table for one

Most people like things they’re good at.

At some point, maybe Michael Jordan has thought to himself, “I am kind of an ace at basketball. I will really enjoy the next opportunity I have to play.” Or perhaps David Bowie-while running his weekend errands-has mused a time or two about how much he looks forward to his next free moments for Glam Rocking and covering heinously annoying holiday songs in a somewhat more bearable fashion.

In some ways, I fit this paradigm. I both enjoy and am decent at a few things: talking people into oblivion, handing out sass, and executing the perfect high-five pretty much exhaust that list.

But one thing remains a mystery to me. Why in the Ever-Revolving World do I look forward to-and thoroughly enjoy-Valentine’s Day?

As you will see from the images in this post, Amazing-Celebrity-Crush-Inspired-Valentine-Making has been ruling my free time lately. What started as a joke between me and one friend is growing into a February hobby. I am genuinely giddy to see the feedback on them, and the growing list of requests for more.

But Valentine’s enthusiasm is nothing new for the likes of me. Every year, I look forward to the cheesy chick-flick marathons, and the box of Whitman’s chocolate from at least one of my parental units.

But it doesn’t add up. To say I’m “good at Valentine’s Day” is like saying e.e. cummings is “good at observing basic syntax”. The particulars do not match. Something isn’t gelling right. Where does all my enthusiasm come from?

My first thought is to chalk my behavior up somewhere between Delusions of Grandeur and Denial on the Crazy Continuum. Don’t get me wrong, I have been known to feel a bit out of place as the 3rd, 7th, or 11th wheel. And it can be an exhausting business to be the “buddy” or the “jovial and mysteriously content” single person in the group.

However, Valentine’s Day still [albeit miraculously] carries a bizarre mystique for me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t buy myself long-stem roses and loop Sleepless in Seattle for 3  straight days. But I actually enjoy the feeling in the air.

Maybe it’s because red is often a very flattering color, and chocolate is delicious. But I think there is something deeper going on. Could it be that I love the thought of being in love? That the idea of romance is almost as intriguing as the experience? That sounds very poetic. But I think it is something much simpler.

In my favorite modern romantic comedy, a couple goes through an amicable break-up. The guy and his soon-to-be-ex-girl are sitting at the table, trying to make the best of things. “What about you” he asks her, “Is there someone else?”

“No,” she answers, “But there is the dream of someone else.”

Once again, the girl-driven sector of cinema proves it can be good-for-something.

I think that’s the most appealing part of the whole experience for me when it comes to this time of year. Maybe it’s the lingering promise of the new year, along with heart-shaped everything: whatever gives me the inclination, I enjoy granting myself permission to dream.

Oscar Wilde once said, “The essence of romance is uncertainty”. Even though it is the most agonizing bit for many, the facing of the unknown is often the best part of almost any story in the scheme of things. There is suspense, there is drama, there is anticipation.

To illustrate the point, consider the Secret Admirer: a phantom who often emerges this time of year. What makes him/her so infuriating is the same thing that thrills the recipient of affections: the unknown, the feeling of something to come, something great be revealed. As Willy Wonka says, “The best kind of prize is a SUR-prize!”

I’m not saying I’ll be writing odes to life in iambic pentameter next week. I won’t be humming to myself, or twirling around in my living room with a look of glassy-eyed happiness. In most ways, it will be a week like any other.

But when predictability threatens to bum me out, maybe I can call on the idyllic feeling of a daydream.

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imaginary [more-than]friends

Before I begin, each of you should prepare to have your thunder stolen, your bubble burst, your parade rained on, and for any other cliche outcome involving sudden unwelcome feelings of disbelief.

I am single.

There, the worst is over. Feel free to take a moment to collect yourselves.

Sometimes this is a drag: like when I’m out with a group of friends, all my friends in relationships are sitting around complaining about the people they’re in relationships with. In those moments,  things can get a little uncomfortable. I am forced to say something like, “Sorry, I just don’t feel qualified to contribute to this conversation.”

But most of the time, flying solo is pretty all right.  I can take this time to learn about myself and others, and can put my hands up when Beyonce tells me to do so.

When you combine my ‘status’ with my tendencies as a writer, there is a very potent result. Turns out, I am good at being single and making stuff up. So why not combine the two? I figure there are plenty of guys out there who wouldn’t mind being my beau, so why not aim high and forget about the technicalities like whether or not they actually know I exist? Sounds healthy to me.

To console myself in the onslaught of certain mid-Febraury observances-and as a beacon of hope to my fellow ‘single ladies’-I offer you a few very good candidates* for your next boyfriend.  [*Never mind suspension of disbelief and disregard for the laws of time and space that will be necessary: anything for love, right?]

Meet Paul.

Paul enjoys music, being on the beach, and being a brilliant songwriter. He is passionate about animal rights, and a variety of other causes.

Pros: Looks, Charm, English accent, Quirky Humor, Excellent Taste in Friends

Cons: Likes to cross the street barefoot.

Meet Gene.

Gene loves to dance and sing, often at the same time. He is an actor, director, and choreographer in his “spare time”.

Pros: Dazzling smile, Dapper, Dripping with Charm, in Better Shape Than Anyone Else You Know

Cons: He gets unreasonably enthusiastic about inclement weather.

Meet Jack.

Jack lives in Nashville. He enjoys collecting vinyl, being mysterious, and starting bands.

Pros: Cool, Talented, Quirky, Hangs out with Conan O’Brien

Cons: Well, he’s a bit odd.

Meet Johnny.

Johnny enjoys traveling, swashbuckling, and comparing ravens to writing desks. He is the pride of Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Pros: Perfect Bone Structure, Versatile Actor, Excellent Party Guest

Cons: There’s a lot of competition for this one.

Meet John Clayton.

John likes tattoos, strutting, and speaking obtusely. He has made a career out of soul-searching, brutal honesty, and well-expressed introspection.

Pros: A Voice that Can Melt Your Heart on Contact, Pretty Hair, Mad Bluesman Skillz, Rockstar Attitude

Cons: Somewhat Lacking in Social and Relationship Skills, Rockstar Attitude

So, there you have it. My go-to guys when I need to be charmed, cheered, and otherwise entertained. Of course, we should keep both our feet on the ground. But it’s okay to stargaze every now and then, I think.

ephron’s law

I recently made the decision-after spending a little under two years with 3 different experiments of varying lengths-that the Dot-Com Dating Scene is not for me. [Of course, not everyone can boast the title of the Mayor of Friendville-so the regular scene must not be used to the likes of me, either. ]

For a kernel of truth [hidden carefully beneath a layer or two of irony], I’d like to call my favorite romantic comedy to the stand. In Nora Ephron’s modern classic You’ve Got Mail, George says, “As far as I’m concerned the Internet is just another way for me to be rejected by a woman.” The movie addresses other Internet romance pitfalls: anonymity, insecurity, unforeseen personal and physical flaws, and the possibility that your boyfriend may be the Rooftop Killer.

But since Nora, Tom and Meg had been through like perils before, the World Wide Web proved a piece of cake. They were able to make it what we might now call Facebook official by movie’s end-[in other words, they ended up indisputably together]: evidence includes happy tears, central park vistas, movie kissing, and the obligatory playing of  a non-Garland version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.

For those of you trying to get this straight, I’ll help: I am using a movie about the success of an Internet-relationship to justify my own exit from dating sites, after having the Cybercosmos to thank for my only relationship. Clear? Thought so.

I am not leaving dating sites because I failed- or even because I think they are a bad idea. In fact, I would recommend them to those who are in staunch opposition: they are good to try when you’ve tried everything else, they eliminate the ‘why is he or she talking to me’ question entirely, and they give you the chance to learn to focus on your strengths while you create a profile.

But I’m putting in my notice: I have discovered there is something important missing from the Cyber-dating process. But don’t feel bad for me: what dating sites lack is luckily something my own life has in spades.

If there is anything I am good at doing, it is being [Just] Friends. I am a champion. I am extremely comfortable in the Friend Zone, that is apparently where the rest of Man-kind likes me, since I have made very few ventures in to the More-Than-Friendzone, if there even is such a place. [I’ve seen a lot of desert-themed adventure films, it could be a mirage].

You’ve Got Mail works because it operates on the principles of Ephron’s Law: A relationship [and romantic comedy] work best when there are equal parts friendship and chemistry.  Where one of those is ignored, or given unequal weight, things will either fizzle or explode [and you don’t want to singe those eyebrows of yours].

Although my odds aren’t exactly improved as a result of this decision, I think it will help me to have removed anything that keeps me from my motto of living in the present.

Although I am loathe to relinquish the sense of control offered by Internet dating, I have a good feeling about letting it go, and seeing what a collection of lived-in-todays brings me.

This year, I have my fingers crossed for something to grow out of more organic beginnings.

Let’s hope, somewhere out there, some friend of mine finds himself in agreement.

put a ring on it? 10 songs for the single

Apparently, I enjoy a good song, or at least talking about how much I enjoy songs. I like happy songs, mellow songs, and even the occasional seasonal song. And, like every other arena of life, I like to incorporate a little good, old-fashioned mockery into my musical critiques from time to time.

“Why write about songs?” someone may ask, “You’re not a songwriter; you only sing at karaoke, and you’re supposed to write about what you know.” And Someone may, on some level, be right. Sometimes.

Because apart from growing up in a landmark city in the history of music, and having friends and acquaintances with a combined musical talent that is larger than a Central American isthmus nation, I have little cause to write about music with the mind of a critic.

However, there is one ‘area’ in which I am a confirmed expert. And, lucky for my credentials, my area of expertise has also been a muse for singer/songwriters for eons.

I present to you now some Songs for the Single. To guide you to the appropriate selection, please note the headings.

[**My apologies for John Mayer’s multiple appearances in this post. Part of that has to do with him being my imaginary spouse; the rest has to do with him apparently being one of the loneliest, most wistful people on planet Earth.]

If you are currently experiencing (or would like to experience) Pining or Longing:

1. “If it Kills Me” (EP Version) (Jason Mraz)

2. “Love Song for No One” (John Mayer) (an early version, from the American Eagle spokesmodel/Funny Faces era)

If you want to feel (or are feeling) Liberated:

1. “King of Anything” (Sara Bareilles)

2. “Single Ladies” (Pomplamoose version)

3. “Steer” (Missy Higgins)

To wallow in Sadness (or any array of other Negative Emotions):

1. “Tin Man” (the Avett Brothers)

2. “Grey Room” (Damien Rice) (Of course, this subheading applies to every song he’s ever written. But they are completely beautiful and poignant songs, so he is worth investigating on your more melancholy days.)

If you want to feel Hopeful (or at least On Your Way):

1. “Die Alone” (Ingrid Michaelson)

2. “Perfectly Lonely” (John Mayer)

3. “Haven’t Met You Yet” (Michael Buble) (I am not the biggest “Bubble” fan, but this song has a special place in my heart. After a particularly disappointing experience, my best friend sent this to me; he thought it might cheer me up. He knows me too well.)

I was going to save this post for mid-February. But the holidays are often a lonely time for the unattached. So this is a friendly reminder to the Independents like me out there: you’re not alone. And to the “better halves” and “other halves” out there, hug one of your single friends and tell them they deserve the best.

They say something- or someone- great comes along when you least expect it. I’m not expecting anyone anytime soon. So, excuse me while I brace for impact. In the mean time, chins up, Solo Fliers.

on cycling.

There’s a pretty neat website called Ruminations. It’s what it sounds like.  People make accounts, and, not unlike Twitter, you post anecdotes of a limited number of characters. What I like about this site (and what makes it different from some other social media) is that it is focused on encouraging clever, substantial observations, rather than just allowing everyone in the world to post every thought sans filter.

I created an account because I thought it might be my Cup of Tea, if you will [and you will].

I wanted to expound on my first one with you in a place where I was not confined by a letters-numbers-and-symbols limit. It is queued up for approval right now; but essentially, it says:

“Lately, I’ve been bumming about always  being the 3rd Wheel. Today I realized: without the 3rd Wheel, there would be no tricycles. . .”

The (one) good thing about this analogy is that I can feel somewhat okay about myself when faced with the inevitable Trike Scenario. Because tricycles are useful. And they have whimsy. So, next time I am sitting next to a Happy Couple checking my text inbox while they recite Keats to each other, I can have a  have bizarre pseudo-pep-talk inner monologue: You are useful, Beth Hopkins. You have whimsy.

I have to admit, this is not entirely helpful. There are reasons why this analogy may not serve me well in the end. Including but not limited to:

  • Tricycles outlive their usefulness and are passed around from place to place like old, ratty Christmas sweaters.
  • Most are embarrassed by their tricycles on some level, completely forgetting about it when Bike Time rolls around.
  • Tricycles are little and squeaky.

You can see now why any motivational self-speech about being a 3rd Wheel has brevity as one of its few strongpoints. Some may argue that to be part of a trike is better than being left to fly solo. But even a unicycle, though lonesome, is wild, free, and uninhibited. I have navigated a like course well for many years. There are potholes and pitfalls abounding, but there are heights along the road.

But when company arrives, the Trike rides again.  Two  glide along behind me, while  I  remain am the gaudy, front-and-center mark; the vortex of  our awkward, three-prong locomotion.

What about the Hippie’s favorite mode of transport?  Where is the bike analogy?

Regrettably, any of my  practical life experiences that can be applied to the One-of-Two Perspective are scant and scattered.

To date, the closest I have come to the Bike Stage is a lady (quite literally)  mistaking me for a bicycle in the bathroom of a popular local  bar. All she could see  beneath the bottom edge of the stall door was one of my chair tires, and she asked my friend, completely serious “Does she have a bicycle in there?!” as if I was not inches away, in a wheelchair accessible stall.

Believe me, I wish I was kidding.

The poetic, intangible parallels of what a bike is like are yet lost on me. Perhaps someday, I will be one of two parts, holding up equal weight: shiny and new, adorned with dice and playing cards.

Until then, I promise to coast along as usual: doing my best to make things easy for the pairs in my life and raise their Whimsy Quotient . After all, as the Stooges and the Musketeers will tell you, trios are cool, too.

put a ring on it?

Weddings.

Proposals.

All those shows on TLC that revolve around getting married or the minutia thereof.

Weepy indie pop.

Chick flicks- or RoCos, as one of my guy friends affectionately calls them.

Chance meetings.

Smiles from a kind stranger.

(Not-so) secret admiration.

You’re about to be bombarded with all this and more for the next two weeks- so I thought I would help you be prepared.

The World is gearing up for one of Hallmark’s favorite “holidays”. And it seems like every year, I write something about the epic Struggle between Singlehood and Contentment with who I am- and then three-hundred-sixty-something days roll by and I find myself staring expectantly at my computer screen, waiting for it to ask me if I come here often.

Don’t get me wrong: I still have the same inner turmoil- so strong at times it feels like it might rend me in two. But I won’t leave you dancing to the same old song. This time, I will force myself to write from a unique perspective within this topic. There is one lesson that Professional Singlehood has definitely taught me over and over and over and— well, you get the idea . . .

I have learned how to be a friend. Friendship is very difficult. Anyone who tells me they want to be “just friends” “just” doesn’t understand what a friend is. There isn’t anything simple or diminutive about it. [A more accurate way of putting it might be “just acquaintences”, “just strangers”, or “just two equally dissatisfied, yet equally intimidated people”- but none of these rolls off the tongue quite so easily.]

My point is- unless it would find me in an unhealthy place emotionally, I take almost everyone who tells me he “just” wants to be friends at his word. And boy- is it “just” about one of the hardest commitments to make! Because friends stick around whether they’re being attended to or not. Friends learn to be honest. Friends share joys and sorrows. Friends fight the constant, uphill battle of communication.

I’m not saying that being single gets easier the longer it lasts- but I am so thankful for each of these guys who, in his own way, has taught me how to listen, not listen, laugh at myself, or laugh at him- at just the right moment. For every one of them who has made me angry, I am thankful. Because in those moments, I know that I am strong, that I have feelings, and that they are real. For every one of them who has made me sad, I am thankful for the opportunity to consider the source, and to reach out and find hope Elsewhere.

As much as I hate to admit it, there can be no girlfriendship without friendship.

But at the same time that I have had to fight to see the forest for the trees, I have also been blessed to look around and see so many people I have had unique connections with still remain as friends. Some have gone, but many of you are steadfast. And it means the world to me. Even though you all still smell funny and have cooties.

Of course, those cooties can be counter-acted by two very important things: solitude and Girl Time. Two more things that Singlehood has allowed me to relish, along with so many unique expressions of friendship. As wonderful as Prince Charming is, nothing can replace the feeling I get when laughing with one of my girlfriends till my stomach hurts. Or when finishing a poem or a story and realizing that I, and I alone, am the first one to see it and appreciate it, complete.

The truth is, as much as I know by experience that it isn’t good for (wo)man to be alone [all the time], I also revel in the things that my time alone teaches me about who I am: whether I’m learning how I have grown or how I need to. And I know there will come a time when my alone time and my time to be silly and go out dancing or sharing the karaoke stage with my girlfriends will be next to none.

But until some fella puts a ring on it, I am free to be me. Even if I sometimes have to do it through clenched teeth. Most of the time, I end up laughing.

balancing: act?

“Nothing to do

Nowhere to be

A simple little kind of free

Nothing to do

No one but me

It isn’t really hard to see

Why I’m perfectly lonely

I’m perfectly lonely

Perfectly lonely, yeah

Cause I don’t belong to anyone

And nobody belongs to me.”

– “Perfectly Lonely”, John Mayer

*

Every one of us, attached or not, knows what it’s like to be single.

It isn’t the worst thing in the world by any means. I am very happy and thankful for my life- and am blessed to have learned volumes and grown by leaps and bounds as an independent lady! I have never been in a serious relationship, so I have had many years to learn (continually) about how to be happy with who I am and what I do have, rather than what I am “missing” (relatively speaking), or what other people have.

There is an understanding in those words that contentment and lonliness are not- as our statistics books may phrase it- mutually exclusive. Recent situations have reminded me just how true that is with matters of my own heart. It happens all the time: I meet someone wonderful, things seem to be moving along nicely, and then one, tiny, amoeba-sized thing happens and either I’m searching the Internet for china patterns, or thumbing through my Damien Rice collection looking for the perfect anthem to echo my desolation. What happened to Normalville? I was on my way there: how can one tiny thing send me reeling off the road?!

For an analogy, consider a scale. One one side is the carefree, happy romantic me that enjoys her bi-quarterly viewing of You’ve Got Mail. On the other, the insecure, somewhat jaded, perpetually single “best buddy” of heterosexual males. In most situations, the scales are balanced. But add a circumstance the weight of a feather on either side, and the scales tip all the way in that direction. One kind word or gentle smile, and I’m all optimism. One aloof moment, and I’m convinced that I am doomed to a life of isolation and spinsterhood, with only my emaciated felines to console me.

It is possible, where the Heart is concerned, for me to maintain a sense of balance.

But must it be so delicate? How can I be still? The whole world is spinning.

*

“And she walks along the edge of where the ocean meets the land,  just like she’s walking on a wire in the circus…” – Round Here, Counting Crows