I Can’t Say “No”

I’m never too busy. It’s impossible. I’m single. All I have is “me” time. And yet I can go several weeks at a time feeling that it’s impossible to take a clean breath of air, overwhelmed by tidal ways of obligations and activities that I genuinely wanted to do, until they were all scheduled for tomorrow, or oops, is it today?

Last month I decided on a novel concept. I was going to stick to my obligations only — that I’d scheduled a month or so earlier — and I was not going to add to my weekly plans unless I was confident it would be a positive experience that would be enjoyable, and presumably non-taxing.

In summary, last month I practiced saying “no”. You wouldn’t think I have trouble with that word, with telling people that one thing, with disappointing them. There’s something about my face that indicates I say it on the regular, but the reality is I HATE saying no to people. I hate canceling plans, rescheduling plans, or saying outright that I won’t be doing something.

I’m especially bad when the phrasing is “do you have time?” because, as has probably been sussed out, I’m single. All I have is time. I also have a very flexible schedule that allows me to shift priorities or obligations. Like sleeping and eating.

I’ve often confused the concepts of “can” and “should”. It’s taken more time than I feel is reasonable to admit that just because I CAN do something doesn’t mean I should. It certainly doesn’t mean I’m the right person for the job. Availability doesn’t equal aptitude.

What I learned in my month off is that my priorities are different from those of the people around me, and that — to some degree — I have very good priorities that I should focus on. That it’s okay to say “no” to people in favor of the things that I value. I also learned that simply because I’m asked doesn’t mean I’m required. Sometimes I’m just an easy ask.

Most importantly I discovered that saying no isn’t the worst thing you can say to someone. It doesn’t crush them, ruin their day, destroy their hopes, or tear down God’s master plan.

Amazing what can happen with a month of clarified priorities.

Now of course, it’s August and I’ve totally shot that horse in the face with overbooking my first two weeks. I learn, but I learn very, very slowly.

Which is fine, there are weeks ahead of me with whole nothings planned, and now I know how to keep them safe from all the busyness I usually can’t resist.

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Unmothers’ Day

I may stay single permanently, and for me, that means giving up motherhood. Some might debate this–I have friends who have done artificial insemination, or adopted or fostered children. I do not think this is a path down which I shall go, personally. So for me, one of my occasional difficult emotional battles around singleness is when I wrestle with the idea of never being a mother.

Not only do I give up the idea of physically popping out (ew gross, I hate that term) a child of my own body, but I have to give up on my perceptions of what a role of motherhood means to me. When my younger brother and sister and I played together as kids, they went out on adventures from the playhouse. I stayed inside, tidying up and cooking “dinner” for their triumphant return. I hung curtains. I drew pictures for the walls. I set the table.

Motherhood and homemaking, to me, always seemed to be ideal roles in life. To do it well, you had to enjoy being creative–my mom, for example, sewed, cooked, read, and did all kinds of projects for fun, some for budgetary considerations, and mostly for the sheer joy of creating beauty around us. She shopped and thrifted and planned and reupholstered things, arranged simple and affordable meals to look lovely, used the nice plates for birthday cake, and worked side by side with my dad on Saturdays to clean up the yard. As a pretty sensitive kid with a soft spot for beauty and a love for making things, I saw the potential in the role, and from early on, looked forward to that life.

It’s been a long and difficult process to give up the idea that in missing out on falling in love, I’ve also somehow missed out on my dream ‘career,’ in a way. But it’s deeper than that, too. I remember thinking about the millennium when I was about 9 years old. I calculated my age–I’d be twenty years old. Of course that seemed like a VAST age, old and wise, and far removed from impending teenagerhood. I wondered what life would be like. I’d probably be married, I thought, and have one, maybe two kids by then. (haha, kids, amiright?)  I thought maybe it would be fun to have a baby in the year 2000–a true millennial. In reality, the year 2000 was my second year at university, and I had to laugh at myself as Y2K came and went, and I was just as close to marriage and babies, apparently, as I had been at 8 years old.

Singleness means giving up Grandmotherhood. I mean, it means giving up grandmotherhood for me, obviously. But it also means giving up seeing my parents as Grandparents. It was a tense, long time of wondering for my parents, if they would ever be grandparents. My mom endured plenty of ‘Gratefulness Brags’ from her friends about their many grandchildren. Thank goodness I now have nieces from my sister and brother-in-law. At least one of the four of us kids has given my parents the chance to enjoy being grandparents, and I love watching my mom and my little niece Lucy develop their sweet relationship–I love seeing my dad laugh at her antics and proudly take pictures holding her sweet tiny sister, and hearing him tell me how he held me the same way, stretched along his forearm with my preemie head in his hand.

I love every rich moment with my family, and I don’t regret a single one, nor would I trade them. They are special in a different way for me. I’ve been able to be there within hours of both my nieces being born. I’ve been able to bring gifts and shower attention on my sister. I’ve been able to spend time with my siblings and parents in different ways than if I had family obligations of my own.

All the same though–I feel a little bit on the outside of things. I watch my sister and our mom talk about parenting, discipline, stages of growth, medical needs. I watch them develop something new and different in the way they treat each other with respect and kindness, the way my sister reaches out to my mom for help and advice and time, and the way my mom lights up when she sees her grandbabies, and when she watches her daughter be a mother. It’s beautiful, and I still do think of that relationship with longing.

Odds are I may never know what it’s like to be a mother. And people may say you can’t miss what you never had, but that’s a lie. I miss, sometimes, what I would have been, what would have changed in me through the deeps and darks and dreams of motherhood.

The Daily Fraidy-cat

Sometimes for me, being single means facing fear every day. It means looking the cultural expectations of the American Dream life trajectory straight in the eye and saying “you don’t define me.”

It means responding with kindness and presence instead of embarrassment when people make inadvertently rude comments about feeling old-maidenly at age 23, or when married friends say equally insensitive things like “you don’t know what tired/wisdom/anxiety/joy/frustration/love is, until you have kids/a husband.” Recently at a family wedding, I was standing next to my brother-in-law watching my niece play, when the photographer walked up and said “let me get a picture of you two!” Not that I don’t like my brother-in-law, but I could tell the photographer thought we were a couple, so I smiled awkwardly, and when he was done with the photo, I said “do you want to take a picture of him and his WIFE?” “OHhh, sure…” said the photographer, realizing his mistake. It’s hard to know what to do in those moments. It takes constant attention to respond out of grace instead of sadness or fear.

Part of that fear is related to really giving up on family. The obvious interpretation is the giving up of a ‘family of my own.’ But it also means giving up my birth family in some senses, because I cannot be healthy and remain a dependent child forever (at least, so my counselor tells me); and yet in so many ways I still identify and feel needs for family support, advice, and influence, especially when making larger life decisions.

Being single means accepting that those decisions will never truly matter as much to anyone else as they will to me. When it comes to what jobs I do, or where I live, or what financial choices I make, I’m the only stakeholder. And yet, making big life decisions like moving, buying a car, or career decisions in a vacuum just doesn’t seem wise. I crave investment and wisdom, perspective and assistance in a very noticeable way. Self-sufficient as I can appear at times, it’s (a bit of) an illusion. No one is totally self-sufficient, nor should they be. Just because no one is present to witness my breakdowns of helpless fury, grief, or how-can-i-get-it-all-done low points, doesn’t mean they don’t happen.

One thing I’m afraid of is fitting into the stereotype of being self-focused and selfish. The truth is, trying to stand on my own two feet does take a ton of energy. I balance work, housework, finances, househunting, lawnmowing, future-planning, traveling to family events because they’re never at the single person’s house…and so on. And while I say this, I can hear my married and parent friends laughing ruefully and unbelievingly. But I’m not joking. I realize that taking care of kids is a more than full-time job, and that part of the reason my married and parent friends are laughing has a lot to do with sleep deprivation and exhaustion, and all they really want is what I have plenty of…a few quiet moments.

But when, for example, my car breaks down, my life becomes singularly devoted to the task of getting to work, the car shop, and home. It takes up all my spare time, all my spare money, and all my spare focus.

So, am I self-focused? YES. I am. Because very few others are focused on my life in a real, practical way. People are around, and happy to have me around occasionally. But when it’s tax time, I’m in the trenches alone. No one is going to sit down (at least, unpaid) and muddle through the tax code voluntarily. When I have to decide whether I’m going to live with a roommate or pay the higher rent to live on my own, no one’s going to make that decision with as much at stake as I am.

Doing these big things alone is scary sometimes. What if I get it wrong? What if I end up bankrupt? What if I lose my job or  get sick, who would help me? What if I die in my apartment on a Friday night? NO ONE WOULD FIND ME FOR AT LEAST 3 DAYS! They might wonder where I was…they might comment that I hadn’t shown up for work. but they probably wouldn’t start raising the alarm for real until Tuesday morning. You see? These are the morbid, real possibilities of singleness.

While being single certainly has its advantages, and it can look luxuriously quiet and self-focused from the outside, especially from the position of a noisy family, it still carries at least its fair share of daily fears.

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.

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

“Dear Future Husband” Phenomenon

There is a wealth of crap that happens in a Christian environment under the guise of purity and chastity that is simply an outlet for personal desires or personal fantasy. In other words, we cloak selfish impulses with religious over-spiritualization. It’s gross.

If you’ve ever heard someone say to you, “God really laid it on my heart for me to pray for you about [that thing you do that I find personally annoying]”, you know what I’m talking about. Using God as authoritarian wish-fulfillment isn’t okay.

One of the worst ways I see this is when we urge and encourage young girls to write “Dear Future Husband” letters.

Young women, pre/during/post(?)-puberty, are urged to write letters to the man they’re one day going to marry. These letters are often a prayer for their future husband or a relating of current difficulties. They’re supposed to be designed to help women safeguard their hearts (and virginity) for their once and future husband. They’re also supposed to be designed to help the premature bride be mindful and in prayer for the spiritual strength, stability, and well-being of their future husband.

Some women keep this practice up through their teen years, some till the day they marry. And then there are those other “some” who don’t have a cut-off date. Those whose letters are never going to be delivered.

These women who were let down by God because he clearly promises, in the Bible, marital stability and protection for as long as you —

It’s not in there? Huh. But you wrote letters! Why didn’t God answer your letters with a husband? After all, most people do get married. Why not you?

The problem with this letter, is that it seeks to bind God to a desired future outcome. It aspires to dictate to God (through a pure desire for marriage!) that you will eventually definitely have a marriage. It takes youthful insecurity and assuages it with a promise of fulfillment. If you’re writing the letter to someone, then that someone must exist!

Trouble is, I could have written a thousand letters to my future self. My …traveling archaeologist self. The self I wanted to be when I was fifteen. And reading those now, what would I think about it? After all, my dreams were pure and good. I was going to travel and uncover God’s truths hidden in the earth. I was going to witness to many around the world! Why doesn’t God want that for me?

By attempting to tie God down to a future world we miss out on the incredible future he has planned. One that’s unknown, scary, heartbreaking, definitely disappointing in some ways, but jaw droppingly amazing in others. We miss that when we’re busy trying to get God to keep our self-promises.

Marriage IS something that you shouldn’t walk into blindly, it’s something you should enter with consideration and prayer and preparation. In this regard, it is right and good. Praying for your spouse is an excellent idea. Keeping your own heart saved for your marriage is also an excellent idea.

Never be afraid to prepare yourself for good things in life. But remember that what God considers good is not always what you consider good. Don’t bind God to your small vision of future happiness.

If you truly do insist on writing letters (and who am I to stop you? I love a good letter). try writing “Dear God” letters. Tell him your hopes and dreams and wishes and watch how he uses them, changes your heart, and gives you answers to dreams you never could have written.

Don’t Always Be Like a Lady

I had a physical therapy appointment this week, got new instructions on how to properly build muscles in my legs. My therapist’s parting words were, “when you stand up, don’t have your knees together. You’ll want to keep them shoulder width apart.” I’m sure he thought this was a simple trick to help build muscle in my legs, but for me it was revolutionary.

As a girl, from the second you start wearing dresses you are told to keep your legs together. Standing, sitting, reclining, legs should be together. I remember when I found out that the ladylike crossed legs position wasn’t good for blood flow. I felt irritated that I’d have to instead keep my knees together because it took so much more energy and focus then simply crossing your legs.

When you get a hip replaced these instructions are even more seriously followed and you learn not to cross your legs at all because it’s bad for the replaced joint. But it wasn’t until today that I realized that sitting like a lady was bad for me either way, replacement or not.

My first reaction to my physical therapist’s announcement was “It’s going to look so indiscreet if I’m wearing a dress! And it’s going to look so mannish if I’m in pants!” Can you believe this was my very first reaction to my therapist’s simple advice? How would it look to someone else. I hadn’t realized how ingrained my concepts of femininity were with my every day movements.

In my head the concept of femininity was the overriding value — at least initially — trumping my own health and mobility.

Of course, that’s not really foreign to women, is it? How often do women, in search of beauty or femininity, harm their own bodies? We could go all the way back to ancient practices of foot binding or killer makeup made with mercury, but that isn’t necessary. Hair removal fits the bill nicely, given that hair is a protective layer on every human body, particularly around the pubic area, and that hair removal can and often does lead to infection. We could talk about risky surgeries people undergo to modify their appearance, or eating disorders.

The quest for femininity and beauty doesn’t have to be toxic, but we continue to make it that way ourselves. We often sacrifice our own health and well-being for the fleeting sensation of physical perfection, or the approval of others.

To be honest with you, for me, losing muscle around my legs is too high a cost for being ladylike. Maybe I won’t come off as refined at the next cocktail party, but I’ll certainly be a lot more comfortable.

 

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.