Damn country music. It always makes me cry! I feel the heat in my face and my eyes watering as soon as Tim McGraw’s first song, “Here Tonight,” starts playing. Crying is my simple response to whatever emotional issue I’m dealing with at the time. It’s also my baffling response to seeing a bread commercial and in-flight movies. I’ve even cried watching A Garfield Christmas Special! Who does that? But I don’t feel like I’m crying now because of something silly. Listening to McGraw’s new album, Damn Country Music, is taking me for a ride in its old Chevy pickup down the road to falling in love again.
In his heartwarming song “Humble and Kind,” McGraw sings from the perspective of a parent guiding their child through the maze of growing up: “Know the difference between sleeping with someone and sleeping with someone you love/‘I love you’ ain’t no pickup line.” It’s such a simple message, but one that has not always been easy to follow.
After my longest, most meaningful relationship ended three years ago, I went through a humbling couple of years pretending to LoOOoOoooOoVVvVE being SiNGLE! There was no “sleeping with someone you love” during that time, but there was plenty of “sleeping with someone.” My ego as a SiNgLe LaDy inflated as I mistook male attention for a foundation on which to build up my confidence after my breakup. And it deflated when I realized that my casual ways were not getting me any closer to having a whole heart to offer.
“Don’t hold a grudge and here’s why/Bitterness keeps you from flyin’/Always stay humble and kind,” as McGraw sings.
After hitting a spiritual and emotional bottom in early 2014, I decided to take a break from men for one year. And as I started to dip my feet into the dating pool again after the year was up, I noticed that my casual ways had washed away, but I was swamped by a psychological wave of something else: the expectation that every “someone” that I had feelings for could be “the one.” But unrealistic expectations often lead to resentment, as I was soon to find out.
“Love walks you down the sandy aisle/To put forever on her hand,” McGraw sings in “Love Runs.” I wanted that “sandy aisle.” I wanted that “forever.” But I didn’t know how to get there.
Most of my girlfriends from my hometown of Wimberley, Texas, are married. Some of them even have children. I used to roll my eyes while telling my friends in New York about them, describing their choices as “simple.” But, to be honest, I only rolled my eyes to keep from staring the truth in the face: I secretly wanted what they had.
I was recently in Wimberley visiting one of my best friends, Celissa, her husband and her new baby. My ultra-tough New York defenses were up like crazy as I pulled up to their dreamy new limestone house surrounded by prickly pear cactus in a nice subdivision. Wow, OK. This is amazing! I thought in awe. When envy started trickling in, I quickly told myself: Marriage isn’t an option for you yet because you’re always touring and living your dream of being in a band, Nimai. It’s OK. The tiny apartments and the over-priced coffee and the complete lack of privacy and sanity are, like, totally worth living in New York City. Besides, having a baby seems like a nightmare right now.
When Celissa opened the door, my friend — the householder, the wife, the mom — was radiating from the inside out. She showed me the in-home salon that she built so that she could, as a new mom, keep living her dream. My judgment that “getting married means giving up your dreams” quickly vanished. I met the committed, loyal, happy husband with whom she had started a life five years ago. My other judgment, that “there are no guys not afraid of commitment,” also vanished. Then I got to hold her baby son and began to recognize what unconditional love feels like. Having a baby didn’t seem like a nightmare. The trickle of envy dried up and instead I was flooded with happiness for my friend. Pictures of her wedding hung in the living room; everyone wore cowboy boots, and the ceremony took place at a beautiful old red barn in the Texas hill country.
In “How I’ll Always Be,” McGraw sings, “I’ll always be a fan of old stray dogs and guitars playin’/One-room churches, back road walks and front porch swingin’/Sunset skies, bonfire nights, I love the simple things/That’s how I’ll always be.”
“What’s new in your love life?” Celissa asked me while breastfeeding.
I thought of the year off that I had taken from men, what lessons I had learned about myself with that distance and how far I had come. Then I thought of the first man I had had feelings for after my year of abstinence. “Well, I’m in love with my doctor!” I said.
That statement was a bit sensational. Although we had had fun on dates and liked each other, the reality was that I was obsessing over my unrealistic expectations that I would marry my doctor.
In “What You’re Lookin’ For,” McGraw sings, “I ain’t gonna change, I ain’t gonna change your mind/Baby go on and do what you gotta do/I’ll never be the man that you want me to.”
The doctor never returned any of my texts after that trip to Wimberley, and I haven’t seen him since. It turned out there would always lessons to be learned, always room to grow, and my growing pains were nowhere near over! What did I expect? To be spared from heartache because I spent a year working on myself? There’s always work to do!
In retrospect, my feelings for the doctor were pretty hilarious. But at the time, trapped in my delusion — wondering “Why, why, why?” — I allowed myself to believe that his rejection meant that I would never find “happily ever after.” My situation was even further dramatized when I let my mom cut my hair — short. Fighting back tears, I nodded and smiled into the mirror and said, “Thank you, Mom!” The doctor just doesn’t CARE and now no one will EVER like me again because my HAIR is UGLY! I cried to myself inside. Then, as if things couldn’t get any worse, I threw out my back moving my drum gear.
I had no upcoming tours or trips planned to distract me from my slump and aching back. My unrealistic expectations had definitely led to resentment. But to my surprise, the majority of the resentment I felt was toward myself for getting carried away with the unrealistic expectations in the first place.
One day, a couple of weeks into my woes, I was walking really slowly to the subway so I wouldn’t do further damage to my back. During the first block, I was annoyed at how long the walk was taking me. At the second, I was grumbling, “I must accept the things I cannot change.” By the third, I started noticing the little things in my neighborhood: a mural of Biggie Smalls, a girl pushing her younger sister in a stroller while laughing, live jazz music spilling out of a shop called Sistah’s Place.
Then I remembered something my mom once told me: “What you focus on expands.” Did I want to keep focusing on the doctor or my bad haircut or the pain in my back? The real question was: “Will I really feel better if I keep focusing on myself and not being grateful for what is around me?”
In “Here Tonight,” McGraw sings, “No better place than where you stand/So tear up those tomorrow plans/You only get to live one time.”
I laughed out loud. I must have looked crazy, slowly stumbling down the street, laughing. My heart as a SiNgLe LaDy inflated as I decided to stop wallowing in self-pity and to start reaching out to others around me. I was beginning to learn that to gain self-esteem, I must do esteemable acts. My ego deflated as my gratitude swelled.
In “Humble and Kind,” McGraw says, “Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you/When you get where you’re going, don’t forget turn back around/Help the next one in line, always stay humble and kind.”
Wow, I’m crying again. What a ride down memory lane Tim McGraw’s new album took me for… Damn Country Music!