The Hallway

The HallwayOn my way to the climbing gym this evening, I did something that I do often:  I picked up my cell phone, sported my headset in order to be much less of a threat to those on the road around me, and called my friend Melanie.  We caught up on what’s been going on in our mutual lives over the past day or two, and while the bulk of the conversation wasn’t of earth-shattering import, there was and remains one part of our exchange that will be for quite some time.  She mentioned to me that, in an email with an ex-boyfriend of hers earlier today, he had written to her that yeah, yeah — one door closes, another one opens.

But sometimes, you’re in the hallway.

I about wrecked my car (along with the red Pontiac in the lane to my left).

These words moved me like few words have, and it drove me to blog.  It’s a perfect analogy for where I’m at in my life right now, and I’ve done pretty much nothing except think about those words since I heard them around 6pm.

I’ve lived my life in that model: one door closes, another one opens, opportunity knocks and you move on to the next thing.  To focus on the core challenge I’ve faced as of late, it’s the seemingly interminable search for the door that leads to love and intimacy with a compatible, motivated, and beautiful soul.  My career, friends, social life, and everything around me bring such joy on a daily basis that I consistently wonder why this one facet of my life eludes my happiness.

I think it’s because I’ve been afraid to be in the hallway.

I’ve ducked from door to door, trying not to let one hit me in the ass on the way out while I stick my foot in another to keep it from shutting in front of me.  I realized this evening that I’ve been in relationships for the past 14 years of my life, with very little time in between to wander around in the hallway and look at the available doors.  The hallway has a million doors I could consider, and instead of just taking a peek inside, I’ve grabbed the most readily available doorknob and thrust myself through the associated portal without much evaluation of what the room beyond holds for me.

Have I been following a path that’s led me to shelter out of fear of letting a little of life’s sweet rain fall on my face and ruin my hair?  I really think so, and how revolutionary that thought is at this very moment.  You know why?  Because when I’ve gone to open each of those doors I really shouldn’t have gone through, the lock was jammed, the hinges were squeaky, or dry rot was setting-in, and silly me rationalized the door to being freshly painted and I proceeded to jimmy the lock anyways.  Behind each door I’ve ducked behind, it’s slammed shut and I’ve chalked it up to the wind when it was really the sound of me trapping myself in yet another square-peg-round-hole scenario.  Seeing how the definition of insanity is doing the same task over and over again and expecting different results, I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve been a raving lunatic for the past however many years…

Realizing that I’m actually in the hallway right now — what a cathartic thought!  I know quite a few other people right now that are in the hallway of their lives as well.  Maybe those few words have provided me with the dawning recognition that I’m NOT the only one who doesn’t know what the next step is and that it’s OK to wander around for awhile between classes.  (It’s like Dr. Freud gave me a hall pass and I’m free to ditch U.S. History and check out the bathrooms in the Psychology wing….)

We live in a society that encourages and promotes every one picking themselves up by their bootstraps when the going gets tough — we’re told to get going, stop feeling sorry for yourself, and that only YOU can prevent forest fires.  We live our lives much of the time heading from the frying pan into the fire, our friends encouraging us and cheering us on along the way—how wonderful you’ve met someone new!  He’s/She’s so nice!  When can we meet them?  You deserve it!  Good for you!

And in my case, those cheers eventually revert back to the square-peg-round-hole conversations when you’re calling a friend to ask for advice because things just don’t seem to be working out … yet again.

What exactly is it about being in the hallway of our lives that is such a terrifying prospect?  In my case, I’ve come to realize that while my search for the elusive love of a lifetime has been intense and focused, I haven’t known too well the woman who’s been doing the searching.  5’4″, red hair (of varying length), active, fit (yet not “athletic and toned” in the meaty sense)… she loves 80s music … dancing, yet usually doesn’t go since a bunch of old guys usually ask her to dance and grabbing a 65 year-old man’s love handles isn’t her idea of a good time…loves her iPod and all of the guilty pleasure music it contains that she’d never admit to most people … treats her cats like they’re her kids … adores cooking … has an affinity for “jammies…”  While I’m comfortable with all of THAT information, I don’t really think I’ve paid too much attention to the facts that have led to the untimely demise of my relationships.  You know —the things that are truly important to me at the end of the day.

I crave intimacy, yet have repeatedly put myself into situations where that’s unavailable, become unavailable, or isn’t on my flavor-of-the-month’s agenda.

Having “me time” is important to me, yet I’ve repeatedly found myself feeling as if I should sacrifice what I need for what my partner wants.  Maybe I had plans and he calls and asks me to do something at that same time.  I feel that spontaneity is important and it keeps things exciting, fresh, and new — it’s sometimes just not “doable” and I think that’s OK.  If the answer is always “yes,” then why bother asking the question?  Sure, every now and then the guy’s gonna watch her chick-flick and she’s going to go bass boat shopping with him, and there will always be those things that you enjoy doing together, but is it so bad to retain yourself throughout the entire relationship process and knowing that — if allowed to do so, you’ll be a better person for your partner to be around?

Finding a person with an inner fire — how difficult to discover in this era of rush hour traffic, airport security lines, and the automated voices that have taken the place of personalized service!  Society does its best to beat us into submission, and I’m a person who’s always up for attempting something I’ve never tried, meeting a new friend, or having a difficult conversation on a topic that’s not my cup of tea just to hear someone else’s opinion.  When you meet someone who speaks with a contented passion for life and knows that’s where they want to be, living inside those flickering campfire flames instead of being the sheepish marshmallow on the stick that’s just resigning itself to become part of life’s S’mores … I just don’t think there’s anything sexier or more attractive out there.  But that’s not who I’ve been dating (or marrying).

Family — good lord, I could go on and on about this.  Personally, I think it’s OK that I’m 34 years-old and haven’t produced offspring of my own yet.  Hell, I’d have to have found a sperm donor to stick around long enough to get me knocked-up and sign his name to the birth certificate so I wouldn’t be siring the quintessential redheaded bastard.  Is it important to me to have a family one day, though?  I can’t think of anything that would fill my life with more joy!  Yet, I find myself dating people who already have children and don’t want to have any more and I just don’t know how on board I am for being the main ingredient in Carnation Instant Mommy … it ain’t just for breakfast anymore.  My passion for children and the humility I find in their wide-eyed innocence, selfless laughter, and the fact that they always see things that I miss because I’m all grown-up now (term used loosely) — perhaps it’s led me down a path that, while having the best of intentions, isn’t the best fit for me.  It’s hard when you’re 34, single, and female to meet your male counterpart that’s available and doesn’t have children from a previous marriage, and while I don’t mind and actually prefer the previous marriage aspect of that equation, it’s likely that those men aren’t going to have me as a priority in their lives since their children already have filled that slot.

ME as a priority. I don’t delude myself into thinking that I’m always going to be number one on my partner’s priority list — I’d happily take a consistent top 3 finish (in the Olympics, you still get a medal, and I’m cool with being bronze some days and gold on others).  Life happens!  Jobs change, life throws us curve balls, we suffer the loss of a loved one, our car gets rear-ended, your boss is being a dick, a deal fell through, your steak came well-done instead of medium rare…priorities change daily and sometimes by the minute.  I think it takes a unique level of communication within a relationship to identify that love exists on many different levels, and that while priorities may change, we’re responsible for working together to make sure we’re not falling off our partner’s list.  I’ve consistently sacrificed those things that are important to me while in a relationship and allowed myself to remain in situations where I’ve slid from the top three and then find myself completely out of the lineup.  Before I know it, I’ve been sent back to the farm team and spend my time hanging out on the bench, waiting for the coach to notice that I’ve got skills—mad skillz—and realize that I should be put back in the game.  Waiting … still waiting….

Now back to that whole sacrificing what I need for what someone else wants — A recent conversation with a friend brought me to an interesting observation:

Compromise is working together for a common good.

Sacrifice is for no one’s good, and ultimately leads to no good at all.

While in compromise, one party may feel like they’re giving way more than they’d like, both people usually end up feeling pretty good about the outcome.  It’s a bonding exercise that reinforces that you’re with one another for a reason.  Sacrifice, though, leaves us with an empty feeling and eventually leads us down the path of contempt (which my old therapist labeled as one of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” in relationships).  When we stop communicating, start sacrificing, and abandon compromise, we’re just one handle flick away from swirling our relationships down the crapper…so why do we do it?

Most relationships—and not healthy ones, mind you—exist on the teetering edge of the toilet bowl.  We see it every day, whether it’s in Starbucks from the woman whose boyfriend mistakenly got her mocha-frappa-lotta-whatever and forgot the “no whip” and she rails into him, or at the grocery store where a mother is yelling at her child the words “no, no, no” instead of laughing at the admirable gall of a child who just hasn’t yet learned that he’s not going to get all he ever requests.  One day, each of those people—the boyfriend, the child—will stop offering, stop asking…because it’s just not worth it anymore.  Where along the way did we lose our compassion and simply choose to head down Route 1 (aka Selfish Highway) and expect someone else to come along with us for the journey?  Would we not be better served if we took an approach of compromise and began to realize the gift that comes in the form of differences between people and use that information for our gain instead of dominance?  The realization of differences is always a gift, as you’re seeing someone for who they truly are as opposed to who you’d like for them to be.  Through this process, we can then make responsible choices as to whether to continue down the path of resolving/accepting those differences by using compromise or refusing to sacrifice and initiating a parting of ways.

(stepping off soapbox, realizing I need to take my own advice and that I was long overdue for eating some crow)

I’ve taken some steps in the past few months that are rather uncharacteristic of me:

  • I cancelled a date with a man I had no interest in going out with again, but had for some reason set a second date with;
  • I cancelled my membership to an online dating website;
  • I ended a relationship on account of realizing I wasn’t even second-best, and for all intents and purposes, off the list of priorities completely and had become an afterthought.

Each one of those items was another door I was trying to duck behind, because for some reason it felt safer than the decision to wander around in the hallway for awhile and have the love affair of my life…with ME.

While the concept of being in the hallway is new to me, I think it’s something that I could come to enjoy.  I can paint the hallway any ‘ol color I want, change the doorknobs to something in a brushed nickel or perhaps an oil-rubbed bronze, maybe install a faux-brick finish like the one I went ga-ga over when I saw it at a friend’s house…a picture here, a plant there…maybe a banana tree down by the elevator bay…but definitely some mirrors.  LOTS of mirrors.  Not only will they allow me to know if my fiery mane is tamed just right and my bra strap is tucked-in beneath my tank top (which it never is), but I’ll be able to indulge in quiet moments of self-reflection as I get to know this chick who’s got a lot of incredible qualities: a wicked sense of humor, passion for life that runs deeper than the royal family’s bloodline, and the confidence to bear her ass and laugh about it on a regular basis.

I think it’s time as well that I met someone while being in the hallway.  I’ve been involving myself with people I’ve found behind those doors I’ve ducked into, and I’m coming to realize why they haven’t been Mr. Right.  If I’m open to finding someone else in the hallway, there’s a reason they’re in the hallway, too…

Wouldn’t it be lovely to decide which door to go through together?

PS:

When I told Melanie that I was going to steal the whole “hallway” thing, she said it was totally cool because she didn’t write it.

I told her not to delude herself—I’d steal it even if she had.

13 comments
The Redhead
The Redhead

The Hallway is a grand place, Amy. I have lots of art hanging in mine at age 37 :) Sounds like you do, too!

Amy Oscar
Amy Oscar

Erika - Wow. I (beyond) love all of your posts but this one, so far, is my favorite. Though I've done the whole marriage/kids/homemaker thing, I have my own kind of 'hallway' - in another wing of the soul-building: Education/Career. At 53, I'm just beginning to let myself wander there and make choices about how I want my work to be - to choose carefully, with precision and acute sensitivity for my own needs, how and what I need and want to approach the world. In other words, what is my right work? I'm finding it, delightfully, surprisingly, by observing other women (and men) bravely share their own journeys on blogs and on Twitter (seriously awe-inspiring) and by spending a lot of time in the hallway.

The Redhead
The Redhead

I love it when people find my older posts :) Thanks for your thoughts! The "ideal partner" thing is very in progress, I think, and my best "me" gets better every day.

Did I Tweet That
Did I Tweet That

I used to describe those that went from relationship to relationship as "jumpers". They seemed to always break up with someone... to be with someone else. I'm not sure that that is your exact situation, but maybe it is. More detail is needed for full analysis.I hope your time in the hallway is a time of discovery.I think you are taking the best steps. The advice I give friends (and sometimes even follow myself) is to 1st - Know who YOU truly are, because if you don't, then how can you offer the best you to the best candidate. 2nd - Know what you truly want... I hear people all the time.. "all I really want is someone to love me"... Oh OK. NEXT! 3rd - Not compromise the important things, and that goes back to #1 and #2 - If you found the right person, would it matter that he/she smoked. Would you rather non-smoker that non-liar?An exercise I give to myself and those I care for is to take two sheets of paper, fold both in half lengthwise - at the top left write, ME NOW on one and ME AT MY BEST on the other. List all of the great things about you now, and where you will be at your best. You can even give them a rating about the importance in your life. 10 must have 1 would be nice. etc.On the other half of each paper, write the less desirable traits that you have now, and wish to eliminate later. We don't really look at these except as a reminder, so we fold those back and only focus on the positive. We write them down to be true to ourselves, and we occasionally read them as a reminder of where we're going and how well we're doing getting there.Daily, read the NOW and BEST. Revise as needed as time goes by, as life changes, or as desires change. Sometimes, we realize, that what we thought we wanted, is not as important as we had thought.Good luck in finding your best self and your corresponding partner in life.AND DON'T COMPROMISE the important things.And now I realize that you wrote this nearly two years ago, but I'm going to post my reply anyway. OOPS.

sunrise1
sunrise1

Thanks for that. I too am crying, like a good song it hit home and there is releif in knowing I'm notalone in my experiences. In my situation I kept trying to jimmy the door to make it the right one, now that I am in the hallway, he has done some major remodeling, but I seem more comfortable in the hall for now. I struggle with going back to a remodel or seeking the new exciting possibilities behind other open doors. Guess only time will tell. Thanks so much for sharing.

moon_fly
moon_fly

First, why hadn't I read this post before? Second, I think this is your best, ever. Think how great the world would be if everyone would just enjoy their time in the hallway and use it as an opportunity for reflection. Also, I cannot wait to get your updated take on "the admirable gall of a child" once you have had a toddler in your sole possession for longer than an afternoon, or perhaps a weekend. Bwhahahaha! On one of "those" days you will want to give him the the person behind you in the grocery store and run like the wind. Love ya!

Sara
Sara

Good on ya, hot lips. Welcome to the hallway, and I'll let you in on a little secret... it's a pretty effing great place to be. And I'm SO relieved you finally gave up on http://www.NoWonderYoureSingle.com. I just couldn't figure out how that was a productive use of your time, when there are so many other fun things you could be doing to meet people (like, playing outside)....... smooches...

Melanie Bash
Melanie Bash

Erika...I'm glad that our talk inspired you..You are an incredible writer and your blog brought tears to my eyes..It really hit home for me - Just like you..I am enjoying hanging in the hallway for now....

Jodi Gersh
Jodi Gersh

"The hallway of every man's life is paced with pictures; pictures gay and pictures gloomy, all useful, for if we be wise, we can learn from them a richer and braver way to live." -Sean O'Casey

Steve N.
Steve N.

So well written, Erika. Sometimes I feel like we're all looking for the Key Maker (Matrix) to give us access to the special doors.

Wendie W.
Wendie W.

Wow - this is amazing, Erika. Your writing skills are being finely polished in a way that helps others. Funny how we eventually figure out we're doing SOMETHING wrong and it can lead to such inspiration. Thanks for sharing and stuff...

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  1. […] one door closes, another one opens. While we’re occasionally stuck in the hallway (written May 2006), I’ve become more a fan of thinking that when one door opens, you walk into […]

  2. […] I want…what I don’t…where to compromise. Why, looking back down my life’s hallway, even two years have changed my perspective on a lot of things. Time is a gift and not the curse or […]