Monday, November 30, 2009


In his mean post-break-up email, my ex accused me of being shallow (or wanting to be shallow, or heading toward being shallow, or something like that—still can’t bring myself to re-read it), of being concerned only with surfaces.

I wish.

How great would it be to care only about surfaces! Oh, to be shallow, to skip along through life, taking it as it comes, letting all the junk just bounce off, not caring what other people think about you, not feeling a need to self-analyze and self-criticize and so forth, reading paperback best-sellers, seeing blockbuster movies, caring about Jon + Kate. Quel joy!

My friend Laura and I had a detailed discussion about the break-up, in which she offered a classy and helpful metaphor to sum up the situation. “It’s like finding something in an antique shop,” she said, “something that would be great if only, and you think, ‘Oh, I’ll buy it and get it fixed, or get it refinished, or cut the legs down,’ or something like that. But you know it’s not what you really want, and it’ll never be right, and you have to walk away and keep looking.”

I have another analogy, one that shows off my shallowness quite nicely, I think, especially when I develop it into a theory of life. Here goes: You’re shopping for clothes, and you’re in the dressing room, trying stuff on. You try on a black shirt and think, “Nothing wrong with that, I could use a black shirt,” or you try on a jacket and think, “Not bad, I suppose, and it’s a good deal.” Then you try on something else—a sweater, or a t-shirt, or the perfect little black dress—and you look in the mirror and say, “I frickin’ love it. I look amazing.”

Here’s what I’ve learned: don’t buy the other stuff, the “good-enough” stuff. Hold out for something that makes you feel like a rock star. And more important: trust that you’ll know it when you see it.

I’ve been applying my clothes-shopping philosophy to other aspects of my life. I don’t stick with a book unless I love it, I try not to waste calories on something that’s not super-delicious, I don’t pursue a job opp if the initial meeting feels sour… Basically, I try to check in with myself—be mindful, as they say—and make sure all’s well.

As I’ve written before, I have a lot of issues that come out in full force when I’m in a relationship, and it can become very difficult for me to get my bearings. Like this time: I doubted the gut feeling that was telling me to bail; I felt I should keep trying to make a go of it, because maybe, if I worked through my stuff, everything would click into place, and we’d live happily ever after. I thought my doubts could be coming from relationship-induced craziness, and not from the reality of the situation, which was simply that it wasn’t working, period.

During the drawn-out misery that led up to the split, I felt uncomfortable in my own skin, completely at odds with myself. It’s like when you’re wearing a pair of pants that’s too tight, and all day, you’re fidgeting and squirming and you just can’t wait till you can get home, change into your sweats, and breathe easy. That’s what it felt like, when it was finally over: relief.

(Unfortunately, the break-up process wasn’t in fact over, though I didn’t know that at the time. There was a slew of drama awaiting me, including his most recent email, which looks like an apology and sounds like an apology, but, honey, that ain’t no apology—you know, “I’m sorry if I hurt you, but”—in which he said he should have “corrected” me more along the way. Oh, really?)

Bottom line, despite the fact that the relationship started so romantically, and despite the fact that in certain lights it looked destined by Fate, it didn’t fitwe didn’t fit—and there’s nothing I can do about it now except change into my sweats and lick my wounds.

Now, as I do a round of Monday-morning quarterbacking on the past few months, there are a couple lessons for me to remember, the most important of which is this: I have to believe that when the right relationship comes along, no matter how much stuff I have to work through, I will feel in my bones that it’s worth it. I have to trust that I’ll know it when I see it.


  1. I love this post. I love the example of the antique shop and the not quite right clothes (even though they seem like a good deal).One of the benefits of being old, is that you learn how to move away from any post-split drama. The critique is not okay. I loved your Paris blog. I loved the way you wended your way through your days, savoring your journey. So beautiful. I love the idea of bringing that same discernment to your life wherever you alight. Not shallow, just gorgeous.

  2. Excuse me...But he feels he should have "corrected" you more along the way? How very helpful of him, Siobhan. Hold out for that moment when you feel like a rock star. It happens. Even when you're wearing sweat pants.

  3. Thanks, Leigh - it means a lot to get these encouraging words from you. It's definitely nerve-wracking, putting my usually well-hidden (at least I hope so!) craziness out on display, so it's very helpful to get a comment like yours.

    And thank you, Brenda! I will indeed wait for my rock star moment.

  4. Siobhan, I don't think I've ever commented before, although I've been reading you for some time. Because it's All About Me, I just need to tell you that this post was exactly what I needed to read at this precise moment. Thanks for reminding me to hold out for the special one - and that when it comes along, I'll know it, because I'm smart like that (as are you), in spite of my doubting it every once in a while.

    Also, um, "corrected" you? Pardon my français, but fuck that shit.

  5. Kathy, I truly appreciate your comment (and, yes, I think it's your first). I'm getting some serious flak on this post that was making me wonder if perhaps it was a mistake, so I'm thrilled to hear that it was helpful to you - that makes it all worthwhile!

  6. ...good lord, who is giving you flak??? This is what a blog is FOR! It was tremendously helpful, yes, and a beautiful, insightful read to boot.

  7. From the outset, let's assume there were mistakes on both sides. It's useless to beat yourself up about it—love or attraction seldom brings out the best in us

  8. "I am a deeply superficial person." –Andy Warhol

  9. Siobhan,
    I just happened upon your blog, and you can't imagine the comfort I feel when reading you write my exact story on your blog. Beautiful beginning - seemingly fated - hormones, flights of fancy, a bewildering feeling in my gut that I ignored, moments of bliss with an underlying too-tight-pants feeling and final, inevitable implosion, activating and enlarging every insecurity and self-doubt one can imagine. Don't want the guy, feel tremendous relief that it's over, but there is a whole cloud over of me of "what does this mean/say/conclude about me?" And my sense of self - in that bad Buddhist self way - has been inflated. Here's the good fallout: pain is a clarifying m-f-er. Take care of yourself. Do yoga. Meditate. Don't fight the uncertainty and the painful introspection. Befriend it. Sorry this sounds awfully preachy.
    -Emotional Growth x10

  10. EG x10: Thank you so much for your comment - it's such a relief, after writing something so revealing, to hear that someone out there has appreciated it, and -- on top of that -- taken comfort from it. And you don't sound preachy at all - I value your succinct and on-point advice, which I am indeed trying to follow. It all helps, and it's all part of the journey, right?