Rewiring Marshmallow Chickens

When I first started working with my miraculous, executive coach, one of the exercises she made me do was to think about what my dream job would be like and catalog every detail.  The idea is that you can’t do the work to bring about the transformation that you’re looking for if you don’t know what the goal looks like.  If you don’t have a specific end in mind, you’ll make changes for the sake of making changes, spinning your wheels without progressing to what will make you whole.

It sounds easy, but it took me over a year of working with her to be able to do it, and even then, I didn’t get it 100% right.  She asked me to do the same thing with respect to finding the right man, and I’ve been struggling with that, too.  It’s easy-peasy to make a list of characteristics:  smart, good at banter, loves to travel, likes cocktails, thinks my chocolate chip cookies are the best, etc. Once you start down this road, the characteristics evolve from the sublime to the ridiculous:  no excessive pen snobbery, no Yankees fans, no Red Sox fans, no AL fans at all because the designated hitter is a travesty of baseball.  I built a list a mile long in the quiet moments while on my various travels with the Viking.  While some of the individual items turned out to be useless (really?  I’m going to turn away a great guy because he’s ok with the designated hitter?), the list comprised a data set begging to be analyzed in the context of my romantic experiences.  So I did.

Here’s something about Charlotte Cooper you may or may not already know:  she is tenderhearted.  Owners of tender hearts believe that those hearts should be protected, and we develop expertise in the construction of defenses.  This is exactly the wrong thing to do.  It took me over 35 years to learn that.  Dismantling three and half decades of armor is war, and it goes against every survival instinct I have.

All of these defenses create a situation where I am suspicious of a direct attack on my heart.  What does this mean?  It means that when I was four years old at daycare, and Nick with the curly brown hair and squishy cheeks followed me around trying to kiss me (he was also four, so it wasn’t creepy), instead of being flattered, I was annoyed.  Why did this kid with the runny nose keep chasing me?  Couldn’t he see I was busy reading books and playing restaurant?  It means that over the years, when boys and men have taken the direct approach to winning my heart, instead of being open and vulnerable to seeing what could happen, I spun 180 degrees and ran, ostensibly disgusted, but in retrospect, probably mostly scared (so many adverbs – sorry BTJ and Carmen).

If that’s all I had to overcome, I could get it done with a few weekends of chopping vegetables and swimming.  The real problem is that all of my resources have been allocated to protecting myself against a direct attack.  I have nothing left to protect myself against an inadvertent sneak attack.  I am lucky that all but one of the men in the major relationships of my life have been kind and honest and had only the most honorable of intentions.  But there have been too many fruitless pursuits of men who cared for me but didn’t have an interest in finding out if my heart might be the right one to go on adventures with his.  (Don’t blame them – part of the fun of the defenses is that I seek out men who I know are unavailable and/or aren’t interested.)  Every man in the latter category snuck through all the barricades without meaning to or trying.  All he had to do was demonstrate that he’d been listening to me when we talked.  Sometimes he’d give me a gift, not a big or expensive one, but a thoughtful one.  Sometimes all it took was the right, non-romantic, purely platonic sentiment expressed with perfect timing.  It’s sweet, in a way, and proves that my heart is still tender and hasn’t turned to stone.  In all other ways, it’s terrible because the wrong man keeps coming along with the right bouquet of flowers, and I’m stuck, knowing that I’m in someone else’s book but without the skill or the will to wrench myself out of it without reading all the way to the end.

And so I wrestle with my faulty instincts, trying to learn how to discern honorable frontal attacks from the dishonorable ones; weighing the possibility of not considering them attacks; and fighting revulsion long enough to determine whether something real triggered the revulsion or if my revulsion is a spring gun.  Y’all.  This totally sucks.

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2 Responses to Rewiring Marshmallow Chickens

  1. Jane says:

    Geez–I sure do seem to be running into the word “vulnerability” a lot lately. Perhaps because I was supposed to pass something along to you. Both my sisters have independently recommended that I check out Brene’ Brown–one saw her on Oprah, I think, and the other saw a TED Talk–because she describes research she did that led her to the conclusion that vulnerability is important, and how much that pissed her off. I’ll look her up if you will :-). (And for the record, yes, we know you’re tender-hearted, but we never ever tell.)

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