Last Sunday afternoon I was standing in my shower scrubbing my tile. It suddenly occurred to me -- in the midst of Ajax and scouring pads -- that the man who was ruling my fantasies was on a plane coming back from a sure-it's-professional junket in Las Vegas.
Something was wrong with this picture. I dropped my sponge and ran to call my girlfriend: "Hey. You gotta help me. All of this straight-and-narrow is getting to me. I need to have some fun."
We met at a local restaurant reminiscent of the hip, urban San Francisco eateries of our 20s, had a drink, stayed late, and laughed as the waiter batted his lashes.
"Listen," I told her over martinis. "I think I've forgotten how to play."
She looked at me with the knowing eyes of a friend and said, "Me too. I feel like all I do is work on myself. Where's the friggin' fun part?"
What occurred to me as I started thinking about it is that I used to rely on my relationship life to have fun. I'd fly to New York, run around the city, eat passionately with my boyfriend for 10 days and come home. I'd rush home from work, throw all my clothes on the floor, don a slinky dress and feverishly drive to the beach for a drink date. I'd hike up Runyan Canyon in the middle of a storm with my dating man, laugh uproariously and kiss in the rain. It was flash and dash, delight and joy -- and sometimes even love. What is was was fun.
I relied on my relationship life for downtime, too. It was the time I hung out in bed, took the slow walk around my neighborhood, had the morning-after breakfast made sloppily and slowly between intimacies.
But lately all of that has been different. I stopped dating for a while altogether (no need to go into the now-mercifully distant reason why), and in the wake of a more careful re-entry into dating life, I've become a project girl. Creative things that I've been longing to express my whole adult life I've taken on like a conquest. I write, I paint, I sing, I cook and I songwrite. It's rich and it's full and it's fulfilling.
But what it also is is busy. And beyond my projects and an involved social life, there seems to be no genuine relaxation time. There are no goof-off, just-for-fun days where there's nothing to do but play. I'm not sure I even remember what play-time looks like anymore.
Yet -- to be totally honest -- when I think back on some of those play-time, nostalgia-inducing boyfriend experiences, I have to admit that as sweet and easy as those encounters could be, they were just as often peppered by the nervous tension of "being together" when we weren't all the way there, or by the dodging and ducking of using our intimate connection to mask other, bigger incompatibilities. That wasn't relaxing.
As the years have gone by, I realize I'd just as soon be alone than continue to go through cycles of head-spinning effort with someone in exchange for a couple of moments of grace. So I don't do that anymore. And though this kind of spiritual honesty has created an ease in my nervous system (and a welcome death to that horrible intimate uncertainty of giving myself where it's not appreciated), I have to stop and wonder, have I become overworked and underplayed?
I don't want to say that getting rid of the -isms has gotten rid of the fun part. That's not it. But there's something here about playing and free-falling joy that I'm missing. Something in the enjoyment of what is already here, versus the pregnant push of needing to create it. To observe, appreciate, enjoy, relax, and receive. That's what I'm missing. And now that I'm officially dating, it seems kind of imperative to bring this ethic back onto the playing field.
I was on my cell with my wise girlfriend yesterday -- the one who gives me that uncannily timed girl-advice that saves me from giving in to my idiotic post-second-date fears -- and three times in row she cut out at a pivotal word.
"What?" I intoned. "On my cell. You cut out."
She laughed outloud: "Receive, sweetheart. It kills me that you missed that. Relax and receive!"
If I've forgotten how to have downtime, if I've joined the ranks of the over-diligent in my efforts to not fall into wary paths of love, then it's time to loosen the reigns a bit. Underplaying means I have to let go of my project-queen, art-making cottage-industry, and just be done for a while.
So, with the grace of personal discovery, I'll be amending that busy behavior, whether I'm accompanied or not. It's time to enjoy whoever I'm seeing, and have fun on my own. It's time to let go, go slow, play, hang out and take some time to do absolutely nothing.
Even if it means I have to schedule it.
JoAnneh Nagler is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She writes articles, philanthropic proposals and has recently been at work on Fox's telenovellas "Table for Three" and "Fashion House." Her newly completed folk-pop CD "I Burn" is online at www.cdbaby.com.