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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.