The problem stems from the same thing it does for many: my personal experience. For reasons I will reveal when I have a full, Russian Literature sized tome to fill, I kind of thought humans, well, humans sucked. They are generally untrustworthy, inconsistent, disengaged often unreasonable, and - in my experience totally out to lunch.
That does not change the fact that I really, really want to be among them. You could say it's as if there were something in the DNA, and in fact there is. A lot in the DNA. Humans are designed to take care of one another. When you are out of commission with an injury, I take care of you, that way when the same happens to me.... But that hadn't been the way it had worked for me. I had been raised to believe that independence and self sufficiency were what humans should strive for, and this whole mutual care thing was just burdening others unnecessarily. If something was wrong with you, you were supposed to shut up and figure something out because everyone else was quite busy sorting out their own lives.
And in the name of self sufficiency I had accepted a sort of distance between myself and anyone I loved. Indeed I had coveted that distance. It wasn't anymore just about the fact that I longed for boundaries I could enforce, but that the ideal distance had a buffer zone of several hundred acres, or in a more tangible sense about 14 extra inches around my hips.
So I longed for distance because I feared disappointment, but I longed for intimacy because that was built into my nature. For years I had done the drawing near, pushing away dance that had reflected my weight fluctuations like a mirror. I was getting too close to someone, my weight would go up. Then again I was alone and it would drop magically. This culminated in my ultimately giving up on the idea of intimacy. I would be isolated forever. I would live life with more than a foot of extra space between me and everyone I met. I would never have to share what was troubling me. I would never have to answer the question "how are you," honestly again. I would never again have to suffer the kind of disappointment I had when I went to the trouble of loving someone only to be demeaned, neglected or abandoned. Or just plain terrified.
I would read a lot.
I would get another cat. Or maybe a hamster.
Gramma was the first person I allowed past my 14 inch barrier. Then Laura, my house mate. A few others began to trickle through. And then I did the unthinkable.
I had begun to study the non-physical causes of weight gain, isolation weighing heavily among them. In an effort to become more social, to learn to trust others, perhaps meet new friends, at the very least get the heck off my treadmill and out among those humans I was famously attempting to make contact with, I decided to go dancing. Not just any dancing. Salsa dancing.
Back in college a Peruvian friend of mine had taught me the basic steps, set me loose on a gritty, dark dance floor and I'd danced and spun and laughed the whole night through. I hadn't needed a partner. You could just dance. And for the partner stuff the club in town offered a lesson before the dancing started. So off I went. I got my refresher. And soon after I got my first dance invitation. Keith, an instructor, steered me around the floor like he steering a mule through an agility track.
"Don't step that way." Keith frowned.
"Stand up straight."
"Count the steps - 123-567- 123- 567. See?"
He might as well have added, "you big oaffish nincompoop." That's how much fun I was having.
Fortunately some of the Latino patrons had thought it such a novelty to see a blond lady by herself in a salsa club that they asked me to dance just to find out what my motives were.
I had a blast. I had met human beings. Many of whom were friendly. None of whom seemed to be waiting around the corner trying to sneak up on me with disappointment and heart break in tow. Keith had been a bit of a shmo. I wished I had been asked to dance more. I was afraid people were talking about the strange lady who sat by herself drinking a diet coke at a dance club. I considered not going back. I decided to go just one more time. On the way there I considered turning the car around twice.
When I got there it was virtually empty. There were only three people there for the lesson. I thought I should just leave and grab a soda on my way home. Or maybe some ice cream.
After the lesson a computer programmer, Bryan asked me to dance. He'd been taking lessons for two years now. I should take lessons, he suggested. They teach you how to count. They teach you the moves.
And clearly Bryan knew how to count as he had been doing it under his breath the whole time.
I was exhausted from my dance, or rather from my talk with Bryan. Trying to think of something to say. Trying to keep up with his counting. Trying to absorb all the fascinating dance tips Bryan had given me. I sat down. Bryan went to get a drink and threatened to come right back.
An older man approached, stretching out his hand to me.
"You like to dance?" He was dark skinned and had a thick accent. He was scary. He was.... Hispanic.
And we were in a crowded, well lit night club. And anyway, he had the kindest look in his eye. If I were looking for a friend he would be the type. Hispanic or no.
He introduced himself as Arturo. I gave him my name. He lead me out onto the dance floor.
"You take the lesson?"
"Yes." I replied.
"Forget everything you learned." He waved a hand over his left shoulder. "Listen to the music. I'll show you the rest."
And he did. Unlike Keith he did not drag me around the dance floor like a wet rag doll whilst rolling his eyes and wondering how much longer the song would go on. Unlike Bryan he did not bore me with trivial conversation whilst pointing out the clear flaws in the footwork I'd learned that afternoon.
He just danced. We danced. And by the end of the night I was spinning and turning and taking up half the dance floor. Unlike all the other dancing I'd done, dancing with Arturo had not been an exercise to be borne, it had been a pleasure.
Instead of telling me what a schlemiel I was for not counting or taking too big steps or ... Whatever...
Arturo had just smiled at me when I kept count. Waved his hand and shrugged when I didn't. He had smiled every time I completed a turn and blamed the other dancers when I stepped on their feet.
"Sweet!" He would say every time I completed a turn. "Sweet sweet." He said when he dipped me and I held a long, high heeled leg, a foot or so over the floor.
And that was it. He hadn't needed to cringe or roll his eyes or remind me how to count. Just there on the dance floor he had made me into a good dancer. In my head I was a veritable Ginger Rogers. I kept coming back. I danced with Arturo most, if not all the time. Just a few weeks later I was chatting with the bar tender.
"Your a great dancer." He was a great liar.
"No, really. You look great out there." He nodded at the crowd of men standing around the bar. "They talk, you know. They think so, too."
"Sweet," I said. "Sweet sweet."
Over the next few weeks Arturo and I became great friends. I made other friends, too. I got to know the bar man. And the club owners. Dance teachers. Dance students. Another IT professional who not only took lessons and counts well but routinely writes new moves he learns in a notebook. Some of them are even people I have begun to call friends.
I have been learning to answer the question "how are you?" Honestly, and sometimes I don't even cringe. A few of them have become good enough friends to be scary. When I think of them I can see my old vision of myself as a little girl on a street corner screaming so loudly I had attracted a crowd of strangers while my own family had disappeared into one of the shops without me. I can see myself beginning to depend on their support and friendship and company and wonder if I can put my faith in them and if it is too late to run back to the safe and consistent arms of a chocolate sundae.
Unwittingly though, my friend Arturo has taught me not only some of the hottest dance moves I've ever seen, but something about friendship I would otherwise never have known: the more faith and confidence you are willing to place in a person, the more likely they will be worthy of it.
It works like this:
I have no evidence that you are waiting to do something disappointing.
I have a little faith in you.
You recognize my commitment to you.
You have a little faith in me.
My commitment to you grows. Pretty soon I have a friend I can actually talk to. And a few moves that even the bar tender with the bulgy biceps thinks make me look good.
I have friends. I do not spend my life torn between wanting distance out of sheer terror, and wanting closeness because of a clear design flaw.
And I do not bust out the potato chips every time I have a lousy day. I do not run to the candy store when I worry someone is getting too close.
I just decide whether I want this person that close. And then I have a little faith. In them. In my ability to survive disappointment and thrive in closeness.
And life is sweet.
Whole Health Renovation Specialist
I can do anything and I intend to take as many people with me as I can