Sunday, January 17, 2016

Need vs. Desire

Recently I have been spending lots of time talking and listening to Phoenix Girl about her new boyfriend. I shall call him…Musical Engineer. He was part of my circle of acquaintances, but not someone whom I’d ever spent much time getting to know. In a distant sort of way, I thought he was nice. Soon after Phoenix Girl and he began their relationship, though, he began slowly communicating with me more and more. He knows that Phoenix Girl is one of my three best friends, so I’m sure he figured that I was sort of the next best thing to talking to her directly while she is in France and can’t be as available as either of them would like.

At first I was a little confused by this, as I’ve never been the type to cultivate friendships with men. Not because I don’t like men – quite the contrary! I like them too much, so I want to be sure a man is interested before I begin spending a lot of time with him, so as to avoid heart-ache all around. Musical Engineer is safely in a relationship, though, and was in sore need of advice, so he began texting me and we have talked on the phone a few times, becoming good friends in the process of sharing our thoughts about our mutually beloved Phoenix Girl.

Over the past couple of weeks, though, he began asking me for advice on his college classes. He’s a few years younger than me, and is trying to figure out the best way to get through his schooling without making Phoenix Girl wait on him forever.

My first thought was, ‘Why don’t you ask Phoenix Girl for advice instead of me, since comparatively I care a lot less than she does?’ In one of my previous relationships, the man I was dating spent most of our conversations bouncing every single idea he had for his future off me and requesting my feedback. Girlfriends are there to give advice, as far as I’m concerned.

Then I said to myself, ‘Wait a second…I broke up with him in the end. Maybe that was a problem.’

For years (during and after the long-standing relationship), I had wondered why it was that my ex-boyfriend obviously needed my in-put so much and yet was simultaneously so reluctant to commit. If I was giving him what he needed, shouldn’t he have been ready to snap me up, so he could have my feedback for the rest of his life?

I began to suppose that the woman in a man’s life to whom he runs for advice and opinions and critique is not his girlfriend or wife. Instead, he looks to his mom or his older sister, or if either is unavailable or non-existent, perhaps he looks to a platonic female friend. If, on the other hand, he wants approval, admiration and support, he turns to his romantic interest. This is, of course, a sweeping generalization; I realize that men do ask their girlfriends and spouses for advice, but even so perhaps when they do it’s more because they want to make the happy discovery that their partner agrees with and supports them, thus providing valuable affirmation of their manhood and leadership.

I have the ‘big sister’ sort of personality by nature, so it’s not surprising that men who need that would be drawn to friendship with me. It’s just a pity that my ex-boyfriend and I wasted so much time thinking we should be romantic, when in fact it would have been better for us just to be friends. However, I’m now learning the art of a big sisterly friendship thanks to Musical Engineer, so it’s proving to be an interesting new experience.

The other thing that pleases me about this situation is that it frees him up to have a proper relationship with Phoenix Girl. My ex-boyfriend, through various causes both avoidable and unavoidable, was a very isolated person. Having one person that he liked, he figured that all roles (friend, confidante, adviser, consultant, girlfriend) could be filled by her. However, that’s too much to ask of anyone, and, what’s worse, it induces a massive feeling of obligation and dependency in the man – not very romantic emotions, we must admit!

So, since Musical Engineer has me and lots of other friends and a very helpful older brother, he can turn to us when he needs advice or help or any number of things, instead of expecting Phoenix Girl to supply them all. Instead, she is able to be what a girlfriend should be: someone a man desires and admires intensely as a source of fullness in his life, rather than a person he needs to supply some lack.

It has been interesting coming to these conclusions. Since I am single now, it allows me to think about the sort of relationship I really want in the future, as well as allowed me to put to rest my old relationship since now I understand better why it failed. I don’t know if my readers will agree with me, or if it is even wise to make a foray into the realm of relationship blogging, but it’s been on my mind lately. For the sake of honesty, I figured it would be interesting to write about!

I’d love to know if you have had any experience with this phenomenon. Do you agree that a man prefers not to need his romantic partner but to desire her for herself? I think it indicates that romantic relationships actually prompt a reassuring kind of selflessness, since the couple should be attracted to each other for the other’s sake, rather than because they want something to solve their own problems.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Lessons from Living Alone

I have spent the past six months since my last blog post being so absurdly busy and simultaneously having such an extreme case of writer’s block, that updating my blog dropped to almost the very end of my to-do list. I even wondered if I’d ever find the interest to resume it. Balancing Act was in terrible danger of going to the way of so many blogs…

Luckily, though, I’m happy to report that most unexpectedly, my writer’s block seems to be dissipating. I was driving between some errands two Saturdays ago and suddenly a story started barging its way into the forefront of my mind. I’ve already written several pages within the last week. The floodgates have opened!

That being the happy case, on Thursday I was sitting in my kitchen eating breakfast and suddenly I realized I actually wanted to write a blog post. It felt like a miracle. So here I am, late on Sunday morning, sitting in my living room and typing away furiously.

Since I’ve spent the past eight months learning what it’s like to live in my own apartment with no roommates or family members, I thought it would be fun to chat about the unexpected things I’ve learned during that time. I’ve enjoyed the process enormously.

1.      Mindful eating is not part of my skill-set.
In almost every book or blog on happy living, good eating, style maintenance, etc., that I’ve ever perused, the writers preach the value of mindful eating. Put away your phones and computers, they say! Set the table! Eat slowly and savor every bite!

This sounds wonderful, I admit. However, I am incapable of doing it. If I am in company, chatting with others while I eat, I enjoy the food and eat it slowly and gratefully. However, if I am alone, in my quiet apartment, with a plate in front of me, things change. There is nothing to do but eat and the food disappears as if magically. I can dispose of my entire dinner in about five minutes. Obviously this is not very good for my digestion or enjoyment of life so, with apologies to every life-style writer out there, I have resorted to YouTube while eating. Three cheers for College Humor! With something entertaining to watch, I can slow the meal down to about a half-hour, which seems much more human and enjoyable.

2.      Holidays are extra hectic.
Over Thanksgiving and Christmas 2015 my brother was in town staying at my parents’, so naturally I wanted to spend a lot of time at their house. However, my bed, bathroom, clothes and food are all at my apartment. I could, theoretically, have treated the holidays as if I were staying out of town and packed a suitcase, but my parents really don’t have a good spot for me to sleep, so I was stuck traveling between two homes.

I usually fill up my gas tank about every eleven days, but what with all the commuting, it went down to every seven days over Christmas! Not to mention that my mother is used to the role I had played in holiday preparations in the past while I lived with her, and she expected me to continue to fulfill all my usual tasks in spite of the fact that I had to factor extra twenty minute chunks into my days so I could get home in time for bed. It was probably the busiest holiday I’ve had in years, simply because of all the extra driving!

3.      It’s extremely easy to be social.
This is actually my favorite discovery. When you live with someone else, of course you want to be considerate and not disturb them by coming home late. Also, with roommates or family around you, there’s less of an urge to accept invitations from others or actively seek to spend time with friends. Not so when one is living completely alone!

No one cares what time you get home and, while privacy is nice, hours and hours of alone time every night can get pretty depressing. When a party is organized or a friend calls and wants to get drinks, my new impulse is to say, ‘Yes please!’ I’ve even discovered that I’m much less of an introvert than I thought. I still need time to myself, but a couple evenings a week is just fine; the other days, if there are events or outings, I’m totally game.

4.      There’s a lot less discretionary income.
Every month on the 10th, I write out an astonishingly large check for my rent and send it off to my landlady. It’s a good feeling – a sort of confirmation of being a responsible adult – but after that, there’s not a lot of wriggle room in my bank account. I’ve always been responsible with my finances, but when I was just paying nominal rent to my parents I had great quantities of money left over every month to spend or save as I pleased. Now everything is very strictly budgeted and I have to think of ways to trim corners if too many friends invite me out for drinks. Tip: it’s much cheaper to have them come over to one’s house, so comfortable chairs are a must to help safeguard the budget!

I’m sure there are others, but those are the four lessons that leap to mind. I’m still adapting and learning, but in a good way. Surprisingly, I feel more like myself now that I live alone – perhaps because I only have to meet my own expectations, instead of anyone else’s. Anyway, I’d love to know what you’ve learned from living arrangements in the past. Tips from other people are always helpful!