I gave up experimenting with Dating Sites a really long time ago. As in years ago. Turns out, the Interweb isn’t quite done with me in that regard. I used to take it somewhat seriously, scrolling through pages of pictures and profiles – especially after hearing about Real Life Success Stories within my own circle of single, divorced or widowed female friends.

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But my own experience brought me  a lot of really lonely, sad men (as in clinically depressed); really angry men; really young men who had clear mommy issues; and men who seemed to be shopping for a woman exactly like they would a piece of furniture. None of this truly important stuff gets revealed in a person’s Profile – intentionally. I get it. But, seriously? The Truth is going to come out during the first meeting, so…why go through coffee, or drinks and dinner and strained conversation that has to end with an awkward handshake? No thank you.

Even though I’m no longer on any of these sites, the Internet Jackals have found, and have been circling me, regardless. I’m thinking that there must be an algorithm for my gender and age, education and marital status, so that what little is actually there in cyberspace flags me as “prey”. If the men now reaching out to me (via Twitter, lately) weren’t so immediately obvious in their gushing compliments in limited English (I’m referring to two apparently Eastern European “Engineers”, living and working on “oil rigs out in the Baltic” that latched on to me about two weeks apart), I might be more amused, than irritated.  

thetimes.co.uk

But the typical inference that I must be vulnerable to, and desperate for over-the-top seduction ( really bad poetry, in some cases) makes me want to respond back with expletives. I want to take some kind of action to defend and protect myself from these Internet Lotharios (bottom line, wanting cash, I’m sure). Whatever that might be. I’m still spit-balling ideas at the moment, since I’m expanding (not shrinking) my Interweb Presence.

One of the last “social-networking” sites I visited really had me feeling hopeful. Its purpose was to connect people actively engaged in what used to be called New Age pursuits:  what we might refer to today as Conscious , or Mindful Living.  Unfortunately, this was and still is one of those sites – Readers might know of others – that, even though you delete your account, actually keeps your information in a vault somewhere in cyberspace. Every now and then unsuspecting former members might receive the message:  “Hello! Look Who Likes You!”

OG Romantic Icon, Olivier as Heathcliff

And so it was, (yesterday) that a completely fabricated ‘person’ was delivered to my Inbox. This time, the “Engineer” (how is this career a ‘thing’ now??) lived less than 20 miles from me (supposedly), instead of on a rig in the Baltic. I decided to read his ‘message’…which was an Ode to my picture (still visible, apparently) and profile (how the hell was he still seeing something I’d deleted ?). He ended his Ode by asking me to text him (a New York number, 2,500 miles away from where I live) so that we’d have a “private and intimate way of getting to know each other”.  Of course:  ‘private’ and ‘intimate’ – the stuff of romance novels.

Curiosity got the better of me. I’ll admit:   I wanted to know if this guy was a “Dimitri’ or an ‘Alek’, so I asked him to share his real name. As though my question had cast a magic spell, complete with fairy dust, the man, the profile, and the internet presence was gone in mere seconds. Feeling satisfied that I’d outed yet another scam, I decided that “Ma” (a pretty bizarre nickname, right?) was actually an AI bot. His photo was too ‘Perfect Man’:  like the enemy-android (in his chiseled-face human form) from the Terminator I film.

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The point of all of this thinking about fake Internet Lotharios and their motives is not to alarm myself or any Reader. It’s just a reminder of how complex the Interweb experience can be. Some people enjoy a good game of ‘cat and mouse’:  they expect such weirdness and deception  and resolve to have fun with it.(I’m thinking about all of the people on YouTube who’ve taken the time to record and then call back ‘fake’ debt-collectors in the hope of ‘besting’ them.) It’s one thing when you go seeking It – whatever that edgy Cyber Thrill is. But it’s another feeling entirely when It comes prowling for you, disguised as a human being.

Time for me to Level Up, once again:  revisit my Privacy settings and bolster my sense of humor. Aside from all of the really good things it can be, cyberspace is also an amusement park “ride” that’s not for the faint at heart. As the signs always say, Ride at Your Own Risk.

As I pass the standard “mid-life” markers, I find myself laughing more often, more ironically, and with more gusto. Laughing at myself, mostly. No, I don’t think it’s generic old-age loonies; instead I think it’s an accumulation of wisdom overheard in my younger days finally getting through to me. There’s a group of women that visit me, as memories, from time to time. I can still see their faces and hear their conversations on topics that were totally disconnected from my reality at the time. Not anymore. I’m remembering, and I’m listening more closely than ever.

While in college in my early twenties, I taught an aerobics class on weekends at a gym exclusively for women. The proprietress (“Ginny”) was a statuesque former beauty (you could still see it in her bones) somewhere in her seventies. She walked like a model, wore a silver bouffant wig, tons of bangles on her wrists, and kept a bottle of vodka in her personal locker. I liked her, a lot. Most of Ginny’s clients were well past middle age. Some of them were in their eighties. They were a different breed of gym-rat back in the day: always dressed in fashionable gym-wear and always in full makeup, perfumed and wearing jewelry. Perspiration was to be avoided.

These ladies eased-into their “workouts” by having coffee with Ginny when the gym opened, around 7 a.m. on Saturday. When I got there a little before 10, ready to teach my class, Ginny was in high spirits (Coffee Lace, as they say in the south, I always thought.) and usually welcomed me with a bangle-jangling hug and cloud of fragrance. During stretches, the women continued to talk amongst themselves non-stop. After about 20 minutes of low-impact Step, I’d guide them through a mild bit of circuit training. Through which they all talked. I don’t think anyone there (besides myself) ever broke a sweat. That wasn’t what this gym was about.

Menopause. Cheating husbands. Feeling ‘invisible’. Slowing metabolism and weight gain. Sagging body parts and wrinkled skin. It was pretty much the same loop every weekend, and fairly easy for me to tune-out. Not only did I tune them out, but I actually thought “What bizarre conversations they have, and what boring lives these women lead.” I had the total impertinence and smugness to think that their concerns could never in a million years be my own one day.

Turns out, as I laugh at myself these days, I do so in the company of these women — now long-gone, most of them. I remember the 85 year old who always washed her face in ice water and never used any other moisturizer than Crisco (I kid you not). Nowadays, almond, olive, apricot and other oils are “de-rigueur” for skin. Then there was the woman who told me that my metabolism would some day slow to a sluggish crawl; that I wouldn’t be able to snack on nachos at midnight without packing on the pounds. My, my — do tell. Finally, there was the woman who complained that becoming Invisible was the worst part of aging for any woman (she eventually became one of the Red Hat Ladies, which I didn’t “get” at the time, but now I do.)

No question that in Western culture we value youth above all things (next to celebrity and celebrity-athletes). But there’s a time period of ‘limbo’ for women — before our kids start joking about pushing us out in a canoe or leaving us on an ice floe — in which Invisibility is a definite problem. Doctors try to convince us that 20 pounds is ‘normal’ weight gain, post-menopause. The fashion industry follows suit by creating Mom Jeans with Tummy Panels to console us. Eye doctors tell us, “Get ready for cataracts — they’re inevitable!” With the aging process, apparently, comes a whole complement of things we’re to assume we must accept. To my thinking, this is the very definition of the Invisibility that my gym-lady was describing so long ago. “You’re a woman, you’re growing older, your body is going to hell but it’s really ok because no one cares, unless you can compete, which you obviously can’t.” Reinforcing this invisibility is the husband who trades his wife in for a model “with fewer miles on it”. Not just a cliché, but a common reality.

What’s a woman to do, when facing Invisibility? Start wearing a red hat, a crimson lip and leopard stilettos? Commit to a strict Paleo and prep for a 10k? Give up cocktails and chocolate? Resolve to find summer and winter-weights of sweatpants? All women will face versions of these questions, and more, as they age. Speaking as one well-into this phase, I can offer two pieces of advice: the first is that Invisibility has distinct advantages, and becoming older brings a certain wisdom and cunning that comes in really handy, when used correctly.

My second piece of advice is to know — or learn — what feels right to you (body weight, fitness level, diet, makeup — clothing- accessories) and jump on that, with all you’ve got. Challenge doctors, dentists, stylists, nutrition and fitness “experts” if or when their suggestions clash with your own inner knowing. Learn to flow with aging according to your own rhythm and sense of well-being. I don’t have a red hat, but I do have a very dramatic, femme fatale black cloche with an iridescent peacock feather perched jauntily on one side. I don’t wear it that often because, when I do, the ‘drama’ of the hat attracts a lot of attention and questions about where I bought it. Sometimes I enjoy that, but sometimes I enjoy being invisible.

My colleague and friend Deepak Patil recently published his doctoral dissertation. His topic was related to the Theory of Collective Intelligence. Think:  the wisdom of bees, ants, migrating birds and whales, and even plants and trees. A kind of inner-knowing, without a whole lot of empirical evidence beyond the research and speculation of scientists that study systems and patterns. What my friend Deepak did was investigate an emerging application of this theory, to human organizations.

While doing his research Deepak uncovered some very interesting, fairly recent studies and subsequent conclusions about how Collective Intelligence functions in groups:  allowing humans to come together more productively by exploring – among other things — the power of empathy, compassion, tolerance and something called “social perceptiveness”.

Why should we care about this? Because despite what our eyes and ears might be telling us at this very moment, Humans Beings – as a large and complex Tribe –actually have very positive tribal instincts. (I’m not referring here to the media’s version “tribalism”, which is more narrow in focus and typically pernicious.)

At the very depths of our being, we humans recognize the practical value of unity and cooperation. In the process of survival, the emotions and skill mentioned above become the “glue” that forges and cements relationships, ensuring that nurturing and protection is extended to all members of the tribe. This is the foundation of our Collective Intelligence as human beings.  And even though it’s not exactly‘ on display’ in the world around us, it’s not just an ideal, or a dream. It’s evident, in studies that began (Carnegie Mellon Institute) back in 2010.

From what I’ve just learned from Deepak about the actual science of it, on a human level I think that Collective Intelligence could  be casually defined as “what happens when we listen to our better angels.” Or, what happens when we try to stay in that “higher vibration” of daily living.

The Carnegie Mellon Institute (after its lengthy study of organizations worldwide), identified the presence of Collective Intelligence through a variety of assessments and observations. The resulting data indicated that significant Collective Intelligence could be identified and measured by three factors. The first was a high degree of Social Perceptiveness (the ability to read non-verbal cues); the second was the Distribution of Conversation (the degree of shared and transactional dialogue); and third was the Proportion of Females in the group (the higher number women, the stronger the Collective Intelligence.)

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The full Carnegie Mellon study is much too detailed to summarize here, but I’ll offer my own takeaways: Our Collective Intelligence will, if we allow it, see us through our challenges as a Human Race. Also, when (not if) women are fully validated by global societies (females, by the way, scored much higher in Social Perceptiveness and in the facilitation of Conversation), we’ll experience how profoundly this benefits everyone.

Now: all we have to do is remember that we are better, stronger, smarter, happier and healthier when we are truly “Together”. Nothing else matters – arguments, divisions, disagreements – as much as this particular reality. It’s not really up for debate…is it?

ancientorigins.net

We’ve all heard the phrase, “You never get a second chance to create a positive first impression.” I’m sure that many, if not most of my Readers have experienced symptoms of anxiety prior to a high-stakes first meeting:  an interview; the first day on the job; a first meeting with any individual or group of people that – momentarily, anyway – hold important keys to our happiness. It’s a very human thing, to want to project the appearance of whatever the desired qualifications are. As long as the Image is not that far from Reality, all is well (depending upon the competition, of course!)

As women, sometimes we get a little carried away with the Image part. In fairness to myself and my Sisters, the scrutiny on us in many (most?) professions or industries is more intense – regardless of what the majority atmosphere (gender/s) may be. We’re not only aware of, but self-conscious about how we’re perceived by others. It’s important that those perceptions (and reactions from others) be in keeping with our professional goals, and also with how we see ourselves.

Unlike men, women (I’m speaking in the binary sense, here) are almost always in the process of balancing their sex with the demands and expectations of the job. How we wear our hair; how we use make-up to enhance our faces; how we dress and accessorize. More than a few times I was told by female mentors, “Never wear your hair down in a meeting!” (Who knew that long hair could be a professional saboteur?)  Any style or adornment that transmitted even a whiff of ‘sexy’ was considered either a transactional killer, or, it communicated the wrong kind of signal (I’m decorative, not functional; here to play, not to work). This balancing Act can be flat-out exhausting; but there’s evidence all around us that the Act is still expected, if not an explicitly stated requirement in many organizations.

One of the most image-conscious  jobs I had while climbing the professional ladder was working in a Communications Unit in a large Southern-California city. The director of the unit was a woman, “Carol”. This woman was always perfectly coiffed (hair bleached a dazzling platinum blonde, styled in a chin-length bob); her makeup was a perfect So-Cal tan, year-round; her suits (always a skirt and jacket) conservative. Carol always wore high heels, and always wore hot pink lipstick with matching pink nail color. I was the Editor of the Communications Unit and only saw Carol as she hustled to and from meetings, or when she wanted to meet over copy. Our conversations were cordial, but professional.

One day, however, we happened to be in the womens’ lounge at the same time. I don’t remember what I was wearing, but – being a writer at that point in my career, pretty much behind the scenes for most of the work day – it surely didn’t compare to Carol’s bright red suit and silk chemise. Feeling feisty, as she was touching up her make-up in the mirror, I commented on her appearance. Something left-handed and safe, like, “You’re always so put-together!” Carol turned to me, smiled indulgently, and simply said, “I’m so tired; I just don’t know how much longer I can do this.” Then she turned back to the mirror to blot her lipstick. She grabbed her huge handbag and exited the lounge. I was dying to know what she meant, but I had to wait until several days later – when I had some copy to give her – to casually bring up our previous conversation. (I framed it as, “Just wondering if you’re ok…?”) To summarize, Carol told me that, basically, her work image was all ‘show’, and not at all who she was “at home”. Image, she said, is Reality:  the reality being, How You Want to Be Perceived, not Who You Really Are.  Silly me, I thought smugly: my only ‘reality’ is who I am inside, regardless of what I’m wearing! Carol may as well have patted my head like the ‘innocent’ bumpkin she obviously thought I was. “You’ll see,” she said. And of course, I did see.

Recently I overheard a young female colleague (who works in male-dominated Finance) talking with another young woman about her image and how she deployed it in her work setting. No particular emphasis on clothing, accessories or make-up; no pressure to present aesthetic perfection. What she did, however, was telegraph her femaleness and sexuality by ‘batting her eyelashes’ (yes, she actually said this) and lowering her voice during a meeting with the male CFO, her immediate boss. I quickly realized that I needed to walk out of earshot, before my feminist hackles became obvious. But another colleague of mine, an older woman, had heard the same comment and was clearly fuming. I watched her walk toward the two younger women, pretty certain that I knew what was about to happen. Not feeling like sticking-around, I just whispered to myself, “You’ll see.”

So, I thought I’d just let this go, but my mind kept circling back to it. With me, that means, Time to add my two cents’ worth of commentary.  I’m referring to a recent Instagram ‘flap’ (creating a collective gasp and flurry of chat in our cyber world) over 53-year old model Cindy Crawford’s decision to Post “racy” (her word) photographs online. Nicely done, Cindy. I mean that. The pictures are tasteful, yet undeniably sexy. Crawford’s still a beautiful woman, regardless of how much air-brushing or photo-shopping was done:  The Bones are there.

I’ve had more than a few friends who’ve taken what used to be called “Boudoir Photos”, feeling the urge to capture for all time a fantasy-like beauty and sexuality. Most haven’t posted them online, however. Crawford’s reasoning for doing so – she was vocal and righteously snippy about it – is that she wanted to speak to the fact that women should not feel they have “Sell-By” dates, when it comes to their sexuality. I couldn’t agree more. Especially if they look like Cindy Crawford. In her statement, Crawford implied that the photographs were also sort of a ‘gift’ for her husband. Not going to argue with that either; but there’s a bit of a weird mashup here:  a political statement and a little eye candy for her spouse? On Instagram? You claim to be speaking for me here, Cindy, so I just want to make sure I’m understanding you.

In my view, a woman’s beauty and her sexuality are inextricably intertwined. In using the word ‘sexuality’ I’m not referring to sex, or the ability to conjure sexual feelings in anyone else. Feeling beautiful is something every woman on the planet is entitled to, and she should get to define what that means to her, and for her. But there’s a particular aspect of beauty that all women share, and that is our sexuality. Our sexuality is based, first and foremost, on the simple fact that we were born female. If we choose to embrace this (feel comfortable in our birth gender), our sexuality as females blossoms as we age. Our sexuality originates as a sense of self, a knowledge of self, a celebration of self and the ancient power inherent in being a woman. A woman’s sexuality does not , nor should it, require a male’s attention or validation in order to flourish.

Despite the “Swinging 60’s”, the brief illusion that women could truly celebrate being female in ways that suited their own bodies, minds and spirits, all women have faced a narrowing of the definitions of ‘beauty’ and ‘sexuality’ over time. Yes, faces on glossy magazine covers have become more diverse (a good thing), but many of the images we see – within the pages of the top fashion sellers —  still project a version of femaleness that is unrelatable to most women. There are also plenty of examples (movies, music, social media) guiding us in how we should feel about our sexuality; defining what it means  for us. No wonder that, as women age, many begin to feel what Crawford called out as the “Sell-By” date fears.

I’m cheering for Cindy Crawford and her nude photos, regardless of the reasons they ended up on Instagram. (I’ll be curious to see if the next decade brings a new photo shoot). I’m just longing for the time when an Influencer like Crawford’s proclamation includes a shout-out empowering  all women, of all ages, shapes and sizes. She has a right to do her thing, for as long as she chooses to. I’m just not convinced that the 53 year-old women she’s talking to are the same ones I know.

I’ve been confronted by personal and professional jealousy my entire adult life (who knows why — I’ve always been pretty low-key about whatever assets I have). Not confronted directly, as in verbally, but informed by an organizational ‘rumor mill’; even when I was a relative newcomer (aka, ‘peon’) in the org. pecking order. Have I been jealous of other people? You bet. Jealous people are ones to keep an eye out for. Not all of them are like me, feeling quietly insecure, in my private moments, acting out these emotions through insomnia and obsessive worry. Some jealous people are assertively so – feeling the need to “take someone down” a notch or two. I’ve seen this in action more than a few times, in different organizational settings. I’ve felt this when I’ve been on the receiving end at work, and even within my own family.

Recently I was conducting a group interaction in a way that was less formal, more transformational for the participants. I was lucky to have a very experienced colleague observing how I handled myself with this group (I’ll always ask to be observed, if I have the option, when trying-out something new with teams). I also had onlookers who were taking notes, so as to be able to make informed comments in our de-brief. When the time came to do so (de-brief), I was amazed by the ‘mix’ in the feedback.  I use the word ‘amazed’ because I continue to marvel at how people in the psychological professions (a supposedly enlightened and more humanistic group, right?) can seem like experts at walking the tightrope between professional detachment and personal criticism; careful not to engage in what looks like score-keeping or one-upmanship; skilled with “left-handed compliments”. Turns out, I’d done well with my group that afternoon (per my experienced colleague) – too well, in the estimation of some, based on their ‘snark’ wrapped in‘recommendations’ for my improvement.

What causes people to act jealously? I believe, at its root, jealousy’s prompted by fear:  feeling  a need to competefor attention or resources, typically. If I don’t feel good enough (in whatever capacity you choose), I’m going also feel threatened in ways that are very primal:  hard to understand, hard to talk about, and hard to overcome.

What’s difficult for me to comprehend, is how common jealousy can be among my older, wiser female colleagues. It’s impossible to not feel the need, when someone is being so obvious about it, to reassure a jealous person through repeated acts of deference or humility:  “I don’t need to take the lead on ( project); go for it!” Or, “I’ve had lots of chances to speak at (event); I’ll be the note-taker and you can run the show!” No. With a jealous person, such “largesse” only increases the ire. Once, when I felt caught in a vortex of no-win exchanges with a deeply jealous woman (I think it was both personal and professional for her), I pulled a last-resort move. I was new to the organization (a negative); was hired from “outside” (another negative); younger, single (considered “on the prowl”); more educated, and more “worldly” in my experience. This was the Intel I gathered before I asked for a private conversation with this person who’d been trash-talking me behind the scenes since my hire.

My ‘last-resort’ is a personal conversation in these instances. Why is talking one-on-one a last resort? Because jealousy lives in a very tender place in a person’s being. It’s not an easy emotion to discuss; you can’t just call-out a person’s glaring insecurities. (Well, you can, but working with them afterwards will be hell for the entire team). The topic has to be approached sideways, with tact, diplomacy, discretion and gentleness. The end of this story is a happy one:  we became friends and the gossiping and back-stabbing stopped. Still, the more I engage with a larger circle of people over time, the Green Eyed Monster (origins, Shakespeare’s play “Othello”) continues to play a part. Attending to the jealousies of other people can be a bore and anxiety-producing. Each time I do it, however, I recognize in myself the fears we all cope with, at one time or another. On a purely pragmatic level,  I’ve worked too hard to get to where I am, to let jealous people highjack my progress.

The meaning and importance of human body language and facial expression has been under study for many decades in the fields of psychology, anthropology and sociology (and more).With the advent of artificial intelligence, the quest to imitate human traits such as interest, compassion, and concern within the “bodies” of artificial beings is intensifying. Non-verbal communication in our technology has expanded the options for conveying how we view ourselves and what we’re feeling, with customizable avatars and more diverse facial emojis. We’re pre-occupied with communicating how we feel, during any particular electronic conversation.

The human face is a marvel of muscles, full of possibilities for silent communication As humans, we recognize (from infancy!) the faces gazing down at us not only for their familiarity in our still-narrow world, but for the cues provided by facial expressions. As we grow older, the ability to intuit meaning and emotion from other people’s faces becomes a skill, honed by our many interactions. As any large-city dweller knows, situational awareness – including reading the faces of strangers as we pass on a street – can be helpful in avoiding a potential problem. Anyone who’s tried to communicate with a loved one in diminished capacity knows the power a smile has to say “I’m here and I love you.”

Knowing how powerfully our faces can telegraph our feelings, it continues to surprise me that, in a professional setting, so many of us (including older, wiser women) fail to deploy The Poker Face when it’s called-for. I was in a meeting this past weekend in which a group of professionals were being asked for input on a very thought-provoking topic. We were each taking turns expressing our views. The group consisted of a wide range of ages:  probably 30 to 50 year-olds. As a more “mature” woman began to speak in a slow, measured way, a younger group member (also a woman) sitting next to her interjected a quick, benign comment. It was instantly clear on the mature woman’s face that this action was highly unwelcome. She physically turned her body, so that she was facing the younger woman completely. The older woman said nothing, but stared directly at the face of the younger woman for what felt like a full 30 seconds. Since we were all in a roundtable configuration, everyone could see and feel the “daggers”. The younger woman did what I call the “belly-up, I’m feeling playful” thing that furry creatures do, to show deference or submission. She did this by breaking eye contact, smiling, looking down and away (not at the group, not wanting to see our reactions, I’m sure). The Speaker’s right to be heard (she did have ‘the floor’) was restored, but she’d also demonstrated dominance with the younger woman. At the very least, the older had ‘schooled’ the younger in ‘manners’ by staring her down. Was this necessary? Was this appropriate? The meeting went on, everyone anxious to get past this awkward ‘blip’.

The above happening triggered an embarrassing memory for me. I was meeting with about 20 board members and interested parties. One member in particular was really getting under my skin with his antagonistic questioning. I don’t recall the fullness of what my face did, but I know it included an eyeroll. I wanted that board member to know that I was fed-up with him. Most of the group ‘clocked’ this, and it was totally clear to me that I’d erred in not remaining stoic. The CEO spoke to me later, compassionately, but his advice was clear:  “You’ve got to develop your Poker Face”. Being younger, and being in Management, meant that I still believed that – when I was annoyed – it was “ok” for me to communicate that in my face. Obviously, I was too ‘green’ to fully think that faulty logic through to its conclusion:  the alienation of others in the room.

These days, we’re in a human communication atmosphere that allows for raw, reactive responses to perceived slights or outrages. Nevertheless, I’ve come to believe – through my own trial and error experiences of not being in control of my face – that The Poker Face is an under-appreciated and under-utilized strategy. In a professional or public setting, when emotions are high, being mindful (I know, that word is so over-used) of relaxing your face into a placid, peaceful expression can make what happens next more productive.

As women, I believe we need to recognize that we’re often more expressive with our emotions (pros and cons, there, for sure) than actually benefits us. The ultimate in precariousness is feeling the tears forming (anger, frustration), in a boardroom packed with men. It’s happened to me, and it’s not a memory that I cherish. Having said that, because we’re in touch with our emotions – a very good, and healthy thing – we are able to transform ourselves more quickly, through such moments, so that they become less frequent, then disappear altogether. That’s my goal, anyway.

With Father’s Day approaching, I was thinking back to the many things I learned from my father while growing up. His childhood was marred by the Depression years. His perspective and message to his three kids was usually “Here’s the grim reality; deal with it!” Got to love those Greatest Generation men and women:  they don’t ‘play’. Not overly emotionally-intelligent, my father focused on practical lessons that, ironically, eventually became metaphors for coping with Life. Learning how to change the oil in my car turned into a lesson in Self Reliance. As did learning to keep a kitchen garden, fix a flat, splice a garden hose, find a stud in a wall, catch and clean a fish, and myriad other survival skills he believed a woman should have.

One of my earliest lessons , as a really young kid, was how to swim. In a river on the outskirts of our city, I learned how to float, dog-paddle, then actually swim (never with much grace, to this day). True to my nature, pretty soon I began pushing my own limits. One day we were swimming in a large lake in rural Virginia, near my father’s ancestral home. I was showing off, I think, by trying to swim out to a rock where my much older cousins were lounging and laughing together. I became exhausted about halfway to the rock. I had to admit to myself, I wasn’t going to make it. There was momentary panic, but then I turned on my back, puffed up my lungs, and floated on the surface of the water. I closed my eyes, tilted my head back in the sun’s glare and focused on the pink and orange swirls on my eyelids. I let the water in my ears muffle the voices on the rock, and soothe my pounding heartbeat. I stretched-out my arms and legs, letting the water and rippling waves from nearby ski boats slide under my body, as if I was a water bird and the lake was my home. No longer in panic-mode, I turned and swam back to shore and realized how really good it felt to be on terra firma.

Talking with someone very dear to me yesterday, I heard over-whelming exhaustion and frustration with his career, turning into the kind of panic we all feel from time to time: “I thought I could do this, but I can’t”; “I thought I wanted this, but I don’t”. Our realization is that we’re mid-way through a mistake – we’ve mis-calculated, mis-interpreted information, made the wrong choices – and we’re now feeling ‘stuck’. Sometimes the answer is simple:  rest for a minute, then turn around and swim back to the shore. But sometimes it’s not at all evident what the next step should be. We feel immobilized.

It saddens me to share that I have more than a few friends who are in jobs, careers, education programs, cities, relationships, marriages and other situations that feel stalled to epic proportions. The moment we realize that we’re in this ‘place’ is a moment that requires, first and foremost, stillness. The ‘rut’ we’re in is our heart speaking a Truth that our rational minds often ignore. Once that Truth is faced (as painful as it may be), we can transition from rut, to ‘holding pattern’.  Regardless of how dire a situation seems, with no solution readily apparent, as long as there is breath in our lungs, we have Choices we can make that will provide a measure of relief. Some choices involve truly horrible-feeling consequences. In a previous Post, “Who Do You Envy”, I shared with my Readers the story of a friend of mine who realized she had to leave her decades-long marriage. She’d known for many years who she really was (a woman who loved women), but had never felt able to be this person. Her decision to leave the ‘rut’ she felt she was in shot through her family like a white-hot arrow, piercing the hearts of the adults and children involved. My friend’s ‘holding pattern’ was finding a place of her own to live. This lasted almost two years while the personal and logistical details of her separation and divorce were worked out.

The last phase of moving ourselves out of a rut is recognizing the ‘opportunity’ before us. What that opportunity turns out to be is wholly dependent upon the person and the original ‘rut’. But one thing that’s universal in this process is the absolute necessity of seeing beyond the current scenario you’re in. You might detest the job you have, and mentally leave the ‘rut’ by realizing you want something more-aligned with your needs and desires. But you’re in a ‘holding pattern’ because that new job hasn’t materialized yet. The ‘opportunity’ lies in being able to turn on your back and float, so that your heart and mind together, have time to sift through your options.

As you listen to your heart and face any ‘ruts’ or ‘holding patterns’ you might be in, I hope that your options extend beyond having to swim back to shore. But, sometimes back-tracking a little, taking more time to rest and re-assess, is the best move. Back in the days of horse-drawn carts, when a wooden cartwheel got stuck in a rut, instead of whipping the horses to pull harder, the wise driver coaxed his horses gently:  step forward, step backwards, rocking the wheel in the rut just enough to lift it up and out. Easy does it.

For a long time now, and with even more effort lately, I’ve been trying to recall my dreams the minute I wake up in the morning. Most of the time, even a vivid, totally-immersive experience during sleep evaporates as fast as my conscious mind tries to grab for it. This morning was different, though:  not only did I wake with a complete memory of what I’d dreamed,  but I was also keenly aware of the message from my subconscious mind, as to what it was trying to tell me. Last night’s dream was all about my relationship with Love, and how that relationship has changed, through both luminous, and harsh, experiences.

Being in Love is uniquely personal. I can’t, and wouldn’t try to describe it for anyone else. First Love (which was what my dream-memory recalled) was an absolute free-fall and deep-dive into the other person, without any fear or hesitation. I often had the sense that we were in sync at a cellular level: at times seeing, breathing, thinking as One.  Everything that I thought I was, and everything I wanted to be, was intertwined with this feeling. Love was authentic and trustworthy. Love was a kind of protective insulation from the world; a special way of feeling, and being, that sprinkled fairy dust on anything  we wanted to conjure together (even the mundane, like our first apartment). My first love lasted almost 9 years. Even then, the love didn’t ever wane, but our radically-different ideas about ‘stability’ became impossible to ignore. We were a cliché of the times:  the ambitious professional, constantly – and becoming bored with — propping up the starving-artist who wanted to play music and do little else. Still, over the years that First Love remained imprinted on my entire being;  it was my metric for how I knew a relationship could feel. But as I continued to date, even falling in love two more times, I began to change, and my lovers did too.

If we stay ‘single’ or get divorced, at a certain point, — or maybe it’s a certain age — men and women start to feel and act on the belief that Love is just not going to happen naturally. It’s over. Done. The time has passed.That’s when the small lapses start; the little half-truths or fully-baked lies.When I’ve had occasion to give a man the heave-ho because he’s grossly misrepresented himself (I once had guy tell me he was in a college nursing program; he was actually a gardener with no academic aspirations), I’ve always asked, Why? Why lie? A shrug of the shoulders is a common response. As if.  If I had time and space here, I’d share with you some similar, truly laughable, and even bizarre, online dating experiences I’ve had. (which is why I stopped taking that avenue!) Men have lied about their faces and bodies (of course, right?), but also their careers, interests, habits (smoking, vs. non-) and marital status (“married, but (not) in the divorce process”). Again: Why do this? It’s not like the Truth will never be exposed; but it’s a gamble that it won’t, so there’s the answer.

My male friends (not dating prospects, so they’re willing to be candid) back me up on this, telling me that I just don’t understand how hard it is for men to be “on their own”. They seem to think that women have the upper-hand, when it comes to coping with a solitary life; so, women are less-likely “cave” to deception and outright lying.

I don’t know about that. But what I do know is that it can feel increasingly difficult to remember Love, before the heart became jaded and wary; and, at the same time, easier to want to hide in seclusion, amidst the after effects of consecutive disappointments with Love. My dream last night, I’m convinced, arrived as a gentle reminder of the Power of Love, Trusting in Love, being Patient with Love, and the courage needed to take care of my Self until I cross paths with Love again. There’s really no point in trying to look for it; it knows where I am.

I just read a Post from a Vlogger who’d connected with me yesterday. She’s decided to move to another country (radically different from her own) and begin chronicling her new life in her posts and videos. I’m loving how many women are out there, doing things that satisfy the soul ! 

I realized, as she excitedly related her transition process (choosing personal mementos to bring to her new apartment, for starters), that a lot of my major Transitions have felt disruptive to my inner equilibrium in some way. Marriage; the birth of a child; a change of job; moving to a new city; divorce; the death of a parent; a major rift in my family unit. My Transitions have always involved or impacted other people, so the ‘ripple effect’ of change reverberated all the more. How will my husband adjust to our salaries being out of balance? How will my son adapt to his new school? How can I possibly cope with my extended-family’s ‘drama’—while I’m trying to work, parent,  and go to graduate school?

There was a period in my life that the Transitions came so fast and so furiously that I felt like I was being pummeled by huge waves, similar to an actual experience I’d had in Hawaii. After my son was born, when he was around 5 months old, we went to the island of Kona for ten days. The birth had been brutal (after 23 hours of labor, my body said “No Way!” to the 10-lb. watermelon trying to make his exit). When my feet finally hit the warm sand (my husband was setting up the pup-tent with the baby, on the beach), I’d failed to notice a large, red, triangular flag, flying straight-out horizontally, in the gale force winds. I entered the water and almost immediately, when I turned briefly to wave to my husband and son, was clobbered by a wall of water that felt as solid as a mountain. If you’ve ever been struck by this kind of wave, you know that your first sensation, after the initial body-slam, is tumbling:  end over end, flailing with arms out, nothing to grab on to but water. And the ocean, forcing itself into your mouth, up your nose and into your eyes, which have been shocked wide open. This is how my series of Transitions over, I’d say it was maybe two years, felt. Exhausting. Fearsome. Over-whelming. The kind of changes that impact your sleep, your ability to keep healthy routines, and, ultimately, your certainty that you will even survive them.

When I was tumbling around in that huge wave, knocked off my feet (and out of my entire bathing suit, by the way) in about 10 or 12 feet of water, I had the weird thought, “Ah…so this is what drowning feels like!” My husband was on the beach, with the baby. It wasn’t likely that he’d plow into the surf, infant in his arms, to rescue me. In the seconds that I was tumbling, with a pressing need to gasp for air, everything got calm – even with this monster wave roaring in my ears. I remembered something I’d read. Instead of trying to right myself vertically (struggling to find the seafloor with my feet, or, to tread water), I did my best to tuck my legs in, making my body into a ball-shape that the wave would then toss up onto the shore. Which is exactly what happened. I’m convinced I would have drowned shortly, had I not done this.

And so it is with our Transitions, when they plow into us en masse – or, when a singularly frightening change hits us, without our having time to prepare. The impulse is to ‘resist’; to rail against the confusion, the force, the nonsense, the threat; and, to dwell on the powerlessness we feel. There’s a particularly cruel irony (and bizarre logic) that drunk drivers often survive crashes that kill their victims precisely because their bodies are so relaxed (intoxicated) at impact. The body’s urge to ‘resist’ can hinder survival.

The best book I’ve read on coping with difficult or painful times of change is by William Bridges, and is titled “Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes”. At this point in my life, my ‘seas’ are mostly calm; but I’ve also committed to the habit of never taking my eyes off the waves (though I’ll admit here that my Nature is to still ignore Red Flags from time to time).