Tag Archives: Relationships

Demons Lurking: A Story

So yeah, that’s what’s new, he says before taking a sip of his coffee.

Sounds okay, she replies. Her smile is easy and playful.

He nods.

There’s a lull in the conversation earlier than expected. Both take a moment to stare into their cups. As suddenly as it came, the spell is broken and they talk like old friends; some laughter, some teasing, an admirable effort to make the present feel like the past.

But then they land where they always do – at the end. Experienced here, they stop themselves before they really get started. They’ve been down this road before.

Simpler matters occupy them and she thinks for a moment that the sharp distance might grow softer. But only for a moment.

The jangle of bells at the door announces a new customer who looks around and spots them with a wave. She places her hand on his shoulder as she reaches the table. He smiles broadly, introduces the two women, moves his chair so the newcomer can take a seat. The second woman’s greeting cracks the quiet of the space and the first woman returns it politely but with an emotionless smile, eyebrows raised at the man in an unspoken question.

The first woman waits. Time stops. Distance reshapes itself as a valley between mountains.

The second woman’s smile widens, an almost giddy grin. She opens her mouth to speak and changes her mind.

The pause is too long.

The first woman takes one last sip of her already empty coffee. She checks her smile and finds some warmth. Great to see you. And she means it. Nice to meet you. Take care.

And you.

The pleasantries are exchanged automatically, the next steps determined without notice.

When she leaves, it is with the barest hint of hesitation. Bells jangling agin, I follow at a distance. She’s distracted and doesn’t notice. She walks quickly and I stay carefully behind.

She travels several unseeing blocks before pausing to get her bearings. She’s been here before. So have I.

She checks her watch. After some hesitation and with controlled deep breaths, she begins walking again, this time with purpose instead of flight.

A few more blocks and she enters a small bar. I’m not surprised when she takes her usual seat at the high top counter stretched across the window. When a server comes over, she inquires about happy hour, selects a glass of wine, and hands back the menu with a smile that reaches to her eyes.

We’ve been here before.

I sit not far behind and watch her pull a notebook and pen from her bag. But rather than begin writing, she leans back in her chair and stares out the window. Shapes and colors pass. I sip my drink and wait.

The arrival of her wine awakens her from her reverie and her body relaxes. The wine does what wine does and soon she’s writing, writing, writing. I’m sure she doesn’t notice that the glass is empty, but then there’s a second grateful smile to the server who comes to offer her another. She checks her watch.

Her writing slows with the second glass and I watch her stare out at the world in between flurries of pen on paper. I’m nursing my beer. The notebook and pen are put away before the last sip of wine is drained.

For a long time she looks out the window and I don’t know what she sees. Her body is quiet; feet usually restless remain still and hands sit folded on the counter. Occasionally I watch her shoulders move in a sigh. I settle into my seat. We’ll be here awhile.

When she pays the bill, smiling once again at the server, I take this as my cue and follow her out the door. She crosses the street before I’m ready. I wait for one more light and by the time it changes, I’ve lost her.

No matter.

We’ve met before. I’m sure we’ll meet again.

A Valentine for Online Dating

Dear Online Dating,

Roses are red and violets are blue,
and today’s the day I break up with you.
That’s it, we’re done, we’re through.
But don’t worry – it’s me, not you.
You have millions of users, I know,
so it’s not a problem for this one to go.
Violets are blue and roses are red,
and there are other things I’d like to do instead.

Our time together began when I was newly single in New York and it’s going to end here in Singapore where I’ve come to define myself in myriad other ways. Single, I’ve learned, is an adjective. It’s not a punishment or a judgement and it’s not written across my forehead in sparkly red glitter. In many ways, it’s as much a choice as anything else. So sure, I’m single, but I’m many other things, too.

Was our time together all bad? No, certainly not. I must acknowledge that you gave me some laughs and some good stories. You taught me that I need to stand up for what matters to me because if I don’t, no one will.

Perhaps I know myself a little better now.

I don’t regret our relationship and I am grateful for the good friend (singular) that I made through you. I don’t regret the outings I went on and the places I explored. I’d don’t regret the people that I met, and oh there are all kinds of people out there! I don’t regret stepping outside of my comfort zone because this, after all, is how we grow.

I admit, there was a time when you made me feel admired, a time when your notifications would fill me with excitement (read: when the instant gratification meant a hit of dopamine) and I’d eagerly open you up to see what there was to see. I used to swipe on your apps and flip through your profiles and imagine conversations with your users.

But all you care about is a pretty face and there’s a lot more to me than that.

There were times when you were, dare I say it, entertaining. You were a good way to spend 10 minutes after a run when I was flooded with endorphins. You were a way to pass a few minutes in line at the grocery store. There was a time when I’d excitedly share our experiences with real friends, the in-person kind, and thought maybe, just maybe, something good would come of you.

Something did, but it wasn’t your promise of everlasting love and eternal happiness. You’ve turned loving and living into something that can be bought and sold with ads and algorithms. I don’t know where that world is but it isn’t the world I live in.

I’ve loved and been loved and I live in a world that’s hard but filled with so much beauty. You’re trying to create a different world but I’m not finished with this one yet.

With the help of your technological guidance and curated profiles, I’ve grown up and moved on and I don’t need you anymore. You’re all about the next thing and the best thing and the new thing and for me, well, today is enough. It’s been nice knowing you. Thanks for the ride.

Love,

Rebecca Michelle

A Tale of Two Friendships

The most I can do for my friend is simply be his friend. – Henry David Thoreau

I’ve been thinking recently about the nature of friendship. What does it mean to be a friend? What does it mean to have friends? When do the people in our lives go from being acquaintances to much more? How is it that sometimes our friendships are no longer? Who would we be without them?

These questions have been playing in the back of my mind because of two particular friendships that have affected me in very different ways. Through one, I learned to let go; through the other, I learned to open up.

Letting Go

It wasn’t until we’d known each other for a few months that we tried to figure out how we became friends. She claimed it was a discussion we had about our childhoods but I really can’t pin it down. I remember that conversation and I remember a warm glow, a sense of excitement wrapped in a feeling that yes, this was right and good.

We remained close even when I moved away. We’d Skype every so often and remained aware of what was going on in each other’s lives. We shared secrets, as friends do, and that made it easy to continue on like nothing had ever happened once we were back in the same city.

The change was gradual. Looking back, I can see the writing on the wall. I can see the distance and the vagaries, the inconsistencies and the preference for other people and other activities. Our interests diverged, which happens, and our friendship faded into memories or got caught up in other pursuits. There are only so many times I can reach out before I’m spent and need to let go to stay afloat.

As Nel Noddings has so eloquently written, there’s a difference between caring for and caring about. Caring is relational and caring for requires two parties; caring about, on the other hand, does not require the knowledge of the second party. I have learned to let go of caring for but refuse to give up on caring about.

Like caring, friendship is relational. Sometimes those relationships end and we don’t always know why. But caring doesn’t have to end. Caring about others on the basis of their human-ness, when that’s all that’s left, is simply the right thing to do.

Opening Up

Two people have told me I’m guarded. They’ve both been right, though only one took the time to find out why. To take down walls, he said, because he wanted to understand what they were and why they were there.

This friendship blossomed over time and then suddenly washed over me, immersed me in something so natural I don’t know how I ever failed to see it. There was a shift one day and we’ve both looked back to recognize it.

There developed a mutual wish to spend time together, a wish first uttered tentatively and then with growing confidence. I found myself laughing a lot, remembering a lot, sharing stories of who I was and what had shaped me. I shared my hopes and dreams, curiosities and fears. I found myself wide open, vulnerable, and free.

And I listened, too, which is probably the thing I do best. I asked questions and I learned. Life through the eyes of another has always been compelling to me.

Responsiveness made all the difference. Even with disagreement, there was a shared attempt to understand the other’s perspective. The idea was not to be right or prove a point but to look at the world with more nuance and complexity. Discussion came from a foundation of unconditional love and trust.

And I found myself wide open.

It takes time to rewire the brain to behave differently. We were patient with each other because openness was simply the only answer, the only way to be. I watched myself become a better person because a friend had taken the time to show me that I could be.

On Friendship

Our relationships take many forms because we are complex and have many needs. Friends are part of our journey, part of who we are.

Like many people, I have friends I’ve known for most of my life and friends I’ve just met. I have friends who I can call crying and friends who reappear when I least expect them. I am very lucky to have friends who are there for me without question, who know me well enough to slap me around when I’ve done something irresponsible, and who wait with open arms once I’ve figured myself out.

Once upon a time, three friends saved me. I will be forever grateful for that.

Nothing lasts forever and friendship is the same. Friendships wax and wane, draw closer and yet seem so far away. Like seasons, their tastes, textures, and scents can change, sometimes very quickly. Sometimes we gradually slide in and out of our friendships, holding hands or drifting away, not knowing where we begin or end. And sometimes we crash, sometimes into each other and sometimes into a door that has closed. Sometimes our knocking goes unnoticed.

And yet I wouldn’t choose any other way. As much as anything else, my friendships have made me who I am and taught me about the type of friend, the type of person, I want to be. We do not walk this life alone.

I am better for having called you a friend and for being a friend of yours in return.