How is it that a single, 34-year-old woman with no ties can be run ragged by others? I question this all the time, and I’ve come to a conclusion: like Tina Fey’s character “Liz Lemon” in the TV show “30 Rock”, I am the eye of the hurricane: in charge of all the crazy people who come into my daily life, and also the one who has started the craziness in the first place.
Many women my age relate to Sarah Jessica Parker’s character Carrie Bradshaw in “Sex and the City”. I for one do not. I don’t wear outrageous clothes (though, like my friend Mary once said, “Ya gotta go all out Liberace sometimes and pull out the crazy, weird outfit”), nor do I detail my every lesson learned from my wild, sexy, dramatic dating life, although I have realized that allowing someone to break up with you via e-mail is as equally as humiliating as Carrie getting the “post-it-note” from Birger. No, to say that this Midwestern girl from a small town is “Sex and the City” chic is a huge mistake. I’m more “TV and Home” and prefer the simplicity of my comfy jeans, Gap t-shirt, cute slip-on shoes, and hair pulled back than I do full on bling and designer shoes and purses. Yet, as I type this the realization is that it is a little hard to avoid the grommet stamped shirts with wild colored prints that once looked good on Freddy Mercury, and shoes with belt-buckles on them now that 80s revival punk is back in style.
I like eating my turkey subs from Jimmy Johns or Subway, and I have been known to have food cling to my hair or dropped from my mouth as I’m speaking. Once, when trying to lock up my classroom for the day, I balanced my heavy books and shoulder bag on my hip, dug my hand into my pocket to reach for my keys, and pulled out a chocolate mushed set of metal. Apparently I had forgotten that I had three mini-chocolate bars in my pocket the entire workday. Without wanting to drop all that I had in my arms, and wipe off the keys, I decided to lick the chocolate off of the keys, and then lock my door. I thought I was quite clever until I walked into the office and my friend asked me what was smeared all over my face. Carrie Bradshaw never would have done this, it wasn’t in SJP’s contract to look quite that stupid or get that type of laugh. But, Tina Fey aka Liz Lemon, well that’s right up her alley. And, like Lemon, I leave no time for a personal life, and I am clueless about men.
Truthfully, I thought I was always in charge of my personal life, but that I just didn’t get a chance to get what I wanted because I had to take care of others first. I will stop what I am doing, regardless of how important and necessary it is, to help you with your problem, regardless of how small it is, and put out all the little dramatic fires that burn from everyone’s psyche on a daily basis. Then, when it comes time to deal with my problems, regardless of how big or small they are, or if it’s time for me to eat, shower or sleep, if you come to me and ask me for something else, I will stop whatever it is I need to get done at the moment, and do for you. I want you to be happy. I want you to be taken care of. I want you to want me, but you don’t have to love me. You just have to need me to want to have to help you so I can avoid doing the same for me. It’s easy. It means I don’t have to deal with anything that could put me in a situation of getting pushed aside and forgotten. Yet, when I go home to my empty house (and freak out if I start choking on a slice of orange or worry that I may slip on a wet tile when getting out of the shower), knowing that I will wake up and go to work or run errands and take care of others reminds me that I don’t have to think about not having anyone there to do the same for me.
And, yes, though Carrie Bradshaw was clueless about men to a degree, and had a self-concept issue, Liz Lemon is genuinely clueless about men. She hasn’t had time to stop and think about what kind of man she wants or needs. She just takes the most pitiful, puppy-dog looking guy with any weird issue and tries to make it all better for him. Sounds familiar enough. I’ve been on so many bad dates in my time, that I could write my own column for a major city newspaper. But I won’t. Instead I will tell you that I have been to the darkside of the dating world, and it’s not pretty. I once dated a drummer in a band who was really sexy: blonde hair, blue eyes who was smart, funny, and talented. He could talk about poetry, and music, and novels, and then turn around and tell me that he walked by the store on Main Street the other day and he saw a giant eye staring at him.
A lovely mother-figure once set me up on a blind date with her son, and she did inform me that he was having a rough time with his divorce. I was OK with that, but should have noticed the warning sides when we sat through the first half hour of our date with his ex-father-in-law (who he ran into at the restaurant while waiting for me to show up) who told us gruesome stories of killing a cat with rat poison. Later, my date corrected every grammatical error I made when he learned that I was an English teacher. I once agreed to go out with a 35 year old man, who later told me he was an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts, not because he had a son (which he didn’t), but because scouting was fun and built good character. He was the same guy who got mad at me when I told him that I didn’t like cheese when he asked if we should order the Flaming Cheese dish at the Greek restaurant we were at. Almost every man I’ve ever dated comes with a horror story or weird eccentricity that cannot be overlooked, but was overlooked by me because I thought I could either fix him, or that I shouldn’t be so picky because it’s rude and inconsiderate of his feelings. I’ve tried to be dumber than I am, smarter on topics than I really was, interested in sports or Sci-Fi trivia, listened to music that felt like my ears were going to bleed, laughed at jokes that were off color or insensitive, and stayed longer at the coffee shop, bar or restaurant than I should have all because I wanted to make sure that the guy I was with was comfortable, happy, treated with dignity, or paid attention to. Nowhere in these dating fiascos did I put myself into the equation. “Why should I?” I thought. I have no right to decide if a person is a “bad or good” person, and I’m tired of being told that I’m too picky, so maybe I should just pick one.
The tide began to turn when I went on the most horrible date to this date: a friend’s mom set me up with her friend’s son. He was a used car salesman and told me on the phone that on a scale of 1-10 in the looks department he was a 7. I should have known then and there that was all a lie: a used car salesman’s technique to get you to by the hoopty-piece of junk that has a ripped fender, scraped paint, and a rusted gas tank. When he showed up at my door, four inches shorter than me, a foot wider than me, and a thick gold chain hanging from his hairy blonde chest, I knew I was in trouble. I got into his used car from the dealership, and we drove to a Cardinals-Cubs game in the city. Skipping ahead a few hours, he told me he found it sexy that I was a high school teacher and said that if he was in the profession I was he would be in trouble because he would have a hard time trying not to hit on the high school honeys. I puked up a little of my beer. I told him that I had to use the restroom, and then went near a hot dog vendor and called my friends to see if they could pick me up if I took the metro home. Unfortunately, no one picked up, so I chose to stick it out and pretended to listen to his vulgar stories and detailed descriptions of carnal conquests, which I’m pretty sure never happened except for in his mind. The consolation of the night: The Cubs won, and he ran out of gas after he left my house. I know the latter because he called my house phone. I didn’t pick up, and instead I stood near the answering machine as he begged me to come pick him up and take him to a gas station. I never did.
I started to worry that my “I will be kind to you and help you” vibe was getting me nowhere. I mean, Liz Lemon is just a fictional TV show character as is Carrie Bradshaw (despite the fact that she has a cult following of WASPY women in their 30s – 50s). I still can’t turn it off, and I still am addicted to helping others put out their fires. Maybe that will never change. Maybe I will always be running around, hungry, disheveled, with food stains on my shirt, my eyebrows unplucked, and a crisis to run towards. Yet, I’m starting to think I shouldn’t return the phone call from the 30-year-old guy who is living with two college freshman and learning Russian so he can help Sarah Palin fight off those Commie bastards living near her backyard.