Thursday, June 26, 2008

When the Heart Breaks

Heartbreak again. I know it so well, and it never fails to knock me to my knees like a sucker punch. Standing at the bus stop, walking in circles to keep myself from collapse, hoping against hope that the person who could take that pain away might appear out of the blue, seeing him in a car parked on the street, in a color, in a pair of stranger’s sunglasses, barely bothering to hold back the tears, I vaguely wonder what the other girl waiting there is thinking. I wonder what her heartbreak has been. On the bus, I wonder what sorrows the other passengers have seen. The woman in her wheelchair, talking softly to her companion; the teenaged couple – she black, he white – huddled with heads together, her eyes darting everywhere but never focusing on him; the older people who have probably loved and lost more than I could ever imagine; the young girl arguing with her mom on her cell phone.

Something funny happens when my heart breaks. I noticed it the last few times I’ve felt like this, and maybe – hopefully - it means that all my struggles in love haven’t been in vain. It’s this: when my heart breaks, just when I think I can’t take the pain anymore, it breaks further – and opens up. I let go, I feel warmth in my solar plexus, and I can see everything in the eyes of the people around me. The joy, the pain, the struggle, the universal human wish to be really, truly, at home and at peace.

When my heart breaks, I feel empathy where there was antipathy, love where there was ambivalence. I feel connected to the universe in a way I don’t when things are going “right”, when I feel so confident and in control.

When my heart breaks, my fear and judgment fade, and the people around me are all just people struggling, the way I struggle; wanting love the way I want love; mostly doing their best, often saying or doing the wrong thing, and all wanting the same things: to be seen, heard, understood, to be loved, and to give love.

When my heart breaks, it’s like I can feel all the pain in the world and can take it into myself, the way the Buddhists do in tonglen practice. I want to relieve suffering, because I suffer. Rather than hardening into resentment and anger, when my heart breaks, I soften into love.

Isn’t that strange?

Today, on my way home from work, I found myself analyzing the pain. What does it feel like? It’s a gaping wound in my gut, it’s a weird shifting sensation, like there’s no center to hold on to, it’s grief, it’s wanting, and, what’s so odd: it’s pure love. And just like that, I knew the answer to the pain. I knew that the answer wasn’t resentment, or anger, or hatred, or demanding answers, or lashing out, or crying (well, maybe just a little) or drinking, or mindless sex with someone else to take away the loneliness. The answer was so easy and simple: it’s love.

So, I walked home, and the mantra that popped into my head, that I kept saying over and over to myself, that seemed to ease the aching in my heart was “I send all my love; I send all my love.”

So I send all love to you, C, I hope you find your happiness. I want nothing more than to feel your arms around me right now. But if that can’t be, then go with peace. You deserve it.
I send all love to J, who taught me what unconditional love feels like, and what it feels like to really let go.
I send all love to R, because I hurt you and I didn’t know how not to.
I send all love to F because I should have treasured your love and instead I threw it away like trash. I think of you often, and wish things had turned out differently. I think you’re happy now, and I’m so glad.

I send all love to all the people I’ve disappointed and hurt. I caused hurt not because I was mean, but because I was clumsy.
I send all love to the people who have disappointed me. I know you didn’t mean to hurt me, and even if you did, you did it from your own struggle.
I send all love to the people who I’ve judged harshly.
I send all love to the people who reached out to me and who I rebuffed or ignored. I don’t always see or appreciate the love that’s offered. Heartbreak reminds me to be more careful of others’ hearts.

I send all love to M, my closest and best friend, who has been so patient and loving to me and who taught me what it means to be a friend.
I send all love to my friend JN, he of insight and humor, who keeps me laughing and thinking, both.

I send all love to the people who are fighting the flames right now; the red sun and my burning nose remind me to keep you in my thoughts.
I send all love to the people who are fighting the floods right now; may you stem the tide and find peace again.

I send all love to all beings who struggle and hope. My heartbreak reminds me of the essential truth that we’re all in this together, and that there is no enemy.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I’ve been reading about this new book “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz (hear him speak here, especially the part about buying jeans) about – and I’m sure I’m oversimplifying this, because I haven’t read the actual book yet – how too many choices can actually make us unhappy. And one thing has been running through my head ever since I heard about it: that’s what the problem is with dating.

I’ve been dating for about 10 years. Mostly online (heck, Craig Newmark and I should just get married) , but also in the “normal” way (meeting people in dorm rooms, at work, at bars, in social groups, on the hiking trail, on the train). I’ve developed several relationships with men I met online and with men I met in “real” life, so I know the various sides of the coin. I’ve probably been on first dates with upwards of 50 men, some of whom I rejected for various reasons, some of whom rejected me, and most of whom just faded out of my life as I faded out of theirs. No drama, no discussion, no follow-up calls.

Most of those 50 guys were just not going to cut it; I knew from the first ten minutes. I wasn’t attracted, I didn’t feel like he listened to me or cared what I had to say, he wasn’t funny, he didn’t laugh at my jokes, he had a weird rash, or too many kids, or was too charismatic (or not charismatic enough). He invited me over to his hot tub too soon – or not soon enough. He tried to make moves on me. Or he didn’t. There have been as many reasons as there have been guys. The most common reason, of course, the default justification for not seeking a second date: there was no spark. And I’m sure, to the guys who never bothered to call me after the first date, there were reasons I didn’t make the cut: not the right coloring or body type, didn’t laugh often enough, didn’t come with my own rock-climbing gear. Who knows. There’s always a reason.

And I’ve been thinking recently how different it would if we really didn’t have that many choices of people to date; if Craigslist and Yahoo and the plethora of dating sites didn’t offer a daily selection of hundreds and hundreds of people, like some kind of human Berkeley Bowl (seriously, who needs 10 varieties of oranges to choose from?). What if we really couldn’t afford to be so choosy? If we knew the three available and dateable people in our town and knew we had to either choose one of them or move to a different town? Wouldn’t we be happier with the one we chose? Wouldn’t we be more forgiving of his foibles, think him more attractive, consider that we had made the right choice when compared to the other two? I think so.

I’ve actually often thought of how nice it would be, on some level, to just not really have that much of a choice. To have my parents steer me towards somebody, or to live somewhere where there just weren’t that many guys to go around, and so if I wanted one, I had to choose what was available. The way I feel more comfortable shopping at Whole Foods simply because there are only 4 types of apples and not 17. There’s something comforting in this idea that I wouldn’t have to choose from an infinite number of variables. I mean a choice of three is hard enough, but how can you choose between infinity? It’s impossible!

No matter who I’m with, there will always be the possibility of someone “better” out there. I know this is wrong, and unfair, but it’s still true. And then I wonder if this is why I’m still single, and why so many people are still single, not marrying until later, and generally seem disaffected by the whole dating experience. It’s because too many choices are making us unhappy – unhappy being single, unhappy with the dates we find, unhappy with the one we “end up with”, which more and more often means the one we date for two or three years and then break up with. We’re unforgiving of each other because we can always find someone else. We’re a culture of people with dating ADD.

I can see this in how my own mind struggles with the whole bullshit romantic ideal thing: the “soul mate” myth, the “don’t settle” myth. That’s all crap. We’re all humans, and no human is going to be perfect. Holding out for the perfect mate is nothing more than romantic idealization of a very normal and human situation that’s about as far from a myth as it can possible get. Yet I can’t seem to get past it, this idea that there’s some perfect man out there for me, one who will make me shake with desire at the same time that I intellectually admire his value system and commitment to those values; one who knows exactly what to say and when to say it. Sometimes I just wish God or Craig Newmark would just drop down from heaven, plop a man in front of me and tell me to forget all the bullshit and make it work.

Then again, like the joke about God saying "I sent you two boats and a helicopter, what more do you want?" maybe I've already had that chance. Maybe I missed it. Or maybe it's right here in front of me.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Oh, Boo Hoo

OK, I know I'm not being very nice by laughing so hard at the current "gas crisis." I shouldn't be laughing, I just got my first car, and now gas prices are nearing $5 a gallon!

But I just clicked on and saw an item they have on there which was described thusly: "The record-high price of gasoline is putting a strain on American motorists - and spurring some to shift their habits. Here are their stories." Oh good lord. Their stories about finally thinking about their consumption habits?? The photo spot next to the item shows a running slidehow of presumably normal (white) Americans, some with rosy-cheeked kids in tow, staring poignantly into the camera. "Gas is so expensive!" They seem to be saying, "How could you do this to me, God??!!"

All I could think was: It's about time, sheesh.

Now, I understand that the U.S. is a car culture , and it's not most peoples' fault that they drive so much. There aren't many options, unless you live in a big city, for getting around without a car, and even in most cities, the options aren't very welcoming. I mean I should know, I've taken the bus at 11:30 at night from events in San Francisco; I know the discomfort of waiting in the cold for a bus that may or may not arrive, when all you want to do is be home and warm and in bed. I know the shady characters that you seek to avoid by staring at your shoes as you take your seat, knowing, just knowing, that they'll choose you to sit next to.

I know that people need to work, and buy food, and have a social life. And because we don't have the infrastructure that most countries have, of a decent public transportation system, and that though we have the technology to make cars that pollute less, for various reasons such cars are not available for the majority of Americans, and that we have to rely on the options we have, which in most cases, are gas-fueled cars.

I know all this. But I still find myself thinking "It's about time. Sheesh."

Maybe because I know there are options out there for ways to get around without a car, and those options don't scare me, I don't find gas prices an issue. And I have to admit that my self-righteousness kicks in when I see these overwrought news items about how people are finding ways to get around by driving less. It's about time!

Another item I saw reported that the ridership on Caltrain has jumped by something like 7%, and that there's standing-room-only on some commuter trains. It's about time!

Because these ways have been around for years! These are not new options! In the 24 years that I have been taking public transportation, nothing has changed. There are still the same BART and bus lines that I have been taking since I was 14 years old. And why has ridership been down in recent years? Because people haven't been thinking about the gas they're consuming. Even with a pointless, bloody war over oil, most people haven't cut back on their driving. But when it hits the pocketbook: Oh My.

I'm hoping that gas prices stay high because I finally see people paying attention. In my ideal world, this will mean that whoah, we might see some efficient public transportation being developed! And amazing, we might see alternative-fueled vehicles that actually come to fruition, and might actually be affordable for more people. And my lord, we might see more development of sustainable live/work communities that include easy walking or biking access to the places that humans frequent. Oh, and, wonder of wonders, we might even see people developing communities around sharing: sharing cars, sharing food, sharing knowledge, sharing lives. Wouldn't it be wonderful? And it might all be because dammit, we can't afford to drive everywhere anymore.

It's about time!