Ocean in a Bottle

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”
Psalm 56:8

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I’ve cried so much in the last year. It’s almost unbelievable.

There was a time in my life I naively thought that if I could only get my OCD under control, I would never be sad another day in my life.

Alas, I’ve been in OCD remission for nearly a decade, and I’ve been drowning in tears for the last year and a half. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they are the same months I have attempted online dating.

(Sidenote: I’m in Duluth this week, on a writing-reading-resting retreat, and everywhere I look I am reminded that I was here around this time last year, still unaware that I was about to undergo the first round of that strange, ugly, ambiguous grief called ghosting, which would occur the Saturday before Memorial Day but which I wouldn’t realize until the Tuesday after it.)

I can’t seem to quit crying, certainly not since 45 was elected, not since I started online dating, for the entirety of 2018 thus far, and especially since I started new pain meds. You know how construction sites have those signs that brag, “We’ve gone 87 days without a lost time accident”? Well, my sign would read, “I’ve gone ZERO days without crying.” And it would stay that way.

Tonight I read about tears online. There are three kinds, did you know? Basal tears are the ever-present moisture in our eyes. Reflex tears are the kind that clear out threats: smoke, onions, dust. It’s the emotional tears (or psychic tears) that are the ones that come after overwhelming emotions.

It starts in the brain; then the endocrine system triggers hormones in the ocular area. Studies have shown that the make-up of emotional tears is different than reflex tears, which are 98% water. Emotional tears have hormones that indicate high stress levels, along with endorphins, a natural painkiller called leucine enkephalin.

Does any of this matter?

I hope all of it does.

All of it.

 

The Loneliness Map

The other night, I was talking to my friend about loneliness, how the experience of it has morphed for me over the years. This is a post I can write tonight because tonight I actually don’t feel lonely. It gives me perspective.

So I wrote up what follows, and then, upon re-reading it, realized that I am probably describing all of these ages from the perspective of being 36. I see age 16 so differently now, 20 years out, but at the time, would I have described it as torment? Probably.

I don’t want to shrug off any pain of Younger Me, but I also do want to accept all the growth I’ve experienced over the years. With that said, I present to you a mini-timeline of my experience with feeling lonely. Gosh, there is so much more to be said, but I really did just want to type up a little thing to see how it compared to others’.

Now I think I’ll probably show it to my therapist! 🙂

connor-wells-534089-unsplashLoneliness at 11: beginning to recognize that my thought process was very different from friends my age (i.e. undiagnosed OCD)

Loneliness at 16: melodramatic tears over the boy to whom I was “just a friend”

Loneliness at 22: perpetual bridesmaid/wedding guest, delighted for my girlfriends who were the most gorgeous brides– but a little wistful, wondering when I’d have my own special someone

Loneliness at 25: too throttled with anxiety to care too much about being single

Loneliness at 28: too excited about writing to care too much about being single

Loneliness at 31: gobsmacked to see my friends celebrating 10-year anniversaries, changed from wondering when I’d have my own special someone to if I would at all, loneliness became an actual physical pain

Loneliness at 36: almost unbearable when it hits

What about you? What ages were milestones?

Online Dating Chronicles: the Man who Never Was

burning armchair in the grunge interior. 3D illustration creative conceptYou can be anyone you want online. For awhile.

Mike was born in Ohio, grew up in Germany, and lived most recently from North Dakota, though was deployed by the US Army when we met– or so I thought. We got along great– tons of chemistry, lots of laughter, and I adored his heart, the way he wanted to be a dad someday, the way we cared about the same things. He was simultaneously so gentle and so masculine. It felt like I found someone my soul understood.

And then there was an emergency. His military-issued PDA was being collected because of a compromise in communications, and I remember my fear and sadness being ratcheted up to an 11. As I cried, Mike promised to find a solution.

The solution? Purchase a phone and send it to him. He was going to request to come home for Christmas and he’d paid me back then.

If all your warning signs just went up, GOOD. 

But it made me realize: I think we’re all so used to the obvious scams like “Dear Sir or Madam, I’m a foreign prince and I want to give you $5 million US dollars for safe-keeping” that we are surprised by the intricate and clever ways we can be played.

This was a slow con: make a girl fall hard for you, then introduce the idea of separation and let the panic cloud her judgment.

He had another con too, made to seem more legitimate due to the slow introduction. One day he mentioned his dream was to open a particular business (in fact, I asked the question!). Another day he mentioned the money he had set aside for this business endeavor and how he had some of the equipment on reserve for a certain sum. Yet another day, he introduced the idea that someone locally was selling the same equipment and he might check it out … then it was the equipment he needed … at a far better price than the stuff he had on hold … he would save all this money, and it was for our future, not just his, and he only needed a deposit … by Friday.

Again, the slow introduction of facts, the insistence the savings would benefit us both, and the frenzy of an impending deadline … I never thought I’d be so foolish.

I’m so grateful to my friend Ashley, who just said two words: “Jack … no.”

They snapped me out of it, thank God. 

Then I started researching. My friend who was former military easily pointed out all the inaccuracies in his stories. A quick internet search showed there was no American military presence in the location he had listed. The continued requests for money started to make sense.

I was being catfished.

Catfishing is a term used to describe luring someone into a relationship via a fictional online persona.

I’d been catfished before– but I’d always caught them early on and called them out before blocking them. They were clumsy at it, and I was too smart to fall for foolish schemes. I’d actually felt a weird pride that I was able to sniff out fake identities online. Until I encountered someone so dang good at it. 

Now who’s the fool?

Keep in mind that, during all this discovery, my heart was also hurting. I had begun to believe that Mike and I might have a future. Now I was learning Mike did not exist.

Some people might think this was a bad move, but a week or so later, I messaged “Mike” again. He jumped into another story, and I simply said, “Stop. I know.”

He didn’t argue. “Then why did you talk to me again?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “Closure? I have so many questions.”

“You can ask,” he said.

Me: What’s your name?
Him: Wale.
Me: Where are you from?
Him: Nigeria.
Me: Did you target me because I’m a Christian?
Him: No, I am one too.
Me: Did you feel guilty?
Him: Every day.

Of course, I could not trust a single thing he said. But I wanted to believe these things– that he was a good man in a hard place, that he was truly sorry.

We developed a friendship, and through research, found a feasible career move for him– poultry farming, which is lucrative in Nigeria and has low start-up costs. He met with a local farmer and asked a hundred questions. I connected him to a field agent for Kiva (an amazing organization that does microloans), and he made a business plan to show them to request the overhead loan.

Wale’s phone has been turned off since mid-January, as he warned me would happen. I may never know what was true and what was fiction, even of his second story. I may never know if he was able to start his little poultry farm, or if he returned to the more lucrative but soul-stealing con of catfishing women. There are so many questions, and I know that once upon a time, he used to read my blog. (Wale, if you read this, I miss you, wish you nothing but joy, and would love an update, friend.)

Mike, of course, was just a phantom.

And how does a heart mend after loving a man who never existed?

Slowly. Surely. By letting new hopes fill the spaces that ghosts made.

******

Related:
6 Signs You’re Being Catfished
Kiva: Loans that Change Lives
10 Matches I Never (Ever) Expected
The Unique & Ambiguous Grief of Ghosting

 

Online Dating Chronicles: the Unique & Ambiguous Grief of Ghosting

burning armchair in the grunge interior. 3D illustration creative conceptI had never heard the term ghosting before online dating.

Ghosting describes ending a personal relationship suddenly and without explanation by ending all communication.

And. it. sucks.

I think ghosting might be the most painful thing I’ve encountered in the whole nefarious world of online dating, although catfishing (more to come!) might be its equal.

The first time I remember talking to … let’s call him Tyler … was clearly not the first time we had talked. He greeted me with, “Fancy seeing you here!”

 

I might not have even responded to him except that it seemed we had prior interactions. Later I found out that we had talked on a couple other sites but I had kinda blown him off. I admired his persistence since he wasn’t rude or pushy about it any way.

In fact, he wasn’t rude at all. Even though I had originally replied out of a weird obligation, I found myself really enjoying my daily conversations with Tyler. After two weeks of thinking it was nothing, I realized I really, really liked him. He was cute and friendly and really honest about his rough past. We had a similar sense of humor and developed inside jokes quickly, and we had vulnerable conversations about our insecurities. We talked about everything: we sent links to our favorite songs back and forth, I’d casually ask him to pick out which nail polish color I’d use while we learned about each other’s work, families, passions. Then I’d send a photo of my painted nails and it would evolve into flirting, so much flirting.

It was while I was in Duluth on a writing retreat that I realized I was falling for him.

Yes, I totally agree with the idea of meeting sooner than later, but remember, when we started talking, I honestly had no intention of pursuing anything. By the time I had changed my mind, I was spending a week in Duluth. We talked every night, and finally made plans to go on a date when I got home that Friday.

But it was actually Memorial Day weekend, and his family wanted him to go up to their cabin for the weekend, so we said, “Okay, we’ve waited three weeks; what’s another couple days?”

On my way home from Duluth, I went shopping. I bought a new outfit for our date. I was actually quite giddy and felt like the luckiest girl, picking out something to wear for when I finally met my newest best friend.

We chatted that Friday. We chatted that Saturday. He sent me a photo of himself in the boat, holding up a fish he’d caught, and I remember my heart doing cartwheels because how could I have not seen how absolutely gorgeous he was immediately? How could I have ignored this man on two other sites? I’d been a fool, but now my eyes were open and I had a cute skirt for Monday and look at my strong fisherman!

I remember snapping a photo of myself making a dorky face, and he replied, “So cute!”

I never heard from him again.

For Saturday night, I wasn’t worried. Yes, we talked most evenings, but I knew he was up north with his family. There were a million distractions for him, and he might not even have good cell service.

On Sunday, I sent him a photo of the 90s song that was making me laugh. I sent a couple other things too, and … nothing. On the messenger we were using, it shows an “S” for sent, “D” for delivered, and “R” for read. It was not flipping to R.

On Monday, when I thought we were supposed to have our first date, I thought, “Huh, maybe I misunderstood and he’s only getting back tonight and we’re hanging out tomorrow.”

On Tuesday, I told myself I would hear from him later on, after work, even though sometimes we would text when we woke up and during breaks in the day.

The dread had been growing, but when I went to sleep on Tuesday with no word, it exploded like a bomb in my heart. As I’m prone to do, I still tried to reach for excuses. He dropped his phone in the lake. He was sick. He was still up north. But my heart was in pain, and … more than that … I missed my friend. 

[Loooooong, intriguing story here about why we had this, but] I remembered that my roomie and I had a fake account on that dating site. On Wednesday morning, I logged in under that account, found his profile, said, simply, “hi.”

He wrote back to “Jenny Jones” within half an hour. “Jenny Jones” sat in her bed bawling while letting go of the boy who had become so important to her and then suddenly decided to walk away. “Jenny Jones” told him she’d had a tough week because a guy she’d been talking to ghosted her. Tyler told “Jenny Jones” he was so sorry to hear that. “Jenny Jones” asked if he’d ever done that to anyone before. Tyler admitted he had. “Jenny Jones” logged off.

Immature of me? Yeah, probably. But the ambiguity is like hell.

A man had won me over for a month, make plans with me, and then bailed. Completely bailed. Not just cancelled. Ghosted. 

No explanation. No goodbye.

For a while, the space that person has carved out in your heart feels so devoid you can hear echoes.

And people don’t understand, of course, because
it was only a month
you never even met
it’s not like he was your boyfriend

So you mostly grieve alone. The death of possibility physically hurts.

******

I met another guy last summer who did the same. We’ll call him Ben. I liked Ben even more than I liked Tyler, far more, which is why it’s actually easier to tell that other story in more detail. Ben’s last words to me were, “Sweet dreams, gorgeous Jackie,” and with Ben, there was no closure. None. No “Jenny Johnson” convo to truly cut that cord.

Then, two weeks ago (six months after ghosting), Ben emailed me. We sorted through things. We explained our various miscommunications. We talked seven hours that day. I let my foolish heart reopen. I could hear the hope in my voice, feel the potential fill my heart like a balloon.

And then he did it again.

I bond easily, very easily, which is why I’m careful with my boundaries. I am created for relationship. I am not wired for casual. My heart loves hard but bruises easily.

******

Ghosting, I think, is selfish and needlessly cruel. That ambiguous grief is so much worse than a goodbye, even one without an explanation, and it’s such a reality in the world of online dating.

It’s hard to say when two people cross the line from owing one another nothing to owing one another something. Is it determined by how many days you talk? How many hours? Or how many secrets you share, what level of intimacy you reach? I can’t pinpoint that space in which it changes, but I think that most people know. I knew. Tyler knew. Ben knew.

But why? I may never know that.

 

 

Online Dating Chronicles: 10 Matches I Never (Ever) Expected

burning armchair in the grunge interior. 3D illustration creative conceptSo many of my friends have met the love of their life via online dating. (Shout-out to the bestie, who just got engaged!) I’d sort of watched from the sidelines, vicariously learning their lessons (always meet sooner than later, rule #1), and I even tried my hand at it for a bit (I think I had one date in that entire trial). So I really wasn’t prepared for 2017, when suddenly there was this influx of interest in my online profiles.

One weekend I heard from 20 or so guys. That was more than I’d heard from in three years prior.

But then the next weekend I heard from 85. The next weekend, over a hundred.

I quit counting eventually, but I would guess I heard from about 2500 men in the last year, which absolutely boggles my mind.

Oh, and I’m still single. So there’s that.

I have stories to tell and some of them are WILD, so buckle up, peeps!

To give you a small taste, here’s a list of 10 people I never expected to match with online:

  1. The BDSM Dom, ten years my junior, who called me “little one”
  2. The guy who teased me in high school, who now wanted to sleep with me (Vindication– he didn’t even recognize me at first! And also: NO!)
  3. My childhood friend’s little brother (awkwaaaaaard)
  4. The former student I had once recruited to my university
  5.  The man I thought was single whose wife messaged me on Facebook
  6. A young man in Kashmir with whom I’ve developed a close friendship
  7. “Mike from Fargo” who ended up being a Nigerian scam artist
  8. A man who, upon rejection, called me “ugly bitch hoe,” and then tried to win me over on another site later that week, as if the earlier conversation had never happened
  9. The man who did impressions of Cookie Monster, Johnny Carson, and Rodney Dangerfield
  10. The man who had a money-making opportunity that sounded vaguely illegal, whom I strung along until he chose a code name for himself. I asked him to call me Peach. His codename? Brandon. 

More to come. So much more to come. 🙂

Let me know: which of these makes you most curious?

 

 

Online Dating Sites as Described to Harry Potter Fans

eHarmony
Here I paid serious cha-ching to get curated matches– so these people were basically me with different anatomy, except everyone was freakishly timid and on their best, most boring behavior. The closest matches to what I think I want– at least on paper– but IRL it looks more like monthly credit card charges so that I can shout into the void.

Bottom line: Dumbledore is setting you up, buuuuuuuut you have to destroy horcruxes for him in exchange. 

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Coffee Meets Bagel
Every day at noon, female users get sent one “bagel” (yes, that’s what a man/his profile is called on this site). If we like each other, a chat screen opens up. You only get one bagel a day unless you want to purchase another with “coffee beans” that you can earn or buy. I mean, I have friends who found love in this hopeless place, but unless you are ready to make it rain, this is the slowest possible method for finding breakfast. I mean, a partner.

Bottom line: this is like going to the Room of Requirement every day at noon, just hoping that some hottie will be there at the same time. 

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OkCupid
Okc has multiple search options but a pretty unfocused constituency, so be prepared for booty calls and marriage proposals in the same day. I find myself coming back to it over and over again though, since you never know who will show up.

Bottom line: keeping an eye out for love at the Three Broomsticks.

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POF
Plenty of Fish wins #1 Sketch City, and your profile picture is all that matters to most. In a weekend, you might get 99 inquiries for chill and 1 for Netflix.

Bottom line: Knockturn Alley. 

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Christian Mingle
If you’re picky (which I am– hence a specialized dating site), Christian Mingle might give you a killer selection like it gave me: two locals and one guy from Ohio. Cool.

Bottom line: seems like a great idea until you match with two Muggles and one wizard from Durmstrang.

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Bumble
Bumble is called the “feminist Tinder” because only women can initiate conversations. Bumble brings all the hotties to the yard, enough that it makes me wonder how many profiles are fake. It gives me a feeling of power over incredibly attractive men … who may or may not exist, so … win? Hard to say.

Bottom line: you and Professor McGonagal have a girlfriends night to drink wine and look at cute wizards, which kind of makes it fun even if you don’t find love.

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Zoosk
What the heck is going on here? This is a hot mess.

Bottom line: like apparating the first time. I got out before I got splinched.

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Some Newer Book Boyfriends

unsplash82Indulge me, folks.

Tim Mason from The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick | Review
“Her lips touch just against my mouth, then the cleft of my chin, back to my lips. ‘Good night, Tim.’ My lips on her forehead. ‘Good night, Alice.’ I can’t remember ever having something and not reaching for more. But I back away from her, hands in my pockets. Enough.”

Julian from Caraval by Stephanie Garber | Review
“He’d never stared at her like this before. Sometimes he gazed at her as if he wanted to be her undoing, but just then it was as if he wanted her to undo him.”

Khalid ibn al Rashid from The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh | Review (and Sequel)
“What are you doing to me, you plague of a girl?” he whispered.
“If I’m a plague, then you should keep your distance, unless you plan on being destroyed.” The weapons still in her grasp, she shoved against his chest.
“No.” His hands dropped to her waist. “Destroy me.”

Eight Beaufort from The Heirs of Watson Island series by Martina Boone | Review
“I’ve been out with enough girls to know what I want. I know. You and me together? We’re not the same plain vanilla let’s-date-while-we’re-in-high-school, let’s-go-to-prom, let’s-promise-we’ll-talk-in-college relationship. We’re more like those fireworks on the Fourth of July that keep exploding with new bursts every time they’re done. Before we know it, we’ll be in rocking chairs side by side on the porch, holding hands and watching a houseful of great grandchildren chasing blue ghost fireflies on the lawn.”

Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo | Review (and Sequel)
“I would have come for you. And if I couldn’t walk, I’d crawl to you, and no matter how broken we were, we’d fight our way out together-knives drawn, pistols blazing. Because that’s what we do. We never stop fighting.”

Noah Shaw from the Mara Dyer trilogy by Michelle Hodkin | Review
“We’re only seventeen,” I said quietly.
“Fuck seventeen.” His eyes and voice were defiant. “If I were to live a thousand years, I would belong to you for all of them. If we were to live a thousand lives, I would want to make you mine in each one.”

 

 

 

 

Dear Diary: Salt, Sickness, & NOT YOU AGAIN

A (not so) little update for you:

Salt Novel

Oh my gosh, I finally finished revising my synopsis and am ready to dive into revisions! This took me a lot longer than I expected, but that was foolish of me: why would completely reorganizing/restructuring a novel, reconfiguring motives, and solving problems of fictional people be considered a weekend project? Ha! While I still have a few things to iron out, the majority of it is sorted out, on paper, color-coded. It looks gorgeous. (Okay, only to me.) I feel so excited about these changes– especially because I haven’t started trying them and failing yet. 🙂

Sickness

I’m getting better! I was down for the count for a stretch, but I’m bouncing back finally. Has anyone else been sick? Sounds like it’s been going around. I got so much extra sleep this past week, and it felt incredible. I even had some of those naps where it feels like you were out for about three years. Mmm!!

Online Dating

… is so weird. And I think, in general, a lot of men are pretty confident (and wrong) about what they think women want. That’s all. For now.

ROCD

One thing that really surprised me with the whole online dating thing: my OCD has come out to play again. Ugh. I have lived as close to OCD-free as is possible since 2008, when I went through exposure therapy to treat it. In a lot of ways, OCD has felt like a part of my past, something I experienced a lifetime ago. Then, guys started talking to me.

It’s crazy how fast OCD/ROCD symptoms blasted back into my life. I was not prepared for it.

But, and maybe this is a little embarrassing to admit … I haven’t really been in the world of dating during my remission. ROCD hasn’t come up because, well, it hasn’t come up. You know? So, now I’m talking to this cute guy, and I’m a WRECK. Thankfully, I was able to recognize it as OCD, and now I’m re-learning how to love the uncertainty. Again.

Sigh.

🙂

Wrists

Months ago, I posted a cry for help in regard to my RSI. One reader (thank you, Ash!!) commented with the name of a book by Pete Egoscue, Pain Free at Your PC.

This is changing everything for me. I’m sooooo grateful. Right away, in reading the book it became apparent that I needed to be symmetrical, and I knew that I wasn’t. (My left leg has been shorter than my right since I was in middle school.) I got a heel lift from my chiropractor, and that was the beginning of the changes. I’ve also been doing Egoscue’s exercises a couple times a week. I feel better than I have in years.

Creative Goals

Salt Novel, coming together.
Book a week, check!
Blog every week, done.
Learn something new every day? I am, but I have sadly not been recording everything.
Yes Novel … it’ll come.

And you?

Drop me a line– I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

Non-Earth-Shattering Thoughts on Singleness

Like how I prepare you right in the title that this blog post won’t change your life? All about monitoring expectations. Ha!

Singleness is amazing sometimes. Sometimes it blows.

single taken empireSometimes being single lets you accomplish things you couldn’t do otherwise– say, write a book. Sometimes maybe you couldn’t accomplish something without the encouragement of a significant other. How do we know? I suppose we don’t. Faith.

One way I can tell I’m maturing is when I find myself thrilled for my friends in new relationships … instead of envious.

I get pissed if anyone even insinuates that I am “lesser than” because I’m single. I should probably give people the benefit of the doubt … instead I give them a lesson. #sorrynotsorry (Dating and married people, please take note of all the tiny things you do that say or insinuate this. It happens more often than you’d guess. I could give you four examples just off the top of my head.)

People who found their partner when they were young need to be especially careful about the feelings of someone who is, oh, let’s just say 34. People who got married at 20 have zero idea what it’s like to be 34 and single. It’s better just to acknowledge that than to pretend.

Being 34 and single is totally different for me than being 30 and single was.

Writing love stories is weird sometimes. But still fun.

Intimacy with friends is so important.

Intimacy with God is even more important.

Sometimes I think how Jesus was single his whole life. Sometimes I think how Paul said singleness is preferable to marriage.

I’ve observed enough friends to confidently say that it’s better to be lonely and/or discontented outside a marriage than lonely and/or discontented within one.

I’ve observed enough college students rushing to the altar to confidently say, Slow down. Your brain isn’t even fully developed until age 25. Heck, I didn’t even settle into my identity until I was about 28. I’ve seen many marriages dissolve when couples married very young. I also admit that, as a single 34-year-old, I’m not an expert on marriage.

Singleness allowed me to mentor many young people and really invest in their lives. Singleness allowed me to write a book. I try to be grateful for singleness’s gifts.

[Interlude in which I have a long online conversation with my bestie about all these things … and now it’s my bedtime and I decide to end this post with a conclusion that I call an interlude.]

Please know that all of my thoughts are shared with humility, and that some of them probably lean into stereotypes.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, just please don’t be mean.