Entries from January 3rd, 2020

Bring the cheese

Friday, January 3, 2020

For the new year, a neighbor invited us over for some black-eyed peas and greens. As we prepared to go, it occured to me that we still had a lot of post-holiday cheese in our fridge, and some unopened boxes of crackers. So I thought, Hey, I’ll put together a little spread of cheese and crackers to bring to the gathering.

I guess it should have been that simple, but it wasn’t. Because then my internal commentary started up. This cheese isn’t organic. I don’t have a nice cheese plate. What, a regular knife? No cheese knife? How about some nuts and olives? Oh, that’s too much to carry, along with the baby and his stuff? Well, maybe I should just skip this cheese thing entirely. Maybe they’ll think my cheese is stupid. Maybe they’ll have better cheese.

It all boiled down to this: I felt ashamed of my offering.

I brought the cheese anyway, with a regular knife and some crackers, no nuts or olives, on a slightly stained wooden cutting board. Dinner was running a little late, and mine was the only appetizer. We ate the cheese. Several guests even unambiguously expressed how much they liked the cheese, with comments like, “Oh god, this cheese is so good.”

I made a mental note to revisit my negative inner dialogue with this new information. My offering was enough.

Since we moved back into the Pleasant Street neighborhood, several neat women who live around here also recently had babies. It’s incredible to be so close to other people going through the same thing for the first time– motherhood. I hope our kids can grow up together, and play, and build lasting friendships.

For now, though, we see each other around, coo at each other’s infants, hit each other up for advice, and occasionally take walks or have each other over for dinner. I wouldn’t call them friends, not yet, but they are certainly potential friends. My friendships grow slower these days. Maybe it’s age, or maybe it’s because at this stage of life, we already have good friends, and incorporating new ones takes time, especially with babies in tow. Sometimes I wonder if it’s partly that I no longer have alcohol to pull me out of my default introversion, but I’ll take that trade-off, regardless.

But there’s another barrier to developing new friendships, and it sounds a lot like the negative cheese voice. For example, one of the new moms invited me to take a walk with her the other day. Part of me really wanted to go, and another part hoped she would cancel at the last minute. Why? So I could sit on my couch with my bored baby for an extra hour of the day? No, so I could avoid my fear of inadequacy in the face of forging a new social connection. If she canceled, I wouldn’t have to confront my self- doubt about how uninteresting I am, how frumpy and unattractive I feel, with my sweatpants and mom arms and thinning hairline, and about how I need to be careful not to blurt out the real stuff on my mind, like, “Sooooo, how’s your sex drive? Mine’s the pits since having and nursing Rowan, and I really hope it’ll come back again. I’m worried that I’m not normal, but the internet says this is pretty common, so maybe I’m okay. Still, I’d feel a lot better if I knew real, actual women going through this, too. So yeah, how much sex are you having lately?”

Basically, when it comes to making new friends, I doubt myself the same way I doubted bringing the cheese. I’ve done enough therapy and reading and personal work that this part of me is more subtle than it used to be. But sometimes I wonder if the subtlety is the problem. It’s harder to address what we can barely decipher. So I’m writing about it to make this more explicit. Come out of the bushes and show yourself! Then I can address you for what you really are: fear and uncertainty in the face of trying something new, bringing a gift, an offering, whether that be leftover cheese or myself to a conversation, a dinner party, to those small steps toward building potential–and maybe eventually actual– friendships.

Most of my adult human interaction happens either with Thomas or with my therapy clients. With Thomas, I feel genuinely safe, so there’s not much insecurity, shame, or doubt when I’m at home with him, and that’s lovely. With my clients, I usually feel safe too, because I know my role, and the rules and bounds of the relationship, and I have implicit permission to ask those awkward, probing questions like what’s hard, and where’s the pain. But socially, with new-ish cool people who aren’t my clients, I don’t feel so comfortable (obviously). I can always revert to the counselor role, where I engage by listening and making little sounds to keep the other person talking, but this isn’t super gratifying for me. Real connection requires both people to risk something, to put something true out there.

This year, I’m going to work hard to challenge myself when I start to doubt my offering, whether that is a piece of writing, or a completed canvas, or the simple act of reaching out and trying to connect with someone.

Instructions to myself: Say hi to my colleagues in the morning. Say yes to walks and dinners. Say yes to writing the post-it note, the thank you or thinking-of-you text or card. And yes, a few flowers from the yard in a jelly jar is a perfectly adequate gesture.

Bring the cheese.


Thursday, January 2, 2020

Across the drinking world, it’s Dry January, and people are swearing off alcohol for a month. I don’t drink anymore, but in honor of the Dry January theme, Thomas and I have decided to stop watching all of our shows this month. That’s right: no TV, no movies, no shows. I know, I know. First world aspirations, right? Big whoop.

But for us, it is a big whoop. We’ve fallen into that thing, a trap perhaps, where every night after we put Rowan to bed we fire up the big screen in the living room where a hearth might otherwise be. We hunker down beneath soft blankets on our separate couches, and communicate only about the sweets we want to pause the show to procure from the kitchen, or about something absurd our characters are doing, or about whether it’s probably time for bed.

This was a wonderful ritual for surviving Rowan’s first six months. We felt like heroes by 7pm, well-deserving of our disconnecting collapse into passive entertainment. But we’ve mostly adjusted to being parents, no longer feeling frantic about how to manage a little person and the rest of our lives. And lately we’ve been feeling a little listless and empty, and our waistlines are growing, too. We don’t read. We cuddle less than we used to. We numb out.

There’s a saying I heard from the online recovery folks, If you sense something is missing from your life, it’s probably you. I related to that a lot when I was drinking, but I don’t feel that I am missing from my life anymore. What I feel is hunger for something that TV can’t satisfy, but gets close enough to obscuring that I can almost decide to stop looking for real satisfaction.

Or maybe I miss hunger itself. Maybe it’s that simple?

Regardless, my mantra this month is, if you have everything and still feel like something is missing, it’s time to start taking things away.

Thomas is reading in the living room. I’m off to join him.

Happy New Year.

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