From my balcony, I catch glimpses of patchy grass and salt-bleached concrete popping up between bits of snow here and there. I see bare trees and warm coats with matching cute mitts. Looking out from my balcony, I feel unmoored, yearning to be tethered…to something.
We stayed the course – we locked down and masked up, we followed rules, and got through the worst of it (question mark). And now life is back to normal.
Is it though? Mine certainly isn’t. The pandemic, specifically being isolated for the better part of three years has changed me.
From my balcony, I look at the school across the street. Elementary. Lots of shrieking. I can see that things like kids back in schools and no more mask mandate or social distancing have made us feel like everything can just “go back to normal.” But I know there is no normal so I’m not confident that a new normal even exists.
To me, it seems these last three years function as a divider of sorts. Not in terms of people’s opinions, although that definitely happened and still is – a divide in time. There’s life before the pandemic, and then there’s life now.
Most days I feel cozy in my work-from-home situation; holed up in my apartment in comfy pants and my dad’s old hoodie, no make-up, no need to do anything with my hair, with someone I really like spending time with. Who wouldn’t want to spend their workdays like that?
Other times I’m so unsettled, I feel sick, like stressed-out-kind-of-sick.
Socializing isn’t the same anymore. I mean, with my closest friends and family, I don’t feel a dramatic difference. But I find it vastly different with colleagues both past and present. Or maybe that’s just my experience because I’ve started two new jobs within the last three years, and onboarding remotely is really hard.
There’s a lot less “hey let’s grab a drink after work” when you only see your colleagues once a week. And old friends, your former colleagues, seem to be hiding out. Friendships that were new or thrived during the pandemic may have faded away or abruptly stopped and you’re sure it’s because of that thing when you trauma-bond with someone and then maybe they don’t need you now that life is “back to normal.” But who really knows? I suppose you could say that with the looming (and actual) global health crisis, many have put their lives (and everyone in them) in perspective. Maybe people seriously evaluated their relationships and phased out those who didn’t serve them anymore.
Life is hard as it is, and when you add the stress of navigating a global pandemic, things always seem worse. Or maybe are worse.
No longer am I the person who, three years ago, posted cute videos of herself talking about being locked down and working from home, who three years ago worked from an office full time, interacting with the world, walking everywhere, talking to people all day. I’m no longer the person who happily traipsed across this city to hang out with friends, no matter how far or inconvenient. I’m no longer the person who was finally feeling like her life was on track – in the best shape she’d been in in years, who had a good grasp on managing her mental health, was feeling financially confident and even planning her first trip overseas with great friends.
That woman is gone.
I don’t know where she went, exactly, but she doesn’t exist anymore. It’s funny, sometimes when I get thinking about this stuff, I have visions of what things might be like if I had come out of this on the other side the same person I was before this all happened. But that’s not productive and how would I really know, anyway? I wouldn’t, I don’t, I can’t. None of us can.
On the other side of this new me, this mysterious me who only reveals herself a bit at a time is quite happy in a lot of ways. I feel confident and more at ease with work (that’s a biggie), I’ve been able to hang out with family a lot and host dinners, which is a passion of mine. I’ve gotten quite a bit done around the house – like shelves going up, things getting organized, artwork on the walls, that sort of thing. And, of course, there’s my love, the man who is here with me, who supports and listens to me. He encourages me when I need some pumping up, he thinks I’m sweet and wonderful and impressive and tells me so every day. And he is too.
My world is smaller now. That’s been the toughest part of all this. My social circles have shrunk, my calendar is empty, and I’ve been isolated. Just physically at first, like many of us were, but as time has gone on, that isolation has crept into all facets of my life, and it’s stripped me of an essential part of my identity – connectedness. There is a disconnect from my previous self, my pre-pandemic, pre-2020 self and I grapple with what (and who) to connect with now. There is no going back, there’s no “getting back to normal” for me. Too much has happened in the last three years, too much has changed. I have changed. As they say, you can’t un smoke a cigarette.
But now I can say I feel open, I feel ready. For what exactly? I don’t know, but a change is coming for me. I think whatever the universe has in store for me will be extraordinary.
And so here I stand on my balcony, in late March, anxious for the warmth of spring, taking stock of all that has transpired in the last three years: the challenges, the grief, the depression, the bright spots, and the not-so-bright ones, the changes, the wins and losses, the triumphs, the confusion and clarity, and the evolution. Of me, of those around me, of life and the nation.
From my balcony, I see my neighbours scuttling here and there, some carrying shopping or takeout on their way home, presumably. Some are bundled up, concentrated on their walk, while others sort of meander down the sidewalks, testing the limits of weather having traded their boots and heavy coats for sneakers and jean jackets. And everyone is breathing in the fresh, somewhat warm air.
It’s beautiful outside today.
It’s almost springtime. Soon the weather will break, and we’ll start to feel the warmth on our skin again, sunshine will once again cast animated shadow images on the balcony floor. The grass will grow, flowers will bloom, and the trees will return to their former selves, canopied over sidewalks and porches. I can’t wait until the weather turns for good, and the city starts to come alive. I’m ever bewildered by nature and life and time because it just continues, season after season, no matter what happened during the pandemic. I’m encouraged by that.
We’re allowed to feel whatever we feel about living through a global pandemic. I think the hardest thing for me to make sense of is whether I’m supposed to be trying to “get back to myself” now, or if I should be accepting the changes I’ve experienced and just…move on? Maybe the answer is somewhere in between.
In the meantime, I’m going to continue to take things as they come and I’m going to stay open to what the universe might offer me. That’s all I can do, right? And I’ll keep on looking at my neighbourhood from my balcony, trying to figure out people’s stories and imagine the extraordinary things they do.
By now, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of (and maybe even read) the article published by Psychology Today that’s gone viral. It’s about the rise of lonely, single men. It’s started quite the conversation – on Tik Tok and social media in general, but in real life too.
I’m here to tell you that this is a very important article because it’s the truth. Over the last several years, when it comes to dating, I’ve shifted into a mental space where I’m all about matching energy. I’m not waiting by my phone and constantly checking for messages. If the conversation was left in your court, I’m not reaching out. If I’m getting a “meh” energy, a “no communication for a few days, not gonna reach out, just drive her a little crazy trying to figure out why I’m suddenly MIA when I’ve previously been super interested, initiating conversation, making plans to see her and definitely making it known that I’m interested in getting to know her” kind of energy, that’s what I give back.
Gone are the days of giving the benefit of the doubt – oh, he’s busy, I’m sure he has a lot going on, he must be working late. There are no benefits of any doubts anymore. Gone are the days of believing him when he tells me that he’s afraid to get into something ‘serious’ and therefore isn’t ‘ready’ to introduce me to his friends and family yet. Gone are the days of trying to convince someone to like me after we’ve already clearly established that they do. I shouldn’t have to do that. I know that at the root of dating and this whole dance of trying to figure out if there’s something there, what it comes down to is this: if he’s interested, he’s reaching out, he’s planning the date(s), he’s making time for you, he’s putting you at the top of his priority list. And vice-versa! There is no such thing as ‘being too busy.’ There is no such thing as ‘I’ve just got a lot going on right now.’ When you like someone, it doesn’t matter how busy you are, you make time. You (metaphorically) move mountains to spend time with that person. Full stop. That’s it, no excuses, no extenuating circumstances.
“…single, hetero, cis men are lonelier now because of the rise in relationship standards. And I couldn’t agree more.”
Nope. I’ve had enough. It’s partly a me thing – the amount and intensity of therapy I’ve had over the last few years has helped me accept and understand things about myself and the end result is…I’m too awesome to deal with your bullshit.
The part of the article that is going viral and is the centre of most conversations, is the part that says that single, hetero, cis men are lonelier now because of the rise in relationship standards. And I couldn’t agree more.
One of the most important things I want to know about a man I’m about to date is how he talks about his exes. I ask questions like ‘so what do you think ultimately went wrong with you and your ex?’ or if, through conversation, they talk about their ‘psycho ex-girlfriend’ and all the reasons she was so ‘crazy’ and drove him away, I challenge them and try to find out if they understand that there is no such thing as a ‘crazy ex,’ and that they hold equal accountability for the demise of the relationship. Pro tip: if a man truly doesn’t think he did anything wrong (in every relationship he’s had, romantic or otherwise), that’s a big huge red flag – you might as well wear it like a cape. That’s a classic narcissist narrative, so steer clear my friend, run away as fast as you can.
Another question I like to ask is “what’s the most important thing you’ve learned from your relationships?” If the answer isn’t self-reflective in any way, that’s also a big ‘ol red flag.
Listen, I know men have it hard. They are just as much a victim of patriarchy as women. They (at least the men who are age-appropriate for me) don’t know how to express emotions, they haven’t been taught that self-awareness is healthy and a great tool with which to move through life. They don’t have a measured sense of what ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ are, while also not really understanding that masculinity and femininity’s very existence are a social construct that only end up hurting people and we need to get rid of them.
If you think about it, most men don’t really even like women. Why would they? They (at least in my generation, and I would argue, generations before me) have been taught that anything deemed ‘feminine’ is exactly what they should avoid and strive NOT to be – crying is for girls, don’t run like a girl, ‘man up,’ grow some balls, a ‘real’ man doesn’t have long hair or wear earrings or leave the house wearing pink, don’t be so emotional – it shows weakness. Don’t be sensitive to others’ feelings, don’t ever let anyone convince you a girl could perform better than you in school, sports, music, or driving, don’t talk too much, that’s girly, don’t express your love for your family in a physical way like women do – men don’t hug each other! Men don’t kiss other men out of love and affection! Men don’t cry, men don’t back down, men don’t take no for an answer….
And we all know how that ends. All too well.
And please, before you even hover your fingers over the keyboard to ALL CAPS prove me wrong, of course I’m not talking about all men. You know this. And if anything I’ve written here has made you feel defensive, angry or feel the need to yell at me “BUT IT’S NOT ALL MEN, I’M A GOOD GUY”, then you, my friend are part of the problem. If you feel you must announce/remind/state that you’re a good guy, you are most certainly not one.
I was sexually assaulted by a (male) cab driver. I’ve had more creepy encounters with male Uber and Lyft drivers than I care to recount, during which they ask very personal questions, tell me how beautiful I am, want to know my status, if I live alone, if I’m married, if I have a boyfriend, if they can have my number, or more recently, try to manipulate their way into my apartment. And you know what? Because I’ve been conditioned to be polite, I engage in the conversation, trying to answer the questions without giving him the information he’s looking for – if I’m a ‘good’ target, if I’m the wounded gazelle.
“If you think about it, most men don’t really even like women. Why would they? They (at least in my generation, and I would argue, generations before me) have been taught that anything deemed ‘feminine’ is exactly what they should avoid and strive NOT to be.”
I generally don’t walk alone at night. If I’m out with my headphones in, listening to music, I always take one earphone out so I can hear things around me. If I am walking alone and I see a man coming towards me, I cross the street. I would never, in a million years, rent a ground-floor apartment, or leave my door unlocked, even when I’m going in and out to do laundry which is in the building. I’m careful about who I share my personal information with, I don’t let people follow me into my building unless I know them or I can clearly see they have keys. I don’t give my number out lightly, I tell a girlfriend when I have a date and where I’ll be and I never go into a parking garage after dark. If I get catcalled, I typically don’t say what I want to say (which is to confront them and make them feel super uncomfortable and dumb for what they think they’re accomplishing), because I run the risk of making said catcaller mad, putting me in potential danger. So, I just ignore them, which often encourages them to say even more disgusting things to me. There’s a reason women have such a hard time telling a dude that she’s just not feeling it. If he doesn’t take it well, we could get murdered. That is not an exaggeration.
These are just some of the safety precautions I take so I don’t get raped, assaulted or murdered. There is no way to know, just by looking at a man, that he’s not a threat. So, until proven otherwise, it is all men. Get it? Our lives literally depend on it. Women can’t afford to let their guards down on the chance that you’re a “good guy.” It’s simply a matter of survival.
Anyway, I got a little off track there. What I really want to say links back to that article in Psychology Today. Yes, men are finding themselves lonely and failing in the dating scene because, to put it simply, women aren’t willing to accept the bullshit, sub-par, bare minimum anymore. Let’s face it, women are at a point now where we don’t need men. We no longer need to rely on men for financial, familial, or social security. We have our own careers, we can pay our own bills, we have rich, fulfilling friendships, and lots of interests and people who keep our lives interesting every day. We don’t even need a man to have babies. We no longer feel we need a man to complete us. FYI, I’venever felt that way – I’ve always said that I don’t need a man to complete me, I’m a whole, fulfilled person, I’m complete all on my own. But I’d love a man in my life to complement me. I have a lot of love to give, and I’d love to be loved. I think I’m lovable, despite what my dating history would suggest.
Indeed, for us heterosexual women (for the most part – I would never speak for all women), we still want men – but we want them to add to our lives, to bring us joy and excitement, love and affection, true partnership, and companionship. I don’t need a man to be successful. I don’t need a man to ‘complete’ me. But would I like the love of a man in my life? Abso-fucking-lutely.
The problem seems to be that there are few men who are on the same page, few who have been paying attention to how the world has been changing over the last decade or two. And it’s a shame because a lot of it has been out of their control. It’s a damaging narrative that’s been handed down, breaking the souls of men. It’s left them with little guidance and poor examples of what it means to be a whole, actualized person outside of a very narrowly constructed idea of gender and specifically, of ‘manhood.’ My head hurts and my heart breaks at the Andrew Tate of it all. And if I read one more profile asserting that he’s an alpha male, I may be forced to poke my eyeballs out with a pencil. Stop it, guys. Just stop.
But that doesn’t mean that men are off the hook. There are plenty of men who have been paying attention and they’re doing the work to unravel all that toxic masculinity. It’s those men I want to meet.
Which brings me back to my original point about ghosting.
For the uninitiated, ghosting is a popular phenomenon in modern dating whereby a person who has engaged in a certain level of contact/communication/dating, suddenly, without warning, simply vanishes – like a ghost.
It’s very common in the dating scene. It’s obnoxious and frankly, still startling and kind of unbelievable to this old lady, even though I’ve experienced it more than I care to admit.
It’s one thing if you’ve been chatting with a person for a while, and it just sort of…fades away, gets boring, gets weird, or too intense and someone ghosts – not the politest of exits, but overall, I don’t think there’s any real harm done. Especially if you’ve not met in person yet.
But it’s the people who ghost after almost three months of proper dating, after having the conversation about you both being ‘all in,’ about you being on the same page in terms of intentionally moving forward together to see what happens and hopefully building something serious, that I have some issues with. It’s the people who ghost after driving you to your hometown (even though he can’t stay – he just wants to help you out and spend some extra time with you) and meets your mom, I have some questions for.
This happened to me recently. I have no idea what changed, and I won’t ever know. I’ve accepted it and moved on (more easily than I thought I would, to be honest). But it still boggles the mind. How does a fully grown adult man go from telling a woman how much he likes her, how much he wants to spend time with her, telling her how beautiful and smart and amazing she is, to days later (I mean, four actual days later), losing interest? And why does that man think it’s perfectly acceptable to simply disappear, slink away into nothingness instead of talking to said woman about whatever changed his mind or what was bothering him or whatever. You know, like adults do.
I will never understand.
But what I do know is that this is the reason single men, especially those in my age bracket, are lonelier than ever. Emotionally stunted, sexist and misogynistic (unknowingly sometimes), trying to hang with a woman like me – a strong, independent, self-aware, constantly working on her “stuff”, a big fan of and long-time participant in therapy, intelligent, savvy, ambitious, probably (definitely) smarter and more socially aware than you, knows who she is, knows how to be alone, enjoys her own company, has deep and meaningful friendships and who is replete with self-respect – no wonder they get spooked and slink away like a ghost in the night. They don’t measure up, they don’t understand the assignment.
All I can say to these ghosts is good luck! I wish you success but I know that you will never actually be happy and will perpetually disappoint every woman you attempt to be with until and unless you (say it with me now) do the work! For the love of all that’s holy, get yourself into THERAPY! Right now – do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Take a hard look at yourself and your past (and current) relationships and start to understand what you actually bring to the table. I promise, you’re more damaged than you know and you need more help than you think. Just fucking try to better yourself, be a better human. That’s all we’re asking of you.
It’s not completely your fault that you’re hitting this wall in trying to date and have meaningful romantic relationships – society has told you since you were a little boy that you can (and should expect to) get away with giving less than the bare minimum and still get what you want.
But it is your responsibility to recognize how ridiculously low that bar is and to work harder to be worthy of a woman’s time, energy, love and affection – certainly, to be worthy of mine.
She stood in her bedroom, staring at her reflection in the mirror of her vanity. She questioned her choice of shoes, wondering if they were fancy enough for where she was going. Also, if perhaps she should choose a slightly higher heel. She decided that comfort was paramount, and no one would be looking at her feet anyway. She gazed, considering her red dress with its white lacy collar peeking out from her perfectly styled blonde hair. She had carefully pinned it up in a half-up ‘do, just like her mother, a hairdresser, had taught her. She decided her whole look was hitting exactly the right chord for the evening, but also that it was quite flattering. She leaned in, touching up her pale pink lipstick, took a deep breath and stepped back for one final look.
“Well fluffy, I think that’s as good as it’s gonna get,” she remarked to her cat who was sprawled on her bed, watching her get ready, but mostly drifting in and out of sleep.
When the doorbell rang, Nancy jumped a little, pulled from her daydream. She immediately felt her stomach turn itself over and drop into her pelvic floor as she remembered exactly what was happening tonight. It was a blind date. She would be joining this mystery man and his whole family at a New Year’s Eve dinner party before heading to a house party with Jerry’s brother and sister-in-law, which is also where her brother Stan and sister-in-law would be later that night. It was a sort of six degrees of separation situation.
Nancy skipped down the stairs, Fluffy in tow, meeting up with an urgently barking Laddie and Nikki in the front foyer, as she headed to the door. Of course, there was no way to know that Elaine, one of the conspiring matchmakers, was deathly afraid of dogs. Nancy opened the front door, vacuuming a blast of frozen air into the house. Before her stood Jerry and Sam, two brothers who couldn’t look more alike if they were twins, and a quivering Elaine cowering in sheer terror behind her husband.
It was a bit chaotic with all the pets and the lights and the potential trauma to Elaine, and she was eager to just get on with the evening, so Nancy grabbed her coat and purse, and shuffled out the door as quickly as she could. She smiled to herself at the thought of leaving Fluffy, Nikki and Laddie an empty house in which to enjoy their New Year’s Eve celebration.
It wasn’t until Jerry opened the backseat car door for her that Nancy finally got a good look at him. He was not tall, stocky, with dark hair and twinkly eyes. He had a very kind face, a certain energy she couldn’t quite identify, but also couldn’t help getting caught up in. He wore glasses and smelled great. Nancy could tell he was a little nervous. Good, she thought. As she gingerly took her seat in the car making sure she had solid footing on the frozen driveway, she noticed that the summersaults in her stomach were turning from a foreboding thudding to something more akin to butterflies. This is a good sign she thought to herself.
They arrived at the Tamarack Golf Club, probably the most well-regarded venue in Peterborough, giving the air that they double dated like this all the time. Nancy decided to take that as a good sign as well.
Navigating through the maze of tables, the invisible partitions of smoke and perfume, they reached their party. Before her sat Jerry’s family. Like, his whole family, all his brothers and sisters and their husbands and wives and dates. Nancy girded herself, shielding any perceptible nervousness with her big square smile. Her dad always told her what a beautiful smile she had, and Nancy had learned long ago that it was also effective armour in situations like this. It put people at ease and conveyed a level of confidence that she could only strive for internally. But even she had to admit, however vain some might think it to be, she did indeed have a beautiful smile. It was one of her best features.
Taking their seats, Nancy felt a sense of familiarity, or comfort…or something. Which was surprising given she just met her date not twenty minutes ago and was now in for a whole evening with his nearest and dearest. She shook her head at the absurdity of it all.
Once they were somewhat settled into their seats, Jerry began introductions. It was a huge round table, so he just picked a starting point and went around the circle. There was Lance, the eldest brother, and his wife Marilyn. Next to them were Pam, a sister, with her husband Peter. Beside Peter, was Herb, the baby of the family, and his date, whose name Nancy promptly forgot. Across from Nancy and Jerry were Linda, another sister, and her husband Adriano, and next to them and across from Sam and Elaine were Randy and his wife Claudette. Apparently Claudie and Elaine were best friends and this blind date setup had something to do with them. Nancy’s head was whirling with new information and still adjusting to the fact that she knew no one here. She thought to herself that she must remember to ask Jerry to go through all this again and to ask about his parents, so she could get it all straight. Well, if she felt like this was going somewhere and it was worth learning all these names and who was married to whom and birth order and all the things you learn about a person’s family when you’re dating.
Dating! Nancy quickly snapped herself out of her daydream. What was she even thinking? Dating? She just met this guy. Yeah, she liked him so far, and yes, she felt comfortable and excited with him, and damn, those twinkly eyes. But Nancy was a practical woman and wouldn’t let her emotions run the show. She just wanted to manage to not have an awful time and ring in the new year without catastrophe.
Besides, she thought, even if this were love at first sight, Jerry lived in Cincinnati! That’s in a whole other country, over 500 miles away. What could possibly come of this?
Shit thought Jerry. Shit, shit, shit. What the hell was he doing? Why on earth did he agree to this? It had been a great Christmas break in Canada, but did he really want to end his vacation with a potential disaster of a blind date? No. No thank you, ma’am.
Even though he’d been coming to Peterborough since he was a kid, he never imagined that this is where his whole family would eventually call home. Not him, not Jerry Peters. He was an Ohioan to his core. But he had to admit to himself, he really did love Peterborough. Maybe not so much in the winter, but practically a lifetime of spending his summers on Rice Lake at the cottage resort with family and friends made this stubborn goat admit he had quite a soft spot for the place.
But loving Peterborough and being surrounded by family didn’t change the fact that he lived an 8-hour drive away.
So, when Sam and Elaine insisted that he bring a date to the New Year’s Eve parties they had planned, Jerry thought, well, yeah, that would be nice. Even if it couldn’t go anywhere, it would be great to have the company of a lovely woman for the night. As was his motto in high school when it came to girls, he had to give ‘em all a chance. Not to mention, it would be great not to be the 13th wheel as it were.
He knew her name was Nancy. That’s about it. Elaine had never actually met her; she just knew she was the sister of a friend of hers from work. Or something. Why was he trusting his sister-in-law again?
Jerry sat in the backseat of his brother’s car, trying to catch his breath and slow his heart rate. They had just picked Nancy up and after a bit of dog-wrangling and hasty introductions, they were finally in the car, on the way to the Club. Nancy sat to his right, but he dared not stare at her for too long or else he’d surely make her uncomfortable. But all he wanted to do was stare. Nancy was beautiful. He couldn’t believe that this angel would be his date for the night. She was tiny, 5’2”, small and delicate, long blonde hair, perfectly coiffed. She was so refined and well-mannered. Jerry immediately felt out of his league, but at the same time, like he’d known her his whole life or something. She was wearing a red dress under her black pea coat, very light make-up and just a subtle whiff of the most intoxicating perfume. She had beautiful hands. A strange observation he realized, but they looked so soft and small and perfectly manicured. He was oddly transfixed by her beautiful hands.
But of all the things that added up to make this vision beside him so stunning, there was one thing that stood out. Jerry had simply, in his 29 years on earth, never seen a smile so magical. Never mind lighting up the room, Nancy’s smile could light up the galaxy.
The dinner was going well. Jerry had done all the introductions, fully expecting Nancy to forget everyone’s name and whether they were a brother, sister, spouse, stepsibling or just some guy sitting at their table. Nancy seemed to be enjoying herself and Jerry was impressed by how easily she seemed to fit in and make conversation. She wasn’t a wall flower. How refreshing.
As the dinner progressed and Jerry had a few glasses of courage coursing through him, he felt his nerves disappear, his stomach settle, and the lump in his throat melt away. As he was telling Nancy a particularly impressive story about one of his many crazy fraternity stunts (usually a hit with dates), he was caught up in the moment, showing off, tipping back on the back legs of the chair, balancing heroically. And then, without warning he thudded to the floor as the chair shifted under him, dumping him on the carpeted floor of the dinner club. Surrounded by his siblings, a full dining room, servers, and other staff Jerry had just made the biggest fool of himself, and he knew it. He quickly joined in on the laughter from his siblings to hide his hurt pride. It was bad enough to have fallen in the first place, but that he fell in front of Nancy was most embarrassing. He was never more thankful that the lighting at the Tamarack wasn’t the best so maybe Nancy didn’t see the ruby shade that had crept over his face.
He was mortified. As Jerry began to gather himself up from off the floor to resume his place at the table, his cheeks flushed, his stomach butterflying once again, he slowly looked at Nancy to face his (deserved) reprimand. To his utter shock, what he saw on Nancy’s face as he made his way back to an upright position in his chair, was that magical, gorgeous smile. Nancy was not reprimanding him, she wasn’t ready to scold him for acting like a fool, she didn’t even seem like she would give him a slap on the wrist.
No, Nancy, his beautiful, young, blonde, date for the evening was laughing. She was laughing! When he finally righted himself on his chair next to her, she gently reached for his hand and gave him a reassuring little pat. Jerry knew in that moment that this young woman was special. He felt electrified, a kinetic energy he’d never felt before.
That was it. He was smitten. He was in deep smit, as the kids say. Nancy had his attention, his interest, his heart. They’d only spent a couple of hours together but there was something inside of him that had lit up in a way that he couldn’t ignore. All he could think about was how he was going to manage to spend more time with this extraordinary woman.
It had gotten colder by the time they made it to the party at Patty and Bill Clayton’s house. Nancy barely noticed though. She was still hot from the bustling club where they’d been before…and maybe a little bit from the wine too. She couldn’t believe it, but she was having a great time. She had such little faith, and admittedly, maybe a little embarrassingly, no confidence that this night could have been anything but a disaster dressed up as a favour to her brother.
Nancy had found Jerry’s brothers and sisters quite lovely and amusing. She still wasn’t sure she had all their names right or understood fully who the siblings were and who the siblings’ spouses were. But, really, did it matter? It’s not like she’d see these people ever again.
Nancy laughed a little to herself under her breath as the four of them made their way to the door of the apartment on Clonsilla Ave. She was giggling because she would have never, in a million years, imagined she’d be here – on a blind date, set up by people she didn’t know, on New Year’s Eve, with this football-coaching, high school-teaching, Prom King All-American guy – and that she’d be having the time of her life.
She could still feel the butterflies, but they were less about nerves and more thrilling now. Sam, Elaine, Jerry, and Nancy entered the apartment to ring in the new year with friends and fanfare.
The condition on which Stan had ultimately managed to convince Nancy to agree to this setup was that when they got to the party at Patty and Bill’s, if she was having a bad time, all she had to do was let her brother know, and he’d take her straight home – no questions asked, no fuss. All she had to do was give him the signal.
But Nancy had all but forgotten their deal when they joined the party, excitedly taking Jerry’s extended hand and weaving through the crowd to snag a glass of champagne for the big moment.
Before he knew it, midnight was minutes away and Jerry was suddenly gripped by the thought he’d been actively avoiding all night. To kiss at midnight or not to kiss at midnight? And if he did kiss her, what kind of kiss? A sweet peck on the cheek? An innocent light brush of the lips? Go for it and lay it on thick? So many options, and he didn’t know quite how to read Nancy. Maybe she’s not even thinking about this! Maybe she is and is hoping that he doesn’t kiss her! What if he’s been misinterpreting the whole night and she’s not interested in him at all? What if she’s just been polite like the well-mannered young woman she seems to be? Oh no, now Jerry was all discombobulated and suddenly worried about something he was so sure about not 10 minutes ago.
Everyone at the party was starting to gather in the living room, passing around glasses of champagne and noise makers for the big moment. Jerry took Nancy’s hand and led her into the heart of the crowd, grabbing two glasses of bubbly on the way. It was one minute to midnight now, and as he stood there, scandalously close to his date, he was overcome. He wanted to kiss her so badly, and he was sure that’s what she wanted too, but what if he was wrong? The last thing he wanted to do was offend her or make her feel uncomfortable.
But he wouldn’t be feeling all these lightening bolts and fireworks if she wasn’t either, right? Jerry considered himself pretty good at picking up social cues, especially when it came to the ladies, so he had to be right. Right?
It was happening. 10, 9, 8, he turned to face Nancy, pulling her ever so slightly closer to him, 7, 6, 5, 4, he looked down at her beautiful face, staring into her (slightly glossy) eyes, 3,2…1. Jerry took a sharp breath and leaned in for a kiss. It was soft and light, modest and respectful. But it was on the lips. And to Jerry’s thrill and relief, Nancy kissed him back. He felt vindicated, his confidence in his intuition restored. And what a feeling that was! He’d never wanted to kiss someone so much before, and he’d never been so glad he did. Yup, this little woman was inching her way into his heart with every minute that passed.
It was officially 1971. Jerry again looked down at Nancy, squeezing her hand impishly and thought, however premature or ridiculous it might seem, that he was looking at his future.
Around 2:00 am, Sam found his brother in Patty and Bill’s kitchen, talking to Nancy, looking like a fool in love. It was time to go. The would-be double-daters piled into the car and set off to drop Nancy off at home before the three of them went back to Sam and Elaine’s for the night.
When they pulled into the driveway on Dobbin Avenue, Nancy could see her parent’s bedroom light on, which meant they must have just gotten home and haven’t quite called it a night yet. She couldn’t stop thinking about that kiss. Lightening bolt city! She was hoping Jerry would kiss her at midnight, but she was too shy to make the move herself. It was intoxicating – the crowd of people surrounding them, the light head from all the wine and champagne, the closeness of their bodies, being shmooshed in that hot living room. As the countdown started, the butterflies returned to their residence in her stomach and her toes got a little tingly. Maybe that was more from the drinks than anything, though.
And then he kissed her. She felt more sparks with his innocent, unassuming little peck on her lips than she ever had with her ex-finance, Doug. Everything happens for a reason, she thought to herself as Jerry took her hand to help her out of the car, so they could say goodnight out of from under the gaze of the two very interested parties sitting in the front seat of the car.
At her front door, where just hours earlier she set out for the night with three strangers, there she stood with Jerry – a man she had quickly learned was a good, respectful, funny, smart, twinkly-eyed stealer of hearts.
She told Jerry that she had a really nice time and thanked him for the lovely evening. It was cold and the wind had picked up, blowing whisps of blonde hair in her face. Jerry reached down, gently pushing her hair aside and kissed her once again. This time it was more than a modest peck on the lips. It was the kind of kiss that made you blush. Well, it made Nancy blush. They pulled apart and Jerry took her hands and told her, with a sweet earnestness, that he hoped to see her again and that he was so glad to have met her.
As she closed the front door behind her, silencing the sound of the wind in the trees, Nancy sighed deeply. What a night. Her mom was up, sitting in her usual spot on the couch, night cap of Crème de Menthe beside her, cigarette dangling gracefully between her fingers.
“Come in here Nancy, and tell me all about your night,” she urged.
Nancy hung her coat up and slipped off her shoes and joined her mother in the living room. When her mom asked if she had a nice time and what she thought of Jerry, Nancy hesitated to answer at first. She didn’t know quite what to say.
She took a breath, looked up at her well-meaning (but totally nosey mother), and said, “Mom, I really like him, but he lives in Cincinnati! I’ll never see him again.”
She realized as the words tumbled out of her mouth, she felt she could cry. Even though she was aware of this all night, it wasn’t until then that she felt the full weight of their distance. Suddenly, she was very sad. After a gossipy breakdown of the night, you know, the ‘whos,’ the ‘whats,’ and the ‘can-you-believes,’ Nancy and her mom finally decided to turn in. As she climbed into her bed, utterly exhausted from the night, still smiling, she closed her eyes. Even if it was just one night out of the millions of nights she’d have in her life, it was going down as perhaps one of the best.
One month later
Nancy returned home with the few things her mother had asked her to pick up from the A&P. As was habit, she headed to the main floor door so she could check the mail on her way in. As she entered the house, slipping her heavy winter boots off and setting down her bag of groceries, she opened the little door of the mailbox.
Flipping through the pile that was there, she suddenly stopped, her breath catching in her throat. There was a letter addressed to her. It looked to be international mail. Her eyes quickly darted to the upper left corner of the envelope and staring up at her was the name and address of a Mr. Jerry Peters from Cincinnati, Ohio. Nancy couldn’t get her coat off fast enough, and sprinted up the stairs, dropping off the bag in the kitchen, not stopping on her way to her bedroom. She closed the door behind her and flung herself on her bed – not exactly the graceful young woman she was raised to be. She carefully opened the envelope and pulled out a letter with what looked like the sharpest, most perfect handwriting she’d ever seen. She closed her eyes for a second and contained a little squeal, realizing that Jerry must have had to call around to get her address. The evidence of his efforts made her feel uncharacteristically extraordinary.
She opened her eyes and began to read, already thinking about where she had put her stationary so she could write him back.
“Dear Nancy,” it started. Everything about their night together came rushing back and Nancy noticed those butterflies flapping again and the familiar warming of her cheeks. And she didn’t even need to look in the mirror to know that her big square smile was crawling across her face.
You know that thing when you pull out a comfy, worn-in pair of lounge-around-the-house-pants, and slipping them on your legs and pulling them up you realize that they’re a bit…snug? Yeah, I experienced that this week. It’s not a big deal. I mean, I’d rather have packed on a few extra pounds than be dead from COVID. But it’s still a little alarming, isn’t it?
The tightness of my pants notwithstanding, this realization got me thinking about what has really transpired over the last two years.
For the last two years we’ve collectively been experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic. We all know this. I’m not going to go on about how difficult it’s been or politicize my blog by telling you all the opinions I have and my desire to change hearts and minds of those on the “other side.” No, I don’t want to talk about that.
What I do want to talk about is this: what I realized after rocking my now form-fitting comfy pants is how much I have changed. And how much the people and relationships in my orbit have changed. How we generally interact in public has changed, and how all of us are, or are beginning to, or maybe haven’t even yet thought about, reconciling how this pandemic has affected us.
You might be someone who considers themselves relatively unaffected by the adjustments you’ve had to make to your life over the course of the last two years. And to that I say, good for you and you are probably right in a lot of ways. There are many people for whom their day-to-day existence didn’t really deviate much from what it was in the Before Times. But I think we are forever changed in big and small ways.
And the thing is, it’s going to take a long time for all of these changes and their impacts to fully unfurl before us. There’s no way to really tell right now what exactly the pandemic has done to us.
For my part, with some reflection and through lengthy conversations with friends and family, I have determined a few things I can say have unequivocally changed in me.
It takes a herculean effort to go anywhere. I clearly have taken for granted how convenient it was in the Before Times to run errands on my way to or from somewhere. I have found it quite challenging to muster the motivation to get out and about. Case in point: I have a package that I need to pick up from the post office, which is located in the Shopper’s basically around the corner from me – about a 10-minute walk. This package has been there for 9 days and counting.
Time has no meaning. I feel like the last two years could be lifted right out of my life’s timeline and it wouldn’t make a difference at all, but at the same time, like they are the most meaningful years I’ve ever experienced and have irrevocably changed my life’s trajectory. It’s like the last two years are just a void – a holding place where we’ve all been waiting for life again. But life, of course, has continued because that’s how time works.
I’ve never eaten so much take-out before in my life. I like to cook, I do! And I really love to cook for others. When I moved into my apartment almost four years ago, the thing I was looking forward to the most was hosting my friends and family for dinners, hangouts, parties and all the quality time we could handle because I finally had the space (and beautiful dining table) to do it! But, living alone during the pandemic, dealing with major life changes, coping, surviving, and being resilient apparently stole my desire to cook. This is a big part of the reason why my pants are tight.
Spontaneity and I aren’t really friends anymore. There’s no room to fly by the seat of your pants during a pandemic. When I have gone anywhere, usually to be with family, it was always thoughtfully planned and laid out. I miss spontaneity. I like flying by the seat of my pants.
I’ve become a bit of a voyeur. Not in a creepy “peeping Tom” way, sickos. I mean I’ve grown so accustomed to being alone, not really talking to or interacting with humans a fraction of how much I did before, that I find myself mostly observing. It’s not an inherently bad thing, and I’ve always been inclined this way – I’m a certified people-watcher. I like to imagine what their stories are, what their lives are like, who they love and how they fill their days, what keeps them up at night and what fills them with joy. A good friend told me once when we were talking about people-watching that she watches for the fashion – she likes to see what other people are wearing, and essentially decides whether she thinks it’s a good choice or not. I will say that my friend is quite fashionable herself, so when she told me this, I wasn’t surprised and nor did I think it was a bad thing. Anyway, when she asked, I told her what goes through my mind when I’m idly watching people live their lives and she smiled and said that it’s because I’m a writer. I’m always writing stories, even when my pen is invisible, and the story is in my head. Anyway, all this is to say that I find that because of how much time I spend on my own, this practice of watching and thinking and wondering and story-building has become much more prominent.
I’ve become lazy. Well, lazier, really. I think this is because there’s nothing to do, nothing to look forward to, nothing to plan for and no new experiences on the horizon. It’s depressing. And while it does sort of force one to live in the moment more than they probably ever have before, it feels limiting. There is only now. That’s not the same thing as spontaneity though. It’s a strange vortex in which we simultaneously don’t, (or didn’t until very recently), have the freedom of true spontaneity – no last-minute plans to go to the movies, or to a restaurant, or a mall – and where, because of the uncertainty of the life of this pandemic, there is only the present. We couldn’t make vacation plans, or plan weddings or parties because we didn’t know what was still to come and when we could reasonably expect to regain some normalcy.
I’ve developed a bit of an online shopping problem. For me, it’s clothes, mostly. I think I’ve worked out that it’s because of two things:
I want to imagine what life will be like when the world is fully open again, and specifically, what I’ll be wearing when it does. I think about going back to an office and putting on a mini-fashion show every day, even if it’s just for a handful of others in the office who don’t know me or give a shit about what I’m wearing, it excites me. I have accumulated a fantastic wardrobe – work and non-work clothes. I just don’t have anywhere to wear them. Yet. I will. And I will look fantastic. Just you wait.
Ordering things online – clothes, groceries, medication, take-out, random housewares from Amazon – gives me something to look forward to. Yes, as sad as that sounds, I’ve deduced that it is the crux of the issue. It’s the truth. My life has become so small, so insular, that anticipating getting a delivery (of anything, apparently), gives me a little tiny sense of suspense and purpose.
I’m rusty when it comes to social interaction. You have to understand that in the Before Times, I was the life of the party! OK, maybe not immediately before the lockdown and ensuing end-of-the-world panic. But I’m a very social, outgoing, entertaining person. Case in point: I was with my family over the Easter weekend – the first time I’d seen any of them since Christmas – and I thought we were having the best conversations ever! I was so excited to be sitting with my mom and sisters and brother just shooting the shit, catching each other up on our lives – it was invigorating. Later in the evening, my siblings started calling me “Windy.” Apparently, I was talking a lot. Maybe too much? In my defense, I have been seriously lacking human interaction for two years. Actually, more than two years, but we’re not going to get into that right now.
The aforementioned points are just scratching the surface. They are only the things I have come to realize on my own. I’m sure there are myriad other ways the pandemic has changed me, probably unexpected, and perhaps tiny and insignificant, but whatever it is, I’m ready.
Bring it on, universe! I don’t need to go back to life as I knew it before, I understand that things change, and a lot of specific things have changed because of the pandemic and may stay changed forever. But I do need to get out of my damn apartment, go to work, meet up with friends and go out for dinner. I need to connect with people, especially my people, and make sure that I do it often enough that “Windy” doesn’t stick as a nickname.
I could really use one of your pep talks right now. Even though I know you would probably speak in clichés and say all the things I’ve heard you say, I would still really like to hear from you. There was always something about the pride and excitement in your voice when we would talk about my work and life goals. Whether you actually felt it or not, I always left our conversations feeling like you were very proud of me and like I could do anything. What a f-ing high.
You set a high bar. You were the first in your family to go on to university; you were an achiever, a doer, a man who floated easily through the social and academic world and seemed to commandeer any space in which you ever found yourself.
You used to remind me that I am a Peters, a person who follows through, who puts their best efforts forward, someone who gives 100% all the time. You raised me to have integrity and confidence, but also humility and grace. You were a man who championed loyalty to employers and organizations, even though you yourself were a trailblazer for your generation, having several distinct careers in your working life.
Even though you and I didn’t always agree, I admired your belief in a strong work ethic. I’m so glad you instilled that in us. In me.
All through elementary and high school, when I would come home with a test or paper that was a 90% or 95%, or even a 99%, you would say “well, where did the other X% percent go?” I think you were just teasing, but it really implanted in me a need, a desire, a compulsion, even, to achieve. I strived to make you proud, to prove that I really could do anything I set my mind to like you made me believe I could.
I’ve always been a risk taker and I know that you, in the strictest sense, were not. I know you have doubted (even judged harshly) some of my decisions, especially when it came to my career, but I also know that after the proverbial dust had settled, you were proud of me. I like to think maybe you even admired me a little for taking the leap of faith that you couldn’t (or wouldn’t).
But, at this particular moment, in this season of my life, I’m struggling with my confidence and ability to frankly, just do a good job. And I could really use a chat with you. I would love to hear you remind me that I’m tenacious, that I’m an achiever, and that I have talent. That’s the thing I miss the most. And even though you told me more than a couple of times, it always knocked me over to hear you tell me how talented you thought I was. I suppose you still think that. But not really because you are in the past now, you’re not here, you’re gone, so I’m just left with the memory of those conversations.
When you left us, I heard from several people in my life, in our lives, who told me how very proud you were of me. I know you were proud of all your children, and I love you the WORLD much for that. But it has always meant so much to me that you would speak so highly of meto others. I think that’s because think I was the kid you related to the least. And to be clear, I know that having things in common with one’s kid is not mutually exclusive to one’s level of love. I just mean, of all of us, you and I really didn’t have that much in common, certainly not as much as you did with my siblings. At least on the surface.
I’ll never forget the way you would tell the story of the first time you saw me perform. I sang a Tracy Chapman song in a school cabaret. You knew I sang, obviously, because I was in all the choirs, and you knew I was musical, because, well, comparatively, that was my “football.” But you always got tears in your eyes when you told the story of the first time you heard me sing, by myself, a cappella, in front of an audience. That is the feeling I’m yearning for now. That unfailing, full-of-love support that only a proud dad can give.
I dream about you all the time. In my dreams, you’re here, in present day, where I can touch you and talk to you and hug you. And then I wake up. Sometimes it takes a good 30 seconds for me to realize that I was dreaming. And then I feel your loss all over again. Often, those are the best 30 seconds of my day.
I can’t tell you how much I miss calling you in the middle of the day. You always sounded so delighted to hear from me. And even though I could practically recite what the conversation would be, verbatim, I never got tired of it. What I wouldn’t give to hear your voice on the other end of the line saying “Hi honey! Have you grown any?”
This is how I imagine men on dating apps understand the assignment:
Contact a woman – usually a simple “hi” or “hey beautiful” will be enough to make them want to message me back because I’m clearly what she’s looking for and/or the best offer she’s going to get. Caveat – if I copy and paste a prepared, generic but appropriately “interested” message, she’ll never know I’ve sent this same message to approximately 47 other women.
When said woman replies, shower her with compliments about her eyes, her figure, her smile, her general appearance. I mean, it’s obvious what she looks like from the 16 photos she has posted on her profile, but I’m going to ask if she has any more. I think she’ll like that.
Ask the requisite questions: what part of the city are you in? Do you live alone or with family? (this is of course, to determine how convenient it will be to go to your place all the time). Do you have kids? (even though this one is almost always answered in the mandatory profile details). When was your last relationship? What do you like to do for fun? Oh, and maybe ask what you do for work, but only if you ask me first. I don’t actually care nor am I interested in what you do for a living.
Keep complimenting her on her appearance because I know that’s what women in their 30s and 40s really appreciate; they don’t need me to be genuinely interested in who they are as a human person. Make benign small talk, seemingly letting her “get to know” me without really telling her anything of substance, all the while redirecting the conversation back to her – this makes her think I’m interested.
Once an acceptable number of messages have been exchanged on the app, suggest we take the chat to texting or WhatsApp.
Once chatting via text, try to be flirty, maybe mentioning something about a sexy image I have of her now that I’ve “known” her for a few hours/days. Obviously, we’re at the stage now where I can start calling her “baby” and “sweetie” and build up that false sense of intimacy so I can get what I want faster.
Nail down a first date – drinks is usually a good one to suggest. Continue chatting everyday, making sure to send the ever-important good morning and goodnight texts – women love that.
On the date, be friendly and ask lots of questions – this way she’ll feel like I’m interested in her life and stuff. Try to maintain an air of cool without being too aloof. Try to make physical contact as much as possible so she knows I’m attracted to her. Goal: get invited in at the end of the night.
Once I’m in her home and after I’ve put in the obligatory amount of time tricking her into feeling comfortable with some touching and maybe some groping, it’s time to go in for a kiss.
During the make-out session ignore all her body language and just keep escalating the heat. She won’t want to seem like a prude, so she’ll go along with it, even if she doesn’t really want to. Forget everything I’ve ever learned about enthusiastic consent – I mean, we’re adults, right? This is what dating apps are for, she must know this. She obviously knows that this is what was going to happen. Duh.
Once I’ve gotten her at least partially out of her clothes, just go for it. Don’t bother with a condom, she’s probably on the pill. Also, just put her in the position I like, it doesn’t matter if she likes it ‘cause sex is just sex, and since I probably don’t intend on seeing her again, I want to make sure that I enjoy it. I don’t give a tiny rat’s ass about her enjoyment…she knew what she was getting into. She’s probably never been raped or anything, so I can just do what I want, and she won’t get upset or triggered. God, like what’s the big deal, ya know? It’s just sex. And we’re adults.
When she stops me after a few pumps, act confused and offended. She’ll probably go to the bathroom to pull herself together. When she comes back, ask her if she’s OK – you have to establish that you care about her (even though you don’t, not really).
Somehow, during the ensuing conversation, twist things around so that she ends up apologizing to me – for being uptight, for leading me on, for giving me the “wrong” idea, etc. Generally, try to make her feel like a fool and that her (obvious) issues with “intimacy” are preventing her from having a good time with me. I’m not a monster! I’m a good guy!!! I think she’s attractive and I just want to fuck her to satisfy my sexual needs and up my body count be close to her.
Tell her that I appreciate her feelings about sex on the first date and blow it off like it’s all good. She’ll feel bad and maybe a little silly or stupid. That’s all good – I know I’ll be able to seal the deal next time.
Continue to talk and see each other for a few weeks. Evade revealing any real information about my life and my emotional maturity/availability and for the love of all that’s holy, avoid answering any direct (or roundabout, for that matter) questions about me or my family, my actual relationship status, or my living situation, etc. If she knew that I’m living with my ex or have a couple of roommates, that will scare her away. I need her to believe I’m a self-sufficient, financially, and emotionally stable man with my shit together. I mean, I will be…eventually – obvi.
When she inevitably asks if I’m talking to or seeing anyone else, say no, even though I absolutely have 3-5 women I’m juggling. Of course, I’m just testing them all out, waiting to see which one is going to give it up with the least amount of hassle I like the most.
After a few dates, stop asking her to hang/go out. Avoid making any kind of plans to see her at all. Eventually, she’ll ask me to do something – I just tell her that it’s a really busy weekend, but I’ll definitely try to figure something out.
Stop all communication. Ignore her texts, don’t reach out, don’t express to her in any discernable way that I just don’t want to see her anymore. I don’t have to have a real reason for this, but most likely it’s because she’s just too much for me – she feels too much, expects too much, asks for too much. For the uninitiated, this is called ghosting. I will ghost the shit out of her. If she calls me out on my bullshit, I just block her and never have to think about her again. She’ll get over it – this is what online dating is. Any fool knows that.
Move on to the next unsuspecting woman and wash, rinse, repeat.
Continue to absent myself of any self-awareness, accountability, or any understanding of my stunted emotional development because toxic masculinity has me by the balls. Of course, I want happiness, but I’m not willing to look inward and treat other humans with the basic decency they deserve. What can I say? Bitches be crazy!
I really need to go back to an office. I know that we’ve been talking about working from home for over a year and a half, and it seems like there isn’t really anything else to say about it. It’s all been said – the think pieces have been written; the studies have been analyzed. We know that most workplaces, when they do return to the office, will have some sort of office/working from home hybrid model. I get it. I feel like I’ve been having this conversation for 10 years.
Working from home permanently, however, is not for me. I’m grateful to be working at all, and I’m lucky to have the career I do, but if we’re being honest (which I always try to be), the setup is not exactly ideal. For me, anyway. I love the flexibility of working remotely when I need/want to, and it’s not a bad experience at all! But there are things about office life that I just miss terribly.
So, herewith, a not-exhaustive list of reasons I miss working from an office:
The commute to and from the office, plus all the other walking required of me during the day constitute a big portion (read: 90%) of my exercise. I’m not a gym girl. Never have been, never will be. Suffice it to say, the commute from my living room to my desk, which is in my dining room, does not qualify as exercise.
There is a weird part of me that misses riding the subway everyday. I know, I know, don’t come for me.
Humans! I love, and frankly, need to be with other humans. I’m a social being, I’m an extrovert – I get energized being with people. I shine brightest when I collaborate, I like to share ideas and talk things through. When I’m physically working with people, my creativity is boosted, my already out-of-the-box thinking goes so far out of the box, I lose sight of the box! It’s the little, seemingly innocuous interactions with people that fill me up; turning around in my chair to ask someone a question, having a spontaneous conversation about the news or books, or family or whatever. I miss seeing new and unfamiliar faces throughout my day, and I miss walking to my desk and saying hi/good morning to my peeps along the way. I actually kind of even miss in-person meetings! Not that I’m longing for conference rooms or anything, but I actually like the idle chit-chat as everyone gathers. And I especially love exchanging knowing glances with my friends. Not to mention, the change of scenery during the day! I didn’t know I’d miss it until I didn’t have it anymore.
Coffee! I mean, I drink coffee at home, but it’s not the same. I miss grabbing coffee as part of my morning routine when I arrive to the office. I also miss those mid-afternoon Starbucks runs with a work friend – leaving the office, getting outside, unlocking myself from the proverbial chains on my desk for 30 minutes or so. And yes, even in the dead of winter, I still miss it.
After-work shenanigans. Spontaneous (or planned) drinks with friends at a nearby watering hole, especially when those cocktails turn into a full-on night out with some of my favourite people.
Coming home at the end of the day. Whether it was a really great day or a shitastic day, I miss that moment of opening the door to my home, and with one step over the threshold, I am awash in a wave of comfort and tranquility. There’s a sense of sanctuary waiting for me with all my familiar things, the sweet smell of not-long-ago extinguished scented candles and the half-read book that’s waiting for me on my insanely comfortable chair.
The clothes. This is perhaps the weakest and most superficial of my arguments, but it’s true! I have amassed an EPIC wardrobe over the last couple of years, and I have nowhere to wear these amazing clothes! I love putting outfits together, reflecting who I am on the inside through what I put on my outside. Plus, some of those clothes were expensive, and I need to get my money’s worth! But seriously, no one gets to appreciate my fashion sense when I’m working from home alone. I do, however slap on my signature red lips and do my hair sometimes when working from home. It does give me a little jolt, but it’s not the same.
Here’s the thing: If you’ve been following me for any length of time, but especially over the last couple of years, you know that I’ve been having an extraordinarily tough time. I know this isn’t the Pain & Suffering Olympics, so I don’t say this with the intention of eliciting sympathy (or whatever), but this period, for me, has perhaps been the most challenging of my lifetime. Thus far, that is. And for the most part, I’ve spent it inside, locked down, in isolation, which has made the challenges more challenging and the healing prolonged.
But! I will say that these days I feel the healthiest – mentally and emotionally – I ever have. I’m turning a corner and feeling good as I dig into this new chapter of life. But I miss people and I miss feeling like I’m part of the world.
I’ve been in a new role with a new company for over a month now. I think this might be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow I’ve always yearned for. The work itself is great (although I’m just scratching the surface there). But it’s the people I get so excited about. Oh my, the people are truly fantastic. The environment is genuinely supportive and transparent, and everyone seems so…cool.
I feel at home with these people, like these are my people. I think this is the beginning of not only a new chapter for me, but maybe one of the best yet.
I’m not gonna lie though, it’s strange to onboard to a new role, a new company, remotely. I know eventually I’ll be back in an office with these people (at least some of them, most of the time, I think), and that will feel familiar; making connections will be easier and I’ll feel more grounded. I’m making the best of the remote thing for now, but I have to say, it’s fucking hard! I feel disconnected. That, coupled with adjusting to this new supportive, friendly, honest and cool team, has made me realize just how toxic the situation was where I worked before.
I said kind of jokingly to my friends the other day that I think I have a little PTSD from my former workplace. As someone with mental illness, I would never throw that term around lightly, so of course it’s not actually PTSD. But the sentiment is true. I am scarred from my experience with my former employer. It is deeply ingrained in me to feel that I’m nothing, I don’t fit, I’m not a star, I never will be, I’m a square peg in a round hole, that I don’t add value and I’m not worthy. It’s genuinely tripping me up that my new teammates and colleagues seem to think I’m great.
I’m not saying that I believe that I’m nothing and have no talent or value – I’m simply saying that’s what was drilled into me, particularly over the last few years, so incessantly that it wasn’t until I joined a new working environment, that I was able to fully appreciate from whence I came.
And they think I’m funny! That’s the best feeling in the world. I mean, I’m not not funny, but I’ve never fancied myself the comic relief in any given room. I love that I can make my new colleagues (dare I say…new friends?) smile or giggle at my ridiculousness. They get me, they really get me.
So, it looks like as we roll into the fall of 2021, things might finally be looking up for me. I mean, I know there are no guarantees, but given where I’ve been, I really like where I’m going.
My family is grieving. We have been since September when dad passed away. We’re now in the process of packing up our family home – a different kind of grieving. The process has not been wholly depressing and sad, however, quite the contrary! There have been many moments of joyful reminiscing as we discover little treasures hidden away in the many, many, many nooks and crannies of this old house. And to be clear, all these treasures are dad’s.
My dad was a pack rat, no doubt about it. Not to hoarder levels, but the man seemed to have kept everything. Since September, we’ve collectively been chipping away at sorting through 38 years of stuff, most of it, dad’s. It’s the stuff that accumulates over a lifetime, the remnants of raising four kids, evidence of grandchildren and friends and family spending time within these walls. It’s the kind of stockpile that tells a story – in this case, the story of our family.
I know being a sentimental fool, or a chronic pack rat is not a hereditary trait, but through this process I’ve cemented for myself that I, like my dad, have the same kind of emotional attachment to things. There have been things of dad’s that we kids and Mom have claimed over the last few months and I have claimed the most things, which surprises no one. I seem to want to hold onto certain objects of my dad’s because they have meaning. At least they have meaning to me. And while my mom keeps reminding me, especially when I am at times temporarily plunged into the depths of grief and feel like I will never be consoled, dad will live forever in my heart. And of course, she’s right. I have so many memories! And I have a 42-year long relationship with him that is mine alone that I can reflect on forever.
But there is something about having possession of certain objects in my home that bring me comfort. I seem to need the actual, physical thing: I can look at it, and just by virtue of it being in my physical space, it seems to take on even more meaning to me. It becomes an expression of me.
And it’s not just my dad’s stuff. Even though I moved out when I was 18 and haven’t lived there since, there are still a handful of my things hanging around, the most significant of which is my piano. And I have been grappling with the decision I’ve had to make about what to do with it. Let me explain.
When I was about 10, my grandparents procured a piano for me. Grammy and Grandad were invested in my pursuit of everything musical, and they wanted to support me. So, they got a piano from a friend for just the cost of moving it. Obviously, I was beyond excited about this. The years I lived at home, I played the crap out of that piano, one of my favourite things about which was that whenever Grammy and Grandad were over, unfailingly, they would plead “play us a little ditty, Angie.” I loved that.
Sidebar: Grammy and Grandad were the only people allowed to call me Angie. Well, them and my dad, which he did only occasionally, it was always “Ange.” And in recent years, Kelly, my choir director just because I love her and she can call me whatever she wants. But that’s it!Oh, and my friend Cheryl, but it’s in an ironic way because she knows I don’t like it and it’s a little inside joke. But, for real, that’s it!
I digress. So, I moved out, successfully launched into adulthood with the plan that once I had “grown up” and had a house of my own, I would transport my beloved piano from my parents’ living room to mine and my piano and I would live happily ever after together. Well, my life didn’t really follow that trajectory: no house for me, I’ve lived in apartments and haven’t had space for it.
There is space for it in my home now, but there is no way to physically get it into my apartment building. My piano is massive – it won’t fit in the elevator and even if I could get it hoisted up over my balcony, it wouldn’t fit through my not-standard-size balcony door. It’s a Kreutzer, made in New York City circa 1913, it’s a large upright and it’s solid mahogany. She’s big, and she’s heavy!
As much as I would love to keep it for myself, it’s just not possible. My sister, graciously, has been trying since the fall to see if a local school or church would be interested, but no dice.
So, the conclusion was that it would just have to go…and likely be destroyed. This is obviously heartbreaking for me. I know intellectually that my piano essentially amounts to a giant box of wood and strings, but of course it means so much more to me.
First and foremost, it represents my grandparents and the bond I shared with them. And now with selling the house and saying goodbye to my childhood home, it has come to represent that as well. Not surprisingly, its significance to me is also wrapped up in my love and grief for my dad. There is the more insignificant meaning that it’s because I don’t own a house that I can’t just keep it for myself. I had a fleeting feeling of failure because I didn’t reach that perceived milestone of owning a home that seems to define adulthood. But, like I said, that feeling was fleeting because I realized long ago that those traditional milestones just weren’t for me and it doesn’t make me less of an adult. So that doesn’t really count.
Anyway, my struggle in deciding what to do with my piano, and ultimately, coming to terms with the fact that it will likely be destroyed, has been difficult and wrought with complicated emotions.
In the end, with my mom and brother’s input, I wrapped my head around the idea that it will no longer exist in the world, but perhaps I could hold onto it in a different way. I’ve kept the piano bench and the front panel which contains the hand-crafted decorative carvings that, in my opinion, make it so special and unique. I think I’ll turn it into some sort of art piece, and it will live with me forever and every time someone asks me about it, I’ll be able to tell them its story and why it means so much to me. I think that’s the best compromise we could have come up with.
My point in all of this, of course, is that while I’ve always known that a minimalist I am not, I didn’t fully understand just how attached I am (or can be) to certain things, the objects in my orbit. I’m emotional and sentimental, and I think I’m just one of those people for whom certain things become representative of something important – a person, an experience, a feeling, an accomplishment.
I’m impressed by my mom. She is not like her husband or her daughter in that she is exceptionally good at purging the stuff in her life. She’s the one that reminds me that home is where your family is, that this house is simply walls and furniture and a place, that dad will be in our hearts forever, and that she doesn’t need the stuff to keep the memories. This attribute of my mom’s has come in quite handy during this moving process. To me, it feels like we’re packing up our family’s lifetime – the things that represent our family over the last 38 years and beyond. But, my mom, in addition to being an extraordinarily strong woman, is also a very practical woman. She has kept certain family heirlooms that are important to her, and a few things of dad’s, but for the most part, if she doesn’t need it, if it doesn’t have a function in her new apartment, in her new life, she’s quite adept at deciding to throw it out or give it away. My mom is an impressive woman in many ways, and this is just one on a long list.
I’m not saying that being sentimental about things is better than not being sentimental, I’m just pointing out that people have different relationships with the stuff they accumulate throughout their lives. It’s not a judgement, just an observation. In fact, my mom is most assuredly better off being so cutthroat! Sorting through the contents of this house is an overwhelming and daunting task. I know that’s what dad felt. My parents had been talking about downsizing for years, but dad was always hesitant. In fact, last year, just before he got sick, he said to mom one day, out of the blue, that he felt good and healthy and thought that he could handle the upkeep and maintenance of the house for another few years. That may be true, but we all know that it was really about putting off the very task my mom and our family are charged with now.
While it has been hard and laborious work sorting through all his stuff, and figuring out where, or to whom, everything should go, we’ve had some wonderful treasures reveal themselves. And I’m so glad he kept this stuff!
Most precious to me is basically a piece of paper. For real.
When going through his (many, many, many) notebooks – the man made lists and kept records like the FBI – I found one such list that he had made entitled “Ange’s Projects.” It, not surprisingly, is a list of little projects that he and my brother insisted on executing in my apartment. This was just last spring, when my parents and brother were at my place often to be close to Sunnybrook Hospital where he had frequent appointments. And ever the “fix-it” dad (and, as it turns out, the “fix-it” brother), and man whose love language was Acts of Service, he made it his mission to get me all “set up.” Anyway, I found this list in the back of one of his notebooks in his signature sharp, perfect cursive. I now have it framed, sitting on my bedside table, and every time I look at it, a blanket of love and comfort envelopes me. It’s an otherwise throw-away piece of scrap paper, but to me, it is everything about our relationship and its value immeasurable. And I’m so glad I have the physical thing, in my possession, on display.
I know not everyone is like me in this way and that’s great! You do you! But for me, it is these things, the objects themselves which hold the memories and conjure the sentiments. After all this recent reflecting and processing, I’ve concluded that having a collection of certain objects from my life, and now of my dad’s, it provides a channel through which I can express, in a very physical, visual way, how much I cherish the story and emotions they hold for me.
When all is said and done and my mom hands over the keys next week, what we’ll be leaving behind is after all, just a building. It’s a collection of walls and creaky floors, a leaky basement and a lot of dust and cobwebs. And no matter what the new owners renovate or destroy or fix, to us, this house will always be ours in our memories.
It’s the place where countless Christmas dinners have been enjoyed and the talking and hanging out at the table extended well beyond the meal. It’s where doors have been slammed in anger, usually as a result of teenage angst, tears have been shed and deafening laughter has echoed. It’s the place where epic dance routines to the Mini Pops have been created, meltdowns over homework or fights with friends have transpired, where sick kids have been nursed back to health and boo boos healed with a Band Aid and a kiss from mom.
These rooms have borne witness to disagreements and petty fights over clothes or the TV remote and their eventual resolutions, where little kids ran around leaving chaos in their wake, the sharing of big news, and the learning of bad news. This is where our family grew for 38 years. It’s where all four of us piled on mom and dad’s bed when it was time to wake them up on Christmas morning, it’s where we searched with zeal for treats the Easter Bunny had left us and where we have blown out a million birthday candles. It’s where bannisters were broken during clandestine high school parties, where phone lines were tied up all night because of very important 4-hour long conversations with friends, and where spontaneous kitchen dancing broke out while two parents were making dinner…just because.
One by one we all left and launched into our own adult lives, but we’ve always called this house home and haven’t ever imagined not gathering there for holidays and family celebrations.
For me, visiting home will never be the same because I won’t be coming to stay at 780 Hopkins. But that’s OK. Time marches on and we adapt and forge new paths.
I miss my dad every day. Some days his absence hits me like a tsunami, and I don’t think I’ll ever recover, and other days I’m warmed by all the wonderful and funny memories and grateful to have had such an incredible man in my life.
After all, we have thousands of stories to tell about the Peters’s adventures in that house. And trust me, they will be told, probably over and over – it’s kind of our thing.
Alas, the time has come to move on, and as a family, we’re doing it together. I’m excited for this new season in my mom’s life and day by day she and all of us are figuring out what our lives are without dad. I think it’s OK to be a little sad at selling my childhood home, but the goal is not to hang onto that sadness, not to wallow in it.
There is snow on the ground in my hometown. It’s not terribly cold – yet – and today it’s bright and sunny. The tree is trimmed, anchored by beautifully wrapped boxes of all shapes and sizes. The stockings are hung, there’s a whimsical winter village atop the mantel. The fridge is bursting at the seams with all the makings of the feasts we’ll share in the upcoming days.
All the markings of Christmastime abound, yet there is a distinct feeling in the atmosphere. It’s strange, yes, and it’s one that evokes a feeling that something is missing, and of course that’s true. But it’s something else too. I’ve been trying to put my finger on it since I’ve been home, but I can’t quite nail it down.
It’s been an eventful year. That’s the understatement of the century, right? As we barrel toward Christmas, knowing the start of a new year is around the corner, we are all undoubtedly reflecting on 2020. Instead of recounting all the challenges and hurdles and moments of despair and sadness (not that those things aren’t worth reflecting on) I’m trying my very best to muster memories of some of the bright spots in this life-changing year.
I don’t think I’ve grown more in such a short period of time. One of the things I learned about myself this year is that I’m more resilient than I thought. We’ve all had to be, I suppose, but for me, given the trajectory of my life lately, this comes as a welcome and surprisingly joyful observation. That I’ve survived all the things thrown at me over the last 12 months is reason for celebration alone; that I’ve actually started to thrive is miraculous.
Isolation is a bitch. The pandemic kept us all inside, spending more time in our homes than we probably ever remember, some of us with family, children, pets, etc., and some of us utterly alone. I am in the latter group, and while there have been moments of darkness, I can say with confidence that I’m pretty great to hang out with! I’ve always said that if you don’t like hanging out with you, how can you expect anyone else to? To be fair, I’ve always enjoyed my own company, but this year that was stretched to the limit. And aside from a few moments of boredom, frustration or simply being sick of myself, for the most part being alone and physically isolated hasn’t been so bad! I’m a cool chick and I’d definitely hang out with me.
Relationships have been tested this year, for all of us. Living through a global pandemic in this modern world has affected us all in myriad ways, both for good and bad. It’s been a struggle. There’s no shame in admitting that it’s been hard and it’s OK to take a break from trying to find the silver lining all the time – it’s OK to wallow a bit. But, of course, life just goes on, and we must pick up the pieces and try our best to make sense out of the nonsensical, find good in sorrow, and gird ourselves for whatever comes next. And we can’t do any of that without our most meaningful relationships.
I’ve learned a lot this year. I’ve learned that I can cope in dire situations and manage my mental health like a pro. I mean, I had some glitches here and there, but I am quite proud of myself for taking good care of myself and prioritizing my wellbeing over shitty things and situations. I’ve learned that taking a giant leap of faith and severing ties with a company I’ve worked with for over 12 years is turning out to be perhaps the best decision I’ve ever made. It’s scary and it’s emotional to leave that part of my life behind me but pivoting and starting a new journey down an unknown path is exhilarating. And is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now.
I’ve learned to be kinder to myself and others. I’ve learned that I don’t ever want to be the source of hurt for anyone in my life. I’ve curated a wonderful group of friends around me, and I cannot jeopardize that. I’ve learned that I can reconnect with an old love and emerge with the comforting knowledge that our connection and friendship is not only still intact, but also grown over the years and this relationship coming back into my life now is not happenstance.
I’ve learned and am still learning, what devastating loss is. I’m navigating grief in my own way, figuring it out as I go, but putting all my faith in just letting my heart lead the way. I miss my dad so much. Like, more than I thought possible. But my family is tight, and we’re here for each other and I know I can depend on that. I’ve learned just how lucky I am to have had a dad like mine, and that I’m lucky to have gotten the time with him that I did. He has given me so many gifts and as those gifts slowly reveal themselves to me, I’m feeling more connected to him than ever before.
But it’s OK to miss him, it’s OK to be sad when I feel sad, and to laugh when something is funny. Christmas was his favourite holiday. I remember as a kid, Dad would come home from work, bursting through the front door on when his Christmas vacation started, singing a holiday song he made up. He loved us so much. His favourite place, even above the football field if I’m being honest, was home with his family, all his kids (and eventual grandkids) around him, the chaos of 17 conversations going on at once, the laughter, the teasing, the smiles, and the hugs – that was his sweet spot. It’s mine too.
At the end of this strange year, I suspect we are going to reflect in a way we haven’t before. This year has been incredible in the true sense of the word – centuries from now, humans (if we’re still here) will read about 2020 and dissect the turning point in human existence that we’ve all been experiencing in real time.
But for now I’m going to sip my coffee from my favourite mug, while my mom bakes shortbread cookies and I’m going to soak it all in as much as I can. I’m going to look at this home in a way I never have before and appreciate it for all the love and life it’s held within its walls for the last 38 years. And though I will be sad when I feel the absence of my dad as we try to carry on with our family traditions as seamlessly as possible, I will be grateful for his presence. He was larger than life and the center of our family, and we’ll hold each other a little tighter and a little longer this year and be happy for the time we had with him.
I’ve been ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’–ing it. Without conscious plotting, shortly after my world crumbled around me, I began to transform my space. It started innocently enough: I left my job where I was miserable, under some pretty sketchy, awful circumstances, and I finally ordered the area rug I’d been coveting for literal years, a new coffee table and a new bed frame – you know, as a symbol of my severance from the life I’d known for so long.
When I returned after a couple of weeks at home for my dad’s…death, I won’t lie – I was disoriented, I felt unmoored. I hadn’t had a chance to even begin to process the fact that I was, for the first time since I was a ten-year-old, without a job. Never mind the weight of all the reasons that led to my resignation, I was now faced with processing the bigger life milestone of losing a parent.
It’s a lot, guys.
Before I knew it, I was sorting, taking inventory, reorganizing, purging, cleaning, and redecorating every square inch of my apartment. After the celebratory rug, table, and bed frame arrived and assembled, I became obsessed with getting a bar cart for my dining room to display all my cool, retro glassware. I mean, what is the point of having it if people (and me) can’t enjoy it?
It arrived, and after about three hours of screwing, occasional forceful wedging, and deciphering cryptic instructions later, I had assembled the coolest, most perfect-for-me bar cart. And then I was off.
I must tell you that at this point, I sought the help of a friend. Organizing and purging are not my forte. I mean, I think I have a good sense of style, but the actual details of what it takes to implement said style escape me. And I tend to hang on to things. Not like hoarder level hanging-onto-things, but let’s just say I tend to surround myself with…stuff. So, I called in a friend for whom this (organizing/purging/etc.) is a passion (and impressive skill!), and together, over the course of three solid days of work, we transformed my home into something I think I’d always fantasized it could be.
It was intense. Thank Beyonce my friend was firm but kind with me – I had to honestly face some hard truths about the things I had surrounded myself with for years, and in some cases, decades. She lovingly pushed me to really think about my everyday day-to-day existence and the objects and implements required to make that life a reality. Most importantly, she challenged me to consider that which truly brings me joy and peace.
The kitchen was the most difficult. I haven’t quite figured out why, to be honest, but it was a huge challenge for me. Granted, I had way too much stuff. In fact, I would venture to say much of it was crap. I had to confront myself as to why I was holding on to certain objects, and then evaluate, in a very pragmatic way, what purpose it may serve in my life.
For instance, I had in my possession, at least 13 wine openers. Why does a person need more than one or two wine openers, let alone a baker’s dozen? I had shelves spilling over with odds and ends, rubber bands all over the place (for some reason), old flyers, pens, paperclips, random notes and passwords I’d jotted on post-its. I had recipes scribbled on loose paper, just lodged in between various mail, some of which was important, and there were broken pots and ratty tea towels.
It wasn’t filthy, rather just kind of chaotic once I was able to open my eyes to see what was really there. You know the phrase “nose blind”? When your surroundings smell a certain way, but you’ve lived with it for so long that you don’t notice it anymore? Well, that’s what my kitchen felt like. Except instead of nose blindness, it was actual blindness. The excess of useless, space-sucking stuff was simply not visible to me up to that point. Not until I began this process, and certainly not until my friend pointed it out to me, could I start to see the stuff (literal and metaphorical) that I’d been dragging around with me for years. That’s what it takes sometimes – someone to shake you awake and force you to open your eyes to what’s right in front of you.
So, without planning it, I stumbled into a full-on overhaul of my home in the aftermath of some pretty significant life events. And it has turned out to be the catharsis I really needed. I feel like I’ve said this before, but I can actually feel my life moving. Something is happening. I believe this is the beginning of something great for me. Hell, I think I’ve started a whole new book.
To me, the parallel is obvious: I am disrupting, dissecting, and dismantling my living space to redesign it for the new me. And just as I am redesigning aspects of my life and my future, it is of course reflected in my physical surroundings.
So, the moral of my story is: redesign something in your life, and something good will follow! It could be the bathroom shelves, your closet or your entire home, but trust me, the catharsis it brings will help navigate you through whatever needs to be redesigned in your life, be it a coat of paint or a complete gut job.
Just go with it. You will find the answers. And maybe that pair of glasses you lost months ago.