Wednesday, January 22, 2014

So What, Who Cares?: Funny Girl Wants Boy, Lonely Girl Wants Dog.

Dear Erin:

My therapist says my sarcasm is a shield that I can't turn off, and that I turn to humor when in doubt.  She says men can be very intimidated by this, as I can be seen as a "tough" chick.  How do I soften myself around the edges in dating, while ensuring I don't lose that part of myself which I really love (the good sense of humor)?


Dear Sarcastic:

This is a good example of the pot calling the kettle, uh, for advice.   Given my sense of humor, which is dry and often brash, I might just be the best person to answer this question.  Either that, or the absolute worst.   I suppose we’ll never really know.

But did you ever see The Dick Cavett Show?  It had a comedic talk format, kind of like Carson, but more PBS-y, with intellectual conversations, and a lot of wit and sarcasm.  It was one of my favorite shows.  I watched it all the time in the late ‘70’s.  I also watched a lot of The Paper Chase with John Houseman, which is relevant information.  Because I was only 11 or 12 years old.  So basically, I’ve always been… like this.

I saw Dick Cavett once, in the audience, at the outdoor amphitheater in Central Park. We may have been there to watch Patrick Stewart in The Tempest.  Or maybe it was Kevin Klein in Measure for Measure I’m so damn literary, I just can’t keep it all straight.  I do remember, however, that it was like 104 degrees.  Talk about climate change!  Except we didn’t know about climate change yet. So we just called it, mother fucking hot.  Anyway, I saw Dick Cavett, and my friend urged me to talk to him. After a momentary flash of self-doubt (or was it heat stroke?) I walked down to his row, pushed past like five people and said: Excuse me, but aren’t you Dick Cavett?   

Dick Cavett turned around slowly, raised up one eyebrow, and said, Aren’t you my date?   Why yes, I replied, I am your hot, and incredibly sweaty, date.   At which point he took out his handkerchief, mopped up the dripping sweat on my forehead, and said, You know, in some cultures, this means we’re married now.   We talked for several minutes more, then I left.  It was perfect. 

Dick Cavett did not become my husband in real life.   But he is a good metaphor for many of my significant love interests.   I have to think there’s a reason why, in my younger years, I dated mostly comedians, tortured novelists, and mean sarcastic douchebags.   For better or worse, they humored me.  They got my sarcasm.  They enjoyed my ribald ways.  And I enjoyed theirs.  My real-life husband is neither a comedian nor mean, but he shares my sense of humor.   Sometimes he thinks I go too far, and then he gets upset, because I make a wisecrack about his shirt and he thinks I’m calling him fat or something.  But he likes me this way.   Either that, or he’s suffering from Stockholm Syndrome and just can’t figure out how to leave.

My point is, we are generally the people we are.  Still, I understand where your shrink is coming from. If any personality trait is used as an emotional shield, it needs to be adjusted.  If your sense of humor is preventing you from being sincere when the occasion calls for it, it’s a problem.  If you find yourself joking around with a guy when he’s trying to have a serious conversation, you might be scary.  If you feel compelled to make a sarcastic remark about your date’s terrible eyebrows -- when he’s staring into your eyes on a starry night, professing his love– well, then, you are using your humor defensively.   You’re using it to avoid intimacy.

It’s fine to cut tension with a joke, or make light of an awkward moment.  I do it all the time, often around members of my family.  But as I learned over many years in therapy, relationships require us to bring all of it. They demand that we express ourselves authentically to our partner, and listen with a sturdy, reliable, and open heart.  They insist that we keep trying to do this better, even after years and years together, and even though we sometimes forget.  Because life is funny.  But it's also crazy and sad and painful and intense and completely fucking serious.  To be there for each other, we need to take emotional risks.  Be emotionally vulnerable.  Be all of it.  

A good sense of humor is one of the best things in the world.  But it shouldn’t be worn like armor.  It should be worn like a plume -- a big, showy feather that rises ornamentally out of your helmet and announces your high-ranking coolness.   To me, it's not about “softening” your wit, so much as honing -- and fluffing up -- your other traits and skills.  So you can be the harmoniously happy, cool funny chick you want to be. 

I don’t need to tell you or your she-therapist that being a funny chick may limit your options.  If we lived in a society where the dominant gender put a premium on great female personalities, there’d be as many successful female comics as there are Sports Illustrated cover models.  There aren't.  By a long shot.  That doesn’t mean your fave guy won’t read Sports Illustrated, in front of you sometimes.  But when you mock him for it, he might understand that he's a tool, and put it down. 

Here's what my smart husband said when I told him you were worried about scaring men away.  Well, she doesn’t need to find men  She just needs to find one man.   So don’t lose faith, Sarcastic.  Stay in therapy, and work on becoming the best version of yourself that you can be.  And meanwhile, keep your eyes open – and your eyebrow raised -- for that one, right man.

Dear Erin:

I am a 27-year old, single, professional female living in downtown Chicago in a high rise building.  I am contemplating adopting a dog. Everyone's first reaction is NO -- so much responsibility, it will change your life, and not for the better, and it’s so EXPENSIVE.   Bear in mind, I'm great with pets, I’ve been a dog lover all my life, and I have nothing but time outside of my job.  I feel like I need an excuse to get out of bed early, and to go outside, because there are days I could literally work from home and just be agoraphobic all day.   Is a dog a temporary bandaid to my obvious loneliness, and once mentally healed, a burden?   Or is it a potential companion who could do great things for me?

Dog’s Best Friend

Dear Dog’s Best Friend:

I used to be really lonely, too.  When I was in graduate school – and was broke, jobless, and SOMEWHERE between passing my qualifying exams and finishing my dissertation – I was stone cold lonely.  I mean, I dated off and on.  But I lived in Park Slope Brooklyn, in a group apartment with a bunch of other women, and none of us were lesbians.  So I get it.

One day, this woman I knew went running in Prospect Park and came upon a stray dog.  A young, rambunctious Chow Chow.   Undoubtedly, some turdsack had gotten the dog – like at a pet store, when the dog was a puppy and still looked like an ear muff --  but never bothered to research the breed, or get the dog trained, or anything.  So when it became rambunctious and independent and stopped acting like an ear muff, he took Chow to the park, and left him there. 

Although this woman had a bleeding heart, she wasn’t terribly dependable either.   She kind of started looking for someone to adopt Chow, but then went out of town on vacation.   Guess who she asked to dog sit?  Yup, the lonely girl.  And the first weekend I stayed over, I was awoken in the middle of the night by the dog: Barking, barking, barking.  I tried to quiet him down, to no avail.  Then the police showed up.   

Standing outside the apartment door, the cops asked me a bunch of questions.   Is this your apartment?  Is this your dog?   What the hell are you doing here, if this isn’t your apartment or your dog?  I’m sure my story sounded lame and fishy and lonely girl crazy.  But in the end, I wasn't the crazy person they wanted.   It turned out, some guy in the building had just tried to commit suicide, by throwing himself off the roof.  By the time the cops got done talking to everyone, and the EMT's got the depressed guy to the hospital (alive. thanks a lot, hedges.), it was almost morning.  I was so freaked out, I was ready to throw myself off the roof.   
But I couldn’t.  
I had to walk the dog. 

Look, I don’t have a dog.  Mostly because I would want to adopt a stray, which I did once before, and I’m not ready to take that on again.  It ended badly.  Besides, I already have two kids and two cats -- including an impossibly handsome male cat who's ruined me for other pets.  I am not lonely at the moment.   But for people who are, I think dogs can be excellent company.  And single people can be ideal dog owners! 

The only thing I would caution – as per the Chow story – is that people are so often unprepared for how much work a dog requires.   Even a happy, well-trained, emotionally-stable dog -- who you raise from a puppy -- is a lot of work.   So learn about it.  Make use of the internet, or whatever “bookstores” still exist around you, to find material about the breed, and how to raise it.   Really adopt the dog, like he’s become your family.  Too many people buy animals like property and then -- when they find the dogs need too much company and exercise -- toss them out like old ear muffs.   Get a dog walker if you can’t be there.  Find a fun kennel for when you travel.  Line up friends to dog sit when work is busy.  (Just be sure to warn them if your upstairs neighbor is suicidal, so they can close the shades).

If you feel ready for a dog, then get one.  He will make you happy!  And keep you company!   And you, Dog's Best Friend, will do the same for him.   


Anonymous said...

I was hoping for a Dick Cavett story, yay! Love him. One of the best "free to be you and me" record performances (my dog is a plumber). You would have made a great couple. But you and your smart husband already make a great couple. Thanks for your perfect level of sarcastic wit.

Erin Elizabeth Clune said...

Ah thank you. He's still my first love. Yet I do wonder if our 30 year age difference might have become a problem.....

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