Becoming 7% more risky…

I’ve been working with a social worker for the past six weeks on a kind of macroeconomic dig into my life, and where I take things from here. It’s been helpful in the same way that working with a psychologist was last year, but further up the stack, so to speak. 

One of the things she mentioned at our appointment this week, more of a casual aside than a suggested plan of action, was, to paraphrase, that personal growth only requires taking on 7% more risk.

My friend Bob has a different way of putting this: “humans are lazy and weak unless they do differently.” 

Frank Zappa said “progress is not possible without deviation.”

I’ve realized that one of the side-effects of my being a caregiver for so long has been latching on to workable routines with ferocious tenacity. When things are falling apart, finding something that works reliably, and then sticking to it religiously, offers salvation. This has made me disinclined to take risks at all, and my willingness to take them has plunged off a cliff in recent years.

Which is not to say that I haven’t had personal growth thrust upon me: the last half decade has kicked me in the ass in innumerable ways, and I am only now realizing the extent that I’ve emerged a changed person. Singed. But stronger. With a greater capacity to feel, a greater capacity to love, a greater awareness of my limitations and my strengths.

But this growth hasn’t been voluntary: it’s been the result of innumerable in-the-moment reactions to meltdowns and overdoses and broken hip sockets and ceaseless anxiety. Growth by a thousand cuts.

The notion of taking voluntary risks, risks that might have rewards attached to the other end, that’s something my muscles for which atrophied some time ago.

Having realized this, I found myself in need of a sudden burst of voluntary, uncharacteristic risk-taking.

So I signed up for the Bumble dating app.

The mere thought of doing so cause my stomach to twinge in a most unfamiliar way, something I recognized as nervous anticipation, and I figured that was a river I needed to follow if I was going to get to the base of 7% mountain.

The thing about Bumble is that it’s a closed warehouse that you can’t see inside unless you offer yourself up. Having been otherwise spoken-for since the early 1990s, I’d never seen inside the warehouse, and so some of the nervous anticipation was simply about the unknown.

Add that to what amounted to going on the not-entirely-private record as saying “okay, I’m single now,” and a possibly-imagined-but-very-real feeling that the world might think I’m meant to quietly mourn Catherine for the rest of my life, or at least another decade, and that’s a bountiful basket of risk.

What I found surprised me.

Not so much the swiping and the photos and the profiles, nor so much that a large proportion of the people Bumble first offered me up were friends of mine, or friends-of-friends, or sisters-of-friends (I do live on a small island, after all).

But rather that all of the prompts Bumble was giving me were about me. Prompts like “The quickest way to my heart is…” and “I’m hoping you…” and “What makes a relationship great is…”

It seems absurd to admit this, but this “tell me about yourself, and what you’re looking for” thing caught me unaware and completely unprepared to offer up cogent answers. 

How can I help?” (or its cousin “how can I keep you from being overwhelmed?”): that I’m good at; the idea that I would be allowed to have the agency to spell out my tastes in other people and other experiences, that was surprisingly novel.

I took a little griefy detour at this point: while, intellectually, I know that I’ve been a caregiver for a long time, in my heart of hearts that’s never rung completely true, and heretofore I couldn’t figure out why.

The reason why hit me over the head the other day, in the car while driving home from dropping off Oliver: my caregiving didn’t work. Catherine died. I didn’t prevent that. Therefore, what kind of caregiver could I possibly be other than a failed, good-for-nothing caregiver.

This makes no sense, of course, none at all. But the mind conjures up crazy shit and that’s what my mind was conjuring. Merely realizing this went a long way to allowing me to let it go.

With that realized–whew!–I was able to return to the notion of thinking about possible futures, my wants, my needs, etc. And that, man oh man, that is where the risky territory starts.

I got no idea.

So, I switched off my Bumble and I’ll hang out in this voyage of self-discovery part of the river of risk for awhile.

I gotta say, though: that butterfly-upside-down-cake roller coaster twist in my insides when I took a little risk, that was amazing, and gave me hope for what lies ahead.


Wayne's picture
Wayne on February 11, 2021 - 16:24 Permalink

Of course it makes no sense, none at all...but the thoughts do happen to everyone, I suspect. Just don't believe those thoughts.

For me, once being a caregiver ended, it was "who am I now?" That might be where those nonsensical thoughts come from. And just like the floaters you see in your vision, they are there and you see right thru them, until they are gone forever.

elmine's picture
elmine on February 12, 2021 - 06:14 Permalink

That idea of taking just 7% more risk resonates with me. I could take a bit more risk myself.

Thanks for sharing your experience with this particular plunge, which, to be honest, falls more in the category 50%+ more risk. BTW, there is no right or wrong when it comes to dating after such a loss. New love will present itself when you're ready.

Zyna Boyes's picture
Zyna Boyes on February 13, 2021 - 22:35 Permalink

Hello again Peter! It seems that I have 'come late to the party!'
I read on your Blog for the very first time this evening , but with the link to the homage to Steve.

Wanting to read more of your writing, I scrolled back to find your starting piece today about dating after bereavement. Oh my.....

Take it from a woman approaching 80 - that life is too short to be too worried or overthink this! I agree with 'elmine'.. as I said in my other note to you, life always finds a way to present what one needs at the time it's needed, usually when one is not looking!

You do have the courage to risk. Just remember your trip to Thailand! Take a few deep breaths, and be kind to yourself.

Blessings be!...Z

Nicole's picture
Nicole on February 22, 2021 - 22:04 Permalink

Thank you for sharing your journey in your blog. My partner David introduced me to it and it has been a privilege to read your posts.

Your experience resonates with me. Six years ago, I was where you are now. I had just lost my husband of 26 years to inoperable and incurable cancer. I was left with no hope of « succeeding » as a caregiver but I tried anyway for 20 months.

So here I was at 57: widow, retired and empty nested. The proverbial carpet had been taken from under my feet. I had the support and love of friends/ family but I didn’t know who I was anymore and where I was going.

To find my way, I walked for 6 weeks, 792 km on one of the Camino trails in France ( Puy-en-Velay to Saint-Jean-Pied de port) in a solo journey that took me out of my comfort zone and taught me that life was abundant and beautiful. I learned to trust, I experienced healing and I met wonderful people. More importantly, I met myself again, strong and resilient.

All that from the initial risk I took to book a single plane ticket and literally believe that I could continue, one step at a time.. Sorry about the longish message...I just wanted to tell you to take that risk, to find that dream, that journey that will connect you to yourself.

Once we know what it is made of for us, love is as unique as we are. I believe that someone needs our unique love. I know this is true and I wish that for you.

All the best.