On “The Journey,” Triumphantly

It’s timely, because here we are again, exploring another rape, another assault, another gray area – this story about a CNN anchor, Ashleigh Banfield, who read the majority of the letter from victim of sexual assault during the sentencing of her attacker, filled me with hope – not because of the rape, of course, but because of the content of the letter itself.

This woman, this victim, this beautifully articulate human being, writes so purely and so beautifully – it was exactly the feeling that I felt, and exactly the feeling that I feel, continuously, onwardly, to this very day. This woman’s brave statement, and the willingness of the anchor who read that statement out loud to the public – and the network, which isn’t always known for their dedication to true journalism, is a testament to the ongoing negative effects of sexual assault, a testament to the fact that lives are changed, to the fact that sleep is lost, to the fact that everything is upsetting, to the fact that life is never the same. It is a testament to the fact that forgiveness does not come easily, to the fact that the hurt cuts deep, to the fact that the actions of another can shape your future in ways that you never imagined.

I never got the chance to write that letter, and yet, I am so grateful to this woman for writing the letter that she wrote. For me, it is much of what I never got to say, and it is a beautiful rendering of pain, reflection, and request for justice, which she will not get. But….I hope so much that people hear her words and are moved. This is beautiful. This hurts, but in the best way. It feels like solidarity. It feels like understanding. It feels like progress, even if it’s only progress because she was heard.

***

We are what we are; we are what we have experienced. We are what we choose to be. Lately, I’ve been floating on a cloud of bliss brought on by the beautiful lightness of letting go. I am choosing to be free.

A few weeks ago, boyfriend and I went to a meditative healing seminar called, “The Journey.” When he first told me about it, I was skeptical, as one is. I agreed to go, not because I thought I’d find healing, but because I was curious, or at least because certain circumstances had led me to believe that there might be something there. I had thought of situations that I knew of that were similar to the one described by the author of the book, “The Journey,” and the ever-skeptical part of me, or perhaps the ever-hopeful part, was swayed. It wasn’t until I ended up in the ER with the ovarian cyst that I thought, ah, maybe, and consented to the weekend seminar.

Even as we approached it, I thought to myself, this is ridiculous; what am I getting myself into? And I knew, because I had read the book, that there was healing and self-introspection involved, and so I had created fake issues that might need to be discovered, just on the off chance that I found myself needing to have resolved some issues, because I didn’t want to be put on the spot, panicked and nervous because I didn’t have the right answer.

Alas, it was nothing like that. Nothing like that at all. It was the best thing ever.

Despite some early resistance – which occurred even in spite of my somewhat resigned determination to be open-minded – I ended up being open-minded and enjoying the hell out of myself. I felt the feelings fully, I met new people, I even made friends. So it wasn’t so bad.

The first morning, I was nervous, shaking hands with people I didn’t know and putting on the name tag and feeling silly for having begged boyfriend to bring me paper so that I could take notes, if necessary.

We jumped into it, and I felt awkward and alone. And yet, the curious part of me who loves to learn was intrigued, and so I allowed myself to open up into it, and found myself feeling layers of feelings. I had thought about New York (my past sexual assault and work situation), but had brushed it aside thinking it wasn’t the time or place…and yet…here I was, 10:30 on the first morning of a three-day seminar, feeling layers of feelings about it.

I was ready, almost.

I felt the hurt, the anguish, the shame, and then I dropped below that and I felt a rage I didn’t know was there. I felt it deeply in my core, my lower abdomen burning with anger. I hadn’t realized that under everything, I was angry. I knew that I had accepted what had happened; I knew that I had allowed myself to feel all of the general hurt and upset, but prior to that Saturday morning, I hadn’t realized how much rage was below. And so I felt the rage. I felt it through me. I felt it rising up inside of me and throughout me, and I let it be. I accepted it. And then we broke for lunch.

After lunch, we did our first Journey process, and by that point, I had nothing. I could not, for the life of me, feel what I had felt earlier. I wanted to feel that rage, to address it, but I couldn’t. I was out, empty. I limped along, not able to conjure up the feelings that I had felt earlier, feeling like a total fraud. I guided another woman through her own process, watching tears of realization come to her face, feeling jealous that I couldn’t feel that.

I went home that night, slightly annoyed, but now more curious than ever. Not that I had been expecting an outcome, but because I had honestly felt truly deep feelings that I hadn’t been able to explore. I was determined, as I get, and the next day dawned beautifully with boyfriend and I teaching acrobatic yoga to a couple that we’d met at the seminar the day before (and whom we’d absolutely loved).

And so we did more Journey work, and in that, I went through a process known as the Physical Journey – I opened myself, and let my mind wander and my body tell me what it knew. I went to my fingertips. There, I felt them hot and swollen, dirty. I remembered the first time I had felt that way, in middle school, when I started picking at my skin, my scalp, searching for imperfections and nervously grounding myself with contact. They felt that way when I didn’t have time to wash them after recess and returned to class. I felt that time, snapshots of childhood coming up and playing out. I went back there, and my process was amazing. I felt my younger self, I loved her, I communicated with her. I forgave her for not being perfect. It was a last-minute revisiting, and in that, I found a wisdom I’d never felt, something I’d never even seen. I forgave my younger self for not being perfect; for not keeping everything together (despite her best efforts); for falling apart with no one watching closely and for not crying out for help.

I came out of that Journey feeling a quiet in my hands that I haven’t felt in ages. I felt this quiet all through my core. My body was calm. My body is never calm. Boyfriend noticed immediately. “What did you do?” he asked me. “You feel different.”

I did feel different. I felt light. I felt solid. I felt still. Still. To feel still is such a fantastic feeling. My fingers didn’t find my skin to pinch at it for the rest of the day, or for several days after that. (Actually, they haven’t been as curious as they usually are since then….my face has improved immensely, as has the rest of me. I am not tearing at myself with the same fervor as before, and I am thrilled, grateful, and peaceful.)

The next day, I called in sick to work to stay for the intensive part of the course. I’m so glad that I did.

We did several more processes, and I found myself connecting as a giver – I was able to feel and read people to whom I was “giving” the process, and in doing so, I felt so rewarded. One man exclaimed, “Holy shit you’re good!” in a very crowded, very quiet room. I was secretly thrilled.

So of course, when the afternoon came, and we were to try all of our new skills, I thought to myself, let’s do this! Let’s give up New York! And so I tried.

Oh man, did I try. I brought my old boss to this campfire of forgiveness, where you examine and converse and ultimately, forgive. And I was blocked. I couldn’t do it. I tried, and I tried, and I made it so that there was forgiveness, but it wasn’t right. I told boyfriend after (because he knew what I was up to, he’d seen the gleam in my eye), that I’d let my old boss off on a technicality. He knew I was unsettled; he was right.

On the way home, I shut down. I curled up into a tight ball and became unresponsive. Boyfriend was kind and gentle, but he knew I wasn’t all right; I knew it, too. We got home, and I took his house key and ran into the bedroom and threw myself on the bed and screamed into the pillows as though that might abate the pain that was swirling inside of me.

Boyfriend offered to do another Journey with me. Actually, he said that he knew I wasn’t done, and we both knew (“knew,” but on a deeper level of knowing) that I was ready and not done and ready — I wanted it so bad; I wanted to let go. I didn’t want to carry New York with me anymore.

And so we did. We leapt – our Journey process was nothing like the script they’d given us – it was three hours long (although for me, there was no time. It felt like a half an hour, maybe). Boyfriend held me while he guided me through a meditation that I led – he later told me that it’s a good thing he lives in a separate house and not a condo, because of my screaming and wailing, the police absolutely would have been called.

I let out my pain. I screamed; I shut down; I brought the emotion back; I held onto it. I imagined, and I re-lived, and I did the most amazing things. I cloned myself; I brought someone I had not expected to my campfire – my body knew, the wiser parts of me knew exactly what it was that I was holding onto – I ranted, raved, hated, threatened, felt, understood, cloned, felt, acknowledged, and finally, I let go, just a little bit. I burned everything. I cleansed myself in a healing firefall (which is exactly what it sounds like, a waterfall of fire – it was the water/firefall from the dream I had in February, and when I blissed through the peaceful layers to my hammock of water, it was that same water, but all water this time and no fire).

I ate a sandwich, in the middle of it, in the middle of my meditation I visited the cafe in my old office building and the woman there and her son made me a BLT (not a real sandwich, perhaps this one was just some soul food). My village – everyone who loves me, plus the cat – was there to hold me and be with me and help guide me.

Boyfriend held me through the whole thing. That, my friends, is love. That shit was not fun, nor was it easy. Might I remind you that I’m a hideous crier, so this wasn’t even slightly adorable. It was like Macbeth and Hamlet slammed together with an audio book of the Boondocks Saints – a lot of crazy shit happened, and a lot of rage. My body shook, my eyes welled and overflowed a hundred times; I screamed, I cried, I whispered, I whimpered; I begged, I conversed, I understood. And ultimately, I forgave, just a little bit. A teensy, tiny bit. 1%. Per day. For 100 days. Stupid, but doable, because I am a stubborn woman and I was not budging on the forgiveness part of it. But then I remembered I’m not a horrible person, and that I have a beautiful life, and as I let the gratitude parts of me overwhelm the desire to keep harboring the hate, the kindness won.

In the end, I was calm. In the end, I was secure. In the end, I felt peace. A thousand times peace. Safety. Warmth. Comfort. Security. Rocked gently in my dream water, my safe green space, warm and buoyant. Reassured. Cared for. Understood. Loved. Held.

I woke up the next day, and that feeling was still there. Grounded and still. I had realized what I had been holding on to, which wasn’t actually who I thought it was, and I let it go, a little bit.

I cannot explain to you the lightness that I felt, that I continue to feel. I can’t tell you how hard it was, or how wonderful, or the immense gratitude that swirls through me now. I want to, and I want to bring this gift to everyone who needs it. I want people to have the moments that I had, so that they can feel the letting go and the healing. I want people to fall asleep full, rather than full of rage. I want to share in that relief, that ecstasy, that peace. There is nothing that I want for the world than to feel that swell of hope and joy. I want to be able to give that to others, because I finally feel free of that horrible burden I’ve been carrying for so long, and I am at peace.

It feels fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. Now I can direct my energy elsewhere, and I am finally, finally, gratefully, powerfully, blissfully free.

So I’m going to start practicing – if you’re curious, or you’d like to help me practice doing these Journey processes, send me an email, a text, a call, a fb message, carrier pigeon, whatever. I’d so love to share my excitement and see if I can help with this peace-bringing business. It’s totally not as insane as mine was – you can do 30 minutes and forgive that guy for cutting you off in traffic yesterday or understand why you’re so jealous of Becky with the good hair, or whatever. I just like to go big or go home, and in this case, I managed to do both.

 

 

 

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On Tindering, Tentatively

Note: Family members who are queasy at the thought of discussion about human sexuality/romance/all that jazz should not proceed past this point. I will take no responsibility for the intense burning in your retinas or the rise of Catholic guilt or the subtle reproaches of glaring disapproval emanating from you at future family gatherings, because you will not be able to say that I didn’t warn you. (It’s probably not going to be THAT bad, but I’m hedging my bets just in case.)

 

““Some people still catch feelings in hookup culture,” said Meredith, the Bellarmine sophomore. “It’s not like just blind fucking for pleasure and it’s done; some people actually like the other person. Sometimes you actually catch feelings and that’s what sucks, because it’s one person thinking one thing and the other person thinking something completely different and someone gets their feelings hurt. It could be the boy or the girl.”

And even Ryan, who believes that human beings naturally gravitate toward polyamorous relationships, is troubled by the trends developing around dating apps. “It’s the same pattern manifested in porn use,” he says. “The appetite has always been there, but it had restricted availability; with new technologies the restrictions are being stripped away and we see people sort of going crazy with it. I think the same thing is happening with this unlimited access to sex partners. People are gorging. That’s why it’s not intimate. You could call it a kind of psychosexual obesity.”

The above is an excerpt from an article in Vanity Fair about hookup culture. I’m nearing 28, and I’m smack-dab in the middle of a sexual revolution of sorts. I’ve been meaning to post about this for a while now, but I haven’t been able to put it all into words. And still may not be able to…but here goes:

One Thursday, I rolled into work in the morning and stood at my desk chatting with my work wife across the pre-fab bland blonde walls of our cubicles. “Oh god,” I said in dismay, “the feelings have landed.” Her face was sympathetic. “Really?” she said, and the discussion wound on, evaluating pitfalls and what it might mean to actually be having feelings. Feelings, we agreed, are the worst. Feelings make everything complicated.

I inwardly groaned when I realized I’d been infected with feelings for the person with whom I’d been sleeping. <— How horrible of a sentence is that? Dismay at the thought of actually liking someone? Distress because suddenly it’s not just skin contact and cocktails any longer? Panic because of the potential for disaster?

Of course there’s potential for disaster! The only things in life worth doing involve great potential for disaster! Not really, but for the sake of this argument, the ability to be vulnerable in a relationship is a risky move, but also one that has great potential for growth, etc. And that is important! The minute that we lose the ability to be vulnerable and to accept that this may end in horrible heartbreak and be the inspiration for the next “500 Days of Summer,” we’ve lost the most important part of human connection (besides the skin contact and endorphins, am I right?) and also a potentially lucrative screenwriting credit.

If we lose the ability to truly feel the emotions associated with romantic/sexual activity, we’ve lost the meaning, the depth, and in the end, the entirety of the relationship has been reduced to posturing and pretense, a superficial and ultimately narcissistic exercise in fleetingly empty satisfaction.

For me, life’s meaning is rooted in love and connection. There are all sorts of kinds of love, obviously, and I love them all. But there is something utterly fantastic about romantic love, and I absolutely appreciate the fact that I’m able to experience it, and would never want to lessen the impact that it has and can have on your life. It is profound. It is immense. It sears through you and shapes you. It’s beautiful, and deserves the utmost in care and appreciation.

We sit here in our digital age and wax nostalgic for the days of a simpler time, when men were gentlemen and they still called. Then we get on our apps and play the 2016 version of “Hot or Not” on Tinder while we wonder why we can’t find anyone suitable. We actively avoid getting involved with people, because we’re all too busy trying to evaluate all of our options, move upwards in terms of societal valuation of our scores, and ultimately….oh wait, what happens at the end of it? When happens when we’re not toned and fit and still hot? What happens when we are suddenly forced to rely on the content of our character? What then? What happens when the potential matches have dried up, the game has lost its luster and you’ve not attained any level of connection or progressed as a person?

There’s a lot to unpack here and I’m going to attempt to do that and then impart my wisdom (read: draw wild conclusions and dig in on them, because I can).

Here is the summary of what I’m going to attempt to discuss: communication, connection, cultural standards, the advent of the internet and its effect on sexuality and dating, expectations, exploration, and my goals/hopes/dreams (and so on, ad nauseum).

Where I’m coming from (while I may not be Raymond Carver, I’m still coming from somewhere…): I’m 27, have been actively dating since I was 15, and I’ve got over a decade of relationships and relationship failures (and successes) under my belt. It’s like the end of an NBA commercial I saw last night: “Success is just failure that hasn’t happened yet.” Foreboding, yet mostly correct.

One of my favorite quotes from well-known sex columnist Dan Savage goes something like this: you date, you break up, you date again, until eventually you don’t break up. I’ve always taken this to heart – even if I go on my last first date when I’m 80, I will have tried. I will have built a body of experiences and relationship endeavors that will have led me to find the thing that I seek. I will have loved and lost and, perhaps most importantly, learned.

I have hundreds of great stories about dating. Some of them are beautiful, some hilarious, some cringe-worthy, and all of them comprise the library that is my experience and the lens through which I evaluate relationships or potential relationships.

I’m an excellent first dater, because I’m not into the superficial conversation that generally comprises a first date. I want to know all of the things, because in finding out the deeper parts of a person, you’re better able to assess their potential as a possible partner or mate. Part of it is my unwillingness to conform to the expectations of the date as an interview mentality, because it is and it is not – the dating part of it is the longest interview of your life, and should be embraced wholeheartedly – and part of it is because I’m fantastically curious.

But then I find myself quickly losing interest, because the men I’m dating just don’t have “it.” They’re bland. They don’t hold my interest. In the early moments, I’m able to mirror my own versatility and excitement onto them, because they’re still reflecting that back, but once the mirror drops, it’s often a letdown. Tobias calls it “the sparkle phase” – normal people refer to it as the “honeymoon phase” – it’s the endorphin-filled glittery time when things are still new and we’re all still filling in the gaps of unknown information with the things that we want them to be. Once all that subsides and the routines of normalcy land, we’re left with the actual real human person and we’re forced to cope with the fact that they might actually, unfortunately, be just like us – flawed, neurotic, normal.

I always say that I want to find someone whose weird matches mine, or at least, works with mine. If we can each understand each other’s negative qualities, or even real human qualities, and still respect each other, then we’ll stand a chance of succeeding. I love my friends unconditionally. I know their flaws. But the sum of their parts as a person obviously overwhelm those flaws. Besides, if they weren’t flawed, they’d be totally boring, and I’d never want that.

I’m intelligent, pretty enough in an unusual way, and not into the whole image thing. I’m dynamic; I like a lot of things. I’m not driven by physical attraction – well, obviously a little bit – but I find that character and authenticity are far more important to me than a chiseled jawline. I need to find someone who’s driven, intelligent, kind, dynamic, flexible, willing to deal with my inability to organize and my ADHD-driven conversational patterns, and a little bit wild (a lot wild, but not too wild, you know?). It’s hard to find that blend of adult/responsibility/adventure/intelligence. Really hard.

I want to find someone who respects me first as a person and secondly as a partner. I want to be an equal, not an object. I also want to find someone whom I respect, someone who pushes me to be better, but who genuinely adores all of the things that I already am. And someone who laughs at my jokes, because I love (my) jokes. I want to find someone who’s funny, and who appreciates humor’s importance in our lives. I want to find someone to share my life with, to have adventures with, and ultimately, to maybe grow old with. (Or at least a suitable first husband.)

I seek quality. That’s why Tinder is completely overwhelming. I have to just swipe right a few times, get about 10 matches, and then sort from there. I can realistically only date a couple of people at a time. I don’t want my dating pool clouded with confusion, cluttered like my car, and ultimately counter-productive.

I’m also diligent about the endeavor. I don’t want a one-night stand, not that those are terrible. I want to explore the possibilities with a person before I bail, but I also want to make sure that I’m not settling. And that’s part of the problem.

My friend recently used an excellent analogy about cheesecake. He posits that dating is like being at the Cheesecake Factory (if you’ve been living under a rock, it’s an entirely self-explanatory concept restaurant with oddly off-putting interior decoration). Cheesecake is great, but what about this fancy cheesecake? Or that one? There’s so many to choose from, how can you just choose one? (See that earlier quote from the Vanity Fair article – “psychosexual obesity.” Pertinent.)

Well….if you don’t want to get fat, you’ll probably have to settle for fewer cheesecake pieces rather than all of them (dear lord, imagine the lactose situation you’d have gotten yourself into). Also, if we’re approaching this analogy in the manner of this NPR article, if we wait and hesitate, then the cheesecake will spoil, or be purchased by other hungry cheesecake seekers. But then again, are we missing out if we get one cheesecake and not the other? Is there a better cheesecake? What if I picked the wrong cheesecake? Arrrrghhhh! The wrong cheesecake, the horror!

This is the crux of the problem now – it’s well documented that increased availability in choices leads to more indecision and increased rumination about regret. “What if?” becomes a standard follow-up line of thinking after a choice has (finally!) been made. It’s a Millennial conundrum. We’re standing with a seemingly endless array of options, and we’re completely stagnant, unable (or unwilling) to decide for fear of missing out or making the incorrect choice. Ha. But that’s the thing about choice…

In the days of yore (anywhere from agrarian societies to pre-Industrial Revolution…or maybe even as far as the early 1900s…), we had fewer choices. There were a limited number of eligible bachelors (or bachelorettes, if you’re into that sort of thing) available for mating, and it was expected that the pairing would be mutually beneficial, befitting of your social station, and lead to procreation for the sake of posterity and lineage continuation. The finality of the match was sealed, and that was that.

Then came everything that has come since that time, including women’s rights (pesky things, women…can’t live with them, can’t live without them), the Sexual Revolution, the advent and popularity of divorce for “irreconcilable differences” (those again), and the internet (which brought us Imgur, so we’re clearly coming out ahead). All of that has led to a massive paradigm shift, and with that, different expectations for dating, mating, and the like.

Being a modern woman, I am blessed with agency in the choices relating to my sexuality and partner preferences that past generations of women have not experienced. The importance of that agency is not lost on me. I am also blessed with a healthy sense of knowledge and self-assurance as it relates to sexuality (including health, preferences, subcultures, and practices, etc.). A lot of that is self-taught. I became incredibly curious about sexuality as whole and spent a significant amount of time ensuring that I was well-informed when it came to health, in particular, but also to the other elements.

When you think about it, human sexuality as a whole is fascinating. We’re blessed with the ability to create tiny people, but it’s about more than that. The entirety of the connection and endless possibilities for pleasure is amazing. We are truly #blessed to have been gifted with these fantastic bodies and the creativity to explore them to the fullest extent possible.

We are all over the board. We like what we like. We want what we want. One of my exes always used to say that he didn’t want limit his connections with other people. I hated the way he said it, but I get it now. I finally understand what he meant.

I understand that human beings aren’t necessarily wired for monogamy. We do want to maximize the potential for procreation; it’s biological and it makes sense. But much like the fight or flight response has been dulled in our softer survival situations (fire on demand, indoor plumbing, buildings, reduced threat of mountain lion attacks, etc.), I find that there are certainly evolutionary options to consider. I think that romantic love is the highest form of love – and creating, nurturing, and sustaining a relationship with someone is a highly intense and rewarding endeavor. It transcends the more basic animal tendencies of straight procreation and evokes the will power and high-mindedness of our human experience.

That’s not to say that it might not get boring. It might. I am finally coming around the idea of increased fluidity in relationships, but not so much so that I would want to be a non-primary partner. Or even have secondary partners to actively date in addition to the main, really. I know that works out well when it works out well, and maybe at some point in the future, I’ll be happily reporting back about the navigation of that territory. But for now – I’m looking for my person.

That determination to seek partnership may stem from my childhood – the whole broken home, divorce, not happy parental relationship thing – and my subconscious need to “correct” it. But it may not. I understand the argument that marriage is a social construct, and is actually entirely unnecessary. And yet, I would like to have a person. My penguin, my lobster, my partner, whatever you’d like to call them. I think of it as a permanent adventure buddy.

I’m also not freaking out about time. I have plenty of it. As we’ve progressed with women in the workforce, delayed age of bearing children (yay birth control!), and other more modern societal norms, we’ve seen the socially created and maintained institution of marriage become less of a focus. And for that, I’m grateful. Whereas I would have once been considered a spinster due to my advanced age (ha, the advanced age of 27), now I’m only just entering my prime. I’m free to happily explore my life without the intense scrutiny that once would have befallen my adventurous endeavors.

Do I want to get married someday? I think so. Do I want children someday? I think so. But I don’t know for 100% sure. And I’m definitely not going to settle for shitty cheesecake, so if it happens, it happens. And if it doesn’t, I can still have my life and my adventures and some cats. And maybe a turtle. Who knows what will happen. The possibilities are endless!

I do think that it’s interesting to see how the dating game has changed as a result of all of the influx of technology and lowered expectations for commitment. It’s not that people are doing different things than they’ve been doing for millennia, it’s that suddenly, there’s access to information, to media, to availability.

But – much as the Vanity Fair article points out that people seem to be “gorging” themselves as a result of our ability to sudden meet and connect with potential partners whenever, wherever, however – I think that much of it is a false speculation of the true breadth of the market. There are thousands of people using Tinder within a 50 mile radius of me. I know this because I didn’t log in to Tinder for a few weeks, and Tinder sent me a notification saying that over 3,000 people had “liked” me since I last logged in. Whoa. That’s a seemingly endless supply, and yet…it is a finite and ultimately poorly represented number.

(Think of the data that came out as a result of the Ashley Madison hack…think of the disparity and misrepresentation occurring within that small niche market. Not that it’s representative of dating sites, per se, but I think that arguably, we’re all operating with the false notion that this supply is constant, consistent, and infinite, which is not the right way to approach it. Think about all the times you’ve logged in to your account online only to see, ugh, the same people you saw before. Think about the resurfacing of past bad dates, or running into an ex at the grocery store. It really is all the same concept. It’s not practical to operate on that assumption of infinity.)

As far as maximization of potential, it makes sense for men to swipe right on (which is to say, choose or like) nearly any woman. Women tend to be far more selective when it comes to online dating, and so for every time I swipe right and immediately get a match, there are equally opposite experiences on the other end. I know this because I help one of my friends with his online dating game on the regular. It’s hard out there.

Sure, the article talks about the twentysomething males who are focused on maximizing quantity, and that’s all and well. I think it’s also interesting to see the disparity between how they describe their experiences and the reality that I’m seeing when I help my guy friend. Not that he’s not getting dates, but he’s not getting 3 dates back to back in a night. I’m sure if he stepped his game up, he could. But that seems like overkill.

To me, it seems like an exercise in narcissism. I think that’s part of my criticism of online dating as a whole, and I’m not trying to excuse myself from complete and mostly complicit participation in that. I like online dating; much like all technology, it’s been able to bring people together and connect likeminded people, but it’s also brought about some worrying behaviors that I argue aren’t just relegated to online dating, but representative of a significant set of societal shifts that have occurred since the introduction of reality tv, the spread of the internet, and the increased prevalence of social media. Those behaviors include: the devaluation of commitment and connection/relationships; increased objectification of women; decline of chivalry; significant increase in brevity of and expectations for interactions; increased pressure to conform to societal expectations and engage in performative interactions as a way to demonstrate value; decreased authenticity; decreased depth of relationships as a whole; and an overall decline in etiquette to include devaluation of self and others.

The women interviewed in the article seem to discuss the way that manners have become less prevalent since the internet became the way that we date, and I agree, but also disagree. I have strong expectations for someone I’m meeting offline that I’ve met online. If we’re going to meet face to face, I won’t do it as a booty call or hookup. I expect that they will respect me, value me, and treat me as I treat them/want to be treated. Anything less than that gets a non-response from me. That and grammatical errors. I demand consideration, and so I get it. Otherwise, I’m closed for business, no longer interested in being a potential partner.

The twentysomething guys indicate that women love receiving salacious pictures. They report that women respond positively. Ha! I nearly choked on my tea when I read that. I have a friend who regularly sends me unsolicited lewd photographs. To him, it’s an expression of his masculinity, and an attempt to demonstrate value through physical appreciation. To me, it’s an exercise in utter narcissism, and does very little for me or my lady parts. I could do without them (the pictures, not my lady parts).

I think that hookup culture is fantastic, to a point. Women and men are able to engage in consensual activities that are mutually beneficial. For women, we’ve been able to cull the herd in ways that mitigate the onslaught of messages and requests for dates, and for men, they’re able to connect with women who are actually interested in meeting/engaging with them. It’s fun, it’s less oppressive than dinner on a first date, and it allows for increased adventures and decreases in pressure.

However, if one is participating in this process as a means of genuine connection, then it requires firm assertions of expectations at the outset. If you’re unwilling to accept a certain behavior, then you can’t bend on your standards, because if you do that, you’ll end up regretful. If you’re unwilling to have a hookup with no strings attached, then don’t hook up. Don’t have the expectations of something else from the beginning, because your hopes will be crushed.

That’s why communication is important. If you’re clear with someone from the beginning, and regularly touch base along the way, you’ll find that your interactions will progress far more smoothly than if you approach from a place of deceit. The autolycan nature of dating is depressing, and the fact that people are willing to lie, mislead, and misrepresent then truth of their intentions is indicative of a general lack of respect for and objectification of their partners.

I recently flipped through the book, “The Game.” I didn’t have much time, and may end up reading it in its entirety at some point, but near the end, the author is writing about meeting up with a woman who he’d hooked up with on a prior occasion, and who had just ghosted him. (Ha, ghosted. My word of week this week.) He asked her why she’d done that, and she replied that she wasn’t interested in his peacocking behavior. He wrote that during their drinks (the second time, post-ghost), he had already used so much of his material (meaning his “game”) on her that he had nothing left and was forced to actually be himself.

Surprise, surprise! I had a smug moment of “duh!” towards him when I read that. Authenticity is something I seek, and any posturing/peacocking/overtly annoying false presentation is going to drive me to near insanity very quickly. I’m not going to spend time with someone (relationship or hookup, whichever) who’s attempting to persuade me of their value without any real substantive proof. Smoke and mirrors are only just that. I want to see the man behind the curtain.

There’s another thing that’s mildly annoying about our current paradigm shift towards consistently casual dating. You start hanging out, you like each other, you keep doing that, and it’s never clarified. And then, seven months down the road, when you’re wondering where this is going, the other person is still free to be like, “Oh we’re not together, we’re never going to be, what are you talking about, weirdo?” and suddenly you’re the crazy one because you got hurt/developed feelings, etc. It’s curious, how that works. Yes, of course, no one wants to jump straight into a relationship, but I’m not willing to rule out that possibility.

If there’s emotional entanglement, the potential for heartbreak exists and is present and it’s the responsibility of both parties (or however many parties there are – I’m imagining class action lawsuit level number of parties, ha), to ensure that honesty is at the forefront and that clarity is communicated effectively.

Of course, there are hard caveats to online dating and tindering and swiping and hinging and whatever else we’re doing, bageling and bumbling, drunkenly groping for love in the darkest parts of dingy bars. It can get increasingly depressing, very quickly. The approach and results for everyone are completely different. It’s all about attitude, or so I’ve concluded. If you approach with an open mind and clear intentions, your results will be exactly as you want them to be. If you’re disillusioned, desperate, or despondent, your takeaways will reflect that.

In short – life is short. There is something beautiful about the intersection of love and sex, and even in the two on their own. We all strive for something meaningful, even if we’re loathe to admit it, and in our technology advanced society, we’re able to seek and strive so much faster than before. It’s like in movies – I have this theory that we’re far less patient not only because of the instant gratification options available to us at any given time, but also because in movies and other media, for the sake of story progression, the waiting parts are cut out or merely inserted as a montage. We don’t get to see the waiting, or the stagnation, or the things that aren’t action or explicit or explosions, and thus, we have come to expect that our own lives will progress in the same way.

However, unfortunately, that’s not how it works. If that were the case, I’d be montaging the hell out of my work week and speeding towards the action/explosions that comprise my weekends. (Of course then you miss out on the actual meat of life, and in speeding towards the ends of things, you miss the value that is the journey, blah blah, we all know that.)

It’s like everything – you get out of it what you put in.

I’m a part of a strange tide of children of divorce possessed with the unrealistic expectations for fairytale endings actively seeking our own connections in the world, unwilling to settle on something unless it’s “right,” and enjoying the hell out of the ride. Wherever I end up, whoever my person may be – if there even is one – I will at least know that in the course of my life, I’ve done the very best I can to attain adventures, tell fantastic stories, express emotions, and genuinely connect with people around me. If that’s not the best approach, I don’t know what is.

On this week, penultimately

It’s Thursday. I thought yesterday was Thursday, and as a result, having to do this day all over again is miserable. I keep feeling like it should be Friday. It’s been a long week; one of those weeks that’s immense and intense and dragging on even as it’s speeding by.

The week has brought conversations I did not imagine I’d have; it has brought both clarity of situation and intention; it has brought unexpected complications. The theme of the week has been entirely human – emotions and choice. It’s been hard for everyone, us humans, merely bones and muscle and blood, love and pain and all the promise.

What is it to have the experiences that make us human? We have been given the greatest gift of emotions, the spectrum between suffering and unbridled joy, and the great swath that falls between. This week has been a gentle reminder of the fact that joy for one can bring grief for another.

I have stared into my past this week, as the present is swirling up around me, threatening to overwhelm. I have stared back, down into the dark things. I have found, unexpectedly, a bit of clarity of intention I didn’t imagine would be coming. I have cemented connections. I have thought mindfully and rationally; I have been physically shaken out of fear, and cried because the pain of watching someone else hurt is hard to bear; I have laughed, and been filled with admiration and gratitude. Now I sit watching the storm recede, and I am calm. I am filled with the radiant feeling of peace, a feeling of confident repose.

It is never easy to live. No actually, that’s incorrect. It’s never easy to be truly alive. There cannot be joy and happiness without the suffering and despair. In all of that, every single moment, we are given only choice – what will I do with the moment at hand?

I read an article today talking about life, not as a game of chess, but as a game of Tetris. The premise of the article was that there is no end game with life; we do not have the perfect move, the better move, the opponent. In life, our biggest opponent is ourselves, and in life, the pieces never stop falling. It is up to us to place them where we will and to continue, as the onslaught comes ever faster. There is not winning of life, not really.

Of course life is not a game, but in letting go of the approach of winning, I think we’re able to find the peace we so desperately seek. In the appreciation of the smaller moments, the shaking off of the heavy things, and the acceptance that we are all flawed in our own individual ways, we are given the opportunities to shape our own destiny, whatever is it that may be. We get the chance to choose happiness every day, to work on our relationships, our ways of communicating, our means of support, because we can. Otherwise, we are left to languish in the unknown, having decided that there is no bright future.

I’ve been there. The darkness almost swallowed me whole.

Now that I’m away, it seems so silly. Why can’t you just see that there’s light and joy in the world? When you’re in the darkness, you can’t see that there is even light, not within you, not anywhere. You are nothing. You are alone. You are forgotten, unforgiven, unrepentant, a sniveling excuse for a human, and you truly feel all of that to your core. It’s a hard experience to have. I almost lost myself to it. I withdrew from the world, apathy cloaking my spirit. I plodded onward, daily, misery incarnate. I couldn’t fathom the fact that I’d once been happy; couldn’t draw on those moments as a source of strength. Those, too, were no longer mine. People said it’d get better, but I didn’t believe them. How could I? To me, they possessed something I no longer had. I hated it. I hated that it wouldn’t end. I hated myself and everything around me, because everyone else was happier and better off, aware of some secret from which I had been singled out and excluded.

And then, it lifted.

I’m not sure if it was the fact that my hatred for being unhappy finally overwhelmed the unhappiness, that my sheer will not to let the bad thing be my only thing, or if some small moments of joy trickled in through the cracks and thawed my frostbitten soul, coaxing it back to life.

It’s not that I didn’t work at it. I did. I finally wrote about it. I finally opened it up and let it go, releasing my pain to the world. I talked about it. I fought about it. I cried about it. I scratched at the darkness until my fingers bled, and out of my frustration and desperation, I found the exit. Climbing out of hell is harder than you think. There’s no map, no how, nowhere to begin. That’s the trap.

Coming back into the sunshine is the greatest feeling in the world. The day that I was fully free, I was with my five year old in a park. The sky was immense and clear-blue, and the earth was around us. Just the two of us, we walked and ran and played. I felt unbearably light. I think I wrote about it that day. It was amazing.

This week, I was reminded what the dark places feel like. I saw the outburst of a friend struggling with the weight of being human – purpose, love, grief, sadness, anger – and I hurt because of that. The ripple effects of our own sadness carry far beyond ourselves, and in not being able to help those who are struggling, we each hurt in our own way. My part in his upset hurts too.

I am firm believer that love is the greatest gift we are given. Love is my highest goal. Love brings joy. Love is my motivation. Love moves me. I believe that we are each motivated by a single emotion – the thing that we seek, that drives us to keep seeking, that sates us when we’ve sought – and for me, that’s love. I am the happiest when I feel love, whether it’s friend love or romantic love or any of the other multitudes of love, those moments are my favorite.

To watch someone hurt so badly from the loss of love, or the unexpected unrequitedness of it all, is viscerally painful. To watch the pain that people keep welled up inside them erupt and spew out is difficult, because no one can make those things better. No one can change how you feel; it’s up to you.

My last big loss of love came after a brief entanglement in college. I fell hard and fast. I understand it all now – and appreciate the opportunity for connection, no matter how brief – but for a long while after, I was a mess. It destroyed me, until I was able to finally accept it, wrap my head around it, and move forward into the future. And then the peace came. We had our moment of closure, and in his quiet way, he acknowledged that it had meant a lot to him. Something in the knowing that it was important for him too, in a way that wasn’t mine but was his own, helped to finally close the wound that had begun to heal a long time before.

I remember the nights that I laid awake, desperate, panicked, unsure. I remember the feeling in the core of my palms when everything was falling away. I remember the tears, the dreams. Love is horrible, too.

Giving yourself, or parts of yourself, to someone else, only to be not wholly accepted, is the most terrifying thing you can do. To be rejected after that offering is a cold, steely slap to the soul. Sometimes, it’s not rejection of the person, but rather a difference in opinions, lifestyles, views, desire. Sometimes it is the rejection of that person, for qualities, characteristics, behavior patterns.

No matter what it is, the end of a relationship or the realization that things aren’t going your way hurts. The choice to pick up, reflect, dust off, recharge, and move forward is your own. The hardest part about living in the darkness is that there’s no roadmap out. There is only you. Only you and your ability to get yourself out of the whole darkness, because the darkness is also you. The darkness is your own. You helped create it, the world helped create it, and there’s nothing that can save you from yourself, except yourself. (I’m thinking Harold and the Purple Crayon here, and I’m into that aesthetic of the darkness and your choice. My crayon isn’t purple. It’d be mint green.)

I had to make hard choices this week. I also learned a few hard lessons, which require me to reflect back on my own actions, inactions, thoughts, intentions, and communications. I can learn from this. I can see how the things that I did led me to the place where I am. I can see how the things that I thought were incongruent with the things that someone else thought. I can see how my past shaped the way I reacted to a person in my life. I can see how I should have been better about instituting and maintaining boundaries. I will learn how to let the guilt go, and to stop internalizing things I shouldn’t. I have been learning that. I hadn’t realized that I hadn’t put them up when I should have. I see a bigger picture now. I see someone else’s picture, too. I see how my picture and their picture and the rest of the picture were in no way the same. I will grow from the things that this week brought. I will adapt. I will ruminate. I will be confident in my choices.

I am confident in my choices, because I am confident in my status as a tiny lion person (my inner strength is a tiny lion, think the cat but with a mane). My inner strength is my own. I’m on that weird human journey, hurtling through space like everyone else, even though my perception of this space is entirely my own. I am bones and blood and muscle, and I am a complex system of hopes and dreams and joy. And dammit, I’m Katie Barry.

This week hurt. – This week brought new challenges.  – This week brought answers to questions I hadn’t asked yet. – This week raised questions I hadn’t thought of. – This week was tough. – This week, I picked a lot. – This week I bought tickets to the skin picking conference.  – This week I sought answers. – This week I asked for help. – This week was joyful.  – This week was peaceful. – This week brought friendship. – This week I made fried rice terribly. – This week, I connected. – This week I lost a friend. – This week I felt empathy. – This week I felt frustrated. – This week I felt heard. – This week I felt threatened. – This week I felt stressed. – This week I took a miserable lukewarm bath. – This week I was strong. – This week I put up boundaries. – This week I realized I had been a part of the problem. – This week I tried to help. – This week made me smile. – This week I am tired. – This week I am excited for what’s to come.

That’s all we can really hope for, is to seek joy in the moment and to eagerly anticipate the rest of the things life will throw at us. And currently, I am. I’m really jazzed to be alive.

 

 

On Rape and Rape-ish, Angrily, Regretfully, and unRemorsefully

Trigger warning: rape, sexual assault.

This article is about rock music and rape, so it’s not something you’ll understand.

At its core, it’s about being taken advantage of, when you’re young and naive and vulnerable, at a point in your professional career when you’re on the cusp of something wonderful, and that’s something I understand in a very profound way.

That’s where I was. I was on the cusp, the perfect target, easy prey. Pathetic. (Not me; the man who took advantage of me. I didn’t have a choice. I wouldn’t have made that choice, not that night, not ever.)

Later in the article, the author talks about telling the mom. I didn’t tell my mom for months after what happened in New York. I tell my mom everything. I didn’t tell her that. I hated myself and I hated my shame. I hated what happened. She knew something was wrong, but she had no idea what it was. She knew, but she didn’t know. She cried when I told her; I hated breaking her heart. I felt worse inside because I let her down, because I was broken and it wasn’t something that she could fix. I wasn’t the same and I wouldn’t ever be. I wasn’t hers anymore. I hurt her, and I hated that more than anything.

That’s part of why this article touches my heart so much. There are things that happen in an instant that change you. After them, you’re never the same. You’re darker, you’re different, and you can’t explain it. You can heal, and move forward, but there’s no forgetting. Sometimes I wonder if there’s ever a time when you can forgive.

People say they do; they say that all the time. I haven’t, and I never will. I hate who I became that night. I hate the person who woke up that next morning. And that’s the person that I am today. I don’t get to go back. I don’t get to atone, because I’m not the one who made that choice. I have tried to embrace love and happiness and to allow the beautiful things back into my life, but I’ll never be the person that I was on January 29, 2013. I can’t be. I carry something heavy with me everywhere I go now, and I will carry it until I die.

I make light of it now, but not really. At least I don’t cry when I talk about it anymore. But it cuts me every now and then, when I least expect it. Like tonight. I read this article and I cried. Hard. My therapist told me that these things happen – it’s a roller coaster, and sometimes you don’t see it coming. He said that one day, this would just be something that happened to me, rather than the only thing, and he was right. That’s all it is now. But it’s not nothing and it never will be.

When I told the new dude about it, he gathered me up into his arms and held me, and I felt safe and loved and healed and stupid for even feeling anything about it, for even telling him about it. But tonight, I read that article and the parts of me that are so together fell apart. I hate that these things happen. I hate that I “just had some fun” (not my words – the salesman’s words) with a middle aged married salesman when I was 24 and drugged, and I don’t get to erase that. I hate that I’m left with that scar, because I don’t want it. I don’t deserve it. No one deserves it.

Here’s the quote that got me — that hit home so fucking hard:

“I know from personal experience how all these things can eat away at you. They can take vibrant young people and turn them into something else.”

Tonight I’m crying; my palms hurt in that deep tingly way and the tears are hot and full and dripping out of my eyes. It’s real again; it’s visceral and it hurts. I will wake up tomorrow and this will all be a bad dream, but it’s not a bad dream and I know it. I refuse to let it consume me, the way it did for so long, but I will allow it to touch my heart so that I remember. I will never forget, and I will never forgive. I’m sorry — but I’m not sorry at all. I don’t have to forgive. It’s not a prerequisite for progress; it’s not something that I have to do.

I’m not kind in that way, the way I’m so kind in so many other ways. I will never forgive that disgusting man or my old bosses. I will never forgive them for what happened or how it exploded, destroying my career and shattering my soul. I don’t have to to be a take-the-high-road kind of person and I won’t be; not today and not ever.

I hate that I hate them so much. I don’t like to hate. I thrive on love and good feelings, good feedback, and gratitude. But I take exception here. I smile and laugh and pretend that I’m not hurting. Usually, I am all good, the embodiment of good vibes and positivity. It’s long forgotten, something that happened to me and not THE thing. But every now and then, it creeps up on me, like if there were such thing as a silent hybrid freight train.

Here’s the song I listen to when I’m upset. I don’t know why, but it calms me. Tonight it’s been on repeat for almost a half an hour.  

I feel better. It’s over. It’s done. It’s not happening right now and it hasn’t for a long time. I can’t change the past. There is only forward.

My roommate in college had a wise mom. She always said that when something was upsetting you and you couldn’t solve it, you should sleep. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do. The nest of blankets and my cat son should do the trick. Tomorrow is a new day.

There is only forward. I am who I am. I am not what happened to me. I am still me. I am good. I desire and deserve love, even now.

On Being Unkind, Remorselfully

I generally pride myself on how little actual friendship drama I have in my life. I am kind; my friends are kind; we don’t go out of our way to hurt each other and the ebb and flow of our friendships are minimal – it’s more placid and consistent than anything else.

I did something bad this week. I had been texting with a friend about a dude I was seeing, and in trying to boost my friend’s ego, I said something (untrue) and unkind about the dude. Of course, he found out about it. I, being the stubborn panicker that I am, dug my heels in and stood my ground. He was so incredibly hurt.

This is where the old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” comes in. I was trying to boost one friend’s ego and in doing that, i unintentionally crushed the ego of someone else. It was cruel. It was unnecessary. It created for me a storm that I did not see coming, and one which has changed the course of an otherwise beautiful relationship quite irreparably.

For me, it’s hard to have hurt someone so deeply with a single sentence (and another action, but that’s not for this space), because I know how deeply I’ve been affected by a single off-handed comment. I never intended for him to see it, and I imagined that I could somehow boost one friend’s ego without ever damaging the other, because for me, it wasn’t a “real” thing. It existed on another plane. It was an offhanded comment not meant for the world, but the fact remains, I should never have said it.

I think that everyone, no matter what facade we present to the world, is delicate. That’s not to say that we’re not all incredibly strong and powerful, it’s just to say that we are all struggling with some uncertainty. Some of us hide it better than others, but at our core, outside input does have the power to affect us, shape us, crush us, or build us up.

Everyone has inherent value and beauty, some wear it differently than others. I’m not drawn to men because of chiseled cheekbones, although I’m not totally opposed, either. But I’m drawn to people for their spirits, their souls, their energy. It’s a blend. Granted, aesthetic appreciation of your partner is a foregone conclusion, but that’s never the foundation for a solid, lasting relationship. It’s the intellectual draw; the emotional closeness; the way that their eyes light up when they see you; the way you feel when you’re nestled into their shoulder nook. This dude is beautiful, both aesthetically and otherwise, and I was callous to suggest otherwise. God, his eyes.

I’ve lost that now because I didn’t think.

I was unkind and it was detrimental to something I’d been happily cultivating. It’s going to end now, and I will walk away with a few weeks of happy memories and a hard lesson, a firm reminder of why I’m not unkind in the first place and of how being flippant can have serious repercussions.

I suffered too much pain and humiliation at the hands of others during my childhood and adolescence – for everything from my ski-slope nose to my lack of boobs; for being too nerdy or weird; for telling bad jokes; for being awkward; for not having the right clothes…ugh, the list goes on – to ever do something like this, and I hate that I’ve done it. This public announcement is some semblance of penance, a public flagellation of my misdeeds so I can walk away feeling at least a little lighter, because who I was when I made that mistake is not the person that I want to be, and I can guarantee you that this is a solid reminder of what I stand for as a human being, a peer, and a potential partner.

No one deserves to be cut down for any reason. No one deserves anything but the utmost support and encouragement. Because after all, we’re all in this together. Suffering comes from places of insecurity, and my own insecurity and nervousness about our relationship caused me to act in ways that were more than unbecoming.

And here I am, creating suffering, feeling the brunt of the equal reaction and now suffering myself, and all for what? Something so insignificant. I am better than this, and I know it. I was just beaming about radiating light into the world, and yet I let myself and the world down by doing the exact opposite.

Of course, you can’t take anything you do back, but for this, I wish I could. It’s like my mom says, “It’s not a mistake unless you keep making it,” and this is one that will be a lesson, rather than a mistake, because I’ve reflected, attempted to address the issue, and begged for forgiveness, which is not mine to give. I have done what I can do, and I will go forward with the full clarity of hindsight and the forwardness of positivity. There is only that and if we cannot be the things we wish to see in the world, we are nothing.

On Writing About Breaking Up and the Aftermath, Emotionally (Because I Can)

I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I kept myself busy this weekend, trying to keep the mantra of “positive and productive” alive in my head to drown out the emotional white noise. I danced all night on Friday, went out to dinner with my brother and his girlfriend on Saturday, ran errands and took the dog to the dog park on Sunday. (I got to have the dog last weekend. It was lovely.)

Monday came, and then Tuesday, and with them, a surprising sense of lightness and joy. The days were great; the nights not so much. I’d not slept alone in a year and a half, and man, there’s some serious truth to the biorhythm thing. The nights are the worst. They stretch on forever.

Last night, it all caught up with me. I knew it was going to, but I’d been almost reveling in how calm I was, and I hadn’t prepared myself (not that I could have, really). The tears came, randomly, and then they wouldn’t stop.

I’m not going to fight this, I’d already decided that when the sadness engulfed me, I would let it happen. There isn’t anything but time that can fix these things. Even though I want nothing to more to keep muttering “be positive and productive” and channel everything into the future, I know that the pain of losing your other half is immense. And you have to let it happen or you end up bitter. I don’t want that. I have bitten off two of my nails, though, so the stress is starting to get to me.

I haven’t been good at eating or sleeping. I need those things, but right now, my body doesn’t want them. Tonight, I was going to scrub the house with wild abandon, and I’ve been unable to do much of anything. I did start some laundry, so there’s that.

Am I trying really hard to keep it “positive and productive”? Yes. Am I hurting? Yes. Is this for the best? Yes. Will it get better? It has to.

I know that I’m grieving, because the loss of any relationship is painful. I’m not pining for him or wishing he’d come home. But at the same time, I miss him. His nearness. Part of me keeps feeling that he’s just in the next room. The proximity sensors are so out of whack.

It’s just overwhelming for a million different reasons. The darkest part of me hopes he’s feeling as badly as I am. It’s just emotional pain on a totally different depth than I’m used to, and I’m not pleased that I’m feeling it. I don’t want to push it down because that will only create long-lasting and crippling complications, but I’m really sick of feeling it and it’s only been a week. I persuaded my therapist to ballpark a healing date and he said five weeks. He was very nervous about that, so don’t hold him to it, but when I asked him how long it takes normal people to get over a relationship and he said “several months to several years,” I think the look on my face forced him to reconsider. It was the “Oh, hell no!” look.

A friend said on Friday, “It’s just like skydiving. You’re ready to jump on 3 and they push you on 2.” That makes so much sense. So does the friend who told me that she had a boyfriend for five years whom she loved very much. The hardest part of their breakup was the realization that they would each become better people if they weren’t together. I think that’s going to be a piece of advice I cling to. I think we both stopped reaching and I think that being apart will allow us to grow as people.

When you think about it – or if you’d known us both – we are incredibly different people with different values systems. In the long run, there was no way we’d have been able to sustain a happy, successful relationship.  Just wasn’t going to happen.

Blerg blerg blerg. I get it. No one cares. Emotional pain is so self-contained. It’s this funny quality of the human condition, because when you’re experiencing a really strong emotion, all you want to do is share it, communicate it, get it out there, commiserate, be congratulated, be supported, be held, and so on. And yet, both extremes of happiness and despair are frowned upon. Because why should anyone be so happy? That’s some bullshit. And the sadness is not immediate to anyone who’s not forced upon it, so why dwell? No one wants to hear about it, because even though everyone’s been there, they’ve lost the ability to relate on that exact level. If they’re doing the support and commiseration or support and elation thing, it’s because they care, not because they feel it. They do get it, but they don’t get it, if you know what i’m saying. (You don’t. Think about that scene from “10 Things I Hate About You” when Bianca is trying to explain the layers of love, and she’s like, “I love my Sketchers, but I love my Prada backpack.” It’s like that. Never mind.)

It’s much like my mother’s motto for our teenage years: this too shall pass. And with it, so will the emotional reverberations. But for now, they’re bouncing around in my heart and the visceral reactions are alternating between frustration, triumph, anguish, and calm. It’s a hot mess happening in here. I’m okay with it. It’s good because it will lead to growth. But god, growth pains are the worst.

On Being Patronized, Stubbornly

Everyone has their own pet peeves, and mine are most certainly among the usual: toe-walkers, mouth-breathers, people who don’t signal when they’re changing lanes….

Lately, I’ve been struggling with “the crud” – some sort of nasty winter virus we all seem to be getting – and I’ve been forced to mouth-breathe at night to stay alive. Boyfriend finds it amusing to tell me how lovely and radiant I am when I’m mouth-breathing/sleeping.

Anyway, I recently started a new job, which I love and hate at the same time. I love the work. I get to interact with clients on a daily basis, I get to do semi-legal work, and I get to win. On the whole, I’ve really enjoyed the work and I think I’m fostering a wonderful, attentive relationship with my clients. I’m also kicking ass at getting stuff done, managing a million things at once, and helping others.

Whichever way you pronounce it, my biggest pet peeve, the quickest thing to push me from jovial to downright murderous, is being patronized. The biggest complaint I have about my workplace, far from the stress, is the indignity I suffer. I’m not alone, either.

I’m lucky I’ve worked with lawyers before, people who assume that a JD is license to denigrate, because in doing so, I learned how to temper the feelings of rage and do little more than supplicate to their delusions of grandeur.

Last week, I received an email from one of the account managers. He said that there was an issue with a claim that someone two people before me (that should give you an idea about the turnover here) had handled in September. I quickly rooted out the source of the issue, as well as the issue itself, and responded as such.

My phone rang.

It was the account manager. We discussed the issue, by which I mean that he told me exactly what I had told him in the email, except he elaborated further. He had me pull up part of our system, and then he proceeded to read to me, word-for-word, the contents of the screen. I can read. I’m well aware of what certain screens say. I did not need to be schooled about content or procedures in any way. I did not need to be told how to handle claims that I had not handled; I certainly didn’t need to be educated on how to read; and I certainly didn’t need to be spoken to like I am a kindergartner.

It took every ounce of willpower I possessed not to slam the phone down. I took deep breaths; I went to my happy place – I made one up; I struggled to choke out “yes, of course I understand.”

I attempted to explain to him the issue, and direct him to another part of the system, at which point he informed me that it isn’t his area, and that I should leave it alone. He’s lucky I’ve dealt with the J-D-elusionals before, because by the end of the conversation, he’d told me not to worry, it wasn’t my fault, and was assured that I’d handle it in the future.

I hung up the phone, seething. When I told my manager about it, she replied, “That’s pretty much how he is.” Yep. Par for the course.

This week, talking to one of our hearing representatives about cases that we should or shouldn’t appeal, the hearing rep asked me if I knew what hearsay was. I lived and died by murder mysteries and all things spy when I was little, and then progressed on to take forensic science and law classes; of course I know what hearsay is. Of course, he doesn’t know that.

I told him I did, in fact, understand the definition of hearsay.

He continued to explain to me what hearsay is. Had I not known what hearsay is, I wouldn’t have left our conversation with a clear idea in my head. Again, I struggled with the whole calm thing. How hard is it to understand someone when they say they know what something is?

There are two hopefully glaring examples, but they’re not the only ones. My takeaway is this: firstly, I have accepted that there are things I cannot change, like the world, my job, and the fact that there are men in better jobs who are seriously lacking the tools necessary to perform their jobs and even though I am not an idiot, I will be seen as one, purely because I am not a man.

Secondly, if you think you don’t need feminism, I invite you to spend a week in my shoes. Even the most ardent anti-feminist would cringe at something.  It’s sad how far we still have to go to earn respect and a decent wage. You’re so wrong about equality. I had forgotten that this was a thing. I was filling up my tea this morning and I heard two of my co-workers talking about it in the break room. I broke in, and we all agreed the gender divide is real. And surprisingly oppressive.

Anyway, this was just a rant about how much I hate being patronized. I am an intelligent, well-rounded human being, and being treated as anything but absolutely shudders me to a screeching halt. I can’t stand it. I would so much rather be surrounded by mouth-breathers, toe-walkers, and no-turn-signal users than people who don’t use some modicum of respect for others.

It’s 2015 people. Get with it. Intelligence is not gender-specific. I’m not struggling for anything weird here; I’m just trying to get taken seriously.

On Fear and the Bad Thing, Unabashedly and Forwardly

Trigger Warning, Yo. Things here are things that you shouldn’t look at if you’re at risk for being triggered by sexual assaults and such. Sorry in advance, shit’s about to get heavy.

It’s been ages. I’ve been avoiding blogging. Sorry.

It’s a long story, but my life took a complete detour. I know that’s how it always goes, the best laid plans always end up in complete and utter disarray, but this turn was long and winding in ways that I had never expected. I’m back on track now, thankfully. It’s been rough, to say the least, but I’m finally back where I need to be. I think.

I have been avoiding blogging. I haven’t had anything to say. I hadn’t wanted to talk about this, but I so badly want to want to blog again, and I have a feeling that saying this will help with that. It’s been bottled up forever, and if there’s one thing they can’t take from me, it’s the one thing I love more than anything: writing.

In short (not short) – I spent nearly six months being unemployed. It was necessary. It was a godsend, actually, because in the course of filing for unemployment, I got the opportunity to find closure for something that had haunted me for a long time. It was expensive, for me, but I get to sleep through the night now with the satisfaction that had escaped me for an entire year.

Here’s the short (of course, not so short) story: I was drugged and assaulted by a co-worker while I was a tradeshow in New York in January of 2013. I blacked out fifteen minutes into having a drink with a man I detested, but with whom I wanted to have a good working relationship. I woke up naked in a hotel room. There was a beer bottle on the tv stand. I hadn’t been drinking beer that night. I had missed meetings. I was sick, confused, dizzy. I had to GPS my way back to the hotel where the conference was after doing some printing for work. It was two blocks. There’s more, but you don’t need it.

My assailant met me outside the bathroom of the tradeshow floor – where I had been throwing up – and asked me what I remembered about the night before. I told him nothing, and asked him what had happened. He told me that we had “just had some fun,” and then apologized profusely. I was sick. I was in trouble. My bosses were so angry with me. I was in shock. I was so afraid of losing my job that I never went to the hospital. I was terrified. I thought I’d be okay. I thought I was okay. (I hate the band FUN. and anything that explicitly says, “Fun” on it because nothing is fun, not after that.)

I got back to Denver and spent an entire Saturday crying. I don’t know if you’ve ever cried for 6 straight hours, but it’s fucking terrible. I knew it was bad when my brother came to the door of my room and told me he loved me. He never does that. That’s when you know things are bad.  That Sunday was the Super Bowl. That was rough, too.

When we got back to Denver, back to work, they wrote me up for missing the meetings. They told me that they were leaving everything else out to protect me. They asked me if I thought I had been drugged. I told them that yes, I thought I had. They assured me that this was just a matter of procedure (the write up, not the drugging). I went along with it. I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know what to do. I went back to work.

I tried to put the whole thing behind me. I couldn’t. I had a full-on emotional breakdown in April 2013, after reading a blog post by an economist who theorized that sexual assault while the victim is unconscious does no lasting damage. There’s a post there, from that moment, that I’ll never forget as long as I live. That day was my grandmother’s birthday party. I tried to smile.

After that point, I missed an entire week of work. My employer, realizing that this was actually a real thing, hired an investigator and conducted an internal investigation, but the findings that came back in June were “inconclusive” and I was told that while I wasn’t being fired, I was free to leave. The assailant? He kept his job. I left in July. I wish I could explain to you how great I felt the day that I quit. I felt like a god, for a few minutes, swelling with a happiness I hadn’t felt in months. I gave them three weeks’ notice, because my boss had told me to give as much notice as possible. The actual separation was much worse. The day I left, I wrote a post. The vice president of the company accidentally copied me on an email he was sending to my boss with a link to my blog and the subject line: There you go.

I stopped writing because I couldn’t write about, much less think about or talk about, anything else. I was at a point where I could hardly get out of bed. It was horrible. I felt like dying. I’ve never been so down in my entire life. I am so thankful for my friends – they listened to me for hours; they listened to me say the same things over and over and over; without them, I wouldn’t be here. I lost a few, too, because the things I was fixated on were too much. I get that. I hate that. I’m sorry. Grief has those ways of expression – mine was verbalizing it. Word vomit, everywhere, all the time. Oh, you have a job? Here’s my story….Blahhhhhh. I can’t describe how horrible it is to know that you’re being weird and not be able to stop.

I went back to work at the Dairy Queen I’d worked for since I was sixteen. I spent a year there. I managed. I was actually a really good manager. I’m good at customers, at people, at keeping things running smoothly. I went to work in the office, which I loved. I began to do more. I left there due to a whole slough of circumstances – mostly my foot surgery. My boss told me he wouldn’t contest my unemployment, since we had a good relationship and I’d worked there for a decade and the separation wasn’t bad. I filed for unemployment, having no idea what I was going to do.

When you file for unemployment, they take the wages not from the current quarter, or even the quarter before that, it’s the four quarters before that. (Think 18 months, minus the last six or so.) It was my birthday. It was a Sunday. I was filing for unemployment, frustrated and sad, and when the state asked me what the reason for the separation from my former employer (not my most recent one), I was honest. I wrote, “I was sexually assaulted by a co-worker. After the investigation came back inconclusive, I quit.” Turns out, this is a legitimate reason to quit. I could have filed for unemployment benefits the minute I quit last year. I could have saved a year of my life spent blending ice cream and chunks of fattening cookies products and cleaning fruit gobs off of things and wearing gross polo shirts. Not that it was all bad. It wasn’t.

A state adjudicator called. We talked for twenty minutes. He was so understanding. He was amazing – I swear, if it was okay to send a thank-you note to a state agency, I would. I’d send flowers and fruit arrangements and my eternal gratitude. I told him what had happened, and he was professional and factual and expressed his condolences to me. I was professional, too, in a calm way I had not thought I could be. I was objective, or at least as objective as I could have been as I discussed the events that led to my separation. (Objectively subjective, if that’s a thing.) It wasn’t emotional. It was what I said it was. It was this date, and that date, and this happened next, and then this.

The decision came back. I won. I had been awarded unemployment benefits because the separation was not my fault. I cried hot tears of happiness. I felt as though pieces of my soul had been put back (wherever pieces of your soul go – your heart? I always imagine pieces of my brain going into place like a puzzle, which I feel like can’t be right, but it’s like that). Winning felt like justice. A third party – objective, with no vested interest in the findings, had looked at the evidence and ruled in my favor. He’s going to do another hundred of those that week. I was a social security number and a task to be checked off. He was my knight in shining armor, even if he didn’t know it. Guy, wherever you are, you are doing a great job. Keep doing that.

My employer appealed. We went to a hearing. I hired a lawyer, realizing that this was the only chance I was going to have for any sort of justice. She was great. I’m so glad I found her. I could have done it without her, actually, but having her there gave me resolve. I so badly wanted to get a favorable decision. I went into the hearing knowing that I was going to give it everything I had. Everything. I prepped for weeks. My mom came with me, emotional support. We sat in the room. My employer appeared by phone. I’m so glad – I only cried twice during the hearing, once when I talked about tendering my resignation and once when it was all over; it was overwhelming and I was full of the need to cry. I don’t know if I could have been as strong as I was – and I was; I was full on fucking lion-Katie – if they’d been there in person. I would have been a tearful puddle of sadness. I wouldn’t have been able to summon the heartbreak and rage that I needed to put on my big girl pants and handle the situation. Handle it. I handled that shit so hard. Seriously.

The hearing lasted two and a half hours, where most unemployment hearings are less than a half an hour. I got to tell the entire story, from beginning to end. I got to provide documentation. The hearing officer was fantastic. She was very adept, assertive in a very intellectual way, very quick to ask questions. I believe that she became angry when she asked my employer for a copy of the original HR investigation report. They refused to provide it, even though they referenced it throughout the hearing. I wonder, to this day, what was in that report. I wonder why they hired a second attorney to review it (something I learned the day of the hearing). I wonder why they were so adamant about not providing it, since their HR rep tried to tell the hearing officer that it was just a collection of notes, even though she’d ripped my therapist a new one about it, asking him if he’d ever seen it and why he thought he could testify about it/me. Ha. He responded that he was only testifying about me, my symptoms, and his experience of my therapy and trauma timeline. I would pay good money to see what that report said, since the day I was interviewed by the HR investigator, she told me that it wasn’t that hard to fire a contractor. She also tsked at times when I talked about how things were handled between myself and the bosses for reporting of the whole thing. She even gave me a book about feminist legal theory, since she discovered I was into that sort of thing. I’m way into that sort of thing, although since it all happened, my exposure to feminist everything has been limited to avoid triggering me. Stupid. I hate that. Take the one thing I love, why don’t you? I’ll get there. I’ll be able to read reports about sexual assault and rape without freaking out. It’ll happen.

Because of the hearing, I got to see the write up that was issued to my assailant the day they told me about the decision, in June. It said that no matter how noble his intentions….finding himself in a hotel room with a co-worker was unprofessional and not to happen again. I laughed, actually, at that. I should frame it, so I can remember how not to act as an adult, how not to reprimand, how not to manage, how not to resolve a situation. It’s disgusting. It’s fucking upsetting. It’s ridiculous. Six months later? That’s the best stern reprimand you’ve got? He’s costing you thousands of dollars in investigation costs. He’s costing you time and whatever else. He wasn’t written up for not calling the HR lady back the day he was informed of the investigation in May – he called my office and cell phones repeatedly that day, never leaving a voice message. Over and over the phone rang. I shook the whole time. My employer didn’t tell him to stop until the next day, when I had to email them a second time to tell them that the repeated harassment was upsetting to me. I was afraid to answer my phone for ages.

I left the department of labor and employment the day of the hearing feeling fantastic. I felt good. My support system was there. My lawyer told me that barring some strange legal technicality, she had no idea how I couldn’t win. I had told my truth, from beginning to end. I had responded semi-nastily, in the most professional of ways, to the ridiculous inquiries and assertions of emotional instability from my former employer and their representative. I got to hear the hearing officer ask them, using the words “ham-handed,” that if I had been hit by a bus, would they have written me up?

My former lady boss was amazing. I feel for her – I want to send her flowers, for testifying honestly. I hope that she didn’t get into any trouble. I always respected her and valued our relationship. It wasn’t the same after she asked me if it was because I got in trouble the day I had my breakdown. I know that she’d worked for them forever, and I hope that as a result of her testimony, she wasn’t in trouble. I love her. I sometimes think about her, and I hope that she’s doing okay. Seriously. Fruit baskets. Whatever she wants.

My boss boss’s testimony was different. He became agitated. The hearing officer asked him to clarify something he’d testified to three minutes prior, the issue of whether he’d known at the time of the write-up that something had happened, and he became angry and sarcastic. It was a yes or no question. He responded, “Sure.” That was the best response, I think. Instead of a yes or a no, it was a nasty “sure.” I watched the hearing officer’s face when he said that. She was intently scribbling notes. Intently. Very intently. I was hot with the prospect of his response – the annoyance he showed buoyed my claim, or so I felt. He brought some stuff up. I got to rebut it. He asserted that I was emotionally unstable. I got to rebut that. Being ADHD and having anxiety don’t make me unstable – they questioned the fact that I had a therapist, which is funny because the only reason I have him is because during my first annual review, they told me that I had to work on my focus issues. Hence, the ADHD evaluation and subsequent treatment. And my amazing random therapist who has been my rock for way too long.

I hate that everything went so badly. I hate that the people to whom I’d given so much came to hate me, and that our working relationship soured. But at the same time, I find that the people I detest the most are the people who masquerade as good people when they’re really not.

I don’t hate how it turned out. I walked out of that building and it was like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. People say that, but think about the last time you felt that way. It’s freeing. It’s like you’ve got light again. Light meaning less weight and also light the opposite of dark. The curtain of darkness was lifting, or at least shifting. I lived for a few moments. I put my professional face on that day. I got to change out of sweatpants and put on the business dress that I’d been assaulted in – I wore it for courage, an homage to the hope of my former self.

The decision came via mail. I tore it open like it was a Christmas present. I read it, hardly daring to believe it. I screamed. I cried. I screamed and cried, tears of fucking joy. Tears of healing. Tears of pain. Tears of victory. It was just unemployment benefits. But it wasn’t. It was so much more than that. It was the soothing tears of healing, of justice, of a battle well-fought. I jumped on the bed a little bit. That’s how great it was. I cried some more. I felt the cracks somewhere in the brain puzzle that is my soul personified congeal in the best way, immediate healing. I won. I fucking won. I fought the good fight and I won. I am crying as I type this. I was brave. I was strong. I was everything that I hadn’t felt for so long. The world, which had been so cruel, rewarded me and my honesty and courage.

I collected unemployment benefits for a long time. I found a job, finally. Do you know how hard it is to have to take the honesty route when you’re applying for jobs? When the interviewer asks you, “Why do you have this gap on your resume? Why did you go from being “….” to Dairy Queen?” and you have no choice but to answer honestly? It’s miserable. You’re not only going through the strange hell that is interviewing, but you’re also reliving the worst months of your life while wearing a professional mask. Don’t cry, this is a dry-clean only dress. Ha, good advice.

This year, in September, I got a twitter notification that the vice president of my former company was following me. My stomach dropped into my ass. I checked immediately – he must have been visiting my twitter account and accidentally clicked “follow” and then immediately unfollowed me. I haven’t blogged for so long because I have been afraid. During the end of my employment there and the time that has followed, he has been watching me.

True, I used to be a fun, party child. I used to go out. I used to have friends and social engagements. I used to do things. I don’t have or do those things anymore, and part of me wonders how much of it is the shame I feel when I go out, when I have fun, as though I don’t deserve it. I am afraid. Afraid of deserving what happened to me. Afraid of being judged for being fun after what happened. Afraid that it could happen again. Just afraid. I hate that I’m being watched. Followed, per internet terminology. It’s not enough for a restraining order or anything, but it’s honestly fucking creepy. He’s a forty-plus year old man with nothing better to do than internet stalk his former employee? ….I’m not the only who’d be creeped out by that kind of shit. He’s smart enough not to check my blog from work because he knows I know the IP address.

I don’t know what he’s looking for. Maybe it’s this. Maybe there’s some sick satisfaction that they get from knowing that my life has been complete and utter shit for the past two years; that I’m not the person that I used to be; that I’ve lost so much; that I’ve been depressed and angry; that I’ve lost most of my friends; that I’ve struggled to get back on track; that my self-esteem has plummeted; that my enjoyment of all things is now minimal. If that’s the case, I hope they’re happy. In that way, you won. In those various ways, I’m not okay, and sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever be. You win, all of you. Go back to your program updates and get the fuck out of my life.

There are things that happen to you that will affect you from the moment that they happen until the time you die and this is one of them. I’m serious. I don’t see fun anymore – I don’t desire it. I desire a night where sleep comes easily. I desire safety. I desire comfort.

When I finally got the courage to tell my now-boyfriend about what had happened, I was at work at the DQ. He was visiting with a friend. The friend knew. Somehow, like always, it spills out. It’s word vomit. Once it starts, I can’t stop it, the narrative pouring from somewhere deep inside me, my heart and stomach simultaneously contracting in a nervous rhythm, shut up, keep going, shut up, keep going, shut up, keep going, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, why did you do that? Fuck, why? Ugh, you’re terrible. When I told him, the first thing he said to me was, “Get his address; I’ll kill him.” My boyfriend is recon. He was a sniper in the Marines. He could. I know the dude’s address by heart. It’s engraved. Obviously, boyfriend was joking – not joking, but attempting to offer reassurance in a way that can never be achieved. He wouldn’t. He’s a good man. Killing is not the answer to anything. We all know that. But it felt good. To be cared about like that. To have such an immediate response. I know that sounds insane, but that sort of reaction helped to provide a bit of healing that day. He’s had to deal with it so much since – me crying all the time, me freaking out, me angry, me depressed. This Thanksgiving, we were in California with his family and I finally told him mom about it all, and he told me that it’s been so hard to love me through all the depression. I am so grateful to have someone who still loves me, through all of it. I know it’s not great. I know it’s not fun. But it is what it is. This is my reality. It doesn’t go away. Sometimes it comes back. He’s the one who has to listen to me sobbing, who has to hold me against his shoulders when it’s too much. He’s the one who has to deal with a lot of the fallout from something he never could have seen coming.

Blergh. There’s all of it. Here’s why I haven’t been blogging in a year. I so love my blog. I have loved writing since I was a child; I have loved blogging since LiveJournal; I have loved being able to express myself. I will begin again. No one can take that from me. If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. I’m sorry for word vomiting it all into this space, but I’m glad it’s out. Now I can go on about the rest of my life without this hanging over my head. It’s nice. I was talking with a former professor about everything this summer, and she encouraged me to write about it, in the hopes that it would help me heal. I’m finally writing about it.

🙂

Here’s to it being over. Here’s to fresh starts. Here’s to constant turn of the wheel of time – like it or not, we’re moving forward. But really, I am moving forward. My life is my own. They don’t own it. They can’t control what I do. I am me. I am my own navigator. I will not give up the things I love.

On Racism, Nearby

I’ve been hesitating to even blog about everything that’s happening right now – the Ferguson, Missouri situation has reminded me that no matter how well-intentioned, I’ll always be white. As history has shown, that’s clearly not a bad thing, but it does mean that while I’d love to chime in and offer my take on the situation, I shouldn’t. It’s not that I can’t still be a part of the push against class warfare and racism – it’s just that I’ll never truly understand what it’s like to be anything but white.

That’s not to say that I can’t be an ally, that I can’t be someone who pushes for reform and truth and justice and tolerance and all of those wonderful, idealistic things I thought everyone believed in. The hard truth is that people don’t believe in those things. You learn the rose-colored worldview of tolerance and peace and then you hit the real world and it’s filled with ignorance and hate.

I was at 7-11 yesterday, buying iced coffee before I headed out to babysit, when a short, grandfatherly looking white man cut me in line holding two Cokes. He got up to the cashier, a nice woman who’d greeted me cheerfully when I walked in, and when he was told that it was going to be like $2.89, he flipped out. He asked how much one Coke was, because he’d been under the impression that they were 2 for $2.22. The cashier told him that they were no longer on sale, at which point he began yelling for her to come to the back and look. He turned around, nearly hitting me.

I don’t usually get scared, but something about him coming two inches from full body contact unnerved me. Apparently, the 7-11 people had put Pepsi on sale instead of Coke, but forgotten to take down the advertisements. I get that – it’s annoying. If you want to sell products and offer a discount, properly advertise it. She apologized for the confusion, admitting that they’d made a mistake.

They got back to the counter and he continued yelling (I’m not exaggerating here – the entire store could hear) about how this is what is wrong with America, greed and blah blah, and then he paused and told the cashier, “You wouldn’t know. You’re just visiting here.” She insisted, with a lovely accent, that she was an American too.

That’s when he lost it. He started going off about Judgement Day and how God would know that she was lying about being an American. (I almost cut in and asked him if God was American, but I didn’t and I’m glad.) He yelled at the cashier, and to her credit, she handled it beautifully. When he got to the part where he was yelling about how his mother would know that she wasn’t an American, she calmly told him that she didn’t care what his mother thought.

It was horrible. She was clearly an African immigrant, and I don’t care whether she was a citizen or here on a visa, she’s working and she’s nice and she’s obviously someone who is stronger than she looks. He was clearly the worst sort of American. After he left, I told her that I was sorry that she’d had to deal with someone so rude and that I hoped that her customers from then on were pleasant to deal with. The woman behind me offered her support as well. I would have been in tears – I was impressed with how calm she was.

It’s 2014. Any illusions of a white America should have been dashed years ago – it’s over, or rather, it never was going to be a thing. At some point, these people are going to have to embrace the fact that diversity is here to stay, whether they like it or not. I can’t fathom how anyone could be so cruel to someone based on their skin color, or their accent, or the fact that they work at a 7-11.

I’m still appalled. I wish I’d spoken up. Better yet, I wish the boyfriend had been there. He’s not always the most forward-thinking human, but I know that he wouldn’t have stood for this kind of hate. He’d have had words with the man.

It’s not just 7-11. It’s Facebook. I live in a very educated bubble. Most of my friends are white like me, have at least a college education, and are pretty progressive and liberal-leaning. (Not all. Most.) The posts that I’ve seen lately about Ferguson, Missouri and racism have been about being a white ally, class warfare and the threats to the white majority stronghold of our economy, and so on.

Boyfriend comes from a different place. His bubble is different. I love skimming his news feed to see how different they are. He probably thinks I’m trying to glean information about his lady friends, but honestly, it’s a remarkable sociological difference, whether it’s based on location, education level, or career path, and I’m fascinated by it. That and the lady friends.

Last week, a Marine friend of his posted something about the Ferguson, Missouri situation, including the riots, with a very inappropriate caption. I was appalled that an active member of our military would be allowed to post something like this – but it wasn’t just the post, it was the comments on it that aggravated me.

A plump, blond, middle-aged white woman commented on the post and said something about how upset she was about “these savages” and how “we bring our Lord to them and they act like animals” and so on and so forth. Our Lord? The same God of White America that the 7-11 dude worships? What are these people smoking?

I did a terrible job at describing the post and the comments, but I’m trying to illustrate how frustrating it has been for me to see that not only is racism alive and well, but it still wears the well-meaning mask of religion. I wanted to believe that while racism still existed, it at least had the decency to hide deep in a person’s soul and not be broadcasted around on social media and spit at cashiers in convenience stores. I wanted to believe that so badly, and clung to that hope. I was wrong.

I may scoff at the well-intentioned ally posts and the never-ending parade of sociological examinations of cross-sections of our society, but today I am grateful for them. I’m glad that I get to sit and click and read them – I’m glad they’re being published and that people are reading them, and sharing them, and spreading a message that shouldn’t be new to some people but clearly is. I need to do more — we’ll talk about hashtag activism at a later point. And the next time I see a man yelling at a woman because of her accent and the color of her skin, I’ll give him a piece of my mind. At the very least, a little social sanctioning may give him pause.

We can do better. We need to do better.

On Feminism, Needily

I’m a feminist. I have been since before I understood what feminism was, and I’m grateful for that. I grew up thinking that I could do anything that I wanted to, without any concern for gender. I hung out with the boys until fourth grade, was never consumed by beauty or girlie things, but absolutely loved my Barbie dolls and everything else girl. It wasn’t an issue. My parents never pushed a gender identity, and I never felt the need to have one. I still consider myself somewhat of a tomboy, although I recently learned how to fill in my eyebrows with powder to make them look more fantastic. I appreciate that knowledge immensely.

I got to college, full of wonder and amazement at the mountains of theory that could be produced by academia, and found my calling. Sociology, women’s studies, and everything that goes along with it fascinated me. I thrived in those classes – to me, it’s like common sense, but more in-depth. More focused. More history, reflection, examination.

One thing that always struck me was Judith Butler’s description of heterosexuality as a performance of drag, meaning that in order to participate in society as a heterosexual man or woman, you’d have to put on the right clothes, and do your makeup a certain way, and act in a way that was socially acceptable.

It all started to click. When I was in high school, I’d given up my nerd persona to try to fit in as a teenage girl. Of course, that meant denying my identity as a “know it all” in pursuit of acceptance. In time, of course, I found that trying on different identities had led me to the truth – that I am who I am, regardless of my outward appearance. I came into my own and found that it was entirely freeing and wonderful.

But let’s get back to feminism. To me, feminism can be summed up in one word: equality. It’s not about being better than anyone, or denying anyone. It’s about being respected and treated as equals.

Here we are, in the twenty-first century. We’re officially post-postmodern, but we’re at a crossroads. Women have gotten the right to vote, and we’ve proved ourselves to be a force to be reckoned with at the polls. We’ve attained degrees, and sought higher education. We’ve entered the workforce and become politicians. We are no longer relegated to the role of teachers or secretaries, not that those roles aren’t absolutely necessary. We’ve been given choices. Motherhood isn’t an absolute identity.

And yet, we’re not there. There isn’t true, sweeping equality. We haven’t broken all of the glass ceilings. The pushback has been intense. Men’s emasculation at the hands of feminists have caused many a sleepless night for those concerned with that sort of thing, those people who believe that it’s a serious fear, that somehow women are determined to undermine our societal stability. (What societal stability?)

Recently, I was made aware of a blog that is focused on submissions from people who believe that they don’t need feminism. It’s called “Women Against Feminism.” It hurts me to read.

We’ve got women being raped and gang raped in India without any assistance from the police. We’ve got ISIS ordering Iraqi women to undergo female genital mutilation, and then backtracking to deny those claims. We’ve got women being kidnapped in Africa for wanting to get an education. It goes on and on. Our world is a broken place, one where being a woman is often a very dangerous thing to be.

You think you don’t need feminism?

The posts are laughable. They claim that they don’t need feminism because they don’t want to be a victim, or because they want to be a stay-at-home mom, or because they want respect and equality.

That’s feminism!

Feminism is about respect. It’s about equality. Feminism has nothing to do with “angry vaginas” or victimization or the furthering of political agendas. (Well….feminists do believe that women should be able to advocate for themselves, so I guess that in itself is a political agenda. I’m guilty of wanting to make my own decisions about my body! One poster says that her daughter is a privilege and not a choice. I’m confused about how feminism had a hand in that. I’m curious how the struggle for equality and respect became the choice to procreate or not — even natural family planning attempts to in some ways influence procreation, and regardless, that’s not about feminism. That’s about birth control. I’m a feminist. I’m pro-choice. I would never have an abortion. See what I did there? I made a choice about my own body….I didn’t make a choice that affected anyone else’s body. That’s feminism.)

One of the posts denies that patriarchy exists; another claims that she can’t think of an instance where feminism hasn’t caused more destruction and violence (I’d love to see her sources). Yet another claims that she doesn’t need feminism because her son shouldn’t be made to feel like less of a person because of his gender. That one got to me. Where does it say that feminism is about making a person feel like less of a person? Aren’t we fighting for the exact opposite thing?

I have a boyfriend. I’ve had him for a while now. Six weeks after we met, I dumped him because he was being a misogynist. He was ridiculous. He made comments that offended me. He said things that outraged me. He made me feel disrespected, devalued, and incompetent. We later had a long talk about what it means to feel respected and valued.

I know that he will always be a “man’s man,” embodying a very traditional type of masculinity. He knows that I’ll always be a feminist. We’re an odd pair, but we’ve learned from each other. We’ve learned to live with each other. He’s learned that I’m a valuable partner and that my intelligence is an asset. He’s become more understanding. He’s become more open. He’s grown emotionally. I’ve done the same. I’ve learned where he’s coming from. We’ve had endless amounts of debates about things, particularly women’s roles in the world. I expect us to contribute equally to everything, be it financial or domestic. Since he’s working right now and I’m not, I’ve taken on more domestic tasks. It’s a give and take.

One thing that I take from my discussions with him is that the physical differences between men and women are tangible. He’s stronger than me. (He was a Marine. It was really no contest.) I’m smarter than him, at least on paper. We both enjoy learning. He’s wittier than me – dry humor. I’m better at expressing emotions. He’s horrible at it. He’s better at math and cooking. I’m better at socializing, communication, and administrative tasks. I pay the bills. He pays me.

Feminism is not about one gender being better than the other. (This is based on the heteronormative assumption that there are only two genders….it’s not a discussion I want to have here, I have points to make.) Feminism is about acceptance and equality. I’m not trying to feminize men. I’m not trying to make all men seem like rapists, and all women victims.

The reason boyfriend and I work is because we complement each other. My weaknesses are his strengths, and vice versa. We’ve been able to work together to begin to achieve our goals. We’ve been able to laugh about our differences, talk about our differences, and grow as people because of them.

We need feminism.

I write about my relationship with my boyfriend because I feel that it’s important to discuss – feminists are often portrayed as lesbians (oh god, not lesbians!), or militants (what does that even mean in this context?), or violent, abusive, women-hating people, man-haters, or some combination of those adjectives. Feel free to insert your own.

Feminists aren’t those things. We’re people. We’re human beings. We exist with or without a partner. Some of us are men. My identity is not just his girlfriend. My identity is my own. I am a human being. I seek the same things that other people seek: happiness, love, acceptance, friendship, shelter, food, accomplishments, glory, and so on. (Glory, because who doesn’t want that?)

Another poster writes that she doesn’t need feminism because she likes men like Christian Grey, the super dominant billionaire sex god from the “Fifty Shades of Grey” books. Okay. That’s fine. As a feminist, I would also love a super dominant billionaire sex god. Doesn’t mean I can’t be a feminist and still get one. (Super dominant billionaire sex gods, please feel free to apply.)

I bring up my boyfriend because I think that feminism and anything can co-exist. Maybe not. Feminism and racism aren’t a great pair, nor are feminism and fear-mongering, nor feminism and slut-shaming, which is often cited as being something in which feminists engage. I disagree. I’m pro-women. I’m pro-people. I’m pro-human. I’m pro-good-people-doing-well-for-themselves-and-others.

He’s way stronger than me. I was joking with his grandparents on Facebook today (after posting an article talking about the Women Against Feminism and their repeated insisting that feminism is moot because we need men to open jars) that every time I threaten to strangle my boyfriend, he responds that I don’t have the upper body strength. It’s true. I probably don’t.

But that’s not important. What I bring into our relationship is. To me, it’s like this: everybody has certain abilities, certain areas in which they excel. Lately, we’ve been seeing a rise in women in the workforce and stay-at-home dads. This has caused plenty of concern for plenty of people. But here’s how it is for me: I believe that everyone is suited to some things. For instance, my brother, who’s super manly, is way better at organizing than I will ever be. He’s in charge of organizing. I’m in charge of scrubbing. It works out.

Every relationship is based on give and take. Boyfriend is good at some things, I’m good at some things. Together, we’re great at a lot of things. Every single relationship is based on complementary attributes. So what if someone is great at childcare and the other is  whiz at engineering? Are those tasks only to be completed by someone of one gender or another? No. Everyone has an energy, whether it’s more masculine or feminine doesn’t matter.

I can’t be trusted in the kitchen. (Look at my foot scars and my lifetime knife ban…) Boyfriend is fantastic. You should try his pork tenderloin some time. Does that mean I do a lot of dishes? Yes. Because he cooks. Do I do a lot of sweeping? Yes, because he gets all the stuff in the right place before the sweeping.

These internet people (yes, internet people, take it with a grain of salt) claim that they want to be stay-at-home moms without being harassed. They should be allowed to do that. Anyone who’s harassing them is not a feminist. They say that they’re not afraid of men. Feminists aren’t afraid of men. I was assaulted by one, but I’m not afraid of them.

What I’m trying to say is that you do need feminism.

These women who are against feminism are allowed to do the things that they do because of the courageous women who fought so hard for basic human rights. They are allowed to vote because women stood up for that right. They are allowed to walk in the streets alone, which isn’t allowed in some places, places that could use some feminism! They are allowed to be stay-at-home moms or nuclear physicists or teachers or doctors or lawyers because of the perseverance of the women who came before them. That is not something to deny. That is not something that should be shunned. Their choices are their own because of the people who spent their lives fighting for that freedom.

Our world is not a world without women. The world needs mothers and lawyers and teachers and thinkers — men cannot shoulder that burden alone. The world needs people who think and create and nurture and care. Women are half of our future — we need to make it so that their voices are heard.

Denying feminism is at best ignorant and at worst setting us back as humans. The stigma that surrounds feminism is shameful, because women are active participants in our future as a global society. We are feminists because there is a need for understanding and equality. We are feminists because we work for freedom. We are feminists because we support education for all people. We are feminists because at the end of the day, a woman’s work is never done, nor is it valued enough.

I hate that there are women out there who decry feminism as an attack on men. I love men, but I don’t love men who don’t give me the respect that I deserve. I love to get dressed up and put on makeup (and now, fill in my eyebrows!) but it doesn’t make me less of a feminist, or less of a woman.

I am woman. I am so much more than that, though. I’m a human being.