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 Any love you earn (or think you are earning, or feel like you are earning) can be withdrawn the moment you stop being useful.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.

That is something

It’s a rather common experience to feel like everything is black and white, clear cut and concrete, when you are younger, and as you age, you begin to understand more of the complexities and confusions of a deeper understanding of life. I am finding myself mucking around in quite a bit of that, so much so that I feel like I have to question almost everything I once thought was plain. A friend of mine recently asked what love even is, and I felt horrible that I had no kind of answer. It’s something that I’m struggling with, too.

That seems so horrible to me, because it seems like, I don’t know, if that’s not a basic need, what is? Shouldn’t everyone be able to experience and know a basic definition of love? But it seems to me that love is yet one more mystery, and not always in the Princess Bride kind of wonderful mystery of untold depths of enjoyment and delight.

I’ve seen things called love that were not love, and things called not love that were, and most confusing of all is this thing called the love of God. If John can say in all honesty that God is love, and that God loves us, then it can only make ones head and heart hurt trying to understand this thing called love, and why people all experience life so differently. If you and I are both beloved saints of God, then why is one of us given the answers to a prayer or a longing for love and the other not?

The only answer I have is no answer at all: that love is a mystery. That there is so much our finite minds can’t truly comprehend. I’m near-sighted, and there’s much that I simply cannot see. And as much as we try to reduce complicated things into things that we can understand, I’m more and more convinced that the complicated things are simply too much to be reduced to human terms, and there absolutely no satisfaction in that.

Job called for a mediator and demanded and answer and was told he couldn’t handle an answer and went and put his hand over his mouth. And the biggest piece of confusion for me has always been how that can possibly be a satisfying ending to the story, how that could possibly justify all the suffering and mistreatment that came to Job. And why God deemed that it was a sufficient answer for us as human beings, instead of making us capable of understanding.

Paul said the clay can’t question the maker who forms it, and sometimes that makes me shy about asking questions like this. But as best as I understand it, if you are seeking to understand and know your maker, you will invariably wind up with questions of “why?” and “how?” and “what is this?” What does it say about God that life is the way life is? The hard part is staying curious instead of falling into judgment. It’s very easy to go from “why?” to “this is not fair, and God is wrong.” If you truly understand your own incapability, then it becomes fairly obvious the stupidity involved in judging God – like a child who thinks it’s parent is mean for not letting them walk barefoot on broken glass. But when life feels very unfair, the aching hole of “why?” is very hard to keep from falling into.

I know that the answer of action is the same: acknowledging that that God is who He says He is. That He cannot lie, that He is love, that He works all things for our good, that He is faithful, that He knows, that He is holy and perfect.

But the “why?” is still there. And though there is no satisfying answer for it, I don’t think we’re wrong to ask it. Jesus, hanging on the cross: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

And God didn’t answer. But the veil tore. Or maybe that was God’s answer. Come here, and I’ll tell you.

So much of this life is the waiting to be made whole. So much of this life is finding out again and again how broken we are. With death, with abuse, with lies, with disappointment, with insufficiency, with just plain emptiness. What do we have left to offer each other, in this time of now?

I don’t know. At one point I thought it would be clear cut, a list of “10 things we have left to offer each other.” Now, I wonder, because our desire to offer is different than our ability to offer, and our ability to offer is different than our ability to convince others to receive or reciprocate.

If there is anything that I still think I do know, though, it’s that we have to keep trying. That we’re never released from the obligations to seek God, to love, and I think to ask hard questions and admit we don’t have the answers. Even if the only answer behind any of those actions can only be boiled down to, “Because God said it was pleasing to Him that we do.” It’s a hard place to be, but I think a true place to be, and that is something.

How much it hurts

I just want to wail, over and over, “I just want to go home, I just want to go home!”

I ran a little experiment and tried to post about what things are like for me right now on my family public blog. I just feel like a lot of my writing over here is of good quality, and I keep thinking I should go back to writing where my family can see it.

But the whole reason I started this one was because so much of what I’m feeling is emotionally complex enough I can’t be blunt and honest about it with my family. And there it is again. I started trying to write the first sentence I started this post with, over there, and I couldn’t do it.

Because it seems too melodramatic, and I find myself trying to tone it down for them. Because it is true, but if I said it to them, it would make people too upset. There’s nothing they can do to help me. So I share, but somehow I can only share so much. Maybe just because I have learned how terribly uncomfortable tears make them feel, and so I find myself trying to spare them of that? Because it’s not that I don’t want them to know I’m homesick. I just don’t want them to know that I’m finding tears rolling down my cheeks nearly every day now.

I can’t do this.

I want to go home.

I can’t do this, but I have to.

I want to go home.

I want to go home.

I want to go home. . .

Oh, you.

I put on my 1950s style little black dress and a pair of sassy red heels, and I went to that wedding.

Not because I hardly even knew my cousin and her soon-to-be husband. Not because I like crowded spaces and loud music.

Because people are important, and important things take work. People take time, and showing up when you don’t feel like it, and making an effort to to be available, and patience to grow relationships and even extending olive branches when you really don’t know someone.

I was so pleased with myself that I know this now. I was so pleased with myself that I am consciously trying to build and strengthen family ties, even when I feel like I don’t really know the other person and that they might not even want to really know me. I was proud that I had put my money where my mouth was, and that I had whole-heartedly shown up, not half-heartedly gone through the motions.

Then I went home and found a sobering blow: my childhood best friend was married on the same day.

Or at least, I always thought we were best friends. I think I always had suspicions that maybe she didn’t think we were best friends. But I thought we were, and I thought we always would be. Because, of course.

You could say our families grew apart. That might be an understatement. You could say we grew apart. That would be trite. Looking back, I think we were pursuing (consciously or otherwise) totally different things for our relationship together. I think we had different ideas of what life was supposed to be like, what friendship was supposed to be like, and how we were supposed to relate to each other. The older we got, the harder I tried – and the harder it seemed to be able to connect with her in any meaningful way. The suspicion that I might not be her best friend grew into the suspicion that she really couldn’t care less, but that she was a nice person and would be nice to me.

That, in turn, grew into shame. Shame of what, I couldn’t quite say. Shame that I was a “needy person” perhaps. Shame that wanted a relationship the other person didn’t want. Shame that the other person seemed to have their life all together and mine was all a part, and that person was in a different class than me. Shame that I kept trying to pursue a friend who didn’t need another friend.

I think it was shame that finally did us in. I quit trying to hang on to the friendship, ashamed I’d tried to keep it going for so long. And I was the only one that was trying to keep it, so away it went. That only intensified my shame.  I should have let the friendship die a long time ago. Clearly, I was the desperate one. Clearly, I was the pathetic one. Clearly, never showing my face again was the best option.

Years later, she “friended” me on Facebook. I was startled. An olive branch? Perhaps I’d over-reacted; maybe I was too emotional — took too personally what was only a busy time in her life. Along with the request was a brief note, trying to catch up. An interest in my life? No; she friended me, but totally hid her wall from me, never followed any of my posts, and never followed up again. A nice person, who holds me no ill will, but no desire for friendship, either.

It made me sad. Actually, it made me more ashamed. Getting my hopes up over a superficial “friend request.” Entertaining the fantasy of returning to childhood friendship. Delusion and desperate as ever. She was the one who friended me, but kept me at arms length. Still, I felt a little guilty seeing pictures of her “tagged” on her wedding day. It felt as though perhaps I shouldn’t know this was happening — that I shouldn’t really be privy to this part of her life. She sent me no invitation; why should she? We hadn’t seen each other in countless years. I’m sure I couldn’t have been further from her mind on her wedding day.

But it took my breath away. I remember us as kids, occasionally mentioning hypothetically some-days when we’d be married, speculating about the future. If you told me that on her wedding day, we wouldn’t even know each other any more, I think you would have broken my heart. Maybe my heart did break, just a little.

I can extend grace to my nearly-unknown cousin from a position of superiority. I don’t know you; I don’t need to know you. But I will grace you with my presence, just so that you know that I am willing to be your family, should you ever want one.

But I find I don’t know how to extend grace to my once-friend, who at one point allowed me nearly the same grace-from-superiority: I don’t need you, but I will pity you, and extend to you some shallow friendship. I’ll friend you on Facebook – a token gesture – but not actually invest in you.

It took the wind out of my sails. Partly, I think I am still mourning a lost friendship — a loss I tried to cram down and ignore, in an attempt to escape the shame, rather than face the loss. Although I must say, it’s only been in the last several years I’ve really learned about loss and grief and mourning. But partly because I realize that while there is a sacrifice to Showing Up when you don’t really feel like it, “grace from a position of superiority” really bites.

This is where I run into my current conundrum. There seems to be no use in pursuing people who are simply not in a place or position or a desire to have a relationship. Yet at the same time, it seems devaluing of human beings not to extend the opportunity to have a meaningful relationship. But is it really an opportunity for a meaningful relationship if it is an offer from a position of superiority — of not needing, but allowing that if the weaker one wants it, to grant it? I think myself so beneficent to have attended my barely-known cousin’s wedding, but how can that really be meaningful to her? So, I showed up. Big whoop. Sure, you have to start someplace. But a real relationship is about a lot more than gestures.

I’m not hurt that my once-friend didn’t invite me to her wedding. I hurt that not all friendships are forever. I don’t hurt that I wasn’t her maid of honor. I hurt that relationships with other human beings are so fleeting and fragile that you can think you’re best friends one year and another year be lifetimes apart. I don’t hurt that I didn’t find out from her about her wedding. I hurt that we aren’t in each others lives at all any more and have no grounds for commonality or friendship. Even if  I saw her today, what what I say? What could we say? There doesn’t seem to be any scant reason for a conversation, except the distant memory that, once, we were friends. And we won’t dishonor that memory. But we can’t resurrect it, either.

It’s hard to reach out to people and to be genuine and honest. But if it’s not genuine and honest, it really stinks. Forced, shallow and polite relationships really stink. Yet real, true, honest relationships needs a lot of work. Period. Good things require time and patience and mindfulness about tending. So how do you know when to let go, and when to keep patiently hoeing out the weeds? How do you know when “showing up” is part of the patient work, and when it is almost a condescension? And why do many chasms, originally there or grown over the years, never come to redemption?

 

The Conclusion of the Matter. . .

So I don’t know what I want.

Is this really an uncommon problem? I can’t imagine it is, but time has shown me again and again that I do a terrible job of imagining people different than me.

I didn’t know, for years, what I wanted to “be”. You know–job, career, occupation, defining title, all that stuff. One of the frustrating iterations of that uncomfortable topic, I believe I told a friend that I was quite confident I could be anything I wanted to be, I just had no idea what I wanted to be.

I am not so very much sure how much has changed. I guess (1) I appear to know what I want and what I’m doing in a much more socially acceptable way now, and (2) I’m no much less sure of my ability to make what I want happen, once I do figure it out. Yay for growing up?

Growing up also means that I can now say – if mostly only ever to myself – that what I want most is a family. Not a career. You can plop yourself on a career path with reason and logic and planning. A family requires another person, especially when you mean “family” not “kids”. I want the whole deal, not pieces of it here and there.

Some people then delicately say, “well. . .are you looking?” Um. . .no, I’m walking around with my eyes closed? Yes, I’m looking! I’m looking inward at myself and outward at the people around, and distantly toward what might be, and backwards at what was, and scanning around the present wondering what I will see in retrospect and wonder why it wasn’t more obvious at the time.

I think people don’t really mean “looking,” though. I think they really mean “hunting” or “pursuing” or “barging forward head on.” Usually, they mean a variant on “loosen up with alcohol and see who still texts with you when you’re both sober” or maybe even “you stupid girl, have you not yet learned how to flirt?” (Or maybe those are two of the same things?)

Well, what happens if I’m not interested in a guy who has to get at least half drunk in order to talk to me? What happens if I think flirting is a stupid way to interact and honestly, an inappropriate way to act with someone you hardly know? Yeah, I’m boring/not fun/take life too seriously/whatever. That wouldn’t change on the other side of drinking or flirting.

People say, “just live your own amazing life, and the right person will come along at the right time.” Yup. Or not. Not hunting people down doesn’t automatically turn you into a magnet, but being a chaser can often work to push people away.

Since clearly when people say “look” they mean something much less passive, I just really wonder a girl is to do. A girl who really does take life seriously, and commitments. A girl who is passionate about what matters most in life and about caring for people. A girl who does think life is full of many more important things than the pursuit of “fun” – fun is good and all, but it’s not a high and lofty goal. A girl who would like to just sit quietly together on the couch, not Go and Do, but just Be. A girl who doesn’t want to be a wife to be a princess, who doesn’t want to be a mom for the sake of cuteness, and a girl who would rather cook in than dine out any day of the week.

Be true to yourself, they say. Well, myself isn’t gregariously moving through a multiplicity of social circles, sifting for potential prey–or partnership, or however you mean it. Myself isn’t a drinker or a flirter; myself thinks that by the end of the week it is necessary to quietly withdraw and spend time patching up the inside of me so I can handle Monday when it comes around. (And I do handle Monday, thank you very much, but if I don’t spend the time patching me up on the inside, I probably will be in tears by Friday.) Myself loves to create, which is frequently a solitary occupation.

Look, you say? What do you mean, look? Look where? Where do you find people who find it endearing that you frequently curl up and hide from the world? Expand your social life, they say. Well, yes, leisure time is lovely for those who have leisure. And money. And enjoy the company of those with money to blow, I guess. Hey–I’m sorry. It’s just that a lot of the more affluent people I’ve met are boring. They’re more caught up in the Doing and Going and Spending (and Drinking) and seem more confused and bored by the Being and Making.

There are things you can do socially besides drinking, they say. Sure. I want to go to this Vocal Ensemble concert this weekend. I will show up in time to get a good seat. And sit. And enjoy it. And go home. Another solitary endeavor. I wouldn’t mind enjoying it with someone else, but the someone else to enjoy it with has yet to materialize. They say, get involved in your community. I’ve been trying for half a year to start volunteering at a shelter, but it has been excruciatingly difficult to mesh my school schedule with that. Join clubs, they say. Because even though you hate playing clubhouse, you might meet someone else who also hates playing clubhouse but is doing it anyway? And the main goal of churches is heating up pews and handing over cash.

Do I sound bitter? I don’t want to be bitter, whether I sound it or not. But there is a certain amount of frustration of wondering what you are supposed to do to “meet people” while being “true to yourself” when you are “intelligent, introverted” and alternately “sweet” or “a real firecracker”. And plus also, a point in your life when you have very little time and even less money. Seriously: how do you make lemonade with those lemons? More to the point, how do you make lemon meringue pie, or those awesome lemon custard shortcake bar cookies or lemon cake with raspberry filling and cream cheese frosting? I’m trying to take stock of realistically what I have and where I am in life, and honestly wondering how to break outside of your own little world while still not destroying yourself in the process.

I could make a self-congratulatory list of all I think I have to offer. I could making a tentative, querying list of what I was hoping to find. But I guess mostly I find myself pretty confused by the mechanics of the whole thing. How do find someone you would like to walk the rest of your life together with? The trite answer is by living the life that you want to be joined in living, but when that life doesn’t take you (much) into the circle of others’ lives, the finding seems pretty improbable.

And partly I’m wrestling with suspicion that there really isn’t much that can be done; that “finding” is just one more illusion of power that is really outside of our control. Like the endless sales of variously flavored snake-oil, if there was “a” way, it would be well documented by now, and this post would not be a tired re-hashing of the wails of countless single people who wish they weren’t. Mankind – generally – learns how to solve the problems that are solvable.

What we are left with is heartache, because heartache is generally unsolvable.

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.

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!

“Girl talk, blah, blah, blah”

Yes, my brothers and dad consider that a valid form of description for blogs such as this, which is why they don’t know this is here (at least as far as I know).

I raised some objects that it’s not really pleasant to have yourself dismissed as “girl talk, blah, blah, blah”; I was informed that the he saw the need for a certain amount of honesty.

Well, excuse me.  I never claimed to be writing deep philosophy or earth-shattering profundity. But just because it is the feminine form of communicating, you feel the need to be “honest” and tack on some “blah, blah, blah’s” just to show what you think is  the true value of it?

So, yeah, you’re not invited. Because it’s exhausting to be always swimming against the grain of condescension. And sometimes, this is a great relief–a place where I can just do my girl talk without the blah, blah’s. But sometimes, I just feel like it’s really sad. Because your level of dismissal means it’s not worth it to me to share with you who I am. I won’t tell you, and you won’t know, and you’ll wonder why. Because everyone should be ready and able to defend who they are, and only a coward wouldn’t stand you down to insist who they were over your objections.

But what am I gaining you by fighting you? I could tell you that I’d love to ride horses, and you would say, “Typical girl” disgustedly. So I won’t tell you that, even though it’s true. What would I gain? I could tell you that often I think about traveling the nation, the world: to see the wonder of God’s creation, to see His people everywhere, to remember that He made the whole world and then came into it as a human. How exciting to behold that! But you would say, “how stereotypical. Romantic notions of traveling the world. Real life doesn’t work that way, you know.”

No, I don’t know. I know I’m harboring dreams I’m not telling people, and I am discovering something else about myself: I don’t sit on dreams. I act on them. I don’t think maybe someday. I lay one brick after another until I reach it. Some day, I’m going to do some crazy stuff. And you’re going to say, “what the heck as gotten into her head? She used to be so reasonable!” No, I never really was. I found out what I could say to you, and what wore me out to no gain. You think the only sane course of action is to live in your little monastery, but that’s never been one of my goals. I just didn’t see the point to argue with you about the value of the world, when I saw you were so set in your thinking and could not relate to me.

So you are honest about what you think about what I have to say. Let me be honest, too: I don’t have any reason to say it to you, then. I’ll be quiet and spare you the blah, blah, blah.  I am. But I do not owe it to you to tell you that. I don’t owe it to you to parade my thoughts across your board of judgement. If you don’t value it, I can keep it to myself.

Somehow, you don’t see that. You feel like everyone should be ready to deal with criticism, because anyone who won’t allow themselves to be subjected to criticism is engaging in protectionism of the worst kind: not allowing their ideas or thoughts to be challenged, desirous of being admired rather than respected, and (perhaps worst of all!) being too fragile.

But criticism does not equal respect. There is a difference between constructive criticism and criticism, an apparently extremely fine distinction that you have trouble with. Giving you a chance to trash me is totally different than being open to challenge. I’m willing to discuss things; I’m not willing to go looking for opportunities to be mocked. You’ve mocked me enough that I don’t see the likelihood of anything else happening. You don’t demonstrate that you value my faculties for thinking or decision making, and so I don’t want to involve you in the process any more.

Can you not see how this drives us apart? Do you really think that, by your decree, I will simply grow that “thicker skin” and submit to your view of what communication is supposed to be like? Do you really think that you can drive me to silence and then declare you know what I’m thinking because I’m so predictable? You don’t know what’s going on inside my head. And you won’t know. Because that would mean listening without dismissing, and your “honesty” compels you to tell me how I’m wrong and foolish and too emotional about everything. That just tells me that I’m not safe with you, because nothing is good enough for you. It certainly doesn’t tell me that I’m actually wrong and foolish and too emotional–only that <em>you</em> think I’m wrong and foolish and too emotional. I know you, too, and what you think doesn’t hold as much weight with me as you seem to think it should.

That doesn’t mean I’m not tired of fighting with you. I am. When I am struggling, I don’t need someone else to just heap it on top of everything else. If that’s all you have to offer, then it’s easier for me to work through my struggles by keeping them to myself. I don’t know if that’s what you wanted or not. Somehow, I think not. Somehow, I think you want your cake and to be able to eat it, too.

Well, here’s what I want.

I want to be a girl, talking.

Without the Blah. Blah. Blah.

Lists

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.