#ThrowbackThursday — “On Insecurity”

There has been a lot of insecurity going around in my life recently — in my head, in friends’ lives, in conversations I’ve had with them, etc — so when I was scrolling through my notes to pick one for this Throwback Thursday, naturally this one jumped out at me.

Original post is from June 30th 2013.

 

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Nothing taps into my insecurities — or reminds me that I have them — as fast or as powerfully as being liked.

It’s funny, you think it’d be the other way around, that having people not like me would get me all worked up and wondering why, what’s wrong with me, what did I do? But it doesn’t. Hasn’t in years. Being disliked just rolls off me. (Unless I thought you were my friend. Then if I find out you’ve secretly been disliking me and being nice to my face, you are dead to me. Dead-dead, not even mostly dead. All dead.)

But being liked — ouch. It’s like whiplash. It’s like, why. Like, what’s wrong with you? I don’t mean being casually liked by people I hang out with and have known for a while, I mean those times when I meet someone once or twice and they really really like me and actively want to spend more time with me. Especially when I wasn’t even trying to impress anyone. (Which is most of the time, since I’ve mostly given up on impressing people in non-professional situations.)

Why do you like me. Can’t you see I’m unpredictable, I’m lazy, I’m weak, I’m unfocused, I’m selfish, I’m flashy, I’m a coward, I’m cruel.

It’s amazing how many negative character traits will explode out of the woodwork of my brain when someone normal and nice who’s just met me says,“I really, really like you.” Or asks me to hang out when they totally didn’t have to. Or otherwise makes it clear that they want to be my friend.

It is weird, y’all. It’s the emotional contrarianism, exhibit A. You don’t like me? You should; I’m awesome. You do like me? WHY WOULD YOU, I’M A TERRIBLE PERSON OMG.

It’s a knee-jerk reaction; I’ll automatically ask myself what this person could possibly be seeing in me, and how I must have managed to fool them. If it’s a guy, my immediate and probably unhealthy instinct is, “Oh, you just think I’m pretty.” If it’s a girl, it’ll be more along the lines of, “Oh, she just doesn’t know me well enough. JUST YOU WAIT.” (Sorry for this heteronormative breakdown — obviously it doesn’t cover all contingencies.)

I mean, it’s obvious that each of us are our own harshest critic. I’m the only one who sees what is going through my head every second of every day, and how very empty and not-brilliant most of it is, so when people think I’m deep and brilliant, I have a hard time agreeing.

I have a friend who constantly asks me where my confidence comes from, and the truth is it doesn’t come from always thinking that I’m objectively awesome — it comes from knowing that most people are worse off most of the time. Even if I’m not brilliant, I’m smarter than most other people. Even if I’m not that productive, my spurts of production are often more impressive than those of others. Even if I’m not drop-dead gorgeous, I am more attractive than a lot of other girls.

So there, I said it. I derive my self-esteem from looking down on other people, rather than working on myself. Psychologically, I’m no different from your garden-variety bully.

And that loops around and taps into the biggest insecurity that I have ever had — that I am not a good person.

That’s been my biggest hang-up for as long as I can remember having hang-ups. I can even trace some of its origins and the ways it became amplified, like when I realized I was absolute crap at the belief-in-God part of my religion and decided, okay, that’s a lost cause, but the do-unto-others part is also important, so if I can just do that, be good to other people, then I won’t be a complete and utter failure as a human being.

Which I guess is a decent mindset to have because, y’know, kindness and goodness and all that, but is pretty unhealthy when it comes to the amount of pressure a person like me will put on herself for it. Like, if your one assurance in life of not being a bad person is being kind and compassionate and giving, etc, then when you screw that up, or recognize things about yourself that show that you are not that type of person at all, then you do feel really royally screwed.

I know I’m not a bad person, but the way I know it is by comparison to other people who are worse. So yeah, just because I have the psychological underpinnings of a bully, I’m not that bad because I don’t usually actively go around putting other people down. It doesn’t matter if I have the potential for it, as long as I don’t act on it.

Like Batman says, “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” Or like Dumbledore says, “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Or if you want an obscure Jewish reference, there’s a midrash I once heard about how someone was looking at a soul, and it was ugly and twisted — bumps of arrogance, ridges of cruelty, welts of selfishness, and so on. (It’s a metaphor; go with it.) The person was revolted and asked, “Yikes, whose soul is that?” And from behind him, Moses steps out of the shadows and says, “Mine. That’s what I am inside, but I worked on myself to be better.”

I like those ideas, I really do (even if I do think that King David would have been a more apt figure than Moses for that particular lesson and I’m also not 100% sure that it’s an actualmidrash and not something the teacher made up). But even so, they don’t wipe out the feeling that I am fundamentally flawed inside and that all the good actions are just camouflage and repression. I cannot fix a fundamental flaw — that’s what makes it “fundamental” — I can only paint over it.

But then again, the point of all those quotes and stories is that everyone is fundamentally flawed inside and has their various negatives and dark threads.

But then again, that’s just using the “but everyone else is just as bad” rationale to excuse my own failings.

Still. If it’s good enough for Batman, Dumbledore, and Moses, it’s probably good enough for me.

 

 

 

 

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#ThrowbackThursday — “How to Make Friends*”

I’m coming in just under the wire for Throwback Thursday so I don’t have time to write a witty intro. Although I do want to note that I test more in the spectrum range of “ambivert” than “introvert” these days. But I drift.

Original post is from March 20th 2013.

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I came across one of my old handwritten journals from my year in Israel, and thought this entry was EXTREMELY interesting, because some of it is so far from who I am now that I barely recognize myself. It sounds like some people I know, but not like me anymore.

“October 27th 2008 (Chaya Solomon’s b-day)

 

“ ‘I can’t’ usually means ‘I won’t’ — but aren’t there times when ‘I won’t’ isn’t such a bad thing? And some things aren’t just a matter of your will; you need the cooperation of others.

“What I want more than anything this year is to make friends. Good friends. If it’s girls or boys, I don’t really care. But whenever I try to go out and ‘be social,’ meet new people, I always find myself fading into the background while other people do all the talking, make all the jokes. So I just stand around half the time, being weirdly silent, and I end up no better off than before. I suck at group dynamics. One on one, I’m fine. How in the world am I supposed to change that? But maybe more important than that: Why SHOULD I change that? Why should I try to turn myself into the life of the party, talk when I have nothing to say, pretend to be an extrovert? I’m an introvert. It’s not a condition — it’s a fact. And I want to find someone I connect with on that level, not by pretending to be someone I’m not. Duh. Doing it any other way would be counterproductive. But what’s the point of going out to these social gatherings? The kinds of people I’m looking for will not be in those groups; they’ll be back where I want to be, in their rooms, reading, writing, or on the computer.

“It’s paradoxical. I’m intensely introverted and the only people I can meet when I go out are more extroverted than I am, and therefore I don’t get noticed or appreciated by anyone there. I just come across as dull and boring and I’d be kidding myself if I said that isn’t pretty crushing to my self-esteem.

“So, should I change? Is it my fault? If so, how would I change? Read books about taking control of social situations? Ask therapists? Do anything and everything to change my introverted nature, to put on a mask and compromise my self, this major part of my personality?

“Or is this a case of drawing a line, an ‘I won’t’? How far am I supposed to compromise, fake my way through in order to get a friend? Personally, I think I’m looking in the completely wrong place.

“But the other introverts . . . I don’t know. The few that I’ve met seem worse than me, more determined than I am to shut everyone out. They’ve got their own tight circle of friends, here or back home, and they don’t seem interested in letting me in.”

*

The biggest, most obvious question that gripped me while reading this is, of course: What changed?!

I’m still a reclusive introvert who rarely leaves her room during the week, but if you’ve met me in a group setting, you know how I am there — I’m not “the life of the party” necessarily, but I do that thing that actors with screen presence do: I pull focus. I’m brash and unapologetic, I crack jokes, I say outrageously honest things, I hold my own in almost any conversation. One of my friends, who I met this year at a New Year’s Eve party, told me, “I bet no one who meets you ever forgets you,” and while I wouldn’t go anywhere near that far, I will admit that I’m probably the furthest thing from “dull and boring.”

Usually.

But there are times where I can feel the remnants of the things mentioned in that journal entry.

I do have days, or even random minutes or hours here and there, where something just switches off, and I’ll go silent or monosyllabic, and I’ll be that boring girl who sits on the couch and reads or sleeps while everyone else carries on just fine without me, or I’ll sit in the thick of it and tune you all out like so much white noise.

And there are certain crowds where I just don’t feel comfortable and don’t feel like talking.

Secret: Mostly this happens in crowds of Jews. Religious Jews who I don’t know make me more uncomfortable than anyone else, and that includes the horrendously smelly, schizophrenic homeless people I encounter on the subway.

Why is that?

Well, because they remind me of what I’m supposed to be but am not.

I felt this to a crippling degree while socializing during my year in Israel, because Israel was a place you were supposed to go so that you could connect with your religion and connect with God, and I was still laboring under the notion that if I just studied hard enough, and focused myself properly, and found the right teachers, then I could learn to believe the way I was supposed to, the way believers did. And I hadn’t yet come to inhabit the religious identity of “agnostic” — that came much later. At the time, I just (very, very secretly) self-identified as a “bad Jew.”

I still don’t think of myself as a particularly good Jew, in the religious sense of being Jewish. As I’ve written in other pieces, I eventually realized that the only reason I kept trying to believe was because I wanted to please the people around me — parents, teachers, friends, community — not because it mattered to me personally. And at some point, I just got tired of pretending to care and trying to make myself care about religion when I don’t, and was only searching for answers in order to fit in. The simple fact of the matter is: I don’t have answers, and I don’t care that I don’t.

So to me, hanging out with a bunch of religious Jews I don’t know can sometimes feel like hanging out with a bunch of mathematicians — it’s not that I don’t respect them; I just don’t have much to contribute to the conversation. And even if I did, I wouldn’t care about it the way they do, and I wouldn’t want to give them the impression that I do. (I dislike writing about religion for that reason; it makes people think you want to talk about it, when honestly, I really don’t.)

Being uncomfortable because of this is silly, obviously — whether the people are religious Jews or mathematicians, they’ll almost definitely have interests, likes, and dislikes outside of Judaism or math, respectively. Even if people are extremely passionate about one thing (and by no means are all Orthodox Jews passionate about being Orthodox Jews, but even if they were) they seldom obsess over it to the exclusion of all else. I have plenty of religious friends, and we hardly ever talk about religion. So of course I could easily talk to a religious Jewish stranger about Star Trek or baseball or Green Day or how hot Jennifer Lawrence is.

But when you’re insecure about something, you feel transparent except for that one thing. You feel like if you open your mouth or call attention to yourself, everyone will somehow figure it out. And you feel like there’s this huge wall between you and them, because you have this massive secret, and there’s an unbridgeable gap between your understanding of the world and theirs.

I’ve long since parted ways with the shame I used to feel about my faith or lack thereof.

I will drop “agnostic” into conversations with religious Jews I’ve barely met, just to get it out there. I have my religious views of “culturally Jewish, religiously agnostic” visible publicly on my facebook profile page, visible to people who aren’t even my facebook friends. I have no patience for pretending anymore, and no interest in misleading anyone into thinking that just because I wear skirts and sleeves and high necklines and keep shabbos and kosher and just about everything else, that I am religious.

*

That is just one example of a major insecurity that no longer plagues me to the degree that it used to. Others were my weight, my skin, my voice, and the fact that I don’t know what I want out of life. To name a few.

I’ve become a sort of pro at overcoming insecurity, in my old age. It’s become second nature to the point where I often don’t even realize I’m doing it.

It’s a basic two- or maximum three-step regimen.

The first step is recognition. If you don’t recognize the insecurity that is holding you back from feeling comfortable, you have no chance of overcoming it.

The second step is contextualization. How big and bad is this insecurity? What’s the worst it can do to your life, e.g., is that zit really going to make a huge difference, or are you blowing it out of proportion? Is this something that no one has ever overcome before? Do you know people with this exact issue or a similar one or worse, but it doesn’t seem to bother them and you think they’re awesome anyway? If so, what makes them awesome and why should it be any different for you?

Sometimes you can stop after step two, because the answers are obvious enough that the insecurity shrinks away to nothing. Other times, it’s not so simple, and you need to move on to step three:

Honesty. (You knew that was coming, right? I’m super predictable.)

You don’t need to be one thousand percent honest with everyone, about everything, at all times. You don’t have to shout it from the rooftops. You don’t have to post it on facebook.

But you should try to have various different people in your life that you can be honest with about some things some of the time, and hopefully if you have enough of these people, then [some things] + [some things] + [some things] = Everything. For instance, there are certain things I can’t tell my parents, and there are certain things I don’t put on facebook (le shock!), and there are certain things I can tell some close friends but not others, because of overlapping social circles and violation of other people’s privacy and other sticky circumstances. But I have very few secrets of my own that I keep purely to myself. (I have some, by choice, and there’s nothing wrong with that, either.)

As important as it is to have the courage of your own convictions, it’s also important to have validation from others. Ideally, it shouldn’t be necessary, and you shouldn’t rely on it for all things, but we’re human and we’re wired to want to belong, to be understood and accepted by a community of like-minded people, and we should draw strength from that when we can.

Shame tends to seep in when you feel like there’s something you can’t talk about with anyone, and shame is one of the most corrosive and least productive emotional states in the universe.

Sometimes you really have no choice but to feel like the lone freak because your opinion is so singular or unpopular within your community that no one seems to get it. But those are rare. Most of the time, everyone is struggling or has struggled with the same things you are; they just don’t admit it. Or sometimes don’t realize it.

As a general rule, the more honest you are about who you are and how you think, the more unremarkable it will seem to you and to the people around you. These things just become a part of you that doesn’t scare anyone away any more than any other part of you. If people do get scared away, you can be sure they aren’t the kind of people you want in your life.

To be all clever and clichéd: The more you own your insecurities, the less they’ll own you.

*

But the big question 2008-SM was grappling with remains: How do I find these people I can be honest with? How do I make friends?

I just asked that as if I have the answer, didn’t I? Sorry, my mistake.

I don’t have an answer. There is no blueprint for making friends and I am definitely not an expert in this area.

I can tell you that it’s a numbers game. Pickup artists can tell you that if you go to a bar and set your sights on one specific person, you’re probably heading for disappointment. Not everyone you reach out to is going to reach back. People can be very standoffish and averse to new faces, and something about you may just rub them the wrong way, and these things aren’t necessarily within your control.

(For instance, I find a lot of people to be nice, friendly, upstanding human beings, but they bore me. I swear, that’s all it is. There’s nothing wrong with any of them; we’re just not on the same wavelength and there’s a limit to how close a friendship we can develop when I can’t connect with you. We can be friends, sure, but never close friends. It sounds harsh to say it like that, but everyone gets a lot more out of friendships with people who get them than with people who don’t.)

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t reach out. On the contrary — if you want more friends, you should reach out more. If statistics show that 4 out of 5 people don’t reach back, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that reaching out to 15 people will yield 3 potential friends while reaching out to 5 will yield only 1.

The downside of this is that while the percentage rate of rejection stays the same (4 out of 5, 12 out of 15 = 80% rejection rate), the quantity of rejections goes up (4 rejections from reaching out to 5 people; 12 from reaching out to 15). And that can be exhausting and demoralizing.

And of course, since I just made up these statistics, in real life you don’t have any guarantee that even 1 in 5 will reach back. You might get shut out 15 to 0.

I’ll tell you another secret: I have 1 close friend from high school. There were 70 kids in my grade.

And another: I have 1 close friend from Israel. There were 105 girls in my school.

I have a few reasonably good friends from both those places, a ton of acquaintances who probably think fairly well of me, and I never made any enemies as far as I know, but close friends? The ones you can really get to know and let them get to know you? The ones you tell the things you can’t tell facebook? The ones you’d stay on the phone with for as long as they need you when they’re having a crisis? The ones you go to when you need help?

The odds are not in your favor.

But this is a textbook case of quality over quantity. I’ve never in my life wanted to be popular. (I didn’t even understand the concept in elementary school; I remember having a conversation with a friend in 6th grade where she explained to me who the popular girls were. “So-and-so, she’s popular.” “She is? But I don’t like her.” “Yeah, but she’s popular.” “Okay. Whatever.”) But I always wanted friends.

*

It’s a slow process. You can’t rush friendship any more than you can hurry love. You will be rejected or ignored with varying degrees of politeness by most of the people you attempt to befriend. You will grow apart from people, and the nature of your friendships with them will change, or they’ll disintegrate entirely, and that will hurt.

But if you keep your eyes open, and you keep making an effort, you’ll find people you want in your life who will want you in theirs. Try not to assume that just because you think someone is awesome, then they must have a ton of friends and no room for little ole you. That might be the case, but if you connect with someone and appreciate them deeply, sometimes that’s because you speak the same psychic language, and that’s a two-way street. People are almost always willing to enrich their lives with other people who speak their language.

I won’t say that conquering your insecurities and cultivating a core group of close friends will turn you into a wise-cracking attention-hog like me, because let’s face it — I’m just naturally charismatic and witty and gorgeous, and ain’t nobody gonna teach you that.

But learning to accept who you are, down to the not-so-shiny nuts and bolts, and having people who accept you as well, can give you that little bit of confidence you need to be just fine with being the boring one, the quiet one, the one who doesn’t need to drink or smoke, or the one who isn’t terrified of splitting off and heading home early.

Because you know you don’t need to impress anyone. You’ve got it made.

 

 

 

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Like my thinky thoughts? You can commission more of them via my GoFundMe campaign — http://www.gofundme.com/sm-automotive — or subscribe on the sidebar, and thanks for reading! You can also buy me tools from this Wishlist but really I just like money.

Open Letter to A[nother] Friend (or, “A Series of Deeply Awkward Events”)

I debated for a bit whether I wanted to post this on a public blog rather than just on Facebook, but decided that it was a sufficiently detailed and nuanced portrait of friendship that I would like to have it out there. Also I missed yet another ThrowbackThursday post so here’s this instead.

 

Open Letter to A[nother] Friend (or, “A Series of Deeply Awkward Events”)

[The last time I wrote an open letter, it was to a friend who was getting married. This one isn’t a letter to mark that particular occasion, but one of my best friends’ lives is about to undergo a huge upheaval that is in some ways just as drastic as marriage, and I wanted to commemorate that somehow. This is about you, but it’s also largely about me, so I hope you’ll forgive it for being this public.]

Dear Friend Who Shall Remain Unnamed To Protect Against Prying NSA Eyes and Permanent Internet Embarrassment (the latter of which shall heretofore be known as P.I.E. because who doesn’t love pie),

The story of us starts earlier than you probably know. You probably think I’m going to start with that time you didn’t accept my Facebook friend request because you didn’t remember who the heck I was. As you might say, “#AWK.”

But the story starts earlier, as it has to, because why else would I have sent you that friend request in the first place?

See, we were in elementary school together, but you were a grade ahead of me, a big scary sixth grader, when I first became aware of your existence. You were a charter member of my dad’s sixth grade Harry Potter Writing Club, which is totally a thing that happened once upon a time — it was featured in the New York Times, yo. I don’t know if you know this, but my dad used to read his favorite excerpts of the club’s writing aloud to me and the rest of my family at home. And he read yours frequently. (See what I mean? SO MUCH P.I.E. Permanent Internet Embarrassment forever!)

In my eyes, you and your friends whose writing he read to us were just the coolest. (Clearly, my definition of “cool” has never been the cool kind of cool. Oops.) So I did what a tactless fifth grader does when she’d like to be friends with a group of sixth graders who don’t know her from a hole in the wall — I crashed your lunch table.

Your friends were none too keen on this. They alternately looked at me funny or ignored me completely and blatantly, and I didn’t understand why until I was a sixth grader myself and had some younger friends who attempted to crash my lunch table. My sixth grader friends treated them approximately the way your friends treated me.

But I tried to behave like you had, because you didn’t seem to care that I had invaded your table and violated the social order of fifth graders sitting with fifth graders and sixth graders sitting with sixth. I don’t recall you making active attempts to include me in the conversation or anything, but in no way did you make me feel unwelcome.

I didn’t know then that that was because you are one of the warmest people that I am ever going to meet, but I knew that I liked you best at that table, which I was tactful enough not to crash again.

Fast forward many, many, many months. I haven’t seen you in literally six or seven years, but your name pops up somewhere on Facebook and I figure, “Hey, why not?” So I send you a friend request, and you don’t respond. And you don’t respond. And you don’t respond.

And I figured that was it, that I’d just never really get a chance to be your friend. Because why would you want me, anyway? You were like the coolest nerdgirl ever, surrounded by other awesome nerdy friends, and I was just that awkward fifth grader of times gone by — what could you possibly want with me?

Fast forward some more, to an opening weekend showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I (funny how it all comes back to HP, don’tcha know). I went to see it with, who else, my dad and various siblings, and when the lights came back on at the end, I discovered that you had been at the same showing, with an old elementary school friend of mine who it turned out was now your roommate. It was a fairly excitable reunion (because omg the Tale of the Three Brothers was SO WELL DONE in that movie) and I dragged you over to my father because I knew he’d be happy to see you even though you weren’t so sure. (He was. I was right. I am always right.)

It also turned out that you were attending Queens College and living mere blocks away from my house, and you issued me a standing invitation: “Come visit ANYTIME!”

I’d love to be able to say here that the magic of Harry Potter brought us together forever and thereafter everything was kittens and rainbows and yadda yadda yadda. But it took a bit more than that.

Even with that standing invitation, I didn’t want to presume you wanted me around much. I mean, it’s not just that you were nerdy-cool. You’re also brilliant and articulate and knowledgeable about any number of subjects, and if you happened to not be thoroughly familiar with a topic, you were always able to succinctly and wittily encapsulate what you did know about it and where you felt the gaps in your knowledge base lay. It’s always so much more impressive to me when people are able to admit what they don’t know, instead of blustering on and pretending they have a clue. And on top of all that, you are, of course, side-splittingly hilarious. I told you recently that at first, you were probably the closest thing I ever had to a girl crush.

It wasn’t that I was intimidated, per se. It was more that I just didn’t really feel like I had anything to offer you that you didn’t already have.  But maybe that’s what intimidation is? (I wasn’t as savvy then as I am now about how much people appreciate decent companionship even if I don’t have anything measurable to offer along with it.) So I only took you up on your invitation a few times here and there.

But we did at last become facebook friends, after you apologetically explained that not accepting my friend request wasn’t anything personal — you just couldn’t figure out who I was. Because you are so bad at names. And faces. (Like so bad that you still sometimes can’t tell the difference between Hank and John Green. And probably between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. SO. BAD.) And we got along spectacularly well in comment threads.

I gradually started coming over more often, meeting your Queens College and neighborhood friends, feeling like I was becoming part of the group. I never really had a neighborhood group of friends my age before, you know. Throughout my life, I went to school in the Bronx, in Long Island, and in Brooklyn, and yet I lived in Queens, so my school friends were scattered all over, rarely local. I figure that’s why I can float between so many different groups of people of various ages and backgrounds and whatnot; I never really had any other choice until recently. Hanging out with people my age and/or at a similar place in life still feels like a luxury that I never used to have.

Then there was that time I found out that could introduce you to someone — there was a grown-up neighborhood friend of mine that you vaguely knew and were dying to properly meet. I offered to introduce you to her and you PANICKED in that adorably neurotic way you always do. Actual process of getting you to agree to come with me to her house on shabbos afternoon:

You: “Are you sure she won’t mind if you bring me along?”
Me: “Yes. Very sure. She’ll love you.”
(on the way out the door:)
You: “But are you sure?”
Me: “Yes.”
(a block away from her:)
You: “But are you sure?
Me: “Yes. Jeez.”
(upon reaching her front door:)
You: “But are you SURE???”
Me: “No, you’re right; let’s go back.”
You: “Haha, fiiiiine.”

(You met her and she loved you and now you’re great friends. I was right. I am always right.)

But a turning point in our reconnection was probably that summer I got an internship at the same marketing agency where you were already working. You seemed thrilled to have me there, always made sure to come over to my desk and chitchat, and we had marvelous lunch break adventures, including but not limited to:

·      You showing me the ropes of the mean streets of DUMBO, Brooklyn (so many hipsters. So much street art. So mean.)

·      Me falling in the East River and coming back to the office soaking wet. NBD.

·      Us hunting down and visiting the used sci-fi/fantasy bookstore I’d heard about from the internet, being interviewed about it for some local news channel, meeting the staff members, and ultimately getting the ball rolling on having it be a venue for a book signing by Lois McMaster Bujold.

·      That time when you had to mail a letter but didn’t have a stamp, so we went to the DUMBO post office. It had no humans and only a stamp machine, which was broken. There was a phone on the wall, no number keypad, just a corded hotline phone, and you picked it up, and listened. And listened again.

Me: “What? What did it say?”
You: “It said… ‘For help, press 3.’ ”

It was that day that you uttered the fateful words: “MY LIFE IS A KAFKA NOVEL!”

·      And of course, our genius backup plan for when we give up on ever marrying dudes and just move to Scotland and get gay married to each other and adopt Scottish babies and see if they develop Scottish accents despite being around us. (Those poor hypothetical children.)

You would talk to me about anything and everything, personal or worldly or anything in between, and at first I thought that was just part and parcel of your friendly, extroverted nature. But then one time, in the presence of you and another friend, I mentioned something you had told me, and you quietly asked me afterward if I would keep that particular tidbit to myself. It wasn’t for everyone to know after all. It was something you trusted me with and I didn’t realize. (This is a frequent problem for me, fyi — for whatever reason, people so easily and comfortably spill their secrets to me that I don’t always realize that they are secrets, or at least privileged information. I’ve become somewhat neurotic about protecting other people’s privacy, in my old age. This note notwithstanding.) But my point is, that was when I started to realize that I was becoming a closer friend to you than I’d realized.

I still didn’t quite let myself believe it, though, even when there were other indicators, like how you told me you often ask yourself “What would SM do?” and then do it, and like how you would occasionally quit facebook and drop off the face of the planet to most people, but still made time to IM chat with me, and always returned my emails or texts. No matter how stressed you were, and sometimes specifically when you were stressed:

You: “the phones won’t stop ringing ahhhhhhhhhhh”

me: “ANSWER ALL THE PHONES”

You: “I AM TRYING”

me: “ALL OF THEM”

You: “THERE ARE TOO MANYYYYY
*sprouts extra heads*
*and hands*
*and toenails for GOOD MEASURE*”

(Note: This is a fictionalized conversation sample that never actually happened, because I am too lazy to scroll through hours and hours of chat transcripts. But it totally could have happened.)

And yet I still didn’t let myself feel totally secure in the idea of being your friend because (a) I have attachment issues, and (b) as absurd as it sounds, you were still that big scary sixth grader to a part of me, and I still didn’t really feel like I had much to offer you that you couldn’t get from yourself or from your other friends.

I leapt at opportunities to be a better friend, to prove to you, but more importantly to myself, that I had what to give you. And bit by bit, I proved it. When you needed meals, I invited you. When you needed a listening ear, I offered one. When you needed help moving, I was so there. When you needed a safe space to vent or freak out, I provided that. When you needed a buddy to come along to Philadelphia for the weekend so that you could attend a prospective students day at UPenn Law School, I jumped on that bus. When you needed another eye to look over your application essays, I edited them all. When you were maxing out on stress, I started a facebook page just to make you laugh. When you desperately wanted friends to come to Dragon*Con with you as a last hurrah before law school, I volunteered.

And at Dragon*Con, when you wanted a buddy for that concert of that obscure band that you were dying to see, and they were slotted at 1 o’clock in the morning, I stuck with you. And I vividly remember, when we got back to our hotel room bathroom and I was helping you scrub eyeliner off your lids with hotel-provided moist towelettes, I thought to myself, “This is what friendships are made of.”

Because they are. Mountains of memories built on shared experiences and a whole lot of giving on both sides. You made my giving easy, because whatever I gave, you gave right back, with profuse thanks and hugs and love and support and advice and — always — laughter.

It’s only in the past year or so that I became aware that the intimidation went both ways. That I intimidated you. Somehow. When you told me that, I had to ask why, and your answer, as usual, made me laugh:

“I don’t know how to say this politely, but you are STAGGERINGLY GORGEOUS. And brilliant, too. It’s a heady combination.”

What you don’t understand is that you make me that way. Well, not the gorgeousness; that’s genetics and a lot of smoke and mirrors. But you make me smarter. You make me funnier. You make me more empathetic. You open my eyes and make me more curious about the world around me by making it seem more accessible, more interesting, and more zany than it appears at first glance. Even when you’re upset and we’re talking about serious or depressing things like rape culture or world poverty or the sorry state of mental health care in this country or airport security or the lack of a Wonder Woman movie (GRRRR), you are buoyant and earnest and passionate, and life feels lighter when you are there to look at it with me.

For a long time in our friendship, part of me still felt like that fifth grader trying to sit at the sixth grade table, with that underlying fear that one day you’d just drop the ball on me, because after all, I was kind of a charity case and wasn’t really that important to you. And now that you’ve made it abundantly clear that that’s not the case, that you need me and rely on me and want me around, I have a new fear: that I will drop the ball on you. That I will fail you. That I will become complacent in our wonderful friendship and let you down. It’s a lot of pressure, you understand, to be needed and wanted and trusted by someone as awe-inspiring as you.

I’m going to do my best.

I trust you to do the same. And always remember: Nobody but you gives a damn if you were once that awkward fifth grader, or that awkward high schooler, or that awkward college freshman. Go forth and be the you that you are now, because that you is incredible. Trust me. I’m right. I am always right.

Good luck.

 

 

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