Single and Selfish

Single living is a double edged sword (the same could be said of married living, but I’m speaking from experience on a blog for single people, so we’ll set that aside for now). On the one hand, you are entirely and completely responsible for you. Your health, your funds, your activities, your habits. It’s hard work not being accountable to someone else for your own survival, let alone thriving in an environment with no other guidance than your own decision making habits.

At the same time, due to an intense, natural focus on yourself, it’s easy to become too self-involved, too self-focused, too selfish. It’s hard to keep it from happening, because again, it’s just you deciding these things. Am I tool selfish? Do I put myself before others too often? What’s too often? What’s “putting myself before others”?

This past week I got what I assumed was a very nice letter from a young friend (how did I become old enough to have young friends??). I love getting letters. Letters mean someone took time out of their day to think of me. It’s the ultimate sign of affection and friendship. Alas, it was not a letter. It was a mission’s trip request for financial assistance.

It did however have a nice handwritten (legible) note at the bottom which is almost worth more than a typed personalized letter (I have very strong opinions on letters).

But this request put me in one of the ultimate single person conundrums: How much time and money should you/do you spend on taking care of yourself, vs how much on others? I’ve got a tight enough budget as it is, can I afford this surprise mission trip? How much can I support it? SHOULD I support it?

There’s a popular conception that single people have oodles of time and money on their hands. This is of course, wrong. But try arguing that to a married new parent. Money and energy drip out of their lives quicker than a sieve.

That being said, it doesn’t leave single people, or older retirees, holding the energy and money bag for everyone else. Honestly I don’t want to spend a lot of time here comparing singles and married and their financial or energy levels. I’ve talked a little about that already. Here. and Here.

No, I’m here to address what happens if you don’t have a partner to bounce your perspective off of on a regular basis. Someone who checks your impulses and your ideas. Someone who says “get outside your comfort zone” or “babe, that’s not in the budget.” Or even my favorite, “we’re watching Netflix that night, we can’t go to that thing.”

In my case I needed someone to give me some perspective on financially assisting in a trip. It’s a small enough thing, but it mattered to the friend going and it mattered to me. But I worried that like Michael from the office I’d end up contributing $20/mile instead of twenty dollars total. It’s great to have friends that act as safety nets.

Sure, you can make a budget, you can be aware of your time, but how do you know the limits you’re setting are good limits? After all, you’re deciding them for you. And you, though knowing all about you, are kind…how shall I say this? Of limited and singular perspective.

I find myself gut-checking frequently with my friends. They know me well, but they also see my flaws in a clearer light then I can. So on the days when I’ve got strong opinions (shocker) on something, they’re the ones I go to for a “did I overreact” evaluation.

Sometimes we disagree. Sometimes their response is more along the lines of “put yourself out there”. Or sometimes it’s a “no, you made the right decision. They’re asking too much of you.” Just yesterday I had a small meltdown and my friend informed me that I was being just a touch “self-involved?” was how she delicately phrased it, as if it was a question and not a very obvious fact. Thank God for people who have guts to say things that sting.

But if I didn’t have these friends?

I know just enough to know I should probably get a second perspective. So go out there and get a second perspective, or a third. Just make sure the voice in your head isn’t just your own, and that every once in awhile, every once in a great blue moon, you make yourself a little bit uncomfortable.

Well anyway, that’s just one perspective.

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Giving Up and Getting Over, Part 2

In last week’s post, I shared, frustratingly, half of a story. Now you get the rest.

So here I was, on the brink of a potential–something. A relationship? A friendship?

We exchanged notes a few times a week. Long letters.

The notes got briefer as we both ran short of time. Soon I was sending paragraphs; he was sending sentences. I felt a slight prickle of worry. But it was a busy season.

And then the responses stopped.

I waited for two months. Two months that included my birthday. For the past years, even though we had never met, he had always wished me a happy birthday. But there was nothing this year.

Thanksgiving passed. Nothing.

I spent much less time composing my next letter. I sent him a note giving him a graceful out.

He responded quickly; “I’m sorry, I’m bad at keeping in touch long-distance.”

That was it. What, after all, did I have to lose? Hope, that’s what.

Year 36. Having asked out the only person I had truly liked for a span of unspecified years, I felt curiously hollow. In Hannah Hurnard’s allegory Hinds Feet on High Places, Much-Afraid asks the Shepherd to remove the ‘plant of human love’ growing in her heart. She knows it will be painful, as its roots grow deep, and it is. The deep roots are torn out, leaving a jagged wound.

Perhaps it’s good that I didn’t get a flat rejection. I don’t know that I could have handled it. Rather than having the deep-rooted plant yanked up violently from the earth that had fostered it for so long, it was more like a bird leaving the nest. I’d coddled this little bird of hope, and kept it safe and warm, and fed it on little scraps of conversations, reading between the lines of comments and ‘likes’. I faced my fears when it started flying, little hops and trips from the nest, and was glad when it came home to rest. But that was only temporary; and one day, the little hope-bird didn’t come back home. A gentle leaving, but still, the unworded pain of losing something precious that I never owned anyway. The pain of watching the horizon for signs. The pain of resignation to the unwanted truth.

I still sometimes wonder how and why it happened, like everyone who’s been disappointed by the outcome of a failed relationship. What happened along the parallel journey from Very Interested to Not Interested Enough? How did we start out from the same point and arrive at such different destinations?

So, here I was, hollowed out, empty of my long-term hope at the end of a short-term blind date of sorts, and pondering the new/old problem of what long-term singleness really means to me, this time at age 37.

I’m now in my late thirties, having been somewhat unwillingly single most of the time. A friend recently told me that at age 27, having heard the whispers that she was being maybe too picky, maybe waiting too long, she decided that she would go out on every date she was asked on, unless it was clearly an insincere or negative situation. She made herself give each guy two dates, at which point she was free to say no, if she chose to. And following this protocol, she fairly soon met her husband. I thought that was great. Laudable. Smart. Kind. Important to make that choice. Bit difficult to make that determination if you’re never asked out. It’s kind of like giving up cigarettes for Lent when you don’t smoke anyway.

I have, in fact, said yes to probably a similar percentage of dates, in far smaller proportion, to my cute-as-a-button, outgoing, bubbly friend. So ‘never’ is slightly hyperbolic–but only slightly.

I lived in the Bay Area after college for three and a half years. Young, single, employed, urbanish–the ideal single years, right?  I was never asked on one date. I had friends, jobs, meaningful side projects, a church, volunteer activities. I wouldn’t trade those years. But not one “could I take you out for dinner sometime?,” nor yet a “wanna catch a movie?” in my post-college days. (speaking of college–I don’t mention it because at my smallish university, the ratio of females to males generally ran at about 3 >1, a common situation for small religious institutions.)

Upon returning to the Northwest in my late twenties, again, I went out on a few dates. Some, I certainly turned down. Again, I had friends, jobs, meaningful side projects, a church, small groups. In Seattle, I went out on several dates over a period of 6 months with “The Deacon,” a kind, smart, thoughtful friend of a friend. We had many good conversations, and talks. I just couldn’t connect with the relationship, and I drifted away from it–much like my online friend drifted away. Ghosting, it’s called. Perhaps it’s Karma.

It’s difficult to understand how I can want marriage, and family, and love, and yet not be able to make them happen. Perhaps some will say I could and maybe should fight harder. I wish I could say, ‘this is what I want, here are my options, I choose door a, b, c,’ and figure it out from there.

I have to remind myself sometimes that I’m not where I am in life because it’s an accident. I wasn’t overlooked by God, somehow. I did choose, somehow, to be where I am. I said no and yes to opportunities and made decisions that got me here, to 37, to a life without some of the relationships I thought or assumed it would include. It’s also a life with relationships that are good, and surprising, and wonderful in ways I never could have predicted.

So perhaps I can remind myself by writing this, that there is a reason to write still about singleness, even if it’s as simple as because I am single today. And what it means to be single, and how it changes and shapes how I think and learn and love and interact with the world should be honored, and expressed, and questioned, and corrected, and understood, and even–maybe–loved.

Giving Up & Getting Over, Part 1

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t been writing much lately. Some of you probably don’t even know that this blog is supposed to include posts from two people who agreed to do it together, and I am the lame duck half of this arrangement.

We can pin it on work, which has been busy and absorbing for the past year-and-a-half, a move or two or three, and other things which are boring to list because they’re really just life things that everyone deals with. Add to that, TV that must be watched because…well, it must.

We can blame it on whatever we want to, but the truth is I’m not writing much these days for my own personal enrichment about being single. In my twenties, I had a lot–too much, actually–to say about being single. To be fair, there IS a lot to say about being single that needs to be said. I’m just a bit tired of it all, these days.

Part of the reason these stories must be told is because the cultural narrative of ‘the life well-lived’ in the American Dream sense is quite narrow. It leaves many people in the margins, wondering what that vision means for them once they go off the rails of the well-trodden path of childhood-teenagedream-collegepartyanimal-sexysingle-married-marriedwithkids. Speaking from the margins, reminds people–me included–that they are not the only ones who live there. And they (me) need to be reminded, to have those “oh, me too!” moments.

So all that is to say that I still believe writing these stories and experiences down and sharing them matters. And yet, I find myself struggling to do it. I wonder sometimes if I’ve just given up on the whole issue of my personal struggle with singleness. Given up trying to make sense of it. Given up trying to fight it. Given up trying to change it.

The truth is that I stopped writing right around the time that I ended a very brief online friendship/conversation/flirtation with someone I had secretly been interested in for a very long time before that. (I don’t want to tell you how long, but let’s just say it’s a “you’re justified for judging me” length of time). We had never met in real life. (it took me forever to write that sentence and I changed it 27 times, and it never got better. So I’m now just putting it in there as bald truth.)

There it is. I had fallen in love with a hope. It wasn’t a fantasy, either. The dream had a connection to reality, which actually made it worse than if it was total fiction. It was possible. Not probable, but possible. So when I fell in love with hope, several years earlier than last fall, that small sense of potential kept me a little bit insulated from the ups and downs of being single and lit my path through the darker elements of being alone, struggling in a career, navigating difficult roommates, and surviving the marriages of two younger siblings and twenty-five or so friends.

The fall of 2015, for some reason, was the time for change. I started a new job, was preparing to move to an adjacent city, and one day I simply decided that the half-hearted letters introducing myself that had piled up in my drafts folder had to stop. Potential wasn’t good enough anymore. I kept asking myself “what have you got to lose?” After all, he didn’t go to my church, wasn’t someone at work, he wasn’t even in a community nearby–if it was an awkward “no thanks” in response to my carefully crafted question, it would change nothing in my life, and disappoint no one in my immediate circles. This may seem like an odd benefit, but it’s difficult enough to develop good friendships in your 30’s without then alienating those friends by dating and/or dumping their friends. I’ve damaged near-lifelong relationships by disappointingly not falling in love with a friend of a friend.

But back to the crucial moment of hitting send. After all, I was 35. It was about time I asked someone out on a date.

So I wrote the note, and sent it. Then I shut down my computer and went to bed. I even deleted the app from my phone. I couldn’t bring myself to open my inbox the next morning, so I waited for my lunch break. I couldn’t melt down in the office, after all.

There was a response. It was kind. He was flattered. He was funny. He appreciated the note, and said “I would be very interested in getting to know you better.”

VERY INTERESTED.

I was suddenly the incarnation of joy. I’d never felt so elated. For one thing, I was right. I am always afraid of my reads on people, especially men. But I had read the situation correctly. Maybe my intuition was actually working in my favor this time.

I had been brave, thought I, patting myself on the shoulder, and sacrificed potential on the altar of truth. I had killed my darling. It had taken me years, and tears, and wondering, and doubting, and being afraid to exchange the phantom potential for a concrete answer. I had words, actual words. Words of affirmation, and appreciation, and kindness.

I wondered why I had been so afraid. I think I smiled for days. So this was it. This was what I had been waiting for fifteen years. It all seemed worthwhile, where in the past this long-term single situation of mine had felt arbitrary, desolate, and punishing.

Next week: Part 2

Advice to High School Me

I hated getting advice in high school. It was never practical, it was always world weary.

  • “You thought high school was hard? Wait till college.”
  • “Professors aren’t like teachers. They don’t let you get away with anything.”
  • “Forget about your high school friends, you’ll make better ones at college.”

What I wouldn’t have given for something like, “You don’t have to ask permission to go the bathroom in class. Just leave.”

Alas.

Anyway, the advice I found particularly grating was that “forget your friends” pearl of wisdom.

I’m stubborn by nature, and I’m hard to advise, but I think anyone balks at the idea that those who are closest to you at this very moment might not be so close to you in a year, or four years, or ten years. It minimizes the effect these people have had on you, and you on them. It detracts from the value your youthful friendships have on your adulthood.

It also makes fate out of something that is in fact a choice, as most relationships are. It’s always your choice to stay close to friends who may be distant from you. It’s also hard as hell, which is really what the problem is. People underestimate how hard it is to keep friends once you stop seeing them daily.

We also underestimate the appeal of finding friends in college who are categorically different from high school friends by virtue of several criteria. College friends have the common ground not only of school, but of living and dining quarters. And by the time you graduate, most of your friends are in a related career field by virtue of all your common classes.

High school friends are not always chosen, sometimes (particularly at a small school), because of shared interests. Often you find yourself content to befriend people who may actually be quite different from you, but you flex toward each other because you crave the relating that comes from friendship. This makes these friendships unique, sometimes odd when you look back, but also harder to maintain. What do you have to talk about once you lose that common ground of…literal common ground.

In truth, and in part because of the advice I got to ditch my high school friends, I clung to them with sharpened claw-like nails. I called everyone, all the time. I wrote letters, I had them visit, I IMed everyone all the time. I was obsessed and paranoid, and as a result I didn’t make a lot of lasting friends at college. But post-college I also was able to come back home and resume many of those high school relationships with ease. (However, it’s almost easier to get lazy about friends in proximity and lose them through virtue of “I’ll see them next week/month/season”)

Here’s my turn at some “friend” advice for college. Make good friends where you can. There are a shortage of perfect people in the world, so if you find one of those gems, hold on to them (maybe not with claws). It’s entirely possible you found one (or many) of those gems in high school. While that means you had an awesome high school experience, it does mean college will be tricky for you when it comes to finding a way to balance your history with your new life.

Try. It’s never bad to at least try and put effort in to holding onto good friends, wherever you find them. If anything, it builds some kind of decent character.

Yeah okay, there’s a reason “ditch your high school friends” is much more liberally sprinkled about. It’s shorter.

How about this, then: Make good choices. I think that says it all, doesn’t it?

 

Romancing the Introvert

There’s always two types of people in the world. Those who like lima beans and those who do not. Those who drink loose leaf tea and those who drink bag tea. And then of course, introverts and extroverts. Never the twain shall meet, and yet always cursed to follow hopelessly in love (like those anti and pro lima bean lovers).

I was chatting with a friend just yesterday about the difficulties in wooing the extrovert and the introvert. With the extrovert the challenge seems to be that an extrovert is often nice to everybody and it’s impossible to tell if they’re flirting, because they may just always be flirting.

My friend asked me how I, as a consummate introvert, showed my own romantic interest in anyone. How might one expect to find out that an introvert was interested in a romantic relationship, was the question.

My flippant response is, “you don’t”, but this is a blog and not a punchline, so we’ll strive for something a little more in depth than that.

There’s an old favorite movie of mine, Romancing the Stone about a romance writer who goes to Columbia to find a mysterious treasure to exchange in ransom for her sister’s life (I’m going somewhere with this, hang on). Along the way she meets up with an opportunistic fortune hunter who says he’s helping her, but are his intentions good? His motives pure? The title comes from this conflict: is he romancing the stone right out from under her.

This is basically how you romance an introvert, from what I can tell. Introverts have deep focused interests — like our romance writer and the buried treasure. They’re usually perceptive, and always fascinating people. If you can find out what fascinates them, and genuinely share in it, I think you’ll find any introvert a willing recipient of your attentions.

Introverts like to be heard. It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But for the most part introverts are people with worthwhile things to say, they just don’t think anyone’s really listening. If you listen, that goes the distance.

What’s doubly intriguing is that once you start learning about what an introvert is intrigued by, you’ll get sucked right into it with them. Much like our fortune hunter and his romance writer (oops, spoiler alert!).

For an example: half a dozen years ago a friend of mine introduced me to a foreign film that was so exceptional that I half fell in love with him right then, as the credits rolled. Shared mutual interests create much of the connection for the more introspective of us.

I can’t tell you how an introvert shows their interest in return, however because in this respect I’m fairly certain nothing I have ever done is what should be done to encourage romantic pursuit.

But, hey, I can tell you fellow introverts what doesn’t work, in my experience. Definitely probably avoid making fun of them. If you ignore them, I guarantee they will not notice your affection. Teasing sounds like a good idea, but it usually works itself into sarcasm. Probably avoid this. And whatever you do, don’t stalk them on social media. I can’t explain why, but literally no one will find this romantic. Crazy.

Best of luck to all the introverts and extroverts out there looking for love, or romance, or a relationship with someone intriguing and amazing.

 

How to Grow Your Own Mold

I don’t believe in writing a lot of “how to” blogs, but I do believe in sharing my wisdom and experience. And if you want to know how to grow your own mold it’s very simple, be single and buy food at the grocery store.

That’s it. Well, and wait. It doesn’t take long, just a couple days of “no one can eat that much pesto in five days!” and “I thought I’d eat more salad than that.” And “it’s impossible. Cheese IS mold.”

I can’t understand how people keep full refrigerators. How is anything safe to eat?? I keep a couple staples in my fridge, and even those I need to make sure I consume regularly, almost daily. Including tortillas (which dry out) and cheese (which is highly resistant to a second growth of itself in a different form). I eat a lot of quesadillas is what I’m saying.

I keep throwing out condiments too. And I’ve yet to have a loaf of a bread that didn’t wind up in my freezer to stave off any mold. And this from someone who eats at least once slice of toast per day. And it has to be toast, because something has to thaw out the bread!

Tonight I realized I had seven eggs about to go bad. So I boiled them. All well and good, but a boiled egg goes bad too! (Not to mention you get tired of them eventually) so I made egg salad. You know the google estimated lifespan of egg salad? 3-5 days. Which means I’m eating egg salad every day if I want to make good on my investment at the grocery store of all the additional ingredients I bought to make one recipe so my eggs didn’t go bad.

Eating when you’re single is a fine balancing act between “I really love home cooking” and “this isn’t worth it just for me”, and “I thought I loved this until I ate it every day for a week” and “cheese and crackers is a meal, right?”

My biggest weakness, however, is the friend who says, “I’m bringing pizza” or “let’s go for dinner after work”. Because the truth is, it’s hard to say no to anyone because “I need to eat some leftovers.” And it’s hard to defend to someone else that you’re rejecting them for day or week old anything. “I’m sorry, I can’t. I have ham that’s going to go bad so I need to go home and eat a sandwich. You can have one!”

On my birthday I had a salad because it was going to go bad the next day. This is the kind of sad world single people live in.

To remedy this abysmal condition we singles suffer with, a friend of mine suggested that we combine forces once a week and share a meal. My instant selfish response was, “yay, someone making food for me!” closely followed by “I have no idea how to make something that someone else WANTS to eat”. I mean, I make food I HAVE to eat, but it’s because I made it. I’m under no illusions here.

The trouble is that there are serving sizes for single people out there. Don’t Hot Pockets come one serving to a pocket? And yet, buying one of anything is somehow depressing and isolating. Not to mention wasteful. Have you seen the packaging for a solo product? I might as well start my own lonely landfill.

So I buy things the way husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, dutiful children, and grandparents buy things. I buy them from the grocery store as they are normally packaged. And then I plan my week around the things I bought. I plan my days around the meals I need to prepare and where I need to be to prepare them adequately. Can I take it with me in my lunch? Do I need to have it for dinner? How many dinners is it good for?

It’s an exhausting new neurosis I didn’t know I could have. And it’s MATH related. All those story problems from algebra might be handy after all.

And then of course, there are the days when you buy a Marie Callender casserole of scalloped potatoes and ham, throw in a bag of steamed broccoli and call it nutrition, because math is just too hard on a Wednesday.

Romance: the Quicksand of Adulthood

“I always thought that quicksand was going to be a much bigger problem than it turned out to be. Because if you watch cartoons, quicksand is like the third biggest thing you have to worry about in adult life…” is part of John Mulaney’s intro in his comedy special New in Town.

For me, romance is what my childhood and adolescence billed as one of the most essential aspects of an adult life. According to all the media I consumed, romance was a crucial, critical, life-changing, recurring phenomenon. Since as a hormonal teen you’re already obsessing about your dating life or non-dating life, the external reinforcement of this fixation doesn’t help.

I voraciously read the entirety of the church’s library, which as any other church-going woman knows, is dedicated to Christian couples finding love. Sure, they find God along the way, but the plot ends with romantic culmination. God’s part of the journey, sure, but romantic fulfillment is the happily ever after God promises, or whatever.

Maybe it would have been different if outside my fictional favorites this concept hadn’t been reinforced by friends and adults throughout these years. It’s a concept we (as a culture) start enforcing at a very young age. Pairing toddlers up as “boyfriend and girlfriend”, teasing girls about cooties, asking pre-teens who their boyfriends or girlfriends are, obsessing over when you’ll get your first kiss, the fear of looking like a loser if you don’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend.

When you’re a teenager questions about your love life are as ubiquitous as questions about the weather, and almost as interchangeable in terms of how they affect you: either ruining your day or transforming it miraculously.

I spent hours of my life, in class, creating wedding dresses with my immature artistic talent. Hours planning weddings with doves flying and the appropriate number of bridesmaids. I spent probably decades of life doodling new signatures with different boys’ last names. I wrote notes to friends, we made hasty stupid calls to boys we liked, and came up with every excuse under the sun to get cute boys to talk to us. My friends even organized dances in our small Dutch town (gasp!) to get some decent flirting opportunities in.

It’s hard not to be boy crazy when your entire environment supports this perspective. The scholastic calendar year resolves around three things: the Tolo dance in fall, the Junior and Senior Banquet in spring, and then summer vacation where you are free to obsess about how to get boys to notice you next year. Maybe by tanning, or if you’re lucky, growing bigger boobs over those months.

And yet, I find that as an adult, 99% of my life has nothing to do with romance. The 1% that does have something to do with romance is probably dedicated to watching Pride and Prejudice and When Harry Met Sally once every year. I actually spend most of my time trying to be a functioning human being, holding down a paying job, and being a decent friend and family member.

It’s weird to me now that I expected something from life that turned out to be utterly absent from my life. It’s like discovering quicksand probably won’t be a real life concern I have to deal with. It’s almost shocking how much of life I’ve handled and experienced without romantic love to cloud the scenery. It’s remarkable how much life I’ve managed to enjoy without romance guiding the way.

Every so often it dawns on me that I’m short a romantic sub-plot, and it catches me off guard because how can I be missing something that “great”? Where’s the obvious gap in my life where romance is supposed to go? Even in a TV show like ER romance was a prominent subplot. If it’s not inescapable for busy medical professionals, how is it possible I’ve got such a dearth of it?

The way I figure it is like this: I realized at some point that marriage wasn’t a guarantee for me. I don’t know what the odds are on my successful romancing, but since I knew it wasn’t going to be a sure thing I decided pretty early that I was going to put my energy to the things that mattered for me.

Hell, maybe that’s even the arthritis talking. I have a finite amount of energy anyway, I can’t afford to waste any of it on “I hope something magical happens.”

It’s surprising the sides of yourself you can discover when you’re not worried about landing a male lead in your life. Although the female Indiana Jones of archaeology dream has died, I’ve had the chance to supplant others in its place.

The pursuit of marriage isn’t bad, don’t get me wrong. It’s the pursuit of romance I’ve had to wean myself from. You know in the 31 years I’ve been alive, almost all of the people I haven’t been romantically interested in have been the best people I’ve ever met.

Or put another way, I’ve met more great friends than I have romantic futures.

I know a lot of people desire romance, desire a romance that leads to marriage, and I’m not trying to knock romantic literature (that’s for another blog post) or romance movies (again, another post), but I am trying to say that it’s good to every once in awhile remove ourselves from environments that saturate our minds with romantic fantasies.  It’s important to remember that the bulk of your life is lived outside of romance,

Don’t let pining for romance take away the value of the life you’ve got.  Because in this case, romance is like adult quicksand. Don’t get sucked into the void that fiction can promise.

Left-Handed and Single

Being single in a Christian community is a lot like being left-handed in the world.

Finding another single person in a Christian circle is like encountering a left-hander at a dinner table. Finally, someone you can sit with who you don’t have to worry about encroaching on your elbow room.

Lefties learn at a very young age to keep their elbows to themselves. They spend most of their time trying to take up as little space at a dinner table as possible, because they will hear about it when an elbow gets out of line. Meanwhile, when an elbow comes THEIR way…well what can you expect? It’s a world built for righties.

Sure, sure. Lefties are just like everyone else. Of course they are! They’re not discriminated against. And you’re right, of course they’re not. Lefties, like singles, come from all walks of life, all races, all creeds, all backgrounds. But like single people, we all hear the same things.

  • Oh you’re left-handed, that explains why you’re so clumsy.
  • I thought left-handed people are supposed to be creative?
  • Biblically, lefties are cursed, right?

Single people get their own litany of repetitive comments, and honestly, I think there’s a lingering suspicion that singles are cursed just as much as the south paws — maybe more.

I once worked at an ice cream parlor making swirl cones. It took me hours to learn how to do this job, which is an insanely easy task to learn, because I’m left-handed and my gut impulse was to do it the OPPOSITE of the “right” right way to do it.

I learned how to write differently from my peers, learned to hate spiral notebooks and three-ring binders, learned to use a mouse with my right hand. I learned how to knit “upside down” and I have a fascination with famous left handers (did you know Jimi Hendrix was left handed and played his guitar UPSIDE DOWN??), and am drawn to lefties as well.

Left-handed people are regular people, but there’s a kindred spirit that gets recognized when you hear, “you’re left-handed TOO?” Lefties are excited to meet other lefties, a phenomenon that right-handers can never share, because your similar experiences don’t bind you the same way lefties all bond over the same awkward experiences.

No, being left-handed isn’t a hardship. It’s not a burden to bear. (Though our mortality statistics are terrifying) It’s just how I was made and eventually my Mom stopped trying to put the spoon in my right hand. I like being a lefty, I like being different and special and I like being noteworthy (to some degree), but I live in a right-handed world, and I did have to adapt.

I’m a single woman in a Christian world, and I had to adapt. It’s not a hardship. It’s something quite special, giving me a chance to reflect God in a unique and different way, but it is a challenge sometimes because I am the outlier, I am the non-normative. I’m the one who makes an even dinner party, odd (in probably a lot of ways).

We’re all left-handed in a right-handed world, in some way. Each of us has an eclectic that we bring to our environments. And sometimes it’s going to suck to be the weirdo of the group. Some are more sensitive to that “sore thumb” quality, too. It’s no good to stick out when you want to blend in, but there is grace in celebrating these qualities, grace in finding all the unique ways that God made humans — because each of those ways is a reflection of our Good and Creative God.

So go ahead and be different, and thank God for making you so. And go hug a lefty today. Let ’em know you care about them too. Or just give them some elbow room at the table.

Let’s give each other a little space to stand out, in love, in a world not perfectly made for any of us.

Frat Bro on My Shoulder

When it comes to ethical and moral decisions we often refer to the internal conundrum as a debate between the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other. One voice in our head is urging us to moral goodness and the other to selfish, sinful ends.

I’ve thought about this trope a lot lately and I’m beginning to wonder if instead of a devil on one shoulder I’ve got a frat dude, and in place of the angel an 80 year old curmudgeon.Or vis versa. Neither is a paragon of virtue, both have an aversion to morality unless it comes under their favorite philosophy.

For the dude it’s all about doing something. Anything. He doesn’t concern himself with whether an action is good or bad, but whether it’s something we can do right now. He’s all about living in the moment and experiencing the now. He’s also a fan of saying whatever comes to mind and gets a real kick out of seeing other peoples reactions. It’s his voice I hear when I impulse shop or come up with a witty rejoiner. He’s the one who’s up for karaoke and singing Free Bird. He thinks he’s fun, but he can get us in to lots of trouble.

My cranky, tired, fed-up granny, on the other hand, is interested in being left alone. She’s not particularly moral either, she just wants to put her head down, do what she came here to do and not be bothered nor bother anyone. She’s the cynical voice in my head when I look in the mirror and don’t like what I see, and the one who thinks drama is better left for TV and out of personal relationships. She thinks she’s reasonable, but she’s also pretty cynical.

I’m in a constant state waffling between “hold my beer” and “that beer has how many calories and costs money? What are you DOING?” I think most of us wage these kind of practical wars on a daily  basis and have to come to terms with a constant tug of war between conflicting sides of our personalities. And it’s good, that conflict. Because neither side is always right.

Sometimes my world weary grandma is a big snob who thinks other people do church “wrong” and my frat dude is just totally happy that people enjoy going to worship at all.

On the other hand, sometimes frat bro thinks moral relativism is fine while my internal, precise curmudgeon screams how he’s SUCH an idiot.

Maybe you wrestle with your internal conflicting personalities as well. Maybe you’re annoyed like I am that I don’t just have an internal always reasonable voice, how is it possible both sides are equally compelling and illogical? But those internal voices are mine after all, and it turns out I’m as rational and illogical as they are.

Perhaps just as illogical and rational as you are too.

Fix You

Note: I dislike Coldplay so I’m not actually making a reference to their song “Fix You”, but it’s too popular to ignore the connection.

As we plow ahead into the new year, full of vibrant ideas of resolve and willpower and self-improvement, I offer these words of caution…as I sit here eating chocolate covered pretzels for a morning snack.

Do you ever let someone else’s opinions sort of run you? I don’t mean you go from athlete to couch potato, or movie savant to historical-trivia savant, but if someone tells you that you’re funny, do you lean into it a bit more? Or when you join a fantasy football league because someone suggested it — even though you didn’t care at all before.

Or if you’re like me, you make small changes to your diet to please your friends, wholly resent that you modified yourself for them, and then binge in the opposite direction. Do you ever let someone try to fix you?

Mostly suggestions and nudges from people we like and respect aren’t going to be harmful for us, and may even be really good for us (think of all the new friends you made in your fantasy football league), but there will always be people out there intent on fixing you.

We all tend to think that our opinions and beliefs about others don’t really impact them as much as we think. We believe we had a glancing influence — and always for the best. But what happens when people take what we say to heart? And begin to act not according to who they are, but how we would prefer them to be? How do we keep from transforming our friends into our reluctant image?

On the other side, there’s a permanent tug of war we’re all engaged in between “I’m happy with who I am” and “I could be better”. Where’s that fine line for a friend or family member to walk that doesn’t push and doesn’t pull, but doesn’t stagnate? To be honest with you, I’ve discovered it’s partly my job to help people find that line.

If you’re a pushy, opinionated friend like I am — one who speaks confidently their opinions and asserts pseudo-facts as genuine wisdom, check yourself. Take some of that wisdom and reason and look around you to the people you’re “helping” and discover if you’re helping them or yourself.

If you’re the impressionable, easily swayed, “I’d do anything for my loved ones” type, recognize that inherent danger and make friends with prudence first. Give yourself time to evaluate the advice and its source and act accordingly. Don’t let their personality overwhelm yours, and hold your ground firmly. If they’re the right kind of friends, and the supportive kind of family, they’ll honor that.

It took me years to discover it’s okay that I like to be on my own. And it’s also okay that almost no one I’m related to understands this. I think my Mom’s reaction to my decision to live on my own without a roommate was, “won’t you get lonely?”

This is the right way to handle your doubts about a loved one. Ask a question. In this case, my Mom’s questions said more about her own concerns in living alone than mine. It meant I could address her fear without her giving that fear directly to me. After all, she could have simply said, “I think it’s a bad idea. You’re sure to get lonely.” It’s that kind of confidence which makes you question your own thought-out decisions.

Make your resolutions, make your changes, but make wise decisions not for others but for a better you.