The Relationship Project

Most of you know by now that I have a life coach.  She’s amazing, she meets with me on Skype once a week from New York and we go through my request for coaching for the week.  It is the one hour in every week that I have put into my schedule to think about myself, my wellbeing and my lifestyle.  It’s funny what a little bit of consciousness can do!

In the beginning I signed myself up to a project that she would hold me accountable to work toward.  It was a goal that if I died tomorrow and hadn’t reached it I would feel I had failed.  I took a week to think and LIGHTBULB… my book.  A little later in the month she asked about my week and I mentioned meeting a guy I knew in Miami airport for drinks while we waited for our flights to the Bahamas for me and Trinidad for him.  She clapped her hands and said I smell a RELATIONSHIP PROJECT!

Ahhh… no.  Please don’t make me do it!  Oh my goodness I have never rejected something so fiercely in my life!  I had so many excuses why this couldn’t work.

  1. It takes the fun out of meeting people to set goals and timelines.  (As if I was having any fun on my couch with my dogs day in and and day out.)
  2. Making a plan to have a boyfriend by such and such a date makes love artificial and manufactured.
  3. How on earth can I find one date a week on an island this small and polluted by irresponsibility?
  4. This is the thinking of a MAN.  How unfeminine and against everything I hold to be dear about femininity to turn hunter.
  5. Who needs relationships anyway?

And so I resisted.  And resisted.  And ignored it for about two months.

Funny thing about life coaches.  They don’t let you get away.  So when she came back to me in February and said Bushy, what on earth are you running from?  It should be FUN!  Go and talk to some of your friends about it and see what they say.

Girlfriend Feedback:  Bushy do it!  It could be fun.  You don’t have to commit to making it happen just commit to the process.  You could learn a lot about yourself that way.

Manfriend Feedback:  Sheeeit Bushy.  That’s what I do!  How many people do I need to meet in one week to get a date.  How many dates to I need to know if she’s for me.  We’ll have to go out on the town together!  (ick)  You need to get off the couch.  You are too young to be a hermit and I have been worried about you for some time.

Six months of silence.  This is the first the Singlestream has heard of this because… well… I dunno why.  But I STILL HATE IT.  Ignoring the ick comments of the man friend (who I in no way wish to emulate) I decided let me try this out without taking it too seriously.

And so the learning began.  There have been ups and downs and stops and starts and I am probably as far from my goal as ever but the things I have learned!

    • Early on I learned that I am terrified of intimacy.  A guy who  I met through the course of my goal setting became a very dear friend.  One day, in the presence of a lot of other people, he asked me to please pull an ingrown hair out of his neck.  I fought with myself saying no at first under the guise of not having my glasses and then gave in with a pep-talk-to-self (For goodness sake Bushy he’s asked you to take a needle to his neck, not to give you his hand in freakin marriage!).  Head on my lap, needle out, I proceeded to assist my neglected friend with a problem.  By the end of it I was shaking.  To his credit he said nothing.  But the shock of the intimacy of that innocent moment shook me for days.  I have my theories around how this particular fear developed but that for another time and he is safely in the hands of some weak woman somewhere.
    • I learned that I set myself up to fail.  I surround myself with unavailable men.  They make excellent friends but each of them has a reason why I would never keep him around.  He’s married.  Or he’s entangled with his recently broken off relationship.  Or he’s a business associate.  Or he’s four feet tall.  Or he’s… you get the picture.  It feeds the context that there are no good single men in the country.  It serves me by proving me right.  But I’ve learned to take responsibility for that;  I SURROUND MYSELF with the unavailable.  I am a different person with the available – prickly, sharp, intimidating, or simply distant.  The ones who don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell I am safe with and am completely at home in myself around.  The available meet my fortress of walls.
    • Conditions of satisfaction are important.  In starting this out I was invited to write out my conditions of satisfaction.  As I was at the time going through the hiring process at work, it easily took the format of my Job Description and my Person Specification Sheet.  The sheet has three main columns – the qualities I cannot do without in a partner in column 1, the qualities I would like but are optional in column 2, and in column 3 the vices I absolutely cannot live with.  Smoking for instance.  And crazy ex wives.  Habitual lateness.  Illiteracy.  The attributes and vices fall into categories – abilities, circumstances, interests, and so on.  It has been an exciting tool to use and minimizes the waste of ones time – if something shows up in column 3 on the first date then NEXT.
    • In the process I have learned just what my patterns are around relationships and men.  I’ve learned that I tend to jump in with both feet and jump quite quickly right back out with both feet (but I might have known that before).  I’ve learned that I expect men to run – they always do – and that I have built a context and expectation around men that they will never be able to cope with the power of my personality so at some point they are gonna duck and run (or cheat).  I’ve learned that I expect men to be irresponsible and that I have a tendency to look down my nose at them as a member of a superior race.  Truth is it is rare that I’m proven wrong.  But that is also my fault – I surround myself with men who prove me right!
    • I have a lot of junk around my own strength.  If power could create a complex, I’ve got it.  For instance, my man in Iraq.  I mean, I know I’m a powerhouse and I know it blows the minds of people who don’t know me well, but deep down I’m a pretty sensitive and insightful person.  This is the me that unavailable men get to meet.  This is the me that my dogs are glad to see wake up in the morning and scratch their ears before I even get out of bed.  This is the me that I am in my comfort zone – my house, my office, my grandmother’s hammock, anywhere but on a date.
  • I am responsible.   For all of it.  This is perhaps the biggest thing for me.  I am responsible for who I am around people and from there what kind of people I attract to be around me.  I am responsible if I don’t meet my quota of meeting five new men this week because how on earth am I supposed to meet five guys sat on my own couch?  I am responsible for the me that others get to know and whether or not it is an authentic person.  I am responsible to step outside of my comfort zone and to be open to melting away my contexts and my expectations.  I am learning through this terrible terrible project that responsibility belongs to me and it is my duty to own it.

But I’m still resisting the hell out of it.  This week two of the men I met (on a night out with the ick manfriend) were so OUT THERE in column three that I was like HOT DAMN I’m better off single!

But next week I’m gonna be brought right back to the document and asked to give an account for how well I’ve done to meet my goals. HELP ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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The Grass Argument

I got into an argument yesterday.  It was about my saying something very publicly that I believe wholeheartedly to be true.  The conversation was well-meant and came from the best of places.  But it got me good and hot.

I was told that in my review of a Gathering of Old Men I took away from the power of what I had to say by my mention of the story of the Card Cutter.  I was told that damage could have been done to my credibility and I would have distracted my listeners from the more powerful points that I was making by making reference to my personal experience of relationships and the trend of infidelity in our nation being so prevalent that not one single woman my age on this rock has been left untouched by it.  As if that was not a powerful point in and of itself!  The statement that was the subject of our discussion was that “I, like Carolina in The Card Cutter, and probably every Caymanian woman my age, have lost a man to a “papaw-skinned, straight-haired woman” whose first language was not english.”  I was told that no woman took my man, that he decided to leave.  It galled me that this was exactly my point, except it wasn’t about my man, it was about my society.  I was told that I failed to acknowledge the flip side to the social development of a culture of jilted and divorced women and men taking on submissive and subservient mistresses and wives from other cultures who don’t even speak their language.  This side was presented with the opinion that the Caymanian woman takes relationships for granted and behaves as though she owns her husband.

Let me tell you. I saw the colours of the rainbow.  They treat their husbands like they own them?  That’s because according to God and the law they BLOODY WELL DO.  There is a legal document that says they belong to eachother until death.  Her fighting is usually FOR the relationship to work.  Her control is usually due to her hard-learned and fully justifiable distrust.

Ladies and gentlemen please do not take this as a dislike for other cultures.  I myself am a cross-cultural creation.  This is about fidelity.

I invite the married men in my life and those who catch sight of my written words to consider this.  Invest in your woman.  She has offered her life to you as a deposit.  How you invest determines your return.  She should never be the only one that has holding your family together as her top priority.  I invite you to give to your children the gift that they are entitled to – your devotion and your commitment to them and to their mother.  The grass is never greener on the other side.

I. LOVE. MY. MEN.

Today my men are on my mind.  How much I love them and how grateful I am for them.  The Daddy who worked 18-hour days to fill my lunchbox, who laboured side by side with my powerful and gracious mother to mold and correct and scold and protect me.  My two brothers – one by blood and two in love.  The men who have come alongside me, offered humour, power, hugs, and friendship as pure as the driven snow.   The mentors who have given me chances and helped me grow in my career and in my life.

My Godfather let me out in traffic this morning.  He didn’t see that it was me but the loving power of his presence hung in the air of the morning.  Another friend squeezed my hand and winked at me with a shared understanding as I walked to the breakfast table.  Text messages, hugs, words of encouragement, scoldings, and advice from the men that are in my life have been little building blocks of a supporting fortress of testosterone and muscle that only a man can create.  And I am grateful.

I am convinced that every little girl should have the love of good men.  Every little girl needs a good father to worship and to set her standards by and her expectations high for her life.  Every little girl needs a brother to fight with, to tell on, to fight to the death for, and to be protected and loved by.  Every little girl needs to be taught the dangers of relationships with men but to be balanced with the knowledge of how to dig through the negatives and get to the core of the amazing people walking around in male form.  She should be encouraged to remember that there are pillars of masculinity that reflect a part of God’s own image even as there are those who are evil.

This weekend we buried one such pillar.  An uncle I visited awhile back in this blog.  This morning I pause in his honour and in honour of the others like him who have been the hand of God in the lives of the little girls and big girls around them.

The Man Whore

Hollywood screwed up.  I came out of the movie theater startled by the new fresh look on love and possibilities but as the lights faded in my memory and my brain reengaged all cylinders I began to realize how crazy and stupid Crazy Stupid Love is.

If you haven’t seen it and don’t want me to spoil it please stop reading here.  Because I will spoil it.  It needs to be spoiled.

It is a story of a middle-aged couple bored with their marriage – something I wouldn’t begin to understand – and a Man Whore that frequents a city lounge (meat market) picking up girls.  Wife has an affair (I’m sure Ashley Maddison made a killing off this movie) and the Husband leaves, heartbroken that his wife would find him so boring and drinks for days at the meat market.  He is badly dressed and embarrassing himself.  When he drinks he rages on and on about the guy who seduced her away.  Man Whore meanwhile is busy practicing his art.  Early in the movie a pretty girl rejects him rudely and walks out annoyed at his advances but at this stage when Husband is drinking his sorrows away Man Whore is on his A game.  Every night a new girl, some nights more than one.  Annoyed at hearing the sob story across the bar, Man Whore decides to induct Husband into the Man Whore club.  He dresses him up, gets him out there, and turns Husband into a fully practicing Man Whore.  Yes ladies, it’s contagious.

The movie has other bits to it.  Seems like everyone but the dog has an unrequited love.  Long story short, Husband no longer bores Wife when she finds out about his new womanizing ways and they get back together.  Pretty Girl who rejected Man Whore at the beginning turns out to be the eldest child of Husband and Wife (this town is too bloody small).  She  brings home Man Whore as her new-found boyfriend and love of her life.  Turns out she saw through all his crap and he was so impressed by her wit that he decided to give up his whoring ways for this beauty with a brain.

What bullshit.

What woman is there alive that can tame a Man Whore?  Not one.  The only woman who has any influence over his ways is his mother and by the time he becomes a Man Whore she has already spoiled him beyond repair, helped him become what he is, stroked his vanity and damaged his view of women.  She cannot cure him and the time for prevention is past.

Only a Man Whore can truly cure a Man Whore.  With a nudge from God or extreme circumstances like tragedy or illness.  It’s like a bad addiction – you have to know it’s a problem, want to change it, take the steps you know to change it and seek help if it is beyond you.  For a Man Whore it ends at step 1 – do Man Whores really think they have a problem?  They get all the attention strutting around bright and gaudy like peacocks and see how much more action – no matter how meaningless – they get over the good guy.  Most cultures teach them that their whoring ways are a sign of manhood.  And what man doesn’t want a full helping of that?

There are examples in the smallest of communities and the largest of cities, some never told and others on the evening news, of attempts to cure a Man Whore gone bad.  Politicians’ and athletes’ wives stand humiliated as he confesses to four full-blown affairs and twelve hookers, usually the tip of the iceberg.  Behind her practiced game face I can just hear her screaming at herself “All this after I worked so hard to tame him”.

Honey it was never your job.

Hollywood should fix this.  Can we please see some more movies where the nice man gets the girl?  The one with a job, with no crazy ex-wife or children, who no longer lives at home with his mother, and who is waiting for this girl and only this girl to have crazy stupid love with him?

And believe me, they are out there.  Not in the meat market but in the grocery store, the book club, the church, the charity organizations, education, sports.  They are out there doing things, not just taking things.  If Hollywood lights came off the peacock every once in a while I’m sure many more of us would know our eagle when we see him.

Finally ladies.  One thought for you.  A peacock is earth-bound.  It is the eagle that flies.

Meat Market

Single Men of a Certain Age

Good girls know they will not find the man of their dreams in a club.  And so they bring home their nightmares.  No matter what their mama teaches them or their daddy warns them away from on pain of death, at some point in their single-and-seeking days they find themselves under the flashing lights dancing dirty on the drink splattered floor of the Meat Market.

This girl was no exception.  There were nights I came home flush faced and seventeen with echoes of shouted sweet nothings replaying in my head.  And then there was the night I met, after several years, the love of my highschool life and brought him home a few days later to meet my mom.  He was beautiful and troubled and I was determined to save his life.  A year later we were tired and bruised and parted with sweet sorrow over differences we both wished we could overcome.  Differences we wished we had been able to communicate over the noise of the club.  And that was one of the happy endings.

There are girls in my generation who went home pregnant on one of those nights.  Others still went home black-eyed and battered.  But every single one of us came home on at least one night with a broken heart.

Last night we revisited some of the local meat markets.  They all looked the same as I window shopped with no intention of buying.  Two friends of mine turned 30 and because of this the crowd was more mature than usual – none of us are frequent visitors anymore.  Looking out from the safety of their company I struggled with a mix of sadness, relief and the memory of my young bashful self.  As it has been for years, the place is filled wall to wall with beautiful bodies just bursting out of their teens and single men of a certain age who no one in their generation have deemed fit to take home and domesticate.  The two levels rock with insecurity and awkwardness not yet rubbed off the newly minted adulthood and predatory lust lurking behind still, practiced eyes.  In market terms, there is the healthy red gleam of fresh clean cuts intermingled with the greying edges of reeking old meat gone bad.

It made me glad to get old!  To no longer be unwitting prey.  To be over the battle of accepting who I am.  Yes, I am in a battle with a body that needs to fit into a Trinidad Carnival costume by next February, but I have won the war with loving myself.

I came away excited to be off the market – top shelf and not for sale.  My night is not defined by a gaze held across a pulsing room.  The life I lead does not follow the path of the frustrated from date to date seeking personal purpose in a meaningful relationship.

Another thing I came upon was a strong desire to quit drinking.  Why numb senses that are designed to enjoy music and disciplined enough to avoid harmful encounters?  I am so much fun and so very brave without it!  My budget would look great and so would my body.  I am going to work on that… perhaps a new resolution.  After the wedding party tonight.  Another trip to window shop in the Meat Market.

Family Men

Even the best laid plans fall apart. Yesterday, day 2 of my trip to Florida, was intended to be spent shopping like an accountant. But travelling companions have their own plans, and two with their own different ideas and the car keys can leave your intentions in the back seat. Mama Bushlings wanted to shop for the house and Papa Bushlings wanted to visit the family.

It worked out well! I settled for a pedicure while they shopped with Mama Bushlings and was thoroughly entertained by a Vietnamese guy who explained why he had tried at being a gigolo but nobody would call him back so he was stuck doing nails to feed his wife and two kids both under the age of two. After this Papa Bushlings took me to see the family.

He took me to meet a great uncle of mine in the generation of my Aunty of the Ackee and my grandmother. He and his wife are living in Florida as they battle together against the cancer that seeks to claim his life. They have been married in the region of half a century and are devoted to each other. It showed me what commitment looks like. At 79 years of age it doesn’t look like steamy nights and rolling thunder. It looks like something far deeper, far more bittersweet, and far more heavy. The difference is like the comparison between chewing gum and a 5 course meal. I left his home grateful that he has lived in this love as he now faces his mortality.

One of the Bushlings cousins went with us. He is a giant of a man, not just in stature but in my opinion. Much like my daddy in fact. He lives with his children and his wife not far away and visits the uncle. This man I know – he is dear to my daddy and they have many childhood memories together. He told me many family stories – about sides of the family unknown to me. About the cousin who became the second wife of a Pakistani traveller, the cousins who grew up deep in Spanish Town ghettos and have become gun-toting garrison soldiers, other cousins who live in New York and others in Florida.

He also told me stories of his childhood with my dad. It is so fascinating how children can live together in a moment and take from that moment two very different things. As my giant of a cousin recounts the tale Daddy Bushlings fills in blanks here and there until their puzzle pieces fit together offering me a 3D image of old arguments and family milestones.

He took us to see his sisters, and that will be a whole other story in future days. We spent some time with his family. In bits and pieces I got another story of commitment.

My cousins have seen the hardest of these hard times in Florida as the economy has tanked and yet they continue to thrive. They had to give up their home, fight for work, at the same time as putting four children through school. He has hustled, and so has his partner in life, and they have now found a way to push their heads above water and kick furiously to the surface. With clean hands. And with commitment. You would never guess their struggles when walking into the peace of their home. Like a duck gliding gracefully on the surface, it is the grace that you see. Not the furious kicking underneath. And it isn’t that he has anything to hide – he described the last four years for us very openly. It is simply the grace and gentleness with which they approach life and responsibility. And a good sense of humour.

These moments bring great lessons for my own life and memories to give my children. I come from a line of family men without equal. And this day was spent with only three of the hundreds. Is it any wonder that my standards are high? On days like today, spending time around my daddy and the family that made him, my soul rests in belonging and my heart swells with hope. Even here on my own I belong to someone. To special people. And their love and protection no man can replace.

When his time comes for him to enter my life I will know him. Because he will resemble my giants.