Friday, November 16, 2007


A friend asked me tonight if I’m feeling vulnerable lately. Me? Vulnerable? I immediately listed off all of the ways that I’m not at all vulnerable: a stable, well-paying job, a bunch of good friends, wonderful siblings, a fine apartment, etc. But I heard myself blathering around the question and tossing out all kinds of words meant to express that OK, perhaps I am feeling something, but it’s not vulnerability, for heaven’s sake. Maybe disorganized, unmoored, at sea, not grounded…any of those. My friend kindly let the euphemism-mill slowly wear itself down, and what was left was that word.

So yeah. Vulnerable. I guess so.

It’s a couple of things, I think. The holidays are coming, which are never my favorite time of year. They remind me of how much I miss my mother, who died several years ago. Since then, I pretty much hold my breath starting about now and wait for January 2. More immediately, my father and grandmother are both experiencing health problems and are both old enough that anything could signal the beginning of the end for either of them. My relationship with both of them has been complicated, so my feelings about their mortality are complicated too. And though I am 41 years old, an independent and gainfully employed adult, I suddenly don’t really feel old enough to negotiate a parentless and grandparentless world.

Vulnerable is exactly the word.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Boys are Scary

Just in the last few weeks I’ve had some interactions with men that were sort of …flirty, I guess. This is a surprise to me, and I don’t ever quite know what to do in response. Or if I want to respond, even. It’s a very confusing issue for me. In one instance, a friend and I had stopped into a small jewelry store, where most of the stuff was made by the proprietor himself. He offered to fix my friend’s necklace while we browsed, and as he worked he turned to me and said “I’m Guy.” It took me a moment, for some reason, to understand that he was introducing himself to me, but I got it together and introduced myself back. He asked what I did, and we talked briefly about doing therapy with young soldiers recently returned from Iraq. Turns out that he has a MS degree in counseling but has been doing jewelry for years. We chatted a little longer, he finished my friend’s necklace, I bought some earrings and we left. My friend pointed out that he seemed really interested in me, which I had not really understood in the moment. It just seems so improbable. The second instance involved a man I run into professionally now and again, as we seem to end up at some events together. The last time we met I didn’t have a business card to give him, which he remembered this week when I saw him. He said “Yeah, last time I gave you a card, and then I went back to my office and checked my email over and over, thinking Why isn’t she emailing me?? Again, in retrospect, it seems flirtatious, but in the moment there’s something in me that just doesn’t read it right.

So what gives? My lack of self esteem regarding matters of my appearance isn’t something I think about much or care to dwell on, because it feels unchangeable. I just can’t believe that someone would look at me and find me attractive. I can believe that someone could fall in love with my personality and come to find me attractive, but to be attracted just to my physical self? I just can’t picture it.

When I’m working with someone who has a belief that seems ironclad, I always have to wonder about the function of that belief. So what’s the function of my continuing to believe that I’m fugly? It’s about safety. It’s not like I have some horrible history of abuse at the hands of my father or other men in my life, but nor have I ever felt especially able to be vulnerable. Closeness feels really, really risky. And it sounds like such a cliché, but my father was always (and continues to be, even though I’m now over 40, for God’s sake) really critical of my physical self. Seems like it’s hard to detach myself from that mirror, or to trust that to open myself up to someone else will not leave me feeling criticized and humiliated.

So, how dumb, right? I meet up with men who make it fairly clear that they think my physical self is more than acceptable, and it still freaks me out. It’s as if I think they must not be able to really see me, but if they got to know me they would peer closer, and all my flaws would suddenly become apparent. And so, here I am once again. It’s not the physical at all, but the more global fear of being known.

Sigh. I was visiting with a friend earlier this evening, a woman who’s also a psychologist and who is currently coping with some significant depression. She said “I feel like a mental patient.” I said “We’re all mental patients.” And I think we are, in one way or another.