A Long Talk with a Good Stranger

If you’ve read between the lines of my past couple of articles, you’ve probably gathered I’ve hit a bit of a rough patch. I’m broken hearted. At first, destroyed, then just devastated, now simply hurt. Notice I say that I hurt, not that “he hurt me”. It is how I am reacting to the situation, how I choose to react, there is no blame, just a feeling, and one that will pass, will heal. I’m doing much better, now. I didn’t cry once yesterday. Or so far, today. And before I go any further, let me be clear, what happened was destined to happen. I guess. It is what it is and I am fine. I still do, and always will, love and respect the man I lost. We have just taken things back to where we started from; friendship. Hurt and hate do not equate. And for this, I am incredibly grateful. I have nothing but good words and happy thoughts about all we shared and about the friendship that lies ahead. Cool. But it has been quiet, no talk, no exchange. In weeks, or has it only been a week? Seems an eternity.

When things get rough, though, I usually retreat a bit, meditate more, run more, sleep more, eat more conscientiously and drink less beer and more water. That things all unraveled during three consecutive weeks of intense travel and stressful work assignments prevented me from my self-prescribed therapy.  So, I unplugged. Traveling, I couldn’t eat as healthy as I should, run outdoors, sleep nearly enough, meditate quietly, or even think clearly, so retreating, unplugging, was my only recourse.

In unplugging, I did pry myself away from social media for a whole week, until I was certain I wouldn’t say something regrettable or publicize an invitation to my pity party, spurring a potential online flash mob of regret. I unplugged. I do this in times of hurt, I either unplug by removing myself from public view, or I unplug from you, if you happen to be the party I need to retreat from, for healing. Unplugging can be subtle, like just not being available, or more substantial; “unfriending” or maybe even “blocking” on social media, or removing conversations and contact information from my devices, not to be hurtful, but to be safe. I need time to reason and there is that period of unreasonableness where I may say something I don’t mean. I just unplug for a bit, regain perspective, and plug back in (unblock, refriend, restore contact information). It’s a “me problem”, and that’s how I deal.

In times of difficulty, we often seek solace in long conversations with good friends, our confidants, the people we trust will listen compassionately and advise with exactly what we want to hear! Or better, yet, sound advice. Cross country travel, long work hours and time zone differences hinder such luxuries. Fortunately, I was able to resort to an equally nourishing and enriching option, on more than one occasion; a long talk with a good stranger.

I am a frequent flier, and am, in fact, somewhere 30,000 feet over Middle America just now. I am, sometimes, a jaded, cynical, traveler. I expect everyone to know and adhere to the unwritten code of conduct aboard an airplane or seated in an airport bar; head down, gaze affixed on some device, or, eyes closed, feigning sleep, means “do not disturb”, and I hang this sign out more often than not. Being out of communication with friends, family, and the man I lost, caused me, perhaps, to lower that sign a little. Or maybe I looked ragged and torn and on the verge of something drastic and people sought to intervene. Whatever the cause, I’ve had some of the deepest, richest, most meaningful, soul-baring conversations I’ve ever had. And with complete strangers. And I haven’t just been on the telling side, I’ve listened, and advised, like the best of friends would. It has been so enriching, so nourishing. I’ve learned a lot, about myself, and others, too.

An Effort to Evolve

A U.S. Marine Corps reservist and young father headed to Chicago on a quick, connecting flight from Minneapolis, a quiet, well-spoken gentleman from Amsterdam at a sushi bar in O’Hare, we spoke of politics and religion, of culture and relationships, of career, and love, an angry, young, middle-eastern traveler and a compassionate, elderly Christian man, engrossed in nurturing and consoling conversation with each other, an exuberant, young Mormon man, just finishing his two-year mission and headed home, a woman near my age, and a kindred spirit, on a long, late, flight home, a unique and wonderful, very married man, brimming with intelligence and witty conversation, on a very long flight home, a recovering cashier at a dollar store, formerly a strong and independent business woman, who I knew was unique with her use of the word “antiquated” in an exchange with the customer before me, a brief and lively conversation with an distinguished older man in the Whole Foods beer aisle; everywhere I turn, another interesting person, another great conversation, a long, long talk with a good stranger.

Again, I’ll find myself, this week, three-thousand miles from home, alone in a hotel room, with only my thoughts, social media, an occasional text or Facebook notification, and the idea of an article to share, to prevent me from the full realization of my aloneness. During the day, with work and my clients and business lunches with familiar, client associates, I am fine. It is in the quiet nights in my room that I am reminded of my solitude and I can hardly wait for my next long, flight home or chance meeting in a restaurant, and, hopefully, a long talk with a good stranger.

 

Swipe Left

Life evolves, sometimes in ways you, perhaps, sort of expected, but certainly didn’t want. I am officially “single”. I got the “I love you but I’m not in love with you” break up line. I can’t argue with that, partly because I’m not even really clear what it means. It sounds like an excuse, but I don’t know, and if it is an excuse, then there is a real reason he doesn’t want to share, so, it’s not in my control. After some tears, some thought, and a little bit of a pity party, I decided I’d tell myself what I’d tell any friend going through the same thing; change happens, change is good, change causes growth, so evolve.

I’ve never really been “single” before. Really. I’ve always seemed to move from one relationship to another, from junior high school on, with only brief lapses in between. The only time I was not in a relationship for a period was for the first couple of years after leaving my husband. But a persistent friend become the love of my life, who, last week, told me he loved me but was no longer IN love with me. Partly because I’m seeking distraction, and because this whole “single” thing is a novel circumstance, I’ve decided to embrace my newfound status and to experience it fully. I’m not necessarily looking for love or marriage and definitely not hook-ups, but I am looking for new friends, interesting people to do interesting things with, and if, after some time, friendship evolves into something more, great. I believe in love, I believe in lasting love, and I may be so naïve as to believe in soulmates, and none of those things will ever find me sitting at home moping around.

I have lots of single lady friends. Some have profiles on online dating sites, others do not. I always thought it sounded dreadful and I’m not quite ready for all that business. My son and his friends have played around with a smartphone app called “Tinder”, and one of my very happily single friends swears it’s a ton of fun for meeting people, whether for dating, or friendship, or, probably in her case, especially, hook-ups. I’m always “app-curious”, so, I have downloaded it, installed it, logged on and am thoroughly enjoying it! Holy crap!

The way it all works; you set up some parameters, called “discovery preferences”, which consist of age ranges, gender preferences, and distances you are willing to consider in a “match”. Your pictures come over from your Facebook profile and you can edit, reorganize, reorder and even add or delete them as you see fit. You write a bit about yourself in the (limited) space provided. It takes a lot of space for me to express myself, especially on the topic of “myself”. I managed.

The next step is to hit the little “flame” icon, at which point you are presented with a picture of a person with a first name and an age. Beneath that is an orange “X” and a green heart. Also a little “i” for more information. No one uses the little “i” for more information, or the orange “X”. If you want to see more information, you “swipe right”, at which point you can see additional pictures, if available, and read anything they may have posted. If you don’t wish to proceed beyond the initial photo, you “swipe left”, which dismisses, forever, that person as a potential “match”. If you like what you see, you tap the little green heart. Meanwhile, other people are looking at your profile and are either swiping left, or right, and maybe even hitting the little green heart. If you have tapped each other’s little green heart, you are a “match” and you’re both sent a notification screen with your profile pictures, side by side, and a banner reading “It’s a Match!”. You’re supposed to begin an in application text conversation shortly thereafter. That’s how it all works. It’s quite fun, and a real ego boost, let me tell you. I have to keep my phone plugged in at all times because it keeps buzzing and vibrating and chiming for new matches and new messages. I may have to quit my job just to manage all of this! In twenty-four hours, I have twenty-six matches and twenty some ongoing conversations with men who’s little green heart I tapped! So, yah, men I thought were good looking and who actually wrote something, using fairly good speech, grammar, spelling and punctuation. Or who hired someone else to write their one paragraph bio. Either way, an effort was made and I was duly impressed enough to tap his little green heart!

An Effort to Evolve

I have definitely swiped left, more than right, though. Again, I’m not desperate, just exploring this great big, new, world called “single”. On occasion, I have swiped left, intending to swipe right, and, as far as I know, there is no way to undo that action. So sad, a little green heart, potentially, lost and gone, forever. I have always had a propensity for getting rights and lefts mixed up when acting hastily, or after a glass of wine. When asked for directions, I will often use my right and left hand in narration, and sometimes even turn myself right or left, as I envision the directions I’m giving. Just to be certain I don’t misdirect anyone!

An Effort to Evolve

So, I’m not really here to talk about my status, or break ups, or single life, or my ego, or little green hearts. I’m here to talk about “swiping left”. What if we were able to look objectively at things in our life and either swipe right to keep them, or swipe left to make them go away forever? Wouldn’t that be cool? “I’m not happy with my current job”. Swipe left. “I’m unhappy with my poor health”. Swipe left. “I am uncomfortably overweight and I know it’s going to impact my long term health, longevity and quality of life”. Swipe left. “I’m dissatisfied with my financial situation”. Swipe left. “My relationship isn’t as fulfilling as it once was”. Swipe left.

We DO have that power, the power to “swipe left” and make things that aren’t working for us change. Okay, truth, the result isn’t as immediate as on the Tinder app, but the action is. The first step in making the changes in your life you desire is the decision to do so. There! That’s your “swipe left”! When you take a moment to look objectively at your life, versus your dreams, hopes, and desires, identify those things you want to change and make the decision to do something about it and, more importantly, make the decision to begin immediately! Swipe left! Swipe right! Little green heart!

 

An Effort to Evolve