I find myself increasingly attracted to so-called “normal” men. The kind who are not addicted to something or do not have near-patricidal oedipus complexes or…that sort of thing. You know, the kind of men who are just sort of garden variety effed up; who are gently used; moderate wear-and-tear.
This is very unusual for me. My battle cry used to be, “Are you damaged goods? Let’s go out and embark on some sort of through-the-looking-glass journey, obviously destined to end horribly.”
I don’t quite know what to make of this change in me–whether it’s reflective of my change in circumstances (i.e., I’m marginally more settled), or whether I’m just getting older…or what. Regardless, I’m not sure how to repackage that which is Meredith to make myself more palatable to the average consumer.
How does one take recovering anorexic-degenerative joint condition patient-divorcee, with a felonious-recovering meth addict-brother, and two difficult parents, and place this within the narrative of the woman who took a year off of legal practice after leaving her job in order to “find her way,” and went on travel to a Buddhist monastery in western China; to boutique hotels in Shanghai; to schools and a health clinic in Africa; to ski Olympic trails in Europe?
And instead of finding x, found y; instead of finding that she wanted to leave the law and become some great philanthropist, or a teacher, or a somethingorother, found that she still very much wanted to be a lawyer and just didn’t want to be her husband’s wife?
How does one tell that story to the average man, I wonder?
My friend WK told me he’d help; that he’d introduce me to his family if I wanted. His parents were “normal”–his father sells cereal for General Mills, and his mother cross-stitches. This seemed like a perfect proving grounds.
So the date was set–quite coincidental. I needed to go to the Brooklyn Flea Market, because I was looking for the perfect Danish modern cabinet; and his parents–devoted antiquers and collectors of stuff-and-things–were going too.
A social experiment was born.
WK, for his part, is pretty normal. Possibly the only New Yorker I know who has never been to therapy.
“So what can I say to them?” I wondered, “Can I tell them about my divorce?”
“I already told them you’re going through a divorce.”
“Okay, so that’s already on the table. Good. Should I tell them the how and why? Or do you think that’s too much?”
“If it comes up organically, then that’s probably fine. But you don’t need to belabor the point,” he said.
“Hmmm. Maybe I should take that as a pointer in my everyday life,” I said, under my breath.
I thought this one over for a moment. What topics were off-limits? What does one say meeting normal people? Could I talk about “process” and “triggers” and that sort of stuff?
“You speak in therapyspeak, you know,” WK said, “I don’t know if you realize it.”
“Oh, I realize it.” I realized it all too well.
I had come back from my travel, after my sabbatical, and when I started working again, I realized–to my horror–that I had forgotten how to talk to people outside of the clinical setting. That I had forgotten how to talk to people who didn’t share my problems. Who didn’t have eating disorders and who weren’t going through divorces. I realized I’d been down the rabbit hole so long that I’d forgotten that there were people who didn’t care about processing traumas, who had no intention of doing “check-ins” at the start of conversations. Who didn’t want to “check-out” from difficult conversations and do follow-up with me and my process.
I realized that people, generally, don’t give a shit unless you pay them to, or they have some kind of intimate relationship with you. Cynical, but I had, for a time, gotten used to telling all of my issues to complete strangers. You can only imagine how well that worked out in the law firm setting.
That was what I was afraid of, again. I’d managed to learn to interact with people in a business setting; in a standoffishly interpersonal way again after the dust had settled. But I’d never bothered to relearn how to do it in an intimate setting.
I realized he’d hit the nail right on the head. At home, I still speak in therapyspeak.
“So what do I talk to people about? What do I say to your normal parents?” I moaned, “WTF am I going to do meeting normal people again?”
“Just be yourself. You’ll be fine.” He smiled at me. I think he meant to be reassuring, but the effect was unnerving.
The morning of the fleamarket, I debated not going. I had been working late all week (late would be a misnomer; I’d been working overnights all week). I had more work to do. I debated blowing the whole thing off.
But I am a sucker for a social experiment. And I am determined to see how much I can tolerate. So I went.
And the minute I met up with the crew, and WK’s father–a hilarious, spritely man–who began telling me about his cannons and his passion for pyrotechnics and blowing things up…I realized…
I had completely misjudged the situation. I was in perfectly good company after all.