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.

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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 Periods and Parenting, Lightheartedly

We’re dog-sitting this week. Instead of the boxer-lab mix, it’s a tiny thing. Like a shiatsu or something. Her name is Lucy and she’s my mom’s old neighbor’s dog. Turns out, having multiple dogs is really hard. Having a small dog is even harder.

The cat, Carlos (Carl), hates dogs. He tolerates Acorn because Acorn isn’t curious anymore, and lately, I’ve been catching them touch noses in greeting. It makes me all fluttery inside in the best way. It’s like we’re inching closer to my dream of walking in one day to see them snuggling in a furry nap pile. Lucy, the small dog, is curious about Carlos.

Carlos is playing this cool. I’ve spent the last hour surfing the internet (job hunting, reading news, you know), and watching Carlos mess with Lucy. Carlos is sitting on a kitchen chair in the middle of the kitchen. Lucy is sitting on the floor, wagging her tail, intent on inching close enough to check him out. I assume in the animal kingdom this is some sort of mammalian verification program that can only be achieved through an extensive smell-valuation.

Every time she gets close enough, Carlos doesn’t seem to notice her. But I’m not stupid and neither is my cat. He lets her get close, then he rears up into Halloween-silhouette pose and emits a terrifying growl. She starts barking; he flexes his claws; she wiggles; he strikes. She does a calculated retreat back to my legs, just far enough out of his reach that he calms down and close enough to me that he’s aggravated. He’s currently glaring at her through the bars of his chair, eyes narrowed into greenish-yellow slits.

My money’s on Carlos. He’s savvy, suave, and supremely territorial. She’s way out of her league here, but doesn’t know it yet.

***

Of course I saw this on Facebook last week, forgot to click on it because I don’t watch videos in public, and finally got around to it today. Thank you for being seven days late on the news cycle, NPR! (That wasn’t a dig. That was a genuine thank you.)

It’s a 2:19 commercial for a pre-period prep kit for girls. It’s hilarious. It’s about a girl who doesn’t have her period yet and fakes it. Her mom, knowing that her daughter lied, throws her an insane “First Moon Party” complete with “vagician,” “uterus pinata,” and more. At the end, the daughter admits she lied and the mom admits that the party was her punishment and then presents her with the pre-period prep kit.

The commentary by the author misses the mark. It’s about how the ad is a refreshing change of pace from normally awkward and offensive vagina product marketing. (True.) But then she decides to talk about the ways in which the ad is offensive because it pits the mother and daughter against each other, portraying the mother as scheming to embarrass her daughter and the daughter as a spoiled tween. I didn’t get that at all. The video made me laugh out loud. I watched it twice.

I remember when everyone else was getting their periods, and of course, my late bloomer self just wasn’t there yet. I remember pleading with the heavens for a period before I started high school. “Come on, God, please, just don’t let it start when I’m a freshman.” I think that was a pretty reasonable request. Everyone else had it. And they concealed it poorly, carrying unnecessary purses to the bathroom with them, or making a show of putting something in their pocket, while I seethed with pre-pubescent jealousy and got back to coloring and praying for blood. (Game of Thrones really doesn’t have a whole lot on the horrors of middle school.)

When it finally came (right before high school, thanks for making good on that one God), I refused my mother’s offers of assistance and settled down to figure it out all by myself. Much like the first go at leg shaving (again, “I can do it myself, Mom” said more from embarrassment and the terror of coming adulthood than real attitude at her assistance), I failed pretty miserably for a while. The leg shaving was rough because I didn’t know how to just rinse the razor and so instead of slicing my legs like a normal kid, I cut the shit out of my fingers trying to wipe off the blade.

My parents were divorced, and my dad, being completely overwhelmed by parenting a girl child, mishandled the period situation terribly. He’d have female friends bring me pads and try to have some sort of talk, but at that point, I was well-informed about the situation at hand and didn’t want or need assistance. At least he tried, although I could have done without it. It’s not terribly complicated and later, I would discover a vagina community online and the safety of anonymous reading would lead me to a wealth of knowledge without the embarrassment of actual face-to-face communication.

Part of the struggle is going through it on your own, making realizations, and then adjusting behavior patterns as a result. It’s very much like the scientific method, except it applies to your life. Parents are sometimes necessarily the adversary just because they’ve been tasked with ushering their children into adulthood. The unwanted presence of help is often viewed as antagonistic, and whether or not the mom should have punished her daughter for lying to her, the whole thing is an adorable farce about a very thrilling time in a woman’s life.

I’m pretty sure my mom cried. It’s bittersweet. Your kid is growing up — something they so desperately want — and parents are learning how to nurture independence and let go — something they so desperately want to get right. I’m pretty sure it’s terrifying all around. Let’s inject some humor into it, because we can. And we should. Periods suck. Might as well have a laugh.

On Silence, Quietly

I slipped away from my blog this summer, which is something I’ve never done before.

I started blogging when I was fifteen or sixteen – back then it was a different, now nearly defunct platform – after my father made the egregious parental error of photocopying my handwritten journal and hauling me in to the pediatrician to discuss the contents, which consisted of nothing but typical fifteen-year old drivel.

I have been keeping journals since I was five. I still have all of them, in a box. I drag them with me every time I move, and I will continue dragging them with me as long as I live. Writing is my way of reflecting, relieving stress, processing events and emotions. Writing is my absolute favorite thing in the world.

This summer, I lost the will to write. I’ve misplaced it before, but I’ve never truly lost it. This summer I nearly lost the will to live, and with it went my words. To be overwhelmed by the horrible pendulum of emotion, swinging from the furthest reaches of numbness to the limits of rage and anguish, is a peculiar and horrifying state of existence.

I have been searching for the answers. I have questioned everything I believe in. I have wondered if resilience is possible, and I have shed enough tears to fill seven salty bathtubs.

I woke up one day, and shortly thereafter, during one of my now frequent random onset crying spells, I decided I was done. Done with all of it. I had to force myself to be light that day. I had to force the smiles, the cheeriness, the radiating of joy. I forced the fuck out of it. That day, I made almost $20 in tips.

That day was the start of the end. I’m not out yet, but instead of free-falling, I’m starting to kick. “Your dreams are not what you thought they’d be,” she said. (One of my all-time favorite quotes, coming from the much-criticized Girls on HBO.) And they’re not. They’re nothing like I thought they’d be.

The silence has been horrible. I wonder, will I have anything to say? Will I still make sense? I still wonder that. But I’m done with the hiding. I’m done caring what anyone thinks about anything, whether it’s what I do for a living, where I’m working, why I’m not happy all the time, or why I have made the decisions I made.

I’ve spent the silence thinking. Thoughts are absolutely terrifying. They are heavy, overwhelming, upsetting. I’ve thought more about the world and the people living in it than I ever thought I would. I’ve thought about the future and the past. I’ve been trying to think about the present, and to actively be present for it. I’ve been embracing the routines I’ve created. I’ve been floating from day-to-day, trying to embrace the weightlessness that is now.

I’ve concluded that everything has an equally relevant opposite. That working for our society’s version of success is no more important than working for happiness. That rude, terrible people can be balanced out by the graceful, hopeful ones. That for all the light in this world, there is much that can never be light. (This, of course, is where super villains find their beginnings – the loss of hope turns to hardened hatred, the bitterness seeps into the deepest recesses of their hearts, and suddenly, they are no longer capable of seeing the light through the dark.)

I’ve spent the past few months removed from most things. I can’t afford to go out anymore – not to eat, not to dance, not to play. Austerity measures have kicked in. I forgot how good I can be on a ridiculously lean budget. I’ve been putting the pieces of my life back together. I joined a gym. I exercise until I don’t feel quite so angry, so sad, so helpless. I’ve gained eight very necessary pounds. I’ve been getting regular sleep.

The boy makes me feel safe. I have a solid, positive relationship with my bosses. I am well-liked, and more importantly, well-respected where I work. I am freelancing for a small publication. I am actively searching for a full-time job that doesn’t involve anything to do with ice cream. I am still a fantastic cat mother. I recently assisted with the coordination of my stepsister’s wedding, and I did better than anyone (even myself) could have anticipated.

I am not what I do. I am more than hourly soft serve. I am going to be okay. I am not going to be silent any more. Even if this year is lost to “emotional pain” tags and miserable posts, I am not going to stop. Because this, much like every journal I’ve ever owned, belongs to me, and no one can take that away (unless of corse I don’t pay my domain registration, or I’m hacked, or…).

The silence was necessary, but it’s over.

On Quotes, Motivationally – and a Little Bit Lamely

I used to think all of those motivational quotes on posters (and now, all over the internet) were stupid. That was before I needed them.

(All quotes pictured in this post come from the same site – a. I like it and b. I was too lazy to find more. Don’t judge me.)

I was browsing Reddit one day and I came upon a thread discussing the one piece of advice that stuck with you when you needed it most. (Obviously, I’m being terrible at paraphrasing the thread topic, but that’s not really the point.)

I read a comment that’s been with me ever since. Someone posted that they were on a bus, and things at that time were terrible for them, and someone said to them, “Whatever it is, kid, don’t let it beat you.” Funny, how a comment about lifesaving advice would become lifesaving advice for me.

During the moments where I’ve felt like I can’t possibly win – not even winning so much as keep going – I’ve repeated that to myself and it’s spurred me on. “Don’t let it beat you.” I refuse to let someone take everything from me and walk away. I’m Katie Barry. I do not give up; I’m stubborn, but more than that, I’m tenacious. And powerful.

When I was fifteen, I did what most emotional adolescents do – I used to find “meaningful” quotes and write them on scraps of paper and hang them on my wall. I had a book filled with quotations. They were appropriately angst-ridden and brought me the comfort that my young self needed.

Looking back, I cringe a little bit at the pride I had over these quotations, the sense of ownership, as though the quotes had been constructed solely for me, for my benefit. But of course, to each their own, and what works has to be what you do, embarrassment or no.

Here I am, a decade later, relying on these little tidbits of wisdom, grasping onto them as though they can rescue me, shepherd me through the storm, and guide me safely to the other side, if only I cling to them desperately enough. And they can. Because they have to. There is no other option but to keep moving forward.

There is always laughter and light in this world and I want to be where it is.

 

On Fifty Shades of Gray Areas of Rape, Legitimately Angrily

WARNING: This post may contain triggers related to sexual assault and rape.

Note: For the purposes of this post, I’m using “rape” as an umbrella term to cover all things sexual assault. I’m also focusing particularly on heterosexual sexual assault (say that three times fast). These are an attempt to generalize my discussion of rape/sexual assault and to hopefully make it so that I don’t have to qualify every statement I make.

***

Part of eliminating our oppressive rape culture is attempting to take back the power that comes out of experiences of sexual assault. We’ve seen it with the “Slutwalks,” where women dress in provocative clothing and assert that the way that they are dressed is not an invitation for rape. We see it in the social media postings of rape victims who refuse to stay silent about their experiences.

However, we see the rape culture pushing back. We see women being expelled from colleges because they took action against a rapist (and by “action,” I mean “reporting the rape to the proper authorities through the proper channels”). We see families in other countries cloaked in shame, ostracized from their own communities because a female family member was raped. Was raped. Passive. Rapists rape a woman and then her family is left out in the cold? How fucked up is that?

We see women afraid to take action after a sexual assault for fear of being labeled as a liar or a slut. We see women’s sexual pasts dragged up to the forefront of discussions. We see their behavior critiqued, every action dissected for proof that the woman is really a wanton whore who begged for sex and then regretted it later.

That’s bullshit. Yes, again, there are women who do “cry rape” (much like crying wolf). Yes, those women give all women a bad name and undermine progress because it’s come to the point now that every rape victim is arguably essentially guilty of crying rape until proven raped. That is the single most damaging thing, because rape is already one of the most under-reported crimes.

I read this post from the Ms. magazine blog last night. It’s about whether or not you should out your rapist – that is, speak publicly about them and release their name.

After I finished it, I couldn’t stop thinking about Todd Aikin’s “legitimate rape” comments that set our feminist hearts ablaze late last year. And you know what? They finally make sense. (Actually, what he said will never make sense or be in any way correct.) But “legitimate rape” is really hard to define, and to someone who’s never had to go through any experience that falls on the rape spectrum, the gray areas of rape may seem a little silly.

The gray areas of rape are the areas where “legitimate rape” can’t be defined. One man’s idea of “just some fun” may be the beginning of a woman’s trip to the brink of hell, a trip into the darkest places of human consciousness, where there is nothing left but pain and hopelessness. Todd Aikin, I’m using you as my example because your words are haunting me, but have you ever walked to edge of hell and been swallowed by it? If not, then you are hardly qualified to tell me or any others that the gray areas of rape don’t exist.

Outing your rapist isn’t always possible, particularly when it falls into the deepest of the gray areas, a place consumed by shadows of doubt. Sometimes, your rapist may be an acquaintance. Sometimes, the risks of speaking out outweigh the pain of staying silent.

Reading Professor Steve Landsburg’s post about being sexually assaulted while unconscious sickened me. Granted, it was ultimately a question of behavior and morality, but I’m still appalled at that lack of respect for a victim’s experiences, memory of it or no. Sure, no harm, no foul, Steve. Sexual assault upon a victim who won’t know about it is a win-win for all. (Not.) Fuck you.

The worst part is not knowing. The worst part is that some victims of sexual assault will never know what happened. You’re telling me that waking up naked with eleven hours of your memory wiped clean from  your mind is a no harm, no foul situation? Fuck you. The consequences of “some fun” aren’t the same for you – and yes, perhaps you are spared the searing memories of violence and forcible penetration – but the shame and fear and lingering doubts are in no way less traumatic.

Did sex ever happen? The victim doesn’t know. Was I drugged? The victim doesn’t know. Am I okay? No. Will I ever be okay? The victim doesn’t know. What happened? “We just had some fun,” he says. The victim doesn’t know what that means, may not be able to find the words to ask. May not want to ask.

Victims of sexual assault are cloaked in shame; their experiences are automatically invalidated by claims of “she was asking for it” and “she did this to herself” and “she’s not a paragon of virtue” and so on.

I was reading a facebook post by a man who claimed that “Men don’t stop rape by not raping,” but I beg to differ. That’s the most simple step. That’s the first step. Men can help stop rape by not raping. They can help stop rape by ensuring that they’ve received appropriate consent. They can help stop the cycle of rape culture by accepting their own end of responsibility for their actions. All too often, it is the women who are left to suffer the psychological and physical damages of sexual assault and the men who walk away unscathed, free from consequences.

When the victim is sliding a blade across her thigh because she doesn’t have any tears left and she’s desperate to make the pain stop, is she in any way better off than someone who’s been “legitimately raped”? No.

“Legitimate rape” may be the easiest rape to see and define and fight against, but the gray areas of rape are very real. They don’t exist solely in the ivory theories of academia. They are the secrets that people carry closest to their hearts. They are the painful experiences that shape people, that kill the safest parts of their souls.

You can’t out a rapist when there’s no proof of rape. You can’t do anything. It’s the ultimate in powerlessness. It’s clever (on the part of the rapist) and it’s horrible. You don’t know if anyone will believe you. You don’t want people to think less of you. So you stay silent. But you are not alone. You’re not alone at all. Hopefully that notion will save the women who are being swallowed up by the darkest circles of hell, who can’t see anything bright ahead of them, who wonder if the pain and shame and questions will ever stop.

We’ve spent far too long pushing these issues under the rug. We’ve spent far too long assuming that the justice system will take care of the problem, that we are not culpable or complicit in our perpetuation of rape culture.

It needs to end. I don’t know where I stand on the ethics of  publicly naming your rapist, but I do know that we need to stop shushing our victims. Where is the support? Where is the outrage? Where are the people who feel that respect and responsibility are attainable and within reach?

Oh yeah, they’re stuck in the gray areas. They’re stuck in the places where the light of social justice doesn’t quite reach. They’re marginalized, quieted, ignored. It’s time to stop victim blaming, shut shaming, and virtue preaching (I’m looking at you Foster Friess, you Bayer aspirin asshole), and time to start supporting, educating, and validating each and every one of these experiences. That is how we move forward.

On Rape and Rising, Hopefully

[There are potential triggers in this post re: rape. Please do not proceed if this may make you uncomfortable.]

“Rape” is a four-letter word.

I’ve written before about my journey to the realization about the devastation of rape (I knew, but I didn’t know, you know?). Now that I’m fully aware of not only the physical effects but the emotional and psychological devastation caused by rape, I’m burning with rage about it.

My friends and I have spent a lot of time discussing the gray areas surrounding the concept of sexual assault and rape. It’s a harrowing topic, because the more it’s discussed, the more it doesn’t make sense anymore. There’s the “maybe” and the “I don’t know” and the “intent,” but at the end of the day, regardless of where any act stands on the spectrum, it’s a harmful, traumatic experience, period.

It was one of my friends, during a recent discussion about rape amazed me with his passion, who reminded me why it’s not a fruitless endeavor to fight for change. His anger, his emphasis, the sincerity in his voice – it brought me out of the removed apathy that so many of us don when we’re hesitant. It brought me into the present; it ignited a part of my soul.

They say that rape is about power, and I guess that to a certain extent it is. But it’s more than that, too. It’s about having your power taken from you. Rape, gray area rape or legitimate rape or date rape or sexual assault or whatever else you can think to call it, takes away your power. It makes you feel weak inside. It makes you skittish and scared; it makes you hurt all over; it makes you burn with shame, even though you know that it’s not your fault.

It’s under-reported. I can empathize with those women (or men) who for any number of reasons, cannot report it, and suffer in silence. I think of the Kobe Bryant trial. I don’t care whether or not it was rape – look at what happened to the victim. She was shamed, called horrible names, doubted, had her life spread before the eyes of the world and then slowly dismantled to be examined. So often, it comes down to “he said, she said” and nothing can be proven.

(I should note here that one of my biggest pet peeves is when people assume that women are “crying rape” for attention. I don’t think anyone should ever misreport anything, and it’s disgraceful to do it – but at the same time, every time someone reports something, people are so quick to make critical judgments and I think that says a ridiculous amount of negative things about humanity.)

The statistic that 1 in 3 women will be beaten or raped within her lifetime is terrifying. One billion women. One billion. (I’m imaging Mike Meyers as Dr. Evil saying “one million dollars” right now….)

Think about that number. Really think about that. What does that say? What does that say about men? What does that say about our tolerance for violence? What does that say about our inclination to make women bear the brunt of the responsibility for actions committed against them?

The world is not a safe place. It never has been. But that’s not an excuse for us to stop working toward something better. I hate the idea that women are weak. I hate it. But I understand it.

During college, I took a Transgender English class – liberal arts, I know – and we read a story about a college professor who transitioned from male to female. I hated the book at the time – she wrote about embracing femininity in a way I found to be so shallow, materialistic, and stereotypical. She wrote about the vulnerability that she felt when she felt the wind between her thighs when she was wearing a skirt.

I disregarded the notion entirely. But I have gained new insight. I do understand the vulnerability. I am glad that I never realized my own vulnerability while I was living in Chicago or staying in Cape Town. I’m glad that I was bull-headed and street-smart enough to be safe.

No amount of “right decisions” can protect you. No amount of preparedness can keep you from harm. There is no such thing as safety. It’s all merely an illusion. That’s what we’ve come to as a society. Our gated communities and fancy security guards are nothing. Trust is irrelevant, an outdated idea shirked in favor of deceit and false self-truths.

Enough is enough. Listen to Eve Ensler (Vagina Monologues!) say some powerful stuff about the movement called “One Billion Rising.” People are breaking their silence. They’re letting go of the discomfort that they feel when discussing something as taboo as rape and sexually motivated violence. They’re realizing that something needs to change. People need to be held accountable for their actions. People need to fundamentally respect other people.

Rape is a preventable crime. It’s not preventable in the ways that have been suggested in the past, such as “dress more conservatively.” I forget who originally made the counter-point to this, but it’s so incredibly valid: what does that say about men? That they’re little more than wild beasts who will be unable to control themselves at the sight of flesh? That argument in itself is disgraceful to men and to women.

What I wear or do not wear cannot be construed as an invitation for rape or violence. What I do or say or act like cannot be construed as an invitation for rape of violence. There is no valid excuse. None at all.

We need to teach our young men that “no means no.” We need to teach them that power can be gained through other avenues that are more rewarding than acts of violence aimed at belittling and degrading other people. We need to emphasize respect – actions have consequences. Even if you can’t see the harm that’s been done, it’s there. We need to dispel the myth that sex is something to be taken, something to be claimed.

We need to remind all women that their voices and experiences matter. We as a global society need to value our women, rather than marginalizing them and quieting their voices. We need to remind women to be strong – we need to assure them that we’ll support them, heal them, and lift them up.

No one can be an island. We’re not in this fight alone. Globalization necessitates cooperation and conviction. We must work together to stop this perpetuation of violence, of hatred, of fear. Sexual violence against women (and men, too) has long been used as the ultimate bargaining tool, a source of shame and ultimate destruction. We must stop it. We must make it so that our people are free from the terror of vulnerability.

The world is willing to work for change – it’s time for us to realize that the capacity for human compassion and love is ever-present. This is a beautiful thing. Love is the essence of humanity – it keeps us strong and humble. Love is something we need to work on teaching our children. With a strong foundation, they will be less likely to take from others what they cannot find in themselves.

On Apprehension and Draft Emails, Nervously

My boss comes into my office. “I can tell you’re nervous,” he says. I am nervous. I imagined that root canals were for the very elderly, not 24-year olds who haven’t even had a cavity in years. He tells me to ask them for something to calm me down. I tell him I would have asked earlier but was afraid to look like a drug-hound. He laughs. “You’re going to be fine,” he says, and then directs me to listen to my body and ice and heat as needed. He gives me pain management tips. My stomach curls at the thought of waves of pain. I’ll be fine. I’m tough.

I’m cleaning out my email drafts. One of them says, “There’s a tribute to Queen playing at the Bluebird tonight! Why are we not going?!?!” There are videos of me bungee jumping from the Bloukrans Bridge in South Africa; there are pictures of the bridge to nowhere over the M3 near James’s house in Tokai; there are unfinished graduate school entrance essays, emails to my friends with now-unnecessary life updates, itineraries for trips I’ve not yet gotten around to taking – although apparently winter hot springs features quite frequently in my future life plans.

There are Death Pool updates and spreadsheets, articles I’d like to blog about but haven’t, and tons of empty emails, conversations started but nothing said. It’s the ultimate “never mind.” I did, however, make some new inbox labels in an attempt to organize. Here’s hoping that sticks.

On Being a Twenty-Something, Defensively

I’ve had a blog since I was fifteen. I wrote posts on MySpace, I posted to (and obsessed over) my LiveJournal account, and finally, when I went away to college, I got a Blogspot to document adventures for my family. Three (give or take a few) iterations later, you have the present form of the same thing: a place on the internet to write about my life.

There is something so entirely humbling about reading back to a post that I wrote when I was little.

Stuff like:

“I stood there, in the company of many, but I knew so few.”

and

“I smiled, trying not to make eye contact. I’m sure my dejected look detracted from my approachability.”

or

“The drive home, in the cool night air, windows down, music up, was immense. No other cars on the road, just me and the night, speeding slowly home. I set the cruise control, just for fun, so that I could just be in the night. I was sixteen again, fresh with ideas, taking the turn to the song, letting the music take me elsewhere.
The lights in Denver have begun their countdown, a simple way of informing pedestrians of their impending restriction, and at night, the countdown simply hits zero and reverts back to the little light man walking. I found myself timing it so that as I drove, I’d be crossing the intersection as the change occurred, the ultimate end leading back to the same beginning.
There is nothing better than the promise of summer, no matter what life is holding for you at the moment, standing outside in the night and smelling the air will change your life. Floral scents intermingle with the city’s hot fresh air and the animals of the night seem to be more alive.
We saw a skunk mosey past, on his way somewhere fast. As I drove away into the night, rolling down the windows, I passed the skunk again, still running, still on the street, getting somewhere.
We’re all getting somewhere, even if we have no idea where we are.”

These posts become a place for me to mark my growth. They remind me that I’ve always been some things, and they reinforce that I’ve always been others. Sometimes I am struck by how insightful Past-Me is, and others, I cringe at her insecurity and wish her all the self-assurance in the world.

I’ve been reading posts about my generation. We’re the Millenials, the ones who are supported by their parents, who have no work ethic, who are vapid and shallow and marked by their sense of entitlement. All of those authors are so wrong.

Yes, we’re wallowing, wandering, lost, and afraid. (And yes, some of us are total dicks. But your generation had some not-so-pleasant people in it too, admit it.) What we were raised to see as our future is crumbling in front of us, as though arriving at the desert mirage to find more and more of same, too-hot sand. We’re thirsty. As I’ve said before, we’re the Next Lost Generation. We have no idea what to expect, because the expectations change daily.

Struggling to find the balance between youth and maturity is a difficult one, particularly when any move toward “grown-up” is criticized, and movements to remain “youthful” are equally stigmatized by both my peers and my age-superiors. What I find interesting is that many of these authors criticizing the Millenials are Millenials themselves.

I work three jobs and don’t get financial support (except health insurance premium – Mom, you’re the best), and I make it work. I have work ethic, drive, desire, and passion to create a sustainable and secure future for myself. I happen to enjoy a few gin & tonics and some dancing. So be it. Yeah, I get frustrated at my peers. I find people with no drive infuriating and weak. I am prone to the occasional meltdown of desperate wallowing.

But I’m also not wallowing for the sake of wallowing. This life is a journey. Right now, the age-superiors are controlling a large stake of this world that we live in. It’s hard to get past the entry-level job, it’s hard to ascertain whether or not our place is as adult-equal or child-mentee. It’s difficult. It’s like being seventeen again, being all lost and insecure and afraid.

The reason that there are so many twenty-somethings actively writing about their lives is because they’re finding an outlet.The internet has opened lines of communication that hardly existed twenty years ago, and has fostered equal parts community and isolation by “social networks.” Growing up with access to technology will change – has already changed – a lot of the ways that people example typical milestones. There’s a lot more comparison, more evaluation, but also less of each.

Pressure on young adults to be “perfect” is a very real thing. They want to succeed, and want to be able to do that, but are often so coddled and cared for that they lack the tools with which to do so. Or, alternately, they want to succeed but instead of being coddled and cared for, they’re tough enough to make it on their own but are constantly fighting external circumstances. It’s life, just like you lived it, just like your kids will live it. It’s just always a bit different.

Yeah, some of those blogs are insipid as all hell. Some are lame. Others are personal. Each blog inhabits its own space. It is exactly what it is. And I’ll tell you something that I always tell people: If you don’t like it, don’t read it.  (For those of you who think the Millenials are strange, you should delve into the world of middle-aged bloggers, some who are fascinating, wonderful creatures and others who are like reading something reminiscent of listening to nails along a mile-long chalkboard. The grass is always greener, dear Baby Boomers.)

My blog marks my growth from adolescent to young adult and beyond. I’m humbled by, grateful for, astonished by, embarrassed about, aware of, and immensely proud of everything, even the parts I hate. This blog, while both public-facing and well-trafficked, is an account of growth and the stages that mark a life. My life. It is meant to be self-pitying and triumphant in equal measures.

When I look back on my posts, I am able to mark the moments at which I grew and changed. I am able to see how my opinions and tastes have changed and grown. And I am  content to see how the journey has progressed thus far, and excited about the glorious future that awaits.

So, remember: If you don’t like it, don’t read it. Problem solved.