#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 A few things in it are outdated now, but this line holds as true as ever: “I’m afraid that my brief bouts of loneliness will get longer and longer as time goes on, until they swallow me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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On Second Impressions

 

I think it’s pretty much a given that recognizing and identifying a pattern of thought is the first step toward gaining control over it, taking away its power. Not the only step, of course, but the first one, and therefore indispensable.

A pattern that I’ve recently recognized in myself is my suddenly strangely pervasive anxiety in the face of second impressions. Or third ones. Or fourth or fifth or sixth. But mostly second.

And not first. I am weirdly zen about first impressions, for the most part. The very first time I meet someone, I have no reason to respect their opinion — I don’t know them, they could be a total jerk for all I know, and I’m not in the business of caring about impressing total jerks or worrying about what they think of me. And even if they’re not a jerk, they’re still a stranger in whom I have no investment or relationship. So I have no reason to be anxious or care about making a good first impression.

But second impressions — sometimes they seem to scare the living crap out of me. Whether it’s meeting someone for the second time ever, or meeting someone in person after having “met” them already online and made my first impression that way, second impressions sometimes seem to push me to the edge of my last nerve.

Because if you don’t like me when you first meet me, fine, whatever, you get filed away in the “people I don’t need to waste my time on” folder. But if you like me when you first meet me, and then you stop liking me when you get to know me a little better, if I don’t live up to the high standard that my first impression set — that would suck. It would mean that while what’s on my surface is all fine and dandy, what’s underneath is rotten. And it is so much worse to be rotten underneath than to have a less-than-pristine surface.

It’s a combination of classic Imposter Syndrome and this little other nerve-fraying cocktail I like to call my “Shiny Thing Complex.” I’ve talked about this Shiny Thing Complex with a bunch of people, but I’ve never written out anything comprehensive, and I really think I should for my own sake and peace of mind. So I’m gonna talk it out here; I don’t really know where this is going. Bear with me.

You see, I am well aware that I have many shiny, flashy qualities that have wide appeal and catch people’s attention — funny, pretty, smart, honest, curvy, sarcastic, confident, insightful, emotionally supportive, with eye-catching style and unconventional career choices — and these qualities have and continue to hook people on a fairly regular basis.

But because they are so flashy and so shiny and so very much about what I can do for you and not about what I am, I feel like they will catch your attention very intensely but very briefly, before you move on to the next shiny thing. When these qualities are new and novel to you, you will think they are the bees knees, but once you get used to them, you’ll take them for granted and start wondering what else I have to offer, and I’ll have nothing left to pull out of my hat because I am all shine. Even my substance: my mind, my observations, my unusual interests — it all becomes shine because it’s all part of what makes me “cool.”

And I have so many conflicting feelings about this.

Allow me to bring Exhibits A and B from the Hall of Ex-Boyfriend Quotations:

“You are one of the coolest people I know. And I really wanted to believe that I could attract someone like you and keep you interested.”

~ One ex, spoken at the time of the breakup, when I ended things

and

“At the end of the day, I knew we weren’t right for each other, and I know I shouldn’t have said yes when you asked me out. But I – I just really, really wanted to be able to say that ‘that amazing girl, that super smart, hot, funny girl with the amazing notes and the hilarious facebook comments — that girl is my girlfriend.’ ”

~ another ex, spoken at the time of the breakup, when we came to the mutual decision to end things

My ex-boyfriends are gracious as hell, and it’s not my intention to use these quotes to condemn them. I just want to illustrate a point, which is: I am a trophy. An atypical, multidimensional trophy, perhaps, but a trophy nonetheless. And being a trophy is SO complicated, it really is.

On the one hand, I deeply understand the need for one’s partner to be the kind of person that you respect and admire and are so proud of that you want to show them off to the world like that (in fact, if I don’t feel that way about a guy I’m with, that’s a major red flag), but on the other hand, it makes me feel super shiny and flimsy and objectified as a prop whose value is determined by what I can do for your image and your self-esteem, with no intrinsic worth of my own.

And on yet a third hand, in some ways I like being capable of being that kind of prop. I know that being a pretty, smart, charismatic woman carries a power — of being able to make guys look good or feel good just by dint of associating with them or being seen with them. And I love being able to use that power for good; I loved making my boyfriends feel like hot stuff just by being with them. And when I’m single and have close male friends who are crystal clear about my boundaries, I like to use it to help them too, e.g. by spending time with them when they’re feeling down or their confidence is shot, or maybe dressing up or doing my makeup when I hang with them, or just by being generous and open with my compliments. Because for lots of straight males, getting attention from an awesome, attractive girl is its own unique brand of confidence-boosting, even when there’s zero chance of romance. I’m not sure why this works, but it does. And I really like being able to boost the confidence of my straight male friends when they’re feeling crappy. I like using my powers for good.

But then I wonder if I’m just feeding the Shiny Thing Complex by embracing it, and that maybe I’d be better off if for a while I just decided to constantly dress poorly and stop making jokes and keep quiet or be rude and obnoxious, and thus reject everything about me that makes me shiny.

But I highly doubt that’s the answer, because, well, that basically translates to “reject a whole bunch of things that make up most of my entire personality.” So…that makes no sense.

I guess what it boils down to, like everything else, is that I need to learn to own my shininess. I need to accept that these qualities are a huge part of me, and that just because they make me attractive, doesn’t mean they’re shallow. And that just because there are a few people who’ve expressed intense interest in me and then quickly moved on, doesn’t mean that they thought I was all shine (and even if they did, that doesn’t mean they were right). I need to keep remembering that most of the best guys who’ve expressed interest in me and gotten over it when I couldn’t date them have subsequently become my friends, not because they’re still clinging to the hope that things can work out between us, but rather because they value me as a person and not just a shiny thing. And I need to remember that just because my exes start dating really soon after having had their hearts broken by me doesn’t mean that their feelings for me weren’t real and that they just latched onto the next shiny thing that came along, because that’s not how it works.

And I need to accept that just because I am shiny, doesn’t mean that’s all there is to me. So I don’t have to be scared those times that I worry that I’m not shiny enough, because that’s not all I have going for me. I don’t have to be the prettiest girl in the room. I don’t have to be scared that in 10 years I’ll have lost what makes me appealing just because I probably won’t look as good as I do now. I don’t have to get nervous when I meet friends of a friend for the first time; I don’t have to worry that now that they’ve seen me shoulder to shoulder with their other friends, they’ll realize I don’t measure up. Because I will.

And I don’t have to be scared of hanging out with someone a second time, or a third time, or a fourth. Because no matter how much time they spend with me, they’re not going to find anything that rotten underneath. No one ever has. No one’s ever hung out with me, say, 5 times and then suddenly on the 6th realized that I am a complete waste of oxygen. It’s not going to happen.

The worst of me just isn’t that bad.

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#ThrowbackThursday — “On ‘No’ “

I’ve had to say no to a bunch of things recently, to a few people, and it hasn’t all been easy, so I wanted to give this a repost.

Original post is from August 24th 2013.

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On “No”

 

(Without the quotation marks, it’s a palindrome!)

 

Like all decent friends, sometimes I am a venting space. Sometimes friends, close ones and otherwise, will come to me with their problems and not expect me to solve them, just to be there and/or offer a sounding board.

I personally love that, most of the time. I like being trusted and having my opinions valued. It’s great for the ego, and occasionally I do have insight into a situation and can tactfully resolve some elements of it because I happen to have been vented to by both parties and therefore know more than either one does. That’s kind of awesome. And sometimes I have personal experience that I can draw parallels from and give rudimentary advice based on that.

An issue that keeps coming up again and again with one of my friends is one that I’m sure a lot of people struggle with, so I decided to write a note about it. Because that’s what I do.

It’s about drawing lines and saying “no,” because sometimes that is somehow really hard to do.

*

There is obviously no one-size-fits-all on what is too much to take on, what is too much to commit to, what is too much to put up with. We all have to figure that stuff out for ourselves.

But sometimes we are more susceptible than other times to feeling like saying “no” is a bad thing, that it will brand us as stubborn, or uncooperative, or un-fun. Nobody wants to be the un-fun inflexible loser, my gosh.

And of course, what if something turns out to be better than it sounds? Maybe swimming with piranhas IS actually fun, but I’ll never know because I said “no”? That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out, for those of you who are behind on the acronym times), and it can get people to do some pretty stupid things.

I think boundaries are extremely important for everybody to have, in order not to get steamrollered and feel like they can’t say “no.” But everyone’s boundaries are different, and they should be, because no one has exactly the same comfort zone. For the most part, everyone should be allowed to be comfortable with every instance when they say “no,” and nobody should force their own “no”s onto anyone else.

“No” is about power. Withholding a part of yourself is an act of authority, not weakness. Saying “no” should be empowering, not disempowering and guilt-wracking — if it is what you’ve truly chosen to do.

No, I will not drink that, because maybe beer is an acquired taste but I haven’t acquired it and I don’t want to.

No, I will not wear pants instead of skirts unless it’s just way more practical for what I’m doing.

No, I will not eat food that isn’t kosher.

No, I won’t swear unless I want to make a point or it’s funny.

No, I will not slow down or turn my head even a centimeter when you and three of your buddies catcall me on the street and take turns going, “Hey, sweetheart” and “How you doing, beautiful?” and “Hey, I wanna get to know you!” (Although I’ll probably smile at your pathetic tactics once I’m out of sight.)

No, I won’t smoke.

No, I will not accept that friend request.

No, I will not laugh at that joke even though it would be more polite, because I just didn’t think it was funny.

No, I will not say “I love you” if I don’t mean it, even though I know how happy it would make you.

No, I won’t go away for the weekend with my family when I’d rather spend it some other way.

No, I won’t send that email.

No, I will not offer to hang out with that person, because I have better ways to spend my time.

No, I will not go to that party/event tonight.

No, I will not date that guy solely because I’m lonely and he’s interested and it would make my mom happy, because I know we’re incompatible/I don’t think he’s good enough/I don’t like him like that and I deserve better than another unworkable relationship.

Just no.

*

The trick with saying “no,” I think, is to recognize that it’s a prerequisite for saying “yes.” That saying “no” means you have certain standards, and self-respect, and that becauseyou say “no” to things, your “yes”es mean so much more, to yourself and to others.

“Yes” is about vulnerability. Willingly exposing yourself to an experience and relinquishing your control over it. That should also be empowering — again, if it is what you’ve truly chosen to do.

Yes, I will taste that even though I’m 99% sure I won’t like it.

Yes, I will spend time with you.

Yes, I will ask that guy out.

Yes, I will send that email and live with the consequences.

Yes, I will put that in a facebook note.

Yes, I will be your amateur therapist even though you take me for granted.

Yes, I will go to that party.

Yes, I will go hang out with those friends even though it’s at a non-kosher restaurant and I will be reduced to eating the leaves on the garnish that came with the dessert, because everything tastes good when you’ve watched other people eat for an hour.

Yes, I will meet up with that dude I only know from the internet and see if we can tolerate each other in person.

Yes, I will crack that joke in my class presentation because getting a laugh is worth the risk.

Yes, I will block that person from my newsfeed because those posts add nothing to my quality of life.

Yes, I will help my mom out and cook and wash the dishes and refill the water cooler and take out the trash because someone has to.

Yes, I will stop distracting myself for a few minutes and let myself feel the pain I’ve been trying to ignore, and Yes, I will cry, and No, I won’t tell myself it’s the last time, because I know better.

*

Saying “yes” and “no” is about choice. And choice is about power and control. (I’ve never exactly made a secret of the fact that I am a control freak and a power junkie.) There are so many things in our lives that we have little or no control over, and that’s hard enough. “Yes” and “no” are the rare things that we control absolutely, so why give that up and be pushed around by societal conventions or expectations?

This is of course not to say that people who are more open or agreeable to more things are somehow lesser. Everyone’s “yes”es are different, just like everyone’s “no”s. But if you’re saying “yes” or “no” because you think you have to, not because you want to, think twice. You may conclude that it is in fact what you want to be saying, but you may conclude otherwise.

True, sometimes professional obligations or family politics or other stuff will force you to say “yes” to something you ordinarily would say “no” to, but often we have more power than we realize. Sometimes compromise is possible. And sometimes you can just draw a line, say “no,” put your foot down, and the world won’t end and your reputation won’t be irreparably tarnished. People might even respect you more for it. Not always, but more than you might think.

Try it.

[Yes, I realize this can all easily be converted into sex therapy and ideas of consent. The principles are the same.]

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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.

#ThrowbackWednesday — “Sandwich Method On Myself”

Since I missed last Thursday’s throwback post (for a legitimate reason this time — it was the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah), I’m gonna post this today and pretend I’m trying to make #ThrowbackWednesday happen. (It’s not going to happen.)

Original post is from August 26th, 2012, and it’s relevant for its soul-searching and introspection that are supposed to mark this portion of the Jewish year. I don’t know if I’ll have time before Yom Kippur this Saturday to write up a revised version of this list, so I’m going to hide my laziness behind Past-Me’s poignant self-analysis.

 

* * *

 

Sandwich Method on Myself

 

No, this post has nothing to do with feminism.

 

The “sandwich method” is a colloquial name for method of critique that I’ve been encouraged to use in some of my writing workshop classes, because it is a) the most humane, and b) generally the most effective. It “sandwiches” the criticisms between positive feedback, i.e. it starts with the good, then moves on to the bad, and ends with restating the good or adding more good. People tend to be more receptive to sandwich-structured critiques because it’s clear that you’re on their side.

 

It’s Elul now, the Hebrew month before the start of the Jewish New Year, and I have to admit: I’m not particularly proud of this year.

 

I let myself be treated poorly. I left myself be kicked around, I let myself be used. Not saying I was a doormat, because that would be extreme and untrue, but I let my standards slide at times, and let myself think certain things were “okay,” because I thought the trade-offs were worth it and that I was being too picky about what I needed from my friends.

 

So I’ve decided to use the sandwich method on myself, because it’ll probably be more productive than just wallowing or beating myself up over any of this.

 

Some things I’m good at:

 

1)   Making soup.

2)   Calming people down when they’re freaking out.

3)   Talking myself out of doing stupid things.

4)   Hiding my pain.

 

Things I’m bad at:

 

1)   Talking to my parents.

2)   Giving up.

3)   Letting go.

4)   Listening to music for more than half an hour without wanting to bawl my eyes out.

5)   Not getting sick.

6)   Writing on days when I have no inspiration.

7)   Getting my required volunteer hours done. [Edit from the future: This was a college requirement for my Honors program and I got them done!]

8)   Not telling myself “you’re asking too much” when no, I’m asking for very little.

9)   Keeping in touch with people who aren’t on facebook.

10)  Wearing high heels.

11)  Not judging people who wear high heels even with back and leg problems.

12)  Not valuing the opinions of some people who aren’t really my friends over the opinions of my true friends.

13)  Doing my laundry in a timely fashion.

 

Things I’ve gotten better at but am still not great at:

 

1)   Talking to strangers.

2)   Confronting the people who hurt me.

3)   Not burning quinoa.

4)   Not throwing up when certain conversation topics come around.

5)   Making plans that require me to leave the house and put on clothes.

 

Some more things I’m good at:

 

1)   Keeping in touch with people who ARE on facebook.

2)   Finding humor and fun in almost everything.

3)   School.

 

 

And a serious question for those of you who think that my list probably isn’t comprehensive: What else am I bad at and should work on during the upcoming year?

 

“Shut up about your lists and make me a sammich, woman!”

 

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#ThrowbackThursday — “New Year’s Resolutions”

In honor of the upcoming holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which gives all students at CUNY colleges random vacation days! (You’re welcome btw.) This is Throwback-Throwback Thursday post, because, as it says in the post below, while it was initially posted on Facebook on December 28th 2010, it was written about 4 or 5 years before that.

***

 

I wrote this in tenth grade, but — fortunately or unfortunately — it’s always relevant.

 

 

I hate this time of year.

 

It’s the time when everyone wants you to look inside yourself, figure out what’s wrong with you, and start trying to change it.

 

Some people laugh it off and joke about it, but it’s only a little too obvious that they’re just afraid of what they’ll find if they do look.

 

I’m not afraid. I know what’s in there. I know exactly what’s in there. I’ve been looking straight inside myself for as long as I can remember. That’s my problem.

 

By the time I reached fifth grade, I knew every single thing that was wrong with me. I knew exactly what kind of person I wanted to be and what I needed to change, and I had it all mapped out in my head.

 

And I failed. Miserably. Time after time after time. And I hated myself for it.

 

I’m selfish. I’m obnoxious. I’m sarcastic. I’m insensitive.

 

And don’t I know it.

 

But eventually it dawned on me, through my self-hatred, that I have friends surrounding me. I know they’re all better than I am, I’ve known it for years.

 

But they like me anyway. They don’t just put up with me. They actually like me.

 

And that got me thinking: I’m bad, but I’m not that bad. Maybe I’m not a total loss.

 

I’ve spent the past year learning to like myself. It’s been one of the best years of my life.

 

I’m intelligent. I can write. I’m pretty. I can make people laugh.

 

But my God, do I hate this time of year.