I am outside on the porch, cussing the people who decided to set load-bearing posts on top of floor boards, my own ignorance in construction, the project-creep that continually blossoms before me, and my complete weakness in wielding a hammer in tight and awkward spaces between joists.

My sister is inside, sweeping the floor in the kitchen. Later, she’ll be trying to figure out a simple sewing project, the kind I made when I was about a third of her age. Where was her interest to learn sewing back when I would have given my eye-teeth for a sewing buddy? She is willowy and dreamy; she is an artist–she paints. She is sweet. Anyone who knows her, even in passing, will tell you how sweet she is. She has large, large eyes, and a scant amount of practicality that she barely knows how to wield. Indecisiveness is her bane.

My other sister is upstairs. She has feet like a hobbit, wide and thick soled (but still very ticklish when I have to wake her up in the morning). She has two very long braids that dangle to her waist, and yes, of course, freckles across her nose. She reads Shakespeare for fun, even though she’s not old enough to get a learner’s permit to drive. Right now, she’s perched on the edge of her bunk (the bottom one), writing a multi-page letter to someone in jail, but later she’ll go on an hour long walk in the woods. She’ll enjoy that walk all the more if it happens to be pouring rain; she loves the feel of rain pelting down on her. It can be hard to understand her when she talks, if she can barely keep the laugh out of her voice.

I started out in resentment that my sisters are not me. Why am I out here, cussing the porch by myself? Why doesn’t anyone else around here care about taking care of maintaining the house? Rapidly, I realize they don’t even know how to help if they wanted to. Why not? Ugly rants about the older children having to do more work than the younger children spring to mind, but that’s not true, either. I must have been only five, possibly younger, when I first started following Dad around when he did repairs, keeping track of his tools and anticipating what he would need next. If I wasn’t helping my brothers with their construction projects, I was surely watching. My sisters found that stuff boring.

Well, I found it boring to spend endless time sketching clouds and learning the names of their different forms, like my one sister did. And I had not enough patience for sitting for hours in the chicken yard training chickens to sit on my lap, or slogging through translating Shakespeare like my other sister. So I am the one out on the porch, learning through trial and error how to make home repairs.

Still, the resentment lingers around the edges. When I was her age—No. No, that way lies madness. I am not my sisters, and my sisters are not me. I chose the things that interested me, and the things that interested me most often did leave me covered in dirt and sweat, and my brothers granting me the dubious compliments that I would “grow up to be a man yet.” They take pictures of me wielding equipment larger than I am. But they also mock my interests in fiber arts, and refer to my short and stocky build as being troll-like.

But these same hands that are wielding a hammer and a chisel–these hands also cup babies, and bake cakes, and comfort suffering people. And I hear the defense and protest in my own voice–I am a woman. I am. I have worked long and hard to understand what that means, and still I’m not really sure.

I know it’s not about gender stereotypes or cultural expectations. I know that if I were as delicate as my sister with the large eyes, I wouldn’t feel more a woman. I know that if I were able to grow my hair as long and a thick as my other sister, I wouldn’t feel more a woman. And I also know with great vehemence that I do not want to be a man, that there are fundamental differences between us that I both cannot and do not want to bridge. I used to think my brimming with emotions was one of those differences, but I’ve found that even among women I feel more things, and feel them more deeply.

When I look in the mirror now, I do see a woman–I didn’t for the longest time. That awkward girl. I’m not sure what changed, or how to describe it, because I feel like it’s mostly in the eyes. Those eyes, there’s things behind them. I’m not sure I could quite say they’ve lost their innocence, because in so many ways I think in the context of my peers, I still radiate so much innocence it makes them uncomfortable. People still apologize abashedly for swearing in front of me, embarrassed because my lack of swearing is so conspicuous to them.

I tell myself stories, trying on different roles of “woman.” Some themes emerge. Some gentle longings for my future wax stronger. Still, the concept seems like a design made of smoke; the harder I grasp to understand it, the more elusively it slips away. Why do I feel the need to define it? Why do I feel uneasy that I might not have achieved it? Societies across geography and time have defined it a million different ways, but I’m not looking to fill a tintype of idealized perfection.

I guess I just stumble over the fact that He made us Man and Woman. The distinctness and delineation of the difference, yet without explanation, makes me wonder what the point was. Why two? Why not, say, six, or nine or fifteen? What was wrong with one? And if two is better, if we aren’t meant to be alone, then why are so many of us so alone? People complain about babies not coming with instruction manuals, but I grew up with a baby on my hip. I’ve taken care of plenty of babies. You get experience. But there’s only one me; and me came without an instruction manual, too. I don’t really expect that there can be a neat little dissection of all the little ins and outs of our personalities and life trajectories. . .but it would seem that there should at least be common expectations of being human, being a woman.

I have seen enough of life to know there isn’t one “right” way. That we reflect our Maker more like a kaleidescope than a mirror. And I strongly suspect my questions are less of questions, and more of a confusion of life being so much different than I assumed of course it would be by the time I was this age. And when life fails to live up to our expectations, we invariably go looking for what we did wrong or what we could do to fix it.

But some of it is not that. Some of it is that I still feel like a stranger inside of my own body, a feeling that my time of sickness only intensified. I am me. My body is this thing I’m inside of, driving around. How do you take care of this thing? Never mind basic house maintenance, the human body is a good deal more complicated than most people would lead you to believe, and I’m in a profession of taking care of bodies.

Some of it is feeling like, since the the things that I’m doing seem to be echoing hollow, I must be missing something about basic existence. And since I feel fairly confident that I am fulfilling the basic necessities of “human,” my “missing something” must be just a little higher up the chain.

And some of it is the empty feeling of being unable to connect with my “peers.” The people I’m supposed to feel most akin to seem like such foreign entities to me. I don’t want to mimic them. And I know I’m not one of those people who will ever be “popular” or one of the “in crowd.” But part of you wonders if maybe everyone else has figured out something about life that you haven’t.

And part of it is the sacredness. I feel like I have grasped at least some of the sacredness of humanity. And I believe there is a sacredness to being created as separate entities. But it becomes harder to understand when the differences created by God get all mixed up into the differences created by social constructs and twisted influences, half of which you drink down without realizing that’s what you’re doing. When you become startled by realizing you’re mad that other people aren’t like you or wondering if you should be more like other people — and yet, recognizing inherently that the differences are important, and valuable, and that none of us can be All of The Things, and so we must all find different pieces and roles to fill.

And I hesitate to post this, because it’s such a politicized topic. People have strong opinions and ideologies, to the point it can be difficult to actually communicate what one is thinking without  people jumping on to say what someone should be thinking or really are thinking but don’t realize it, or what is so wrong about their thoughts. But in some ways, I also feel like it’s all the more important to speak; because when those who are hesitant stay quiet behind those who are loud, it leads to a feeling of being alone, of no one knowing what it is they’re feeling like, of being lost. And I simply cannot imagine that there is no one else in the world who wonders what it means to be a woman, without fighting it, without chasing the world’s explanations, without having an agenda or a point of arrival, but simply in observation. We are different. All of us. Men from women, and women from women. And it’s not an accident or a problem. But what does it mean?

Maybe it is one of those things that is so simple that we are the ones that complicate it. Maybe “different” is enough of an answer. The quiet agitation inside me says the intent runs deeper than that. But the part of me that has seen at least a bit of life says that the thought is one that must be experienced to be known, not determined by logic or reasoned out. But I think it’s disingenuous to pretend the question isn’t out there, murmured in the background of our existence: what does it mean to be a woman?

Mr. Rochester is a Creep

Maturity is a hard thing to assess in yourself, and is made more complicated by the fact we don’t mature equally in all things. Maturity in responsibility and action, for example, is quite different from maturity in relationships. Maturity with managing money is far different than the maturity to understand the societal systems in the world.

One of the things I have struggled with is the mild addiction to being useful. As with anything, we can speculate all we like on the root of such things. . .I used to blame it on my particular parameters of my upbringing, until I read “Grace for the Good Girl,” and the author had been raised in a wholly different situation and yet seemed at time to speak thoughts right out of my head. I suppose, on a most simplistic level, feeling useful makes us feel more secure. People don’t get rid of, or treat poorly, or forget about, useful things. People value useful things. Being useful seems like a good, safe, meaningful choice.

Ultimately, of course, it’s drinking poison. Any love you earn (or think you are earning, or feel like you are earning) can be withdrawn the moment you stop being useful. And in the mean time, after the initial rush of pleasure at succeeding at being useful, it breeds all kinds of resentment and hurt and loneliness, and a raw inability to connect with people on a real level.

It frustrates me to no end that it is exceedingly difficult to see maturity in relationships modeled in anything. It would be amusing to see if you could get a “5 stages of maturity” in relationships, as a corollary to the 5 stages of grief. . . although the biggest corollary is probably just that it’s been found that the 5 stages of grief are largely not stages nor limited to 5. But off the cuff, it’s not that hard to start scribbling up a list.

There’s the “rescue me!” and it’s equally destructive cousin “I’ll rescue you!” How many stupid, disastrous tales have been told like this? It’s easy to take pot-shots at Cinderella and Snow White, but how about Jane Eyre? I like Jane Eyre, don’t get me wrong, and in many ways she was very responsible and mature and what have you. But she was out to rescue Mr. Rochester, to reform him, to save him from his blackened ways. Oh, heavens. Jane got to live happily every after, since that’s what her author wanted, but how many abusive tales can you start with that “save him” line?

Having long had to hoist myself and my own responsibility, I rarely recall looking for anyone to “rescue me!” But I clearly recall telling myself a good many lots tons of stories of “I’ll rescue you!” Horribly romantic and terribly stupid, it really appeals to the nurturing core of many of us–someone damaged and hurt and broken, and then redeemed and restored and healed by the saintly little woman who tends to him so sweetly and gently and faithfully. We’re just so good we melt the badness right out of them. No, we don’t. Life doesn’t work that way. But we’d like it to. We want it to.

I would guess that next on the list is the painful pairing of “I want someone to be useful to me/to be useful to someone.” Although it seems strangely even more twisted, and harder to ferret out. I don’t think I’ve often fallen into the trap of trying to keep someone around just because they’re useful, but I’ve nearly drowned many times in the black well of wanting to be useful, as I’ve mentioned above. There are more sad stories than I care to try to remember of children who felt their mothers only wanted them as long as they were useful, or their fathers. I would suppose spouses, but if you look around at the fairy tales, it’s mostly parents or step-parents or adoptive parents.

I think this is because there is an inherent power differential here. I mean, there is in the first example, too, but someone needing to be saved is an assumption of weakness. Someone needing to be served is an assumption of power. To be useful, someone has to set the bar of what constitutes being useful enough.

I don’t know what draws us to this. I know that I know I’m good at being useful, and that there is a satisfaction and a certain amount of pride in that. I don’t know why I tell myself stories about girl-winning-guy by means of usefulness. Why would it be a life goal, or a relationship goal, to be “useful”? Like a toaster. Or an adjustable wrench.

Perhaps this is where the thought comes in, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” Maybe we think we won’t get anything better, so let’s go with this. But I find it terribly sad and still confusing, even though this is a place I still keep stumbling. Why do I need to be so useful? Why? For Pete’s sake, what do I think will happen if I don’t? Do I really think no one will want me around if I’m just “normal helpful” not “so helpful”? I can’t figure it out. But I do know that when I fall into the trap of “affection by means of usefulness” that I am always and continually smarting under the power differential. It’s not a healthy place to be.

There is also the “I want you/I can make you want me” pairing. Somehow, this one terrifies me the most, with no rational reason for that ranking. I know it exists, and that for some people it’s a drug, and maybe that’s the reason of my fear. I’m also afraid of ever getting drunk, and the lack of control that people who swear all the time seem to have. In my mind, raw lust equals lack of control, and being out of control of myself seems like a terrifying idea. Bad things happen when people lose control. All the more terrifying, then, that so many fairy tales (Disney or otherwise) are based off of nothing more than physical attraction.

The word “control freak” would not have been invented if fear of losing control were always a good thing. And the flip side to this issue, for me at least, is the strange conviction that “no one would ever look at me like that, anyhow.” This might sound more familiar as countless tales (most recently, I over heard it on Downton Abbey playing in the background) have this charming set up where the girl thinks she is too plain to be noticed and the boy thinks she is the most beautiful creature ever blessed with the breath of life. For every girl who thinks she is too plain to be looked at, there’s a death trap of falling for whoever insists otherwise, despite other completely unredeemable qualities. Insisting you are physically unattractive is not really a safe action either.

I guess with all of that, it might sound as thought I’ve bounced from one unstable and destructive relationship to the next, but no, not really. More the opposite, of prickling like a porcupine in defense and never letting anyone close. It’s just, as I see people all around me, all beside me, struggling to understand relationships, I feel more and more that we’re often shown all sorts of dysfunctional and destructive relationships passed off as “normal” and “healthy” and rarely are shown any sort of mature, respectful, mutually beneficial teamwork — something that is not about “winning” but is instead about building with each other.

One of the few examples I can pull up easily is the relationship of Wolverine and Jubilee in the first X-Men movie, were they just took care of each other. But that “doesn’t count” because it wasn’t good enough for Wolverine, who kept chasing the hot body (to his own misery). And I guess that’s the point. We all figure the hot guy won’t be happy without a hot girl, and the ordinary girl is just that — ordinary. Of course.

But why all these horrible cliches and stereotypes? Why is it that we think that fairy tales of princess and princes are more believable than functional, loving relationships? Do we know so little about functional relationships that we’re even incapable of writing them? We know there’s no such thing as a perfect relationship, but we’re so ready to accept terrible relationships as paragons. If any of my friends were hanging out with a Mr. Rochester type, I’d be telling them to get out now, and stop deluding themselves. Mr. Rochester is a creep, not a paragon of true love. Why can’t we imagine a paragon, even if we know we can’t achieve it? Why do we have to keep offering up really lousy things as though they were things to be chased after?

Maybe we don’t. I don’t know. I know the stories I’ve told myself have changed. And they’re getting harder and harder to tell myself, because when you grow-up out of the cliches, things are harder to imagine. It’s harder to imagine what a good team-mate would look like, because first you have to be able to honest with yourself about your own weakness are that you need help with, and honest with yourself about what strengths you have and how they actually should be used to help others.

It’s hard to grow out of wondering if you’ll ever be beautiful in someone else’s eyes, and into recognizing that you need encouragement to be brave enough to do the hard but right things. It’s hard to grow out of padding your relationship resume with how well you bake and the way you can handle minor home repairs, and instead understand that part of what I have to offer is really more about sitting down and having hard conversations. But the stories are about beauty and baking favorite cakes, not being too cowardly to do what is right and having to have hard conversations to clear up assumptions and hurts and miscommunications and differing priorities and values. And then somehow we wind up thinking we’re broken when we wind up having tearful conversations instead of baking sweets and singing.

It just makes maturity so much harder when no one wants to talk about what it is, and that turns maturity itself into a mystery. It’s hard, yes, but does it have to be a mystery on top of everything else? Maybe this is just something we need to talk about more, instead of leaving unsaid and left to nothing but speculation. Maybe we need more encouragement in what maturity is and how to move forward into it.

What do you care?

There is something uniquely gut-wrenching about watching a grown man cry.

It seems almost too private to write about, yet has unsettled me all day and so I feel the need to work it out.

A patient who had been to the clinic for a long time passed away last fall. Now, her family was back in the clinic, giving an hour long presentation that was half a memorial, half a thanks. The clinician I was with that day was — is — a man’s man. More fit than a fiddle, broad shouldered, narrow waisted, tall, handsome, charming. Spent his stint in the army. Loves his outdoor sports.

I kept glancing across the table, wondering if he’d crack. The rest of the (mostly female) department was audibly sniffing. He was still doing his tough guy stance. But when they got to the part they were specifically thanking him and relating stories of the times the patient had spent in our department, he was doing more than wiping a few tears.

As soon as the lights came on, he stood up, all official and business-like, and went to his desk. As a person who has lost her tears in public more than once, I knew he was business-like scrubbing his tears as fast as possible. Patients in 10 minutes.

In 10 minutes, I couldn’t find him. I went up to bring the next patient down. I was up one flight of stairs,  when I heard (but couldn’t see) someone entering the stairwell. I heard him crying up three flights of stairs. Actually, I heard him stop in the stairwell to do his crying without an audience. He’d have easily overtaken me on the stairs if he had any intention of climbing them.

He joined me in the patient’s room a few minutes later, no trace of tears on his face.

And I was angry.

Not that he’d cried. Not that he’d hid his tears.

That this place is so far from home.

I finally found a place that seems to care about human beings the way I do, and it’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of miles from home.

Be Nice or Go (away from) Home

I hate negativity.

I understand that means that I am part of the problem; that is exactly my problem

When I get tired–and it doesn’t take much to make me tired, so it’s hardly any excuse or justification–I lose almost any shred of patience or tolerance for sarcasm, arm-chair judgements and criticisms, bad-mouthings and cutting comments. It’s not that I necessarily think all these things should be tolerated, but I more than willingly accept that the proper way of responding to these things are not shooting back my own sarcastic or cutting criticisms. Yet I do.

It makes me so angry to hear this kind of callousness. And I can say as well as anyone that “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” But I’m honestly shocked by how angry I get so quickly. People have no right to be talking to or about other people that way–about me or about others–and certainly not laughing like it’s funny.

I’m not even quite sure what produces this knee-jerk reaction, and I guess it’s something I need to pay more attention to–and deal with the root cause rather than lashing out with my own short-comings. It doesn’t help that it seems the casual observer sees this just as me “enjoying getting her goat gotten.” This isn’t not a teasing kind of joke; it’s mean spirited and inconsiderate and painful.

It’s hard for me to understand what a right reaction should be, because I’m not entirely sure that I do wan to just get better at “tolerating” it. I know that I do tolerate it better when I’m well rested and under no stress, and I know that my fuse does shrink to non-existent when I do get tired. But it’s hard for me to find a meaningful, measured response that adequately expresses that which I do mean, especially when expressing hurt seems only to get me labeled as “too sensitive” and “needing thicker skin.”

It’s funny, after I went away to school, I wondered why I had started this blog instead of working on my other one. I remembered I had wanted to set this one aside for girl talk, for processing things it appears my very manly family can’t comprehend, or won’t respect. But when I’m by myself, I don’t have to struggle with these things nearly so much, and I forget the impetus for stepping away.

I realize this is a double-eged sword. How many times have I heard that marriage makes you examine yourself so much more, revealing all of your faults and weaknesses? Being away from others doesn’t do away with my weaknesses; it just relieves me of the task of facing them. At the same time, I certainly understand the appeal of the philosophy of avoiding conflict. Life can feel so much harder when your demons keep picking fights with everyone else, instead of staying inside and tearing singularly yourself apart. They’re still there, but at least then it doesn’t seem like you’re dragging everyone else through your rubbish.

If it is just my rubbish. Personally, I think we’re both bringing rubbish to this battle. But I also don’t think it’s funny, in any way, and I’m not at all sure I’m ready to cede petty, either.


You know what’s become taboo? Talking about what you find attractive. I mean, it’s still cool to be like “oo, he’s hot!” but if someone says, “Marry a well-groomed man” it’s all “Oh, grandma!” and “don’t judge a book by it’s cover!” You can’t go around talking about what you like or don’t like, because that’s all shallow and superficial and unaccepting and, well, not politically correct.

The thing about taboo subjects is that it tends to make us less honest. Not just with each other, but with ourselves. I’ll staunchly insist with the stuanch-est that I don’t care about the outside and that it’s only the inside that matters. . .and squash the thoughts–pretend I didn’t have them–about a guy who has nice forearms or a voice I love to listen to. Shallow! Superficial! The TRUTH I don’t want to admit.

I was thinking about this today–yeah, after noticing I kept sneaking glances at some guy oblivious to the world with his device-with-ear-attachments. One thought that came to me is that maybe it’s not so shallow as we’re often admonished.

I like to look at hands. Hands tell you so much. If a guy’s hands are all soft and smooth and weak looking, well, forget it. You have to know what a hard days work is like. You have not not be a stranger to the concept of labor. You know, it’s funny, but I can totally spot the difference in a heart-beat between a gym-rat and someone who came by it honest. There’s a difference between having a body and knowing how to use it, and you can see it just in the way a person sits, the way they carry themselves and the working balance between muscle groups.

I dismiss any guy with low-riding pants. If they aren’t mature enough to figure out how to dress themselves, I can’t say I find myself attracted. Same reason why I lean away from trendy-stylers–I’m looking for someone independent enough and strong minded enough that they aren’t being carried along or blatantly fighting for the sake of fighting. And whether male or female, I always find myself guarded around anyone too well polished. There’s a difference between carrying yourself well and being caught up in yourself–or horribly insecure about who you are.

We say we can’t judge a book by it’s cover, yet–well, the cover is there to reflect the contents. We are always looking for clues to someone’s character–their morals, their ethics, their values, their lifestyles. Some of those things are more attractive to us than others. (My grandma values the $$$, and finds the expensive looks veeeery attractive. I don’t, so . . .I don’t.)

I guess some people would read the paragraphs I wrote above, and be repulsed. How can she so casually judge another human being, when she knows nothing about them except they way they look?! Beyond rude! Bigoted monster!

But you know, the other thing I was thinking was that part of the reason why I squelch the (true) things that I find to be attractive is the fear or reciprocation. Yeah, I’ve heard women dreaming about some tall, handsome, rich dude with an Australian accent before. . .but which one of us thinks we’re the fulfillment  of longing, the picture of ideal, the one that someone has always dreamed about? If we can’t meet that standard–and we know we can’t–what right do we have hold one out for “what we want”? But pretending we “don’t want” is dishonest at best, and very damaging in the end. Those insidious expectations we pretended we never have, and are crushed when they aren’t met.

So while I was eating my hamburger and checking out the  hard-working, straight-shooting, good looking, not-paying-any-attention-to-me guy, I found myself wondering what sorts of things guys might be looking for. I know that’s as diverse as the individual, not whole group, and, loaded question though it may be–I’m really not talking about anatomical ratios. I look at hands because I think it tells me a lot about someone’s character. What might someone be looking to see in my hands? Shapes and sizes for the moment disregarded–deeper than that, beyond that, what is the question looking to be answered?

It may be an over generalization–why not? I’m in so deep already–but I think it’s pretty safe(ish) to say that we girls tend to be looking for signs of strength and reliability, someone who has the power to make us feel safe. That can take many forms–after all, some would say that money is a sign of strength and reliability and power, yet I find that totally unattractive. It doesn’t make me feel safe. So clearly I’m not trying to set up a standard of What Girls Should Look Like.

But I don’t think–maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think that guys tend to look to girls to find an image of someone who is stronger than them (physically), a reliable rock for them to turn to, someone with power. Where’s the allure, then? What message is supposed to be engraven in the hands?

Is it really the equally cliche idea of nurturing, caring, gentleness? Because that would be sweet. I’m totally not changing my bone structure, but I excel at those care-taking kinds of things. I do that, day in and day out, and my body in response takes on the shape of it, the cover bearing witness to what is being driven from inside. I never look the way I want, the way I wish I did. But I can’t keep my body from betraying the fact that my hands know how to hold a baby, that my eyes are used to seeking out the people who are hurting, that the way I walk displays my work ethic.

But I guess we all run into our insecurities at some point. I may be confident of my character, but I am very unconfident that anyone is looking for that kind of character. I can run up my own quiet list of “things I look for in guys” but the list of “guys looking for what I think I have” is strangely much shorter, by my observation. Or imagination. Our imaginations can be quite the turn-coats, I think. You can imagine your dark-haired Australian, and I can imagine my cello player with marvelous hands–but can either one of us really imagine those guys being happy with us? They’d be moving on, finding someone more suitable to their level. Pixie-ninja landscaping artist, or something. Definitely some girl who’s got her act together, not this bribing-oneself-into-existence-with-mint-mocha-instant-coffee nonsense that I’ve got going on over here. Or some girl who’s a lot more fun to be around, playful and risk taking and seize-the-day-oh-yeah, not the tentative, shell-hiding, reserved girl sitting on this bench, namely me.

With the same brush that I paint what I think I want, I paint, too, what I think I’m not. I can’t help but think that in a large part, our admonishment to “not judge a book by it’s cover” is really a plea that someone, please, anyone could see past our insecurities to the parts of us that really matter. That someone could guess that there is more to use than can be blatantly stated in large print on the first page, and want to find out what that “more” is.

Some people have said that the most attractive thing is someone who doesn’t need anything–e.g., isn’t looking for someone else to make them whole. I can sort of see where that thought is coming from, but I don’t agree. Whether we ignore that part of ourselves or not, I think there is a part of us that is looking for That Which Would Make an Awesome Team. That which both complements what I am not–the “things that I want”–and sees beyond my lack (“what I think I’m not”) to what I really do have to offer. Being what I want without being able to look beyond my flaws really isn’t all that attractive; it’s intimidating and frightening. Being able to see what I have to offer without offering me anything in return isn’t attractive, either; it’s threatening and imposing and demeaning. Finding both at once really seems to be the only way.

. . .and nigh near impossible.

Hear Yourself Speak

So I took this BuzzFeed quiz.

And now, like, half of you are dying to read the rest of this post, and the other half of you are so disgusted you don’t want to keep reading, because those BuzzFeed quizzes are so stupid. No, seriously, they are–there’s no validity (internal or external), no test-retest reliability, and no evidence that questions are applicable across a wide range of populations. Take me, for example: most of the times I don’t even recognize 80%  or more of the things they’re showing me, and I pick my answered based on, “green is  a pretty color” or “hey, I actually recognize that one!”

So, this BuzzFeed quiz. It is only an idiot who decides, on Valentine’s Day, to click on a quiz called “Why You Don’t Have a Date.” (It’s okay; you’re in good company. I clicked.) I was told that my problem was that I was untouchable, too good, and didn’t know how to have fun. I am sure you totally did not see that coming, after I threw around words like “validity (internal or external), no test-retest reliability” etc.

It was kind of devastating.

But not surprising. Because BuzzFeed quizzes have precisely one strength: they tell you what you told them. They tell you what you already think about yourself. I already knew how paralyzed I feel by being “not fun.” BuzzFeed, like a mirror, reflected it back to me.

You know, the bookish-nerd-girl is somehow making a “sexy” come back. Have you noticed? Store ads with these girls in sweater vests and button down shirts, and thick I-am-a-librarian-you-can-tell-because-I’m-wearing-these-glasses glasses? With the bright, perfectly applied lipstick and the really, really long eyelashes? That’s where it falls apart. Because I don’t apply lipstick perfectly and plump my eyelashes in my free time. In my free time, I email physics professors about earthquakes and read studies about Alzheimer’s. There’s not a lot of time left for pouty lips and fluffy lashes when you’re learning Geographical Fugues.

Maybe someone else out there does. Not me. Me? I’m smart enough to find school interesting. I’m excruciatingly awkward in social situations–self-conscious and rigid with the stress of being observed. I hate getting things wrong; if I didn’t do it perfectly, then I failed. I like to tutor people, because it’s fun sharing knowledge. I even have boring friends. No–really! They know they’re boring, and they like being boring. We do boring things together.

What’s wrong with being boring? What’s wrong with not knowing how to have fun? I’ve had a lot of people tell me I don’t know how to have fun. Do you realize how many social situations you obliterate by not liking to go out drinking? It’s like people don’t know how to relate to you if you don’t drink. What do you even do for fun? Well. . .I knit.

BuzzFeed’s response only hurt, because it only said what I already knew: I feel like nobody really wants to hang out with me and get to know me because I don’t know how to have fun. Like I would be more valued if only I could “figure out” this “fun” thing. Like I wouldn’t be overlooked, if I could just learn how to party.

It’s kind of weird, really; our current society seems (to me, anyway) so fixated on “having a good time” that it’s completely lost sight of so many different other things. 100 years ago–or just in a different culture–a young woman NOT wanting to go out and get raving drunk would be considered desirable. Now it’s just weird. It’s just weird that my skill-sets are all so domestic. I didn’t even try to be–I just liked those things. But I don’t think, anymore, around here, “domestic” is valued.

Am I blaming society for not valuing me? Not really; I’m blaming myself for valuing “society” as a whole over individuals–and my own core beliefs. I am sure there are individuals out there–guys out there–who bemoan the fact that young women nowadays are all flakey and flighty and you can’t actually have an interesting, in-depth conversation with anyone. Here I sit, and there they sit. Just because we don’t speak for “society” doesn’t make us any less real.

But in my desire to be accepted, I will stew in my “failure” to be “fun”. . .and disregard my steady companionship toward my friends, never evaporating when the rocky-roads hit. I will bemoan that no one will notice me, because I’m too boring, and ignore the fact that I am an incredibly strong, right-hand man–tell me what the goal is, and it WILL get done. I will coordinate, I will plan, I will put in the hours, I will keep all parties on track. I don’t know how to party, but I do know how to put mittens and boots on two-year-olds. I can’t drink, but I can cook or bake anything you could want to eat, from delicate flavors and presentation to man-hungry calories. I don’t watch shows or listen to cool music. . .I do struggle through making my own music, keeping my own ducks, and living my own life.

I KNOW I’m an interesting, caring, valuable individual. . .and I throw it all out the window, because I “don’t have a date on Valentine’s because I don’t know how to have fun.”

I am lonely. A self-love anthem doesn’t change that. Neither does accepting the vapid mores of a society that only likes the sexy nerds (all others need not apply). It’s just a different kind of lonely.

I used to get mad, back when people still dared to ask me if I was out to find a husband. Where, exactly, does one obtain said husband? Is there an aisle in the grocery store I missed? If you just want one, you just go pick one up–because they’re a dime a dozen, and all you need to do is get around to deciding it’s time?

Yeah, I’d like a husband! One who doesn’t look at me like I have six ears and two fingers, just because I don’t really drink. One who doesn’t make me feel stupid and small that I “don’t know how to have fun.” One who shares many of my values, not one that doesn’t understand why I’m so oddly different. Giving up on that, and just taking whoever the heck comes along, is no way to rid myself of loneliness. Then I’d be married and lonely, instead of single and lonely–and really? I think I would prefer single and lonely to married and lonely.

Do you know, there are some things we can’t change?

Actually, there are a whole heck of a lot of things we can’t change.

Then why do we feel such a compulsion to change them?

There is such an odd feeling inside of me when I ask myself, “But why are you embarrassed to be a lonely single?” Well–I don’t know. Aren’t I supposed to be embarrassed to be a lonely single? Goodness gracious, is “supposed to” my only rationale? It’s like saying, “because reasons.” How dumb. But people look at you really funny–heck, I give myself some strange looks–if you say, “I’m okay with my loneliness. I am enjoying the bittersweet nature of this time. I don’t have what I want, and yet what I do have is satisfying in it’s own way.”

The loneliness is still there. The ache and the hurt is still there. But why is that some embarrassing problem? From everything I have seen and heard, what I want–being married–doesn’t do away with aching and hurting. Just different kinds of aches and different kinds of hurts. So then couldn’t it be possible to hold to these things equally: to want, unequivocally, that which I do not have, and yet being perfectly okay with the hurt of the moment–unabashed and unashamed to hurt, but not driven into a frenzy to be free of it?

Are we afraid of the hurt? Is that why we hide from it?

Maybe I am. Maybe that’s why I cringe when I hear my own fears repeated back to me. “No one wants you; you aren’t fun.” But giving into the fear looks like trying to prove to the world that I am too fun! And I guess maybe staying the course and nursing your wounds must look something like what I’ve written here. The hurt remains, but I am still myself.

Jerks are okay, but you sensitive people are ruining things for everyone!

Am I venting? Yes, I’m venting. The thing about sanctuaries is that you normally spend the most time there when you’re hurting.

But I don’t make this stuff up, people, and I don’t write about the same event multiple times. There are just these certain themes that keep coming up, and maybe part of the problem is that I don’t know how to deal with them properly during the event.

Last night, my brother was at it again, in fine form.

“. . .he and I didn’t really get along well, because insecure people don’t like jerks.” Note: my brother is claiming he is a jerk. This might be considered a sign of humility, if he actually thought that was a problem.

“Right,” I say, rolling my eyes and dripping sarcasm. “Insecure people don’t like jerks, whereas everyone else just loves jerks!”

“Well,” he amends. “I guess it would be better to say that sensitive people don’t like jerks.”

Right, because being a jerk is a totally justifiable, acceptable, understandable thing, and being sensitive is, like, totally uncalled for!

I get that we all have our weaknesses; we all act sometimes in ways we know we should not act. I don’t have this horrible problem with someone saying, “Sometimes, I act like a jerk.” Me, too. But I do strongly maintain the opinion that “being a jerk” is a problem, is something you should regret, and is something you should apologize for–not something you should expect other people to adjust to and accommodate!

I am sensitive. Sometimes, I’m overly sensitive. I guess the idea is that–because of my glaring character flaw!–I think that when I’m being overly sensitive, I am the one at fault and should apologize for taking offense were none was meant. Whereas, I suppose, one who is not flawed, and is quite comfortable in their jerk-iness, realizes they have no need to be ashamed for hurting other people, because, you know, they’re just jerks and that’s normal behavior for jerks and people have just to got deal with the way things are.

The idea, I suppose, is that sensitive people aren’t willing to accept jerks the way they are, putting jerks into isolation for no good reason–as the jerks were perfectly willing to get along with everyone who, you know, didn’t have a problem with being treated poorly. And then all those sensitive people had to go and ruin a good thing by not accepting being treated badly, and then–only then!–was there conflict between the jerks and the sensitive people. If the sensitive people had just been more tolerant, jerks and sensitive people could have lived together in harmony.

Um, no. Getting along with people doesn’t mean “everyone admits that I’m right.” It means meeting the other party half-way. Getting along is not where I say, “Sometimes I’m too sensitive,” and you say “Yep, you are.” Getting along is not where you say, “If you were less sensitive, it wouldn’t matter that I was a jerk.” Getting along is where I come half-way–“Sometimes I’m too sensitive,”–and you come half-way–“sometimes, I don’t treat you well”–and we BOTH make an effort to understand the weakness of each other and to ADDRESS the weakness of ourselves. I can try to meet you half-way. . .but I can’t make the whole trip myself. If you’re not willing to travel, we’re not going to get any closer. . .and that’s not my fault!


Everyone keeps making these lists, and it makes me feel left out, even though I think it’s stupid to make numerical lists about things that can’t be numerated–“5 ways to have a more joy-filled life” is a stupid thing to write. Sorry. I am all harsh and judgmental like that. I just think that implies a whole lot of knowledge that people don’t really have, and implies a cause-and-effect universe that we’d all like to figure out, but can’t, because, guess what? It doesn’t work that way, or everyone would be following those lists to a T and having awesome, joy-filled lives and no tummy fat, forever and ever amen. Seriously, it doesn’t work like that.

Anyway, lists. Because I’m horribly judgmental, every time I see a horribly executed list, I think to myself, “I could do better than that!” Then I think, “That would be stupid. I’m not allowed to be stupid.” Then I’m all like, “Who says I don’t get to be stupid? Who made the rule against stupid? I can be stupid if I want to be!” Then I realize the reason why a lot of us don’t be stupid a lot more often is because of the people watching, and we don’t mind being stupid, we mind being caught being stupid. If no body sees it, it didn’t happen, and you can enjoy it for what it is.

So here’s my stupid list. I think I’m going to call it, “Important Things That Men And Women Ought To Know About Each Other, But Probably Don’t” or “Relationship Advice From The Outside: I Know You’re Doing It Wrong, Even Though I’m Not Doing It” (this is more common than you think; didn’t C. S. Lewis write a book on marriage, even though he’d never been married? Guys writing books about kissing dating good-bye when they hadn’t yet figured the whole thing out and gotten married either? I’m, like, trending over here, not going out on a limb). Or something. Maybe when I get to the end of the list, I’ll come up with a really splendiferous title. I usually write first and come up with the title last, anyway.

Okay, now I’m really, really done with the preamble. Here we go:

Things Women Should Tell Men, but Probably Never Do:

  1. There will be tears. They cannot be avoided, they cannot be stopped, it isn’t your fault, and I don’t like them either. So there.  But there will be tears, and for women, it’s as natural and healthy as, like, going the bathroom. It’s not going to ever be something where it’s like “Man, I just really like crying,” but trying not to cry, trying to hold it all in–that’s going to cause some serious harm. I can’t not cry. I can hide it and I can be ashamed of it–but I’m pretty sure that almost nothing would make a woman feel more loved than to have a safe place to cry.  I’m sure you don’t like to see me cry, and I’m sure it makes you very uncomfortable, but there’s no way you can take care of me better than to make me feel like it’s okay to cry and that’s what your shoulder is there for. You can’t imagine how awesome that would be.
  2. “Help me” means “do it together,” because, actually, I’m lonely. I say, “Honey, come help me with the dishes.” And you’re all like, “Mm. Honey no like dishes. Dishes go away. Let’s–always eat off of paper plates, so we can throw them all away and NEVER do dishes!!” And then I’m all like crying, and you don’t understand. I had a problem, you found a solution–shouldn’t this be the happy-kissy part? Yeah, but you got confused on the grammar part. The important part was come help ME with the dishes, not come help me with the DISHES. If there were no dishes, I would want you to come help me with something else, because, basically, I’m feeling lonely and forgotten and unvalued, and I want you HERE, with ME, doing whatever I’m doing. It makes me feel like all is right with the world when we’re working together, like I’m safe and you care.
  3. I take it very seriously when you make fun of/look down on my emotions and/or emotional capacity. You’re strong and muscle-y and that’s your strength. My strength is my emotional capacity. If you trash that, I have nothing left. The flip side of this that you can give me such incredible encouragement and support when you say out loud when you notice the value of that emotional capacity. If you can tell me “You’re such a good friend to so-and-so” or “I like how you always seem to know how I’m feeling” or “I like how cheerful you are” or anything that says you see worth in how I am pouring out my heart and soul–that’s going to really balance out the times you can’t help but roll your eyes and say “Sometimes it IS about the nail, honey.” or “Stop taking it so personally!” or “you’re making this into a bigger issue than it should be.” Okay, yeah, sometimes; but if you never tell me the things you value about me feeling, feeling, feeling all the time, it basically makes me think you have no respect for me.
  4. My body does not work the way yours does. I don’t put on muscle as fast as you do; my metabolism will never burn as fast as yours, no matter how much I exercise. I will never be able to drop weight the way you can. It really is that hard for me to lift that thing. No, I do not know how to drive standard, and even if I do know how to drive standard, that doesn’t mean I understand the hand motions you’re making. Those raging hormones and biological clocks have been abused as excuses, but they’re really true and not funny at all. I think babies look cute the way you think food is a good idea when you’re hungry.
  5. It matters to me what things look like. You’re all like “What does it matter how it looks? That doesn’t change what really IS.” I know, I get it, but you’re still wrong. How things look can make me feel happy or not happy; why do you think I care so much about what color we paint the room? To you, a room is a room is a room. To me, it is a happy room, or a sad room, or an energetic room, or a calming room, or a room that reminds me of my Great-Grandma, or a million different other options. And the same is true about clothes, about the plates I serve food off of, and just about everything around me.
  6. I’m trying. And I know you’re trying. And I love you.

Things That Men Should Tell Women, But Probably Never Do:

  1. I have emotions, too. Just not the crying kinds. You handle emotions by talking or by crying, but I have one way of dealing with things: Fight or Flight. I’m either going to get really mad, or I’m going to hide from it. I might hide from it by watching sports non-stop, or playing computer games, or any number of things. But basically, I Hurt Inside = Fight or Flight. So I come home with all these bad emotions inside, and I go into flight trying to deal with my emotions, staring at the glowing screen. And then you’re all like, “Honey, you never help me with the housework,” “Honey, we never do anything together,” “Honey, are you even listening to me?” And I’m all like, Ugh. More bad feelings. More Fight or Flight. One time I heard this story–I don’t know if it’s true or not, but anyway–this woman felt like her husband had totally checked out on her, on their marriage, on living. No matter what she tried to do to get him to engage, he wouldn’t. Some guy told her, “Stop nagging him and start loving him, and he’ll come around.” So she stopped nagging him, and just gave him a kiss and told him she loved him, and five minutes later, he was upstairs helping her with the chores. I don’t offer any magic solutions, but if your dude is hurting and depressed, More Bad Feelings isn’t going to make him come around, and you might be able to help him better if you can realize the difference between I’m Lazy and I Hurt.
  2. Just tell me. Really. You’re trying too hard to be gentle and I can’t read between those lines. Just tell me. You’re all like, “Wow! The garbage can is really full!” and I’m like “Yep.” Then you’re all upset because I didn’t change the garbage, and I’m all like, “What the heck? I didn’t even know you wanted the garbage changed. Why didn’t you ask?” You thought that hinting about a full garbage can was good enough, but I am a man. I either (a) noted your observation, agreed it was correct, and promptly forgot about it, or (b) was thinking about how much fuller I’ve seen other garbage cans, or the time we stuffed Joey in a garbage can, or thinking about eating my breakfast, or even thinking about NOTHING AT ALL. Just say, “Honey, can you change the garbage can?” and I’ll be like, “Yep.” and we’ll both be happy. Say, “Honey, I want flowers on my birthday, and my birthday is next Friday.” Say, “Honey, I hate my stove and it makes want to cry every time I use it. Let’s get a new one” not, “don’t you think we should think about updating the kitchen?” Say, “You really hurt my feelings with that last comment,” don’t storm around the house for three days while I wonder what happened, and if it’s my fault or someone elses’. No hinting. Just say it. We’ll both be happier, I swear.
  3. Please understand what you are asking me to do. Sometimes you act like you’re asking for the moon in a handbasket, and it’s the easiest thing in the world. Other times, you ask me to move Mount Everest, and wonder why I’m giving you The Look. It might help if you tried to do it yourself first, or if you did it with me. But sometimes I think you really don’t understand the gift I’m giving you, and I feel like I’m your errand boy, not the love of your life. Give me advance notice; be honest if you really want it done before a certain time, and understand what this supposedly easy project entails. If you painted the house with me, you might understand why I put off painting the house for so long.
  4. Indecision is painful. I hate indecision. I get rid of it as fast as I can in my own life. Watching you go through indecision is like watching someone hurt. I would like to end your pain and give you a decision. You keep telling me that half the fun is trying to decide, but not for me. For me, I want answers. Don’t come to me when you want to talk about the relative merits about two different colors of pink. Go to your girl friends for that. Come to me when you want an answer, this one or that one, yes or no. I’ll give it to you in a hurry, but I’m not going to talk about this decision and re-visit it ad nauseam.
  5. Just because I’m not saying anything doesn’t meant I’m not listening or that I don’t care. You talk all the time, and I listen. I don’t talk. If you want an answer to a question or want to know what I think, ask me directly. But don’t think that just because I’m quiet it means that I’m ignoring you. I just don’t have as much to say.
  6. I’m trying. And I know you’re trying. And I love you.