Party of One: aka How to be Okay with Being a Total Loner

Today, someone else’s blog post title jumped out at me: HOW TO GET OVER LONELINESS. I scanned through it, and quickly saw that it contained all the usual advice. Join groups! Know and love yourself! Talk to people!

It’s well-meaning advice. It really is. I’ve read dozens of other blogs and articles (not to mention self-help books, and studies, and news reports, and podcasts…) that gave very similar, well-meaning advice. But it doesn’t work for everyone. I have joined a number of groups and attended regularly for years. I engage in small talk at groups and at work. And I love myself and know myself so well, that i can genuinely say that if I were someone else, I would love to be best friends with me. I’m kind and cool and funny and smart and genuine and totally into accepting people and mutual respect and stuff.

But I am alone.

Okay, not 100% alone. I have three kids, ages almost 15 through 19. But they’re kids/young adults with their own lives and interests. I’m just the mom. As they grow and venture off into jobs and college, I find myself with more and more free time to myself.

Anyway, I already decided some time ago that I am done trying to make friends or seek intimate relationships, whether platonic or romantic. It’s really not worth the emotional turmoil, anxiety, or suffering when someone I’ve grown fond of and attached to decides that they are bored with me and disappear from my life. That has been the inevitable ending, no matter how much I give, no matter how caring, or generous, or open, I am, no matter how un-clingy I am, no matter what I say or do or don’t say or don’t do. So, fuck it. Who needs it?

I have learned that being a total loner can be pretty fulfilling in a number of ways. It certainly doesn’t have to suck to not have friends or relationships. In fact, there are quite a few positive benefits from doing your own thing:

  1. You can almost always find good seats at the movies, at concerts, at live sporting events, and plays. It’s amazing how many single seats there are scattered around arenas and theaters. Last minute great tickets? Yes, please!
  2. You get seated faster at restaurants. It’s much easier for hosts to seat a single person at a table for one than to seat a group. And the extra bonus? You can read a book while eating, and it’s not even rude.
  3. Your cell phone rarely interrupts you with phone calls or text messages. In fact, hardly anyone sends you text messages or responds to yours. You could probably cancel your cell phone service, and you wouldn’t miss anything important.
  4. You can schedule your free time however you want. Feel like working out at 5am some days, but 5pm other days? Want to be impulsive and take a day trip to the seashore, or cancel plans to attend one of those group Meetup events you signed up for? No problem! Your time is yours, and you can do whatever you feel like doing without disappointing or inconveniencing anyone else.
  5. You can take long runs while listening to your favorite music, or take long walks while listening to great audiobooks. No need to try and hold conversations while panting for breath.
  6. You can Netflix-binge all you want, and you don’t even have to wait for other people to be ready before going to the next episode.
  7. You never have to be afraid that someone you care about will be cruel to you, or be secretly annoyed and wish you’d just go away, or will leave you. You can wake up every day knowing that you are fully loved and accepted by someone who will always be there for you — yourself.
  8. You can be fairly confident that your ideas and opinions are truly your own, as you are less likely to be influenced by groupthink.

Fewer social obligations means more free time to explore hobbies, workout, discover interesting new places around town, find new music and books, meditate, try out recipes, sleep…Of course, being a total loner can suck sometimes. Especially when you have exciting news to share, or crave human connection — another person’s opinion, or perspective, or fist bump when your favorite team just scored a goal. Even the most dedicated loner can occasionally get lonely, with no one to turn to. When that happens, I look for healthy outlets, like Twitter or blogging, or I escape through exercising or storywriting or playing The Sims.

Of course, being a total loner can suck sometimes. Especially when you have exciting news to share, or crave human connection — another person’s opinion, or perspective, or fist bump when your favorite team just scored a goal. Even the most dedicated loner can occasionally get lonely, with no one to turn to. When that happens, I look for healthy outlets, like Twitter or blogging, or I escape through exercising or storywriting or playing The Sims.

Being part of an intimate relationship or group can suck, too. Honestly, I’ll take the sting of loneliness over the anxiety of wondering if today is the day that the axe will drop, and your friend or romantic partner will abandon you, and the never-ending pain that you’re left with afterward. In fact, I’m starting to forget what exactly was so good about having a friend or a boyfriend. Those good memories have been almost entirely swallowed up by the suffering of after.

I choose to continue focusing on that which is within my control. Being a loner means complete freedom to be oneself, to pursue one’s own goals, to be free of meaningful criticism of one’s life choices, freedom to choose, rather than the prison of being subject to the choices of another person.

Apples to Apples (aka: Dealing with Unpleasant People)

Do you ever find yourself in situations where you have to get along with an unpleasant person?

Believe it or not, in real life, I usually get along pretty well with most people. Whether or not we share the same background, or socioeconomic class, or culture, I can usually find common ground and hold a decent conversation with them. The trick, I think, is understanding. When I make it a point to try to understand the person I’m speaking with, it paves the way for positive interaction.

Usually.

Today, I had an unfortunate encounter with an unpleasant person.

No wait. Let me reword that. Today, I had an unpleasant encounter with a person. Because we are all people, and our bad moments do not necessarily make us bad people.

I went to a Meetup event, which I do from time to time, or else I would have zero social life (other than kids and water cooler chats with coworkers). This particular meetup event was for the purpose of speaking Spanish with other Spanish-language learners and native speakers. These events are often low-key — a couple of hours of exchanging polite, informal conversation with people of all ages, walks of life, and levels of Spanish.

For most of that time, I chatted with a group of three other people. We sipped coffee and tea and talked about all sorts of topics — pets, travel, work, music, even politics. We didn’t always agree, or share much in common, but we were able to enjoy one another’s company while helping each other to fill in that occasional Spanish word or phrase that eluded us.

That was the pleasant part.

However, after the others left, I turned toward the two remaining speakers, who had been engaged in their own conversation. It didn’t take long, however, before I noticed how one of the speakers was quite opinionated. Which only bothers me a little. The part that bothered me a lot, however, was that he gave of this air that his opinions were the only ones that counted. To top it off, he also had a tendency to not only correct other people’s Spanish, but to do so in a rather superior way, often cutting them off mid-sentence, and adding how he can’t stand it when people say things a different way, because it’s so wrong.

Still, due to my desire to get along with people, I continued to smile and ask questions, and encourage the flow of conversation. Perhaps, I thought, he was on the autistic spectrum, which could account for his hard-to-stomach interpersonal skills.

The last straw, however, came when the other speaker and I were discussing the importance of being familiar with the various ways Spanish speakers talk. I suggested that the most important thing about language is not to always speak with the best grammar possible, but to know how to best speak and be understood within a group of people. Well, he not only shot down my idea, but attempted to invalidate it completely. This happened more than once in the conversation. While I am perfectly at ease with differences of opinion, or with considering new facts that I may not have known, I cannot tolerate blatant disrespect.

“You know,” I finally said, when tactful hints failed, “you’d be easier to get along with if you were willing to admit that you don’t know everything.”

Now here, many intelligent people would say, “Well, of course I don’t know everything! There are many things I don’t know.”

But this guy says, “I know a LOT of things. I’ve taken some doctorate level classes.”

Seriously?

Just like that, I was done. Conversation over. The moment people demonstrate that they are not willing to learn, or to consider that they may not always be right, is the moment an exchange of ideas between intellectuals becomes a pointless waste of words. And honestly, life is too short for that.

My parting words? “I find your arrogance unpalatable.” To which, of course, he responded that he found me unpalatable. I laughed. It was like saying goodbye to an egotistical child. Too bad. His Spanish was actually pretty good. I could have learned something from him.

I guess I’m pretty lucky. I don’t often have to deal with unpleasant people. At least, not on a regular basis. Most people I encounter are generally pleasant. Or at least, polite. Coming across one who behaves to the contrary is like finding an apple with a worm inside. That person may actually be pretty decent once they cut away the bruised, wormy spot. Who knows? It’s not up to us to cut it away. Perhaps it’s not even up to us to point out the worm (though I did, in no unclear terms).

The part that is up to us is how we choose to react. When we encounter arrogance, or rudeness, or lack of respect, are we able to find the strength to respond with politeness and positivity? Or do we respond in kind, and expose our own wormy parts? (We all have wormy parts, buried deep inside).

Honestly, I’m not sure how I did today. Was it wormy of me to call him out on his arrogance and rudeness? Or did he need to hear it? Later, we exchanged messages on the Meetup app, both apologizing for our part in the conversation that went sour. Which was cool. We could have just as easily have never spoken again, in any language. But part of being a good person is being forgiving, and offering people a second chance to prove that they’re willing to cut the worms away.

Walmartians, Meet Targetians (aka: Subculture Expectations)

Marco!

*Tries again*

MARCO!

Now if my hunch is correct, every single one of you who grew up here in the United States just mentally responded to that call with one unified voice. POLO! The rest of you are scratching your heads, wondering why the heck we’re going on about an explorer.

Okay now, let’s play a game of hide-and-seek. Ready? One-two-three…

NOT IT!

Most of you fellow Americans, if I were to ask you to describe a 4th of July picnic, you’d probably spit back a list that included foods like watermelon, potato salad, barbecue chicken, and hot dogs. And a scoop or two of Aunt Millie’s homemade strawberry ice cream, for the hard core folk. We all know the words to the Happy Birthday Song. We know that we place a right hand over our hearts to salute the flag. And we know that if a group of 4ft. tall monsters knock on our door and say the magic words, “Trick or Treat!” We’d better drop a piece of candy in their bags. This is our shared culture.

Every nation has its own sets of standards and nuances shared by pretty much everyone else within that mainstream culture. They recite the lines and lyrics from their own pop media, observe holidays and traditions, and share group ideals and values that mark them as a people. In that way, we belong to our fellow citizens, streaks of gold running along the same vein.

But somewhere along the way, that straight track of homogeneity starts to branch off in multiple directions. These subculture tracks can be due to a lot of common factors — ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, region. In fact, just yesterday, I took a little day trip to the beach, which is what most Californians do when they want to get away, or relax, or think, or seek inspiration, or chase seagulls for a few hours. And afterwards, I ate the most Californian dinner possible — spicy fish tacos. With mangos. Not quite mainstream American culture, but as common here as opioid addiction is in the middle states. (Too much?)

Being immersed in a subculture that is not your own can be a very uncomfortable thing. You can be the most skilled classical ballet dancer in your studio. But when you venture into the world of hip hop dancers, your pointe shoes and pirouettes won’t help you to fit in.

The other day, I locked my comfort zone in the car and boldly entered a place that is like another planet to me. Walmart. Yes, the good-ol’ All-American retail store. I was in search of some inexpensive household items, and that is the store to save money on such things. However, it was with great trepidation that I wandered inside. Before you count me out as a middle-class snob, let me share a little history. Once, years ago, when I was minding my own business in a Walmart, I happened to catch a fellow shopper glaring at me. I mean, throwing sharp daggers with her eyes. I was taken aback. Clearly, I had committed some unknown faux-pas while strolling behind my shopping cart. I gave the woman an uncomfortable half-smile, then quickly got out of there.

Now, if that had been an isolated incident, I could have tolerated it just fine. A misinterpretation. Or maybe she was having a bad day. Who knows? But a few months later, the same thing occurred. A couple of women in a different Walmart gave me the stink eye. I was mystified. Was I pushing my cart too fast or slow? Had I inadvertently snagged the last box of Cheerios before they could get it? Were they somehow offended by my mom jeans and plain t-shirt? Clearly, there must be some rules or customs, some unspoken alien language shared among the Walmartian people which I don’t know. I felt like Elle Woods, dressed as a Playboy bunny at a conservative non-costume party. Or maybe it was the other way around.

So now, whenever I must mingle among the Walmartians, I am very, very careful. I make no eye contact. If an aisle is crowded, I go around the long way. I make my purchase quickly and get out of there. Now maybe that isn’t quite the right way to handle it. Maybe the best way to understand a subculture group is to spend some time among them. Study their ways. Learn their rules. Maybe I could learn the correct expression to wear on my face to ward off the stink-eye of the Walmartian women. Maybe I could invite a Walmartian into my Targetian world as a cultural exchange. We could browse the latest in home decor and kitchen accessories while sipping pumpkin spice chai lattes from the Target Starbucks.

Or maybe the answer doesn’t neccessarily lie in either immersing oneself in the subcultures of others, or by expecting others to adapt to our own. Maybe the thing that merges the tracks is to focus on our similarities. When we all show up at the same 4th of July picnic together, no one is thinking about whether you’re wearing Walmart jeans or a Target sundress. We just show up, and eat watermelon and ice cream. We come from different regions. We may have different accents, or different religious customs, or different cultural expectations for behavior. But if someone calls out, “MARCO!” We’re all going to answer back in the same voice.

POLO!

One is the Onlyest Number (aka: Pathways)

Life is a maze of pathways.

When we are young, the paths seem fewer. Wider. Simpler to choose. Well duh…I choose the path with the great job, perfect spouse, 2.5 kids, and a 3-bedroom house with a picket fence. Okay, maybe not with the picket fence, because those babies require maintenance.

But as we journey forward in life, those paths begin to multiply. They are murkier, shrouded in mystery. We think we have wandered down the path leading toward our destiny, only to discover that we’ve wandered into some ghetto by mistake. Whoops. Backtrack.

So we choose new paths, with new starry-eyed goals, and new hopes for a better lives. Surely this time, we’ll get it right. Right?

I used to be so good at picking the seeming winners. I wanted to graduate from a university. Bingo! I did it. I wanted a traditional marriage to a good man, with three kids, a golden retriever, and a house in a sleepy suburb. Bingo! I got that, too. Only later, the good man turned out to be not so good, so that path grew more like the journey toward Mordor, until i worked up the courage to flee.

I chose a new path. One with just me, and three great kids. (Only no more golden retriever, because, sadly, she was stolen from us.). It turned out to be the best path yet. My kids and I make one happy family together. I have a career that I enjoy, our health is good, and I feel that I have an optimum balance of work, hobbies, and rest.

But there is only me.

I’m not completely alone. My kids and I have a terrific relationship. We talk, support each other, and laugh together. What more could I ask for? One of my sisters lives nearby, and though we rarely talk or get together, I know that I could call her in an emergency. So I guess that’s kind of a support network.

Still, there is only me. (Cue Whitesnake)

I am the only parent i our household. Which means, I get to be the nurturer, enforcer, provider, protector, teacher, and final-decision-maker. Those are my roles, as Mom. I can pretend sometimes that my kids are my friends, but truthfully, they have their own lives, with their own friends. And there are many things that I can’t share with them the way you can with another adult.

I am my only friend. I’m friendly enough with people I encounter at work or the occasional meetups I venture out to. But I do not have any close friends. If something exciting were to happen in my life, I would scream about it to No One and Everyone on Twitter and my blog. And possibly with people at work. I would not have a friend to share it with. If something bad happens in my life, well, I would probably write about it in my journal, or deal with it internally while listening to sad music. It is up to me to cheer for myself. It is up to me to comfort myself. Because, there is only me.

Luckily, I am good at being the only one. I’ve had a lot of practice. And I’m a pretty darned good friend to myself. I treat myself to an occasional chai, or glass of good wine. I know myself well, so I know just the right things to say to motivate me. I compliment myself and cheer my own accomplishments. Most importantly, I like myself. And I will never leave me.

This path of Onlyness isn’t the path I thought I would take. I thought that by now, after being single for nearly five years, my life would look a little different. I thought that I would have a couple of close friends to hang out with and chat about stupid stuff and important stuff. I thought I would have been in a serious relationship, maybe even remarried, but to someone much better for me. Why not? I’m a kind, honest, interesting, intelligent, and funny person. But neither of those paths led anywhere. They were only ever dead ends. Somehow, it always ended up with only me, standing there, wondering what went wrong.

So I chose a different path. The path of purposeful Onlyness. A path on which I no longer seek friendships or relationships to fill whatever voids I may have, as doing so only led to deeper voids, and more hurt. A path on which I allow people come and go as they choose, and not chase after them. Nor will it hurt when people go, because we will never be close to begin with. A path on which I will not ever again allow myself to be emotionally weak and vulnerable with others. I will instead hold others at a distance, safe in my aloofness.

On this path, I go out to see concerts, movies, and plays with Only Me. I try new foods. I read great books. I work hard at staying fit, advance in my career, and focus on raising my last two teens to adulthood. I do not look with envy at those who are on a different path. I instead celebrate my own path, and offer myself the love, respect, and appreciation that I know I deserve. Is the Only path a lonely path? Yes. It can be. But no lonelier that when I was on the wrong path, searching for togetherness, and only finding aloneness. Better to admire the garden from a distance than to pick the flowers and be stung by bees.

Letters I Will Never Send (aka: Life in the Desert)

2017 Goals

Well, I did it. On the very last day of 2017, I have managed to accomplished the one and only tangible goal I set for the year. What was that goal, you ask? It was to read 55 books. Yay, me!

I know. Big whoop.

That is exactly how I feel about meeting my goal. Meh. Whatevs. Had I failed, had I only managed to read 54 books, or even 40 — gasp — would it have made any difference? No, not at all. 55 was just some random number I came up with in order to participate in the Goodreads Reading Challenge. It was fun, I guess, to see if I could do it, but also kind of pointless. Who cares whether I read 55 books? What matters more is whether I read anything of value, anything noteworthy, anything lasting.

Reflections & Lessons Learned

I didn’t set any other goals during 2017. Most of my life was about maintenance. Maintain my consistent good efforts in my career. Maintain my weight. Maintain my regular fitness routine. Maintain my family and home.

I also had unwritten, less-defined social goals. Go out of my way to talk more with people at my workplace. Attend one or two meetup events per month in order to get to know other people, and maybe try a few new social things. The idea was to break out of this social desert I’ve been existing in for the past 6-7 years. Maybe even make a friend or two.

But then I did something really stupid. Something that took an incredible amount of courage to try, but was still stupid. I gave dating a try. After all, I had been divorced for a few years. I’m still fairly young and attractive, a great person, and fairly interesting, so why not?

Unfortunately, it went too well. I spent the summer dating the man of my dreams. He was ideal for me, in every possible way. We had so much in common and got along beautifully. We were even compatible in bed — something I had assumed would not happen in my lifetime. But Mr. Right did not feel that I was right for him, and he moved on. I can’t blame him for that. He has every right to seek the woman who is right for him.

And that was the end of the dating experiment. Because after you’ve met your ideal partner, well, there’s nowhere else to go but downhill, into Settlesville. I already spent 17 years being unhappily married to someone I had settled for. I have zero interest in repeating that history.

What did I learn from that failure? I learned that I can’t handle losing friends. Because that is what he had become to me. Strip away the romantic stuff, the kissing and flirting and sex, which I can live happily without, and we had developed such a good friendship. And then…nothing. Another abandoned friendship. The inevitable fate of every single close friendship I have ever formed. And as usual, not my decision.

The pain of losing a close friend is the sharpest, most intense pain I have ever experienced. It hurts worse than natural childbirth. It is harder than divorce. It is as deep as grief. The only solution that makes sense to me, the only way to keep it from happening yet again, is to never form close friendships with anyone ever again. Not in a romantic or platonic sense. The end result, the rejection and abandonment, is far too high a price to pay.

Luckily, I have had many years to practice being my own good friend. I’m pretty good company, I must say. I’m interesting, and kind, and funny, and I have great taste in food, music, and movies. Not to mention books. This year, I plan to take myself out on more solo hikes, to a concert or two, and maybe, just maybe to a live sporting event. All activities that I have been avoiding, saving up to do when I finally have a person or two to share my life with. Well, no more. I have waited long enough.

I still very much miss the people I once called my good friends. I think about them often. I still miss Mr. Right, too. I write to him weekly — letters about my life, wondering about his, sharing jokes I know he’d laugh at, all the things I wish I could share with him. Letters I will never send. Letters I pretend he’ll read, because the only way I know how to cope with the leaving is to pretend that they have all stayed in my life. That they are still my friends. That they still care.

2018 Goals

I have no idea what my goals are. I have no current actual, tangible goals. I have ideas, like traveling with my kids, volunteering in my community, writing stories, and paying off debts I inherited in the divorce. There’s also the usual maintenance stuff. But until I have written these down along with a clear objective and a timeline, I hesitate to call them goals.

I have no more relationship goals or dreams of any kind.

Hey, I know! Maybe this year, I’ll set a goal of reading 75 books. Why not? I have the free time. And just think of all of those books waiting to be read. And if I fail? Well, then I end the year with a few less literary notches on my belt. No pain, no big loss. I’ll drink to that — Cheers!

Meh. (aka: My Real-Life Dancing Adventure)

Last week, I tried something I have never done during my adult life. I went out dancing at a dance club. Until then, I had only been dancing at a couple of weddings many years ago, and once during a conference. But to dance at an actual club, filled with pulsing lights and artificial fog and dozens of people gyrating to beats played by a DJ? Wow – cool! Now my real life could imitate the lives of my Sims.

Except not.

Because when my Sims go out dancing, their fun bar always maxes out. But mine did not. In fact, the whole experience turned out to be kinda…meh.

night club dancing

Even while in the middle of dancing with a group of strangers from Meetup, I couldn’t figure out why I was’t having much fun. The club was lovely. And there were the pulsing lights and the gyrating bodies and the DJ. Okay, there was no fog emitter, but maybe that was a good thing. And the DJ kept playing an awful lot of 90s hip-hop music, which wasn’t horrible, but more contemporary hits might have helped. I should have been having a blast. After all, I love dancing. I adore it. Especially during Zumba class or roller skating or in my living room with an audience of zero.

So what was missing?

And then the answer occurred to me: alcohol.

alcoholic drinks

See, all around me, the other adults, all of whom appeared to be having a great time, were also drinking. Some had already had a few drinks before hitting the dance floor. Some still had drinks in their hands. Me? Well, I had a beer.

Believe it or not, I had actually planned to try a real, honest-to-goodness grownup drink at this shindig. I even took an Uber, just in case, so that I wouldn’t have to drive home. As soon as I arrived at the club, I took a deep breath, mustered my courage, and marched up to the bartender.

“What will you have?” he asked.

“Um…” I froze. I had absolutely no idea what to order. I’ve heard of popular mixed drinks, like margaritas, mojitos, and cosmopolitans, but truth be told, I have zero clue what’s even in these drinks or whether I’d like them. The bartender started suggesting flavored vodkas, which sounded even more intimidating. What happened to those colorful drink menus with the pictures you always see at restaurants? I had stepped into a strange world where everybody else just knows these things. Everyone but me.

adults drinking mixed drinks

“I’ll just take a beer,” I squeaked. My go-to alcoholic drink, besides wine. And even then, I only ever drink one. The thought of getting intoxicated, of losing control and balance and common sense, especially among total strangers, is way too much.

When I confessed to my Meetup acquaintances that I was thinking of leaving early, their answer confirmed my thoughts. “Drink more booze!” Seriously? I thought? Is that the only way that everyone else can actually have fun, by drinking a bunch of alcohol? Is that what I’ve been missing out on all these years? Is this why my old friends, all conservative Christians, didn’t ever go dancing, because they also frowned upon drinking?

I refused to order another beer. But I did force myself to stay for another hour and focus on trying to have a good time. And I kind of did. But my personal fun bar was far from maxed out. That is, until I went home and had a nice cup of earl grey tea and played pretend dance club with my Sims. Sometimes, the real world just doesn’t live up to the fantasy.

 

 

Reality TV Bites (aka: Stick to the Script)

Facing reality just isn’t my thing.

I have no clue who the Kardashians are, or why I would want to keep up with them. I don’t know what The Voice sounds like. And no, I have never watched a single episode of The Bachelor.

It’s one of those sad realities that makes it challenging to jump into conversations with other women. At my work, many of the men seem to stand around the water cooler, discussing basketball or guns. Many of the women seem to either gossip about real-life people, or real-life reality shows.

Me? I stay in my cubicle, doing work.

When people find out what a reality-show virgin I am, the shocked reactions are always the same. “What? You’ve never seen [fill-in-the-blank cooking show battle]? You didn’t watch that amazing stunt on America’s Most Talented Circus Performers? You didn’t see the train wrecked lives of those poor kids on Teen Mom, Season 3? You really missed out.”

To be fair, I have seen some reality shows. Back when they were a newfangled concept, I checked out MTV’s The Real World. I caught the early seasons of Survivor and The Amazing Race. I even watched Kelly beat Justin after Simon Cowell dashed the hopes of hundreds of recording artist wannabes. I have also seen The Truman Show a half dozen times. So I know what reality shows are all about. But I also know that many of these shows are staged, with produced events to spice up the shows, and turn them into a larger-than-life version of reality. So really, it would be accurate to call them unreality shows.

Although they can be somewhat entertaining, I reject reality TV shows for one sole reason: lack of writers. Call it nuts, but I happen to value good writing. You take some interesting characters, weave them into a fascinating plot, toss in some witty humor and carefully-crafted drama, then tie it all together with a satisfying ending. Voila! You have just created a story. And story is what it’s all about. A romance story. A suspenseful story. A horror story. Something to keep me on my toes, intrigued, involved in the lives of the characters. But not just an slapped-together slice of life from some ordinary wealthy person and their first-world problems. Reality shows are like the IKEA of TV programs. A true story is a work of art, taking the realities of life, then reproducing them in an extraordinary way.

Who needs reality when you can put on Olivia Pope’s white hat for an hour, or leap from an airplane into an enemy state with Sidney Bristow, or save countless lives with Meredith Gray? Why watch real-life people battle over who can build a fancier cupcake, when you can watch imaginary characters transform into superheroes, evil dictators, spaceship captains, or time-travelers? Stick to the script!

Don’t we already get enough reality in our everyday lives? We survive. We do our jobs and try not to get fired. We are dance moms and soccer dads. We try to contribute the winningest dish to the potluck. We have people following us around with cameras (Oh wait…is that just me?). Reality is enough of a reality. You can keep those other so-called realities on some other channel. I’d rather watch a story.

#HashtagGames (aka: Social Media Without the Social)

Ready everyone? It’s time to play a hashtag game! Today’s challenge: #RejectedHeroSidekicks .

No, I am not kidding. That is an actual trending hashtag on Twitter today. Here are a couple of my favorite contributions:

For those of you who are like me and prefer your social media without much of the social part, participating in #Hashtag games can be a lot of fun, and a pressure-free way to interact with strangers around the globe.

These games seem to pop up randomly, and spread like wildfire around the Twitterverse until they appear in the list of top trending tweets. They sometimes originate with organized hashtag game groups, like the now retired @midnight, or @TheHashtagGame. Other times, they begin with a celebrity comedian, or even ordinary folks who managed to kindle a hashtag fire while bored at work one day.

Most #Hashtag games are simple, and easy to jump into. For example, #FriendsTVin5Words drew all sorts of Friends TV show fans out of their shells, and was so fun to play.

Another good one was #MakeaMovieSmarter:

Some #hashtags seem to get recycled from time to time, such as #RuinaBandWithOneLetter or #AddBacontoaMovie . And once in a blue moon, you get an esoteric #Hashtag game that requires you to be very clever, or maybe have a college degree to play. My favorites? #Doublewise (Best #Hashtag ever!!) and #LessAmbitiousCriterion (Most of you are probably scratching your heads right now. WTH is Criterion?).

Why play #Hashtag Games? Well, for starters, it’s a great way to express your creativity. Or, for the less-creative, to push yourself to think creatively for the amusement of others. Secondly, you can get a good laugh from hashtagging. There is a world of clever, creative people out there who are just dying to share their humor with you. Besides, science has proven that laughter can reduce stress and improve your quality of life. It also makes the workday go by a little faster. Not that I’m advocating playing Twitter games during the workday.

Anyway, ready to stretch your imagination? Let’s go tag some hashes!

Stress (aka: Stresssss)

Oops…I just caught myself massaging the back of my neck. Again. And chewing on my pinky fingers. Again. Which may not seem like a big deal to lots of you, but to me, it means one thing.

STRESS.

Stress Sources

Wait, what stress? I thought I was just coasting along, my usual relaxed self. (Okay, correction: Relaxed for a Type-A personality. Relaxed for an INTJ). But we all have our own little signals that tell us when our bodies are experiencing a lot of stress. Some people overeat when stressed. Others smoke, or drink too much, have bouts of insomnia, or a myriad of other physical or psychological symptoms that spring up when our plates are just too full.

So what should we do when we recognize these symptoms? According to the American Psychological Association , we should identify the sources of our stress. Hmm, let’s see…

My oldest teen has caught a nasty case of Senioritis — that annoying and highly contagious bug that high school seniors often catch this time of year, when they feel so invincible that they slack off in school, convinced that they won’t fail. So I get to take off the sweet, cookie-baking mommy hat and put on the steel-edged hat of The Enforcer.

Stress.

My ex-husband has decided to initiate court proceedings to have my child support officially decreased, thanks to my shiny new full-time job. Despite the new job, however, it has been a challenge to keep the budget balanced while raising three teen/tweens as a full-time single parent and saving for college expenses. So a potentially big income cut would be a serious blow. I’ve just begun hunting for a second part-time job – something to help make ends meet once our household income drops. Bye-bye free time.

Stress

The older teen just headed off on an expensive school trip with his band — the only trip I’ve been able to send him on for all of high school. Senior prom tickets are really expensive, too. So is his recent dental work. Also, my teen daughter, the former gymnast, has fallen in love with dance. “Hey mom, can I take a second dance class at the studio?” And the twelve-year-old keeps outgrowing his clothes. And did I mention how much it costs to feed three kids this age nutritious, homemade meals filled with fresh vegetables? Oh boy. Kids are expensive.

Stress.

I just finished a bout of medical testing  (an endoscopy, a colonoscopy, and even a special endoscopy where I got to swallow this cool miniature camera). The doctor found nothing, except for signs of gastritis. Gastritis which sprung up around a year ago, and was likely triggered by — you guessed it —

Stress.

Effect of Stress on the Body

It is astonishing what stress can do to our bodies, even when we think we’re handling it well. Kind of stresses me out to think about it. Luckily, there are things we can do to help us manage the way we deal wih stress. Here are some great suggestions from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Regular physical activity
  • Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi or getting a massage
  • Keeping a sense of humor
  • Socializing with family and friends
  • Setting aside time for hobbies, such as reading a book or listening to music

I’m pretty good with most of these, especially the sense of humor part. Very important stuff. But I still kinda suck at the socializing part. But know what? Today at work, I got to spend lots of time socializing with coworkers (in between moments of working hard, of course). And know what? It’s like a magic pill for this stress thing. Despite the enormous pressures I’m feeling, I’ve barely reached up to massage my neck or chew my fingers all afternoon.

Uh-oh — trying to come up with a nice, neat way to end this post is only adding to my stress. So I’ll just tip-toe out of here and hope none of you notice. Time to go and…

DE-STRESS

 

Deep Questions (aka: One-Sided Conversations)

deepquestions

It’s been a very long time since I’ve had a good, deep conversation with another human being over the age of 18. Conversations in the workplace tend to stay on the shallow side, which is normal, I suppose, but unfulfilling at times, like snacking on fruit when what you really crave is a thick, juicy steak and a buttery baked potato.

foxtrot-too-deep

While browsing blogs on WordPress, I came across a post by Wendy, at Brilliance Within, which posed ten great questions that can help you to dig deeper, to get to know other people at a deeper level. Since I lack the social opportunities to use these questions in actual conversations, I thought I’d answer them here, should any other wandering souls want to get to know me a little better:

 

  • What are you enjoying most about your life at the moment?

 

At this exact moment, I am enjoying a Netflix Show, called The OA. It is a strange and mysterious program about a young woman who has near-death experiences, and through them is able to reach out and change the lives of other hurting people. But overall, I am enjoying the peace and stability of my life; of raising my children in a decent neighborhood, of working at a job I enjoy, of having good health, and of finding ways to keep learning, keep growing, keep becoming a better version of myself.

 

  • What’s your biggest fear?

 

I have two. One is the obvious and unspeakable fear of something bad happening to one of my children.

The other fear was already realized. My best friend, around six years ago, decided that she no longer wanted to be my friend. Before we parted ways, she confessed to me that our friendship had been uneven. I wanted a best friend, and she did not. She had felt for a while that I was like a dog, following her around. Just writing those words – even thinking them, unleashes such a flood of raw emotions that I am still unable to keep myself from crying, and I am a person who rarely cries. I thought that I had been a good friend, and kind, and generous, and loving, and that our friendship was reciprocal. I never knew that I was being too clingy, or that she had perceived me that way. Her words have haunted me so much, that I feel them any time I start to get to know an acquaintance. I am fearful of calling, fearful of texting first, fearful of reaching out to invite anyone to spend time together, because I don’t know how to keep from crossing that invisible boundary that makes people feel as though I am chasing them. When I sense that someone’s interest in me is waning, I run away, because I don’t want to hear those words again. Because of my greatest fear, I have become skilled at remaining cold and aloof, and skilled at letting people go. I have learned how to be content with loneliness instead of trying to build relationships.

 

  • What do you regret most?

 

This is related to #2, and cannot be expressed here.

 

  • What did you dream about doing when you were a child?

 

I dreamt of being a children’s book author (still working on that one) and a tap dancer (no thanks, haha). I also resolved around the age of ten that I would never get married, and would adopt a bunch of kids and drive a bike instead of a car (which I did until I finally got a driver’s license at the age of 26).

 

  • How do you feel about your job? What would be your ‘dream job?

 

I’m crazy about my job. It covers my favorite aspects of IT (creating, building, and administering computer systems and supporting users of those systems). I also hope to have my young adult novels published someday in the not-too-distant future, but my day job is perfect for me, and I look forward to doing it each day. The only thing that would make it even better is to be in a position where I can use my leadership talent and skills at my job, which I intend to work my way toward.

 

  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

 

Hopefully in that position of leadership (see #4). I also see myself as a soon-to-be single empty-nester, as my youngest kid will be on the verge of graduating high school and heading off to university. That is a pretty lonely vision. It is hard to imagine life without my children.

 

  • If you could choose 1 place in the world to travel to – where would it be?

 

Only one? Seriously? My list is sooo long! Okay, then, I will have to choose England, so that I can travel to the places in the Harry Potter and Jane Austen and Charles Dickens and Shakespeare stories that I love so fondly.

diving_deeper

 

  • What is your ‘vision’ for your life?

 

I don’t have one all-encompassing vision. Just a series of smaller goals. Raise my children to be kind, caring, educated adults who contribute to society in positive ways and are content with their lives. See my future grandchildren grow up. Keep working hard at and enjoying my career. Keep finding ways to learn and grow and experience the good things in life. Share my stories with the world. Travel a lot.

 

  • How could you enhance your relationships/life?

 

I don’t know. Unless #2 magically fades away, I don’t believe that I will ever develop any close relationships beyond those with my children.

 

  • When do you feel you’re happiest/saddest/most in love?

 

I suppose I am happiest when everything feels at peace, like when reading a good book while lying on a warm, sunny beach while my children play nearby. Saddest when the darkness is too dark and the night lasts far too long.

better-conversations

Please feel free to answer questions in the comments below. After all, the point of asking deep questions is to start an authentic conversation, and to get to know other human beings.