#FlashbackFriday — “On Loneliness”

This is one of my favorites, actually. I have some good friends who’ve been going through some rough patches, and I’ve been wanting to repost this in their honor.

Original post is from October 17th 2012.

On Loneliness

Sometime back, I posted a note about what terrifies me, aptly titled, “What Terrifies Me.” A few things in it are outdated now, but this line holds as true as ever: “I’m afraid that my brief bouts of loneliness will get longer and longer as time goes on, until they swallow me whole.”

I get lonely sometimes. Shocker, I know.

I’m a fairly internally self-sufficient person. Externally is another story — I still need others to provide my food, clothes, shelter, etc — but internally, I’m usually pretty solid on my own. If I think that your rules or societal conventions are dumb, I will ignore them with very little care toward what others will think. If I feel like talking, I’ll talk, and if I feel like sitting in silence, I’ll do that too, even if the choice to do one or the other might not be the most typical or societally appropriate in a given situation. I don’t tailor myself to the greatest common denominator, and I like it that way.

*

For instance, I remember that during my first weekend at school in Israel, for some reason the Sabbath song sing-along morphed into a dance-along. (Don’t ask why, it’s a yeshiva girl thing; I never really understood it either.) Everyone got up and started dancing the hora. Everyone except me, that is. So we’re talking, like, 100 girls. I happen not to like dancing, so I elected to stay at the table all by myself and finish my food and sip my water. As usual, I was repeatedly invited to join in, and repeatedly declined.

Afterward, one of the girls approached me and said something along the lines of, “That took guts. I never have the courage to sit alone at a table in that kind of situation.”

It’s not so much “guts” as it is the knowledge that whenever I do something solely to please the people around me or “fit in,” I wind up hating myself for it. Even if it’s something as innocuous as dancing. I have a weirdly rigorous internal standard of honesty, which renders me immune to most of these kinds of peer pressures. Not all, but a lot. I’d rather not hate myself, so I’d rather not dance. Same goes for drinking, smoking, drugs, the whole shebang.

It took me a long time to figure that out. I used to feel bad for not dancing, used to think it was a red flag of some sort. A deficiency, a mental-socio-emotional failing. In fact, the line after the loneliness line in the “What Terrifies Me” note is: “I’m afraid that liking to be alone and hating to dance really does mean there’s something wrong with me, even though I know that’s not true.”

*

I am very happy and comfortable with my own self, in my own skin, making my own rules. Or at least, I’m a lot happier and more comfortable than when I’m following someone else’s. It’s not entirely comfortable, and it’s certainly not easy — it’s extra disconcerting, I think, for me to come across a new situation and not a have a system of societal/religious/cultural rules in place that will help me figure out what to do. It would be easier if I could find someone or some dogma to follow or trust blindly and completely. Not having that is stressful and scary. Not having the answers, being confused and lost and knowing it — that’s hard. You feel like you’re reinventing the wheel more often than is probably good for your nerves.

I wouldn’t trade it.

But I get lonely sometimes. Stomach-churning, bone-wrenching, heart-crushing loneliness. Loneliness that makes my insides feel like they’ve been hollowed out and my skin is cracking apart and just won’t go back together.

It’s not about romance or being single or having your heart broken. Those things don’t help, but I felt the loneliness I’m describing here long before any of that was ever part of my social life. And it’s not about not having friends or not being loved or respected or admired, because I know I have all of those things. I have my doubts and insecurities about them from time to time, but not to the degree I’m talking about.

Maybe the loneliness is about being understood, as cliché as that is. Because I know that no human being can ever fully understand another, and there’s a profound isolation in that. I used to write some form of telepathy into most of my old stories, because I just can’t stand how there is no earthly way for you to ever truly know what I’m thinking and feel what I’m feeling.

That’s why I absolutely hate lying in writing, or with words in general. Writing is the closest thing I have to telepathy, to direct mind-to-mind communication — why would I ever corrupt it or give anyone any reason at all to distrust it? That would break one of the rarest and most valuable tools I have.

*

Writing like this is one of the ways I cope with the loneliness. I define it, I describe it, I contextualize it, and in that way, I gain some measure of control over it, so that it’s not just this gigantic amorphous cancerous THING that can come at me unawares and eat me alive.

There are other ways to cope. Distractions are good. Watch a movie. Go to the movies. Sleep. Read a book. Write a book. Find a new favorite food. Put together an outfit you’ve never tried before. Sing. Build something out of wood or lego or bottlecaps or toilet paper rolls or cookies. Walk somewhere instead of taking the bus. Take the bus instead of walking. Go to class. Write a paper. (In high school, I’d have said, “listen to music,” but nowadays it hurts more than it helps, so I’m leaving it out.)

One thing I don’t like to do when I’m lonely is be around people. It’s partly the I-don’t-want-you-to-see-me-like-this factor, but mostly because when I’m in the throes of intense, skin-cracky loneliness, I feel dangerous. When I’m like that, I feel like if anyone shows me the slightest scrap of understanding, I will latch onto them and never let go, and that is all kinds of unhealthy for them and for me. (That’s why I don’t think people should date when they’re too lonely. Desperation and loneliness do loopy things to your standards. Learning to be happy alone is in no way inferior to being happy as part of a matched set.)

*

This is a hard topic for me to write about, because it’s about weakness. I don’t like to show weakness. I like to seem like I have it all together and that I don’t need anyone or anything more than what I’ve got. I’ve written about fears and depression and self-consciousness, but this seems different somehow. Maybe because I think loneliness is stupid and yet I still feel it sometimes and it’s embarrassing.

I know I’m no better than anyone else and that loneliness is part of being human, but I still feel like I should be above it. I’m not.

*

One last thing I sometimes do when I’m lonely is to post one of these, and watch as my friends come out of the woodwork one by one and tell me they get it. So now I pass the ball to you, and hope this isn’t the one time when you don’t understand what the heck I’m talking about.

______________

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#ThrowbackThursday — Clothes (or “Sluttiness Is Relative”)

In an effort to slowly migrate much of my writing from Facebook to the wider web, I’m going to be digging up an old post every Thursday and reposting it here for your amusement. Enjoy!
[This post was originally a Facebook note from October 19, 2012.]

“Honest question,” I said while arranging vegetable platters in the synagogue kitchen, “what do you think of this dress? Because my mom called it a hooker dress.”

Alex, my 40-ish bespectacled curly-haired supervisor and friend, glanced at the outfit judiciously. “Well, I guess I could see where she’s coming from? If it were 1972?” He crossed the kitchen to stick a platter in the fridge. “I mean, to be fair, a lot of your clothes are, well, mildly provocative? But other people could probably wear them without . . . Well, they have a different effect, because you have a, shall we say, rather . . . nice figure? And I’m going to leave it at that, because I’m a married, Orthodox Jewish man.”

(Don’t worry, this didn’t get Alex into any trouble with his wife. When I told her about this exchange, she almost busted a gut laughing: “I love my husband.” Cuz he’s awesome.)

I think some of the stuff I’m going to say in the rest of this will probably offend some people and make me sound unbelievably shallow and horrible to the rest. On the other hand, a lot of you probably already know this stuff about me and you haven’t run for the hills yet. So.

I don’t dress to blend in. At least, not most of the time. I can, I can wear a sweatshirt and long dark skirt and my glasses and I can disappear. I do that sometimes, when I’m tired or not feeling well or just not feeling up to being the me I want to be. In high school when I hadn’t had a chance to shower in three days, I’d wear a hood up all day and most likely not talk to anyone. I do that in 90-degree heat sometimes too, because nothing says “give this person some space” like wearing a hooded sweatshirt in a sweltering New York City summer. Ellen Pompeo (Meredith from Grey’s Anatomy) has always avoided paparazzi and kept a low profile simply by wearing the same plain black tracksuit outfits all the time. It bores them.

But I know how to dress to stand out, and I often do, since I don’t have to hide from paparazzi. I wear bright colors, loud patterns, materials that hug tight to every curve of my body — or at least the ones I want to emphasize, like the narrow waist and the full chest and the flare of my hips. I’ve had this figure since I was 12, and it was cumbersome and embarrassing and inconvenient then, so I have no interest in apologizing for having grown into it. A friend of mine once explained how she spotted me when we arranged to meet up in a crowded place: “I asked myself, ‘who’s wearing the funkiest clothes here?’ Aaaaand there you were.”

The word “slutty” is a word that needs to die, in my opinion — any character judgments based on how much or how little sex you have are just so ugh — but it gets tossed around when discussing my clothing, so I’m going to address it.

*

Principle #1 that people need to understand, the Prime Directive of clothing choices, is that clothes look different on different people. Especially on different women. We come in all shapes and sizes, as anyone with half an eyeball should know. With guys, slap on a suit and you’re good to go. But there are very, very, very few things that look good on all women. Hence my feeling that school uniforms being “equalizers” is absurd — it’s really tough to make a shapeless collared shirt and pleated black skirt look good; only a few girls per grade tend to be able to pull it off. Uniforms like that only serve to better distinguish the hotties from the notties, if you know what I mean. There may be plenty of other reasons for school uniforms, but equalizing? That’s bull.

And there are certain things that some women can wear that will just look sexier on them than on another girl or woman.

At my little sister’s junior high and possibly high school, there is a policy of “skirting,” which means that if an administrator spots you wearing a skirt that is deemed too short for the dress code’s knee-length requirements, they can yank you aside and make you wear a long black skirt from the office for the rest of the day. My sister used to come home complaining about how she got “skirted” for the same exact skirts that other girls would get away with wearing every day, the kind that missed the knee by maybe an inch. I never knew quite how to tell her, “Look, they’re not bothering with those other girls because those girls probably have no figure, no curves. You do, so stuff looks more suggestive on you. They’re basically penalizing you for looking sexier in the same exact piece of clothing. It’s not about the length; it’s about the overall look.”

Hey, I think it’s important to let girls at that age, who are just coming into their sexuality, know that they should be aware of how their bodies and clothes make them look. But then schools should make it about that, not about some blanket skirt-length modesty rules that are hardly ever enforced equally across the board and tend to humiliate girls simply for being more attractive than their peers.

Now back to me.

There are certain things that look sexier on me than on a mannequin or on most other women. For instance, a button-down shirt will look a heck of a lot more “slutty” on me than on most girls, because if the shirt fits at my waist, there is no way it is going to button all the way up. Just not gonna happen. It’s proportions, physics, science. But that is not my fault and I’m not going to swear off perfectly unobjectionable clothing merely because the shape of my body means it might offend some puritan sensibilities.

Beyond that, though, certain individual items of clothing that I wear, taken in a vacuum, could be considered slutty in a general sense. Low-cut strapless dresses with transparent lace panels, skintight faux leather corset-ish tops, minidresses with strategic cutouts. The “hooker dress” that got my mother a bit worked up was a very form-fitting, knee-length, red-patterned halter-top dress that, in the words of my 18-year-old little sister, “barely contains your boobage.”

“I know!” I said. “Isn’t it awesome?”

She rolled her eyes and huffed an exasperated sigh.

(Big sisters. We exist to embarrass you.)

But if you’ve ever seen me, you know that I’ve never worn any of these pieces of clothing in a way that could possibly be construed as a come-on. I wear long-sleeved, high-neckline shirts underneath anything remotely low-cut, and ankle-length skirts to complement any hemline that falls above the knee. As another married male friend observed, “I suspect that with all the layers you wear, you could take off your outer dress and still be fully clothed.” Which is totally true. I’ve somehow become a master at dressing slutty without showing any skin. It’s very confusing for some people, apparently.

*

The most you could ever call my outfits is “suggestive” or, as Alex put it, “mildly provocative.” I’m clearly not a “slut” in the “advertising for sex” sense. (If I was, that would be my choice and none of your business, either. But it happens not to be the case.) If anything, I’m a tease. All look, don’t touch.

I don’t mind being looked at. Sometimes I keep track of how many people do a double-take or look twice at me when I walk by. It’s the power-mad social-scientist in me — I like to make people react. It amuses me. A prolonged look on the subway from someone who’s wondering if I realized my neon socks are mismatched is in some ways just as good as the mock-scandalized looks my friends give when I wear something envelope-pushing.

As a formerly painfully self-conscious person who was sure everyone was always staring at her, it’s a lot less disconcerting to be looked at when I know exactly why people are looking, and that I’m controlling that.

(Yeah, look at me on a budget — I make my own fun!)

But mostly, I just wear what I like.

“My mom thinks I’m ‘sending out a message,’ ” I said to Alex.

“Nah. The only message you send out with your clothes is that you make your own rules,” he replied. “And I think that’s the message you want to send, no?”

____

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