My massage therapist commented that I twist my right arm whenever she moves it. She questioned the origin of this tendency. During the height of my swim conditioning, I short-armed my right free style stroke. My coach instructed me to pull my arm through completely before exiting the water. This adjustment improved my speed and efficiency. For a few workouts I decelerated and concentrated on pulling through. However, I found it tedious, and it slowed me down tremendously. Additionally, as I fatigued I returned to short-arming. I shared this story with my massage therapist, and she commented, “Maybe you’re protecting something.” She asked if I had a past injury. Prior to swimming, I spent several years rock climbing and pushing my body in ways you can in your late 20’s and early 30’s. I likely sustained an injury.
My response to this physical injury mimics a psychological injury. Often times we compensate to avoid pain and keep moving forward. However, this coping style eventually short changes us when we can no longer progress with ease and efficiency. We are frequently unaware of this protective mechanism until we enter relationships, and others identify it. Once this compensatory strategy enters our awareness slowing down and addressing it proves challenging. We feel pulled into our old habit particularly during times of stress and fatigue. However, if we slow down and address the injury, we start moving with greater fluidity and ease.
Admittedly, when I dive into the pool, I’m tempted to bullet through the water like a torpedo. Then, I hear my healthy self, “you’re short-arming . . . pull through the entire stroke . . . don’t get in a hurry.” I may resemble Esther Williams. However, my right arm propels me further if I can resist exiting at the point of discomfort.
Where in your life are you emotional short-arming? How can you leave your arm in the water a bit longer when it feels uncomfortable?
This morning I received an exasperating email from a dear friend. She volunteered to help with her children’s school popcorn fundraiser. Her initial commitment involved collecting and counting money but quickly evolved to managing every aspect of this endeavor. She repeatedly reached out to other parents for assistance, including the PTA president. . .Crickets. . .Instead she received phone calls and email inquiries about when and where to pick up the popcorn. She felt tempted to reply, “go pop your own f’ing popcorn. I’m done!” Knowing my friend, she likely replied with something kinder after she concocted a revenge fantasy of pelting apathetic parents with popcorn.
Several years ago I received a lucrative contract to help an agency complete assessments which had spent several months piling up in a file cabinet. When I pulled the drawer open, I noticed some were already out of compliance and others would soon follow. I quickly realized I could not dig this agency out of the hole it created. I instantly felt anxious and worried. I contacted my supervisor who replied, “Amelia, this is not your problem. Go to work on time. Work hard while you’re there and leave on time. The fact that they need additional staff will quickly rise to the top. If you try to save them, they won’t take the needed steps to address their problem.”
I’ve carried this sage advice into subsequent work environments. Transferring it into my personal relationships poses a tougher challenge. I think women are particularly susceptible to rescuing others. Maybe it goes back to deep evolutionary wiring telling us if a tribe member is struggling the tribe will die! Regardless, the tribe will not perish if we do not assume others’ problems. I try to enlist people in my life to remind me of this fact. For example, I called my sweet sister a few weeks ago and before I even recounted my dilemma, I told her, “I need you to remind me this is NOT my problem. . .I can’t save everyone. I’m not Jesus.” To each compassionate, yet irrational point I made, she lovingly replied, “not your problem.”
Where in your life do you need to remind yourself, “Not my problem”? If you run around placing oxygen masks on everyone else, and pass out because you forgot to put on yours, THEN you have a problem!
Please forgive the TMI. Yesterday, I endured the lovely experience of my annual well-woman exam. Nothing like being stretched, stuck, and smooshed to say “Happy Friday!” I rewarded myself by visiting my favorite bistro with the plan to order a delicious French pastry. Once I arrived, my stomach rumbled, and I realized a croissant would not stave off my hunger. A glass of wine and a harvest salad with shaved Brussel sprouts, pears, and almonds seemed more in order. Instantly my 17-year-old self chimed in and stated, “You will look like a loser eating alone . . . especially on a Friday night . . .get your dinner to go.” My 40-year-old self interrupted and said, “Hey, dining alone is a sign of maturity and self-care. You never know what might happen. You could meet some interesting people or just enjoy some amazing food without feeling pressured to make conversation when all you want to do is sip chardonnay.”
A magazine rack filled with beautiful magazines donned the north wall of the bistro, so I picked up San Diego Home and Martha Stewart Living. For some twisted reason I love looking at gorgeous homes I cannot afford and craft items I lack the talent to create. I thoroughly enjoyed savoring my wine while flipping through the magazines. When I looked up, I noticed three other solo diners. We held the delightful secret of solo dining bliss. My waitress approached me, smiled, and asked if I found a suitable home. I informed her of the “steeply discounted” mansion that now listed for a mere $7,995,000. We agreed, while the price was a bargain, that we would feel creeped out living alone in such a large house. Yes, our cozy apartments provided a much better sense of safety.
After relishing my delectable salad, I consumed the pumpkin tea cake which paired nicely with my wine. I relaxed in my chair, took a deep breath, and peered out the window into the clear, blue sky. Yes, a perfect date. (Ok, I wouldn’t argue if Scott Foley of Scandal asked to sit with me. However, my solo dining date was exceptional.)
Where are you taking yourself on a perfect date this week?
I made the mistake. I had the fortunate opportunity to practice Bikram yoga on a 90% humidity day in sunny southern California. For ten years I effectively tolerated the 105 degree, 60% humidity environment of this yoga. However, this day I entered the studio, unrolled my mat, and instantly transformed into a human water fountain. Sweat gushed from every pore in my body despite the fact I laid silently in savasana (i.e., corpse pose)! The teacher entered the room and announced, “Rise and shine it’s yoga time! I know it’s a hot day, but you’re not going to die in the yoga room.” I stood up and thought, “I’m f*&#ed!” My body boiled. Probably, because I was standing DIRECTLY under the red glow of a radiant heater. Given room was packed with sweaty yoga bodies, I could not escape the heater’s radius. During the second breath of pranayama, my mind raced, “It’s too hot . . .I’m dizzy . . . I have to pee. . . I want to run out of this room . . . what if I run out? . . .I’ve never run out. . .what’s wrong with me? . . . everyone else looks ok . . .this absolutely sucks . . . I should have slept in . . . I will be dehydrated . . .my stomach is on fire . . .why did I eat garlicky hummus before class? . . . breathe . . . breathe . . .breathe.” I eventually calmed my mind. However, my body fought to stand. My stomach knotted and the room spun. I surrendered to my mat until the world stilled. Then, with a big deep breath, I stood up and tried again.
By virtue of our human-beingness, we experience moments of intense emotional pain. We question whether we can tolerate another excruciating second and feel pulled to flee the room. We numb . . . with reality TV (goodness knows I’ve watched way too much Teen Mom), busyness, material objects, and substances. We do everything in our power to escape that radiant heater, because it’s tremendously uncomfortable. We gain momentary lapses of relief only for the heat to blast us squarely in the face. If we surrender and breathe, the perspiration pours from our bodies. The toxins leave, we cool, and oxygen replenishes us. We stand up and try again. When the intensity of the heat overwhelms you, lie down, breathe, and recover. Then, get up and try again. If you run, pain will follow you right out of the door.
If emotional heat has left you face down on the floor, I recommend reading Brene Brown’s Rising Strong. This wonderful manuscript reminds us that signing up to live whole-heartedly involves falling, and she gives us a formula for rising up.
While munching from a box of Tagalong Girl Scout cookies, I recalled my Girl Scout cookie-selling days. Notice I did not use the word “fondly” to describe this recollection. I had a short stint in the Girl Scouts. I entered in fifth grade and exited in sixth. The cookie-selling requirement and a budding interest in boys likely contributed to my short-lived career. I’m sure the cookie-selling experience was designed to instill confidence in pre-adolescent girls. All it infused in me was terror.
Let’s step back to my fifth grade year – very bad haircut (mullet-esque), massive overbite, and a growth spurt that left my legs disproportionally longer than my arms. Oh, did I mention I was shy? Hence, I lacked the Girl Scout cuteness and gregarious that equated to high cookie sales. My mother and father were both introverted; hence, they had no desire to assist me with door-to-door sales. Fortunately, my extraverted and cute best friend down the street agreed to accompany me while I pedaled my wares. The sales transactions went something like this . . .
Me: (knock, knock)
Scary Adult: What do you want?
Me: My name is . . . um . . . . Amelia. I am a Girl Scout from Troupe 2818, would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?
Scary Adult: What kinds do you have and how much are they?
Me: I have Thin Mints, Trefoils and . . . (with a quivering hand, I unfolded and displayed my order form).
Scary Adult: You mean I have to order and pay for the cookies before they arrive?
Me: Um . . . yes.
Scary Adult: No, thanks. (Door slam)
Me: (Tears start pouring down my cheeks).
Heather: Don’t let her bother you. She’s mean and stupid. Let me do the next one.
Me: (Sniffle, sniffle, wiping snot on my shirt sleeves) Ok.
Heather: (Knock, knock)
Nice Adult Lady: Hello, can I help you?
Heather: Hi, my name is Heather, and this is my friend Amelia, who is a Girl Scout. I’m helping her sell her delicious cookies. She has all types of yummy flavors, and she is selling out fast. We want to ensure you get some too. How many would you like to order?
Nice Adult Lady: Which one is the best?
Heather: All of them are delicious mam. I recommend one of each. (Flashes big toothy grin).
Me: (Gives big buck-toothy grin and holds up the order form).
Nice Adult Lady: Well, then I guess I will order one of each!
Heather: Thank you mam. We very much appreciate your business. You won’t be disappointed!
Me: How did you do that?
Heather: You just have to act confident and people will believe you!
Thanks to Heather I actually earned a Girl Scout cookie patch and a little dose of confidence that year. I also went on to get a better haircut, braces and a growth spurt which allowed my arms to catch up with my legs. I also made a vow that when approached by gaggle of Girl Scouts at the grocery store, I will always buy from the shy one in the corner. Then, tell her that she’s going to grow up to do wonderful things.
For better or worse, we live up to the expectations that we and others set for ourselves. Whenever the doubt of my Girl Scout cookie days creeps in, I remember Heather’s words of wisdom, “just be confident.” Eventually, my thoughts and behavior align with this intention. Where in your life do you need to remind yourself to “be confident”? Who can you enlist for support if knocking on the door alone seems too scary?
After finishing a challenging, powerful yoga class, I left the comfort of a heated room and stepped into a crisp SoCal, starry night. I looked to the heavens and marveled at Orion and Jupiter. Then, a wave of emotion reared up and washed over with the power of a freight train. A familiar knot formed in my throat and warm tears streamed down my cheeks. I thought of my ex-husband who introduced me to yoga almost 10 years prior. I laughed when I remembered the goofy looks he gave me during the contemplative, resting pose of shavasana. Once our yoga instructor caught him, and I burst out in laughter (which obviously was not appropriate during shavasana either)! I recalled how he would have dinner waiting for me the evenings he decided not to join me for yoga. Then, I remembered the other things – the painful aspects of the relationship which broke my heart and cast me to into a raging sea of pain. I cried as I drove home, feeling angry that I let myself get so upset. I held a keen awareness that my thoughts formed from a primal, emotional space versus the filtered and evolved home of my prefrontal cortex. I called my dear friend Steve.
Me: Hi it’s me . . . (sniffle, sniffle, snotty nose blow).
Steve: What’s wrong?
Steve: We’ll were all f’d up messes.
Me: I know, but I’m feeling particularly f’d up tonight.
Me: I thought of my ex and how we used to practice yoga together. I thought of the good times and the bad times. Then, I started crying. Then, I started feeling angry with myself for crying given we separated almost two years ago. My life is really wonderful. Why did I get hit by this wave?
Steve: Because you’re still healing. You sustained a pretty deep emotional wound.
Me: Well, can’t I heal faster? Isn’t there Neosporin™ for the soul or something?
Steve: No, not that I’m aware of.
Steve: Have you considered being compassionate towards yourself and recognizing the “humanness” of your emotions tonight?
Me: Um . . . I guess that would be more adaptive than my current approach.
Steve: Yep. Goodnight Amelia.
I crawled into bed along with my splendidly imperfect dog. (He only gets to sleep in my bed when I’m sad or sick.) Then, I awoke to my heart pounding with a force that I feared would push through the wall of my chest. I had a vivid nightmare and felt certain my psyche was processing the pain I suppressed in an effort to find sleep at a decent hour. I called my sweet, sister and recounted the story I told Steve, along with the subsequent nightmare.
Me: I am struggling with forgiving my ex.
SS: I get why that would be challenging, but I think you would feel relieved if you could.
Me: I really do want good things for him and to be a forgiving person. I know he did the best he could in our relationship. He brought some wonderful gifts into my life, and I want to unhook myself from this anger. I’m really trying. Saying I forgive him and the actual letting go of the hurt are not currently aligning. Ugh!
SS: What about writing him a letter thanking him for the yoga and other gifts he brought to your life and wishing good things to him?
Me: I think that is a good idea. A concrete step of forgiving.
SS: I love you! You’re amazing and perfect just as you are.
Me: I love you too. Thank you for loving me just as I am.
I wrote a brief note with the aforementioned content, addressed, signed, and sent it. I felt better, lighter and a sense of knowing I applied a dab of Neosporin™ to the wound.
We all have emotional wounds which can get irritated or ripped open when we least expect it. Which ones need attending to? Where might you benefit from an emotionally-healing dab of Neosporin™? What might that look like – grieving, forgiving, laughing, crying? All the above? Whatever your wounds may be, know I’m sending you love and a healing dab of Neosporin™.
I started online dating approximately four months ago (please see Vulnerability Hangover for my launch into online dating). Thrusting a recovering perfectionist into the dating world comes with its share of unique challenges. Currently, I feel like playing it safe and holing up in my apartment with my sweet, splendidly imperfect dog. However, I am not a quitter. I hold tight to my desire to be the most imperfect online dater possible.
The scene from Vulnerability Hangover continues when the elevator doors open and I walk up and meet Scott* (*all names changed to protect the men who provided me with so many beautiful F*&$ing Opportunity for Growth moments). Looking back on my short, but seemingly, painfully long, four month online dating history, I feel grateful that Scott was my first online failure—a total kind-hearted gentleman with an endearing east coast accent. Given I dove feet first into the online dating ocean, the waves tossed and pulled me under. Hence, surfacing to a kind soul like Scott provided the sweet relief I sought. I grabbed on and felt safe. Great guy, light, adventurous and fun . . . I thought, “I can totally do this online dating thing.” I declined dates from other men . . . too complicated . . . I liked Scott. Then, I lovingly opened-my-mouth-and-inserted-my-foot. . . While on a double-date his friend asked me about my online dating experience, and I replied, “all-in-all my experience with online dating has been fairly positive except for the men clearly on a wife hunt.” Usually, overly sensitive me would have asked Scott what brought him to online dating. (First learning curve in online dating, quickly discern if you two are on the same page in regards to what you seek in a relationship!) Yep, I officially earned my place in the scum bucket; and Scott may have appropriately tossed me there. However, in an extremely classy and kind way he initiated a conversation about his desire for a serious relationship and aptly stated that “I was not ready yet.” I truly hope good things are happening for him. Genuinely a remarkable catch, temporarily snagged by an imperfect red-head trying to re-learn her casting skills after an incredibly, heart-breaking divorce.
After this failure, I let the last couple weeks of my three month online subscription run out. However, I recognize that I need to go on a “date-o-rama.” I have to build my confidence, put myself out there and be uncomfortable. I go (with dread and a supportive girlfriend who shows up late) to a “meet up” event and connect with a nice man from the mid-west. My confidence climbs. Hence, I take a leap a few weeks later and sign up for a year-long online dating subscription. Yikes! Honestly, I receive some of the most outlandish matches I can think of . . . seriously, Plano, TX is WAY out of my SoCal geographic region! No, I will not date someone who takes his picture with a tiger, or Hooters waitresses or no shirt. Yes, I will make peace with the fact that I may spend more Saturday nights on the couch in my PJ’s with Frankie (my splendidly imperfect dog).
The moment I embrace datelessness, dates start coming. No sparks or fireworks but some really nice wine and appetizers and exposure to cool wine bars. After a phone call with a seemingly nice man I met online, I take a risk and accept his invitation to dinner (I usually keep a first date to drinks). My expectations remain cautious. However, my date turns out be witty, funny, intelligent, open-minded, handsome . . .my luck is turning . . .I am looking forward to future dates with this guy who may be Mr. Right. It all looks promising. I review all the signs that a guy is into you . . . check, check, check . . .it was so much fun . . . who knows where this will go . . .until three dates later he drops off the face off the earth! Terribly confused, disappointed and anxious, I call my go-to online dating expert, my friend Sara, who met her husband online after several grueling years of online dating.
Me: Sara, Mr. Right disappeared. He was so communicative and took me out on three dates within the span of a little over a week. All the “signs” were there that let me know he was enjoying my company. What did I do wrong? All I did was send a text after our third date, “Thanks for another fantastic evening. Have a great week!” Why has he not communicated in several days? Isn’t that weird? What’s wrong with me? I’m going to be dateless forever!!!!
Sara: He’s not Mr. Right . . . for you.
Me: How do you know that? I mean he met all the qualities on my list – kind, hard-working, intelligent, witty, open-minded, affectionate, handsome, chemistry, etc . . . he even got the “bonus” of enjoys dancing. I am SoCal’s next Ginger Rogers!
Sara: What you listed should be the bare minimum. Mr. Right stays in communication with you, because he is super excited to spend time with you. He would not think of ignoring a text from you, because you are worth staying connected to.
Me: Why would he go out of his way to spend so much time and money on me in a short period of time and then nothing???
Sara: Who knows. All I know is he got a bargain for the pleasure of your company and you should think the same way too.
Me: Hot damn! I need to add good communication skills and consistency to my list. Can I officially wad up his profile and dump it in the scum bucket?
Sara: This is a good “test” for you . . . you know that right?
Me: I know that, but it still stings. When you get hurt, it’s because something brushed up against an area that is already hurting. . . ugh FOG moment!!!!!
Sara: I know it’s hard. Go ahead move this one to the scum bucket, so you have plenty of space for Mr. Right to come into your life.
Honestly, I wish I could approach my online dating with a bit more of a Buddhist mentality such as I wish Mr. Scum Bucket* peace, happiness and ease of being. However, in the interest of protecting my tender-heart at the moment, he is relinquished to the scum bucket.
Although I cannot embrace loving kindness towards Mr. Scum Bucket right now. I do find comfort in welcoming a positive psychology perspective to my experience. For all the difficult, lonely, painful and challenging online dating moments here are several sweet, wonderful moments no one can take from me:
- Dining at many fabulous restaurants which were novel to me.
- Learning how to bake pasta from an Italian chef in a cooking class.
- The sweetest first (post-divorce) kiss I could have asked for.
- Several hand-in-hand walks along the beach.
- Golf lesson.
- Learning about finance and accounting (all my dates happened to be in the industry). I can tell you all about the Sabanes-Oaxley Act. (You say “SOX accounting” if you want to sound in-the-know).
- Wearing my favorite outfit multiple times, because date #2 does not know I wore it when I met date number #1.
- Kisses under the moonlight.
- Rock climbing.
- Feeling attractive to someone.
- Recognizing most of us dating online experienced some tough shit and bad dates.
- Gaining discernment between a sweetheart and a scum bucket.
- How many amazing people I have in my life to pick me up when I experience dating setbacks.
In fact, I am planning to visit some of the aforementioned amazing people in Texas shortly to celebrate my birthday. Hillary Clinton once said it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to support an imperfect online dater. I hope to stumble upon the future love of my life when our shopping carts accidentally collide in a grocery isle . . . or we get stuck on an elevator together . . .or we find each other with a click of a mouse . . .or we happen to sit next to each other on a plane . . . or (universe please feel free to insert an option I did not consider.)
For all you amazingly, imperfect, wonderful online daters, please know you are not alone and should not settle out of fear . . . I would love your comments.
Several months ago, I found myself forlorn and lonesome on a Saturday night. I initially distracted myself by watching Sex in the City, imitating a Bollywood dance video on youtube.com and folding laundry. No bueno. I still felt desolate. Hence, I turned to Facebook for connection (you know this is not going to turn out well right?). Post One: “Thank you to my amazing boyfriend for cooking dinner tonight!” Post Two: “We’re engaged!” Post Three: “I love my amazing husband and sweet apple blossom!” Don’t get me wrong, yay for my friend with a fabulous husband and adorable baby. However, my inner perfectionist spoke up with a vengeance. “Amelia, look at you. You’re home alone on a Saturday night and you have no husband or sweet apple blossom. Everyone else is doing something fabulous tonight and you’re sitting here crying. Pathetic.” (I told you she was mean!)
Why is it that we commonly choose to post our “perfect” moments on Facebook? In her phenomenal work on self-compassion, Dr. Kristin Neff highlights that our culture places too much focus on self-esteem, “how much we are different, how much we stand out from others.” Facebook creates a perfect outlet for us to stand out from and look better than others. If I put up posts of my perfect life for others to see, then I must be doing well. However, Dr. Neff highlights significant costs of trying to boost one’s self-evaluation in this manner. If we fall below perfect, then we feel awful about ourselves. We also run the risk for narcissism. BTW- in the book The Narcissism Epidemic Living in the Age of Entitlement Twenge and Keith highlight this generation is more entitled and narcissistic than ever. Scary. (Note to self. One can lower one’ s risk of narcissism by avoiding social media.)
Given, not surprisingly, my self-esteem plummeted after looking at Facebook, I decided to call my sweet sister (SS).
SS: Hey! How are you?
Me: (Sniffle, sniffle, snotty nose blow) not good.
SS: What’s wrong?
Me: I am home on a Saturday night, and I feel like a loser.
SS: Most people our age are home on a Saturday night. I’m home.
Me: But you and the entire rest of the world are home with a significant other.
SS: Honey, you went through an incredibly painful divorce. Be gentle with yourself.
Me: (Big, pulsating snotty-nose blow) I know . . . (sniffle, sniffle) but I just want a date . . . to know someone thinks I am attractive . . .maybe buy me flowers.
SS: Are you expecting some good-looking guy to show up at your door and say, “hey are you missing this glass shoe?”
Me: Exactly! I would tell him, “Hey, I’ve been looking everywhere for that shoe. It fell into the wrong hands for awhile and got some scratches. I am so appreciative of you returning it. These glass slippers look super cute with my favorite cocktail dress.”
SS: You are amazing and beautiful but life just does not work that way.
Me: I (sniff, sniff) know.
SS: I think it would help you to stay away from Facebook for awhile.
Me: You’re right. Thank you for being such an amazing sister. I love you.
SS: I love you too. You won’t feel this way forever.
I attempted to distract myself from self-critical thoughts by cleaning the bath tub. No luck. I called my friend Steve.
Steve: Hey Amelia! What’s up?
Me: Me, a dateless wonder, home on a Saturday night.
Steve: Amelia, most people our age are home on Saturday night.
Me: That does not make me feel better. I also made the mistake of looking at Facebook during a very low and vulnerable moment.
Steve: Oooh Amelia, nothing good comes of that. What happened to your chocolate cupcakes?
Me: Out of cupcakes. Evidently all my Facebook friends have perfect lives, perfect partners, perfect children and perfect hair. Where could I post, “I feel lonely on a Saturday night and would like some companionship” or a picture of me in my 14-year-old Old Navy flag tee shirt and heart print pajama bottoms?
Steve: You really have a 14-year-old Old Navy shirt?
Me: It’s comfortable. . . That’s not the point! You’re supposed to be empathic. Aren’t you a psychologist?
Steve: We would all feel better if everyone was just f*@#!ing honest on Facebook . . .
Me: That’s it. We need F’ingHonest.com. We could eradicate shame and normalize imperfection! We could increase self-compassion
After this conversation, I reached out to friends and asked for f’ing honest posts. I received the following:
“I am running late for work again. I know my boss won’t care, but I feel guilty.”
“I feel like an imposter in academia.”
“My children drove me crazy today.”
“My husband and I got into a horrible fight.”
“I feel awful because my daughter is afraid to put her head under water while all the other children in her swim class are darting around like fish.”
“I am afraid of returning to the dating scene after my divorce for fear of rejection.”
Shame radiated from these posts; however, fear of being “less than” is universal. Shame and vulnerability researcher Brené Brown emphasizes sharing our shame stories reduces shame. Hence, in this spirit, I added a new page to Splendidly Imperfect Adventures – The Shame Eraser. This page is a safe space for myself and readers to be f’ing honest and to challenge shame. I encourage you to visit this page and say, “take that perfection and shame”!