Coping with past histories

M and I have been married nearly 20 years, together for more than 25. A long shared history.

However, we both had lives, friendships, relationships before we became a couple. Like everyone else. Not so stark difference with us is that vast majority of my friends pre-M have become part of the fabric of our lives post relationship. In fact, many of my old friends became close (or sometimes even closer) to M through the years. M, however, took a 20 year hiatus from ALL his closest friends in his long running career. I mean, zero contact. It’s made for an interesting integration in the years since he began running again and crossing paths, making inroads into the old trail running ultramarathon world.

And being absolutely honest: it’s really hard for me. After a few false starts where I felt trapped or ignored or minimized or any other range of negative emotions – only a fraction of which are all in my mind – we have come to a solution that mostly works for us: M attends significant events alone.

It’s not that the runner people are mean or unpleasant or don’t try to somehow integrate me into the conversations. No, not all all that. There is just this whole big giant block of shared history and then 20 years of catching up and including the shared history, and then there is this non-runner wife who is clearly bored AF by endless running stories and updates on new running adventures and yet more rehashing and retelling of stories and memories that have absolutely nothing to do with me or my life with M.

Even typing that, I feel the twinge of childishness creeping into my own judgment. It’s not like I haven’t tried; I have. But my own capacity and social skills have me hamstrung, and it’s hard to bridge the gap with folks who treat running as a religion and your husband as a trail running legend, if not elevated to demigod status, retired or not. Because of that, I must be equally special or gifted somehow with the fleet-of-feet sport, right? Fuck no. I’m accustomed to that surprise-to-incredulous expressions that cross their faces; sometimes I’m even mightily amused by it. Their eyes go from glowing in anticipation to anywhere but mine when they try to engage me. Because I don’t run. Like Ever. Maybe if I’m being pursued by someone with murder and mayhem on their mind, but since that has yet to happen to me, I cannot be sure. Possibly I could be persuaded to run under those circumstances.

I sound really small and petulant, particularly to myself. But I’m over it now. I’m tired of trying to fit in with the great unwashed asshat community that are many of M’s former competitors and “friends” in the racing circuit.

Anyway, when we have invited runner people to our home, I’m fine to infinitely better. We are hosting, I am busy, I have a relevant role. In another type of social setting – at a race, at a banquet after the race, at other running events – I feel like an unnecessary accessory. This does not come from M; that part originates with negative girl and persists in my general boredom. Bad, bad combination.

I’m wrestling with it again this afternoon. M is attending a wedding, the groom is his best friend’s son, and my hyper-responsible side is sort of squirming. M had said we would both attend, and after a bit of a snippy tiff this morning, we agreed it best if I stay home. I do not typically fail to meet my commitments unless the reasons are valid. My not wanting to go is not really a valid reason in my book.

Snippy tiff – still not sure if this was me picking a fight or me just expressing how I feel and it falling short of M’s expectations. Bride and groom have this magical and romantic love story, per M’s telling. Since I barely know them – the groom have met in passing a few times, have seen the bride from a distance on another occasion – they quite honestly mean very little to me. Wife of the best friend – we have nothing in common, and as far as she’s concerned I’m dumb as your average box of rocks, not at all socially prominent, and therefore someone to be polite to and then set aside. It’s fine with me; we are just very different. I will not fake what I don’t feel, and I quite sincerely wish the happy couple well, but I do not find anything especially romantic or extraordinary about their relationship. Maybe I was a lot too blunt about it, but I essentially said to M that they really do mean nothing to me. I’m happy for them. I hope they have a long and happy union. But I’m not all ooey-gooey about their romance and very special love story.

M thinks my outlook is dark. I think I am realistic and honest about how I feel. However, he felt it would be unlikely that I could avoid showing my indifference. The rest of the tiff – M’s joking references to A and K as “future ex-son-in-law” or “future first wife” have not set well with me and I have told him so in the past. But compared to his glowing optimism and joy about the “specialness” of this union, frankly it irritated me far more than usual. I saw or heard little of this sort of thing when G and K got married, although we both love and adore K and G and K as a couple. For C and A, there has been a conservative concern about their long-term relationship, because there are some unique challenges built in. Our concern as parents – we want our kids to be happy, to have healthy and thriving relationships – and the way we show it is just different. I get it. But since I’m already in a bit of an iffy, vulnerable state, it’s impossible to not feel a little hurt by the contrast.

So I am sitting at my desk pondering things rather than watching the this couple walk down the aisle and then eating and drinking and being merry at the reception. And we are all so glad. I’m actually happier here, and in truth it’s healthier for my own relationship that I am here.

But I wonder if I will ever be confident enough to withstand running-related events. M does not compete anymore, but he’s still highly regarded and respected in the running circles he travels. Many, many of his good old boy network is still active in local ultramarathon circles, including volunteering at races, mentoring others new or growing into the sport, crewing other runners during actual races.

Many of the folks M knows and hangs with now – I enjoy being around them and would gladly, happily go to their weddings or events. Thing is, these are relationships M has begun, fostered, built during our marriage. I am not just the woman he left racing to find; I’m the one who finds dirty, sweaty people standing on my pool deck when I get home from work. I have shared history with these folks along with M.

However I try to describe it, it is just different. And while our solution to my feelings seems extreme (even to me), it is also the only thing that truly works. Hating myself for feeling the way I feel does no good, and in truth M is comfortable with going alone. While he will never openly agree with me, he enjoys himself a lot more not having to be concerned about me.

By the time he left for the wedding, we were fine. Usual, typical, relationship normal type fine.

Like weddings, life and marriage are imperfect. Many a bride has hopes and dreams of the “perfect” wedding and something goes wrong or falls short of lofty expectations. Same with marriage. In my own, it’s fortunate we can be honest about our disagreements. M doesn’t always see the snubs and such that I feel, and I accept full responsibility for my own insecurity and social awkwardness. This world of his old friends, many of whom are athletically-snobby (M has his own strong and wide bias in this area as well) – I don’t belong there. It’s good that I recognize it and dial direct in dealing with it.

But I don’t always feel great about it. Human here, with my own little fragile ego to make me absolutely certain it’s real.

Bringing my A game

December is turning into busy, chaotic, social calendar-driven nightmare. This year is much worse than other years, because I am a newly minted self-employed consultant with lots of clients who seem to like me. The lunches, dinners, holiday parties, office parties, receptions, and other untitled festivity invitations have been hitting my inbox and mailbox for the last month. I have been doing my level best to ignore them after sending an appropriate RSVP or regrets – very few regrets, but the actual dates are now here and I am facing the music.

Wednesday night M and I attended a dinner event with a client I have been working with since October. There were probably 60 people present, of which I knew about 15 and M knew none until I made introductions or we were introduced. Other running enthusiasts were seated at our table for dinner so M was happily engaged in conversation with peeps from a foreign tribe for the 2 hours we spent eating and socializing. I think our stop at the kava bar helped enormously with his social anxiety/nerves as well, so much so that I’m considering purchase some for at-home tea brewing to get him though the rest of this month.

Thursday I had lunch with the staff from my soon-to-be-employer firm, a light-hearted occasion and event paid for by the partners. Friday I had lunch with lovely clients from my former full-time job, a tradition that has spanned the 10 years I have been with that firm. They are the ones who brought the See’s candy for me. Last night (Friday) M and I had the first of 3 different holiday events with my other original freelance client, but that was okay because it was smaller group and we knew everyone from prior years, prior events.

Tonight (well, it will be last night by the time I get this written and posted) we have another large holiday party – another dressy affair where M must wear his suit – and then he’s off the hook until next weekend, but I still have several other events throughout the week.

As a consultant and professional worker bee, I have always thought of work-related meetings as having to be “on” while on the job, the time for my A game. Whereas when it’s just me and the boss or other staff I can relax, be myself, and not be watching what I think, how I feel, and precisely what I say out loud quite as closely … more my A-/B+ game as I cruise along through work. Composing my expressions is something I have to really work at, and even then it is likely pretty obvious I am trying hard to maintain the proper social mask to match the occasion.

The clients I work most closely are small businesses or small units within larger firms. The client staff I work with seem to appreciate my candor and my terrible poker face. I strive for diplomacy, but I am pretty open and direct about what I am thinking. My best relationships are where the feedback loop is established and clearly understood on both sides. In those situations it feels like my A game just became my A+ game, because while I might slip and let my fatigue or frustration show, I am always honest about where my head is at in our interactions. If clients are retaining me for my expertise or efficiency in my realm of professional services, they will accept that I am never going to compromise my integrity for their business interests and my honesty is not in place to pump up my own ego or to make them feel or look bad. I want them to be successful, make boatloads of money, and to stay out of trouble with the laws and agencies that regulate their business practices. To desire or work toward any other goal is to demonstrate my own incompetency and they should by rights fire my ass immediately.

Even my present bosses understood from day I tell them the truths they would rather not hear in the most professional, dispassionate manner I can muster. I have never been a “yes boss” type business manager for them or anyone else and I know they realize it’s only because of me or someone like me that their operations remain fair and legally sound. My predecessor, who chose to go part-time when she had children, is technically competent yet abrasive. Her in-your-face self-righteous attitude is extraordinarily annoying to all of us, and despite her unsubtle hints of her desires, I already know they will not be reinstating her to my job once I depart the as their employee. That will be another post once that domino effect goes into play.

But the socializing with clients outside of work requires a whole new skill set, one that is not normal or natural to me. I find small talk extremely stressful with people I do not know, know well, or interact with outside of work. Anxiety, insecurity, plain old FEAR tend to take me from normal, reasonably intelligent, and earnest person to the incredible shrinking and almost mute woman. I can and do manage, yet it’s like 2 weeks of deadline-driven stressure  packed into a 2 hour meal.

Maybe that’s my super A game, and this year it looks and feels all new to me. No longer am I just an employee of the firm; I am my own firm. For the last 10 years I have had one office luncheon, a few clients and vendors coming by with gifts or inviting me out for lunches during the holiday season. Now it seems like I have all these events to attend and it is a new kind of challenge. Work I can handle. Updating my social skills is a whole other ballgame.

A big giant part of my concerns about self-employment has always been marketing and self-promotion, something else that does not come naturally. Thus far my referral sources have come through for me and the connections I’ve made and secured have earned me more than enough work to keep me well occupied with steady work. But creating a website, a professional Facebook presence, or even updating other business-related profiles and networking have all been brought up to me by others in the same or similar professional services type industries. I am resisting. Strongly. Kicking and screaming and planning to get another full-time job instead type resistance. Maybe it is necessary, maybe not for the smaller scope of my own ambitions. I don’t know yet; this is all so new to me and I am feeling my way along and getting overwhelmed with “shoulds” from all sorts of sources on a regular basis.

What I know is that I have no great burning desire to build a big giant firm. I can and do respond to inquiries and referrals and hustle to deliver superior service when I am retained. Between income from my new part-time engagement and the various other steady contract gigs M and I should be successful in continuing our life and present modest lifestyle and continue to save for the future. There are maybe 12 more years for me to work, if I can continue to save aggressively for retirement and other projects on our horizons. Expanding my marketing and networking is something else to consider in 2016, but right now I’m almost over scheduled with work.

And I really must get through the social events the rest of of December and the first couple of weeks in January. I may actually have to invest in another little black dress for evenings out, because the one I have is a little big (go me!) and getting quite a workout this year.

I’m bringing my A game to the job, and trying burnish the rust from my social skills for that aspect of self-employment. M has been a trooper and supportive arm candy when required, and we may invest in some kava tea to keep him loose-limbed and relaxed. It worked once, perhaps it will again. Tastes pretty damn awful but was pretty effective when he needed it.

I know what you’re thinking – first world problems going on over here. I am grateful for my clients and the opportunities. I just should have planned better for the silly season and the now required socializing.

How I feel all the time.

The readers’ digest version of my business philosophy.

Giving money, giving time

Years ago when we were in debt, every single extra nickel went to paying off our debt. However, we promised ourselves that once that was paid off we would do two things: increase our retirement savings and begin a regular program of charitable giving.

Our retirement savings continue to be worrisome, because it feels as if we got off to such a late start in our stupidity with money and will never catch up. However, I know we are doing well and force ourselves to prioritize savings while we can. When M was working full-time our strategy was to save his paychecks for retirement/long-term goals, save my after-tax side income, and save/live on my full-time job income. From all income sources we allotted 10% for charitable giving and have stuck to it. Now that it’s just me working we still save my after-tax side income, live/save on my full-time job income, and give 10% away.

We do not have a set pattern or formula for our giving, although we do tend to allocate a portion to give more personally. To friends in need, to people who cross our paths, to girl scouts selling cookies and to kids selling gift wrap. Most of its annonymous, and we like it that way. It is important to us to help our community.

This time of year is always hard, because there is so much need. As affluent as our country is, there are so many hungry, homeless, or both. Sometimes it is by choice, sometimes because of poor choices, sometimes because of circumstances beyond their control. We try to use our best judgment in deciding when, where, how much to give; it is almost a leap of faith where we cross our fingers and hope for the very best outcome.

My favorite organizations always get a check in December, and at random times throughout the year. I have received so many holiday cards and calendars as gifts from charities that I gave them away to friends who still send Christmas cards and brought a dozen calendars to the office for the staff. Getting older myself means I am having more and more of a soft spot for elder care organizations, because someday I too may be in need of their services.

Every time I write that check, though, I think about those who donate their time. Part of me wishes I was one of those who could comfortably do that, but sadly, I am not. If I were to volunteer, I would want some solo job, like shelving books at the library or stuffing envelopes or updating mailing lists. Something simple and not too public-interaction intensive.

Why this is all coming to mind this morning? M and I have been asked to participate in a children’s Christmas party event hosted by one of his running groups, and we are both rather ambivalent on the idea for different reasons. This is the third year we have been asked to help out, and the first year we do not have a reasonable excuse to not participate. For M it is the expectation of higher levels of participation, for me it is the anxiety of not knowing, not fitting in with many of these local runner people. They are all very nice folks, but they definitely fall into the M’s friends camp and live and breathe long distance running, training, nutrition, and equipment that goes along with their chosen sport. I have nothing to add to those conversations, and that is the dominating aspect of conversation and interacton. Physically I also feel like a standout. With my thicker, curvier frame I defintely look like a super-sized person standing next to the average runner female. The discomfort is all mine – no one is openly doing or saying anything that makes me feel like the lone water buffalo in a herd of gazelle – but until I learn to lower the volume on the voices inside my head it’s not much fun for me to spend an entire afternoon hanging out and rubbing shoulders.

I have no idea what I will do on this one. It is different when we are hosting runner folks at the house – I am hosting, therefore busy with cooking and serving. When we attend parties at other homes I have to make small talk and force myself to be interested and attentive to things and details I know little about and have nothing to offer and it stresses me out. I do try to participate, be social, but I am always relieved when enough time has passed and we can leave. The occasions are rare when I must be present, so M can attend alone and enjoy socializing with his peers without having to worry about my anxiety and boredom.

Ugh. Maybe I could take up drinking for the season and self-medicate my social anxiety away.