I seem to have little advice for people recently about their relationships. Not that I'm a therapist, I'm a writer, just for the record. But the two do seem to go hand in hand the way I do it, the way I live and thrive. It is perfect. I don't need to go back to school or get a degree to do what I do. It is a new designation: the Blogger Therapist. It sounds more modern than Armchair Therapist.
But my well seems to have run dry. The best I can muster when friends tell me of difficulties with boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses is to nod my head in sympathy.
"Relationships are hard..." I say. I think all the listening and talking I've done, such an amount, Eli tells me, that I, not the GERD, caused myself to go hoarse, has pointed out the hard work inherent in making any relationship work, in making really anything work. I'll say it outright: Yes, you have to try.
I gave a gold star the other day to a friend who has been with her girlfriend for a year, a recent record. She apprises me of their status when I see her. They moved in together, then her girlfriend moved out, then, as of the present apprisal, she has moved back in, this time seeming to make a fuller commitment to the arrangement. Cool. Gold star for efforts expended, for working on it.
When I told my friend I had a blog about the gold stars, about relationships and efforts, she took out her girlfriend's card and, smiling, crossed out her information, replacing it with her own.
I laughed. "Well, you're officially a couple now: you've subsumed her identity..."
"That's right," she said.
Of course, it was a joke. But there is some aspect of ourself we have to give up in order for the greater good of making a relationship work. If everyone just thought exactly about themself, it would be a rare coupling that would survive. That's the hard part. That's the part that doesn't necessarily come naturally, that stopping and thinking about what we say or do before simply reacting how exactly we might feel like reacting. I am very bad at this. Ask my husband...
I have a wonderful theory that he reminds me of often, that we should all be able to fully express ourselves all the time. And I do believe in personal expression. But, like parenting, free expression takes precision, it has to be used smartly, wisely, not in absolutely every case of expression, especially if you're someone who expresses a lot. You are bound to go awry if you're constantly expressing, it's just the odds of it.
A friend of mine laughed when I said out loud what I was thinking to a neighbor once and she looked at me, offended. I hadn't meant to offend. I just hadn't played out the scenario in my head. I spoke too soon. My friend looked at me and, straight up, told me, "that's why all your neighbors hate you..."
Wow. I have thought of this often and I suppose many of my neighbors might in fact hate me. More likely, 'cause hate takes a lot of effort, if they have been offended at something I've said, some Blogger Therapy I've offered unsolicited, they'd probably just rather avoid me. I'm trying to offend less, which means I spend more time in front of my computer, less time with others. I have not mastered the art of limiting my self-expression while still maintaining high levels of free-association, which I am a big fan of.
Take an incident at a party the other day. I walked out onto my friend's crowded deck to get a beer from their keg (I never miss a keg party, never have been able to resist) and I smelled something divine as I leaned in to kiss a guy I've met a few times before with the host and hostess.
"Ummm..." I said. "Are you wearing cologne? It's awesome!" At first, I ignored the twitters from the guys around me. I went on. "You know, I don't know why more guys I know don't wear cologne, I love it..."
Now, the five or so guys surrounding the cologne-wearer in question had begun to full-on belly laugh and the cologne wearer to blush. Wow. Maybe it was the keg, but I was right back in college, drunk boys, albeit not all frat boys, laughing at something I'd said fully in earnest, after a few too many beers. Without a second thought, I put up my hand, put an end to the seemingly awkward conversational topic, and moved inside, without even a refill.
My husband came in to reassure me that I had not offended, but hadn't I? Apparently, people get embarrassed about being singled out for their cologne, even if it's offered with fully positive intent.
Another party-goer and I, chatting about the incident, connected over what cologne had meant to us as teenage girls, memories of Drakkar Noir and Polo that have, over time, become inextricably linked to our sexual awakening. As I spoke, it occurred to me. Oops. That's why mention of cologne might be awkward...maybe it is now seen as an overtly sexual or at least trying-to-attract trait men are supposed to pretend not to feel? Gold star to the wearer, then, for his boldness. I always reward boldness. And I'll give myself and anyone else I see doing it a gold star for giving compliments, whatever the price.
As I read earlier today in Dorothy Allison's brave "Two or Three Things I Know for Sure," our beauty can only come when we appreciate the beauty of others. Or, as it turns out, their yummy smell.