Becoming a Horse of a Different Color

Sometimes when you’re expecting bad news, the best thing to do is run away.

That’s exactly what I did in March of 2009 when I was in the thick of writing my masters thesis and awaiting responses from a handful of PhD programs. Given that the recent economic downturn had significantly reduced university endowments, I wasn’t optimistic that I’d be a paid student come September. I thought bad news would sound much better when received on a beach with a margarita in my hand. Inspired, I threw a polka-dot bikini and flip-flops into my car and drove 1,200 miles from New York to South Beach, FL for an early spring break.

sometimes bad news sounds much better when you hear it on a beach, with a margarita in your hand

It was a good thing I had such foresight.

While I was in South Beach, every PhD program I applied to sent me a rejection letter. Needless to say, I consumed a lot of margaritas that week.

Spending 7 days in the Florida sun, replenishing my vitamin D stores while getting to know the bartenders at my hotel may have temporarily raised the spirits and enlivened the soul, but once I was back home in a gray and slushy city, holed up in my smaller-than-a-dollhouse studio, the debilitating sting of the rejections set in.

100 pages of writing sat between me and my MA and for the first time in my life, I faced an uncertain future. I felt useless. I had no power to go back and change anything — not the topic I had spent 18 months researching, not the character of my fellow applicants, not the shape economy — yet I felt the need to change or exert power over something.

transforming into a horse of a different color is one way of asserting we're in control of our life... maybe

And so, in an attempt to gain temporary control in my life, I booked an appointment with my hairstylist.

Ladies, we’ve all done it before — broken up with a guy or had some traumatic experience that compelled us to bee-line to the salon for a makeover. Redefining our appearance is a way of asserting a new take on life and exercising power over our future. Sometimes we add bangs, sometimes we go platinum, sometimes we get botox, sometimes we get bangs, go platinum AND get botox.

I went orange.

I walked into a salon on Madison Avenue with long brown locks and hoped to walk out with spunky curls spiked with scarlet. Instead, I hit the pavement with short tendrils the color of pumpkin pie.

I walked into the salon with long brown locks and walked out with short pumpkin-colored tendrils. So much for taking control...

Under the warm lights of the salon, I thought this was exactly what I wanted — a total overhaul, a brand-new, “in your face, future!” me. It wasn’t until I met a friend for lunch that I realized the irony: at the end of the day, my little act of self-empowerment didn’t empower me at all — I asked for red highlights and got a florescent carrot top.

“Your hair is orange!” she cried, knocking over her iced tea in a visible state of shock.

“I know. I thought I needed a change.”

“Don’t you think it’s a little… err…. extreme?”

“It was only supposed to have highlights.”

“It’s a lot more than highlights… and it’s orange. And you’re orange. Where have you been all week?”

“Florida.”

As I sat there, munching on a biscotti, recounting the reasons behind this sudden transformation into a horse of a different color, reality set it. I may have mitigated the rejections by running away for a week. I may have tried, in vein, to assert a sense of control by changing my appearance. But at the end of the day, I stood at a cross roads, and orange hair and a margarita-spiked tan wasn’t going to make it go away.

It was time to go back to my apartment and get writing…

And maybe, en route, pick up a box of Clariol Nice n’ Easy in Chestnut.

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You Borrowed My Bob Dylan CD and Stole My Heart. I’d like them back now, please.

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were a dynamic singing/peace-loving duo

I once made the mistake of exchanging CDs with a guy I was seeing. I loaned him Bob Dylan’s  “Blonde on Blonde” and he loaned me “Highway 61 Revisited.” It took some convincing, but eventually he saw the light — Highway 61 may have its historic significance, but Blonde on Blonde boasted the catchier tracks.

Before I knew it, we were serenading each other with “I Want You” and stomping along to “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” as we cooked dinner in his kitchen. While we saw each other, we shared many things, including a mutual distaste for the Red Sox and a mutual preference for elaborate home-cooking, but nothing was more “ours” than Bob Dylan.

At the time, it was great. Every time I’d start to belt out “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” I’d think of us and smile.

And then our theme song became “Most Likely You’ll go your way and I’ll go mine”

We stopped seeing each other.

When a relationship ends, there’s always the post-traumatic exchange of goods. Things loaned and borrowed, things left behind at apartments or in cars — all things that have to be returned in an awkward and loaded hand-off. But let’s face it, ridding yourself of his Michigan sweatshirt and reclaiming your “Blonde on Blonde” from his CD rack is relatively easy. I’d even go so far as to call the act empowering. The problem is ridding yourself of the intangibles.

Back at home, I held my Dylan CD in my hand and looked at it with distaste. I knew I wouldn’t be able to listen to it  anytime soon without flashbacks to our sing-alongs and cook-ins. Appropriately, I recalled a song Joan Baez wrote about her relationship with Bob Dylan in which she sings: “We both know what memories can bring/ They bring diamonds and rust.”  I was having a hard time finding any diamonds amongst the items I’d reclaimed from his place and the memories that lingered from our months together. Worse of all, Bob Dylan was covered in rust for me and I was annoyed at my ex for stealing both my heart and my favorite musician.

A broken heart mends in time, but a broken CD… well, the only place for that is the trash.

Not All Broken Hearts Are Created Equal

Last night, my dearest male friend phoned me for a long overdue catchup. Once we moved through the requisite “the way we live now” summaries, the conversation turned to diamonds. Yes, those kinds of diamonds. Earlier in the week, one of his coworkers had “popped the question” and suddenly found himself a fiance to a fiancee. His coworker’s news set off an alarm — now firmly settled in Los Angeles, with his own longtime squeeze readying herself to join him and armed with a bonus to be put towards a mortgage on their first home, my Main Mellow Man’s own engagement had become eminent. Understandably, the boy had bling on the brain.

His phone call and the excessive number of bridal magazines accosting me at the Whole Food checkout counter this morning were glaring reminders that February is a month for declarations of love and promises of everlasting devotion.

Well…maybe not for everyone.

those out of the blue ex emails are just another stab to the heart

Only a few days earlier, another dear friend called with some relationship news of her own. She had received an email from her ex-boyfriend. They hadn’t spoken since he had abruptly and badly broken up with her. It wasn’t a post-it note break up, but in many ways it was far worse. 5 months had passed and she was finally settling into the freedom of her new singleton status. The attempt to reestablish contact stormed her inbox without warning. It was a “mustard gas” email and she was ill-equipped for the attack.

The email sought absolution for his sins —  he felt guilty for being so selfish. The email was apologetic — he was sorry, so sorry, for ending their 5-year romance without having voiced his concerns about their “problems.” The email sought her sympathy — the silence eradicated their entire relationship, and he didn’t want to do that, after all, some of those years had been good years. The email, with its saccharin  sting, was the meanest thing he could have possibly done.

When she showed me the email, in an understandable fit of panic, I had this awful sense of deja vu. The story was all too familiar: terrible break-ups initiated by the guy. Several months of silence — usually demanded by the “injured” female. Then the email from the ex-boyfriend attempting to reestablish contact. The language is the same — from the apology to the request for some sort of response, even if negative. I’d seen it all before — in my own inbox and in the inboxes of too many of my girlfriends. Don’t these guys understand that no apology is going to let them off the hook? They don’t get to stop being the bad guy in the story of “us.” They gave up their right to absolution when they told us they didn’t love us anymore.

When a relationship ends, the power dynamic changes. In theory, while a couple is together there is no dominate “leader” — both parties exercise equal responsibilities. Of course, we know this isn’t true. There’s usually one person who makes more demands on the relationship than the other; one person who needs to have his/her way, who needs more support, etc. And more often than naught, it’s this lack of symbiosis that is the root cause of a breakup. So half of couple decides they want out. At the moment of the breakup, the initiator of the end is fully in control — after all, they got to close the book on the preceding months or years. Once things are over, however, the one left with the broken heart takes the reins. The person who ended the relationship has to respect that they no longer have a say the course of the relationship.

“As the initiator of my breakup, I certainly feel like that position comes with certain responsibilities,” a trusted, and shall I say enlightened, male friend told me. “Mainly, these are straightforward– following the principle of, if you’re gonna break someone’s heart, don’t do things to make your ex’s life even worse…There are things that only my ex really knows about me, or understands, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok for me to call and lean on her, no matter what kind of a spot I’m in… ‘please talk to me, I think about you all the time’ just isn’t allowed.”

Get that fellas?

It’s doesn’t matter if it’s a quarter after one, or if you’re a little drunk, if you walked out that door you just don’t get to say you need us now.