sunny-side up themed pages on who I hope you’ll be. Eggcellent, obviously.

Besides that: You will be kind.

The human in me also hopes that you’re cute. Let’s be honest, I’ll have to look at you, and I tend to like guys with sweet smiles and kind eyes. Usually tall too, but that’s not a dealbreaker. Just please don’t be so gym-y that you’re douche-y. Maybe you exercise a little but also eat pizza? We’ll get along better that way, probably. Or maybe that’s just my insecurity talking. I’ll work on it.

Anyway, the back to the list.

I wrote down normal things:

  • Intelligent
  • Genuine
  • Driven
  • Responsible

And some more particular things:

  • Balanced
  • Attentive to the present moment
  • Self-reflective
  • Growth-oriented

And some more fun things:

  • Will dance
  • Will drink
  • Will play games
  • Will have friends

And the dealbreaker NOPEs:

  • Creepy
  • Mean
  • Uses women
  • Doesn’t want kids
  • Lack of faith
  • Disrespectful of boundaries
  • Selfish
  • Lazy
  • Poor priorities

AKA a decent human (according to my sister. Also probably me too, now that I look again).

If you aren’t a nope, congrats. 

If you’re the match for me, we go further.

I think you’ll be faithful, but not a weirdo. I’m Catholic, and it’d be lovely if you were too, but if you were centered on Love and oriented towards Good and understood (as much as any of us can understand) Jesus I think we’d be cool. He’s my friend, and I’d like it if you knew Him too. 

I hope we can go on dates and we can get appetizers and bottles of wine and dessert. I hope you have a budget, but sometimes know that beautiful living means there’s a little bit of wiggle room. Good food requires the wiggle. So does art. And music. And travel. I hope you like those things as much as I do.

I hope over the wine and apps and pasta we talk, and talk, and laugh, and talk some more. I hope you’re a good conversationalist, which implies that you’re also a good listener. And also probably funny.

It’s a pipe dream, but I also hope you are loyal to the Patriots. If not them, at least football. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it’s how I spend Sundays after church. If you’ll be there it’ll be easier if we can just hang and share the nachos.

I hope you love your family. I hope you want one with me. I want one with you.

I hope you are compassionate. 

And here’s what I know, before I’ve met you: 

You have a strong character. You know what you’re about. You’re a leader. A leader who I’ll let lead me because you’re so damn respectful. And you appreciate women. You support them. 

You support me. 

You see me.

And you’re gentle. Strong, and brave, but soft.

Maybe we can read together, some time? With coffee? I like both those things. Then, maybe, a bit of wine and pasta later, we’ll fall in love. And go to church and eat nachos and yell at the TV and talk about philosophy in our sweats then go to game night with the neighbors. Or maybe we’ll cancel on the neighbors because we decided to make a baby or two and finish the nachos in bed.

Anyway. Hope you’re doing well, wherever you are in the world.

Looking forward to knowing you.

Love,

Me.

the words that dwell among us

good gifts for the new year

This Christmas I was given the gift of words.

Between a New York Times subscription, Kindle Unlimited and a handful of paperbacks I have enough to keep me going happily for all of 2020.

Even the mass readings were a gift: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Very explicit, courtesy of John, followed up with, “What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1, 4-5).”

That last bit I had carried in my heart through this year; light was the word of the season as the darker parts of my heart were illuminated and the dusty corners of my soul cleaned out. A year of open windows, fresh air, therapy, journals, night skies, starlight and the first pinks of dawn. A year of refusing to be overcome, and then, beyond simply defying defeat, a year of resilience that overflowed into life.

What word, of all the words, will speak to the season ahead?


I was out last week with my cousins and we walked by a bar, all cheerfully buzzed on G&Ts and the cold December air. A bouncer stopped us, begged us to come into the hazy-blue bar with it’s empty dance floor. I’m sure we were an impressive bunch; a gaggle of tall, red-lipped, long-haired twenty-somethings. We walked past, intent on our destination (pizza), and continued to ignore the calls of the boy behind us. I trailed behind and heard him plead, one last time, “Come on, come in! You’re pretty too!”

I rolled my eyes, shook my head, and marched on to more important things (pizza). A couple slices and an uber ride later we were safely in our beds, bouncers all but forgotten.

The next morning, though, I found traces of annoyance lingering.

Was this boy used to having girls do his bidding just by calling them pretty?

Why had I even turned around at all?

And, by the way, aren’t I more than just pretty?

Such a small word, but enough to throw intelligent women off their axis at the mercy of smaller boys.


Which is the word I want? If I got to pick something better than pretty, what would be enough to catch my attention and hold it?

Which is the one that I am?

Which is the one God says I am?

Another Christmas Scripture nudges my heart and settles in like the last puzzle piece: “No more shall people call you ‘forsaken,’ or your land ‘desolate’ but you shall be called ‘my delight’ and your land ‘espoused’ (Isaiah 62:4).”

I wouldn’t mind being a delight. I’d definitely like to move away from those old characters Forsaken and Desolate.

I think back to a few weeks ago when I felt Jesus whisper “let me take you to France.” A small, almost silly, thing, but a thing that meant something to me. I went home that day and booked a trip to visit the land of my dearest Saint friends. That day felt like the beginning of this- a journey where I am no longer espoused to the little earthly man who hated travel, but rather to the man who died for me.

Another whisper takes shape: This year is the year I am beloved.


Beloved:

adjective

be•loved /bəˈləvəd/

dearly loved


Thank God the open windows of last year let in the holy breezes of this one.

I am seen. I am known. I will learn to live out of a place where I am anchored, deeply set in who I am and who I belong to. Beyond pretty, but beautiful.

A lot of words packed into one little word.

I’ll take it.

an incoherent stream of consciousness ft. ts eliot

finalized for christmas

It’s done.

I cried.

It’s like the race you never wanted to run in the first place and you’re so damn tired but somehow your legs carried you over the end

Or the divorce you never wanted and you didn’t know you needed and now you’re grieving but relieved and finally things aren’t entirely out of your control but shit, you loved him, you had a wedding, and the way it ends is a letter in the mail


This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but with a whimper


The pocket in my heart where the last bit of love lived leaks

Are you thinking of me too?

I’m sorry.

We never should have been together.

But, damn, I loved you. I really, really did.

I’ll see you on the other side.

I hope.


How does all of this sit together in the same room?

Its like the circus has met for a funeral.

A champagne toast for Scrooge and his ghosts.

Death meets magic meets hope meets tears meets me


I’ve been mourning motherhood lately, so at least we’ve come full circle. The first reason I left finds my first day as a divorcée. Long lost friends.

It’s not the kind of thing that has support groups or Facebook pages or even a name. It’s not the ache of infertility or the piercing loss of a child.

It’s quieter.

It’s the hushed undertone of something lost before it was had. A no, after no, after no. Months and months over. A man who sees you, but never quite sees you. Who knows you, but not well enough. Who refuses to make you a mother. He does not want to raise children who look like you. Who act like you or love like you or live like you. You are not enough. 

I see friends with babies. Beautiful ones. More than one. 

They don’t panic or hide pregnancy tests at the bottom of trash cans or the bathroom at Kroger. Their husbands look forward to fatherhood. They don’t have to stare as the moments tick by on their phone- has it been three minutes or two?- but watch the colors bleed -is that one line or two?- with someone who loves them. 

I see men who actually care. Who actively try. Who love their children and wives and want a life built with and for them. 

I used to be jealous. Now I’m just sad. 

I think there’s a hole in my heart, next to the pocket where the love leaks out. A little one, but big enough to need stitching- torn by the hurt that grows when you’re told, implicitly and explicitly, that you, specifically you, are not worthy of repeating. You are not good enough to parent children. Your terrible qualities tip the scales too heavily. You’re better off having none at all. 

Nothing stings quite so sharply as allowing yourself to be present- you open your heart and mind and home and body and forgive and forget, love and cry and love again- but you are still rejected, among all the other ways, in this last way.


And now it’s done.

I fall at the manger, a heavy head on the edge of the crib. She looks at me, would I like to hold him? His solid little weight rests on my chest, heavy over the place the anxiety sits; it melts for a moment. I can’t hold my own, but I can hold him. 

I suppose something new is beginning.

after the flood

step in

She’s alert at the bow, gripping the ledge, bright eyes squinting through sheets of wild rain. Wails lost in the wind, the spray, the haze of salt and mist; she rolls in a wave. 

Again and again, merciless, until, exhale, it ends. The waves slow. She tucks low, surrenders to the sea, heavy eyes under a heavier sky. 

Hours pass, she rolls to her back, sore from the stillness. Black has poured over the sky; she floats, an island in oceans of darkness. The stars glitter, diamonds spilled from a jar, there is so much of the sky; she can breathe. She rocks with the boat, onward, onward; she sleeps.

A bird flutters to perch, to herald a golden glow, it melts over the sky, the sea, her skin – she blinks silent greeting and thanks. 

They pass the day together, blues and grays roll by. She tilts to the sky, eyelashes eskimo kissing the breeze. Breathing. Basking.

And then land.

She leaps overboard, splashes into the sea. A welcome sound.

She is everything and nothing in the pull of the ocean; she is lost in the power of what was long before her and what moves after. She is salt and water and life, she is death and birth and baptism and eternity. She swims and soaks and delights. 

She wades ashore, guiding the boat by hand. Two-handed now, through the thickest surf, moving steadily towards the final grind of wood on sand. 

She turns, hands on hips, faces what’s before her. Lush and green, every shade of green- the hint of honeydew and the depth of pine, the radiance of emerald, the richest of moss- it is here. It is life.

She steps in.

dear father ryan

the sex wasn’t as good as i thought

“Ask her how she’s doing sexually.”

A strange question for a priest to pass along to a friend to pass along to me (follow that?). She told me about it months ago, and we laughed. Strange, though, that the question still echoes in the back of my mind. How am I doing sexually? As a woman previously active, now alone? As a woman redefining womanhood? As a person redefining my relationship with my body? My heart? My mind?

I thought I was fine. I missed sex, sure, who doesn’t? But as my youthful I-better-not-die-while-I’m-a-virgin phase was over, I didn’t feel it’s absence quite as keenly as I thought I would.

Something changed last week. 

As usual, I was working on my annulment paperwork, the familiar cluster of moths waking up in my chest, fluttering away in a panic. I’m annoyed; I appreciate that anxiety shows up to send it’s own weird little message- Something is amiss! Protect yourself! This time, though, I can’t figure out what the heck today’s offending object might be. The writing was emotional, but not impossible. Maybe it’s not psychological this time, maybe just a hormone imbalance? Nutritional deficit? Too much coffee? Not enough sleep? Nothing stood out, so the herd of flapping wings took up happy residence in my throat and I carried on.

Enter Scene: Therapy

We circle through the chit-chat and Thanksgiving plans until we come around to the strange, unname-able, unblame-able anxiety. We work through EMDR and, voilà, like magic, the knots unravel. It seems my poor little mind was more upset than I realized by the disturbing process of filing through my poor little marriage. The offense this time? Sex.

In general, I thought we had been having fine sex. Good, even. We had chemistry, I thought he was hot, it usually worked out fine. I was, in general, satisfied, and felt pretty smug about being the sexually-enlightened and active wife he so longed for while we were dating. 

It only took a month or two before things started taking a weird turn. Irregularly, unpredictably, he’d be completely uninterested. I’d try to make the moves until it felt like begging, until it was too embarrassing and I walked away. Some nights I’d be wrapped up in hardly anything but a Christmas bow, and he would look at me and groan, with a smirk and a half-laugh, he was too tired, did he have to? Of course, on other days, he’d be in the mood, but my body would not (recall, he adamantly did not want children, and I adamantly did not want birth control). Those days, he would either get a fix his way or leave me feeling deservedly alone (Useless wife! -Another joke that stopped feeling like a joke). Occasionally, on stranger nights still, I’d wake up the next day with bruises or sore throats or other evidence of a night too-rough. 

We unravel the stories again, me ever-baffled at the inconsistency of it all. He wanted me so badly when we were dating! Could hardly be moved when we were married! Had such lazy, inattentive sex he couldn’t even tell when I orgasmed. Refused to talk about it at all. Wouldn’t when I wanted, wanted when I couldn’t, left me feeling used, at worst, unseen, at best, and all more often than I preferred. 

But there were nights that seemed good, we felt close, it felt real! Until he would hold me after, joking that I was gross.

How dare I feel wanted or seen for more than the moment required for him to get off.

I needed love. He needed control.

Hearing that for the first time – He Needed Control – hits in the sore spot that makes the most sense, and now I find myself grieving for the sex life I thought I had. I thought I knew what good sex was, but now I’m coming to terms with the reality that just because it felt good doesn’t mean it was good. 

Where I thought it was safe to be vulnerable, I was disposable. Where I thought I was seen, I was hardly noticed. Where I thought I was loved, intimately, completely, passionately – I was nothing but an urge met. I was competing in a battle I’d never win- to fantasy, perfection, endless flexibility and excitement. 

I grieve the small pockets of our relationship that I mistook for love. Those smallest of moments, when not riddled with dysfunction, were something I thought, occasionally, we got right. We’d had fun, it’d felt good, I felt noticed, enjoyed noticing in return. Now even those moments are gone. They never were.

So, Father, I am not doing well sexually. I am realizing that I was living in my own fantasy of sorts, and now I’m facing the possibility that I’ve never really known great sex, and maybe I never will. It’s a bit of a let-down.

Mostly, Father, I’m worried I’ll never actually be seen. That’s all I want, really, in the end.

Sometimes I’d like to run to the next man – that’ll be the time it comes together just right.

A faulty urge, on my part.

I’ll only ever be seen by One, I know that theoretically, but I can’t help but want it ever so badly from a man. It annoys me, how much it distracts me.

Maybe you can pray me through that bit, if you’re up to it.

Thanks,

Me

thinking and thanking and dating

questions for the [annulment] questionnaire

If you looked into the windows of our first Thanksgiving you’d see us laughing. 

About the turkey I let rot on the counter for a week. About what No-Shave-November had done to his face. About the fish at the restaurant with eyeballs.

Sweet, at first glance. 

Look closer.

You’d see me panicking in the bathroom thinking I’d tracked my cycle wrong and we were going to be pregnant.

You’d see me praying at mass that I wouldn’t be, that it’d all be okay, that he’d be okay, that he’d still love me.

You’d see me leaving for Kroger, telling my parents I needed Midol, buying First Response. Hiding in the bathroom by the check-out, heart pounding in my ears watching the timer tick down.

A negative test washing the anxiety off.

Back to laughing.


I’m sorting through my life again, turning stories into essays for the never-ending ever-involved annulment questionnaire. 

I put down paragraphs on the tangled mess of my marriage; it’s winding the strand of anxiety back around my heart.

Why was I so stupid

Why couldn’t I see

Why did I stay

I was young

So dumb

In love

Maybe love is just as blind as they say. Maybe it shouldn’t have been.

I read a book on annulment the other day, and as I type along I wonder why the author said I’d get through this process and see how I’d contributed to the divorce. 

I certainly contributed the lawyer, so I guess there’s that. 

I look again, but still, no, it wasn’t my flaws that fueled our demise. My error wasn’t in the end, but in the beginning. I’ll take responsibility for that- I knew what marriage was. I knew what marriage should be. I didn’t know enough about what it would be with him, and maybe I should have.

The rest is on him.

Leaving was the bravest thing I’d ever done, and that is the only part of this story I will take ownership of. Aside from picking poorly- I did not deserve the hell he put me through. I did not deserve the callous cold, the manipulation, the fear, the anxiety, the neglect, the rage. Those were not my mistakes. 

I continue narrating my story, the list of questions stretching on like a bad dream.

I wonder why the process wasn’t this thorough before our wedding day.

I wonder how to explain the bits that need explaining without scandalizing the readers.

I wonder what to call it when you’ve been fighting with your husband because he’d lied about the strippers and later when you’d asked him what to do about the day you’d had sex – should you drink at the wedding in case you’d be pregnant in two weeks – his response was a laughing, “Better drink up!” 

What do you call it when you’re so mad you make him a bed on the couch but he’s drunk and wakes you up from sleeping to have awkward clumsy uncomfortable sex you weren’t interested in and you were angry and it didn’t feel good but you don’t tell him to stop because good wives don’t deny their husbands?

What do I call that?

I’m writing it up for a committee to review and I’m not quite sure what else to say.

This whole thing sucks.


Except, a little bit, it doesn’t.

Begrudgingly, after my fuss about the Church’s encouragement to avoid dating, I find it’s possible the advice might be valid. I feel a bit like a harrumphing teenager, skulking off, too moody to admit she was wrong. 

Eventually, though, I stop worrying about finding new men and start worrying about finding myself.

I suppose if I spent last year heart-broken this is a good a time as any for re-building. 

Makes enough sense, so I reinvest in the things I used to love. Ever-so-gently my heart starts putting itself back together.

Instead of men, I’m dating words. I’m writing. I’m reading. I’m soaking up stories. Book after book, I’m eating them up, finishing the ones that’ve been half-done for years. I’m choosing a life of expansion over life with a man who thought he was good enough, who scoffed at self-improvement. 

I date music. I realize this year alone I’ve been to more concerts than I’d gone to in years. I play classical at dinner, pop in the car, country in the shower; I soak in new albums and genres and pianos breath over me like a balm.

I plan to date the world. He didn’t want to travel. Didn’t like it, didn’t want it, angrily planted in America, uninterested in cultures or places or people or putting his feelings aside to invest time in his wife. To that I say – I’m going to Ireland this winter. To Italy this summer. To France next fall. I will see the world, I will see it’s people, and I will learn. I will explore. I will adventure. I will be a student of all this earth has to offer.

Most importantly, I spend time dating God. Where my husband made me choose between love of God and him, where he yelled when I chose God and put a hole in our bedroom wall, where he told me I was selfish for choosing my faith, I was uncompromising and hateful and made him feel unloved because I wanted a life with children in it- 

Now I pray. And I pray and pray and pray. I go to holy hours without sneaking out of the house. I go to church events and confession and mass. I play Lauren Daigle and Audrey Assad and hymns and podcasts and there is no shame. I read about saints and philosophers and Scripture and faith. I rest. 

There is no more fear. 

I am free.

I am me. 

I am thankful.