If you were to ask me about my athletic ability and I were feeling generous that day, I would call myself "almost mildly coordinated." My younger brother got all the sports genes, mostly from our dad, though our mom was both a karate and yoga instructor in her 20s. When I was little, I half-heartedly took ballet and played softball and soccer, all suburban childhood requisites. In middle and high school, I dabbled in other sports, perhaps imagining that I would eventually find something that I was both naturally good at and enjoyed, but it was a no go. (For the record, I was entirely underwhelming at fencing, 100m dash, 100m hurdles, pole vault, shot put and discus.) I decided then I didn't like sports and I wasn't good at them, which, in retrospect, is clearly a destructive feedback loop and not two separate observations -- a realization I also had about math.
When I discovered after school activities that involved hanging out in dark, air-conditioned places playing make-believe (What's up, theater nerds!) I gave up organized athletic pursuits altogether. And exercise disconnected from a sport -- like running around when nothing is chasing you -- was even less intriguing to me, so I did nothing. Sure, when I had to dance for musicals I dutifully learned the steps, but I had no illusions about being a good dancer and neither did any of my choreographers.
Now that I'm a big girl living in New York and not a performer but a dramaturg -- a special breed of theater nerd that exclusively sits on its ass and says judgmental things -- I don't even occasionally dance anymore. I told myself that as a New Yorker I walk everywhere, as if that makes up for years of slumping over my computer and scarfing cake like an Entenmann's black hole.
And still, though I was gaining some weight and my jacked-up back and neck were causing me much agony on a daily basis, I couldn't get motivated to start working out. I blame my boyfriend.
My boyfriend Josh is very good at motivating himself to workout and do sports things like the good sportser he is. When he's away on contract -- he's an actor -- he enjoys going to the gym and bulking up, and when he's home he does P90x in our living room. He's thrilled to run around in open spaces with other sportsy dudes just tossing a Frisbee or football. You'd think that his example would push me to get out there, to jog a little bit or do some sit ups -- at least when he's looking. But I just... don't. And it's Josh's fault because he still loves me anyway.
I'm joking, of course. But there is some link, at least for me, between a happy home life and being a slug about everything else. Yes, this complacency extends beyond working out to my artistic and professional pursuits. Because I know that if I don't go to the gym, or apply for that job, or write that play, or clean our room, or do any of the thousand incremental life-improving things I should push myself to do on a daily basis, Josh will still want to hold my lazy hand while we watch Iron Chef America and cuddle me too tightly as he falls asleep. It's so easy to not push myself to go the extra mile when I can come home to someone who wants to hug me and tells me I'm pretty and smart no matter what I (haven't) done that day. And it's a lot more fun to be snuggled and validated than it is to bang my head against my keyboard trying to conquer writer's block or cover letters.
But this unconditional love and support are an anathema to a guilt-motivated person like myself. The best way to get me to do something? Make me feel like a bad friend/girlfriend/daughter/sister/coworker for not doing it. I hate nothing more than letting someone down. It would be much harder for me to wallow in the status quo if I came home to someone perennially disappointed in my shortcomings.
Not that I want Josh to guilt me into going out and doing what I should be doing to better myself and advance my art and career. But if all's well in my relationship, I've found I can functionally ignore intense dissatisfaction about my financial/professional/physical state for a frighteningly impressive amount of time. Just leave me alone, and let me focus on the one thing that makes me happy, OK?!
But then, Josh leaves. He's frequently away from the city for weeks or months at a time performing at regional theaters. And when he does leave, three things happen:
1. I get a ton of sh*t done!
2. ....then I realize I hate everything else about my life.
3. So I panic.
Because after a day of feeling too fat in this pair of shorts and frantically moving money from savings to my checking account and not getting yet another job I really wanted, it's one thing to come home to someone who has cooked me dinner and tells me I look beautiful and that we'll figure it out together and quite, quite another to come home to an empty couch...which I sit on and still feel fat and poor and underemployed. Hugging your computer while your boyfriend's pixilated face is frozen on Skype is no substitute for self-esteem, let me tell you!
And neither, I realize, is my actual boyfriend. That Josh loves me can't be the reason I love myself. That he thinks I am smart and competent and worthy of gainful employment can't be the reason I believe those things. It has to come from me. Otherwise, his every departure will yank out the plug in the bathtub of my self-worth and I'll have no choice but to sit there, naked and cold, watching it all swirl down the drain. I have to give myself the ability to stop the leak and turn on the tap-- without him. I have to find my motivation.
I started going to Zumba. I haven't been doing it for that long but it's the most I've ever consistently worked out on my own in my life. It makes me feel good about myself in the small, private way putting my laundry away within one week of washing it or answering all my emails or publishing a blog post does.
So I've found my motivation springing from the same well as my complacency, just twisted a bit: I want to see myself the way Josh sees me. I want to believe that I am as smart and accomplished and sexy and deserving as he thinks I am. I want to support myself as unconditionally as he has. And I'd hate to let me down.