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Patterns from Past Loves

Pre-Will, I had a history of poor decision-making skills when it came to suitors.

Like the chick-lit character you love to hate, I was always drawn to the guys who didn’t want girlfriends. These guys weren’t shy or subtle in expressing this disinterest in relationships, but I was unable to hear or absorb it. Besides, I was the exception. I was going to make the unloving love.

Men (or anyone, for that matter) don’t regularly dissuade others from idolizing them, so I was rarely turned away. I mistook this acceptance for emotional closeness and convinced myself that I was loved.

I put up with all manner of poor behavior largely because I was scared that I couldn’t do any better. We all have dating war stories, I know. Saying I was cheated on, called fat, ignored, and belittled shouldn’t really inspire pity, however, as I accepted such treatment without question.

Case Study: Grad School Boyfriend [name redacted].

How it started: I wore flip-flops to a local bar in the town where I went to college. Grad School Boyfriend approached to tell me that he hated flip-flops. I immediately began a campaign to garner his attention and secure his affections.

How it ended: At a close friend’s wedding where I was too busy bridesmaiding to absorb what was going on. I made him leave to avoid causing a scene and we ended up hashing out our feelings (or lack thereof) in the car much later that night. Yes, I was dumped at a wedding. Nothing short of a housecoat and a herd of cats tops that on the “you will probably die alone”-scale.

When I first saw him clearly: When he made fun of my sister’s shoes. We ran into Grad School Boyfriend at the mall several months post-breakup. Kerry was wearing leg warmers and flip-flops as was the trend that winter. In fact, I think she’d just gotten the leg warmers for Christmas (and Kerry, if you are reading this, I’m sorry! You know that guy was a jerk!). My own flip-flops were fair game, but I’m the only one allowed to mock my sister.

Why the double standard? Shouldn’t the guy I love treat me in a way I’d expect people to treat my sister? While the no-teasing-my-sister rule holds fast, I am, in a sense, glad that the leg warmer incident happened. Something clicked.

I’d love to say that I immediately put this knowledge into action and held out until Will came into my life, but then my memoirs would be devoid of delicious heartbreak and drama. Awareness was, apparently, only part of the key to breaking patterns. Will came along years later – after I’d gathered enough experience to really appreciate him.

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Doing Something Right

The other day, I had a mild meltdown. It was one of those moments where I felt like nothing I do is “right.” I’m very good at this kind of thinking, and it generally doesn’t take much to get me to parade around listing my faults. It can quickly spiral out of control and often ends in a brief amount of tears.

I’m not thin enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not successful enough… the list goes from the standard to the insane.

(We’ve all been there, right? …Right?)

After listening until I’d calmed down, the ever-patient Will had me list my priorities – not my priorities for the upcoming week or month, but my overall priorities for life. They are as follows:

  1. My relationships with the people in my life (parents, sister, boyfriend).
  2. My relationships with my kitties (yes, for real. I want to be a good cat-mama).
  3. Having the resources (time, money) to pursue the things I love; namely reading good books, eating good food, and taking good vacations. How I define “good” is subject to change.

It appears that I’m not so much of a failure after all.

(Warning: I’m about to get cheesier than a nacho cheese Dorito.)

Let’s take item #1, subset c – relationship with my boyfriend. As I may have mentioned in previous posts, I’m dating the greatest guy on earth. Sorry, ladies. Will is … perfect. He’s unbelievably kind and thoughtful. I won’t get all Jerry Maguire on you and say he completes me, but living without him would be like living without air. Unthinkable.

Yet somehow, I’ve got him thinking he’s the lucky one in our relationship. I’m clearly doing something right.

The metrics I was using to measure myself (pounds, dollars) have no real relevance vis-à-vis my priorities. I currently have solid, loving relationships with both parents, my sister, and my boyfriend (also, both kitties are relatively fond of me). While some relationships fall into place, most take some amount of work, and I rarely give myself credit for that.

If all I do from this point forward is maintain the relationships I currently have, I’m doing quite well.

Who’s the Boss?

Me.

I can be a bit of a bossy-britches. I blame it on birth order. I’ve always loved being in charge. While I was more forceful in this quest as a kid, I’ve since learned to lead with {more} grace.

The other night, I was volunteering at a charity event. Five of us were in the kitchen heating appetizers and slicing fruit for a cocktail party. Various foodstuffs needed to be cooked at various temperatures for various lengths of time. While the other volunteers stood back and waited for someone to give orders, I stepped up. I quickly had us churning out eggrolls, quiche, and pizza. I had timers set and people moving. It felt awesome. The kitchen was humming, party guests were having fun, and our combined efforts were for a common good.

At the start of my kitchen take-over, however, I kept tripping over apologies. “I’m sorry! I’m not trying to be bossy!” I’d assure my fellow volunteers as I as I set them work. My inner leader was at war with my inner starved-popular-kid-who-wants-everyone-to-love-her.

But why? Couldn’t I be both?

I thought about how I was asking people to help. I focused on asking rather than telling (e.g., “Could you please put these on a platter?” rather than, “You! Platter! Now!”), and I made sure it was obvious I was working hard as well – not just delegating tasks so I could faff off. With a permanent smile, I collected used plates and dirty napkins, refilled drinks, and kept the appetizers cycling. 

It is, indeed, possible to be a like-able {graceful} leader.

In addition to being self-aware and kind, it’s important to know when to be a leader and when to be a follower. In the kitchen the other night, putting order to potential chaos came naturally to me. I thrive on being at the center of all that activity. I felt empowered and knew I was helping to get the job done.

In other cases, though, I’ve had to repress my desire to take over and just follow. Doing so is against my natural inclinations and very difficult for me. However – as hard as it can be for me to admit – I don’t always know the best way to get things accomplished. I often view this lack of knowledge as a weakness. Instead, I should focus my energies on being a good follower. Being a good follower is not equivalent with being passive or disengaged. Followers in general are crucial to getting the job done and good followers may even notice ways to improve the process. While, for me, following takes some amount of humility, it’s important to be able to play both roles.

I am not a Dork

I have a subscription to Elle Decor.  I regularly read House Beautiful. I save West Elm catalogs to read as though they were magazines. I follow several home-decorating blogs and Twitter accounts. Basically, I’m a lover of all things interior design. It wasn’t always this way. It started last summer, shortly after purchasing my condo. I’ve lived in apartments for years, but now I can paint the walls! I’ve discussed moving a wall! I’m planning on completely re-doing the bathroom! It’s mine, and I want it to be beautiful.

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Be Your Own Best Friend

First, I’m hoping someone else remembers those little “broken heart” friendship necklaces that were all the rage at White Oaks Elementary circa 1989*. Anyone?

Anyway, as you know, I’ve dedicated myself to evaluating my mindset, especially when it comes to things that make me happy (or not so happy). In so doing, it’s become quite evident that I’m rather self-critical. I think a lot of people are. It’s an easy trap to fall into. When you call yourself “stupid,” you generally don’t have to worry about a counter argument. I know I’m guilty of saying things to myself that, frankly, I wouldn’t tolerate coming from a friend.

But… what if I treated MYSELF like a friend? What if I was my own best friend?

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Nancy

I once asked my parents what other names they’d considered while pregnant with me. My mom wanted to name me Brianna after my dad (Brian), and he wanted to name me Sarah after her. With both of those ruled out, they looked into other names from my dad’s side of the family. In the end, great-grandma Helena won out.

Along the journey, my father suggested the name Nancy. He’d gone to school with a Nancy and she “never had a bad thing to say about anyone.” Everyone liked Nancy. Nancy was everyone’s friend.

Could people ever describe me the way my father described Nancy? Not yet, but I’m working on it.

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Indulging Without Guilt

From time to time, I want to share articles I come across pertaining to happiness and/or the obstacles one encounters in its pursuit. I’ve been doing a lot of “happy research” lately, so hopefully “Happiness in the News” will become a regular feature.

As I’ve mentioned, I have issues with guilt. Thus, this article on Mindful Indulging by Dr. Sharada Hall (via Tiny Buddha), really spoke to me.

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The “Perfect” Blog

Yesterday, I was so frustrated that I almost cancelled my plans to meet a friend for cupcakes.

To be specific, I was frustrated with this blog.

Blogging – and all it entails – is new to me. I’m still testing out all the different formatting options available through WordPress and various add-on packages. As you may notice today, we have a new background and color scheme. Anyone who visited the site yesterday likely saw something change (font, size, color) every time the screen refreshed.

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Happiness Roadblocks: Guilt

On my journey to be a happier person, I need to examine the things that stand in my way – the “happiness roadblocks” as I’m calling them. First up: Guilt.

I have a gold medal-winning guilt complex. I feel bad about everything.

Get a new coat on sale? Spendthrift!
Spend a Sunday curled up on the couch with the cats? Lazy!
Make cookies just to eat the dough? Glutton!

Basically, my guilt complex could crush your guilt complex.
… and then feel really bad about it …

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