1. When You Drag Them into the Cold and Dark
This is you, at 3 a.m., shaking awake your husband, pulling him out of bed in the silent house on Friday night. He works 60 hours a week. He's exhausted. He can't find his sneakers, and since the kids are asleep, he feels comfortable expressing himself with lots of muttered, grumpy, very adult words. Imagine his delight, however, when he sees the whole bleak deserted beach near your house covered in bioluminescent jellyfish eggs.
Dragging somebody into the cold, dark night—to go skinny dipping, to watch a comet in a telescope, to march through a city's streets in December carrying a boom box playing wondrous Christmas music (also known as "UnSilent Night"
) with complete strangers—is one of the most awe-inspiring gifts you can give them. The receivers, of course, will understandably fight you every step of the way. Until they realize what in the heck you are
2. When You Plant (Supposedly) Doomed Blooms Out of Zone
Gardening is like baking, in that you're supposed to follow the rules on the package or things—be it a cake or rose bush—will shrivel up and go black. And yet, one spring or another, your perplexed neighbors might witness you brazenly breaking ground in the yard and dragging over a dahlia (or another flowering plant), which USDA Hardiness Mapmaker clearly states on its color-coded guide will not grow in this zone of the United States. A few may even stop by and inform you of your error, to which you may reply "thank you"—and go on planting. Because you're already aware, of course, of the slimmer-than-slim possibility that this seedling will live, much less flower. What you're putting your faith in, however, is 1 percent of a 1 percent chance of a having a splashy cluster of pink dahlias outside your window. Because that unlikely but not impossible blossoming promises the kind of small, totally personal victory that will send so many other larger, ancient defeats directly into the compost heap of the forgotten.
3. When You Buddy Up to Your Worst Ex
He was the worst husband or boyfriend or never-precisely-defined person you dated for far too long. You fought. You sneered. He forgot to call. You forgot his birthday. You hated each other's politics, taste in clothing and favorite dessert. You broke up, to the relief of everyone. And yet, inexplicably, the two of you kept having lunch (real lunch, not lunch with benefits). Three years later, when he calls to congratulate you on your promotion or to give you advice about that certain somebody you're now seeing who might just be the big, fat, all-caps LOVE OF YOUR LIFE, your female friends are mystified and perhaps a little miffed. "That guy?" they may say. "Really? Remember the weekend at the ski house? Remember the toothpaste incident?" You haven't forgotten those not-so-ancient conflicts, of course; the outrage is seared into your memory. But there is something about this ex that makes for a wonderful platonic friend. You trust him. You two have been through the worst together—and perhaps come out of it a little wiser.
4. When You Leave the Job...with No Other One in Sight
Uh...surely you've seen the statistics. Not to mention the pie graphs, flow charts, forecasts and color-coded predictions, all of which demonstrate in every number-based style conceivable what a horrible, rotten, no-good economy we are in. So how did this happen? That you are packing up your piglet-of-the-month calendar and your '90s NPR mug, because you quit your income-producing job without having another? In a case like this one you might as well drop your phone in the fountain outside your office complex, because everybody from your best friend to your great-aunt Georgina is going to be calling you to tell you what a dumb, totally self-defeating mistake you just made. When they do, remain quiet, nod and hang up. Your boss was an evil drone; you could not do payroll one more Friday of your life; it was either start your knitting-pattern business right now or surrender to a soul-blistering depression—the reason is yours and yours alone. There's no need to explain or justify to others, because this chapter of your life is done. Now it's time to temp or mow lawns or find a higher-paying job or move to a cheaper place or do whatever it is you need to do to start the life you want to live.
5. When You Chat up Sidewalk Strangers
Apparently, you missed the memo that went out to the entire modern world. While in the elevator or on the sidewalk or in the movie theater or in the chair in the waiting room of you dentist, instead of madly checking your messages on your smartphone or staring into space while dreaming of an future life in Hawaii, you saw the novel tucked under the arm of the stranger beside you and said, "Hey, I read that book about sharks too." She looked at you for a minute, confused, wary. Finally, however, she surrendered to the atypical, slightly uncomfortable situation you had initiated—and responded with her opinions on great whites and sushi. What resulted: a conversation about everything from deep-sea pollution to Chinese politics. The two of you will probably never see each other again. There really was no rational need for the exchange, save for the fact that two humans in close proximity can—if they're willing to take a risk on humanity—share more than physical space.
6. When You Breakfast on Chocolate Cream Pie
Not even you understand what you're doing here.
7. When You Go for the Luxury Sofa
You found your dream sofa—a long, luscious sectional in a creamy shade of blue. It will go so perfectly in your dream living room with the light-gray floral wallpaper and the sleek white leather ottoman, which is located just beyond the dream entrance of your dream house. The only problem, sadly, is that you're living in your real-life, crappy 600-square-foot-apartment where the living room is mostly taken up by the kitchen. This why the delivery guys are confused as they shove this stunning, clearly too-big piece of furniture through your doorway. True, one end of the sofa is wedged against the bookcase and you may have to climb over it in order to reach the bathroom. But the seemingly claustrophobic squeeze of fitting a dream into your daily reality has an effect that nobody can anticipate but you—an enlarged belief in your future.
8. When You Skip the Good-bye
The restaurant or the living room is full of people you adore: your parents, your childhood best friends, your college roommates, your nephews or cousins. So it makes no sense to anyone at all when you edge out of this gathering and slip out the front door without a word. Some might say that you just don't like good-byes or that it drives you crazy to run around the room announcing your departure to everybody, which only delays and prevents any actual departing. But mostly, it's just that you want to leave the room just as it is it—perfect, not a single word or gesture to imply that what's happening there will ever end.
Next: How to listen to your inner voice