Love Ya, Mean It

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I was on the phone the other day with a friend of mine, someone a few years older than my mother would be. As we finished up the conversation, she said, “Love you!”

“Love you, too,” I responded, but there was a little pause there that I hope she didn’t hear.

When I grew up, my mom always said that words mattered. You didn’t use words lightly, even the “L” word. Words had power and you didn’t want someone to think you were IN love with them when you just loved them like a friend. So, she taught me to use the L word sparingly.

Love came with obligations, kind of like saving someone’s life means you’re responsible for them in some cultures. If you loved someone, you were willing to do anything for them. Die for them. Or, at least go all the way with them. Nothing you’d do lightly.

My parents aren’t around anymore to tell them I love them. But I tell my husband. And my daughter. And my friends-who-are-like-family.

But I have stayed away from being someone who tosses the word around like it’s loose change. Love has currency. It is currency.

And yet.

The older I get, the more I find that love has shades. From light affection to dark passion, there is no one love.

And the older I get, the more I realize that the currency that is love…is scarce. I see so many giving away hate as though it is no big thing. We hate broccoli, this movie, that person’s politics, that person.

And the only thing in this world that seems to pop up every time it gets knocked down, like some kind of round-bottomed doll? Love.

There are times when only love will do. When it is the only appropriate thing, whether the timing or the person is appropriate. After the shooting at a gay club in Orlando in 2016, what mattered was not whether people loved someone of the same gender. As Lin Manuel Miranda said in his Tony acceptance speech after that shooting,  “We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer. And love is love is love is love is love is love is love, and love cannot be killed or swept aside.”

So, when my friend tells me she loves me? Next time, no hesitation. I love you too.

close up of tree against sky

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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Letting Her Back In

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People tell you that you should remove toxic people from your life.

But what if you’ve removed someone from your life not because they are toxic but because you were toxic when you were with them? And what if they want back in now?

I had a friend when I was in college.

When I met this friend my first night at the college dorm, I was blown away.  She was sophisticated and glamorous. Everything I hadn’t tried in high school, she had already done, and more. She made being bad seem like fun – kind of like those bad girls in the noir detective films. I was smitten.

We moved from the dorm into an apartment together. It was a big party. Until it wasn’t.

The stuff I thought was so sophisticated turned into adult-sized problems I just wasn’t mature enough to handle.

A few years passed. My friend married an older guy with a lot of money who seemed pretty decent, but the marriage didn’t last long. I found my own – not older — guy and we moved in together.

We weren’t super-close anymore, but we were still friends.

Until the time – the second time, actually – I got a call in the middle of the night from the cops. My number was the emergency number my friend carried. And she had overdosed – again. The cops wanted me to know what hospital she was going to be in – again.

When she was sober, I told her not to call me again. I told her I needed to save my own life and I just didn’t have anything left to give her.

Years went by and then, last month, there was a message in LinkedIn. She had kept track of me. She could understand if I didn’t want to connect, but she had always loved and admired me. How was I?

I let the message sit for days.

She seemed to be doing well, based on what she wrote me about her life. I was happy to hear that.

But did I want her back in my life?

I am left to wonder. If I don’t offer to repair the friendship, am I trying to punish her somehow for things that were completely out of her control? Am I protecting myself from future heartache in case she’s not as put together as her message made her sound? Am I afraid that her sadness might somehow smudge the happy-happy now I’ve created? And am I the person I thought I was if I just shut her out again?

I don’t have answers. I don’t want to hurt her. I just don’t want to hurt myself either.

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Touch

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Are you a touch-me-please or a touch-me-not?

Vice President Joe Biden has been in the news recently because he’s a handsy guy and he apparently smells women’s hair and some of the women are really uncomfortable with the whole thing.

And I have to say, the whole tenor of the news coverage leaves me…uncomfortable.

Full disclosure here. I’m a hugger.

Humans need touch. Babies who are left without cuddling fail to thrive. Scientists have studied hugs and they’ve found that hugs can affect your mood and your stress level in a positive way.

When you’ve had a tough time, hugs can heal when people just can’t find the right words. In fact, sometimes words do more damage because people say the wrong thing, or they try to fix the problem for you when all you want is empathy.

One immunologist says that our brains use physical experiences and objects as sort of memory anchors that affect us long into the future. They can be bad experiences, but the bonding ones – like hugs – affect us too.

Hugs can heal – but should we stop with all the hugging?

Of course, there are all kinds of reasons you might not like hugs. The hugger could be using the hug as a sort of power play—when the person doing the hugging is aggressive about it and uses  it to make the person being hugged feel powerless. Or maybe you’ve undergone a trauma. For someone who has been abused, a hug can feel like confinement.

So maybe we should never hug. Or maybe never hug in the workplace

Because my need to touch definitely does not trump your agency over your body. You are the boss of your body.

But touch is human. It’s an instinct we have from birth.

I don’t think you can penalize someone for that instinct.

And that brings me back to the whole Biden story.

Women who say they were uncomfortable with Biden’s handsy style – and he was handsy with everyone, by the way – men, women and children – have the right to be uncomfortable. For sure. But did they tell him? Or did they wince in silence and resent him all these years? If they told him and he continued…then yes, let’s condemn him. Or now that it’s been all over the news and he says he gets it…let’s see if he changes his behavior.

But I worry a little that, by framing these women as “victims,” we risk demonizing all human touch. And that risks isolating all of us on little islands of touch-me-not. Even if we desperately want or need that touch.

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Human Touch

Let’s Pretend

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Have you recovered from losing that hour yet? Daylight savings time. I love farmers, but I hate the time change that’s based on an agrarian society.

It got me thinking…I’m not the only one who hates daylight savings time, so why do we put up with it? It’s basically a mass hallucination, right? We all agree to pretend that it’s an hour later, or earlier, depending on the season.

I guess I was thinking about how easy it is to convince people of something, whether it’s true or not. It’s not REALLY an hour later, we’re just pretending it is.

In an era where politicians swear to the truth of invisible crowds or invisible walls, and people spread fake news on social media, I guess the truth is no longer an objective fact, it’s just what we all say it is.

I read an interesting article about the so-called brain attacks on our emissaries in Cuba. Remember that? People were showing up with weird brain symptoms and anti-Cuba politicians were calling for retribution. Except…if you read the follow-ups from actual scientists rather than jingoistic politicians, the truth is stranger than some secret super-weapon. There was actual physical evidence of damage. But… Physics shows that no weapon that could cause that kind of damage could also target so precisely. Spoiler alert? Scientists are concluding that it’s a giant case of mass hysteria. Now, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t actual physical damage. It means that we can convince ourselves of something enough to cause our own bodies to damage themselves.

Like daylight savings time, it’s a case of everyone acting as though something that doesn’t exist…does.

I wonder what it would be like if we could all pretend something really cool instead.

If we can pretend that time has changed or that brain damage has been caused, can’t we pretend that illness can be stopped?

There is such good evidence about the connection between the mind and the body. If you are depressed, you are much more likely to have physical symptoms, from the loss of appetite and the inability to sleep, to inflammation, chronic aches and pains, and even heart disease.

And it works the other way around, too. People who are more resilient emotionally tend to be more resilient physically.

Some people believe in prayer. They think that, if enough people pray, their loved one will live or get better.

What I’m suggesting isn’t all that different. It’s just not appealing to a higher power, it’s taking the human ability to fool ourselves and using it for good.

What if we all pretended that everyone had good intentions, for example? Anyone who showed symptoms of hatred without cause would be regarded with puzzlement. We’re all pretending bigotry doesn’t exist, so how can you be saying these things? Are you sick? Ignorant?

I know, it’s kind of naive of me.

And, back to daylight savings time.

My dogs used to wake me up at 8 am on the dot. They aren’t part of this great pretend game we all play, so now they wake me up at 9. And, for anyone who wants me? I’m still waking up at 8 – it’s just an hour later, and you call it 9.

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Space in Love

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But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.

 That’s the famous Khalil Gibran quote and you’ve probably heard it incorporated into LOTS of wedding ceremonies.

And as we get ready to celebrate Valentine’s Day, I have to wonder…what does that mean? What are spaces in your togetherness, and when is it too much space?

My mom and dad were married straight out of high school. They were married for more than 50 years and hardly ever spent a day apart. There was a brief time when dad did some sales calls on the road when I was really young, but by the time I was in college, they had started a business together and it was rare to find them apart. Weekly phone calls to the parents, it was just understood: one parent on each phone extension and nothing was ever a secret from the other one. It was always momanddad like it was one word, never mom…and…dad.

I kept trying to get them to do some things on their own, especially after I first heard that Khalil Gibran quote.

But my mom would just say, “There’s nobody I enjoy as much as I enjoy spending time with your dad, so why would I?”

When I married my husband, I married someone with very different interests. He likes photography, discipline, solitude. I like dancing, horseback riding, being pampered, and making dinner for friends. I do love spending time with him, but I would never ask him to go to a spa vacation with me. It would be excruciating for him, and worrying about him would ruin my own state of zen.

So, most years, I go without him.

The first year we did separate vacations, my mom was really worried. This was my second marriage and she was convinced I was going to screw this one up too…I mean…separate vacations?! People only do that when their marriage is in trouble! And then they have vacation flings that hammer the final nails into the marriage.

Well, no.

In fact, I would find that I came back from those vacations with a renewed appreciation for my husband. I missed him, but I would never have had the chance to miss him if he was with me every minute!

I mentioned earlier that my husband and I are very different. I can try and pretend that I care about the angle and light of endless photos of the same animal, but why? My husband is much happier without me, geeking out over camera equipment with his photographer friends. No need for me to be there.

And, dancing? Well, my husband has taken a few lessons with me, just because he’s that nice a guy. But when we go to the dance floor, he dances a few beats of a song and then gets bored. And, since songs are usually only an average of 2.5 minutes, that tells you just how much he hates dancing. But should I never dance again because my spousal dance partner won’t?

Now, my mom would have said, yes, I should never dance again. That we should develop hobbies that we both enjoy so that we can do them together. Behind that advice would be the secret fear my dance partner would somehow become more attractive to me than my own husband is.

Could happen, I suppose.

But that feeling that you need your partner to be your other half in everything? It’s not going to stop you from having an affair, if that’s what you’re set on doing.

Honoring the spaces in your togetherness depends on your maturity and your being complete all by yourself. Because that “you complete me” stuff you see in movies? It’s bullshit. Go get some space in your togetherness.

woman binding his man with a chain on white background

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Everybody Lies

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Everybody lies.

That’s not me talking, that’s science.

I read an article by data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz about data he tracked on google searches. Now, you can lie to your friends and you can lie to a survey-taker – and people do, all the time. But you can’t lie to google. By your searches, ye shall know them.

So, way back in 1950, researchers asked people in Denver whether they voted, whether they gave to charity, and whether they had a library card. The researchers already had this data, so they knew the truth already. But guess what happened when they asked Denver folks about this stuff? You guessed it. They lied. They were WAY more smart, generous and involved in their survey answers than they were in real life.

And guess what. They’re still lying. Everyone is.

They lie about sex. Ask any researcher and they will tell you that the number of times people have sex is WAY less frequent than they boast about in surveys.

But even more chilling, they lie about things like prejudice. Seth looked at data from Google searches and aggregated them into some interesting conclusions about people.

Google reveals that people search for things like, “Why are black people rude?” and “Why are Jews – or Muslims – or lots of other races – evil?”

The researcher also says that Google tells us a bit about our attitudes on gender. Like the searches about boys had to do with whether someone’s kid was smart or not. The searches about young girls? They had to do with her appearance, like “Is my daughter overweight.”

Kind of depressing.

liars

 

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Brave

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A few weeks ago, I posed for a publication that I write for and I did it with no makeup. The magazine, Skirt, is one I write for regularly and this was their “Age Is Not An Issue” issue. So, I trusted them when they asked me to pose with no makeup. I even talked a friend into doing it with me.

Afterward, I heard lots of “how brave” comments. My friend and I were on the older end of the photo shoot spectrum. The youngest was a reality TV star who has done some modeling and the ones in between could all be models, if they aren’t already.

So maybe the comments were because I was an old broad without apology and without blush. As though I had shown not just my makeup-free face, but some more intimate part of myself.

That was not comfortable.

But it was not brave.

Here’s what’s brave:

The woman who survived a childhood as a Rwandan refugee and grew up to write the beautiful, “The Girl Who Smiled Beads.” If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it. I thought I understood what it must be like, but I had no idea.

Brave is anyone who has kicked cancer’s ass, and anyone whose ass has been kicked by cancer.

Brave is anyone who deals with depression or mental illness and is still here and still fighting.

People who have been kicked in the teeth by love but still believe that true love is out there? They are brave.

People who have been bullied or abused who figure out a way to make that violence stop before it gets its oily fingers on another generation. Those people are brave.

And if you stand up to a bully or an abuser, whether you’re the one being abused or whether you just see it happening? That’s brave.

It’s brave to take the time to talk with a homeless person, especially if they stop long enough to make eye contact. I remember reading a book forever ago by Jonathan Kozol, Rachel and Her Children, that quoted a homeless man as saying that the worst thing about being homeless wasn’t the cold or the hunger; it was the feeling of being invisible. When you spend your days with no one meeting your eyes, you start to question whether you are there at all.

People who figure out what it is that scares the hell out of them – could be jumping out of an airplane, could be public speaking – and goes ahead and does it. They’re brave.

Anyone who has the grace to speak honestly but kindly is brave.

All of those things are brave. But showing my face without makeup? That’s not so brave. I may look more tired than normal in that photo or older. But it’s not a brave face.

Curious…what does “brave” mean to you?

Age Is Just A Number by Jenn Cady Photography

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