“It is hard. And I’m not sorry.” I learned this phrase from a parent who used it in a difficult conversation with school officials. The conversation was about a curriculum choice that in the parent’s view perpetuated racial stereotypes. When the parent acknowledged that conversations about race can be difficult the school official interrupted saying, “No, no. You don’t need to be sorry.” The parent responded, “It ishard. And I’m notsorry.”
“It is hard. And I’m not sorry,” is my new go to phrase for those conversations where the stakes are high, the outcome uncertain, and I have to take a risk. It could be talking with a friend about my hurt feelings, a discussion to hold a co-worker accountable, or conversation with a neighbor about a racial slur.
“It is hard,” acknowledges that I’d rather be anywhere else, like at a dentist appointment, bathing suit shopping, or spending hours waiting on a car repair surrounded by the smell of tires, than in this conversation at this particular time. The topic could be emotionally charged or politically potent. Maybe it’s embarrassing or awkward. “It’s hard,” spoken or thought, helps me have compassion for myself and my conversation partner as we stumble through saying what we mean in a way that can be understood.
“And I’m not sorry,” helps me summon the courage for the conversation. I don’t have to apologize for bringing up issues that make others uncomfortable. I owe it to myself to enter the fray. I regret more things I didn’t say than things I did. My mouth can be a steel trap, keeping big feelings, hard questions and unpopular truths locked inside. I wonder how my life would be different if I had been able to say what I really meant.
As we sat on my back patio listening to the crack of fireworks, sipping Fat Tire and eating peach pie, a friend told me the story of the February night he nearly drowned in Lake Michigan. He had jumped in to save his dog. Good Samaritans were able to pull the dog to safety but they had to leave my friend in the water while they went for help. He tried to pull himself onto the ice, but it broke beneath him. He couldn’t climb the ten-foot retaining wall. With his fingertips he clung to a narrow gap in the concrete, only his head above water. He doesn’t know how much time went by, but he lost his grip on the crevice when his hands froze with the palms flat. His head dipped again and again under the water. With each dunk, he could feel the heat whoosh off his head. He thought three things. One, if this were how he died his ex would be totally vindicated. Two, his mother deserved better. Three, life, what the hell was that supposed to be? And then he thought, if these were the last moments of his life he should say something out loud that was absolutely true.
That’s where he paused in his story and looked me in the eye and asked, “What would you have said?” My thoughts froze in the icy water. The only words that came to mind were “Help!” and “Fuck.” I could not think of a single, absolutely true thing to say.
As we sat on my back patio, hearing the crack of fireworks, sipping Fat Tire, and eating peach pie I was so relieved that he there was to tell me this story. And so angry that he was such an idiot that we almost weren’t.
He looked at me, waiting for an answer. I felt my hands sliding down the slick, icy concrete. Nothing. I shook my head. “What did you say?” I asked. “There is only love,” he responded. “Love in relationships is life giving. Love in neighborhoods is community. Love in systems is justice.” Until I have an answer of my own, I’ll borrow his: “There is only love.”
“Smart, sexy, sweet,” is what he said he was looking for. I was chatting online with a man from Match.com. My carefully curated profile and his carefully curated profile had liked each other so we had taken it to the next step – the online chat. “What are you looking for in a man?” Suddenly I am at a car dealership having to negotiate with an aggressive salesman. “Well something reliable, and without too many miles. It’d be great for it to have some zoom. I really want a BMW but I’ll probably settle for a used Honda.” Instead, squirming, I wrote, “smart, fit, funny.”
Writing a profile for a dating site takes a gymnastic ability with words and the truth. You have to sound clever (but not trying too hard), fun (but not shallow), deep (but not too deep), and like you smell good. You lie about not having any baggage and being open to love but not too desperate.
I skip profiles of men that are looking for someone “sweet” or who care too much about what kind of shoes I wear.
I don’t like to buy clothes from a catalog. Being the item on the page is even more uncomfortable.
I tell myself that there is nothing wrong with “shopping for love.” Lot’s of people have found mates online. It’s really about creating the opportunity to meet someone. But it’s hard to get past the blatant assessment. Where’s the subtlety? The shared glance. Laughing at the same thing that no one else notices. The spark of surprise at instant connection.
I’ve been in love three times. Two of those times I fell for someone who was “not recommended.” Wrong age, wrong faith, too much baggage. And the one who checked all the right boxes ended up being totally wrong. Each time love took me by surprise, sneaking up next to me and not looking me in the eyes. It didn’t want to spook me.
Online dating is taking love by the shoulders, looking it square in the eyes, and saying firmly, “I want you.” It would be easier to jump out of an airplane.