No more slackers, please

I'm single, healthy and reasonably happy: Is there anybody out there to share my life with?

By Cary Tennis

Published January 18, 2013 1:00AM (EST)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Reader,

Two quick notes. One, I'll be leading a Sunday afternoon writing mini-retreat in Mill Valley, Calif., Jan. 27 from 1 to 6 p.m. for the writing group Write On Mamas. They're a great bunch of people and it's a good way to experience the Amherst Writers and Artists method. Two, for folks in the Gainesville, Fla., area, or who would like to travel there, I'm putting together a creative retreat in the beautiful little town of Melrose, on Lake Santa Fe, the week of April 5 through 12. The main event will happen over the weekend of Friday through Monday, April 5-8. There also may be workshops on the 9th through the 11th. Please email if you are interested! And I hope you are! I love Melrose! I've got lots of friends there!

Dear Cary,

I want something different but I'm not sure how to move forward. I'm hoping a little of your insight can help me get motivated in this new year, full of new opportunity.

I'm in my mid-30s and single, childless and pretty happy. I was married from age 20-28, so I'm pretty sure I know what a loving, committed, long-term relationship is like and I really enjoyed being in one. The problem is that since I got divorced, I've done a lot of therapy and personal work on myself and am having trouble even starting to date someone. For the record, I really felt that when I was married we were partners and had each other's back. It just didn't work for the forever term.

The biggest problem that I see is expectations. I am looking for someone who will, and wants to, complement and enhance my life. Someone that sees what I'm doing and thinks, "That's cool, I'd like to be involved with that stuff and this is someone I'd like to introduce to the cool stuff I'm interested in." What I seem to find is, "Wanna hook up?" and "If you're so busy, what do you want a relationship for?" Occasionally I do run into a slacker type, whom I let hang on for way too long, who doesn't have stable employment or a car or a stable living situation; who loves that I have a nice place to live, cook for myself and own my own car and absolutely loves the way I enhance their lives until I get so fed up I scream and throw them out.

My mom isn't much help either. Mom thinks I really need to lower my expectations: If I want a man in my life, I need to be prepared to feed him, take care of him, tend to him and he'll stay. That's it, that's all I personally get out of it, a guy that stays. Asking for anything more is way beyond what a male human is capable of.

So Cary, as a married man my parents' age, and with the letters and experiences you've had, what do you think? Do I stop dating since I have such high expectations? Do I accept that having a man in my life is akin to taking on a child/pet that I'll need to care for in order for it to *hopefully* stay to keep being tended to? Where's all the equality and bringing each other up in a relationship to reach goals neither could ever attain on their own? Or is that just way too much self-absorbed feminism crap and I need to find my place as a woman, down below the man I support in every way but financially (except, I usually out-earn most of them, too).


Deleting My Profile ... again

Dear Deleting My Profile ...

You sound like an evolved person confronting a world that did not evolve in step with you. Your life sounds fine. It's the available categories that have you hung up.

So I suggest you take an emotional needs inventory. See if you can pinpoint the emotional needs you are trying to meet. Then consider alternative ways to meet them. Just list your needs and interests -- security, sex, companionship, knowledge, laughter, love, friendship, activities, financial help, etc. Then list all the ways you might meet those needs. I think you'll come up with some surprising answers.

For instance, if loneliness comes up on your emotional inventory then ask what kind of loneliness it is. Is it sexual longing or is it wanting a friend? The categories of relationship available in your world and your mother's world may be too rigid for you now.

Besides, it sounds like you are meeting most of your needs already. My guess is that you have a good job and a nice place to live, and you have friends and family. You are engaged intellectually and are healthy. You are not suffering from depression or drug addiction. No one is trying to kill you and you are not receiving threatening phone calls in the middle of the night. No one in your family has suddenly turned against you. Your ex-husband is not drinking himself to death. A long-lost half-sister has not showed up at your door with a crack habit. No sudden bankruptcies have occurred. You have not been fired for no reason or turned down for a grant in favor of someone stupider than you. You have both feet and both hands. Your eyesight is pretty good. There are no children to take care of and thus no financial pressures and no emotionally draining daily routines. You like your clothes. You have a TV and a car. The commute is not grueling.

That's a lot. Any of those things could change. A long-lost half-sister could show up needing crack. People have secrets. Life changes.

So meantime seek greater wisdom and peace in your life. Do it now, while things are good. Seek greater knowledge. Evolve. Do the thing you have always wanted to do, now, while you are happy and there is time. Is there a place you have wanted to visit? Go there. Have you always wanted to learn the piano or play the drums? Do it. Follow your passions for growth and change. It may be that now is not the time for a committed relationship with a man. Don't worry about that. There are many ways to have sex and many ways to have friendship and many ways to satisfy your curiosity about the world.

That is why an inventory is useful. Maybe you don't know what that is.  In 12-step programs we do inventories in order to pinpoint problem areas in our emotional lives -- fears we are holding onto, money we owe, lies we have told, boats we have stolen. For you, it might be a matter of listing the things you want, and then listing the emotion that's associated with it. For instance, say you want a man. What is the emotion associated with that? Is it loneliness? Is it desire for respect and acceptance? Is it sexual desire? Is it companionship? Is it financial security? See what I mean? Break these things down. Look at all these needs and see how you can meet them individually. Cowboys are good for certain things, accountants for others.

I'll bet you are already doing this pretty much. But maybe there are a couple of things you are not getting -- intimacy, perhaps, or deep trust, or, as you say, someone who has "got your back." Follow this train. If it's someone who's got your back that you need, then think about what that means. It sounds like trust in someone strong. Who is strong in your life? Who can you trust and rely on? Maybe there are already people in your life who have got your back. Maybe you need to spend time with them. Or maybe, also, you have been betrayed and let down at certain times, and so your need for trust has an added urgency. If so, you may want to revisit those times you were let down and see what you are holding onto there, what incorrect beliefs you might have had about yourself -- that you are invulnerable, for instance, that you are tough and can take care of yourself. Such incorrect beliefs may have made you vulnerable to betrayal. You may have had blind spots about others that left you vulnerable -- the assumption that everyone will play fairly, for instance.

In addition to making lists, writing in narrative style helps as well. If there were times when you were betrayed or let down, or if there are things you'd like to achieve but are afraid to try, write  about these things, and pay attention to the emotions that arise.

That is what I mean by an emotional inventory. Let me know if it is helpful, because, really, the idea just sort of came to me.

I think you are doing great, and are in a great spot. Please just keep going and don't give in to social pressure based on outmoded models. Evolve! Live! Seek the new!

Cary Tennis

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