Fire Away

Julia Allison addresses her detractors. 

I’m not quite sure how other participants on documentary series (as the Powers That Be call what the rest of us hoi polloi know as “reality shows”) feel about watching themselves live out tiny fractions of our life experiences in front of an audience, but I know how I feel: mortified.

This mortification comes in waves. Some episodes, some moments, are more or less mortifying than others.  Last week, in Episode 2, I throw myself at a tall drink of water. Mortification (Scale of 1 to 10): 4

This week... and my stomach churns just thinking about it... the overall level was up there at a 10.  Individually, here’s how I’d break it down:

First, we see me at coffee with my manager Steven, in which a work discussion about my columns for ELLE was pre-empted by an email I had just received by the gossip column, "Page Six," accusing me of “stalking” my ex-boyfriend, Jack. As you can tell, the subject of Jack -- and anything surrounding it -- is still deeply painful to me, s ... well... I just found it horrible to watch. What you didn’t see on camera -- because the cameras were inside -- was me sobbing hysterically in my car right before I was to walk into that cafe, because I had to CALL MY EX in Guam (where he is stationed, as a Naval helicopter pilot) and connect him to the reporter to inform her it wasn’t true. He did, and they killed the story, but he doesn’t like gossip reporters and he was pissed that he had to do that.At the time, I was desperately (key word: desperately) trying to have an amicable friendship with this man I had loved so much, and this was the LAST experience I wanted him to have of me before he deployed just seven days later. What I felt it said to him (and perhaps what he felt, too): if we maintain a friendship -- which was very important to me (because I would feel like a failure if we didn’t) -- we’ll always have to be dealing with this nonsense: squelching rumors, dealing with reporters, all of the things he hates.  I was holding up a portrait of his worst nightmare. It was HUMILIATING. When I spoke with Jack two days ago, and told him about this portion of the episode, I was just as nervous as when I called him that day back in December with the reporter. His life is bigger than this crap -- he’s actually out there (just back from a seven month deployment) fighting for our country, and he doesn’t deserve to have to deal with questions about his past relationship. We ended our conversation amicably, but I feel deeply uncomfortable that he’ll be affected by my mentioning this on the show. I should have thought of that when I walked into that coffee shop. But I didn’t.  

That’s the problem inherent in reality shows: if you’re a conscientious human being, you try to take into account everyone’s feelings (“Should I say this, even if it’s what I’m going through, knowing that a mere mention of it will drag this person into a situation he might not want?”), and then you’re accused of not being authentic -- when really you’re trying to protect someone. So you start being honest and authentic -- and then people accuse you of NOT protecting the people you love or loved. It can be a horrible catch-22, and you just hope and pray that your loved ones -- whether they be your family or your friends or your exes -- understand your intentions, understand that you were doing the best you could with the emotional resources you had at the time.

I suppose that’s really all any of us can do.

So from there we move to this bike date with William. Now, a few things on this:

1) I look like a drunk cowboy riding a bike!

2) I will never again be filmed on a bike.

3) Have I mention that I look stupid while biking?On the date itself: William -- who is actually a sweetheart -- he sent me a congratulatory basket of gluten-free goodies from Healthy Surprise (HealthySurprise.com) just two weeks ago -- looks like he hates me. Fun!  He didn’t, to the best of my knowledge, hate me, although... yeah, it doesn’t really look like there’s much “chemistry” on this first date. This is where I have to say that I really enjoyed the disconnect between what I was experiencing (a massive rush of dopamine due to his intelligence and manly, tall, attractive appearance) and what actually happened: he sort of grilled me in an uncomfortable manner!

What I also realized, which I address in this week's ELLE Guinea Pig of Love column “Meet My Love Coach” is that I do have a dating “schtick” that holds me back from actually connecting with the young man on the other side of that table. I developed this schtick, as many of us do, in a not-entirely-misguided attempt protect myself from being hurt. Schticks are intended to keep others at arm’s length. If you can’t get to know me, you can’t reject me, right?  Or at least you can’t reject me for ME. Stopping those pre-programmed defense mechanisms was f---ing HARD. No more laughing because I was nervous. No more rapid fire interrogation.  No more hiding behind stock stories.

Dating well is the act of being vulnerable -- and there are many, many reasons I didn’t want to be vulnerable. I’ve had my heart pulverized in the past. After 15 years of repeatedly falling in love, only to watch it fall apart, my heart slowly rendered numb by the scar tissue, I had become a cynic.

So being vulnerable on a date felt incredibly unsafe. I didn’t want to go there. Why? To be hurt again? But as Annie Lalla (AnnieLalla.com), my love coach (yeah, that’s right, I have a love coach!!) says, when I ask her forlornly if I’ll ever recover from the insidious disease of disappointment, “Cynics are simply failed idealists. All cynics started out as romantics, but their dreams got bashed against the sidewalk.  So they give up, they say ‘F--- it, it’s never going to work. I’ll never find true love.’ But inside every cynic is this tiny burning ember of a romantic ideal. They’re just too terrified to reopen that dream.”And here is where the episode gets really painful for me. I’ve been hurt, not just by men, but by (mostly anonymous) commenters and bloggers. I didn’t think this episode fully captured the pain I’ve felt at their hands, but let’s put it this way: it hasn’t been pleasant. I wish we had talked about how I’ve heard that I’m fat, ugly, old, how my fingers are sausages and how my legs are tree stumps and how my face is deformed. How I look “like a dude” in person and how I am a failure of a woman and no man will want me because I can’t cook. (For the record, I make awesome omelets.  So. THERE.) Other reasons men won’t want me, according to these people: I am crazy, psychotic, a liar, my teeth are yellow, I am a fame whore, I am fat, I am a terrible writer, I am desperate loser whose ass looks, as they say, like a raft (that’s the only insult I don’t quite get... I think my giant ass looks more like... a giant ass.) Have I mentioned the fat comments enough yet? Yes, fat fat fat fat fat. And ugly! I am also, according to them, a terrible dog mother (they do not like it when I leave my dog with a responsible friend to travel, and then they don’t like it when I travel WITH my dog.  Apparently dog owners must only stay at home with their dogs 100% of the time), my friends all hate me and my family pities me (now, that last one might be 30% true). And, once again, I am fat and ugly.

I could go on, but I’m bored and I’m guessing you are too. What’s the deal behind this? I have lots of theories, but the deeper root in this: the deal behind this hate site -- behind any of the anger and angst we find directed at us throughout our lives -- is pain. Pain on my part, pain on theirs. I never felt good enough, growing up.  I never felt pretty enough. I would look in the mirror and hate my own face. I never felt popular. I felt like a fraud. I just wanted to be loved.

And I have played out that dynamic in my adult life. That’s what we all do with unhealed wounds. We play them out until we either go crazy or we get help.  The good news?  I finally got help. But it’s a process.  You don’t just heal decades old wounds in one day. The bad news?  A hell of a lot of other people are walking around wounded, too.If you’re one of them, like me, be kind to yourself today. And tomorrow. And the next day. And realize that we’re all going through this, playing out our issues and our insecurities in our relationships and our jobs and our families and the situations in which we find ourselves. Be kind to yourself and be kind to the people around you. They’re hurting too.

I know that’s a bit sappy at the end. I know. But this is what pain does. It demolishes you, and you rebuild. And when you rebuild you decide to add moats and drawbridges and cannons on every portico. And then you find that no one can reach you there. You’re lonely as hell. So you start to slowly, slowly, lay down your weapons and emerge from your fortress, blinking in the sun, terrified. You realize that everyone else built a fortress too, and that they’re lobbing their pain-filled cannonballs at you from theirs. And you have to make a decision -- are you going retreat to your fortress?  Or are you going to stand there, bravely owning your vulnerability?

I choose to stand here.

Fire away.

Breakdown Breakthrough

Julia Allison think Andrew did the right thing being honest with her.

Well, hello there! Welcome to the penultimate episode of this first season of Miss Advised. Only one week left until the finale in which... Oh, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, shall we? This episode finds us back at my house in Marina del Rey surrounded by my ELLE editor (Keith) and a lovely ELLE photographer who can’t stop laughing at my ridiculous bedroom/closet/home/life. Sigh.

Photo shoots with new photographers make me self-conscious as it is, but to have one conducted by ELLE (in my own home, which tends to veer toward the eccentric) was beyond nerve-wracking. My mother was in town at the time, and I felt like she wouldn’t be thrilled with the concept of a photoshoot (She thinks they are “frivolous” and “self-indulgent” -- even though the shoot was my editor Keith’s idea). My nerves stemmed from that, along with anxiety thanks to a confluence of stresses, most notably my blocked writing. So much so that I was breaking out and stress eating. Not exactly what you want prior to a photo shoot.

Plus, Keith sort of...rolled his eyes at my closet. It’s not often you have your boss in your closet, but when you do, you definitely don’t want him to react like that. Especially if he works at a prominent fashion magazine. You start wondering if you just aren’t cool enough to exist, let alone write for said magazine. In a misguided attempt at "cool," the first outfit I tried on for the photo-shoot was this Rachel Zoe maxi skirt in blue (not pink!), which I paired with a simple white tee. It was a look that felt a lot more hip than I actually am. Ironically dressing that way made me uncomfortable. It just didn’t feel ME. But when I put on a vintage pink dress and sat (upon Keith’s request) in a pile of pink tulle on my bed, tiara in my hair, somehow I felt like myself again.

My editor chastised me about my taste (both in fashion and in home decor), but at the end of the day, I sleep in my bedroom every night, and I have to live with myself. Keith doesn’t! I figure it’s more important I like my own space than if anyone else does. Besides, it’s a great litmus test. If something as silly as a pink bedroom or a proclivity toward occasionally wearing frothy dresses scares a guy away, then I’m not convinced he was worth the trouble in the first place!I hope every woman realizes this: you don’t have to smooth away all your “eccentric” personality traits to find the right man. If he’s right for you, he’ll love you FOR those eccentricities, as long as you’re not counting “being a total bitch” amongst them.

As for the writer’s block I discussed with Keith: I DID eventually get through it, although it took some serious work with therapists regarding my anxiety and self-esteem issues. So far, I’ve published seven columns on ELLE.com (it will be eight by the end of the Guinea Pig of Love series, next week) each written at 2,000 words (they ended up getting edited down to 1,000 or so). You can read them all here. For someone who has been as tortured by writing as I have recently, getting through these is a victory for me. I know it could always come back, but at least I’ve won the battle. Next up: trying to win the war!

Ah, and now for the slightly more depressing portion of this episode -- my ill-advised (if you will) trip to San Francisco to see Mister Andrew. So, about Andrew. Sigh. I don’t know where to begin, but suffice it to say that although it seemed that trip was fast, it really wasn’t. Since the first “PROMMM!” date, we had spent time together, including weekend trips. We talked frequently on the phone and sent zillions of texts and emails. He played me music on his guitar and cooked dinner. I had met his friends and he had met mine. It was time to have that talk. You know, the dreaded “where is this going?” talk. I’m not a huge fan of those talks, but things were getting (as Andrew put it during that conversation) “to that depth” where we needed to discuss it. But Andrew did me a favor, and as much as it hurt at the time, for that I thank him. He didn’t feel that he could fall in love with me, and while that wasn’t what I wanted to hear then, it certainly was the right thing for him to say, because it was true. What if he had led me on, allowing me to develop deeper and deeper feelings that he didn’t reciprocate? That would have been brutal and kept me from being able to heal and move on to find someone who COULD fall in love with me. Andrew is a good man, and he couldn’t do that.

I cried quite a bit when Andrew broke up with me. (Oh, let’s be honest, when Andrew dumped me.) But it wasn’t just over Andrew. I started crying over Andrew and segued into crying over every guy who had EVER dumped me, and then from there into every relationship that hadn’t worked out, and from THERE into a future filled with men who would dump me and relationships that wouldn’t work out. It was quite a cry I had, and poor Andrew sat there rubbing my back, wondering what the hell was going on. Had he accidentally killed my puppy? No, I explained to him later. This is simply how women grieve (some women...sometimes). We stack all of these terrible things on top of one another, one after the other after the other, until it feels like our romantic lives are doomed, like we won’t ever succeed, like we won’t ever be loved. It was as if everything I’ve ever feared I looked at and felt completely and totally throughout my body. I grieved for every end I’ve ever had.

And here’s the strange part -- after I sobbed for about half an hour (and drunk half a bottle of champagne), I felt inexplicably better. Like I had gotten it out of my system. It wasn’t pleasant, but it was certainly cathartic. I had been holding in so much pain, so much fear, so much disappointment and regret over my love life, and Andrew was pretty much the last straw to a mini-breakdown. A breakdown I needed to have, as it turns out, to have a breakthrough.What breakthrough, you ask?

Oh, about that. Well, you’ll just have to wait until the season finale for that!



P.S. That slap? That was just a joke. Even in moments of sadness and disappointment we can (and should) laugh.

WHERE YOU CAN FIND ME ONLINE (if you want to read more!)

Me: @JuliaAllison / Facebook.com/JuliaAllison / www.JuliaAllison.com / JA@JuliaAllison.com: email me!

 

My roommate, JP: @JuliaPriceMusic / YouTube.com/JuliaMusic1 / Facebook.com/juliapricemusic / www.JuliaPriceMusic.com