I recently met up with a girlfriend for drinks who had some news.
"I guess I'm... happy," she said quizzically, as if 'happy' was so foreign a word she wasn't sure if she was pronouncing it correctly.
But it was foreign. Because something happened in her life that only happens on soap operas. An old relationship had turned into a new one; her male best friend finally realized there is no such thing as a male best friend, and all on his own.
"Well that's great!" I exclaimed. In the ten years I've known her, I'd never seen her so happy. This was good. I was excited. Supportive. A friend.
"Well," I said quizzically. "Now what do we do?"
"Yeah, I dunno," she said bluntly. We both faced the bar and thought for a moment.
"Should we order nachos?
"Yeah. That works."
An odd night was upon us. What would we do? My girlfriend and I spent the past decade of our lives inhaling many nachos, many happy-hour-tinis, rehashing the could-have-been-should-have-been romantic escapades of the moment. 'How could he'....'He didn't even'...'Who does that?' After which we'd flirt with sub-standard guys and watch them go after girls who were obviously total skanks. We're too awesome for all of this. Next week? Same place? And I always went home feeling totally bloated yet totally awesome. We are soooo awesome, we'd say to ourselves, as we hauled ass to Port Authority for the commuter bus to our parents' homes. That is, until I found a boyfriend. Then I'd haul ass back to his apartment in Manhattan.
But now, when I calculate the amount of money I've spent on nachos and drinks and public transportation, the amount of time talking about how we weren't happy and what he could say or do that would make us happy, I really don't know how I've made it this far without declaring bankruptcy or dying of boredom.
I really had that much to say? No wonder I'd lived at home.
Now I am not a fan of looking back, not ever, unless I have a receipt valid for 30 days. But when your best friend, your partner in crime in putting men last and everything else first, moves forward in that area that seems to matter most to everyone else other than you guys (but really you guys, too), you can't help but look at your own life. And the fact that you are happy. And probably shouldn't be.
Can I really be happy living alone? In an apartment I rent? In the middle of nowhere? Next to an ultimate fighter/exterminator who plays in a punk rock band? Certainly not. Or without the faintest desire of wanting to procreate? No way. My previous life was much healthier. I had a boyfriend who carried business cards. And wore Oxfords. We lived on the Upper East Side -- well, virtually lived. I was a gypsy for about three years until I decided to look for another vocation.
So it didn't work out. But was I now so far deep in the state of not believing anything really works out that I kind of accepted it? Where did my high expectations for life come from?
"It's all our fault," my mother says. "We loved you too much."
Maybe my mother was onto something other than the self-perpetuating guilt typical of an Arab mother. Because maybe I was the one who was guilty; guilty of holding out for a relationship that doesn't really exist. The kind where a guy believes in you, supports you, and never expects you to carry your underwear around in your purse.
What was my problem?
When I looked at my life, though, I really didn't see a problem. I have great friends, when I see them. A great family... when they're not all fighting with each other, therefore making me forget I have them. A great job where sometimes the only person I speak to all day is my wine guy, and he has his TV on the whole time. And wait, I don't even have a regular hairstylist.
Oh God. Who am I? I couldn't possibly be happy. I couldn't commit to anyone. Not even a hairstylist.
As I watched my friend gush, I painted a smile on my face while the anxiety attack exploded in my head. Luckily, she had an unchallenging job that afforded her an expense account and absolutely no guilt. Good for that. Because my martini glass was looking half empty.
At the end of an early night, we walked through the city streets; she to a hotel in midtown to meet her boyfriend, and me to the train station to my apartment in the suburbs.
"I can't believe I actually enjoy this city now," she said.
"Yeah. It's funny how I don't," I said. " -- At least not now." We were moving in directions we'd never gone before.
"You know, I've never had what you have," I confessed.
"Do you want that right now?" she said blankly.
"No," I said instantly, like a reflex. I stopped cold.
And that's when I realized that maybe when we finally know who we are and what we want, the answer is so simple. And if we look for it in a martini glass, we'll never find it. Because it's right there in front of us.
And sometimes, instead of putting our hopes into something we know is hopeless, we need to put them in something we are sure about. Like good girlfriends. At least for awhile. As we stood in the street, I realized I didn't need anyone to tell me that although I wasn't moving in the direction I planned on, I wasn't getting to the place I needed to be.
"Are you still freaking out?" she asked.
"No," I said. "No I'm not."
"All right then. Let's keep walking."