How Not to Approach a Woman

I had a strange encounter last week, and I was surprised at how irritated I became.

I frequent local cigar lounges, and I’m most often a visitor at one within my own neighborhood. Can’t beat the proximity. As a woman who enjoys an occasional cigar and a glass of good scotch or bourbon, I have no problem visiting these establishments on my own – I don’t need an entourage to feel comfortable in my own skin. Especially when visiting the bar in my neighborhood, I enjoy being alone, because I’ve created a sense of respite there.

Though I enjoy my alone time, I am a social being, and I can enjoy conversation with almost anyone. Almost. I do find, at times, that being a woman in a cigar lounge is viewed by some as crossing into the inner-sanctum of Man Time. The women present acknowledge each other without issue, most likely because we see strength in numbers. The men turn their heads and observe every instance of femininity in the room. We’re watched, often judged, and then incessantly questioned about our choices. Surely we’ve come to the wrong place, or so they think.

During my encounter, I sat alone at the end of the bar watching Copa America. I was smoking a good cigar and was nursing a glass of scotch. I was texting a couple friends (and possibly posting a picture on Snapchat). The bartenders know me by name, and I’ve settled into a comfortable routine at this establishment.

A man arrived and sat a few seats away, at the corner where he could face my left side, addressing me as “Sweetie” and “Sweetheart.” Clearly, it never occurred to him to actually introduce himself or ascertain what I might like to be called. He asked me if he could borrow my lighter, as he’d forgotten his own. After I slid my torch lighter (freshly full of butane) down the bar to him, he asked me if my lighter even worked. His question caught me off guard, and I simply turned to look at him as I puffed my well-lit cigar.

He scrutinized the lighter and watched me for reactions. He lit his cigar and slid the lighter back to me. “Thank you, Sweetie.” By this time, I was having a visceral reaction to this man. I winced at “Sweetie” and “Sweetheart.” The more he watched me — judged me — the more I felt my eye wanting to twitch. I turned my attention back to my phone.

“So I notice you’re smoking a cigar. And what is that, bourbon or Scotch?”

“Yep. Scotch.” I said. I find that when I don’t like something, I either shut down or get extremely vocal. My preference is to shut down; I don’t want to make a scene. What I wanted to say was, “Why is any of this your concern?”

“How long have you smoked cigars?” He asked suspiciously.

“A few years now.” I didn’t want to engage in conversation, so I responded to a few text messages from friends.

“I see. So a cigar smoker and scotch drinker. What is it you like about cigars anyway?” His eyes narrowed at me, and my irritation grew.

“I just like them, hard to explain. Why do you smoke cigars?” I looked at him, I’m sure exasperation was all over my face, but he ignored my question because he wanted to continue evaluating me. I didn’t bother trying to give him a real answer; I wasn’t actually interested in continuing the conversation.

“Are you texting all of your friends? You sure do seem to like to be on your phone.” He puffed his cigar and watched me.

“I’m texting a few friends, not all. I call it being responsive.” I didn’t bother trying to hide my annoyance.

“So you would rather talk to your friends than talk to me?” What I couldn’t quite recognize is that this man actually thought he was flirting with me, that I should be impressed and grateful for his attention.

I maintained eye contact with my phone, responding to messages as they came in. I sent a text to one of my friends asking them to continue texting me, because I was being harassed by an older man.

I think “harassed” is the right word. I’ve been reduced to pet names, had my equipment insulted, and had my very presence questioned. Surely, I couldn’t be a regular, a real cigar smoker, or have a real appreciation for brown liquor. Surely, I didn’t belong in a cigar lounge.

Before he could ask another question, a couple walked up to greet him. They sat to my left, leaving one seat between us, and provided a slight barrier between myself and this man. The couple greeted me, and I exchanged pleasantries and a smile before returning my attention to my cigar and my phone. They seemed fine.

The man wasn’t finished though. He ranted to his friends about millennials, how they couldn’t hold a decent conversation and all they cared about was their technology. His friends looked at me, understanding the complaints were made about me, and then I had three people watching for my reaction. I gave none, which apparently confused them more, only fueling the man. His male friend asked me if I was okay, and I said yes. His female friend asked me if they were bothering me, and I said no. I’d just had a long day.

Friendly servers and managers walked by, and I greeted them, laughed, and talked freely with them. I could see the man redden, because it was clear I just didn’t have interest in talking to him. Two more of his friends joined him, sitting around the corner of the bar, though these two had some relationship issues going on. The man continued to watch me; I could feel his eyes on me as I enjoyed my cigar and ordered a second drink.

Another friend joined their group, a man I’d seen before. Before my scrutinizer could say anything, the man introduced himself to me, asked my name, said he remembered my face from a few different times in the lounge. We shook hands and smiled, I remembered his name, and he asked me if I minded whether he sat next to me. I told him I didn’t mind, and the man at the corner of the bar fumed while my new friend and I made easy small talk. There was even a bit of light flirting.

The new addition to the bar tried to include me in conversations that his friends were having, so I spoke up when asked (they were talking about O.J.), and he and I continued our own conversation. I didn’t want to invite his friend to begin asking me another barrage of questions.

Perhaps I was being petty, but I made sure to hug my neighbor as I called it a night. I left earlier than I’d planned, but I didn’t like the change in energy when the man came in, and I’d had enough. I spoke to everyone at my end of the bar but the man, and I really didn’t care how rude that made me look.

On my way out, I told a host and a manager (two of my friends) what transpired. Though I certainly could have said something or moved further down the bar, and they both knew the guy to be a jerk, I decided to laugh off an awkward encounter and make a mental note to keep my eye out for him in the future. Thankfully, I haven’t seen him since.

There is a way that you can talk to a woman without demeaning her, questioning her, or making her feel like she shouldn’t have knowledge or experience simply because she is female. Just because you are a man and you ask a question, you are not entitled to a response, regardless of your age or stature. We aren’t here to be your entertainment, to be studied, or to be presumed ignorant because we choose to do something that isn’t innately feminine. You aren’t owed an explanation and we don’t need your approval.

It’s none of your business, I’m not your sweetie, and if we cross paths again, I’ll tell you so. Please don’t kill my vibe.

Protect Writing Days

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Err on the side of writing. Meetings will always be there.

Revisiting Storms

As I get to know my new colleagues — my counterparts– I find that we connect well, we team together often, and we agree on management styles, productivity, and creating policy. We fight the drama together, and we keep each other supported. I like this team.

Due to past experiences, I’ve taken my time getting to know them, having heard various accounts of their personalities and supposed tactics from my predecessor. I chose to form my own opinions under the belief that one person’s experiences don’t dictate the experiences of another. This decision certainly opened opportunities for us to bond and form new understandings based on our interactions.

Over lunch this week, the team began to share about family and grief, blogging and forms of therapy and detox. Another colleague mentioned journaling using the 750 Words app, so I shared that I’ve been blogging for 13 years now. That what started off as a purely organic mind dump each day, to lighten the burden on my shoulders, became my refuge for taking down the weight in exchange for a couple hundred words.

I shared my grief gingerly, unsure how it would be received by my colleagues, but they’ve been incredibly supportive and kind; they have been open and generous. The story has so many levels, intricately woven together to recount what happened when my sister died, how my parents were affected, and what I kept to myself.

After sharing, I was proud of myself,  mostly because I didn’t cry as I recounted what happened in the accident and during trial. I didn’t cry as I explained the effect of such a loss on my family. My colleagues were the epitome of support. Asking questions where they felt comfortable, offering short-term resolutions that could prove helpful.

I’m just grateful that we could connect, that they were respectful and kind, and honestly, that they have a greater understanding of how I operate and why I do what I do for my students. This was accomplished without a breakdown, or even a tear, in a solemn conversation that felt safe and delicately handled.

I can’t complain. Missing her is always heavy, but being able to tell others about her lovely personality and all her goals brings me a great deal of comfort.

Good talk.

Inner Circles

So I’ve been facing some health challenges lately – ones completely out of my control. It’s been really scary, really eye-opening, and a looming reminder of mortality. Nothing is immediately life-threatening (that I’m aware of, anyway), but I have this sense of anxiety that I am fighting each day.

What if I’m stuck with these challenges for the rest of my life?

I’ve always been really headstrong, independent, and a big supporter for others going through their hard times. I’m finding that, of course, I could really use a friend. Unfortunately, the friends that I’ve been wanting to confide in have basically fallen off the map, and so I just end up internalizing all of the things I’m thinking and feeling. The “what ifs” and the fears, some tears and many sleepless nights. I tend to reserve these particular subjects for only the closest of friends, but now I’m questioning our true level of friendship.

If someone is always there for you when times are trying, is there any commitment to reciprocate? I don’t believe friendship is obligation, but I do believe it is mutual. Shouldn’t we support each other, or has this friendship always been about you?

I’m reminded of friendships attempted in Los Angeles and how shallow they were. I had great difficulty forging true, lasting friendships, though I lived there for 12 years. It felt like everyone was trying to “make it,” and you were only a good friend as long as you could benefit someone else’s trajectory to stardom or notoriety. I made a small handful of friends, but I met so many people over the course of those years, and it really took a toll on me that so many friendships fell flat or ended in someone trying to take advantage.

Maybe I’m just too nice, too gullible, or too naive. But when I look in the mirror, I don’t see those things. I am generous, I am kind, and I do genuinely care. But I’m no doormat, I’m not afraid to voice my opinion, and I’m definitely not afraid to walk away if I feel someone is taking me for granted. Perhaps the lesson is simply to take a look around when things are generally good to see who is still there.

You always know who needs you, but who sticks around once things stabilize? For you? Some people are in your life for only a season, and from where I’m sitting, winter is definitely over.

Work Sweet Home

I worked a twelve hour day today, but I would have stayed longer. In my quest to prove to myself that I am not a workaholic, and to feel a little more settled at my new job, working a long day doesn’t exactly help me feel like I have an appropriate work/life balance.

I had every intention of leaving at the close of business, but meetings ran long, and then students and colleagues kept popping in to say hello. My boss stopped by on her way out. People just kept coming, but it felt good. I’m slowly working my way into normalcy; I’m no longer just occupying someone else’s chair. Folks seem to be adjusting to me being there, and I’m finding that I’m breathing a little easier.

There are certainly some folks that I can see have their doubts, either given my age or their feelings about my office in general, but I’ve gained a lot of support. I’m still new enough to feel some level of trepidation and a need to prove myself, but I think that’s good for now. I’m not looking for a pat on the head; rather, I want to create a network of colleagues and resources that will help me achieve my goals.

Balancing work and personal life is certainly easier some days more than others, but I am making more time for myself. Getting out to SoulCycle or to take a yoga class, enjoying the local cigar lounge, meeting up with friends for wine and tapas, or even just having a nice glass of bourbon at home with my laptop on and a movie playing in the background. Dating, sure, that happens once in a while. I don’t see it as a high priority, but I think that’s primarily because I don’t want anything that feels forced. It will happen when the time is right.

People are always going to have their opinions and think that they could live your life, or do your job, better than you could. They think this without having your background, circumstances, vulnerabilities, or strengths. And they will come with criticisms, or wanting you to learn from their mistakes, or throw shade at whatever they perceive to be weakness. They meddle because they just can’t help themselves. They have control issues, they can’t handle whatever their own problems are so they project on you, or they see you as a threat.

At the end of the day, so what? No one can live your life but you.

Mindfulness

I’ve been chomping at the bit to blog the last two weeks, but (as you may have noticed), my site has been undergoing some changes. I’m officially self-hosting my domain (as opposed to having my blog hosted by WordPress. The transfer process took longer than I anticipated, but I’m finally master of my own site, and I’m excited to explore some of that potential.

I read a quote yesterday that stuck with me:

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” ~Thich Nat Hanh

I’ve been thinking a lot about mindset lately, about making sure I’m in the right headspace when it comes to work, health, body. About being unapologetically, 100% me.

It’s not that I’m afraid to show who I am, insecurities and all. It’s more that I’m fighting with having these insecurities. I see some of them as silly, but here they are. They’re in my thoughts every day. And I’m working on many of them, but we are in this age and time now, where we want such instant results with everything. The truth is, none of these insecurities developed overnight.

There are things that I’ve found hard to accept over the last decade. Physical changes, professional challenges, loss, differences among friends. And I know that experiences help to shape who you are, circumstances can humbling, the people you cross paths with can influence you. But through all of this, I’ve been fighting with acceptance.

I let some really strong words from other people influence how I saw myself and my abilities, and I accepted for a long time that they were right. That all I amounted to were what they said. That they said what they did as some sort of “tough love” or “I’m your friend so I’ll tell you the real truth” kind of intention.

I never for a second questioned the people making the statements or their motives. Instead, I believed them. Blindly. Like a lost puppy. And I have to own that; it was my mistake to think their opinion mattered more than my own. That I could know better than others I held in such high esteem.

As I work on this novel, and I push her through some uncomfortable realities, I realize that I’m facing them myself. A part of my block is that I need to get to the other side of the tunnel as much as she does. I have to accept me for what I am now, and not who I can be, who I think I should be, or who anyone else believes me to be. I can strive to be more, try harder, and improve, but I can’t deny present time.

Sometimes, I think we worry so much about the future that we never really pay attention to right now. Where are we right now? Who are we right now? What can we be grateful for in this moment? When I saw “we,” I guess I’m talking about myself.

Anyway, one of my resolutions this year is to be more present, take more ownership, and really affect the change that I want to see in myself. If nothing else about me changes, and I’m in a vacuum exactly as I am now for the rest of my life, I am good with me right now. It’s taken a lot for me to be able to say that.

Do I see areas where I believe I can improve? Absolutely. But I’m accepting who I am, where I am, how I am. It’s all a testament of where I’ve been, what I’ve been through, and how I’ve handled myself. I can’t be mad at that, and I won’t apologize for being me.

I actually think I’m inherently good, kind, and generous to others, though often to a fault. I need to be more generous to myself, but I’m working on that. I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish so far, and I feel like there are some personal accomplishments that I’m not far from reaching. I’ll keep plugging along, but I’m going to stop and take breaths to enjoy moments as they happen.

New Year, New Opportunity

Are you one of those people that puts everyone ahead of yourself? I am, but I’m finding that to be a blessing and a curse.

I’m one of those people that would give my last to make sure everyone I care about is taken care of, even if it’s to my detriment. I want the people I love to be happy, to have what they need, and to feel like they’re progressing. I always figured that I would take care of me when everyone else was covered.

Slowly, I’ve come to the realization that needs are constant. Everyone always needs SOMEthing. And that’s not a negative, per se. It’s truth. At some point, we have to prioritize these needs, and I had to admit (to myself) that I can’t help you if I’m not helping myself. I can’t provide for you and yours, and subsequently leave myself in a position where I’m not cared for.

More often than not, I’ve found that some of the outreached hands will take and just continue taking, but they never offer anything back. They never reach back to try to lift me up when I’m struggling, nor do they try to provide for me when I’m in need. And I’m not saying everyone is in the same position to give in the same way or to the same magnitude, but you can always give SOMEthing. When you can’t give financially or tangibly, give encouragement, give kindness, give acknowledgement. Give from your heart.

In a nutshell, give a shit about someone other than yourself and your interests.

This year, I’m moving forward with an understanding that I’m not anyone else’s priority, especially if I’m not my own. I need to make sure I’m taken care of BEFORE I try to help everyone else.

BEFORE I give my last, I need to make sure I have a contingency. I can’t save anything for future or for emergency if I give everything away. There’s no rainy day fund. There’s no savings, because I exhausted it trying to help.

I find a joy in cooking and feeding others, but cared little about doing that for myself. About carving out that “me time” or making sure that I was getting what I needed emotionally, physically, spiritually, financially, or intellectually.

This year is my opportunity to begin righting some of those wrongs. And it’s not about regrets, life is about learning and progress.

How will your priorities change in 2014?

Taking Advantage

I’m no Mother Teresa, but I would say that I am generous with those that I care about.  I genuinely care for the well-being of those around me, and it matters to me that the people I love have what they need to get by.

That being said, I’m not stupid, nor am I a doormat.  My generosity and kindness should not be mistaken for weakness or vulnerability.  Attempts to take advantage or exploit are hardly going unnoticed.  But I think this is the point where people sometimes get a little lost.

Often, when people realize that someone is taking them for granted, they get down on themselves.  Maybe it cracks their confidence, or maybe it makes them feel like a prize idiot.  Damn that.  Don’t let someone make you feel bad for being who you are.  Remember that what you did came from a good place.  There’s no sense in feeling bad for doing something good.

People are taken for granted all the time.  Rather than let what happened defeat you or eat away at your will and drive, let it fuel you.  Use that experience as motivation, and most of all, learn from it.  At the end of the day, if you’re not making the most of your life, you’re giving in to the negative energy that came to steal away your livelihood.

I am a true believer that you get what you put out into the universe.  Call it Karma, call it an eye for an eye, Yin and Yang, call it comeuppance.  I don’t have to do or say anything, try to get even, yell, or even be angry.  I feel sorry for anyone that would take advantage, because it says something about where they are in their life — maybe they’re going through something.  And I forgive.  There’s no use in hanging onto negativity; it’s just a waste of energy that could be put to better use.

I won’t change who I am or how I treat people.  I won’t stop caring, because that’s now how I operate.  But I will keep my distance.

I’ll Call You

This three word phrase is almost as dreadful as the four word phrase “we need to talk.”  Why do people even utter the words?  We all know what it really means, having decoded the line the first time it was used:

They’re not really going to call.

I guess I always wonder what the point is in lying?  Please don’t worry about sparing my feelings — I’d rather you be up front with me.  If you’re not interested, want to pursue other prospects, the timing is wrong, whatever the case may be… just say it.

And when did this whole “let me spare your feelings” thing start?  When did people stop being straight with each other?  Were people EVER straight with each other?  If you’re not really going to call, and you’re never going to see her again, what is the point in trying to let her down easy?  Why try to gently sever the ties, only to risk her calling you anyway to figure out what happened, why you haven’t called?

In all honesty, I think that you earn so much more respect when you can be up front.  No one’s asking you to be lovey dovey here; all I’m saying is don’t say you’re going to do something if you really aren’t going to.  There’s no good that can come from creating an expectation that you have no intention of meeting.  Just let her know what it is and walk.  She won’t break into a million pieces — women are stronger than you think.

Seriously, I would say it to you…

Grow a pair.

Potential Lost

And so it started, so it ended.  Quickly.  It was over so quickly, and I didn’t even really get a chance to understand or know what was happening.  Rather, the silence of one meant the end of the unit and confusion to the other. 

Obviously I know that either things would work out or they wouldn’t, but perhaps I gave him too much credit.  It’s not that it didn’t work out that upsets me, it’s HOW it didn’t work out.  Only in Los Angeles have I had someone, seemingly so into me, just choose to fall off the face of the earth.  All of a sudden there’s no response to a message, no call backs, no communication at all.  And it hurt, because I think I was ready for serious — exactly what he’d said he was looking for. 

I sent a text to him after a week of silence on his part, expressing how I felt, how much I’d liked him, and how I would have hoped he could at least speak to me.  That I’d deserved a goodbye.  It was the closure I needed to move on.  And another week of silence went by.  I assumed everything was over and that he’d chosen to judge me because, though we’re both Christian, his particular denomination isn’t mine.  I wasn’t closed off to his, or even in a mode of thought that one of us had to change, but apparently me not being a specific denomination, primed and ready, is a dealbreaker.  I get it, but I don’t.  If our core values are the exact same, and I’m accepting you and what you believe at face value, and who knows, maybe I’m even open to agreeing with some of your values once I learn more about them, what is the problem?  What I don’t like is being judged for the one thing that someone else doesn’t want to be judged for. 

But then something happened that was so unexpected.  After two weeks of silence, I received a friend request on Facebook.  Still silent — still no message — but I supposed you could call it a communication.  But what does that really mean?  Does that mean “let’s just be friends” without having to say it?  Does that mean “I’m sorry?”  Does that mean “I like you, but I’m just not ready for serious after all?”  All I knew was that I expected a message to follow this addition.  I added him thinking that, surely, he would not remain silent.  But he did.

I allowed us to be “friends” for about 24 hours, and then I just couldn’t deal with all of the unknowns.  I deserved better.  I deserved an explanation.  How are we so close, cutesy, kissy, handholding and all, and then he won’t speak to me again?  We never crossed the ultimate line, and he seemed so happy when I last saw him.  All smiles, our breath marking the cold air as we realized it was a random 42 degree morning. 

In a fit of self-righteous indignation, I unfriended him.  And I messaged him to tell him so.  We can’t go from where we were, to silence, to unspeaking Facebook friends.  Far too much transition in two weeks, and with no explanation for what ever happened to cause our demise.  It’s not that I’m against being friends, but why start out at friends if you’re going to give the other the silent treatment?

I don’t regret the decision, nor do I regret the message I sent following.  I really laid out there how I felt; that I felt blamed and judged and at fault just for being who I am — a person that I think deep down he actually really likes.  How I was willing to accept him as he was, and how I had hoped that this was something more than the trivial nonsense I’ve dealt with the last couple years.  How I could be friends, if that’s ultimately what he wanted, but that I couldn’t feign it if he didn’t even want to speak to me.  How all I really wanted was for him to speak to me.  And then I promised not to send him any more ranting messages.  After all, what is there left to say if he remains silent?

I get a sinking feeling that he was what I was looking for, and it makes me miss him, and I hate that.  I hate that I can’t just turn all of this off, because he doesn’t seem to want it.  He never bothered to see if maybe the things we were looking for actually lined up.  He just assumed they didn’t and moved on.  And while he may be the one that loses out (as most of my female friends would quickly say his choice creates his loss), this one feels like the one who got away.

He has this calm about him that I found so comforting.  And I loved how much he could make me smile.  But, I guess at least for now, it’s time to say goodbye to the butterflies.